I Won a Samsung Galaxy S II – My Review

At the Xconomy Mobile Madness event on Tuesday I won a Samsung Galaxy S II in a raffle. Irony much?

The last time I used an Android device “for real” was in early 2009. At the time I was just getting going on building the Windows Phone 7 app platform and I wanted to make sure I really understood Android. I’m a firm believer that ignorance is idocracy and if I was going to build a developer experience that competed with Android I better know it. So I used Android for a few weeks and used the Android SDK to build some apps (I had previously been a hard-core iPhone user so that was already taken care of).

Winning this Galaxy device gave me an excuse to really use Android again and see how it had progressed. As I left Microsoft in early September after 21 years I made some pretty strong statements about how great I thought Windows Phone was and I continue to be an unabashed fan boy today. I love using Windows Phone. But a few days with another device wouldn’t kill me.

The disclaimers here should be obvious:

  • I am very biased after pouring 2.5 years of my life and soul into building Windows Phone…and believing we did it right.
  • I always hated Windows Mobile. As an MS employee and geek I owned many Windows Mobile devices. None of them made me happy. Few of them worked well as phones. Windows Phone != Windows Mobile.
  • The device I won is a stock Galaxy S II from AT&T. It is running Android 2.3.4 which is Gingerbread and, I guess, slightly old. Some of what I experienced may or may not be different on Ice Cream Sandwich.
  • Although I am admittedly biased, I have no vested interest in Windows Phone’s success. Nor do I really care what client OS “wins” because I fundamentally don’t think the client OS really matters anymore (that’s a topic for another rant).

Summary:

A typical non-geek consumer would be absolutely-fraking-crazy to pick an Android phone over a Windows Phone. Windows Phone is vastly more refined, cohesive, and easy to use. Period.

People who enjoy “managing” their phone might enjoy “managing” their Android smartphone. Those folks will probably forget how much fun “managing” a smartphone was after they’ve used Windows Phone for a while. Instead they’ll see how much fun it is to “use” a smartphone.

Details:

If you are still reading I hope you don’t expect some in depth review. Because you’re not going to get it. I’ve decided to write my thoughts down as I noted them. And for the most part they come across as very negative rants. Just calling it as I see it.

  • The battery life on this device is unacceptable. The first day the battery was near dead at about 2pm in the afternoon. Yes, I had hooked up Bluetooth to my car, used the turn-by-turn nav app, and played with apps like Seesmic, Angry Birds, and so forth. But I do this regularly on my Windows Phone 7 device and have never had my battery die so early in the day.  Helpful Android-fan-boyz typical comments were “Oh, that’s why it’s so easy to turn off Bluetooth and the GPS. I find when I carefully turn those things off my battery lasts great.”  Windows Phone doesn’t even HAVE a setting for turning of GPS. It takes care of it for you.
  • Google (or maybe it was AT&T or Samsung) were really nice to include a built-in task manager for listing running apps. I love managing what apps are running and having to kill pigs regularly. Not.
  • Why is the mail client so painfully slow? In 2011. Deleting a mail message is shockingly slow. Windows Phone’s email experience is sexy, consistent, and super speedy. I guess I took it for granted.
  • The home screen sure is flexible. I eventually figured out all the ways to rearrange and manage things. I got over enjoying managing my program groups about when Program Manager was replaced in Win95 by the Start menu. I do not believe typical consumers WANT to manage all this crap.
  • There is no consistency or cohesion on the UI. None. I was going to comment that it was as the designers intentionally tried to let the organizational boundaries of who built things show through, but then I realized that that assumed there was actually design involved.
  • Whoa! Apps can actually crash the phone!?!? I thought there was a sandbox on Android.  Oh, that’s right, apps can get out of the sandbox if they want. They just have to have an opt-in in the marketplace. But users never read that crap. For the record, I fought as hard as anyone at MS to keep the WP7 sandbox super tight.  So this one really hits home for me. The only way a WP7 app or game can crash the phone is by exposing an OS bug. And in my personal use since RTM I’ve NEVER seen it personally. It happened with two apps in 3 days on Android.
  • I have taken for granted having my calendar info & email counts on my lock screen. I was shocked Android doesn’t support that by now.
  • I sure wish WP7 had the pull-down notification bar metaphor. I actually do love that about Android.
  • “Samsung Galaxy S II from AT&T” is the worst product name ever to not come out of Microsoft. What’s next the “Samsung Galaxy S II+ 2012 with Ice Cream Sandwich from AT&T Special Edition”?
  • It’s the little things that matter. No one click dismiss-all on calendar notifications in calendar. Calendar defaulting to saving items on my gmail calendar even though my default email provider is no gmail (that one threw me hard).  Not being able to pin a contact to the home screen from within contacts/dialer.
  • The tilt to zoom thing is pretty slick. Too bad it requires instructions and doesn’t work everywhere.
  • I forgot how much I missed tethering (I have a Focus which doesn’t support it officially yet).
  • Hardware: Glorious display. Just fantastic. Weight and size are great too. But there are WP7 devices with equivalent.
  • I hate the iPhone’s single button. And I hate Android’s 4 buttons. I think if WP7 had just had home & back it would have been perfect. On both, search is confusing and inconsistent. On Android, “menu” is really not needed.
  • I miss the camera button on WP7!
  • The built-in (not AT&T Navigator) turn-by-turn directions app works great. As good as, or better, than the one on WP7.  Nice that it does voice automatically. Pretty funny how annoying it gets when it thinks you’re on the wrong road but aren’t.
  • Every app I wanted I could find. They all worked fairly well (except for the IP camera app that crashed the phone). Some are clearly better than their WP7 counterparts (TripIt).  Some weaker (4th and Mayor is better than the official Foursquare app).

That’s probably enough (for now).  I may update this if I think of anything else.  I’m going to continue using the device through the weekend so if you think I’m wrong or have a suggestion of something to try please leave a comment.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.