Switched from Android to Symbian

Yeah, that does sound like a typo, doesn't it?

My trusty N900 died some time ago, and I was desperate to get a new phone with the same form factor - I really, really like having a QWERTY keyboard on a phone, even if it makes it a bit thicker and heavier. Going through the options at the time the only real option was HTC Desire Z, which is on paper a pretty nice Android phone. So I figured I jump on the Android bandwagon, and enjoy the awesomeness that's catching the world by wildfire.

Except that, well… here's a number of, um, things I've noticed with the phone.

First of all, the Android development environment is awesome. Very easy to pick up, and you can see from the amount of apps around that quite a few others do think so too. Unfortunately it also means that the quality isn't always that great, but I'd rather have an open ecosystem than the closed Apple model anyway. And I like the way that HTC has been upgrading the OS fairly aggressively. So that's all okay.

The nasty thing is that the phone came installed with TWO different appstores - one from Google and one from HTC. Being a newbie, I tried them both, but got honestly scared when I realized that a dice roller app from HTC's store required every single permission, including things like GPS location and phone access. It screamed "Trojan" - as the featured app of the manufacturer's own store. WTF?

Anyhoo, Android may be an ok operating system, but this crap is filled with design errors, and I have no idea whether I should blame Google or HTC for most of them. For example:

  • HTC Sense UI has an extremely short "long" press. It's so short that I often accidentally rearrange my homescreens when trying to reach for the top bar. My 8-month daughter was able to totally mess my home screens in about 20 seconds.
  • I've started the voice search accidentally more times than I can count. It's not a good idea to place it in a corner which is frequented by the palm of my hand.
  • Android's habit of killing software is pretty annoying - trying to copy stuff between apps that don't support the clipboard is nigh impossible without resorting to pen and paper.
  • The Finnish localization of the OS is dismally bad. But then I figured out why - apparently "there's no usability installed" on the OS. (Or that's what, translated loosely, the OS tells me.)
  • Sometimes, without any apparent reason whatsoever, the keyboard forgets about small umlaut characters. Which makes typing my mother tongue look like I've got the hiccups.
  • About 60-70% of the time, when I'm pulling the phone out of the pocket, it dismisses the call. This is due to the fact that on HTC Sense, you accept a call by swiping down, and dismiss it by swiping up. I keep my phone in my front pocket. Figure out the rest.
  • The phone paint on the back cover is already peeling off. I'm not misusing the phone any more than any of my previous ones, and none of them have ever had the same problems, including some really early Nokia prototypes that would otherwise fall apart if you just snarled at them.
  • The phone is just so full of crapware (sorry, I mean "value adding differentiation software") out of the box it's as if I had accidentally bought a Windows box: two mapping applications, three Twitter clients, a few Facebook apps, etc.
  • Using same button for call and end means that if your mate hangs up just before your finger twitches, you end up calling him back.
  • The built-in email apps (two! WHY TWO!?!) just don't work very well - you can't set up different fetch schedules for day and night, for example.
  • The browser is just crappy, and let's leave it at that. Yeah, it renders well, but the usability just doesn't cut it. (Granted, it's nowhere near as bad as Symbian's, but still - it could be so much better.)
  • I'm still completely unsure how I should search for a person to text him. It's as if I've got just a dozen really bad ways of doing it.
  • Google Maps is just useless when you really need it. Why does it require online access when you just want to search for a road next to you when you have downloaded the area map already?
  • Skype. When I receive a Skype call, my phone and my laptop ring. Fine. I respond on the laptop, and Skype on the phone keeps ringing. In fact, the only way I could get it to shut up was to forcibly reboot the phone.

I've got a dozen or so more irritations, but I think these are the major ones. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who really like Android (they probably use Samsung's phones :-), and people tell me that I should install Cyanogenmod, which takes the experience much closer to vanilla Android, but… you know, I harbor this odd notion that phones should be usable out of the box without having to reinstall the operating system. Call me weird.

Adding differentiating software for Android is hard for a hardware vendor. You can't ditch Google's own software (GMail, Maps, Market), even if your own software - or software you buy - were better. You can innovate in some frontiers, but you're essentially fixing stuff that isn't broken, and you're not allowed to fix the stuff that is. In fact, I wouldn't wonder at all if some manufacturers just decided to fork Android at some point to get rid of excess Google-baggage.

Anyhoo, even if I did say that this never would happen, I'm back with Symbian. I got myself a Nokia E7, which is, especially with Symbian Anna, a pretty spiffy machine. Now, it's got it's own irritations (especially on the app development front), and my mind still boggles at the retardedness of the browser. Not shipping a first-class mobile browser at this day and age is simply inexcusable. The Maemo and Meego teams did it, why can't Symbian? (Rhetorical question, don't answer. I was there. I know. I still fume occasionally just thinking about it. If I had been given free reign over that topic, heads would've rolled many times.)

But Symbian works. And it'll keep me in business for the next few months or years, doing most of the things you would expect a smartphone to do, until the next suitable phone comes along. It might be Bada, it might be Android, it might be Windows Phone, or it might be something completely different. The mobile world still changes fast, and getting too hung up on strategies and which-ceo-said-what is just a good way of getting yourself a headache. Just get what you need and use it.

(Ironically, after a few weeks of Symbianness a once-in-30-years flash rain wet the E7, so it's in the shop and until it's fixed I'm back on dismissing calls accidentally on the Desire Z. Bah.)


"I harbor this odd notion that phones should be usable out of the box without having to reinstall the operating system. Call me weird." How can you ever use any laptop then?

--AnonymousCoward, 30-Aug-2011

'cos, um, a laptop is not a phone?

(Besides, I use Macs. They're fairly plug-n-play, especially with Migration Assistant.)

--JanneJalkanen, 30-Aug-2011

I won't argue with the rest (much of it is addressed in newer versions of HTC's Sense UI), but there is one point of contention:

The email apps - there's a Gmail app (this is the default one that Android ships with) and there's an Email app (this is for any other email service other than Gmail. The *Email* app does indeed have an option for night/day syncing profiles. This is a major reason that I installed a Sense ROM on my G2 (the US version of the Desire Z) (it ships with stock Android). Along the way, HTC have paid MUCH attention to this email app, too. I'm using the Virtuous Unity, which is a custom ROM that is based on Sense 3.0. If you've still got the Desire Z, I'd *highly* recommend cehcking it out (though you may not have the Finnish localization, come to think of it).

--Ricky Cadden, 30-Aug-2011

Thanks Ricky; the builtin email app really does have that functionality. Unfortunately GMail app does not, and guess which one of these I use for work email :-/. I'm wondering if I should just use the builtin mail app for everything...

--JanneJalkanen, 30-Aug-2011

On my experience (running custom Honeycomb on Notion Ink Adam) most of points apply to Android tablets as well. It's a shame, since I'd like to like Android more than iOS (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/aug/09/technology-failure-more-important-than-success)

--Jere Majava, 01-Sep-2011

Lately I was choosing a phone for international travel (choosing between good Android - Galaxy S, good Symbian - Nokia C7, latest MeeGo Harmattan and oldish Maemo N900). The choice was clear, simple and obvious - Symbian.

Reasons? Battery life, offline maps with navigation, best twitter (and minimally ok facebook) client - Gravity. It may be not the best smartphone app-wise, but good enough (even browser became usable after Anna update) + battery life and maps are indispensable when traveling.

--Artem Marchenko, 10-Sep-2011

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