The iPhone-to-Android Switch: What You Need To Know

You've had it. Maybe with your mobile phone service provider. Maybe with Apple's crushing, dictatorial grip strangling the App Store. Whatever the reason, you're going to Android: Land of freedom and the great Google. Here's what you need to know.

It's All in the Google Cloud

Android phones don't sync with your computer. That's because they don't have to: Your contacts, calendar and mail are all kept up in the great Googleyplex. Unfortunately, Google's Contacts manager, while it's gotten better, is kinda crappy, and all of your Contacts are beamed down to your phone from there.

So even after you get the actual contacts you wanna talk to exported to Google Contacts, one problem is that all of your Google contacts, like everybody you email, show up on your phone. What you have to do is either sort your contacts into different groups and tell the phone's Contacts app to show only the groups you only wanna see, or to only show you people with phone numbers. If you wanna sync your contacts, so you have a master copy on your computer and can manage them from there, that problem takes a bit of legwork — at least on Windows.

If you're on a Mac, it's easy to keep your contacts synced — just tell Address Book to sync with Google. On Windows, you'll need a third-party app, like GO contact. That way, you can manage your contacts on your desktop and have a local copy that's always synced up with what Google's got.

Calendars are easier: Google's got an app for that.

The Gmail App Is Amazing

If your primary email account is Gmail, that's almost reason enough to go Android. Not only is Gmail pushed to your phone, the Gmail app is an absolutely perfect rendition of the Gmail experience for the small screen. Threaded conversations (hurray), full label support, starring, archiving and a true Gmail look-and-feel. It's even better in Android 2.0, which finally includes support for using multiple Google accounts with the Gmail app, and a few interface tweaks to make it easier to use.

For your non-Google accounts, there's a separate email app that's a pretty standard IMAP/POP mobile email app. Not amazing, not bad.

For That Matter, All of the Google Apps Are Amazing

You might be switching to Android for political reasons, or just to get away from what you've currently got, but what's gonna make switching actually work is that all of the Google services are fantastic and often more powerful than their iPhone counterparts.

Google Talk is the non-Gmail killer app for me, and it highlights just how badly the iPhone needs a native messaging app — it's like BlackBerry Messenger, but for Google. (Or mobile AIM, but less shitty.) Keep in mind, anyone signed in to Gmail on a desktop browser can be reached through Google Talk if they've authorised it, so you've probably got more "buddies" than you might realise.

Latitude is actually built into the Maps app; Google Voice integrates seamlessly; and Google actually frequently releases updates them the Android Marketplace. Oh and did I mention Google Navigation? Yeah.

What Google hasn't gotten around to yet is integrating Google Docs, but the web version with Android's HTML5-superpowered browser is pretty good.

Multitasking Is All It's Cracked Up to Be, Mostly

"Hey look, someone @replied me on Twitter!" Pull down the window shade, check it out, go back to browsing this month's custard calendar. "Oh hey, an email." Down comes the window shade, I reply, and then instantly return to drooling over pumpkin-pie custard before flipping to Google Talk to tell my friend when we're going to slaughter zombies in Left 4 Dead 2 demo. All in 10 seconds while listening to my music.

The drop down window shade is pure genius, and it's what makes the cacophony of notifications from all the apps you've got running work. Sure, there's a bit of lag switching back to the browser and then scrolling is choppy for a second, but it's a small price to pay. And bigger batteries in more recent hardware, like the Droid, are enough to make it through the day.

Android Takes More Work

Every version of Android gets a little smoother, a little more user-friendly, but stock versions are pretty barebones. Want to read a PDF attached to an email? You need an app. Visual voicemail? Gotta download it unless your carrier pre-installs one. Want a notepad? Find it on the Market. HTC takes care of a lot of these little humps with their custom builds — which includes a PDF viewer out of the box, for example — and generally speaking, there's an app for the basic holes that need to be filled in, but get ready to do a little bit of legwork.

It's Not Quite as Secure

The lock screen is a series of swipes — not an actual passcode — and there's no remote wipe out of the box. Granted, with the iPhone you need a MobileMe plan to get remote wipe, but you don't have to look for an app to install, like SMobile Security Shield.

It's also less secure in the app department, at least on paper: Under Android, you can opt to install unverified programs through the settings menu. This may be a good thing to you — even your reason for switching — but it carries obvious extra risks.

The Android Marketplace Isn't as Nice as the App Store (Yet)

The only place to look for apps and install them is directly on your phone, through the Android Marketplace. With Android 1.6, the Marketplace did get a lot nicer to browse, with a new interface and actual app screenshots, but categories are still too broad, and you still can't do any of this on your desktop, where you have a much bigger screen. Updating apps? You've gotta do them one at a time, which is annoying.

The App Situation Is Getting Better, But Isn't There Yet

So here's the thing. The app ecosystem on Android has absolutely exploded, so it's a much, much better place to be than it was six months ago, much less a year ago. In fact, for a lot of your everyday iPhone apps, there's now an Android counterpart or equivalent: Facebook, Slacker, Remember the Milk, Shazam, Flixster, etc. The problem is, they're universally not as polished or full-featured. Facebook's missing messaging and events entirely; Twidroid, the best Twitter app, is hideous compared to any of the top five iPhone Twitter apps.

Gaming is probably the single biggest thing you'll miss. There are games, yes. Some of them good. There aren't as many and they're not as fantastic. There's nothing like Star Defense or Sim City (oops). Partly, this is simply a numbers issue: Android's not as big as the iPhone yet. But the other aspect is that there's a serious storage limitation for apps — just 256MB in some phones — which seriously cramps what games can do. Apps will get better, the app economy will get better, this is true. But for now, be ready for some limitations and possibly, disappointments.

Music and Video? Just Buy an iPod

Kidding. Sort of. Getting music and video onto your Android phone is a purely drag and drop operation — there's no official Google sync application to organise and get your 10 gigs of music onto your phone. There are third-party solutions, like doubleTwist or Windows Media Player. But once you get the music on there, the music player itself kinda blows. It's ugly and just not very nice to use. On the upside, it plays Ogg Vorbis, open source fans.

Movie watchers are in even worse shape with Android. Your best bet is to avoid the native player that's sort of hidden and to actually use a third-party app, Meridian. Or just get a PMP for your music and video, and you'll be much happier.

I think that covers the basics guys. Yeah, Android's not as polished or smooth, but you know what? It's actually quite liveable over here. If there's something else you wanna know — or want to share — about switching, drop it into the comments.

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