Why I Won’t Recommend a *insert-manufacturer-here* Android Phone

There is nothing worse that seeing a person get new gadget only to be disappointed in it after a while. While this post only covers a few aspects, I hope it helps inform of some things to look out for. This post is targeting more of the mid-range / high-end Android phones for several manufacturers based on some observations I’ve seen repeated over and over again.

HTC

  • Typically only dual band UMTS support: meaning you may not be able to get 3G when overseas depending on the frequency used. There is nothing worse that having a great phone and not being able to get the maximum potential out of it, just because the manufacturer decided to save a bit of money by not giving you a better radio supporting more frequencies. Acceptable for budget devices, but not for midrange / high-end ones.
  • They seem to make a new flagship phone very quickly after one another or that their flagship phone is not really clear. For other manufacturers the flagship phone is typically the highest-end phone with the most capabilities and it is pretty clear which device it is.
    • Samsung – Galaxy S, Galaxy SII.
    • Sony Ericsson – Xperia X10, Xperia Arc.
    • Motorola – Droid / Milestone, Droid 2, Droid 3

    Based on Wikipedia Announced dates of previous HTC phones which I consider their flagship device:

Sony Ericsson

  • I won’t recommend higher end phones because they have only 320MB for app storage (Arc, Neo, Pro, Ray). For budget phones like the Xperia Mini or Mini Pro this amount will be pretty good but not for mid-range or high-end phones. I think HTC has solved this problem with their higher end phones, but ask any HTC Desire owner now, and I bet they have been utterly annoyed at the meager 140MB+ free after a factor reset (now only 128MB after the Gingerbread update). Other competitors have at least 1GB, which I think is the absolute minimum acceptable.

LG

  • Bad support: i.e. no updates. As an owner of the LG Optimus One there was first talk of it not being able to be upgraded to Android 2.3 a.k.a. Gingerbread, but then in December they said it would get the 2.3 upgrade. While it seemed to be rolled out in Romania at the start of July, it is still not available to me. Note that this is their budget phone and according to the Facebook note the higher end models like the Optimus 2X will receive the update only after the Optimus One update is completed. So would this continue in the future? Higher end LG phones get updated after the budget ones?

Acer

Any Manufacturer that doesn’t use stock Android

  • This is mainly due to the fact official updates will take longer if they do not use stock Android, meaning that they have customized things such as the launcher or interface (e.g. HTC’s Sense UI, Samsung’s TouchWiz). This is due to the fact that they would have to update their customizations before pushing the upgrade. There was a long delay for the HTC Desire to get Android 2.2 which would aid the lower app storage space by allowing moving apps to the SD card.

Samsung, Motorola and Huawei are the other main Android manufacturers that I don’t really have any beef against. There is a mention of Samsung breaking some core functionality but that is for any non-stock Android device and so far there doesn’t seem to me much complaints / responses to the post so may be an non-issue or affects a small minority (or people just think Android is broken), but is is something to note.

All being said and done, while some manufacturers have issues with their devices they can still be recommended based on price and your usage scenarios. Below are some phones I do recommend based on the different price ranges.

B$200 – B$300: LG Optimus One @ B$250 (a bit old, don’t expect updates)
B$300 – B$400: Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro @ B$368 (my current budget phone recommendation)
B$400 – B$500: HTC Chacha @ B$418 (no competition in this price range)
B$500 – B$600: HTC Desire S @ B$562, Samsung Galaxy S Plus @ B$578 (no flash)
B$600 – B$700: HTC Incredible S @ B$612, Samsung Galaxy Tab @ B$648 (a tablet and phone and thus bulky)
B$700 – B$800: HTC Sensation @ B$758
B$800 – B$900: Samsung Galaxy SII @ B$858

My OS X Issues

So I recently got a 13″ Macbook Pro and after month with it as my full time operating system, here are my issues with the Mac OS X as a heavily keyboard dependent user who has been in a Windows and Linux (Ubuntu/Debian) world for many years.

Command + Tab Application Switcher

One of the things apparent to me when I used a Mac previously was that when you Command + Tab (Mac’s version of Window’s Alt+Tab) to switch between open applications, it won’t show all the current windows open, just the applications. So, for instance, if you have 3 Finder windows open, when I Command + Tab I will only see one icon as show below.

3 Finder windows, 1 Finder icon in the application switcher
3 finders 1 icon

I can see the rationale for this as it doesn’t clutter the application switcher screen but I personally do not like it. There is a way to switch between multiple windows of the same program (Alt + `)(Command + `) which is good that it is accessible but still the inconvenience of having to switch to the application before switching to the right window. This is detrimental to my workflow and productivity on a Mac. I guess to combat this, expose was created for window selection. Expose nicely lays out all open windows on one screen for the user to select and bring to the foreground, and it is even keyboard accessible. However it is not as efficient as alt+tabbing on Windows because each time expose launches, you would have to search for the correct window on the screen before clicking it and proceeding. Witch solves this problem but it will cost you (€9.95) and I’m actually surprised at how few people want this option (current score is: -21).

Expose in action on 3 Finder windows:
expose finder

Finder

Finder is the equivalent to Window’s Explorer used for file management. One thing that became apparent to me when moving between OS’s is that OS X likes to create hidden files on USB drives and these files are never show in Finder. You simply can’t show hidden files in Finder. I also like to go to the folders by typing in the location using the address bar in Windows. This is something I also cannot do easily with Finder: the “Go To Folder…” dialog box has no auto complete and just does not offer the flexibility of a address bar where I can type and search on the fly.

OS X’s “Go to the folder” dialog instead of an address bar
finder go to folder

In Finder you cannot list directories first. Thus if you’re trying to access a folder that is deep in your folder hierarchy, you are just searching the sub directories of a folder, you will find yourself searching for the folder among the files. There really needs to be an option for this.

Folders sorted together with files instead of before
finder folders and files mixed

Cut and Paste
No copy and paste but cut and paste. Yes there is cut and paste in a text editor but there is none for file management in Finder. This is a big deal for me as I will use cut and paste very heavily in file management as it allows me to do all my file management via the keyboard. With Finder you’re forced to use the mouse to move files by dragging the folders into the necessary location. This ends up to be a huge time waster. It seems some 3rd party file managers (Path Finder and RAGE Macintosh Explorer) do implement cut and paste feature but if you cut files and forget to paste them (or you interrupt your cut with a copy and paste elsewhere) you can lose the files you previously cut. Windows and Linux has had cut & paste for years and here is Mac OS X without it. I find that hard to believe and also that only now in Snow Leopard you can restore your (accidentally) deleted file to the original location.

Replace not Merge
Take note that if you have 2 folders (A and B) of the same name and try to replace one folder with the other (drag folder A to folder B’s enclosing folder) do take note that it will replace folder B with folder A and not merge the 2 folders into one. Thus any files in folder B will be lost. This is very important and I can forsee a lot of cursing and swearing if this concept is not understood. For the record Windows merges the 2 folders giving the user with a folder containing files from both of the folders.
finder replace not merge

Menu Bar

So on a Mac the Menu Bar is always on the top and menu items change dynamically based on which application is currently in focus. The problem here is that you have to select the application first before being able to access any menu. So if you have another application window besides the current window you are using you cannot just access the menu item of the other window, you will have to click on the other window, move your mouse back up to the top of the screen where the menu bar is and file the item. Another time waster. You also cannot navigate menu items like you can in Windows. In Windows you can simply press the Alt key and menu bar is selected and thus you can use the navigation keys to move around the menu. Quick and simple. You can even use shortcuts to access menu items by pressing the key for the letter underlined in the menu. While you can place focus on the Menu bar in OS X using an awkward shortcut of Ctrl + F2 (am trying to find a way to mimic the single button Alt keypress in Windows) , there is no possible quick navigation of the menus.

On the right side of the menu bar there are icons/text that act as shortcuts to certain fuctions (e.g. wireless, bluetooth, volume control) or just for information display. The problem is that some programs have enough menu items to hide some of these icons and there is no way to view these icons in the hidden state. The only way around this is to remove functionality/information from the menu bar itself, preventing me from using it the way I want to. Windows has a feature to hide system tray icons and there is a toggle button to show them all. OS X needs a feature like this.

Menu bar in Mail – hiding some icons
menu bar mail
Menu bar in Finder – revealing hidden icons
menu bar finder

Window Menu

In Windows you can access the window menu by pressing Alt + Space. You can do things like maximize, minimize, restore and close the current window. You can even resize and move the window just by using the keyboard. That is just great and helps productivity. For OS X there is no window menu. You have to use the mouse to move and resize the window. Worse yet you can only resize the window my using the resizer in the bottom right of the window; you can’t resize from any other corner, ONLY the bottom right. I found that Afloat allows moving and resizing windows via the mouse as well as “always on top” and transparency features that I get with Compiz in Linux.

Zoom / (Smart) Maximize

In Windows the title bar has 3 buttons: minimize, maximize and close. In OS X you also have 3 buttons (on the left rather than the right), close, minimize to dock (-) button and zoom (+) button. Zoom does a ‘smart’ maximize that maximizes the window to occupy the optimal space, not the full screen. I can see that makes sense because when you maximize windows sometimes you get a lot of whitespace or useless space, but the issue with this is that it is inconsistent between applications and gets frustrating at times. So I found RightZoom that makes the Zoom button do a maximize like Windows and better still adds a shortcut to this.

OS X’s zoom button: love it or hate it
zoom button

Home and End

If you work with any kind of text in Windows I believe the Home and End buttons are your friends as they are mine. It seems these friends have had a change of heart in the Mac world. I’m using a standard (Windows) keyboard with and when I press the Home / End buttons they bring me to the start / end of the document I’m editing instead of the start / end of the line that I’m used to. I know there is the Command + Left / Command + Right to do this but call me lazy if I think an extra button to press too much inconvenience. Thankfully I found DoubleCommand which allows the Home and End keys to work as I expect them to.

Inaccessible window/dialog box that float on top

I found that there are some windows/dialog boxes that cannot be accessed via the keyboard application switcher (Command + Tab) or window switcher (Command + `). Open TextEdit (though I think it works in all applications), in the Menu bar > Help > TextEdit help. The window that appears is now inaccessible by the standard keyboard window selector shortcuts mentioned but can be accessed via expose. The worst part is that the window floats on top of everything you’re doing forcing me to reach for the mouse or find the window in expose. This can also happen if a samba share goes offline and you have it mounted

Mac Help window inaccessible via Witch (which is supposed to show all opened windows)
inaccesible help window

Keyboard inaccessible dialog box / help window
no selecteable dialog box same with help filepicture 1

Conclusion

These are my main issues with OS X and there are several other (minor) issues. As you can see there seems to be people with similar situations to mine as there are 3rd party applications developed to overcome these issues. After using a Mac I have realized that Macs jeopardize (my) keyboard skill portability due to the use of the command key instead of ctrl key for many functions and also due to the fact that Apple keyboards have a different layout. I guess the same can be said for long time Mac users in the Windows / Linux world but the fact that Apple not only dictates OS X’s the software but the Apple hardware and both ‘offend’ my quest for keyboard shortcut portability. Just as how Opera changed their new tab shortcut to Ctrl + T from Ctrl + N many version ago for consistency among the other tabbed browsers I can only hope and dream that Apple would give an option to make OS X shortcuts work like they do in Windows.