Hardware reviews are a big part of how I put bread on the table. In order to do my job properly, I've got to be something of a platform agnostic.
While I do most of my writing using Apple devices, I also have to consider other platforms in my coverage: software that works well on a laptop running Windows 10 may be a dog's breakfast on a MacBook once it's been ported.
A bluetooth speaker that sound great when paired with my iPhone 7 Plus, for example, might sound like hot garbage when linked to another audio source. So I invest in other hardware that may not be used as part of my day-to-day life, but which I still need to think about when doing my job.
About six months ago, I came to the conclusion that maybe hauling the hardware out when it came time to test something and then throwing it back in a box when I'm done with it wasn't enough: to really understand whether, say a pair of headphones that comes with an app to control their EQ or noise cancellation, without seeing how it fits into my day-to-day life using a given platform. So, I upped the amount of time that I spend working in Windows 10, I now read books on both Kobo and Amazon e-readers and, in a real shift in how I live my lift, I've spent more than half a year using Android-powered smartphones as my daily drivers. In the time since I last used an Android device as my go-to, things have improved so much, I was taken aback.
Before going any further, you should know that my previous full-time experience with Android always saw me with something whimsical in my hand. My first Android device was Dell Streak. Compared to the iPhone 3G that I was using at the time, its 7" display was HUGE. I loved it for watching movies and for creating content on the go. But it was heavy, had crap battery life and, back in 2010, Android, as an OS and the platform's anemic selection of top shelf apps led me to sell my Streak after a few months of use. My next Android phone was a Sony Xperia Play. I loved the idea of having a legitimate gaming experience on the go.
That I could run emulators on my smartphone and play games using honest to god hardware controls was the dream. But the phone turned out to be something of a lame duck: the promise of compatible Playstation games from Sony never really came to fruition, beyond a small handful of titles. Worse, the handset itself was flimsy and prone to crashing. And again, to me, Android just wasn't able to compete with the thoughtful UI, feature set or glut of outstanding applications one gets with an iPhone.
Fast forward to 2018.
I was surprised to find that Android is faster than it's ever been. It's UI, while it took me a while to get used to (thanks muscle memory) is polished and easy to navigate, even for new users. The backend of the OS spoils users for choice. I love that I can connect a 1TB SanDisk Rugged Extreme SSD to my phone and watch movies while I travel, no streaming required. Being able to tweak my handset's home screen to look any way I please? Awesome. Having more than a handful of handsets from a single manufacture to pick from? Love it. In the past year, I've farted about with Android smartphones made by LG, Samsung, Blackberry and Motorola. My favorite company that I've run across, so far, has been OnePlus.
I now own a OnePlus 5T and a OnePlus 6. They're well built, fast as hell and, it's possible to find decent cases and other accessories for them. My OnePlus 6, which I'm using today, is protected by an Otterbox case. Even a few years ago, finding a brand name case for an Android phone was damn near impossible. Most importantly, for a solid smartphone, OnePlus gear is cheap.
For around half the price, the OnePlus Six is just as capable a piece of hardware as a current generation iPhone, in just about every area accept for two: apps and its camera. To be blunt, Android still can't keep up with iOS where Apps are concerned. But the difference between the Google Play Store of a few years ago and what's on offer there now is tremendous. I was able to find most of what I need to be able to get through a day away from my laptop. I'm missing a couple of critical apps that I use on a routine basis—Omnifocus and Scrivener. But if I REALLY need to use Scrivener, I can bring my iPhone or iPad with me. And as for Omnifocus, I found a solid, less than legit workaround app in the Play Store that lets me keep on top of my various projects and todo list items.
The OnePlus 6's camera? It's… OK. But for a phone that came out this year, it's having a rough time matching my nearly two year old iPhone 7 Plus in the areas of clarity and color. Using the built-in camera software that comes with Adobe Lightroom Mobile helps as it captures more image information than the OnePlus' camera app does. But, it still only passes merely 'ok' images.
But I think that, given the price of the OnePlus 6, I think that less than stellar but still very nice image quality, is a reasonable trade off.
I've been using Apple gear for over 20 years at this point. The notion of completely switching over to Android isn't enticing to me. I have far too much of my money invested in iOS software, accessories (don't get me started on how much I love Moment's lens system) and lightning cables to leave it all behind now. What's more, despite how much I've enjoyed being in the trenches with an Android device over these past months, I still prefer iOS. Were I to be asked by a friend what phone they should get, I think I'd hesitate before giving an answer.
Automatically, in response to such a query, I'd say, 'an iPhone,' without pause. But Android has come so far and is such a solid choice for an OS, that I'd have no problem, depending on the usage case, considering the recommendation of a Google Pixel, Samsung or OnePlus handset. It's shocking good stuff and, with a little luck, it'll keep getting better.
Image via Flicker, courtesy of Eduardo Woo