If your entire world depends on the changes in the stock market, and you have invested in Apple, you suffered yet another roller coaster ride in recent days. First, as Apple introduced the iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s, the reaction was rather less than tepid. In fact, the street wasn't impressed, interpreting the whole product launch as underwhelming.
Of course, that didn't stop hordes of the Apple faithful, so-called, from crowding around Apple Stores and other dealers in the countries in which the new iPhones were being sold. So much for the lack of demand that the critics continue to fret over.
The only fly in the ointment is the fact that stocks of the gold iPhone 5s were depleted early on. This was clearly the hot ticket, and there are reports that Apple is attempting to boost production accordingly. I prefer silver, by the way, but, unless one magically shows up at your favorite dealer, prepare to wait until some time in October to get one. Or at least that's what the published reports state.
Now on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, the irrepressible Rik Myslewski, Managing Editor for The Register, a UK-based "snarky" tech publication, and a long-time observer of Apple Inc., discussed the advances in the iPhone 5s, including 64-bit support, plus state-of-the-art developments in the chip industry.
You'll also heard from Dann Berg, Reviews Editor for The Verge, who considered the recent efforts by Google and Microsoft to deliver a vertical solution to building new gear that is similar to Apple's. So we have Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility in 2011, and the recent announcement that Microsoft was acquiring the mobile handset division of Nokia. He also gave you his early reactions to iOS 7, the major upgrade to Apple's mobile OS.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Donald R. Schmitt, co-author (along with Thomas J. Carey) of "Inside the Real Area 51: The Secret History of Wright Patterson." We all know about Nevada's Area 51 all right. Even the government admits it's real. But what about the "real" Area 51? Where might the actual wreckage of the Roswell crash be stored? You'll learn about this and other mysteries on this fascinating episode.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We're taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: "Separating Signal From Noise." We've also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
Realizing that I needed more extended exposure to Android smartphones, I decided to make a bold move earlier this year. I contacted Samsung's PR agency and asked if they had a Galaxy smartphone for me to evaluate on a long-term basis.
They were happy to oblige, and within days, I had a turquoise blue Galaxy S3 in my hands. I could use it for two weeks, or have it added to my own AT&T account and keep it for a longer period, and so I began my journey into Androidland.
Having used an iPhone on a daily basis almost since they were first released, I had grown accustomed to a specific set of apps and settings. Since Android is supposed to offer an extensive feature set that allows you to customize the look of your handset to a fare-thee-well, I figured it would be easy to deliver a similar experience, but I was only partly correct.
It's a sure thing that Android offers a huge number of settings. The Settings app is stuffed with categories and sub-categories, and most apps have their own sets of additional preferences. Indeed, it seemed that every nook and cranny of the OS was covered, and Samsung adds even more choices with their own custom interface components and apps. There was even the option to make text clearer, which had a best a slight improvement. So why even offer the option? Wouldn't it make more sense to make the setting a default? The same is true for the option to improve call quality. It's as if Google and Samsung would rather confuse than offer something that just works, all with the intent, I suppose, of giving you choices.
Alas, the default settings seemed, for some reason, to have many useful options switched off by default, which was doubly curious. After all was said and done, it took several days of trial and error to get everything to work the way I wanted, and so I decided to flesh out the app collection. As I've mentioned previously, the default Android Email app has a curious flaw, which made its presence known on IMAP accounts, when I checked a message sent by the app on a Mac, PC, or an iOS device. The symptom: The text is repeated twice. Samsung's tech support has confirmed the bug, but it has not been fixed. The Galaxy S3 had an Android 4.1.x configuration. When I migrated to a Galaxy S4, Samsung's best-selling smartphone, with Android 4.2.2 (a process not nearly as smooth as on an iOS device), the problem persisted, and Samsung never responded to my queries as to why.
In order to sort of match the iOS Mail look and feel, I installed InoMail, which I downloaded from the Google Play store. For the most part, it worked well after a few bug fix updates, but that curious Sent mail bug was there too, as if the app was, in part, based on the same software engine as Email.
Other apps were hit or miss. The Android version of Time Mobile, which accesses Time magazine's content, would sometimes quit, and I'd have to close it and open it repeatedly to actually read a story rather than stare at a headline. The GCN network's player app, which allows you to listen to my radio shows on a mobile device, never, ever worked. On the Galaxy S3, there was no audio whatsoever. On the Galaxy S4, the audio would start and stop within a second or two. Sometimes it would resume a minute or two later. My colleagues at GCN complained about having to confront Android's fragmentation to build a compatible version for different OS releases.
Understand that the iOS versions of these two apps always worked.
The long and short of it is that Android apps tend to be inconsistent and not always fully functional. The OS appears to be assembled by separate committees that rarely talk to each other, and the vision thing is clearly an afterthought. Even though iOS 7 has its flaws, you can certainly see a relative consistency and elegance that allows it to mostly get out of the way when you want to just do your thing.
That takes us to last Friday, when I set up a new smartphone for review, the iPhone 5c. This was a white 16GB version, which I attempted to activate on my wife's AT&T phone number. Since this was launch day, AT&T was slammed, and the first rep had to switch me to a supervisor to help. She, in turn, asked me to recheck the hardware identity, or IMEI number, and the ICCID number for the SIMM. I was instructed to turn the 5c off and on again, and the activation finally took hold.
Going through the setup process took but a few moments, during which time I enabled locations, connected to the home Wi-Fi network and my Apple ID account. I set up the unit to sync with iTunes, and thus selected a small collection of apps for Mrs. Steinberg to use. After setup, I got a prompt from Apple offering the opportunity to download a bunch of free apps, which included iMovie, iPhoto and the three iWork apps.
Going through all the settings and adding email accounts took a little over an hour, and I made minor changes that were in line with what I had done on my previous iPhones. I do feel that the thin text in iOS 7 is a tad too faint for my eyes, and so I enabled Increase Contrast under General>Accessibility. It had a slight positive impact to readability. This is a setting I had already made on the third generation iPad, which received the update a couple of days earlier. I also downloaded the 7.0.1 iOS update, which is only available for iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s users, and fixes some early release glitches.
Over the next day, I was able to fully realize the huge advantage of the iOS over Android.
Let's start with a simple function: scrolling. On any recent iOS device, live scrolling is smooth, and text and pictures do not visibly change while in motion. Not so even with the most powerful Android smartphone, the Galaxy S4, where text thickens noticeably, and you can see the ragged movement, as scrolling seems to proceed in tiny and rapid jumps. It's as if the hardware is battling a bloated, inefficient OS into defeat. Touch response is also snappier on an iPhone, and, in fact, a report about TouchMark benchmarks of the new iPhones and Android hardware indicate that the iPhone is up to twice as fast.
Apple's approach is to make objects move smoothly, fluidly, which may not seem instantaneous, but comes across as snappier. iPhone apps mostly seemed to launch faster, and emails populated the Mail app with amazing speed. Indeed, I found myself hard put to believe that the Galaxy S4 benchmarks more than twice as fast as an iPhone 5 or 5c, and is even somewhat faster in some respects than the 5s with the 64-bit A7 chip. But it is also true that Samsung has been exposed for cheating, by deliberately overclocking the S4 when benchmarking apps are run. I suppose if that mode were left on all the time, battery life would surely suffer, and I'd wonder about reliability, since the S4 runs noticeably warmer than the 5c.
With the Galaxy S4, I had grown accustomed to periodically running the system optimization tool in one of the security apps, which simply quit unused apps en masse. Android is praised for having a full-time multitasking system, but when an errant app starts a runaway process, battery life is apt to suffer severely. The AT&T Messages app, which seemed to offer the best feature set of the bunch that came with the S4, would frequently quit after sending an SMS message.
Although Google is praised for having a superior Notification Center, where you can toggle key system functions that include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and even syncing, everything is crowded together, and it's too easy for a wayward tap to turn off a service. Compare to Apple's approach in iOS 7, which is to establish a separate Control Center pane, which you pull up instead of pull down, to handle a few service toggles and other functions, including a flashlight feature. By separating these functions from Notification Center — and they really aren't alerting you of anything — the opportunity for error is sharply reduced.
Once again, Apple might be late to introduce a feature, but that feature will often be executed in a far more reliable fashion.
My simple conclusion is that Android may be far more configurable, but most of the configurations are not necessary, since they address functions that really ought to be active by default. Where iOS is smooth and unobtrusive, Android unfortunately makes its presence known in uncomfortable ways, particularly when features don't work as advertised, or an app constantly quits.
Yes, I had a couple of quits in Settings on the iPhone 5c. This phenomenon occurred more frequently on the iPad, and I wouldn't be surprised to see an iOS 7.0.2 soon to address the usual raft of early release glitches.
All right, the iPhone 5c's 4-inch screen may appear to be a negative on the surface, compared to the richly colored Galaxy S4's 5-inch display. But the colors in the 5c seem more realistic, and you are actually able to see something in sunlight, whereas the S4's AMOLED display washes out entirely even at full brightness. I wonder, in passing, why such publications as Consumer Reports have failed to notice this well-known defect, even as they praise Samsung to the skies.
Just as bad, the Auto brightness function on the two Samsungs merely dimmed the brightness and did nothing more. On the 5c, I was able to select a brightness setting in normal room lighting, tap Auto-Brightness, and I was able to get on with my business and get a reasonably consistent image under most lighting conditions. I just wonder why some reviewers haven't picked up on this.
Yes, the Samsung has more features, but things like Tilt to Scroll are barely functional or simply do not work. Some criticize Apple for not installing NFC, which is used for those bump-to-transfer functions and for commerce. But none of the establishments I visited with a Samsung smartphone in my pocket advertised any support for NFC, and Google has released an iOS version of Wallet that doesn't require NFC either.
In passing, I wonder what NFC will be able to do that Bluetooth Low Energy won't be able to accomplish going forward. Apple may not always be first to adopt a technology — and certainly 3G and LTE were key examples over the years. They will either ignore a feature, or add it in a way that is actually reliable and easy to use. Well, mostly. I think the cut, copy and paste feature is still a work in progress, though it's not as if Android does it any better.
My overall reaction to the switchover is no doubt psychological in part. I felt more comfortable with the 5c, and managed to handle my routine tasks, such as reading and responding to email, more rapidly. Although the sharp-edged text on the S4 seems clearer than the smoothed text on the 5c, I was less fatigued reading long passages on the latter. This is a well-known comparison as it works essentially the same on the Mac and the PC.
Even recharging the 5c is a tad easier. With the S4's Micro-USB cable, I had to look closely to make sure it was oriented in the right direction before placing the plug into the unit's jack; even then, it always seemed a tad loose. Apple's new Lightning connector works in both directions, and connects with a solid click. While developers who have invested money building accessories compatible with the old Dock connector might be rightfully upset, in the end Apple probably made a good choice.
In an imperfect world, the choice of mobile platform is still a matter of personal taste, but it's a good thing to ignore the silly myths about the value of Android's extensive customization options, or the complaints about Apple's alleged "walled garden." If you are still on the fence, or you are wondering whether to jump to a different platform, take the time to consider the real plusses and minuses. But also try to just sit back, set logic aside, and see which product meets your personal needs. Sometimes it's better to trust your instincts.
Of course, if an iPhone 5s is on your shopping list, prepare to wait. A published report suggests that Apple is out of stock till October, although I suppose it's possible stocks will be replenished before the month is over. But I do plan to have an update on the iPhone 5s shortly.
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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