As you’re probably aware, Samsung does not ship its phones with Google’s default launcher. Instead, Samsung installs something called TouchWiz, which to my utter surprise, isn’t half bad, actually. In fact, I tried a few of the other popular launchers, and none of them are as smooth and snappy as TouchWiz. Sadly, it does come with a few really weird design choices (however, as I mentioned earlier in the review, I’m not sure if this is the Android way, or the Samsung way).
For instance, while you can tap and hold to initiate drag and drop to rearrange application shortcuts on your home screen, trying to do the same in the application drawer produces entirely different results; tapping and holding an application there drops you back to the homescreen to create a shortcut to that app. To actually organise the applications in the application drawer, you have to press the menu button and then ‘edit’. Not particularly intuitive, and even after weeks of using this phone, I still do this wrong.
I’m also not entirely happy with the way folders work. When you open a folder, you have to explicitly close it by tapping on the narrow bar atop the opened folder – you can’t just tap outside it to close it. Furthermore, opened folders do not employ bounce-back scrolling. Samsung fail.
I’ve seen Ice Cream Sandwich addresses some of these issues, so I can’t wait to switch to CM9 once it comes out.
Considering the loads of functionality modern smartphone operating systems are supposed to deliver, it’s inevitable a lot of things are going to fall by the wayside in reviews like this. This Misc. chapter will cover a number of, well, miscellaneous things I want to touch upon but that don’t really fit somewhere else.
First, what has become one of the pillars of smartphones today: the browser. There really isn’t a whole lot to report here – and that’s a good thing. The browser on the Galaxy SII is blazing fast, has zero slowdown even on complex websites, and scrolling, panning and zooming is smooth. It’s actually a little better than on my iPad 2, and a heck of a lot better than on my 3GS and HTC HD7.
There’s one thing regarding the browser that iOS users should probably know about. In Android, you can’t tap the status bar to immediately jump to the top of the page like you can in iOS. Instead, Android has a sort of flick gesture which makes the page scroll at high speed to either the top or the bottom of the page. It’s actually a lot more natural in a touch-based interface than tapping a narrow status bar way atop the display. You can stop the fast scrolling any time by tapping, allowing you to quickly jump through a page. The benefit over iOS is that you can also use this to jump to the bottom of a page.
I’m not particularly enamoured with the Gmail application. It works, but the interface – especially when you have an email open – leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, to see previous emails in a conversation, you have to tap a very narrow bar to expand the previous emails partially, and then tap on an individual email. Since all this is not animated, it feels very disorienting. Sadly, there’s no way to turn conversation view off (I dislike it anyway, even on Gmail-proper). As a further annoyance, Gmail doesn’t use bounce-back scrolling when an email is opened. Google fail.
If anybody knows a decent email client for Android, let me know. I do require the instant notifications Gmail provides, and I’m not sure there even is a third party client which supports those.
I’m really liking the eye candy Android provides, like its widget framework and live wallpapers. While most live wallpapers are dubious and incredibly ugly, the ones provided by Google and Samsung are very nice and subtle. I use the Microbes one, which is quite attractive, yet doesn’t get in your face. As far as widgets go, there’s so much choice it seems a bit silly to delve too deep into them.
It’s not a coincidence that I started this review with a few words on PalmOS and Windows Mobile, because after using both iOS and Android extensively, it’s pretty clear we’re at pretty much the exact same point now as we were roughly 10 years ago. iOS is today’s PalmOS, while Android is today’s Windows Mobile. It’s dangerous to say things like that these days, because Windows Mobile (or PocketPC or whatever it was called) gets a remarkably bad rap by people just parroting the party line, while PalmOS is remembered more fondly than it deserves.
The Galaxy SII with Android is the first smartphone I actually like, instead of merely tolerate, due to its extensive versatility, excellent multitasking, and extensive application portfolio. Thanks to the ability to modify virtually any part of the operating system, I can truly make this phone my phone. The idea that in a few months, I’ll be able try out several Ice Cream Sandwich ROMs to find one to my liking has me giddy with excitement – not entirely unlike the first half of the previous decade, when the alternative operating system scene was still very much alive and kicking.
That is not to say Android is perfect, or even better than the competition – because it isn’t. It might be better for certain people, but it’s not better for everyone. However, the same applies to iOS – iOS is not better than Android, but it might be better than Android for some people. I found nothing in either iOS or Android that makes me go “yes, this is the best mobile operating system” – and in all honesty, arguing that your personal pet preference for a mobile operating system is more valid than that of of someone else is silly, at best, and malicious, at worst.
For me, Android has brought back some of the magic of the days of the PDA, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s just something other mobile operating systems do not offer. My Galaxy SII is a true computer, instead of a mere smartphone. It has certainly drawn me away from iOS and Windows Phone 7.5, and I think this might just be the first time that my next phone will run the same operating system as my current phone.
And that’s pretty damn impressive.