iPhone user goes Android. But will he stay?

iPhone user goes Android. But will he stay?

Aurel Stevens
Zurich, on 12.04.2018
Pictures: David Lee
Sure, I have occasionally toyed with an Android. But since the release of the iPhone 3GS, I rely on iOS devices in my everyday life. And I’m really quite happy with them. But when I recently had the need for a manageable video player, I went for an Android tablet.

A tablet is a great gadget for reading books on the sofa or in bed, watching Netflix or surfing the Internet. It’s usually more comfortable than a bulky laptop or the miniature screen on your smartphone. That’s why I decided to get a tablet.

The new, slightly slimmed down iPad is a prime candidate. With a price tag of 349.–, it’s remarkably affordable and has everything I need. But it’s a 9.6″ device and I want a more manageable model around eight inches. iPad mini (7.9″) has the perfect size but is only available with 128 GB memory. And that would set me back over 400 francs.

iPad (2018) (9.70", 32GB, Space Gray)
Apple iPad (2018) (9.70", 32GB, Space Gray)
iPad mini 4 (7.90", 128GB, Space Gray)
Apple iPad mini 4 (7.90", 128GB, Space Gray)

So I start looking at Android devices and am overcome by the urge to expand my horizon. I'm going to get an Android!

The range of models with smallish screens is not too big so it doesn't take me long to find the device I want. The Huawei Mediapad M3. Good display, solid battery life, cheap. Plus the customer ratings look great: incredible value for money. It only runs Android 6, so I’ll have to update. Never mind. After a bit of research, I realise that Android 8 is not available for the M3. Last January, Huawei rolled out an update but only for Android 7. I’m dumbfounded. A device that was launched in autumn 2016 only has Android 7? Please tell me it isn’t true.

MediaPad M3 (8.40", 32GB, Silver)
Huawei MediaPad M3 (8.40", 32GB, Silver)

I remove the M3 from my shopping cart and add the M5 that I’ve discovered in the meantime. The specs are similar but the M5 is equipped with Android 8. The M5 is the updated version, offers USB-C and therefore faster charging. The front camera is also a little better (13 MP instead of 8 MP). On the downside, Huawei has got rid of the headphone jack for the M5. Why, Huawei, why? I’d instantly sacrifice the improved cameras for a headphone jack. I want a video machine not a camera flounder! Oh well, in that case the included adapter will have to make up for it.

Tablets
/>
MediaPad M5 (8.40", 32GB, Space Gray)
Huawei MediaPad M5 (8.40", 32GB, Space Gray)

Ultra-Vision display paired with high-res sound and superior battery endurance promise more pleasure on the tablet.

The M5 is ready to collect in the shop the very next day. I’m excited! Will I warm to Android this time round?

Where did my swipe back go?

Certain features are etched into your brain if you use them on a daily basis. The left-to-right swipe movement in iOS devices is one of them. In apps it’s used for going back and forwards. It’s a mystery to me why this is not an out-of-the-box Android feature. After all, it’s highly intuitive and handy. Particularly in your browser. Fortunately, Dominik Bärlocher already described how to retrofit it for Android (currently only in German).

*Wie bei Apple**: Wie du den Swipe-Up zum Home Screen auf Android hinbekommstvideo
placeholder

placeholder

Although there’s no swipe forward, I at least have my swipe back function. Thank you, Dominik!

Ad blocker

As soon as it was available for iOS 11, I installed an ad blocker on my iPhone. Animated banner ads drain my precious battery, insult my eyes and reduce speed and data volume. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against ads. Online portals need to live on something. Whenever advertisements are at a tolerable level, I allow them.

I’m surprised to find this is not as straightforward for Android. There are no browser plug-ins available for download or system-wide settings. So I ask my Android-experienced colleagues Philipp Rüegg and Luca Fontana for advice. I’m flabbergasted: They simply put up with the ads. My quest for a good solution similar to iOS brings me to Opera. Initially, Opera blocks everything but makes exceptions for «good» websites. Excellent!

Tenacious bloatware

Smartphones are rectangular, processor platforms are few and far between and the operating system is the same. I understand the Android manufacturers. They want their product to stand out – not only through the price tag. Huawei has gone for its very own interface called EMUI. So far so good. But why on earth has Huawei developed its own health app and cloud memory but has left M3 users out in the rain with Android 6.0? I don’t get it.

I give EMUI a chance. It’s not bad. But I take Dominik’s advice and switch to Nova Launcher. The pre-installed weather app tries to access my IMEI. Say what?! My IMEI to show me the weather? I immediately bin the app. I feel the same way about the health app «HiCare» and try to uninstall it. I can’t because it’s a system app. How annoying! It’s a pity that Huawei is following Apple’s stupid idea of making certain apps non-removable.

However, when it comes to the home screen, Android knows its stuff. After seeing this, I ask myself why Apple refuses to display a weather widget on my home screen.

Big blunder concerning Netflix & Co.

A true showstopper is that Huawei has failed to comply with important DRM specifications. Android’s Digital Rights Management (DRM) is called Widevine and knows three levels: L1 to L3. And it’s only at L1 (encrypted chip) that you get HD and 4K content. The M5 only has L3. In other words, I only get SD content if I want to watch DRM-ed videos. That’s totally absurd on a device like this.

Seriously, Huawei. How could you make such a great device, call it «Mediapad», pre-install Netflix and then only allow me to watch stuff in SD quality? It’s not like I’m asking for 4K content on an 8” display. But surely, 720p isn’t too much to ask. Now I’m stuck with 480p and feel I was taken for a ride. Reading that M3 technology «provides up to 12 hours of 1080P video playback» in the press release doesn’t help matters either.

But there’s hope! Upon request, Huawei Switzerland sends me the following official statement:

Huawei is currently working with Netflix for a solution to resolve the problem of playing HD videos on the HUAWEI MediaPad M5 tablet. Meanwhile, consumers can enjoy the immersive audio and video experience with their MediaPad M5 with other video apps. The company will provide an update on developments.

I’m curious to see what happens. Not least because the whole DRM issue has nothing to do with Netflix but with the fact that your device needs to have command of Widevine L1. All Netflix does is unlock the device identification.

Conclusion

What can I say? I don’t have a problem with Android. It’s not love at first sight but I can work with that. It’s almost what I expected. At first, I was very enthusiastic about the Huawei Mediapad M5. Meanwhile, I’m a bit deflated.

As regards safety updates, Android has come a long way. Having said that, I’m still not that impressed. Operating system updates are either not rolled out in the first place or available with great delays. That’s a real pity and I don’t really understand why. Sure, maintenance costs a lot of money. But wouldn’t it be an outstanding unique selling point if Huawei were to promptly and reliably provide updates for its devices? If I were Huawei, that would be worth much more to me than cramming my own health app and a cloud memory into the market.

Sure, you can complain about Apple’s «gilded cage». But they know how to do updates. My iPhone 6S (2014) started out with iOS 8 and now smoothly runs iOS 11. Maybe it will even make it to iOS 12. And then there are prompt security updates. And maybe it’s true that Android is theoretically just as good as iOS. But Apple has really mastered performance. On all devices and for several years.

Many Android devices also have you locked into a cage, because the operating system was adjusted and can’t be updated just like that. My tablet is a fine example for this problem. Nonetheless, I’ll happily give Android another go some other time. It’s a fine thing. However, experience has taught me to go for a device that supports AOSP or maybe LineageOS. These versions are free from bloatware, promptly updated and all relevant features should work from the get-go. There’s a strong possibility that this will make me happy.

I’ll keep you posted about the whole Netflix thing. If you pros out there have some advice for an Android newbie like me, I’d be very grateful for it.

33 people like this article


Aurel Stevens
Aurel Stevens
Chief Editor, Zurich
I'm the master tamer at the flea circus that is the editorial team, a nine-to-five writer and 24/7 dad. Technology, computers and hi-fi make me tick. On top of that, I’m a rain-or-shine cyclist and generally in a good mood.

These articles might also interest you