September is typically the beginning of smartphone season, so I decided I'd finally make the leap: After using iPhones exclusively since phones got data plans, I've always been curious about what life is like on the Android part of the world.
So I decided to find out, spending at least a month with an Android device to see if switching mobile platforms made sense for me. It turned out I needed less than that to know I'm not really an Android person and that I'll remain an iPhone user for a very long time. The experience even pushed me to upgrade my iPhone earlier than I planned to.
Here's my diary from my first — and last, at least for a while — month on an Android phone.
Day 1: Picking an Android phone
I wanted to get the most neutral version of Android imaginable, so I borrowed a Pixel 3a from the Tom's Guide labs. I made my choice in a kind of "what if?" scenario, wondering how I'd respond to the cheapest Google phone after using the iPhone XS Max for a year.
After swapping my SIM card into the Pixel 3a and booting the device up, I began to appreciate the feel and look of Google's phone. Yes, the bezels on its chin and forehead (or bottom and top, if you prefer) are a bit chunky, but it felt superlight in my pocket, at 5.2 ounces — 29% lighter than the 7.3-ounce iPhone I was used to lugging everywhere.
When interacting with Google's interface and downloading apps, I didn't find any jarring or disruptive speed drop. I did notice that Android lacked anything close to Apple's Reachability feature, which makes it easier to tap items at the top of your screen. Yes, XDA made a tool for this, but that years-old feature should be a basic offering by now.
Day 2: Wait, you can't copy an image?
We spend years acclimating to the world around us, and change isn't always pleasant. So I shouldn't have been surprised that Android lacks one of the very simple things about iOS that I've grown to rely on: copying and pasting images. I ran into this issue when I tried to explain the "xkcd" comic "Someone is wrong on the internet" but couldn't copy the image from the web page using my Pixel 3a.
Yes, even though you can share an image (or anything, really) between apps using the share sheet, Android doesn't let you copy a photo to your clipboard. That might sound wildly trivial, but trying to change to the share sheet just felt wrong — particularly when I'm trying to send an image in a tweet via a text to a friend. The official Twitter app doesn't even let you share images; you just share the link to the tweet.
Day 3: Well, I guess I'm not trusting Assistant
I set a reminder in Google Assistant to filter my cold brew concentrate, and, well, it just didn't show until I opened my phone a minute later. That's not how reminders work with Siri (they appear on the phone’s lock screen), and I can't believe I'm saying Siri is better at something than another assistant. This is why it's good to tap outside your bubble.
My colleague Rami explained that he hit a similar problem on his Pixel 3 and just ditched reminders for timers.
Day 4: Where's Android 10?
I know Apple spoils people with prompt access to iOS updates, compared to how third-party Android device owners often have to wait. However, I didn't think that one of Google's own Pixel phones would take days to get a new software update. Yes, while Android 10 "came out" on Sept. 3, I was still refreshing the update section of settings, looking for it on Sept. 4.
MORE: Android 10 Review: An Update in Progress
At the worst, Apple takes about half an hour extra to circulate major iOS updates, and in the case of iOS 13, it's available to phones dating back four years.
Day 5: Dark Mode arrives and disappoints in Android 10
Yes, two days after I thought I'd get it, I finally got Android 10. And … I've gotta ding Android on its own dark mode feature. I'll be getting more acclimated with iOS's new Dark Mode soon, but I have to agree with my colleague Adam Ismail, whose Android 10 review mentions how poorly Google integrates the mode.
MORE: iOS 13 Review: The Biggest Update in Years
For example, when I tried to type in the Google bar on the Pixel's home screen to search for details about the upcoming movie Parasite, I saw a glitch that made it look like not everyone was told about Android 10's Dark Theme. Specifically, the text hadn't turned white, so I had the experience of reading barely legible dark text on a dark background.
Day 6: The Pixel camera was made for wedding season
My first real test of the Pixel 3a's cameras — which do a lot of what the Pixel 3's cameras do — came when I went upstate to the Catskills for a wedding. The Night Sight feature, for capturing much more of what you see in low-light situations, made shots from the bride's family's house in Andes, New York, look fantastic.
about yesterday Henry T. Casey
A photo posted by @henrytcasey on Sep 6, 2019 at 8:42am PDT
Our smartphone camera face-offs help you find the best camera phone, but this experience taught me how good Google is without having to put photos side by side. When I can swap my $1,099 iPhone XS Max out for a $399 Pixel 3a, and have nobody ask questions about my photo quality? And in fact compliment the quality of the shots, as happened with this photo from NYC? That's a win for Google.
this night sight thing is trippy Henry T. Casey
A photo posted by @henrytcasey on Sep 1, 2019 at 10:10pm PDT
In fact, this made me all the hungrier for Apple to put its own take on Night Sight into the iPhone (more on that in a couple of days).
As we pulled out of town, going back to NYC for the workweek, I started to overplan my schedule. So, I thought I'd dive into the Google Calendar app and see if I could get a better view of my upcoming days.
I found a pair of Android home-screen widgets for Google Calendar that I love. When I swipe my home screen to the left, I now see the Schedule view, which presents your appointments and reminders in list form, so I can get a lot of details on the immediate items on my agenda. On the next screen over, I've got the full month view, so I can see into the distance.
MORE: Top 7 Android 10 Features That You Should Try First
Yes, Apple has some widgets in the Today view (left of the home and lock screens), but I often neglect them because they don't feel as useful. The Apple Calendars app has two widgets: Up Next and Calendar, which just aren't as useful and can hog much more space than they need. Android widgets have far more granularity on the amount of screen they take up.
Day 9: Leaving my iPhone (and apps) behind
Today was the first day I didn't even think to bring my iPhone to the Tom's Guide offices with me. Typically, I've been carrying around both, because some of my favorite iOS apps don't have Android counterparts.
But after a little over a week, I've begun to actually trust the Pixel 3a, having learned little eccentricities like image management and reminders. The one thing I don't think anyone should be forced to get used to, however, is how Android versions of popular apps just aren't as well made.
Slack, in particular, has the most baffling disparity and seems to be designed for people who work in only one Slack workspace. (I'm in five.) On iOS you can see all your workspaces by right-swiping repeatedly, going from the channel or DM you're in to the list of channels to the workspaces. For some reason, the Android Slack app hides the list of workspaces behind a grid of squares above all of your channels.
MORE: iOS 13 Features You'll Want to Try
I also found a curious glitch in Android Instagram. When listening to music from Spotify or Apple Music, and then opening up a Story post that has audio, the audio of said story post would pop onto my headphones between each Story post segment. Another weird Android Instagram flaw is that swiping back a screen doesn't always work. Yes, you can use an edge-swipe to advance from a DM convo to your list of DMs, but performing that same gesture again won't bring you back to your home screen.
Day 10: The iPhone definitely needs Night mode photography
The past nine days with Android's Night Sight convinced me that I wouldn't buy a new iPhone unless it had something similar. So you can bet I was happy that the iPhone 11 unveiling focused on the one thing I really wanted from Apple: better photos. In fact, once Tom's Guide had the chance to test out Apple's new iPhones, we decided that the iPhone 11 featured the best low-light camera we've tested.
And in that moment, I was pretty sure I'd be upgrading to a new iPhone. Apple was taking on the one Pixel 3a feature I liked the most and doing a ton of other iPhone tricks. And I even thought about upgrading sooner rather than later, as one can do on Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program.
Day 20: Why can't iPhones do GIFs like this?
Yes, I went 10 days between entries, but that's because I slowly found everything I liked or disliked about the Pixel 3a and Android experience. Attending a pro wrestling show in deep Brooklyn, I discovered the last really interesting Android feature that I am begging Apple to add.
Why, Apple, can't I turn a Live Photo into a GIF? The Pixel 3a can do this really easily, thanks to its "motion photos" (basically, the same as Live Photos) and an Export menu option that has a GIF option. On iOS you need to … well … import your Live Photos to a Mac, open them in Photos and then you get an option to export as GIF.
Apple needs to recognize that a lot of the world doesn't use the company's Live Photos format. Twitter, and many other services, are so in love with GIFs that they have a GIF button.
Day 25: I miss my writing apps
After a while of poking around the Play store, I've come to the conclusion that Google Docs is the best writing app on Android. And I'll be honest — that's not good news.
Maybe I developed standards for writing apps that are too high. If it's not a well-laid-out, lightweight app that uses Markdown and that syncs between all of my devices, I don't want it. Working with iA Writer was the closest I got to liking an Android text editor, except when I tried to navigate its menus … which feel slapped together.
Day 30: Take me home, iPhone 11 Pro Max
So, as my month-long experiment drew to an end, while I was still using the Pixel 3a, I went to my local Apple Store and exchanged my XS Max for the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Now that Apple had the nighttime photography mode I envied, there was less reason to consider staying in the 'Droid life.
MORE: iPhone 11 Pro Max Review
While I really envy the GIF export and superior widgets of Android, I'm already too acclimated to the iPhone life. You'll notice I didn't say iMessage once. Yes, people joke about green bubbles versus blue bubbles, but I never found that anyone I talked to cared.
For me, it's more that iPhones work the way that my brain works, which is probably more about my mind conforming to Apple's methods. Maybe if Android let you copy an image to the clipboard and app developers worked as hard on their Android apps as on their iOS apps, I wouldn't have gone running back to Apple. But the iPhone delivers all of the above, plus its dark mode supposedly works a lot better than Android's, so it's where I'm staying.