Monday, November 16, 2015

Our top 5 Android phones!

Our last post was inspired by iOS users that wanted to see Google applications integrate into Apple's mobile platform. Although there are many iOS users that use Google services, we also see a lot of Android users in our customer base. The iPhone is a popular smartphone in North America, but Android is steadily growing and owns over 80% of the global market share.

Android users typically already use a Google application such as Gmail, Calendar, Hangouts etc., which makes sense since Android is an open-source operating system from Google built for mobile phones and tablets. Androids are known for their customization, usability, and come in many flavours. Companies such as Huawei, LG, Motorola, and Sony are among a few that offer Android phones in a variety of builds, specs, and sizes. What sets a great Android experience apart is user-friendliness and a well-rounded seamless mobile Google experience.

Our top five picks are based on two main components of any smartphone; hardware and software. The phones listed below offer a beautiful build and most of them are paired with a buttery smooth OS - Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Note some devices, like the Nexus', receive OS updates before others. Nexus phones are our first picks since our team members find them simpler and more reliable than non-Nexus phones.

Here is our list of the top five Android phones:
Nexus phones are pure Android, which basically means they were designed under Google's requirements and specific guidelines. Essentially, Nexus phones are how Google intends Android to be - slick and easy to use - and are available unlocked to any carrier if purchased directly from Google. A huge advantage Nexus devices have over other Androids is frequent and timely firmware updates, so you're always first to run the latest version of the OS. After having used both Nexus and non-Nexus Androids, one of our biggest gripes with non-Nexus devices is bloatware (factory installed apps you can't remove and don't need). Nexus devices don't come pre-installed with bloatware or a skinned version of Android such as Samsung's TouchWiz. This is one of the primary reasons our boss switched from his Asus ZenFone 2 to Huawei's Nexus 6P. Even though the ZenFone 2 has good hardware for the price, the software end user experience between the two devices is night and day. Manufacturers such as Asus and Samsung make great quality hardware, but it's a shame the user experience falls short of great due to bloatware and software add-ons.
Nexus 5X (left) & Nexus 6P (right)
To illustrate the difference between Nexus and non-Nexus Android phones, say for example, you go to buy a new car. It's a great car and you can tell the designer put a lot of thought into every detail. It's very refined and elegant.  Now the dealership you are buying the car from has given it a few 'upgrades' including things like racing stripes, a fuzzy dice, steering wheel cover, extra cup holders, and several bumper stickers. This all comes pre-installed as a package. Maybe you don't really want or need all that, but it's all or nothing. Oh, and the radio presets are already installed for you and cannot be removed. After you purchase your new car the manufacturer releases a safety recall, but you can't get the safety issue resolved for 8 months because it's not compatible with those cup holders yet. Of course, this is an exaggerated example but hopefully this analogy emphasizes the difference.

All in all we do have non-Nexus Androids listed on our top five which should indicate that not all of them come pre-installed with heavy bloatware and get well-delayed firmware updates. At the end, it really depends on user preference as some user's find the Nexus Android experience too bland and prefer a skinned version of Android such as Sony's Xperia Home. There are other factors that can steer your decision when purchasing an Android device; like price, display, battery life, and even the camera. Checkout GSM Arena for detailed specs on the latest and greatest smartphones.

This is by no means a conclusive ranking of all Android phones - it's simply a list of what we consider the best five out there for businesses. Be sure to contact our InterlockIT team for all your mobile support for Google apps!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Google infiltrates iOS - Googlifying your iPhone/iPad/iPod

We get a lot of requests from novice and veteran Google users alike who want to better integrate the Google experience into their iOS devices. Not all users of Google's massive ecosystem are Android users which makes the Google-on-iOS combination quite appealing if you enjoy Apple's hardware, customer service, and general usability.

If you use an iOS device, replacing Apple's default apps with Google alternatives is now a seamless experience, especially compared to the painful past. It's very easy to do, and if done properly, you'll probably never need to open the default Apple apps ever again. Begin by downloading the Google apps you'll need to begin the 'Google-fication' of your iOS device. Here's a list of some of the most popular ones.

These are just a handful of the many Google apps that can replace most, if not all, of Apple's default apps. Although Apple does not allow you to pick a default app for a specific service, Google has implemented a clever workaround for this: all of Google's apps (and even many third party apps) have an "open in" option that gives you the ability to open links in the intended Google app. For example, this will allow you to open links in Chrome, videos in YouTube, and addresses in Google Maps.

The Google Hangouts setting here shows a list of existing Google apps that links will direct to.
You'll find that nearly all of Google's apps have this setting to some extent, enabling you to stay fully within the Google world. Although this setting allows fluidity between Google apps, you still can't change things like your default email or calendar app, which is an understandable compromise if you fully buy into the plethora of Google's ecosystem.

Google's apps weren't always the best on iOS as they weren't as polished as Apple's were, but in our experience, this has changed and they now far outstrip Apple's default offerings. Google Maps and the Drive suite of apps (Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides) are both great examples of how far Google has come on the iOS platform. Google Maps offers better driving directions than Apple Maps, as well as cycling and transit directions, and navigation inside buildings where supported. Furthermore, Drive is much easier to use for storage than iCloud and offers you access to all of your files without configuring and searching through unnecessary settings. And as you'd expect, Drive automatically opens any files in the appropriate Google app, ignoring Apple's defaults entirely.

With all these Google Apps taking over iOS defaults, there are still a few small drawbacks. Google tends to update its iOS apps more slowly than its Android counterparts. Unless you really need to have the latest updates, this isn't really problematic, but it does mean they won't integrate with the latest iOS features immediately. For example, many Google apps don't have Notification Center support, and none of them have Force Touch support yet. If these aren't of concern to you, then your Google experience on iOS can be near-perfect. 

If you're faithful to iOS, but still want or need to indulge in Google's apps for personal or work reasons, hopefully you now see that Google and iOS can harmoniously coexist. Sometimes, you can have the best of both worlds! Check out this article from LifeHacker to learn about more Google apps and their integration to iOS.