Android Mobile Device Opinions Technology

Why I decided to get Galaxy Nexus and go back to Vanilla Android

I have been Android user since T-mobile released their first Android phone, T-mobile G1 (HTC Dream), back in 2008. Couple years after that, I’ve moved to Nexus One, then on Sensation 4G (HTC Sensation) then recently, I’ve decided to move to Galaxy Nexus with vanilla Android.

Of course, Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) was one of many reasons I’ve decided doing this, but there are more, inherently what I feel broken with manufacture/carrier customization to a device.

Yeah, I’m talking about HTC Sense, yeah, I’m also talking about other pre-installed softwares like T-mobile TV that I haven’t, and don’t use.

Why did they remove useful features?

Couple of months ago, T-mobile pushed out 4.0 updates to Sensation 4G. Which I was happy with — Google Chrome finally ran on my phone (it is only supported 4.0 and up) and the system was overall much more stable. (more to the stability later)

But one thing I haven’t understood, and I still don’t is, why did HTC remove some useful feature from vanilla 4.0. One example is the fact that you can’t uninstall application by dragging and drop from the application menu to the top of the screen. As far as I know, it was first introduced in 4.0, which could have been very useful feature. (and in fact, my 4.0 Acer tablet does it just fine.) While this is such a minor small detail, considering relatively small storage size of HTC Sensation was issue when I want to experiment with different application. Being able to uninstall application by moving icons around certainly beats inconveniences of navigating through Applications menu. (and try doing it for 10 different applications you are trying to uninstall!)

Another thing was small, but visual styling on the operating system. I thought it’d be that cool 4.0 look, right? Nope, it’s same old “round button” style. Couldn’t they give at least an option to change visual style?

To me, these seem like clear indication that designers at HTC are more on the ball of trying to push their own mobile experience than bringing the best and current experience on the Android platform.

Address book: Polluted

One of the big issue I had with HTC Sense was its address book. When I see number of contact, I see something like following inserted to my memo section of Google contacts.

Notes: xxxxxxxid:xxxxxxxxxx/friendof:xxxxxxxxxx

It looks like this is meta data for their account linking. Why?

It appears like it decided to pollute 200 of my contacts this way, and to get rid of them, I have to go one by one. (or perhaps I can write a program that talks with Google Contacts API and do that…)

It is came to my attention when I used dialer/address book feature is much nicer than I recalled when I was back in vanilla 2.3 on Nexus One. Even though I already had Android 4.0 on HTC Sensation, I did not see those changes because of HTC Sense.

2.3 launcher instability

Stability of the HTC Sense launcher was joke back in 2.3. It apparently got garbage collected way too many times, which if you try to do anything useful on your phone, and go back to launcher, then you will be greeted with green HTC logo on white screen for 20 seconds, which you can’t do anything. If you need to make a quick call after browsing a web for while? Nope, you’ll have to wait 20 seconds. It was annoying. Fortunately, they fixed most of these problem on 4.0.

Bloat and delays

Complaining about bloatwares (or “pre-installed softwares” to put it nicer way) maybe have nothing to do with device, rather choice of retail channel, Those pre-installed software have been bit of nuisance to the platform. The mere fact if they are on the device, will take up your storage should you choose to update it, and if you don’t, Play market will nag you to update, and renders “update to all” function unusable as pressing that button will also update the application you don’t want update. (at least they have fixed this issue starting 4.0 update by making it possible to disable applications you don’t use — which makes them disappear from the launcher, and stops update detection.)

Also looking how some “application such as wi-fi calling” contributed delay in ICS update, it is now clear that those pre-installed softwares are now affecting release timeline of update, not just because of manufactures, but because of carriers they are involved with.

I’m not against carriers developing a software for their customers, I’m just against those being pre-installed. All of the problem can be prevented by just distributing those Google Play.

In summary

I’m not necessary bashing HTC Sense here. HTC Sense might have played much more relevant role introducing relatively friendlier interface compared to vanilla Android in the past. Perhaps back in the day of Android 1.6, it was still augmenting vanilla Android quite a bit (I’ve briefly used HTC Sense running on Android 1.6 on my colleague’s phone), but in my opinion, they stopped innovating there. Did Android 2.3 with HTC Sense any different from one that was running on Android 1.6? No. Was it different on Android 4.0? Nope!

Probably HTC Sense cater more to those prefers no changes; actually, let me rephrase it, refusing changes. I can imagine a lot of support calls for such change distracting a lot of users, but still, insulating improvement on this major operating system was most disturbing fact that I realized once I moved to vanilla Android 4.1. I guess it is side effect of Android platform is so prolific that now is becoming commodity. When the platform is spread to many class of people, their common denominator is set to those who just seek for more consistent, but in turn, boring (to those seeking active improvements) experience. It’s just like early days of smartphones. Was Windows Mobile 6 so different from Windows Mobile 5? What about versions of Blackberry? The gap is that Android is still evolving platform and that what makes the platform great. It is such a shame that 90% of device out there seems to be intentionally left in vacuum just because customers wants it? (or manufactures/carriers think so?)

Clearly Google doesn’t want manufacture from “reskinning” the phone (not that they can stop it, considering the open nature of Android platform.) Now Android has caught up to the point it doesn’t need custom interface to accomplish anything you can with those custom interfaces.

I think I know what my future phones will be from now on.

By Hideki Saito

In the video game industry for for more than 15 years. Currently working for Nintendo of America Inc. as a Localization Engineer, developing the translation solutions.