The Problem with Google Android: Its Users?

I love open source. I do. I really, really do. I also love Google.

I was sent the HTC Evo 4G (courtesy of Sprint). After hearing so much about it, I couldn’t wait to dive into my second Android experience and give ‘er another go. I’ve been told that the platform improves with every increment, but without budget or access to hardware, I’m left to my own devices (so to speak).

Within an hour’s time, I decided to post my first impressions to YouTube – and that video was met with a cacophony of complaints. How dare I post my opinions to the Internet! What is this world coming to?! Oh, an hour’s time is apparently not long enough to gather a first impression – right?

Some kids went as far as to accuse me of posting a biased review… when… in the title of my post… I clearly pointed out that I was sharing my first impressions. Let’s dive into the definition of “impressions” for a moment, in case you’re confused or hurt by what I did:

An idea, feeling, or opinion about something or someone, esp. one formed without conscious thought or on the basis of little evidence.

In other words, my knee-jerk reactions – not a review. Capisci?

Android enthusiasts are under the illusion that once anybody holds onto an Android device, it will completely transform their lives and render all other devices worthless. If you deviate from this line of thinking, you’re an outcast. Mob mentality at its finest.

Didn’t we already do this with Windows Vista? Well, I remember being quite vocal about its flaws – and spurned as persona non grata throughout the blogosphere… until, years later, the people who once lynched me finally admitted that Windows Vista was (indeed) a colossal failure on many counts.

So, maybe my problem isn’t that I have opinions that I’m not afraid to share, but sharing them before “everyone else” does? Or, perhaps it’s just a problem with other people being so uncomfortable in their own decisions that they need to admonish those who have disparate points of view.

“Geeks” are quick to pit any Android device against the iPhone, but… it’ll always be an unfair comparison. Apple controls the hardware, the software, and the experience. Google doesn’t. You could try to compare hardware features, but even that’s unfair. It’s never about the raw power of the hardware but how a feature it enables is actually implemented. May I return to Microsoft Windows for an analogy? Microsoft Windows 7 on a state-of-the-art PC will more than likely outperform Windows Millennium Edition on the same machine. Get it? The hardware’s the same, but it’s the software that spells all the difference.

So, anyway… back to the whole “problem” with Android.

As I mentioned in my video, the HTC Evo 4G is almost too geeky. There’s an array of options and widgets and possibilities available at a moment’s notice – and that’s entirely overpowering. Some might be quick to blame HTC for the software experience, but Google is who allowed that to happen. It’d be like blaming the dog for eating the cake that you left on the floor. It tastes like there were too many chefs in the kitchen with this one. And you know what? I’m not alone in this belief.

A solution? Gingerbread.

So, apparently I’m wrong to say that the user experience in today’s Android platform is lackadaisical – but Google already sees the problem and is making moves to fix it. How, again, is this MY problem? Take off your Android-enthusiastic goggles for a moment and see that I’M ON THE SAME SIDE AS YOU ARE. I want to see Google make Android better – WHO wouldn’t?!

As a tech enthusiast, I don’t want ANY device to fail. I want EVERY device to be perfect. But you know what? They do, and they’re not.

So, then I posted my “second impressions” after practically using the device for a couple of hours. I needed a recharge:

WTF? People were screaming for me to adjust this, download that, and stand on my head the right way in order to save battery life. I don’t have any friends at Gizmodo, but at least they beat me to the punch with complaining about this particular problem.

You honestly believe that the average consumer is going to know to do any of this? You really think they’re going to buy this shiny new device only to be told that they have to throttle back the features which make it so attractive to them in the first place? Excuse me? You MUST be joking.

I repeat: WTF?!

My favorite moment in this entire situation has to be when I was called “biased” for pointing out somebody else’s BLATANT USABILITY ISSUE. While I have enough knowledge to figure out that grouped dots typically indicate a draggable element, I wasn’t able to ascertain the proper direction to slide the bar to unlock the device. I was holding the phone upright, so sliding up was more intuitive a motion. Nope. You have to slide it down (per my video demonstration). Of course, nowhere did the UI explain that I needed to slide the bar in a downward fashion.

Still, people called *ME* stupid?

Yeah, well… if having to figure out a device makes me stupid, then I dare to be stupid. As an adult, I want to use something powerful that even a toddler can figure out. If you don’t understand that the simplicity of experiences is what makes them powerful, then you need to wake up and smell the usability.

The number of buttons on a gadget appears to be inversely proportional to its ease-of-use.

“Who holds a device that way?” was one comment I read in the YouTube thread. I didn’t realize there was a right or wrong way to hold something? Well, yes – with the Evo, if you maneuver it a certain direction, the touch-screen (hardware) buttons get swiped accidentally. Oops. Yeah, I discovered that again when I was trying to capture some video later that evening.

This, again, is apparently MY failure?

I hesitate to think what people would have said about me had I bothered to point out the visible half-screen refresh when one pops open the virtual keyboard. You can literally see the screen clunk away by half rather than in full. Its incredibly jarring (anything but smooth).

Blaming a user for poor design choices isn’t just asinine – its an exercise in futility.

I never said that the HTC Evo 4G didn’t have amazing capabilities – it absolutely does! I’m seriously interested in exploring its ability to act as a mobile hotspot (though, again, will wrestle with a 1hr battery life as indicated by other users). I’m excited to be able to dive into the Android Marketplace to see what more I might be able to do with the front-facing camera. That voicemail response tool was incredibly nifty – and I even made note of that in the video.

Or, and this was a real shocker: I can’t even connect my existing Google account to the Contacts app (at all), the Calendar (at all), or the email client (with ease). Isn’t this a… phone powered by Google?! If there DOES happen to be a field buried somewhere within the OS which would allow me to connect my Google account to these apps – I can’t find it. Shouldn’t an “account connection” feature be up front within each app, anyway?

…has my point not yet been made!?

I haven’t spent enough time with the device to give it an official review (even then, I’ll be likely put to blame for any further perceived shortcomings). Geeks will defend it to the death, I see – but I’m under the belief that this particular communications gadget is being marketed to more than just the nerdy crowd.

But even the nerds write… “Recommendation: Use caution.” Listen to what the rest of the community is saying and ask yourself if this is where you think the industry should be headed:

  • “this is an advanced ui for advanced people.” [HectorSabogal]
  • “its a “geeks’ phone, yes. which means it not going to be simple and deliberate in the way it presents the ui and is not going to be that intuitive.” [lsafirkan]
  • “I think people who are willing to read the instructions will get to learn their Android phone.” [River Khan]
  • “Also, learn how to hold the phone.” [ivoryman50]
  • “you say that the PC36100 is cryptic? this phone is not for every user, its for people ith half a brain and know how to operate a smartphone.” [nguyenbryan]
  • “If you want a simpleton phone. This is not your choice anyways period” [jluketwo]
  • “ease of use means nothing to me if ease of use means all the restrictions that att and apple put on the iphone i will take complicated and very very useful” [rioandashley]
  • “That’s not what android is really meant for imo, its meant for the geek who doesn’t care about friendliness.” [kprox1994]
  • “for some unknown reason you assume that if you don’t connect to a wifi network, you have wifi.” [Tafheemwii]
  • “some people are just too simple minded for Android” [naruek]
  • “its stability is questionable due to the fact that its open source and applications developed by us the people might not as consistent but that is one of the trade of for openness and accessibility” [mrdavidchen1122yt]
  • “It looks like phone made for engineers designed by engineers.” [zahi745]

Perhaps I should stand corrected on this point: the HTC Evo 4G is only for geeks (according to them)?

A “first impressions” is just that – my first impressions. I stand by my original “okay” sentiment in respect to the HTC Evo 4G: extreme power limited by haphazard usability. It requires an incredible amount of refinement at the hands of Sprint, HTC, and Google. All three companies are equally responsible for my experience with this Android phone, the HTC Evo 4G from Sprint.

I’m guessing, however, that the most ardent Android supporters will not have made it to this point in the post, blinded by whatever self-appointed righteousness that drives ’em. For someone to become enraged when anybody dares suggest that a product they support isn’t as sweet as they believe it is seems to speak to a wealth of personal insecurities more than anything.

Android still needs to grow up – and apparently, so does 90% of its community.