Let me start by saying that I love Android. I love using it, I love tinkering with it and I love how much more it enables you to do compared to any other mobile operating system out there at the moment. Although it is a great operating system, it definitely has it’s ups and downs. Currently, it is the most popular mobile operating system in the world and it got that title for a reason. It’s open source meaning any phone manufacturer can start using it on their devices without having to pay a lot just for the operating system, which lets a lot of smaller manufacturers make phones with a powerful operating system without having to pay for it.
The best thing about Android in my opinion is that you have so many choices when it comes to what kind of device you want to get. You want a really good camera that also works as a phone?, you want a music player that lets you make phone calls?, you want a rugged waterproof thermal camera for your job that also doubles as a phone?, doesn’t matter what kind of device you are looking for, there is a good chance that there is some manufacturer out there that has exactly what you need. The open-ness of Android enables a lot of niche manufacturers to use it as their operating system no matter what kind of market they are targeting. They even have car stereos and refrigerators nowadays that are running Android, and it is expanding to different devices and markets everyday.
Now that the fact that Android is great is out of the way, lets talk about the main question, why can’t any manufacturer get Android right? This question is very subjective, and I am sure there are a ton of people out there using Android without any issues. But there are some things that are fundamentally wrong about the Android ecosystem, that for some reason go un-noticed by manufacturers and users.
The main issue I have with Android is that I cannot rely on devices that run it. Yes, I said it, Android is unreliable. And Android, the operating system itself, is not completely at fault when it comes to this. Android manufacturers are equally to blame for this. When I am using any other phone with any other operating system, weather it is an iPhone or a Blackberry device running BBOS 10, I know that I will be able to make a phone call, take a picture or do most things that the phone does without any issues when I need to. But with pretty much all the Android phones I have used (and trust me, I have used a ton of devices), I have had reliability issues in some level, weather it’s my GPS application not working right and showing me 10 miles away from where I am currently (LG V10) or if it’s my camera telling me that it can’t record a video anymore after 5 minutes because the phone is too hot (Galaxy S7 Edge). Sometimes some apps just would not open for a long while and just randomly open out of nowhere, and sometimes the phone gets so unresponsive that I can’t do anything when I need to. It sucks when you really need to use your phone for something asap and can’t because, well because things just don’t work right all the time. And I am not even talking about cheap and low end Android devices, I am talking about big name flagships that are supposed to be the best options out there.
One of the biggest issues with Android devices, is that most manufacturers just don’t care about quality control. Even big players in the game like Samsung and LG (bootloop anyone?) seem to just not care about proper quality control to make sure their devices do the things they are supposed to do properly rather than be on top of the “specs” race. Android is what started the specs race, it started with devices with 128MB Ram and single core 500Mhz processors that weren’t that capable, and things were different back then. When Android first came out, it attracted everyone from the tech crowd because of how open it was and how much more you could do on it compared to it’s biggest competition which was iOS. This started a big war between manufacturers to see who could come up with the phones with the biggest and the best specs since thats what the tech crowd cared about, and in the process they forgot that the first thing phones are supposed to do is be “phones”, reliable devices that are phones first and other things second. Nowadays we have some phones and Android devices with crazy specs like Octa-core CPU’s and 6GB of ram (even my computer few years ago didn’t have that much), but the user experience you get with those devices is still not on par with something like iPhones where they care more about the user experience and usability over raw specs. What’s the point of having all these big numbers if you cant use them?
Now it’s not all bad, recently I feel like some manufacturers like OnePlus, Google and Huawei have realized that UX is important and are starting to focus on that more. The last phone I used before my current one was a Huawei Honor 8 and that’s the first Android phone that made me say that Android is starting to finally make it. On paper it’s a mid range phone, but it does everything so well that I would take it any day over most high end phones. Apps would open quick, everything was consistent with no lags no matter how hot it was outside (my Galaxy S7 would crawl when the temps outside got above 75F), and I never had to worry about not being able to use it when I needed to. I recently switched to the LG V20 which is one of the reasons I am writing this post, since this phone made me really frustrated at the beginning. It is fast and smooth for the most part, but sometimes it randomly starts slowing down.
Coming from a tech background, I have done a lot of research on why Android phones get unusable most of the time, and other than quality control issues with components and other random factors, one thing that stood for most manufacturers was how they handled thermal management. The biggest issue with most manufacturers is that they try to push the SOC (System on Chip, basically a chip containing the CPU, GPU, RAM and more components in one) as much as they can without worrying about how that would affect the day to day usage of the device. For example, I have found that other than HTC, Sony and couple of other manufacturers, most manufacturers run their SOC’s at their max clock speeds which does give them a performance advantage in benchmarks, however it also causes the SOC to heat up like crazy which in turn causes it to throttle the performance which in turn causes lags and unresponsive devices. Try this for yourself, get your Android phone out, download any of the benchmark applications that push the limits of the phone and run a benchmark. Note down the numbers you get, then run it again, and again and again. You will notice that after a run things will start to go downhill and the phone will not be responsive at all after a bunch of runs. Now get someone’s iPhone and do the same and compare the results.
Recently Google released their new Pixel phones and I did not see much people online complaining about the performance in it. After digging a little bit, I found out that Google decided to not run the processor on the phone at it’s max speed, but under-clock it a little bit so it is thermally stable. After seeing that I decided to root my LG V20 and under-clock it, and the difference is amazing. Maybe it’s placebo, maybe it’s not, but on day to day usage the phone feels much faster and I get much better battery life and don’t have much issues with the responsiveness. Only if manufacturers stop focusing on what gives them the most numbers in benchmarks and started focusing on usability, the world would be a much better place. Maybe if the tech world should stop judging Android devices based on numbers and start judging them based on usability, the manufacturers might start noticing and change things around. I know Android ecosystem is still improving and there are good and bad parts of it, but I am hoping that things start to get better now that we have pretty much reached the limits of how far we can push benchmark numbers.