We'll come right out and say it: Android is far from perfect. Now that may seem slightly unfair -- after all, it's a new OS and these things take time to work out the kinks. But we have to say, in a side-by-side comparison, Google's mobile operating system just isn't as good as the iPhone OS -- and it really needs to be, in order to be a compelling alternative to Apple's monster.
We're not unreasonable though, we can see there's gallons of potential in Android, and Google is certainly heading in the right direction. So our criticisms come wrapped in love and respect and are provided because feedback is a gift.
Imagine a pin, on top of which is balanced a large piece of cheese. Stacked on top of this piece of cheese is a garden shed and on top of the shed is a boat. This pile of everyday objects has approximately the same stability as Android. It's not uncommon for it to crash while doing complex or even reasonably simple tasks.
This seems to be largely down to the hardware it is running on, however. For example, the HTC Magic is utterly diabolical when it comes to even simple tasks. The HTC Hero, on the other hand, was more stable than a bungalow built on rock. That means it's not really the fault of the Android OS, but there's a reason Apple won't let unauthorised hardware run Mac OS X, and this is exactly it.
Both the iPhone and Palm Pre are optimised for a fast user experience. Android seems to be geared more to flexibility, which in many ways is a good thing. After all, multi-tasking is no problem on Android, but true multi-tasking has been left out of the iPhone specifically to make it a slicker experience.
The problem is, the Android devices currently on the market can't cope with all the tasks they're being asked to do. Play music while browsing the Web, and you'll hear nothing but stuttering. It's incredibly frustrating, but the solution should be as simple as a little more RAM, or a slightly higher clock speed. It also seems that apps aren't effectively prioritised -- music playback should certainly be handled better.
Lack of uniformity
One of the things that's terrible about Android is the email support. But it's also one of the strengths of the platform. The issue is that there are three totally separate systems needed to access the various different types of email.
Android has a built-in email app, the purpose of which is to provide support to people using online email such as Hotmail and Yahoo, as well as other IMAP and POP3 providers. Once you get the settings put into the phone, it actually works quite well, but there's no pre-programmed list of providers, so you have to put settings in one by one. This is instantly out of the reach of most casual users.
The second app is the specific Gmail one. It's brilliant, and works straight away because it uses all your Google account information to access your Gmail. This is how the email user experience should be -- it's much more like the iPhone in this regard.
The final email access application is the worst of all -- you have to go to the Android store and find an Exchange client. Google, for some reason, seems to think Microsoft Exchange is on its death bed. You can't blame it for its optimism, but the fact is, Exchange is excellent and more than likely here to stay. We use RoadSync to get Exchange email at the moment, but that's only temporarily free and we're really not keen on paying for Exchange support. After all, iPhone users don't. The HTC Hero gets around this with a custom app, but it's not available for other handsets at the moment.
We are geeks -- this is true. But the general public, by definition, is not. That's why the iPhone sells well, because most people want pretty sliding graphics, white headphones to prove they're cool and a pair of Birkenstocks like every other trendy sheep in the country. What those people don't want is talk of the OS kernel, and the need to mount the SD card to copy music to it. They particularly don't have any interest in a bunch of apps whose purpose is only clear if you've got a beard.
Android needs to be as powerful as it is now, but with these last few razor-sharp geek-edges filed down to a user-friendly smoothness. It's possible, and HTC has made important leaps forward with the interface on the Hero, but there's still work to be done. And some sync software wouldn't go amiss.
No root access
People who don't want to control their handsets buy iPhones. It's safe to assume Android owners picked the platform because they wanted to have some control over their phone and how it operates. Root access, or the superuser account, enables you to do pretty much whatever you want, but the phone companies don't allow it -- it'll void your warranty. To some extent, that's good, because as we said before, most users don't want a geeky phone -- but those of us that do should be given access, as long as we accept the risks.
For example, we really want to tether our phone to our laptop. At the moment this isn't possible, because root access is prohibited. We aren't talking about downloading iPlayer shows here, just a spot of Twitter and some Internet browsing. It's not clear who's behind the lack of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth tethering, but what is clear is how impossible it is unless you root your phone.