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BW Businessworld

My 5 Android Annoyances

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Don't get me wrong: if someone were to hold me up on the street at gunpoint and say "Your Android phone for an iPhone", I'd tell her to make herself scarce. I'm fond of my Android phone, with its big fat screen and its validity and general aliveness. But that doesn't mean life is peaceful with an Android phone. Other than the larger issues that have been taken up time and again in depth, I have my own pet Android peeves.

My biggest problem is the quick battery drain. Sometimes it feels as if my phone is permanently attached to a socket, as if on ventilator support. Even doing nothing in particular but breathing, with the data network turned off (but wi-fi on), it drains itself out overnight. I'm downright nervous about running out of battery just when I need my car to come around and collect me in some public place. This is when I don't really get into long calls. Rival operating systems may not be dramatically better because an always connected device is constantly gobbling up battery juice, but I wouldn't mind one bit sacrificing something, such as the phone's weight, to get better battery life, instead of having to carry portable chargers everywhere and making security guards everywhere — and myself — jittery.

Then there is that whole mini ecosystem of fake apps, Trojans, and plain shoddy apps. Malware has just spiralled to become an enormous menace, finally making it necessary to use anti-virus software on Android smartphones. Google tries to filter out these bad apps using Bouncer, its security solution to monitor and eject  malware, but nothing can keep up with mischief makers.

There are also trick apps and spoof apps that pretend to be official Google releases. There is an app that says it will charge your plume using solar energy. Another says it will charge your phone when you shake it. There are outright fake Instagram and Pinterest apps. And all these have fake user reviews.

The safest thing to do is search on the web for expert reviews and advice before installing any.

The sheer unpredictability of Android is another annoyance. On an otherwise healthy phone, I will suddenly find an app force-closing. Even the address book has done that a few times. I remember several instances when the phone has frozen up when I'm trying to make a call — specially when I'm in a hurry. Just as with what Windows used to be long ago, one can be left perplexed as to what's going wrong and the only way you can find out is by eliminating possibilities, one by one.  For example, sometimes I only have to go from one room to the other to find half the buddies' picture tiles have disappeared from my home screen. There's no drastic drop in wi-fi. And why only some vanish, is a mystery.
What version of Android lives on someone else's phone shouldn't bother me, but it does. When updates reach other phones because some other manufacturer got there first, it's more than a little annoying. It's no secret that the Android universe is fragmented, with different versions of the basic operating system floating around on different phones, but waiting for important updates and bug fixes can be quite frustrating. The recent Ice Cream Sandwich avatar has demonstrated this more than ever. The only way to get updates and fixes has been to root the phone, void the warranty, and risk ruining it — not something I've been keen to do, even if I knew how to. This is a situation that hasn't eased up over the years at all.

There are all kinds of technical reasons why Android phones handle graphics differently from Apple's iPhone or iPad. Before the most recent update, you didn't get the silky smoothness that makes doing things on a device magical. More and more powerful processors help, but don't quite get you there. So I have often encountered that screen choppiness or stagger that diminishes the experience. There you are, showing someone some beautiful pictures you've clicked, but as you flip through them, you can distinctly see the lag or steps an image has to take to move on or off the screen. Rather ruins it.

Despite these annoyances, it is equally true that I will probably upgrade to yet another Android phone. I enjoy the tinkering, the figuring out of various settings and fixes, I more than enjoy the widgets and new things happening all the time. Living with plain straightforward phones has actually bored me somewhat. There's never a dull moment with an Android phone. But sometimes I just wish it wasn't quite such a work in progress.

mala (at) pobox (dot) com, @malabhargava on Twitter

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 30-04-2012)