Android road test - Touch me, touch me now

Updated: January 6, 2020

Back in June, I posted an article summarizing several weeks of rigorous testing of my Moto G6, coupled with extra hardened security and privacy settings. I did this to examine and evaluate the usability of Android in real-life conditions, as a preparation for the tragic and inevitable switch come the end of life of the magnificent Windows Phone platform.

Recently, I decided to extend the testing and use Android even more stringently. Over a period of about two weeks, I used the phone in strange and wondrous places, I tried to rely on it for semi-essential needs, not that smartphones ever served more than ancillary needs for me, and I did this in parallel to my future phone purchase hunt. While you're going to read about my Lumia 950 successor shortly - it's not the Moto G6 device, that's a brave pioneer slash scapegoat - in this here be article, I'd like to walk you through my recent Android escapade. Commence we shall.

Teaser

Maps & navigation

I decided to give HERE WeGo and Google Maps their due diligence. And that meant a car trip over several thousand kilometers and multiple countries in Europe, hundreds of kilometers of walking in half a dozen cities, online and offline use of assets, the use of Maps to search for facilities (like restaurants or coffee shops), and similar.

With HERE WeGo, things went quite well. I downloaded roughly 4 GB worth of maps, and then used them while a-travellin' in a car - that's another story that you ought to enjoy at a separate time. The software worked well, and with online connection, it was even able to provide traffic updates. Lovely jubbly.

Maps download Driving

Google Maps work well - provided you have a network connection. This isn't a problem most of the time, but even in developed countries, you can find yourself off grid, especially on the motorway. And when that happens, you're not really able to do much (especially if you didn't download a temporary map of the region in advance).

Google Maps offline, no functionality

However, when you do have network, then things work well. I guess after the Waze acquisition, Google really improved their traffic prediction algorithms. The estimates - and optimal routes - provided by the software were quite accurate, the timing in particular (even better than the car's onboard navigation). And you also get notifications to your lock screen - provided you enabled these in the app's settings.

Maps, route suggestion Maps, driving

Lock screen notifications

Then, Google Maps sort of went out of sync. While navigating on foot, it decided to force north-facing bearing, which in some cases meant my route was pointing backwards. This was rather annoying. The solution was to go into the settings, and then enable/disable the option that reads: Keep map north up. Why had this gone bad, me no know.

Direction messed up North setting

Alarm, weather

These two functions are governed from a "circle" widget in the top middle of your home screen. Not the best placement or access. You tap the clock to change/control the alarm - but you need to tap the much smaller weather indicator to get to see the forecast for your location(s). This is a bit clunky, I must say.

I found the weather management a bit weird. You can see the daily prognosis just fine, but if you want to see what happens on a different day, the widget will then forward you to a browser. Then, you have to use the AccuWeather website. This creates a disjointed and suboptimal experience, for various reasons. Comparing to my Lumia, the weather app there provided far more details, including some useful extras. Similarly, the alarm noises aren't that friendly. They are reasonable, but too funky, and nowhere near as pleasant as what I had by default on my Lumia 950.

Weather

Nudges & annoyances

As you already know, I've configured my Moto for minimal noise - and yet, despite my best effort, the phone still occasionally tried to goad me into using trendy nonsense that I don't want or need. For instance, the Photo app asked me if I wanted to "organize" my photos by face. So much wrong here. But most of all, I was annoyed by the "millennial-style" washed-out color, cartoonish design.

Face recognition nudge

And then, a 2004 moment happened. I opened Firefox and went to a couple of websites. They barely worked. Slow, unresponsive. I tried those same websites in Chrome, and they worked fine. And then I had a moment of bitter deja vu. When and where have I seen this before? Oh yes, in the era of Internet Explorer 6/7/8, when Web designers would "optimize" their domains for (the) particular browser, polluting the Web with crappy, non-compliant code.

The same is happening now. This kind of thing is an abomination, an insult to technology. Any site that doesn't work reasonably well in all major, W3C-compliant browsers should be deleted for all eternity. This lazy coding trend is taking us all back a decade or more, undoing the hard work and progress we've made since.

There were several other small issues of this nature - plus one or two nudges that can qualify as "smart" in that the phone did profile some of my activities over time, and then suggest the next iteration on its own. Normally, I'm ultra-cynical when it comes to things of this kind, but curiously, this was a rather innocent, non-aggressive and fairly accurate suggestion. Not that I'd ever consider AI helpers to be of any immense value, but in a sea of nonsense, there was a nugget of sanity.

Performance, battery, network usage

An important aspect of going abroad is how much cost you will incur, vis-a-vis bandwidth utilization. When roaming, you want the mobile costs to be as low as possible, unless you have a truly unlimited plan, which isn't the case in ... most cases. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that (my) Android wasn't siphoning lots of juice, and even after a good few hours of navigation by foot, Maps had consumed only a small amount of data. And this is without the data saver turned on. I guess my tweaks also helped.

Maps, data usage Data saver

I was quite impressed with the battery life - even with moderate to heavy usage, meaning lots of browsing, maps and navigation, some chitchat and such - the phone would typically manage two full days without requesting nourishment. Again, I guess part of that comes from my efforts to minimize noise and background utilization, plus the presence of an adblocker in Firefox (a super bonus on the mobile) definitely made the browsing experience faster and quieter. Overall, the operating system was sprightly, with a smooth, clean experience. The responsiveness was excellent. The only real downside remains the Wireless behavior - it can take too long to scan and find networks, and then connect.

You said something about Moto ...

In the beginning of this article, I said my Lumia successor won't be my G6. And you may think this is a contradictory statement, given how much I've praised the phone in my review. Indeed, I am quite pleased with the G6 phone. However, its camera isn't suitable for everyday needs. One of my few but critical requirements for a smart device is that it has decent optics so that when I do use it, it actually captures good, high-quality images. This was one of the main reasons I've chosen the Lumia 950.

Moreover, having multiple phones can be quite practical - the Moto G6 isn't too expensive, and it offers quite a lot for an affordable price. In fact, it's an awesome budget phone. And then, in the age of digital chaos and mayhem, it makes sense to use a lower-cost phone as your "spam" device. You can install a few apps here and there, use it for various opportunistic tasks, and separate important or seemingly important activities from casual, throwaway stuff. Then, you also have functional redundancy - if one of the phones get damaged or lost or stolen, or runs out of battery, you still have a second device available. Of course, this means spending more money, but it's a useful exercise of practical flexibility.

That does not mean my gamble for a new Lumia 950 successor is going to be a sure win. That's something the passage of time and usage will prove (or disprove). But then, if things really turn bad, I always have the Moto as a fallback device. Which kind of makes me quite at ease when it comes to how my future phone world is going to look like. Now, back to topic at hand.

Conclusion

Thus endeth my Android road test. Was it perfect? No. But hey, was my Lumia 950 experience always perfect? Equally no. In most cases, for my needs, the Lumia does/did better, task by task. But the Android isn't too far behind, and it offers a reasonably flexible experience. You just have to get past the low-IQ features that are enabled by default and used to entertain the hordes of morons out there, and then you're fine.

The combination of Moto G6 and Android (Pie) is decent. I had reliable results, consistent behavior, low network usage, excellent performance and battery life, solid navigation, and then some. That said, many apps, including the default set, are fairly basic and they lack some of the sharpness and finesse that I'd like to have. But since I'm not a heavy smartphone consumer anyway, I can sort of let that slide. In a way, I feel more confident, or rather, less sad migrating to Android in the coming weeks.

It will probably never be as beautiful as Windows Phone, and the applications will probably never match the Nokia bundle, but the vastness and accessibility of the Android ecosystem compensate for that, allowing even a tech orphan like me to find a cozy home for their weird, non-mainstream needs. At the end of the day, I had a quiet mobile experience, with little to no nonsense, I had Firefox with adblocking, and I could do my other tasks fine. So there's some light at the end of tunnel. Anyway, I hope you can appreciate this expose. See you around, and stay tuned for my Lumia succession diatribes.

Cheers.

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