If you have come to this blog page via a web-search, being angry at the header of the post – I am happy for you. I am happy that your android device is keeping you happy and not making you wait for 4 to 5 seconds to know who each incoming call is from as the screen struggles to refresh, or, allowing you to successfully administer the device’s CPU & network consumption by the plethora of apps that you once so lovingly installed (and still find it hard to part ways with) but was never able to stop them from sneakily waking up in the background – to give just a couple of examples. It’s a sad fact that I cannot do either of these things – but it is good to know that you can. I at least have a hope now to know from you which device you use, and maybe can afford to upgrade myself to that user community… and, finally, be happy!
However, if you came here because you could relate to the header of this blog post, I can lend you a shoulder. My promise to you is that I won’t be shying away from the sheer shower of tears spraying on my shoulder as we share our stories with each other. After all, we are those brothers from other mothers who were once awestruck by Google’s Android (till we hadn’t laid our hands on one), then allowed Android to strike us back!
Now, please do not get me wrong. I do not hate android OS. I LOVE android OS. I love it ’cause it is open, it lets me play with it – just the way we, the little computer-literate, always loved to play with Windows or Unix (yes, I can reverse the order – but that’s in descending order of exposure time), it has an app store which is virtually endless (yes, it still does not compare with iOS apps variety, but it’s big enough), and I have a wide spectrum of devices available on the market to choose from. And as I loved it, and so I bought one. I bought one finally after waiting for so many days of doing browsing & comparisons in GSMArena.com (probably the best out there) & local online purchase sites like Flipkart.com (in India). I bought a Sony Ericsson Xperia™ Arc S. At the time in Indian market (non-grey), it was probably the optimal one available in my type of price-range – with 1.4 GHz processor, 4+” HD screen with Sony’s Bravia engine, 8MP Sony camera, Sony’s Walkman music, 3G, WiFi, Gingerbread upgradable to ICS, apparently a good (1500 mAh) battery, and the killer curved (Arc, remember?) body, it was a range of specs that bowled me over and I happily sacrificed the front camera (it does not have one) as 3G video calling was not really in my priority list. As the package opened, the experience of android was like a breath of fresh air. Moving away from the older generation of phone OSs, it was like yielding raw power. It was fantastic.
But as days & months passed in my life & times with android, the entire experience slowly start to move towards the other end of the happiness spectrum. And let me share the nuggets of those experience with you in the following sections. (To bring in more focus, I will now leave the storytelling mode, and bring in some focus.)
CPU: 1.4 GHz Scorpion
1.4 was a mind-boggling value at that time. Now we do see that this is a run-in-the-mill case, but it wasn’t so then when I had bought the device. What slightly eluded me that time was that with all the power dedicated to a single core (it wasn’t dual or quad core like many of the phone CPUs available now), how well the core can serve the needs of the many. And believe you me, “many” is what android as a platform, with all the apps you’d install, is going to run with – always. As the time proved, it was not sufficient. The powerful core can let you play Angry Birds without any apparent performance issues, only if you have chosen to stop data network, ensured all stray processes were killed before you launched the game, and hopefully, not expecting anyone to call you in the middle of the game. Yes – then it works like a charm.
RAM: 512 MB
Now at that time, for an android initiate, it appeared as a very nice value. After all one used to use 1 GB or 2 GB RAMs in workstations or laptops and used to be comfortable with the expience. How much can a small palm-sized device need as runtime memory? Half a GB should be good enough!………… And as the phone started to enjoy it’s life, as it was enriched with more & more fantastic apps from Google Play, and as a battery saver software was installed that started showing the RAM usage, I could see how wrong that thought process was. Device has become smaller indeed – but it’s probably still the same type of applications & executables that are running within a much smaller chip, needing the equivalent amount of memory. If at any time one would see the running processes and services – it’s baffling! However much Google tried to create an OS for mobile devices, after all running Linux on your palmtop (aka, your mobile) was never a child’s play.
Now let’s enter the altogether different ballgame of managing the running apps on your device. As Google wants us all to Play, we do play with a multitude of apps that are available for free on the Play store. Many of them are one time loves, whereas there are plenty of others which are really good – a keeper and they find their icons placed on one of the home screens. So you go to Play store, search for stuff, find some, like some, try some, and forget. But wait, forget is what you can’t – at least not with android. You can do that in your PC very conveniently, as long as the app does not add itself in startup menu or in startup services – and to be fair to them, only a few of them actually do that. But it’s so much different in the android world. The apps would keep on becoming active even after you – as a user – have closed them off! Interestingly, the mobile platform and almost all the apps therein don’t really offer you an “exit” option. It’s just the “back” option that takes you back to the home screen – whereas the app may still be active in the background. Yes, within the developer options of the settings you can play around with some of the related settings – but let’s keep that story for a separate day! Worse – even after you kill the processes using one of those battery saver or power booster tools, they somehow rise from the dead and keep haunting your CPU & RAM – f o r e v e r!
Network Usage Management
And this perhaps is the most dreaded of all and probably a core thing, along with application runtime management, that makes your CPU and RAM’s shortfalls so visible. Now I understand the term “ubiquitous internet access” and I know that it is a nice thing to have. But do we have it? I do not know about the data plans available in developed countries like US, UK or France etc. But here in India, mobile data plans on 3G are costly and most of them have a ridiculously low upper usage cap and a stupid pay-per-use ratecard beyond the cap. So one needs to be very careful here about usage of one’s 3G network and one got to ensure that the user is on top of the usage. But then comes your way the plague of zombie apps that never really die their death. Majority of the apps would require some sort of network connection for reasons beyond understanding (e.g., my file manager, my task killer, and my battery saver also need internet access – why on earth??). Even though their usage portions may not be high, but the primary impact of this is drainage of the battery. The battery fares very well against prolonged usages of bluetooth, music player, calls, even screen times. But when it comes to network, even the smallest bits of data exchanges by WhatsApp, GMail, GTalk, Facebook notifications etc., the battery simply gives up too soon.
So what can one do?
A frustrated android user can do only one of 2 things – or maybe both. (1) Ask around – on forums, to friends & colleagues, to virtually every nook & corner of the world – have you got some tips for me? (2) Upgrade to a better phone in a constant search for nirvana if one can afford it. Sure you can upgrade to Sony Xperia S, HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy SIII, or LG Google Nexus 4. Give it some more time, and more & more choices will come around, provided price is not a constraint. You look at these devices and realize that the OEMs have now understood these basic problems very well. CPUs are now all either dual or quad core. RAMs are all 1 GB or more (Nexus 4 is probably the only “phone” right now with 2 GB RAM!). Lots of management utilities are around – they manage your app startup/killing pretty well, and give you more control on your data usage (I have 2 questions here: (a) is there a data usage tracker that can track data usage separately while on 3G, on 2G, on Wifi, and on roaming? (b) why, with a x MB or x GB of 3G data plan, I should lose data counts when the only available network that the phone can catch is 2G? Would someone be interested to bring this up as a PIL, please?).
While one risk losing OEM warranties if the phone is rooted, but probably that’s one path which can lead you to nirvana for some of these problems. Leaning back on the pristine android versions (enter, the Google Nexus series – OEMed with LG for Nexus 4, OEMed with Asus for Nexus 7, and OEMed with Samsung for Nexus 10) perhaps also, to some extent, make the users happy. After all each of these Nexus devices are immensly powerful. The Nexus 10 can light up your night sky like a supernova with its so-very-powerful display (you’d lose on battery life, but what the heck, eh?) – more powerful than Apple’s famous Retina one. And moreover, Jelly Bean is supposedly giving more power to the users – like never before. But is that the ultimate answer? Probably not. With the latest Jelly Bean version of android, comes Google Now and I wonder how much CPU, RAM and bandwidth hogging that will be…!
All in all, keep upgrading or keep downgrading (lose apps, restrict net usage hours, restrict number of parallel processes to be kept active in the background by playing with the “developer options” settings etc.) and you can be happy. In the world of android – you can never maintain a status quo!
Or, can you? Eager for opinions.