I’ve recently made a very difficult life decision.
I’ve decided it’s time to try a phone other than my trusty iPhone.
Since the iphone 3 I’ve been firmly in the Apple camp for my smartphone. Yes, I’m aware it’s a terrible walled-garden, and yes, I know that Steve Jobs was a notorious puppy-killer and megalomaniac – or something, if you pay attention to the constant inter-camp bickering. But, in my defense, I would just like to say what everyone usually says in defense of Apple products.
They just work. I do enough tweaking and fiddling with the various PCs in my life that something that just does what it says in the tin is pretty attractive. Plus I’m a long term user of iTunes, and while I know people who really do think it is the devil, I’ve never had issues, and really like the easy integration of music across my devices.
That said, a couple of things have influenced my decision to move. My current iPhone is a 4s, and it’s a little on the heavy side; I wear suits quite a bit, and it’s not unusual for my phone to ruin the line of a well-cut suit, both in terms of bulk, and in the way it drags down one side. When I’m wearing jeans, though, the phone lives in my back pocket, where its hard edges have worn two inconvenient holes in the back pocket of every pair I own.
And then there’s just plain curiosity – I probably should have a go at the other side of things, given my line of work.
So, being a firm believer that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing in an extreme way, I’ve gotten hold of a shiny new Samsung Galaxy S4, and I’m making the leap. I’m not the only person to switch sides, or contemplate it, so I thought I’d document the process and list what apps and tools have made the transition as easy as possible.
OMG it’s light!
As I said, one of the big draws of the Galaxy S4 is its weight, and it’s a pretty amazing piece of kit in that regard. The plastic is a big change from the glass-backing of my iPhone 4s, but the new handset does come with some drawbacks.
First up, it’s so large that it doesn’t fit in my jeans pocket properly, and while my iPhone never fell out of my pocket, the S4 has dropped to the floor twice in a single week while I’m sitting down.
Thankfully, the plastic seems plenty tough – there’s not a scratch on the unit. And yes, it does buckle a far better swash in a suit, despite being larger. So that’s one win for the new phone right away.
Of course, the sartorial scale is just one measure of a good phone, and for the majority of users, not even the most important (you philistines!). As weird as it may sound, the prime use for a phone is still communication, so the first step of the conversion process was to get all my contacts across to the S4.
Thankfully, there’s Samsung Smart Switch, which worked pretty seamlessly, though not perfectly.
You can download the software here, and once you’ve got your iPhone backed up to your PC (not a cloud backup, but one on your actual hard drive), you’re in luck. And no, there isn’t a version for Mac as of writing, but one is apparently coming.
Once the application’s installed, run it and it will ask you to plug in your Samsung device. Once it’s connected, you can select what device’s backup you’re using, and which particular backup to use. In our case, it was a little trickier; my iTunes files are stored on the home NAS, and Smart Switch didn’t seem to like navigating beyond my desktop. I had to copy the backup from the server to my PC, but then it worked fine.
With the backup chosen, you get a simple menu where you can pick what you want to backup, including not just contacts, but images, videos, music and more. Of course, it’s also worth remember that, out of the box, the S4 has only 8GB of storage – I skipped porting my music across, because even on my 16GB iPhone I was pushing things to its limit.
But that’s okay. With the ability to expand storage via a MicroSD card, I was looking forward to going nuts and getting my entire collection across.
You can never tell when you’ll want to play the most obscure track in your collection, right?
One last thing – Smart Switch will offer to download Samsung’s Kies handset management app, but it’s really not at all essential. In fact, it's pretty dire.
Contacts and Google interactions are... odd
One of the oddest things about signing into Gmail on the new phone is the way your contacts are suddenly full of Google+ and Gmail contacts – the G+ stuff is especially annoying, as I used G+ for approximately 47 hours before finding it inherently pointless (which is harsh, but I really do only have time/spoons for a handful of social media avenues). Thankfully you can turn off G+ contact-syncing, though it is about three screens down in the Accounts part of the phone’s settings.
So, with all that cleaned out of contacts, I was able to see that pretty much everything had worked fine with Smart Switch – which was sadly wrong. As some SMSes started coming in, it looked as though while some contacts had came across, the numbers associated with them didn’t. Not too many, but if you’re going through the process it’s worth doing a quick double check for missing details, and then manually copying across whatever’s needed. In my case, it was only three phone numbers out of 46 people.
One thing that has really opened my eyes to Android (even Samsung’s rather bloated version of it) is the sheer amount of customisation power on offer, in terms of the look and functionality of the various home screens. So, having gotten a taste of that in nixing G+’s control of my phone, I went digging a little further.
There are a tonne of voice and motion control options in the S4, and to put it mildly, some work better than others. At the best of times I’ve always found voice control to be quite the gimmick, so killing off all of that not only means there’s that much less processing on the CPU, but you can also then speed up the response of the home button. By turning off the ‘Open via the home key’ option for the S Voice shortcut, you actually get faster performance when you actually want to go to the home screen – so, pretty much all of the time.
The gesture input tricks are kinda neat, but, again, hardly world-changing. Half the time we find the phone can’t even pick them up, so turning them off entirely is, again, a bit of a battery saver. And anyway, answering your phone by passing your hand over seems like a great way to accidentally answer the phone a lot.
(Or perhaps I’m just anti-social like that)
Quick Glance is useful, though, and generally works pretty well. I’ve kept that enabled, so that I can simply pass my hand over the phone to get a rundown of missed calls, messages, and check the time.
The S4 comes with a host of security options, and I couldn’t resist giving the facial recognition a try. Sadly, it too falls into the cute-gimmick category. The contortions required to get your face at the right angle to the phone, with the right lighting, renders the function torturous at best. Either stick with a simple passcode, or use the pattern method.
Finally, one of the most useful things for anyone who worries about exceeding their data cap – so, most people, really – is the ability to not only easily monitor daily usage, but also set a mobile data limit, via Settings | Connections | Data Usage. I’d consider this one essential for anyone who uses their device for media consumption, and even more so if you’re a frequent traveller.
I’ve got the music in me (and my phone)
I’m really blown away by the ability to expand my phone’s storage capacity, and the MicroSD cards are pretty cheap – a 32GB card will set you back less than $50. My music collection currently runs to over that, but jests aside, there are some albums I know I won’t have the sudden urge to listen to on the road.
I’m sorry, Enya, but teenage me was really only into you because you had a track called Lothlorien.
Of course, Android devices obviously don’t play nicely with iTunes, but there is in fact an app for that, to borrow a phrase. iSyncr has both a free and more fully-featured version for $3.99, and it’s generally considered one of the best Android/iTunes syncing apps out there. It’s a two-application solution, requiring the free/paid version on your phone, and then another free version on the PC you want to get your files off.
Then it’s just a matter of syncing tracks from device to device.
There’s a tonne of other, more or less personal tweaks that I’ve made, like turning off annoying typing sounds, and re-arranging the home screens, but otherwise, my new phone is now up and running as I want it to.
Now to find jeans with a slightly bigger back-pocket...