Going to the Dark Side
Why I’m abandoning Android for Apple
Firstly, I’m not an Android zealot by any means. I’m writing this on a Mac Mini for a start. In the past I’ve had an iPhone (it was a 4S so a long time ago admittedly), an Apple TV (since replaced by a Chromecast) and I still own an old Macbook Pro (2012 model). But for the last several generations, I’ve purposely stuck to Android phones, with the last couple that I’ve owned (Samsung S7, Pixel 3) being great examples of where premium Android phones have got to, which in many respects is at least on-par, but maybe even slightly ahead of iPhones, though I’m sure some would argue.
What Have I Got Against iPhones Anyway?
There’s a few things. iMessage for a start. Apple had an opportunity for it’s customers to benefit from iMessage functionality when sending messages to Android users. But it might mean your kids buy an Android. So they killed it.
The ‘It just works’ bullshit. Yeah it works mostly — like anything else these days. Good luck fixing it if it doesn’t though.
The claim that ‘We value your privacy.’ Sure you do, if it sells more phones. It’s clearly just a marketing angle though.
I get it — all of that is just marketing, it just seems Apple, more than other tech companies put greater effort into that than just making a good product.
So with the level of capability in modern Android phones, the above has been enough for me to steer clear of iPhones. Mostly. I did recently get my daughter an iPhone 11. Apparently all of the above arguments were not enough to counter ‘all my friends have iPhones and it’s the coolest thing and I really want one of those and absolutely nothing else will do.’ Sometimes you have to pick your battles…
Time for a refresh
So after a couple of good years of service from my Pixel 3, I’ve been looking at replacements. I’ve been delighted with the Pixel experience so far and to be honest it was just a case of either getting a Pixel 5 or waiting for the Pixel 6. The Pixel 6 promises some more advanced tech than the Pixel line has been known for recently, so I’ve been waiting to see what that’s like. The Pixel 5 however has a nice design that probably means it could handle being ‘caseless’ — I’ve not had a phone that I’ve dared do that with since… the iPhone 4S actually.
At this point, I have to admit that my head was slightly turned by the iPhone 12 design. It’s basically a grown-up 4S which I’m convinced is the best-looking smartphone of all time. But then I thought about the other stuff that comes with an iPhone — migrating over, faffing on with iTunes, but mostly my wife and daughter (rightly) pointing out my absolute hypocritical behaviour. So I abandoned that thought fairly swiftly.
The Computers are Quite Good Though
Clearly I have no problem with the Apple line of computers. My Macbook Pro has been going since 2012 and aside from replacing the hard drive with an SSD, has had no issues in that time. I cannot imagine a Dell / HP / whatever lasting that well. So that was the thinking when I replaced my Windows desktop a couple of years ago with a Mac Mini. Two years in, that’s doing well on the most part, though not faultless I’d say. The underpowered GPU and subsequent heat generated on occasion isn’t great, not to mention various bluetooth dropouts. But it’s working well for what it is — a WFH station with some occasional coding or iMovie stuff.
But the Macbook is definitely ageing — I use that for Teams & Zoom meetings as I don’t have a camera for the Mini, and the fans kick into high gear on pretty much every conference now. So alongside the phone replacement I’ve been looking at laptop replacements. This is where it got a bit more interesting.
Picking The Right Option
Firstly, my requirements — they’re fairly straightforward:
- It’s mostly going to be used for video conferences during the working day. So needs to be able to support all the standard conferencing apps and have a good camera and microphone (not as easy to find info on as you’d expect).
- Like a lot of people, I don’t anticipate being sat at a desk in an office 5 days a week any more. I’ll be in the office less frequently, and when I’m there the work is more likely to be collaborative — talking through ideas with people, taking down some notes in a meeting etc. And because I’ll be there less frequently, I might choose a different form of transport — such as cycling. So the device needs to be portable, a touch interface would be useful, as would supporting a stylus. But I’ll still need proper keyboard input at times .
- It would actually need to support the apps that I need for work (essentially the microsoft office 365 stack) via native apps or in a browser.
- Sunday evenings September through January involve watching an NFL game, while also keeping up with RedZone, and also monitoring my various dynasty and redraft fantasy leagues. A tablet or 2-in-1 type device would be perfect here.
So here were the options:
Get a new Macbook
There was no consideration of the Pro this time. The basic M1 Air seems absurdly powerful, and even with the base 8GB memory would probably be enough for the limited amount of work I’ll be asking of it. In terms of my requirements:
- It clearly will do a good job for video conferencing, though I was slightly surprised to see it doesn’t look like the webcam or microphone have been significantly upgraded over my aging 2012 model. The fact that it’s fanless would be a an improvement in itself though.
- It’s small and light so ticks the portable box. Lack of touch / stylus interface is a bit of a drawback though.
- Supports all apps natively and via browser. No worries here.
- I’m not typing much on a Sunday night (other than abuse in league chats but I can do that on my phone) so the keyboard is wasted. Ideally I’d want a touch interface to occasionally flick through apps.
To be clear, I’m specifically talking about the 2-in-1 Chromebooks, and the premium level ones at that. This pretty much meant one of the latest Acer or Asus flip models and at this time I reckon the upcoming Asus CX5400 (or flip CX5 depending on where you are) is the one to go for. It’s similar to a Macbook Air in size and style and has the 11th gen i3 / i5 / i7 processor so plenty powerful enough, particularly for a Chromebook. The big benefit (for me) is being able to flip into full tablet mode and make use of the touchscreen interface. So how does this stack up overall then?
- In terms of video conferencing support for Android, my take is functionality goes something like this: Windows/Mac > iOS > Android. All of the main video conferencing apps are supported in browser though, and that’s kind of where you want to be on a Chromebook so wouldn’t anticipate too many issues here. This model has some capable speakers and I would anticipate the microphone being decent at this price range.
- It’s as portable as a Macbook Air and also has the tablet mode with a built-in stylus.
- Here’s where things get a little bit dicey — Android apps are a bit of a no no at work so I wouldn’t be able to use them for the core Microsoft apps. Whether that would be a good experience in any case is open to debate though. So it would be browser only, which isn’t a show-stopper as WiFi is likely and there’s always mobile tethering but I expect it could become an annoyance.
- On the couch with the NFL on a Sunday? Perfect.
The options above are fairly portable, but they’re still laptops basically. What if I went further? Clearly, a smaller Chromebook would be one option, but, aside from the drawbacks of lack of Android app support at work, there isn’t really a premium device in this range so I’d be stuck with something that’s potentially a bit crap in terms of build quality and longevity. So that’s when I started looking at iPads. In particular, the iPad Pro 11", which everyone says is pointless getting because the 11" Air has pretty much everything that the Pro does, except for:
- Better speakers
- Better microphone
- Extra RAM
- M1 chip
The base Air also only comes with 64GB RAM so feels like a non-starter even if a load of my stuff is in cloud storage. So once you compare like for like, the better speakers & microphone would be beneficial and a device that is as well-built as this is going to have a long enough lifetime that the extra RAM and M1 chip would be useful even if they’re completely unnecessary today. Also it has FaceID. If I’m going to the dark side I damn well want the one thing that Google has refused to make available to this point!
Apple being Apple, accessories are optional (and expensive). So adding a keyboard and pen puts you well within Macbook Air territory which, in terms of value is questionable, but let’s see how it stacks up for my use case though:
- Video conferencing support for iOS certainly appears to be better than Android, and the browser on the iPad is supposedly ‘desktop class’ so in theory, this shouldn’t be too far behind a Macbook Air. The hardware though is superior though — better camera and microphone plus centre-stage auto-tracking for video calls.
- Absolutely portable — could easily chuck this in my cycle bag, prop it up on a counter or holding standing up in meetings. It also seems to be by far the best note-taking experience with a stylus. Clear winner in this category.
- iOS apps are supported at work so should be OK on that front.
- Smaller screen than a Chromebook 2-in-1 but more comfortable to drag round the house / have on the lap.
For anyone not keeping count, it’s an overall win for the iPad Pro:
I’m not saying an iPad Pro is better than a Macbook Air or a Chromebook— I think for most people it probably isn’t, but for me, in my situation the iPad Pro is the clear winner. So that’s going to leave me in the situation where I have a Mac Mini, an iPad Pro, and an (ageing) Macbook Pro. So rather than fight the Apple ecosystem, I’m going to tentatively embrace it, at a time where I think the design of the mobile devices is really on-point again. So it’s going to be an iPhone 12 or 13 to complete the set.
I’m going to set some guide-rails to avoid getting uncomfortably locked in, so this will mean:
- No key-chain — I’ll be sticking with BitWarden in case I need to get my passwords back out again)
- No iCloud — I have a Google One subscription and most of the stuff I create outside of work goes in Drive. I’ll keep Google Photos as well — it’s just really, really good.
- No Keynote, Numbers, Pages — the G Suite stuff does all I need, it’s cloud native and it’s easy to share.
- No iTunes. Is iTunes even a thing any more? Anyway, I have Spotify and Youtube subscriptions which cover all bases really.
So it will be a bit of an experiment to see how this all works out and take advantage of the stuff that is genuinely interesting (sidecar for instance) without getting sucked in so that I can’t get out. Maybe that’s what everyone says before they get sucked in…