A few weeks ago, Joe Casabona wrote an article here detailing the main reasons he loves Android and chooses it over other platforms, with his focus being on the openness of the ecosystem and its advantages towards developers. Although I agree with Joe’s point of view, I have to admit that the reason I moved to Android in the first place was a lot more selfish.
I was a veteran Symbian user but, as a pharmacist, I needed access to more medical applications which Symbian’s Store failed to provide. Medscape‘s availability on Android was the app that made the balance tip and I went for Android. That was a year ago, almost to the day.
However, over this year, I started carefully venturing into rooting, custom ROMs and the modding scene. Just then, Android (excuse the corny metaphor) opened itself to me like a beautiful rose. I love customizing my experiences, especially on mobiles, and Android literally blew me away with how much you can change in order to suit your personality.
Taking Something That Works and Making It Better
I still remember, back in 2006, when I would spend hours on my Nokia 3250 XpressMusic, installing new themes, making applications work better than they were supposed to, and even finding ways to change an application’s icon or screen size by modifying its code. Then in 2008, I got offered an iPod Touch and I loved how everything worked, without any effort on my end. I jailbroke it eventually, in an attempt to reignite the personalization freak that was dormant inside. Try as I might, iOS felt too limited with way too many things set in stone, even on a jailbroken device. Then came Android.
In comparison, iOS only allows you to change the wallpaper and the lockscreen image; Windows Phone lets you pick the tiles’ color and the lockscreen image; and only Symbian and Blackberry give you the option to install themes, but even then, things are quite limited as you’re bound to use the theme as a whole the way it was pre-packaged: wallpaper, icons and menu backgrounds all together.
Top: regular HTC look (left) and with Zeam launcher (right). Bottom: ADW launcher used in fullscreen.
Pick the Default Apps That Suit You
The other main attraction of Android for me was its option to set alternate third party software as default, out of the box. Don’t like the dialer, contacts, messaging, keyboard, browser, gallery, music player, launcher, lockscreen, camera or any other aspect of Android? You can pick an alternative that suits you and set it as a default so you never have to go back to the old ones.
For example, I’m on a tight mobile plan and hence do all my browsing in Opera Mini, I also prefer QuickPic for my Gallery and PlayerPro for my music, but I have no problem using the built-in messaging application, lockscreen, keyboard and camera. Android doesn’t adopt a one-size-fits-all approach; rather, it allows you to tailor your experience to your needs at any given time.
By comparison, there is nothing you can do about iOS and Windows Phone’s default settings. You could install alternatives, but when trying to insert an image, for example, the built-in Gallery is the one that will open; and when clicking on a link from another application, the built-in browser will open. No matter how much you try to tailor your experience, there are choices that have been made for you, that you can do nothing about. Only Symbian lately added the option to pick the default web browser, music player, video player, and image viewer, but it still only works one time out of ten and extremely few third party apps have added support for this option.
Going the Extra Mile in Modding
It took me a few months with my Desire Z to feel comfortable enough to root it, but I never regretted that decision. If Android is customizable without rooting, try imagining the lengths you can go to if you say Open Sesame. With rooting, you can install fabulously stable and personalized ROMs like CyanogenMod and MIUI, pick themes for them that modify the settings menus, keyboard look, notification bar, and launcher icons, switch the fonts, install morphs that modify the power menu and default lockscreen look, and way, way, way more.
Different looks achieved with CM7 or MIUI, themes, ADW launcher and varied iconsets
In comparison, jailbreaking iOS gives you Winterboard with some different looks, SBSettings with quick access toggles, Activator with some easy gestures shortcuts, and different keyboard and font options. It works, but it’s limited in many aspects, and there is no way you can install another ROM altogether.
Windows Phone has been tightly closed and only recently offered an unlock method for the public to install non-Marketplace apps. Its custom ROM scene is almost non-existent so far. I’m not a Blackberry user but I never heard of unlocking/jailbreaking/rooting a Blackberry phone so I’m pretty sure such options do not exist and you’re stuck with what you have out of the box. And finally Symbian’s track record has been quite sparse, with unlocking and hacking relatively easy, but no real custom ROMs (just yet unreleased updates available earlier) and extremely few things you can modify (lockscreen, operator logo, font).
Android or the No-Boredom Platform?
I own an HTC Desire Z which is now considered to tout old generation hardware, but never – throughout 10 months of ownership – have I been bored of it, even for a single day. As a serial phone reviewer, I used to get a new phone to play with every couple of weeks and many times I’ve been bored with (some in less than 12 hours). Not with the Desire Z.
Every week, and even every day at times, I feel inspired and spin my wallpaper and icons. Sometimes, I go for another font, change the main widgets I use, or pick another theme. Rarely, I’ll switch ROMs. If I find a setup that works perfectly, I’ll leave it for a while, but if I think I can do better, I switch. This lack of boredom, this changing and modding whenever things start getting stale with my phone, these are the reasons I will come back to Android again and again.
What about you? What aspects of Android’s personalization keep you coming for more? Do you tinker with your setups or have you found one that works well and decided to stay with it?