I’ve used Apple devices since 2010, first an iPod Touch, and then several iPhone models. Over the years I’ve played with Android several times and have always been disappointed and frustrated with the experience. Recent updates to Talkback and Android have changed things considerably. As I detailed in my post in May, gestures are much more responsive, web navigation is much better, and the whole Android experience is the best it has been. So, I decided to take the plunge and switch to an Android phone full time. I settled on the Motorola Moto G Plus 4th Generation, as I felt it had reasonable specs, and a nearly stock (original) version of Android. Plus Motorola has a reputation for getting updates out faster than most other manufacturers.
Having worked with Android devices before, getting things set up initially was relatively painless, aside from the understandable, but annoying, requirement to use headphones when entering a password. This was very quickly disabled after I finished the initial setup. After signing into my accounts, I decided to set up my phone as a new device, so I could have only the apps I want, free from any other stuff I’d played with while testing. I then decided to try out Google Play’s web support on the desktop to install my apps, which worked quite well. Within a couple hours, I had most of my apps installed, contacts ported over, and I was mostly up and running.
Overall, using the Moto G Plus has been a positive experience. The interface is mostly fluid, Talkback’s improved navigation makes navigating web pages pleasant, and, except for slightly higher frequency of unlabeled buttons in third party apps, app accessibility has been good. Gestures definitely need to be more accurate, but they are not nearly as touchy as in prior Talkback versions. The screen also seems to be more sensitive to accidental touches. For example, if I’m navigating with explore by touch, and the side of my hand that I’m holding the phone with accidentally intrudes on to the very edge of the screen, Android is much more likely to either move the focus, or even register a double-tap than iOS ever was. This seems to get worse if the device is under heavy load. Despite that, the much larger battery, and the front speaker both put my iPhone 6s to shame. Bluetooth connectivity seems even more reliable as well.
There are a few things about Android that just bug me. These aren’t necessarily accessibility issues, but they can be annoying.
- When answering a call, it is necessary to find the answer bar and do a two finger swipe to the right. I have more than once caused the option to respond with a text message to come up instead because my gesture wasn’t accurate enough. This will vary with what dialer your phone is using.
- When scrolling through long lists, there is no simple gesture to move by page, and no way to jump directly to the top of the list. This means that if I’m in my email inbox or Twitter feed, I need to do long two finger slides up or down the screen, which is rather slow, and doesn’t always scroll by the same amount. There is also nothing equivalent to double-tapping the status bar to scroll to the top on iOS, making it rather tedious to scroll up to the top of a long list from part way down.
- As I mentioned previously, the requirement to use headphones to enter a password, especially during initial setup, can be rather frustrating and potentially block someone from setting up their phone until they locate wired headphones. With many phones not including earbuds, and some phones no longer even having headphone jacks unless an adapter is used, there really needs to be a way to disable this feature during setup.
- When responding to an alarm, with the phone locked, unlocking the screen doesn’t dismiss the alarm as it does on iOS, and if you lock the screen again then bring up the lock screen, the buttons to snooze and dismiss the alarm disappear.
Everything’s an app
Unlike with iOS, nearly everything in Android is an app. Whereas things like Safari, Mail, Calendar and even the voicemail are built into iOS and updated with OS updates, on Android all of those are distinct apps which can be downloaded from Google Play, and even replaced with other apps if you want. I noticed one immediate example of this when I first set up the phone. I needed to go get Verizon’s voicemail app from the Play store so I could have voicemail on my phone and not have to call in. Another side effect of this is that some companies may use a different app for SMS, email, browsers, etc. which may have varying levels of accessibility.
After just about two weeks with the Moto G Plus, 4th generation, I am overall pleased with the Android experience as it currently stands, at least for people who primarily use speech. I will be releasing a follow up post discussing some more particulars about apps that I like, and I hope to have an exploration of where Braille support currently stands in that post as well. For now, if you’re looking for something cheaper than an iPhone, and you are willing to put up with a few less than fluid features, and do not require extensive Braille use, then an Android device may be worth a look.