AMITIAE - Thursday 26 February 2015
Cassandra: An iPhone 6 User Experiencing a Low-end Samsung Smartphone and Android as a Novice
By Graham K. Rogers
ReasonsActually, that point about the purchase of the phone needs some minor adjustment: the family bought a Samsung SM-G130HN at Christmas. With the usual ambivalence to technology it was only last week they decided to turn it on, with an apparent abundance of confusion.
Apparently a few steps forward were taken when the man in Tescos made some suggestions. I thought my mother was referring to a man on the meat counter, but this grocer has expanded in the few years I have been away to cover telecoms, banking and several other fields. His sage advice was to try a few things, see what happens and play about: learning by doing.
Several steps backwards followed at the weekend when a friend arrived. He had formerly claimed that nothing could beat the Blackberry and was somewhat dismissive of the new iPhone 3Gs I was carrying on a trip to the UK a few years back. It did not help much when another guest at the dinner we were attending liked the iPhone so much she went out and bought one the next day.
So now Blackberry Man has become a Samsung expert and in a couple of minutes showed my parents a dozen different things that could be done with their phone, leaving them none the wiser.
I phoned late Monday and while chatting, downloaded the Samsung manual in PDF format, making a couple of suggestions while we talked. However, what I was reading in the PDF did not match the hands-on experience and there was a question of the SD card port that I could see, but they could not (it is accessed by removing the back I now find). We ended the conversation with me suggesting they play with Google Maps which also - they did not know - has a satellite view.
I felt a little at a loss trying to help from the other side of the world. When I was in Siam Paragon on Wednesday afternoon, I had a look in the Samsung shop there to see if I could get a closer look at the model: released in July 2014, a little before the iPhone 6 arrived.
AcquisitionThe Samsung experience is not like the Apple experience, even if Apple is represented by a franchise system in Thailand. The stores may have a similarity, although Samsung's is a far brighter white, but the main difference is that I went into an empty shop, if one ignores the staff gossipping near the counter. They sure ignored me.
Eventually, I was noticed and one of the young men changed into a higher gear. I had the model number (not name): SM-G130HN. He checked and showed me that it was one of the two I had been looking at, although I saw the black model. I asked and indeed, there was a white version. For the price, this was almost a no-decision; and that may be part of what drives sales of Samsung phones at the lower end. It looks like many smartphones on the outside and for a relatively low price (2,690 baht) consumers can easily join what was an exclusive club.
Out came the box, made of recycled paper (one-up on Apple there as far as I can tell) and the phone appeared. It is certainly smaller than the iPhone 6 I currently use and it sits nicely in the hand. Despite the generous use of plastic in the making of the device, it felt pleasantly solid. I also liked the way that I was able to put it down quite hard with less risk to the plastic surface. I noted that it has dual-SIM capability, not that I am likely to use that.
Also in the box were three cables (Apple uses two): the charger, plastic with one of those ghastly micro-USB connectors; headphones (these are likely to stay in the box); and a micro-USB to USB connector, which is shorter than the USB-Lighting connector for the iPhone. Materials used in these cables were also different: the Samsung ones felt thinner and lighter.
A couple of problems appeared: it was a 900MHz phone (not 850MHz) so only the SIM from AIS would work, I was told; and the battery needed charging. This was a little surprising as I am used to out-of-the-box working with Apple products, but a few minutes put in enough juice to make it work, so I headed off to AIS for the SIM.
I had my passport all ready and the process was fairly quick. The young lady gave me a stack of cards and I chose a number I will probably never remember. I dealt with that later by phoning the iPhone and putting the details in my Contacts.
InitiationOnce home, I decided to have a look, but the Samsung phone wasn't having any of it. Unlike the iPhone which comes with sufficient charge to run for a while - and when being charged can still be used - this was dead. Once I had found the cable and connected it to power, the screen was taken over by a large battery icon which stayed there until it was at 100%. Whatever I tried - and I was approaching this as a novice - that icon stayed on.
I even tried disconnecting the cable when it was fully charged, but had to turn off the phone and restart before the home screen was available. The manual, which I had downloaded indicates that using the phone while it is charging is possible, so perhaps I was unable to access this as it was a first charge.
The screen-shot facility is not something a new user, like my mother, would find easily (or even realise was possible). When I tried using the online suggestions, there was no indication I had taken a shot (I hadn't); sometimes screens I did not want appeared; another time I managed to turn the phone off. When I did that, the opening screen was asking me to "Get Google Now". The only option was Next. Then I tried the Home button.
The solution to taking a screenshot came later when discussing the phone with a technician at the office. It is indeed Power+Home, but both need to be pressed at exactly the same time, then held for a second. The shot is confirmed by a white border on the screen. If the timing of the button press is off by a fraction, another action may be initiated.
The position of the power button is the same as on the iPhone 6 and I admit to having problems occasionally with this when taking screenshots on the Apple device. On occasion, I will accidentally press the volume buttons (opposite the power) and ruin a shot. Aesthetics be damned: it was far better sited on the top of the iPhone as it was with all earlier versions and where it remains with the latest iPads.
DiscoveriesI began to explore the home screen and examine the icons. It seems that the touchscreen of the Samsung is not as responsive as those on iOS devices. I did not like the way the screens were organised. Right at the top are several small icons, some of which I am not sure of. Bluetooth, WiFi, number of missed calls, signal strength, battery, and time were easy to identify. One other, which not even the manual included, was not.
Apart from that Get Google Now screen, when accessing certain services and apps, I was immediately faced with another Google login or advertisement or something else in my face. After only 12 hours this was becoming intrusive.
A larger time display near the top of the screen is convenient but too large and perhaps redundant; underneath was wasted space, although I later moved app icons into that area. I was given the option to add a location, but the one offered was not really right. Trying to find another, or returning to the home screen was not obvious.
Below that, was a prominent Google search bar, then just 8 icons (later moved). The last icon takes me to a lower level. A few at the top level would be useful, particularly the camera, phone, contacts and messages.
While examining the screen, I found that by pressing on it, the home screen minimised (about two-thirds size) and I could then scroll sideways to a second screen where there were no icons. This seemed inconsistent with going down one level where there were three screens, each with app icons.
I also found other oddities, with some screens or services allowing me to go back up one level, while others had no such control, needing me to use the Home button and navigate down again to the lower level. On the iPhone many of these actions that required two touches on the Samsung, would be accomplished with one
The keyboard is not the same on the two devices. There are only subtle differences, but the critical symbol keys I needed were not easy to find in the same way I am used to on the iPhone.
I added a PIN for the lock-screen, but when trying this out was caught out first time by the need to enter OK. I have also found that the spacing between numbers and characters on the lock screen input is too small: it is easy to input spurious keystrokes. This seemed to me more - albeit small - examples of the lower convenience that this phone operating system allows users.
CommentsThis was not the first Samsung I had owned. When I walked through a flood and ruined the iPhone 4 I had, I needed a cheap phone while waiting for the repair service to replace the iPhone and picked up a chocolate brown device from Samsung then. The interface was rather basic, but worked. On this occasion, I was slightly annoyed by being backed into a corner with the carrier I had to use as only the 900 MHz phone was available in the Samsung shop.
The Samsung SM-G130HN phone itself is not all that bad, considering its price, but it is shackled by that interface. My experience as a novice user of Android was not at all satisfying, despite approaching it (I think) with an open mind. I was ready to learn, but the inconsistencies, together with the in-your-face approach from Google, made this a frustrating day or so.
I have been using Apple's iOS since before it was iOS and this leads me to the point that the Apple design approach is to focus on the user experience, although that does fall down on occasions. What I felt with this limited exposure to Android (Kit-Kat) was that this is a system designed by computer engineers for computer engineers.
Like the Mac and OS X, iOS is for iPhones (and the related devices) and will never be seen on other manufacturers' phones. There is perhaps a need for a third operating system for mobile devices. As a leader in the production of such technology, Samsung might investigate that avenue with some urgency.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.
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