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Physician perspective of switching from iPhone to Android, evaluating the hardware

By: Dr. Michael Kerr

Somewhere in a forgotten hospital room, orphaned hospital furniture has been turned into an on-call fort. An old hospital sheet sags across the divide between two lounges, pushed together forming a little shanty in the corner of the room.

From beneath comes a pale glow, sweaty thumbs leave streaks of dotted rainbows across a smartphone screen. From inside comes the sound of someone watching the TV show scrubs.

My name is Michael, I’m a Physician, I’m on call, and I’m a tech addict. I’m writing about switching from an iPhone to Android from a Physicians perspective, to see by experience if the grass is as green as iOS, or if it’s just the little robot.

This is the second of the series, in which I’ll try to focus on my first impressions and the hardware. The first article explaining why I started the journey can be found here. Between the first post of the series and now, I’’ve been playing with an iPhone 5, a jailbroken iPhone 4, and a samsung galaxy note 2. At one point, I was going to work with all three devices in my scrubs.

I’d like to remind everyone that this is an opinion piece, so as always, your mileage might vary. I appreciate that some of you will have skipped this bit, and proceeded immediately to post comments with your foreheads VS keyboards.

I hope it hurts. Please post more.

First Impressions

After a fair bit of thought, my choice of android device was a Samsung Galaxy Note 2. Without joking, the first impression I got from the phone was how much longer the names on these things are. Might sound silly, but it does come to a point, in that there’s so much more variety in hardware choice. As I found out, this has both positives and negatives associated with it.

I chose the Note 2 for a number of reasons. I’m not going to go into inane details on specs, cores, and things ending in “hz” here, there are many fantastic reviews out there on any android phone you could want. I will try and rationalize my choices as a doctor.

The Screen

My iPhone 4 has a 3.5 inch screen, the iPhone 5 has a 4 inch screen. The Note 2 has 5.5 inches, and the Samsung S3 has 4.8 inches. The numbers honestly don’t do the real life difference any justice. You really have to hold the devices in your hands to appreciate just how much a difference this makes. For some, 5.5 is too much. I thought, the more the merrier.

I do a lot of reading on my phone for work, reading medical references, medical calculators, Evernote notebooks, and things like Flipboard and Zite in my spare time. I figured the larger screen size would mean a better reading experience.

This is wrong, sort of. Remember back when the iPad first came out and there weren’t many iPad versions of apps? You could load an iPhone version and upscale it. The result was a fuzzy mess. Eventually, the developers made use of the extra space and the world was once again a happy place. Android seems to be lagging, most noticeably in medical apps. Many apps are up-sized and don’t make use of the screen. It’s really quite frustrating loading something like Epocrates to find that your beautiful screen looks like it’s been smeared with Vaseline.

Some apps have been optimized for the larger size, though, lots haven’t. I can’t express just how frustrating this is.

On the flip side, when the apps do make use of the screen, it’s absolutely wonderful. Two examples here. Just to keep you on your toes, i’m going to start with example two. Youtube is awesome. I watch quite a few youtube videos on medicine. There’s heaps of stuff out there, from bedside ultrasound tutorials to things like EMRAP TV and the learning radiology podcasts. I’ll usually watch them either at work, or in bed. The size difference and the quality of the screen is really noticeable.

Example one, OHCM, it’s a pleasure to read. I’ve had the OHCM on my iPhones before, and compared to the physical book, I’ve never really liked it. The navigation system is clunky and there’s never much text on the screen. All in all, it makes for a frustrating reading experience. On the android side of things, the OHCM app scales well, using the entirety of the screen real estate, and allowing small fonts.

This, coupled with a reasonably high PPI 5.5 inch screen, makes for an enjoyable experience. I found that I could sit down and chew through a chapter or two without any complaints. If I was going to do the same on the iPhone screen, I’d first have to make sure there were no sharp objects nearby and have a helmet on.

The Stylus

This actually wasn’t a big issue for me. However, a few people have commented on the previous article asking if the stylus is really that useful. Sadly, the answer is another ambiguous “yes and no”. It’s good for writing small things down, and that’s largely it. At one point I had fancies to use the phone / stylus combo as a digital notebook, writing down my history and examination as I went at the bedside.

While it’s certainly doable, the screen isn’t quite large enough and the writing sensitivity isn’t quite there yet. That said, it’s a largely enjoyable experience, it’s just not quite as easy as folding up a bit of paper and hacking away with a pen. I’m pretty sure that infection control people might pop an aneurysm if they saw someone using it like that anyway. If you think of it like an A7 (palm sized) notebook you’ll have no complaints.

The Buttons

This is kind of embarrassing, but I spent about 30 minutes trying to start my phone when I first got it. I couldn’t get past one of the setup screens, where I had to press the return button. Press the return button? Hey, I’m a pretty savvy guy, I can press the button. About forty presses later I realized that there were two capacitive buttons next to the home button… luckily I hadn’t called tech support.

Android comes with a home button, a context menu button, and a return button. It does take some getting used to. I think both work equally well. In my short lived experience, iPhone apps seem to have more intuitive screen controls.

However, the android buttons work quite well, and a few times I’ve found myself going to press them on the iPhone. One annoyance with them is the ease at which you can accidentally hit them with the palm of your hand.



iMedicalApps periodically features contributed articles from clinicians, researchers, and industry leaders with interesting perspectives to share.

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12 Responses to Physician perspective of switching from iPhone to Android, evaluating the hardware

  1. Pascal January 21, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    You briefly mention what I think this boils down to: size. If you don’t want to or can not afford a phone plus a (mini-)tablet, a phone with a ginormous screen is the best alternative you can get, but then you’re out of luck on the iOS platform.

    Just last week I experimentally switched to a Nexus 4, but even that phone is too big for me. I use my phone one-handed 95% of the time, but my medium-sized hands are too small for one-handed use of that phone without constantly switching the way I hold it. If I want to read or watch a movie I switch to my iPad anyway, so it’s not worth having such a huge phone as well. This actually made me appreciate the iPhone 5 even more, the screen is perfect for one-handed use and my kind of mobile usage, I am very glad they didn’t increase the width. Is reading on a 5.5″ screen better than on a 4″ screen? Yes, but it’s even better on an 9.7″ screen.

    What I’m saying is that if you can afford a 7-8″ tablet and a 4″ phone there is no need to fiddle with these huge phones. Call me elitist, that’s just my opinion. On the ward it’s no problem to carry the tablet, and when going sightseeing you don’t need a 5.5″ screen, just take your phone and leave the tablet.

    Looking forward to your OS comparison!

  2. palmdoc January 22, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    I agree with Pascal. I’d prefer a 4 inch phone and when the need for a bigger screen, a mid sized tablet like the iPad mini. No phablets for me!

  3. Wasim Alamgir January 22, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    Also switched from an iphone 4S to galaxy note 2 and have gone back to iphone 5 because found the phone too big to handle with one hand on the ward. most important was the OS, once you have made a huge investment in ios ecosystem with the medical apps its difficult to go back and invest anew in android version of the same apps. Plus I use my phone and ipad to carry all my presentations on my phone and ipad and they are easily connected to the vga port of a projector to deliver presentations any where. Unfortunately this is still not possible on galaxy note 2

  4. Gabriel Zorron January 25, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    I loved your two posts. I have exactly the same question. I’m surely a tech addict but not necessarily an Apple or Android Maniac Lover. I’m the owner of a Samsung Galaxy Nexus (the one who was banned from selling in the U.S. for breaking apple patents) and I’m very pleased with it. But, as was previously mentioned by PalmDoc and Pascal and I’m very much in favor of ownig a 4” smartphone and a tablet (wichI prefer around 10”). So I’m looking for my tablet now.
    Thus I am in doubt, Ipad 4th Generation or Nexus 10?
      In fact, after studying a lot on the internet about both, got the final question: the Apple app store is really best for medical applications than Google Play? And that will continue in the future?

    • Iltifat Husain, MD January 26, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

      Correct, the Apple iOS store is better than Google Play at the moment for medical professionals. Our piece on the most innovative medical apps:
      shows how many of these apps are unavailable for Android. Right now the iOS store is preferential to developers because it’s preferential to medical professionals. I foresee this continuing for at least another year or so.

  5. BenT-RN January 26, 2013 at 7:30 am #

    while I am intrigued by your switch, fully encouraging you to choose the open source platform, I can’t argue with your assessments. I believe though it is a matter of development that needs fixing and not the actual realestate/size of the device.

    I have worked in a large hospital in eastern Washington (state) for the last 2 years and have carried a 7″ tablet for the majority of the time. I do realize this is slightly off topic, but it is roughly the same problem with a tablet as it is with a “gigantic” phone. Reading is wonderful with the whole page available, but one handed operation is out of the question. I believe more input to developers to place one handed (left or right) zones on the screen would go a long way to making these better. With a little pressure and patience, this is the way it will go as screen real estate increases (the note3 is said to have a 6.3″ screen in rumorville)(16cm for those across the big blue).

    The note2/3 is a fantastic piece of hardware and closer to what I am looking for, but the pen would have to work as well (or better) than on my old palm device (and paper) for me to make the final switch. The software will follow the hardware as the ipad really isn’t an “overgrown ipod touch” and the nexus 7 forced android developers to make their apps better.
    can’t wait to read the next installment.

  6. Dusty January 27, 2013 at 6:52 am #

    Like this article, I just switched from the iOS world back to the Android world. When I say back, I used to have a multiple Android devices and including a couple tablets in our family (which makes for cheap tablets for kids!). We have an iPad2 and also an ipod touch, so not unknown to the apple world. I tried the iPhone because of just that, iOS medical apps are usually superior to Android apps. This article nailed. It just wasn’t enough to stay over, I broke contract to switch over to the Note 2. Never had the note 2 until now but I was aware of all the possibilities of android. I love to have technology do what I want with it. I like the phone to be my scheduler, calendar, communication device, and reference guide. Kindle app works better on the note 2 and I have purchased many text books there. I love the switch specifically for the screen size. I spend 95% of phone time on the internet/reading books/looking up things/texting than calling. Something that I was surprised about iOS was if you wanted to load a file i.e. pdf on the phone you had to load it with a specific program through itunes so adobe and ibooks couldn’t open the same file. Or if someone sends an attachment presentation you can’t download it forever without going to your computer. There are thousands of other reasons, it’s really up to you but like this article states you can choose the type of phone you want with android. I agree with iPhone 5 all the extra accessories you have to buy alone would be annoying (with the new adapter). And the screen in longer not wider which is weird. I want to know what the Author ended up with and what he chose. He talked about going to his iPhone 4 again but did he get rid of the note? BTW kids love the stylus, another thing to keep them distracted!

  7. mick February 2, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Hi guys and gals,

    Thanks for the comments, sorry for taking so long to get back. I’ve been stuck on flaky 3G tethered reception of late. Back on a decent connection now though.

    The size and minitablet issue is quite an interesting one. I’ve toyed with the ipad mini, and love the form factor. If they were able to squeeze a retina display and maintain battery life into it i’d have sold my ipad 3 straight away.

    As i’ve alluded to, i’ve got a “normal” sized ipad, as well as my phones. I also tend to prefer using my ipad for movies, large amounts of text reading etc as well. despite this, i’ve found myself using the note 2 a hell of a lot more, and the ipad a lot less. i think this comes down to having it on hand more often than the ipad. say in a hospital situation, i’ll have the note in my pocket, and the ipad in a locker / bag. whole lot of effort to go and get the ipad out versus the phone. in scenarios like this, i often appreciate the extra size.

    it’s big enough to be an ipad replacement in a pinch. the iphone, however, would be too small, and i’d go and begrudgingly get the larger sibling out.

    having an ipad mini would help negate some of this, as it’s somewhat pocketable, especially for you fancy americans with your swishing white coats.

    @ gabriel, regarding which tablet, i think answer is waaaaay easier. ipad. no question. hands down. without doubt. androids tablet optimised app availability is depressingly bad. horribly so. it’s similar to what the android phone app situation was like 2 years ago.

    it really is a great market to be looking for a new phone. so much choice these days. competition has really spoilt us for choice.

  8. Otto Umana, MD February 6, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    yes agree with you guys. I was due for an upgrade from my 1 phone so I bought the Galaxy note 2. It is a nightmare, all my iphone apps are like redundant, not to include my musical instruments. It crashed my PC when I tried to download softwares to be able to use the apps on the note 2. I dont think it is worth the trouble unless you have time for all the games. Will stick to the iphones and ipad.

  9. howie wine February 14, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

    i love my note2. i love the size. i love carrying only one computer with me wherever i go. i love android openness and hate apple’s closed garden. i love choices without apple making them. every app i used on ios is available on android. i used to be an apple fanboy but they just dont come out with anything new…same old, same old. next big apple innovation will be a slightly different color white phone. great marketing but falling way behind in innovation.

  10. John April 20, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    Agree with the post above regarding innovation. I’m super excited to see the new health / wellness lifestyle functionality Samsung is building into the new devices (S Health). Today I use a Fitbit pedometer and a iPhone > next month I am going to buy the new Galaxy S4 when available on Verizon. The new S4 device has a pedometer built in and will entirely replace the Fitbit I have to keep up with on a daily basis. This is compelling technology in my opinion and cant wait to see what else Samsung does with it’s new S Health platform with future devices and healthcare applications. Very intriguing Samsung…

  11. SleepyDoc June 19, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for this review!!!!!! I am an ER doc and thinking about switching from blackberry to Android. I actually always carry two devices with me, a blackberry and an iphone. Most recently I purchased a Blackberry Z10….and I am horrified by lack of medical apps, so much so that one month in I am switching to a Galaxy note 2. I can’t wait to get it. I am going to root it because, let us face it……medical apps are usually HUGE!!!!!! I cant seem to find a 32GB or 64GB samsung galaxy note 2. But I cant give up my iphone ecosystem as yet. But I am excited to try Android. So I am definitely enjoying your comparisons……especially the part about you carrying three devices… is FRUSTRATING trying to figure out which device best suits your needs.

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