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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.