Sep 5, 2012

Voyage to the Darkside: My New Galaxy 3S

I arrived at work Tuesday morning to find a new Samsung Galaxy 3S on my desk. With my new role on Intel's Smart Devices Innovation team, I need to familiarize myself with the Android OS. The best way to do that, in my experience, is to just dive in.

I remember when the first iPhone launched. I was enamored immediately. I wanted one, but what I wanted more was to design for it. Unfortunately, I wasn't at a point to get one so I set about sketching, thinking, designing, trying to create the next big app.

Try as I might, I couldn't come up with the next Angry Birds. Day after day, new cool apps hit the iPhone and I wondered how they came up with the ideas.

When the iPhone 3g came out, I made sure to get one. As I began to play with it and then depend and augment my life with it, I found the ideas began to flow. Looking at screenshots and reading about the iPhone experience wasn't enough. I had to experience it to design for it.

I applied the same logic to my job at Webtrends. I got an Analytics 9 account and set up my sites with Webtrends tracking. When we were designing campaign tracking, I set up campaigns with my Twitter and Facebook accounts and tracked them with our products. One of my main design tenets is, the best products are made by people who use them.

Living with the Galaxy 3S hasn't been delightful, but it has been revelatory from a design standpoint. Although I marvel at how a design team could miss such basic interactions, at least now I know what not to do.

The biggest surprise is how much the little things really do matter. I mean, every one always says, "The devil is in the details." But it is so SO true.

A good example is in the out of box experience. My Galaxy was an unlocked world phone so maybe you get a different experience if you go to AT&T but my OOBE sucked. The biggest thing was that the battery was not installed.

It seems like an inconsequential thing, I guess but it lead to a pretty dismal OOBE. First, it meant that the first thing I had to do was pry off the back of the phone. It was like if someone showed you their new car by opening the trunk and pointing to the tire iron. It also revealed how cheap the materials are on this $200 phone. Thin plastic peeled away to show the undesigned innards of the phone.

Second, the battery wasn't charged. You'd think that the ability to immediately use your device would be a no brainer. The dealerships near my house go fill up the tank of the cars before their new owners pick them up. A replaceable battery is about them most inane feature of all Android phones. They make it seem like it's a huge problem but I've never had an issue. My battery usually lasts about 12 hours. Maybe less if I am using it more than usual. I've never had to replace a battery. Even if you want to allow the battery to be replaced, just charge it and pre-install it.

Once the battery was installed and charged, the experience did get better. I enjoy Samsung's poorly named Android flavor, "Touch Whiz". Nothing to write home about but decent. I LOVE the widgets. Having a whole home screen devoted to email is great. Being able to start a run from the home screen is even better.

But why 2 email apps? Isn't this a google phone? It asked my for my password for Google in the beginning but the integration has been lackluster. Samsung has it's own Kies system for syncing and such. That was a mistake. Why duplicate something that already exists. It may be that I just don't know what it does, but that is a problem in itself.

There are lots of nifty features that kind of work. Supposedly, if I leave the device face down on the table, it will go in to silent mode. At least that was the promise of the annoying modal window that asked me if I wanted to enable it (if you have to ask, don't do it). However, in a meeting my phone buzzed annoyingly on the table. I thought it was in silent mode. Guess not.

Picking it up off the table when face down reveals one of those detail devils too. It's an understated design element of the iPhone that I didn't really appreciate until now. The curvature of the Galaxy make it difficult to pick up. You can scoop it up if it is face up but it doesn't work the other way. Sure, I am nitpicking but it bugs me. I see it as a sign of respect and courtesy when someone puts their phone face down. It means, I am paying attention to you.

And there are many more details missed. Try shuffling your icons around. You can simply drag one icon on to another to make a folder. And you know that annoying game of dodging icons on the iPhone? Well, icons that don't move is more frustrating. Nobody paid attention to this stuff.

I'm going to put Jelly Bean (chuckle) on it and see what the default experience is. Hopefully it will be a little more well thought out.

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