When Android Isn’t Just Android

dreamstime_m_35320372So you know that I’m a member of the Verizon Wireless #VZWBuzz team and, as such, I regular get to try out new offerings from the Verizon Wireless store, including new phones. I was using a Motorola Droid Mini for quite some time and was starting to take my favorite features for granted when the HTC One Remix arrived. They are both Android phones so you might think the transition between them would be an easy one. You would be wrong.


What many casual smartphone users don’t know is that the Android operating system on your phone is rarely just stock Android. Typically, the phone manufacturer has their own custom version called a skin and they can look and behave radically different depending on the version you’re working with. Add that to the special features that are specific to a phone or a family of phones and your Android devices might as well be running entirely different operating systems.

There were a few things that I knew would change when I left the Droid Mini for the One Remix. Motorola has some built-in features which used to be part of their Smart Actions capabilities. My Droid Mini automatically went into quiet mode at a certain time each night and turned it off again in the morning. It knew when I was driving and would give me the option to enter hands-free calling or have a text message read out loud. I knew I’d miss the Active Display feature that would show me the time and any important notifications just by a slight jiggle of the phone.

I had no idea that I’d lose my Google Now capabilities, though. Because, c’mon, they’re all Android phones! As it turns out, having my phone always listening for me to say, “Ok, Google Now” is a specific feature for Motorola. There are skins you can add yourself to your phone to replicate the feature, but then you lose whatever special capabilities your manufacturer’s skin may have. Where HTC Sense required that I press a microphone within a specific app to use any of my voice capabilities, Samsung Touch Wiz will listen from my home screen for my “Ok, Google” command. Can’t we all just get along?

There are plenty of other unique features out there as well. HTC Sense adds a screen called Blinkfeed, which allows you to create a custom feed of all of your social media updates, as well as some news information as well. It reminds me of using a Windows phone and seems well suited to those who like to see all of the social going’s on in one place. LG and Samsung have capabilities that allow you to work with more than one app at the same time. For those of us who are big multi-taskers, this is pretty amazing. The newest Motorola Droids will load the camera app with just a flick of the wrist. Many of manufacturers include an “easy” version of their skin that has just the basics for those who need a less cluttered experience.

What to do and how to decide with so many different options out there?

Do your homework. Either choose a phone that is clearly advertised with that feature or look for an app that can do the same thing. Sometimes you can find a skin to install yourself that has the features that you want.

Become brand loyal. It can be tempting to jump to the newest and greatest phone out there, but like each operating system, each skin will appeal to a different personality. It’s Ok to stick to the one that works the way you think.

Alternatively, branch out. if you really liked your last Android device, but it didn’t quite work the way you wanted, go for a different skin (and manufacturer). Sometimes that’s all it takes to get the perfect fit.

Test it out. Find a friend who has the phone you’re considering or set aside time to really get to know it in-store. Look for an active demo device, not just a dummy phone. Go through the basic motions of making a call, sending a text, taking a picture, etc. Try out the features you use most and don’t be dazzled by things you don’t need or want.

Swap it out. Know your carrier’s return policy on a new device, just in case you don’t like it after using it for a few days. Also, I know that Verizon’s new Edge plan allows you to upgrade more frequently, so check to see if your carrier has something similar. With Verizon Edge, if you want a new phone, you can trade your current device in for an upgrade after 30 days and having paid least 60% of the cost for the you have. While you’ll be paying the full price of your phone (or at least 60%), you can typically get a discount of $10-25 a month (depending on your data plan) for not being under contract. It can actually save you money if you’re not swapping phones out frequently.


Disclosure: As a member of the Verizon Wireless Lifestyle Bloggers group, I receive free products, as well as occasional travel and special experiences. There is no additional compensation and the opinions contained in this post are my own. Image courtesy of the Verizon Foundation.

Photo Credit: © Dolgachov | Dreamstime.comStudents Showing Blank Smartphones Screens Photo

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