Switching to the Galaxy S21

A long time iPhone user tries Android… for the 3rd time.

Okay… so this is my first article after a long time away from the blogging space. It’s going to take some time for me to explain who I am, so to summarize before I begin:

With that, let’s begin.

The Galaxy S21 5G

I got the Galaxy S21, not the Galaxy S21+. Photo by Anh Nhat on Unsplash

It was right before the iOS 14.5 betas released when I decided I wanted a new phone. I’d been using the iPhone 11 Pro, but because of the whole ‘rona thing going on outside, my workflow was greatly slowed down. Face ID didn’t work, which meant that getting to apps and paying became a huge pain, and as I worked more remotely, it meant that not having multi-tasking on my iPhone made things a whole lot more difficult (think having to rapidly switch between TeamViewer and Microsoft Teams because iOS kills TeamViewer when it is in the background).

I wanted fingerprint biometrics, a bigger screen, and better multi-tasking for my phone. Since I couldn’t get that on my iPhone, I decided to go for an Android device, and since for the first time in a long time a Galaxy flagship didn’t have ugly side curves, I decided to go for the Galaxy S21 5G (hereby referred to as just ‘Galaxy S21’ for simplicity’s sake).

Setting up

When I first got the Galaxy S21, the unboxing felt… less premium. There were ‘DO NOT ACCEPT IF SEAL BROKEN’ stickers which I had to cut with a knife, and the entire device came with protective layers stuck onto it, unlike how my iPhone 11 Pro came.

The lack of a glass back was greatly appreciated as it made the device lighter and easier to hold, and the thin bezels meant that even for a 6.2" screen, it doesn’t feel any bigger than my iPhone 11 Pro (even though it is a significant size up).

Meeting Android

Android on the Galaxy S21 is really confusing. I’ll explain why

Galaxy S21 has One UI

Samsung has done a really great job on One UI 3.0, which looks and feels really nice and consistent.

Galaxy S21 has Google

But Android’s still Android, which means Google services. And unfortunately, Google’s apps look nothing like Samsung’s apps, and are extremely inconsistent. There are Google apps with hamburger menus, tab bars, slide up menus, black backgrounds, gray backgrounds, filled icons, 4-color ‘it all looks the same’ icons… you know.

Galaxy S21 also has Microsoft

And since Samsung has partnered with Microsoft on their Galaxy line of devices, it also means having to deal with Microsoft’s apps. While not exactly inconsistent, Microsoft has implemented dark mode inconsistently, resulting in an unpleasant experience for users using dark mode.

So 3 completely different design languages, 1 device. My Galaxy S21 doesn’t know what it wants to be.

… and also other apps

It doesn’t stop there. Since many UI components are not pre-configured and provided to developers on Android, unlike when developing for iOS, apps spin up their own interfaces and behaviors, resulting in a very inconsistent experience across apps. I still encounter Android 2.3 era interfaces that spring up once in a while in some apps.

It is also significantly more difficult to look for high quality apps in the Play Store, as most apps are either free with ads with no way to remove them, or are designed so poorly they don’t feel like proper mobile apps.

Moving my data

Now, I am all in on the Apple ecosystem, even though I have tried moving away to more platform-neutral apps and services (such as third party ones that exist both on Android and iOS).

Inconsistent implementation of Sign In With Apple

Some apps on Android don’t provide Sign In With Apple on Android for some reason, resulting in a situation whereby it is impossible for me to move my data. While it was usually possible to use the Forget Password features in those services to convert those accounts to use email logins alongside Sign In With Apple, it was still an unpleasant experience. I also had the unfortunate honor of having to now tie my Google and Facebook accounts to a number of services which simply did not provide an option to use email. Boo for privacy.

Apple’s apps

Apple’s apps and services also have no way to directly export their data, or for most of Apple’s iOS apps, didn’t have an Android app at all. This meant that I had to spend an entire week manually moving all my data over to my new device, all while keeping both my iPhone 11 Pro and Galaxy S21 with me at all times until the move was done, in case I missed out on important notifications.

Other interoperable content

Moving certain things, like my contacts, took a bit of work, as every other contacts app/service read birthdays without years as being in the year 1604. After a while, I gave up and just left it as-is.

My emails and calendar stay in iCloud. There is no easy way to move that data out and keep everything running normally.

Things I couldn’t move

The only things I couldn’t move were iMessage, and my Health data. That wasn’t a big deal for me, as I wanted to move away from recording everything digitally anyway.

The battery

I’ve been using my Galaxy S21 for a few weeks now, and while I appreciate the many features and customizations Android and One UI provides, battery life on my Galaxy S21 has been really poor.

Battery draining apps…?

Initially, I installed an app that emulated AirPods functionality on Android, and it somehow drained the battery without leaving a mark in the Battery section in the Settings app, so I removed it. Battery life was a little better, but was still not as expected.

Tweaking system settings

I then started tweaking the battery settings to squeeze out as much battery as possible. Turning on the ‘Optimize Battery’ feature, and a bunch of other features that appear to improve battery life. However, this made little impact to improving the battery life.

Link to Windows

Granted, I left the Link to Windows feature turned on, as I use both Windows at home and at work now, but such a feature should not be draining much battery, especially if features requiring Bluetooth are not being used. Similar features are offered on iOS and macOS, but barely use any battery. It is ironic that despite the collaboration between Samsung and Microsoft, the Link to Windows feature (a.k.a. Your Phone but embedded into the Settings app) is no better than just using Your Phone on a regular Android device.

So far, I have yet to find any other method that improves the battery life of the device but does not turn off key functionality. It is disappointing, given that this is a flagship device, and should not require me to constantly tweak the system to obtain the best battery life.

The performance

I was disappointed by the performance of the Galaxy S21. Being a flagship, I expected the device to be almost equivalent or even better than my iPhone 11 Pro (given that most Android fans like to compare the specifications of their Android devices to iPhones), but that was not the case.

Games

Games like Genshin Impact could not run even decently well, overheated the device, and caused extreme battery drain, even with Samsung’s supposed performance improvement tweaks on full blast. 2D games seem okay.

General

The Android system in general also performed poorly, with gestures almost always glitching out and browsers freezing when attempting to return to the Home screen. This improved after the first week, but glitches and freezing still occurs almost daily.

Apps also don’t seem to stay in memory, as simple actions such as returning to the Home screen causes many apps to close, such as my games and browser.

Features that somewhat work

The Galaxy S21 carries many useful features that improved my workflows greatly. However, there are some things that didn’t seem to work correctly sometimes.

Samsung Pay

Apple Pay has been reliable for me for the entire time I used it, with the exception of less than 5 incidents where my Apple Watch failed to initialize my Apple Wallet card. However, in just the first week of using Samsung Pay, it had failed me at least 3 times. It was a really disappointing experience, as I had expected Samsung Pay to work at all major merchants.

SmartThings

I have a Philips Hue bridge with some lights, which meant that having SmartThings was really convenient. However, SmartThings was inconsistent, and sometimes showed that my devices were disconnected when they really aren’t (they showed up correctly in the Hue app). My Galaxy Smart Tag also didn’t register correctly, and had a non-working ‘Set up’ button that simply crashed the SmartThings app.

Bixby Routines

When I used my iPhone, I set up many automations in Shortcuts and HomeKit to ensure that my lights were off when I left home. These automations worked reliably for the most part, but that unfortunately cannot be said for Bixby Routines, which left my lights turned on for the entirety of the day multiple times in the past 2–3 weeks I have used it.

Things I appreciate

There are many things I really appreciate about Android and One UI.

Notifications

For one, Android removes notification badges when a notification is cleared from the Notification Center (or its equivalent name on Android). This is much appreciated, as some apps on iOS seem to have trouble counting the number of pending notifications, and keep their notification badges even when pending notifications are cleared. Android notifications are also threaded, which is much better than how iOS handles grouped notifications.

App drawer

The app drawer is also greatly appreciated, as it ensures that apps are easily locatable with their name. An option to have an alphabetized app library on iOS would be greatly appreciated. (It does get tiring scrolling through the alphabetized list sometimes, but it is still a superior experience to having half your apps crammed into an unmodifiable folder named ‘Productivity’).

Fast app startups

It was a huge surprise to me that apps on my Galaxy S21 actually started a lot faster than on my iPhone 11 Pro. Apps like LINE and WhatsApp, for example, sprinted past their ugly splash screens to their main screens really quickly, unlike on iOS where they seem to take their time to finish showing the splash screens.

Multi-tasking

I have for the longest time longed for split-screen on iOS, and with the Galaxy S21, I now see that it is entirely possible to use 2 apps at once on a small screen. While the method of triggering split-screen on the Galaxy S21 is not immediately clear (App Switcher > tap on an app’s icon > Split-screen), using it improved my workflows greatly. I could put my music player on top, and my chat app below, or I could put my email app on top, and Microsoft Teams below. It was great.

But it doesn’t stop there. An additional feature add-on to notifications means that when certain apps send notifications, a small floating icon of the app appears, which I can tap to open a floating window of that app. Once I’m done, I can simply minimize the floating window back to the floating icon, or close it. This was extremely useful when my workflows are being interrupted, as it meant that I wouldn’t be brought away from the context of my current workflow.

Express Transit… somewhat

Samsung has collaborated with Singapore’s LTA to implement SimplyGo, which means that you can use Samsung Pay on transit without unlocking your device. This is a really neat feature, which has an equivalent on Apple’s iOS: Express Transit.

The only downside is that SimplyGo on Samsung Pay is excruciatingly slow (about 1 second of holding your Galaxy smartphone up to the reader before it confirms the transaction).

Summary

So that’s the Galaxy S21, from someone who’s been both a long time Android and iOS user. I will probably switch back to the iPhone when the iPhone 12S/13 comes out in October (or even earlier, depending on how iOS 15 turns out), but the Galaxy S21 has many welcome features that I really wish were on iOS. It remains to be seen if Apple will start opening up iOS, or will clamp down on its ecosystem, which is great when you’re in it, but really unbearable when you’re trying to be everywhere at once.

P.S. I am writing this at 2am in the morning, so please don’t mind the occasional mess-up.

UPDATE: As of February 20, my carrier has pushed a software update that fixed the battery life issue. I’m getting a solid 4 hours of screen on time even with Link to Windows turned on.