Do androids dream of electric sheep? I don’t know, but I’m sure Microsoft has Android nightmares. As anyone who is into mobile phone technology knows, Microsoft’s Windows phone has been on life support for some time and it looks like it’s getting closer to the time when the plug will be finally pulled. The Windows phone has seen many iterations since it was first conceived around 2002 as the Pocket PC 2002 Smartphone and followed by a number of not so successful versions until Windows Mobile 5 arrived in 2005 and finally Windows Mobile 6.5 in 2009. But it wasn’t until Windows Phone 7 arrived in 2010 (followed by versions 8, 8.1 and 10) that Microsoft had a platform that could potentially compete with the iPhone and the newly arrived Android phone. However, despite initially receiving a lot of praise for the operating system (OS) and user interface, it failed to capture more than a small part of the market and rapidly began to slide into obscurity.
For some reason I’ve always been partial to the Windows OS and I’m pretty sure that one of my first experiences with the Windows Mobile OS was version 5 and then up to version 6.1 followed by version 6.5 with a HTC Touch Diamond 2, which I still have and which still works. I skipped Windows Phone 7 and the first model that I bought was version 8.1 (while still under the Nokia brand) and haven’t bothered to upgrade to version 10 as I watch to see whether Microsoft has any intention of continuing with any form of mobile strategy that includes mobile communication. Mind you, sometimes I wonder if modern society needs a ‘phone’ as the vast majority of people just seem to use text and send photos, so all that’s really needed is a pocket computer, a bit like a Pocket PC. The wheel could be turning full circle.
But as I pointed out in an earlier article, while I really like my Windows phone and it’s generally been a great performer, the lack of some apps has been a disappointment. Then with Windows phone use declining rapidly, no more updates for Windows phone 8.1 and apps being withdrawn, I’m now facing the reality that my days with a Windows phone look somewhat numbered. So with that in mind, I decided to buy a cheap Android phone (ZTE Slim Plus Blade L5) to learn about this system before considering giving up on the Windows phone entirely. Now everything that I have installed on my Windows phone is available for the Android phone and then some, but that’s where the similarity ends. Getting to understand the Android OS menu wasn’t a big challenge, but there are some major differences that make the two systems anything but similar and the transition less than straight-forward.
The first thing that I discovered with Android was that every existing app on the phone and every new app that you install allows full access to just about every aspect of your phone. Some apps have unlimited access to your phone including contacts, SMS, phone calls etc and can make, change or activate any and all of them. This is utterly bizarre and was one of the first things for which I started seeking a solution. Apparently Android version 6 and above will natively allow control over these privileges, but not any version below this. After much research, I discovered an app called Moboclean that will allow you to limit access for new apps that you install, but not existing ones. The downside is that if you use Moboclean on some apps, they will fail to work. However, I came across a way by enabling developer options so that I now have full control over what apps can and can’t do, or so I thought (more on that later).
The next issue that I had was transferring all of my contacts from the Windows phone, or my PC, to the Android phone. This was no where near as easy compared to the Windows phone where all that you need to do is sync the devices. In fact, my last phone was a ZTE feature phone that ran some unknown OS; however, even with that phone, all that I had to do was enable Bluetooth connection with the two phones and the Windows phone received all the contacts. I did a lot of Google searching and a number of options came up, the most common being that I should transfer all of my contacts to Microsoft One Drive, then create a connection with Google accounts, link the two and transfer the data. Then I came across an easier option where I simply converted my contacts to a vCard file/s and copied those to the Android phone and the contacts appeared. But to do so I had to overcome a different hurdle and that was connectivity with my PC; USB connection was non-existent until I found a way to do it from developer options.
Following on was the issue of setting up my email accounts. Rather than using the installed email app, I decided to install the Android Microsoft Outlook email app (providing a tenuous link to Microsoft), given that my research indicated that it would more easily connect to my existing Bigpond and Hotmail accounts and indeed they were enabled without any fuss. But my Australian Image email setup was an absolute pain. I eventually managed to get this enabled but, again, I’m really not sure what I did. After numerous tries with the different options, for whatever reason, IMAP suddenly worked and I had my most important email account set up. Unfortunately, the Microsoft Outlook email app does not provide a sync to my desktop calendar, which is quite annoying, but thankfully I discovered that I could sync to the Android calendar using my existing Akruto software making things easy. I then found that I could also import my contacts with Akruto. The Android calendar isn’t all that great in my view, so I installed Cal – Google Calendar, which I feel is far better (some reviews on this app are very old).
It was only after all of these issues were sorted out did I transfer the SIM card from my Windows phone to the Android phone (I’d purchased an Aldi $5 SIM starter pack to initially work with the Android phone) and put it to actual use. The first time that I received a call, thankfully from my wife, the phone came up with a swirling image with a receiver in the middle and no matter how many times I touched it, the phone would not respond. It was only after she called a second time that I tried swiping the image and then an answer (green) or don’t answer (red) phone icon appeared. Seriously, why isn’t this visible from the outset, what’s with the additional step, making it a two-handed affair? And when I Googled to see if there was a simpler way, it appears that a lot of people are just as confused and annoyed as to how you have to answer an Android phone call.
Finally, given everything that I’ve read about Android, one of the issues that Windows phone (or iPhone) doesn’t seem to have are significant security issues. Even though Google states that security is their goal, in the real world that doesn’t seem to apply. Now, as with anything computing, security is also a responsibility of the user, which means not doing things that involve risk, such as installing unknown apps, going to suspect websites etc and having security software installed and kept up to date. So the first security app that I installed was Malwarebytes, something I’ve been using on my PC for years. For antivirus I first tried Antivirus & Mobile Security software, but the in-app ads were so intrusive that I deleted the app immediately and then tried Bitdefender. Bitdefender lasted a few seconds the moment it asked me to start an account with email etc. Finally, I tried ESET as this received a solid recommendation and there are no annoying ads.
The final aspect of security is that you don’t get any system updates provided by Google unless they are delivered by the phone supplier or carrier. So while Google has issued security patches up to June 2017, my phone is still at version June 2016. But I don’t think that there’s any easy way around this (other than rooting the phone) and maybe that’s done on purpose so that people keep updating their phones. And then there was that pesky issue with ads, which looks to be mainly, though not completely, solved with the installation of DNS66. This basically creates a HOSTS file of known ad delivery sites and blocks them. This is a simple text file that the OS reads before allowing an IP address to download anything. If the IP address features in the HOSTS file, the address is blocked. I’ve been using this instead of an ad blocker on my PC for years and it successfully blocks pretty much all ads and unwanted rubbish (except when using Opera, which can’t read a HOSTS file but has it’s own ad blocker).
I was close to going back to my Windows phone after all of this, but I decided to give the Android phone some time and, in Part 2, I’ll cover how things have been travelling with this new device.
Update 1: Not long after posting this, another episode of Android malware was revealed:
New Android malware that spreads via text can steal victims’ credit card details from other apps
A piece of malware detailed in a blog post from security firm Kaspersky is able to quietly steal victims’ details when they enter them into apps, as well as spy on their texts and phone calls.
It’s called Fakedtoken, and has been evolving over the last year — growing increasingly sophisticated.
It began as a banking trojan that intercepted texts to steal two-factor authentication codes. Today, Kaspersky’s researchers say they suspect it spreads via bulk SMS text message to potential victims, asking them to download some pictures.