Why Android sucks in 2021 although it actually doesn't

 

Table of contents

 

Do not be misled by the title of this page: Android by and large is the best mobile operating system out there however as a fan of it, I cannot help but notice certain things which warrant attention and should be fixed because they are simply crucial.

The biggest problem with Android is that the Android OS does not really exist and it's not Google's fault.

Every mobile hardware device running Android is unique in many ways: very different SoC's, very different storage configurations (including a gazillion of storage chips each with different API/driver), very different sensors (e.g. two different Android smartphones may have two "similar", e.g. ambient light sensors but totally different protocols for accessing them).

Every OEM out there does three things to run Android:

  • Vendor heavily patches the Linux kernel provided by AOSP in order to support its SoC (including storage, sensors, cameras) and various other features.
  • Vendor heavily modifies Android system core so that it could properly run on its hardware.
  • Vendor adds its own apps which use specific HW features of their devices.

The net result is that you simply cannot (externally) update the kernel and Android core because you may break everything. That means only OEMs themselves can update your Android device. These issues affect Google as well: all its Android devices have different kernels and system cores - that is why Google forsakes its old Pixel devices.

In order to solve this problem Google must force OEMs to introduce a common ARM platform which will allow to run unmodified/or minimally modified AOSP. Such a platform exists in the x86 world which means you can easily switch between dozens of OSes which support the x86 instructions set. I don't see such an ARM platform coming any time soon.

Apple does not have this problem because they basically have just a handful of devices to take care of - not a big deal for such a huge corporation. Google, on the other hand, should take care of literally thousands of Android devices. Obviously they won't do that ever.

This article primarily lists the issues which are applicable to "vanilla" Android, i.e. the Android which you can run on Google branded devices like Google Nexus and Google Pixel. Other vendors might have some of the issues below fully or partially solved.

Problems (applicable to Android 12)

  1. Core (platform) issues:
    • Most Android phones are supported at most for three years, while there are people who prefer to keep their devices for a lot longer. Apple for instance supports its phones for up to six years.
    • Android process management is totally borked up: you never know what is really running, how much RAM and CPU it is really consuming and you cannot really stop/kill offending processes/tasks/applications. Starting with Android 8 Google removed the ability to check the actual CPU use of various apps and system.
    • Android by default is leaking a ton of information about your device left and right which means you're forever uniquely identifiable even if the app requests no permissions at all. The solution would be to isolate apps in a sort of VM but Google doesn't seem to be interested. Any app can see what apps you have installed and which of them are running, apps can exchange data between them behind your back without asking for any permissions.
    • Android by default doesn't treat an Internet access as a permission worth asking the user about which poses a privacy/security risk because the app can download and run any code from the net.
    • Android features the best UI paradigm of all mobile OSes out there however the sad fact remains: Android fell victim to the design philosophy introduced by Microsoft in Windows Phone and later Apple in iOS 7. Android UI is an incomprehensible mess of various completely different UI implementations which drive the user mad.
      • There is no clear distinction between text and control elements.
      • On/off toggles are hard to read. It's on when it's greyish or colored? It's on when it's to the right or to the left? What about people who write Arabic?
      • In Google's own applications various similar UI elements can be controls or text at the same time, i.e. in application a something is clickable, in application b it's not.
      • Various Google's apps use very different design UI paradigms and implementations. In short UI in Android is a total incomprehensible mess.
    • Backup hell: Android even at version 12 doesn't allow to create full backups of your device (certain OEMs like Samsung has this problem solved in their most recent devices - thanks Reddit):
      • Android has a feature which prevents the backup of certain applications.
      • Lots of applications in Google Play do not store your settings in the cloud which means there's no easy way to migrate your settings to a new device.
    • Android does not allow you set CPU/GPU frequency policy unless you are root. In many cases this is a nice nifty feature to limit your maximum performance to preserve your battery. Thousands of games and apps in Android are lousy coded and consume 100% of CPU even though they do nothing useful (Samsung and other OEMs have this feature).
    • Android doesn't allow to restart certain system apps, e.g. the keyboard app. In case these apps misbehave (leak RAM or use too much CPU) you'll have to reboot your device.
    • Battery reporting and management in Android are outright broken.
    • There's no way to adjust output resolution - this feature might be useful to conserve power and improve battery life (Samsung has had this feature starting with Note FE/Galaxy S8).
    • DPI can be changed only on rooted devices. This can be exceptionally useful for people with bad vision.
    • Direct access to the user data partition is forbidden, so there's no way to recover your deleted files unless you root your phone (for some devices it's not possible).
    • The Internet access permission is missing to appease advertisers (some OEMs implement it).
    • Android doesn't support volume normalization and compression which means you need to crank volume to listen to something and then revert it back.
    • Android doesn't support software gamma control: lots of videos are not properly lit which means you have to increase your display brightness to the maximum and drain your battery in the process.
  2. Software (apps) issues:
    • There's no way to exclude certain apps from automatic updates. It's a common situation in Android when newer versions of apps are worse then their progenitors (require more unnecessary permissions/include ads/drastically change UI for the worse/remove crucial features/etc.).
       
      There's some confusion in regard to this item. Some people say that you can disable certain items from auto-updating but that's not the point! The point is that the Google Play app has no means of excluding certain apps from the "Update all" button. Even if you set your update policy to "Do not auto-update apps" you will not be able to forget about certain apps 'cause Google Play will still show all outdated apps in the list of apps to update. And you're prone to update them all. In short there's no checkbox to select in order to never receive notifications about certain apps you want to exclude from updates.
    • There's no built-in option to roll back apps updates.
    • Bloated ROMs/bloatware (if possible buy devices using vanilla Android, like Nexus devices or devices based on AOSP/LineageOS).
    • In most cases you cannot uninstall built-in apps. In certain cases you cannot even disable them. There's a neat hack but most people won't be able to follow it.
    • No control over applications start up (this is actually a deal breaker) - luckily many vendors implement this feature.
    • Multiple apps nowadays cannot be terminated even though you don't want to keep them running in background.
    • Some apps include very annoying full screen/video ads which consume tons of traffic.
    • Google Drive backup doesn't allow you (by default, without using third party apps) to backup folders under /sdcard or any other path.
    • No default app for editing text (txt) files.
  3. Miscellaneous issues:
    • Filesystem mess:
      • Android doesn't keep track of the files created by various applications in /sdcard so upon uninstallation of the said apps various cruft may remain.
      • There's no easy way to reconfigure apps to use an external SD card for storing data.
      • Internally Android is a mess of symbolic links and FUSE mount points.
    • Google Market country can only be changed once a year. Imagine you go to a different country for a holiday - you won't be able to install their local apps unless you change your Market country and then you'll have to wait a year to revert the change.
    • Google Play Market (to be fair not only Play Market but other Google apps as well) loves to spew error messages using the codes which only Google phone support understands. Actually they don't always know how to solve those problems: "You may want to factory reset your smartphone" is their favourite answer.
    • Most if not all Android phones cannot be turned off and still have their alarms working.

Why Android is the best mobile OS

  • Android is extremely customizable: pretty much every component of the OS can be swapped.
  • A plethora of all kinds of devices for every wallet.
  • Deep Google integration.
  • A fine selection of apps in Google Play, along with news magazines, books, music and video.

In conclusion

Leave your comments, additions and hatred below. You may vote for these features here.

I don't really support this sentiment, "Though I don't think the author of the article is receptive to any input that doesn't support his statements, given that he banned the one user who dared to point some things out from commenting further". The truth is I'm open to valid substantiated criticism but I generally hate fanboys who throw rotten tomatoes at me. I run three other articles like this one and I actually take into account and edit/delete the wrong information when people point me to inaccuracies.

 

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