Google is slowly taking over my house

If you know me, then you’ll understand how much of a big deal this is.

Only 12 months ago my entire house was almost entirely Microsoft-powered, apart from an iPad Mini for the kids to play with. We had Lumia 640 and 950XL phones, a HP MicroServer acting as our media server, a Windows 10 PC acting as the Plex server, a Xbox One for gaming, a Surface Pro 2 for shared personal use, and 2 x Surface Pro 3’s for work use.

It started with my wife, she had gotten over her Windows Phone not having enough power or apps. She didn’t care whether she went down the path of iOS or Android, the deciding factor came down to the ability to add storage capacity – something Apple does not allow. So she opted for a Samsung Galaxy S7.

Then I wanted a second tablet to play videos on for long drives in the car (my daughters are at different ages, so one wants Wiggles while the other wants Toy Story). We’d tried using Windows tablets over the years but anything low-cost simply didn’t deliver the goods. I opted for a Samsung Galaxy Tab A, and immediately my viewpoint started to change. Where before I had written that the app gap on Windows Phone didn’t bother me – after having virtually every app available to me, my opinion changed quickly.

Since November I too have switched to an Android phone as my daily driver, and haven’t looked back. I started with a cheap-o Umi Super which had a number of hardware issues, and after tolerating it for two months I upgraded to a more stable Google Nexus 5X. And this is where the Google-isation of my house has begun.

I wanted to stream video to my TV, and while I watch content mainly from the Xbox One – sometimes I wanted to watch something off the tablet. I purchased a Chromecast and now use it exclusively for things such as watching NFL games using the GamePass app.

My wife often plays music for the girls so they can have a sing and dance, so she connects via Bluetooth to a portable speaker and moves it around the house. This becomes a bit annoying when the girls keep going back and forth between rooms, so I purchased a second speaker and two Chromecast Audio devices – so now we can play to one room or both at the same time. This gives me a poor-man’s Sonos experience, and for the most part works well.

 

If I lived in the US a big decision point for me would be Google Home or Amazon Alexa. Seeing as most of the house is Google it would make sense that we would purchase a Google Home, especially as they now support multiple users. You can bet as soon as the device is made available in Australia I’ll be getting one or few.

Unfortunately the past year has seen us break from the Microsoft consumer ecosystem in a big way. Firstly the mobile OS was not delivering a sufficient experience compared to other mobile platforms. Then the Microsoft Band was discontinued so my wife and I both opted for the Samsung Gear Fit2 wearables which work with Spotify, so bye-bye Groove.

People who have known me for long enough know that I was vehemently against giving personal data and information to Google because it would use it to target ads. So why did I change? What was it that finally got me to stop battling Google and finally embrace it?

Cortana

Yep, it was a Microsoft product that brought me closer to Google. With Windows 10 on both my desktop and mobile devices I was giving everything to Microsoft’s Cortana service so that it could in turn deliver me a better experience. And while this data won’t necessarily be used to target ads towards me – I realised that I had thrown out part of my argument against Google.

When realising this, and the fact that the Microsoft releases more apps and more functional variants for iOS and Android – what’s the point of staying with Windows Phone?

Upon finally freeing myself from this device and giving myself to Google, I find myself giving more and more because to be quite honest: the consumer experience is far superior. It doesn’t mean that Google technology is better than Microsoft, it means that in the consumer world more vendors integrate with Google and for good reason – Android has become the dominant smartphone platform.

The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, made the company mantra “Cloud-first, mobile-first”. And that is the world I live in now – all my services are served up by the Microsoft cloud for both my professional persona as well as private (eg. I still use OneDrive for my photo uploads from my Google phone).

But my consumer experience: that is now largely Google-powered.

My first month of Android

After grumbling and ranting about how different things were for the first few days I settled in to a comfort zone. (My poor wife who has been using Android for a whole few months longer than me bore the brunt of most of it.)

What I felt like was this:

There were just soooooooo many choices. Sure I had tons of apps to install and use, but then I had to choose from so many things:

  • App launchers
  • Lock screens
  • App groups (not so challenging as I just replicated largely what I had on my Windows Phone)
  • Integration apps
  • Widgets
  • Do I use the native Android app, a Google version, or a third-party version? For example:
    • Using Truecaller as my dialler and contact manager
    • Choosing between the Android Messaging app for SMS, or the Google Messenger app, or even Facebook Messenger!
    • Built-in browser, or Chrome?
    • Google News, or MSN News?
    • And so on and so forth
  • Whether an app should actually have a shortcut or just be relegated to the “All Apps” section
  • Layout, layout, layout!

After weeks of tweaking and customising I’ve finally gotten to a happy point where I’m not really changing anything.

So can I now say….

Well not everything – but most things.

Certainly a number of things are considerably worse off than on Windows Phone, but you can’t always get what you want.

What are the things that are clearly deficient when compared to Windows Phone? This list is ordered by old man anger points:

  • Outlook integration with the OS (more on that later)
  • Integration of Microsoft services
  • Cortana is an app
  • Microsoft Band experience (more on that later)
  • Groove

What I can tell you is that I have become immersed. A couple of friends recently joked that this marked the end of me and Microsoft and that the next thing to happen is that I would replace my Xbox One with a PS4. All that is happened is I have moved away from the mobile platform and some of its surrounding components (eg. Groove, Microsoft Band – yes, more on that later).

I gotta say it is really weird being so late to the party. My next step will be to move away from my cheap Umi Super to a quality phone.

The original point of getting a cheap Chinese Android phone was merely to test the waters of the OS before committing to a more expensive device or even carrier contract. After having used both iOS and Android I’m sold on the latter and will be staying.

I would happily stay using the Umi Super except for the fact that the GSM module seems to lose connectivity when travelling faster than 40km/h, which means that using the phone with online content or even phone calls is not practical when in the car or on a train. The Bluetooth module is incredibly unreliable – requiring multiple connection attempts when trying to use already-paired devices like headsets or cars, and causing battery drain in wearables as they are trying to always stay connected. And the camera is simply woeful – sluggish and poor resolution.

So now it’s time to choose which manufacturer to go with.

The journey continues!