First off, I am blind and have no light perception. Also, because each Android phone is different, and even the same mottle of Android phone can be configured differently, your experience, if you try this, will be different from mine.
Why Try Android?
I’d like to give some reasons for trying Android in the first place. I’d have to say that I wanted to try and push my phone experience a bit. I wanted to see what it was really like to tinker away at my phone and customize it to my liking. I also realized that in many cases now, you can, in fact, turn on TalkBack by holding down the two volume buttons for about four seconds. In the past, I would baulk that this process didn’t work well, or at all. Being able to turn on TalkBack independently was a big factor for me. In the end, I was just curious.
Once I turned on TalkBack, I was presented with a typical phone setup screen. I was easily able to flick left/right, and even type on the keyboard to answer questions and to get connected to Wi-Fi. For the record, I have a Pixel 3a, and chose that phone because I thought it would be easier to get updates to Android OS from Google.
Once setup was done, I was able to transfer contacts from my old iPhone using the app that was suggested by my phone company. This option worked well, and it was a simple process of installing the apps on both phones, scanning a barcode, then choosing what I wanted to transfer. In less than five minutes I had my contacts setup.
This was one of the things I really liked about TalkBack. When you first start TalkBack, you are asked if you want to start the tutorial. The tutorial will walk you through the majority of the gestures you will need to memorize to access parts of the settings for TalkBack, and for interacting with the phone system. Like so many things with Android, some things I really like, and some things really exasperate me. During the tutorial, I discovered that the gestures were… finicky. Sometimes they worked in one shot, and sometimes I needed to try them two or three times. After asking a couple of Android users, it turns out that this is rather common.
Notifications, Action, and Context Menus
What I like here is that you get plenty of configuration options, but when it comes to dismissing notifications, sometimes the gestures don’t work the first time around. This has got to be one of my biggest frustrations. I get a lot of notifications. I also like to do things like open context menus. I can easily add my own gestures, but many times, as I have said, they don’t always work the first time around. I hate to compare apples and Androids, but with the iPhone, if I want to clear a notification, it’s a simple matter of flicking up, then double tapping. On Android, I set up a gesture to go to the Context menu. Once in the menu, I need to find Dismiss. Assuming that gesture works, it’s not too bad. However, many times, the gesture didn’t work, so I had to get into the Action menu by flicking up then right (one gesture), then flick to Action, then finally double tap on Dismiss. Within the Notification shade, there are buttons to clear all notifications, and to clear all silent notifications, which can make this process less cumbersome.
This next part also really frustrated me. Many times during a call, TalkBack would begin chattering away. This is because the touch screen thought I was using gestures, so I would end up in the Notification shade, or who knows where else? Yes, you can disable the proximity sensor, but then it makes it more difficult to stop TalkBack from speaking at times.
I also found it frustrating to navigate by headings on the web with TalkBack. This is because TalkBack uses the flick left/right gesture to navigate by your chosen element, such as headings. So, in this example, you would first need to flick up/down to choose heading, then flick left/right to navigate to the desired heading, then again flick up/down to switch back to default or paragraph to begin reading through the text. It’s a lot of fiddling.
Apps are a mixed bag. The really cool thing is that you can set default browsers, chat apps, assistant apps, and more. So if you wanted to set Firefox as your default browser you could. If you wanted to use Google Voice as your default phone app you could. There are also apps out there on Android that aren’t on iPhone and vice versa. I personally love the Overcast podcast player, but it’s not on the Play Store. Carrot weather, one of my favorite weather apps, is on the Play Store, but I just didn’t like the way it felt to use on the Android.
One other issue is that some phones don’t support the apps that you have. As one example, I love the Lookout app by Google. Unfortunately, it is only available on Android at the moment, and many of the phones out there cannot install it, even if you share the link to someone else. Of course, you could sideload it (install it from outside of the Play Store), and that can work, but not always. Speaking of Lookout, this app shines on the android, and was, in fact, one of the deciding factors for me to finally dive into the Android world. I wrote an article on Lookout, so you should check that out for more info. I was easily able to use this app to go through mail, read money, barcodes, and even get an idea of what storefronts I was passing. The app even informed of things like trashcans, tables, and people. You do have to take what Lookout says with a few grains of salt, as the explore mode isn’t always accurate.
I also really loved using Google’s recorder app. It is a simple app to use that also transcribes audio to text. You can share the recording as an email attachment, and you not only get an audio file, but also a text file with the transcript. While you’re at it, you should check out my article about the Recorder app, too.
Microsoft has an app called Your Phone. This allows you to sync notifications and text messages to your PC from your Android phone. I found that the app crashed on the PC on a regular basis. 😭 However, when it worked, it worked well, and allowed me to reply back to text messages on my PC if I didn’t have my Android at hand.
Other Things I Liked
Being able to easily load ringtones onto the Android was so much easier than on the iPhone—no proprietary software required. I found that deleting an audio book on the Android audible app was much easier. I also really liked the ability to get a new launcher. iPhone users can think of a launcher as a home screen. The ability to hang up calls via the power button was nice. Wish I could have answered them the same way. Regarding buttons, there are apps that will allow you to change the function of the buttons on your Android phone. This of course is not aloud on the iPhone. The ability to stop and disable apps that you don’t want is nice. Regarding TalkBack, I like the ability to export labels for controls that I have set up.
I also like the ability to scan in Wi-Fi connection info via QR code. iPhones have a similar process, but it requires the person to be in your contacts first.
I’m Going Back to iPhone
As you may have guessed, I’m going back to the iPhone. I do not regret getting an Android phone. I actually enjoyed my experience, but at the end of the day, I want my phone to just work without needing to fiddle with it all of the time. One of Apple’s slogans is, “It just works”. I have to say that for the most part, this is true. There will always be more that we think Apple should or shouldn’t do, especially when it comes to accessibility. When all is said and done, the Apple iPhone is what I will be staying with for a long time to come. I will be keeping my Android phone, and experimenting with apps, launchers, and who knows what else. For now though, the iPhone will remain my daily driver.