When I was in Highschool, I remember spending every moment I could on XDA, Reddit, and various other Android tweak-centric mediums; emulating such tweaks and ‘optimizations’ on my device during breaks.
Throughout most of College, I had done the same, to the degree where I often would end-up with a completely new ROM and setup at the end of each month with minimal effort made on my homework or social tendencies. It was a mix of utter freedom similar to driving on an empty highway, and self-inflicted chaos which can only described as ‘russian roullete with a single player, you’. Still, it was fantastic until my addiction to tweaking led to two phones being hardbricked, and the last straw being my device not being able to display the correct time, fetch new emails or use bluetooth headphones without causing a spike.
With that, impulse led to transition to an iPhone 6S Plus straight from Apple. This would in consequence, reduce what I am able to change on the phone tenfold unless I jailbroke it – which, I promised myself that I wouldn’t do. My daily driver was the average iOS user’s daily driver, Facebook and Twitter included.
Jumping forward two years, and I decided I wanted to see what Android 8.0 Oreo on a Pixel 2 XL was like, and after establishing the display wouldn’t be the leading factor to my regret of said purchase, I learned an interesting fact about myself: I didn’t find any wish to tweak every square inch of the device after configuring it.
Instead, I found myself going for the minimalistic setup that I had always used on an OS (where possible, inspired by this article:https://betterhumans.coach.me/beautility-my-ultimate-iphone-setup-1b3dd0c588a0), which heavily implied a blank canvas without widgets or text, instead just your Dock icons and wallpaper. To me, this made much more sense than a screen full of icons ala iOS, or differently styled widgets ala Android. My OCD appreciates the aesthetic.
Perhaps this is from my two years exposed to iOS exclusively, building up the perpetual ‘it just works’ mantra throughout it’s usage. Or, it could be the maturing of both Operating Systems compared to previous experience, lending to a much more reserved temptations to ‘fix’ or replace items which annoy me. Realistically, if I had to mention the most common tweaks I used to focus on, it was the following:
Unified System Theme
Google’s introduction of Material Design as an utter mess on Android. Popular applications updated months behind, some only being updated as of recent. This created quite the dissociation between the applications, resulting in a horrible experience and driving me to discover the CyanogenMod / LineageOS theme engine. This engine allowed for system-wide themeing, which was utter bliss once a theme was found through the Play Store or XDA forums.
On Android O, or even iOS 11, I would have loved a dark theme built-in by default. But alas, no such luck aside from small ‘hacks’ or ‘tricks’ to invert the entire display. Not the best effort, but some nonetheless. While playing with the Pixel, I still yearn for a dark theme to utilize the P-OLED technology, but it’s not the same priority as I had in the past.
Optimizing CPU / GPU Performance
I am a product of the generation whose entire life has seen the performance increases in the yearly iPhone releases, and envied just how smooth iOS was for the everyday user. This envy derived from Android’s lack of optimizations (which started with Project Butter), or inherit lack of cohesion with the hardware. Indeed, the flaw of open hardware became clear, but that didn’t mean that a silly high schooler couldn’t root his Nexus 5, install new kernels every week and attempt to boost performance right?
That is what I had attempted, often sacrificing battery life or stability to get that ‘buttery smooth’ effect on a stock AOSP ROM. This tweak to CPU / GPU governors led to my first hardbrick when I stupidly set the CPU max frequency to 1%.
Mimicking Other System Features
I have an unhealthy obsession with those whom oppose the norm; BB10’s / WebOS gesture based navigation (now found in the iPhone X funnily enough), A unified Messaging application (ala BB10 Hub), or even Ubuntu Phone’s side-dock multitasking system. All of the aforementioned above were ideas or attempts which failed horribly, or proved that perhaps if I wanted said functionality, I’d had to implement it myself. Though I never did back then, I feel that perhaps an implementation in my free time may help more than just myself.
Being Annoyed by Application imperfections
So this one is completely and utterly blown out of proportion I admit, but it is also one which means dearly to me and, is found throughout the other examples listed above (in theme). I found in my experience from using Android Oreo for a week, I had already tried out multiple SMS applications because I noticed that the text field on Google’s Android Messages lacked the same padding and height as the font should have for that application.
This, plus having noticed that also making me notice the lazy approach Google had taken on the right side with the condensed SMS ‘send’ button which to me, is more of an eyesore than anything else. Not to make this sound like the end of the world, but realizing that by having all the choice in the world when it comes to applications and devices, I will forever be trapped in a spiral of ‘try’, ‘enjoy’ and finally ‘annoyed’ with a multitude of applications.
This entire article may sound like a rant, or even a disapproval of how Android operates as a system, but that was not the purpose of this post. Sometimes, I write simply to put jumbled thoughts to a page – attempting to make sense of them through the process. While spending a week with Android Oreo on a Pixel 2 Xl, writing this article in the process, I came to similar conclusions or revelations about why even with an amazing device I still had discontent.
Android is an amazing system, likewise so is iOS. They both have so many unique perspectives and implementations that often the end-user all they could ever want. In recent years, feature parity has blurred the differences between the two operating systems – creating a fantastic experience regardless of the chosen device.
In the end, I suppose Android will remain my hobby operating system, simply because it gives me far too much choice for my OCD mind to fathom. I love the choice, but in the end I found myself tweaking and longing for hours both as of recent or in the past. Luckily, choice is still an option and I have time to continue deducing what is the best for myself. I know many who are happy as can be with choice, and others who treat Android as a defaults-only configuration. It’s truly amazing when you think about just how many different types of users there are out there!
As for the Pixel, perhaps it’s my lack of discipline which is causing disconnect; an idea which only time will tell.