Android Developers: Take the Low-End Device Challenge

As a developer I’ve always been lucky enough to have access to fast, high-end devices that provide the best experience that you can get with Android. Recently I’ve been using a low-end device to see what things are like on the other side of the fence, and I’ve learned quite a few lessons that I think can help me create better experiences for all users.

Firstly, here’s a wee bit of background. About a month ago, I had the unfortunate experience of dropping my Galaxy S4 on the pavement, shattering its screen and rendering it useless. I needed to replace the device quickly but getting a device during the mid-summer generally isn’t a great idea as a lot of new devices come out in the early fall.

I had a look at some analytics for Simplenote and saw that one of the more popular devices was the Moto G, a fairly new device that you can pick up for $199 off-contract.

Looks nice enough, right?
Looks nice enough, right?

I ordered one from Amazon and it arrived in two days (yay for Prime!). I popped my SIM and SD cards in and started using it right away. Overall the device felt fine at first, a bit clunky in size and weight but you can’t expect much at that price point. After using it for a few weeks now as my ‘daily driver’, it has really helped me get a better understanding of what pain points users of these low-end devices face.

Everything is Slower

The first thing I noticed was that this device was much slower at doing things I expected would be fast on most Android devices. The app switcher is especially slow, but there is also a huge delay when returning to the launcher from any app. It looks to me like the launcher is being restarted because due to lack of memory:

It takes 6 seconds to show the home screen after a home button tap.

I found myself leaving/uninstalling apps that were taking too long to load. As a user I find this frustrating, and it has motivated me to make sure that the apps I’m building can respond quickly, no matter what.

Crappy Camera Kills Creativity

I really love snapping photos from my phone so that I can share them with friends and family on my blog and Instagram. Since getting the Moto G, I haven’t done hardly any of that because the camera is completely awful.

Focus? Nope. Sharpness? See problem with focus. Color reproduction? Awful.

Pictures are dull, usually out of focus, and overall just something that you wouldn’t want to share with anyone. Not even the fancy post-processing that Google+ Photos applies could save any of the photos. The only hope was to apply filters in Instagram to try and salvage the shots.

The camera was so bad that I simply stopped taking pictures. I wonder as a developer how many users of low-end devices are expecting filters in all of the apps they use because of the poor results they get from a stock camera app shot. I’m thinking some filters might be nice to add to WordPress for Android.

LTE Doesn’t Equal Fast

The G has the same LTE capabilities as my shattered S4, but comparing page loads in the browser were significantly slower in the Moto G. Even outside of the browser in other apps it felt like I was tapping my foot more than I used to waiting for content to load.

Optimizing network performance is a must if you want users of your app to stick around. Content placeholders (Like the ‘Fetching posts’ animation you see when first loading the WordPress Reader) seem even more important after using this device.

Take the Challenge!

If you are an Android developer, I challenge you to switch to a low-end device for at least two weeks. The Moto G isn’t even the lowest of the totem-pole. You can even pick up prepaid devices for around $40 if you are feeling brave! I promise you’ll learn a lot.

I’m looking forward to September arriving which will most likely be when I upgrade back up to a high-end device. The Moto X+1 is looking nice 😉

Have you already taken the challenge or use a mid to low range device? Let me know your thoughts!

4 responses to “Android Developers: Take the Low-End Device Challenge”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: