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March 12, 2018

Audiophiles belong on Android. Here’s what I learned from switching over

by John_A

For audio geeks like myself, September 9, 2016 is a day that will live in infamy. Apple’s presentation that morning was supposed to be about the iPhone 7, but all I heard was “no more headphone jack.” Apple’s choice to go all wireless for headphones forged a new mold and cemented a headphone-jackless future for the iPhone. Was the company nuts? Of course not. Apple doesn’t make mistakes, it innovates … and never looks back.

While most of the world looked on in relative apathy, sound enthusiasts like myself saw the writing on the wall: Nixing the heaphone jack was the latest move in Apple’s feature-evisceration strategy.

Beginning with its laptops, I’ve watched hard connectivity options evaporate, from audio-focused ports like Firewire (which interfaces with legacy recording studio gear), to universal options like HDMI outputs, ethernet, and even power ports.

With each move, Apple basically said, “We’re Apple, deal with it. Where you gonna go? You’re one of us.”

The answer was: “I’m going to the competition.” Time to switch to Android.

A speedy switch

My transition didn’t happen immediately. Apart from the prohibitive cost of a new phone (and the warm, lazy waters of procrastination), the fact that Apple gave me a replacement iPhone 6 due to a screen issue gave me time to reflect. But, as more and more Android phones followed suit and cut the jack, I was forced to make a move. Ultimately, a (somewhat) gently used LG V30 fell in my lap — and if any phone could supplant my trusty iPhone, this glass-backed beauty boasting high-end audio components had to be it, right? I dove for the V30, and prepared myself for the plunge.

Leaving the so-called walled garden for the open expanses of Android is easier said than done.

Jumping ship wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected; Google helped. Android (in the V30 version, at least) makes it simple to backup iPhone wares into Google’s own cloud, perfectly aligned with the many other Google products in my life like Gmail, Google Drive, and Hangouts (formerly Gchat). Google Maps has always been better than Apple Maps, and the wide variety of other available apps helped fill in the gaps quickly.

When it comes to daily use, though, leaving the so-called walled garden for the open expanses of Android is easier said than done. We’re talking about floating over to a whole new cloud (on the surface anyway), migrating contacts, notes, apps, etc. And, of course, there’s the whole issue of teaching a 38-year-old dog new tricks. There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to replace her. I’ve only had my Android for a few weeks now, and I’m still adjusting.

The perils of going green

The biggest “hardship” for me (as expected) has been ditching iMessage, in which virtually every Apple-loving friend and family member in my circle (including my wife) is deeply invested. I had to immediately take my phone number off my iMessage account so I didn’t miss messages, and while Hangouts makes for a great replacement, especially on a computer, when it comes to texting I’m now an outlier. Picture messages and videos come in as downloads (which take forever), and people continue asking me if I switched phones weeks later as my green SMS messages roll into their blue-patterned screens.

The notification system has also taken some getting used to – it took a while for me to realize I could quickly double-tap my lock screen for the latest messages, and I’m still learning to interpret the myriad tea-leaf icons in the info bar up top. Many app icons, from Slack to Gmail, don’t show an on-screen message count, which I find vexing. I’m told this may change with Android Oreo, but that’s another issue; Android doesn’t update all at once. Unlike the Pixel 2 and Samsung Galaxy 9, my V30 doesn’t yet have Oreo.

There are other V30-specific issues, as well. Visual voicemail isn’t built in, which is just weird. Instead, I get a basic notification that points me to a number to call like some outpost answering service. There are, of course, third-party apps offering feature-packed visual voicemail, but I’m somehow reluctant to give them access (and besides, who leaves voicemails these days?). For now I’ve decided to go without it.

The screen dimmer doesn’t work as well as my iPhone’s either, and while I love the big, bezel-less display, it doesn’t look as clean or clear as my iPhone’s screen. Though the phone feels skinny in my pocket, it feels massive in my hand, forcing me to deploy both hands while browsing. It’s a pretty big phone.

Other than these stumbling blocks, the adjustment has been about the little things — call it new-phone culture shock. Just the other morning, running late for work, I realized I hadn’t yet download Lyft or Uber (I know, I sometimes use Uber!), forcing me to dig up my iPhone and hail one via Wi-Fi in a scramble.

Glorious sound, uncharted ground

Most of those quibbles fade away, however, when I pull out my go-to headphones — currently my 3D form-fitted UE18+ from Ultimate Ears Pro — and plug in. Even for those well versed in hi-res music players, listening to the V30 with good headphones is a phenomenal experience. Clean, clear, warm, and dynamic sound pours from the jack — no adapter required. Instruments are brilliantly separated, and expertly reproduced. In short, it’s the kind of sound I used to expect from Apple products, and always hoped for in an iPhone.

Nixing the headphone jack was the latest move in Apple’s feature-evisceration strategy.

It’s not just the sound quality, either. Unlike Apple phones (and most others) the V30’s high-end DAC also allows for a wide, 100-point swath of volume gradients. This means, while plugged in, you’re no longer beholden to Goldilocks volume issues (this one’s too loud, that one’s too quiet). Instead, you’ve got dozens of granular points at your disposal, just like you would with hi-res player from Sony or Astell & Kern. On the other end, I can even record in high resolution.

My new Android companion has other cool tricks up its sleeve, too. You may have noticed I haven’t once mentioned the lack of a home button (which the iPhone X also cut). That’s because the V30’s back button is a solution so brilliant, I barely noticed the change. I even find myself fumbling for the back button along my iPhone whenever I pick it up. In addition, while it may not match the iPhone X, my new camera is a noticeable step up, and there are other upgrades that come with a new flagship phone, like wireless charging, and (say it with me) waterproofing.

One of the biggest advantages of going Android, though, is much more basic: Choice. I’m all about the sound, so the V30 is right for me, but that may not be your thing. Luckily, there are dozens of Android phones, many of which come with their own specialties and stunning designs that rival anything from Apple. And while some hardware and apps are iOS-only, Android offers a cacophony of apps outside the iOS lair, many of which provide control and customization in ways I’m just beginning to explore. This new territory comes with setbacks and annoyances, but also a chance to gaze upon exciting new horizons.

Breaking free

Of course, I still miss my iPhone sometimes, and who knows? I may even go back someday. Apple pulled the plug far too early, but improvements in wireless audio like aptX HD and LDAC (neither of which the iPhone currently supports, by the way) prove that fidelity can be part and parcel with wireless convenience. Jackless or not, the fact is that Apple has always made products with gorgeous style and exciting features in the past, and it will continue to do so.

Clear, dynamic sound comes pouring from from the V30 — no adapter required.

Still, the company’s penchant for removing features as it adds new ones — from its port-less laptops to its jack-less phones — is unfortunate and, in some cases, inexplicable. Whether you’re steeped in legacy home studio gear, annoyed by the demands of multiple dongles, or simply unable to spend up for wireless headphones, your part of a crew who prove that a need for these simple connection options still exists. With each move to eliminate these features, Apple is basically saying to us, “Yeah, sorry about that. Now give us more money.”

A company’s decision to kill a technology affects all of us. It isn’t about “courage,” it’s about selling $150 AirPods and born-to-break lightning-jack dongles.

I had to leave the iPhone and I only occasionally look back. For now, I’m happier for it.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Apple iPhone 8 review
  • The LG V30: Everything you need to know about LG’s flagship smartphone
  • Navdy head-up display review
  • OnePlus 5T review
  • Learn how to set up voicemail on an iPhone

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