iOS to Android [P1]: Perks outside the walled garden


I had never used Android as my exclusive daily driver, and my last proper Android phone usage on the Mi 4 was in parallel with my iPhone 5s around 6-7 years ago. A lot has changed in this time, and a lot has also remained the same especially when it comes to the customizations possible.

Here’s a quick rundown of the key new features I’ve recently (re)discovered on this side of the fence.

Ad blocking with Blokada

Ad blocking apps are of course nothing new on the iOS side, but are largely limited to browsers & webviews at best. This is where Blokada for Android comes in. It sets up a local VPN on the device and does local DNS filtering a la Pi-hole to block ads across apps. There is going to be a slight performance & battery life penalty, but you get ad blocking on the go. You can sideload the full featured version, or just get the Slim version from the Play store. It’s also available for Android TV, in case you do not want to use Pi-hole.

You can get similar functionality on the iPhone side of things, but need to use cloud services to get similar features which add on subscription costs & connection latency.

SMS Organizer

Custom launchers, dialers & SMS apps have been around from the very beginning on the Android side and have also been one of the biggest attractions of the platform. That said, the way we use SMS has changed a lot and it has become more of a platform to get transaction notifications, esp. for OTPs. This of course means that you have to be really careful in which custom apps you choose as a rogue app could easily siphon off your identity or bank balance.

That said, the SMS Organizer app from Microsoft Garage is a really smart app that makes life much easier and feels like a breath of fresh air after having used the iPhone Messages app for the last several years.

Transaction messages don’t just get a separate tab, but the notifications are also designed to highlight the key portion. Promotional & personal messages get their own tab as well. Then there’s the tab for reminders, finance & offers – each of which intelligently parse the messages and put the key information in a usable or actionable form. So, you can glance your bank, credit card, EPF, PPF & other such accounts including a transaction list (not completely accurate at times due to duplicate messages), get a reminder of your upcoming bills & travel plans and also surface the coupon codes that get sent in umpteen promo messages.

Then there’s the simple but great QoL improvement due to the ability to mark all messages as read and delete old OTP messages after a certain period. It also backs up the messages to Google Drive in case you want to restore later.

I’ve also been using the Microsoft Launcher which neatly integrates with Outlook and makes it easier to glance upcoming work meetings.

Windows integration

Yet another point around a Microsoft feature for Google’s OS. When I had switched to iPhones in 2014, it was from a Lumia 720 and Microsoft was still making Windows Phones at that time. Now, Microsoft seems to have embraced mobile devices & the cloud and their apps have features to further this vision. The Microsoft Phone Companion app on Windows makes it easy to connect to any Android phone, and in my case, the Samsung Galaxy S20FE has the required apps pre-installed.

Microsoft’s Phone Companion app in action along with the Swiggy app running from the mobile on the laptop

While it is not quite the kind of integration between macOS & iOS devices, there are many ways this is more fully featured as you can not just control basic settings like volume but also access your phone’s notifications, messages, photos & apps right from a Windows machine. This makes it quite easy to stay tuned to a single device, unless you are a Mac user, or are using a work laptop where this feature is restricted.

Working on large screens

This is a perk of Samsung devices with DeX support where you can connect to a larger screen like a monitor or TV (USB to HDMI dongle required) or to a PC (wirelessly or through a USB cable), and then get a desktop like experience.

I got a USB-C to HDMI adapter which also has a USB A port & USB C pass through charging, which allows me to connect a key + mouse combo along with the monitor to access the DeX mode. This mainly comes in handy when you need a larger screen to edit audio/video/images taken on the phone, or just want a larger screen to view content.

Also a quick mention of the split screen & hover apps feature on Samsung devices that has been supported since the earliest Galaxy Note devices, and has been available on iPads for a while but not on iPhones.

Automation

iOS devices have made great strides on this front with the Shortcuts app which started off as Workflow before being acquired by Apple. This largely pales when one compares to Android veterans like Tasker & Llama that have been around since the early days. Services like IFTTT & Zapier can also do more on Android than iOS. Then, there are the Shortcuts contemporaries like Google Assistant & Bixby routines which provide an easier interface.

Most of my automations deal with silencing & unsilencing the phone based on different conditions like location & time of the day. This is where the iPhone’s hardware mute switch gets in the way as automations can’t alter its state.

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