Another year has come and gone... And Android carries ever on...
I'm not gonna lie, this year didn't go one lick how I thought it would. I didn't play with as many devices as I probably should have. I didn't learn as much as I could have (though not for a lack of trying). This year, I turned my back on one of my favorite companies and one of my favorite devices. This year, I took possession of a phone whose software I openly mock. I put a ridiculous contraption on my head and decided that I liked it. And this year I had a whole lot of fun trying a lot of new things, even if not all of them worked out.
And though I may not have experienced absolutely everything Android has to offer, I have a lot of things I liked, and a few things I didn't. Here's how they shook out.
1. Favorite smartphone: HTC One A9
Wait a minute, hear me out!
The HTC One A9 is not without its problems, such as the nonsense going on with its pricing and the terrible decision to abandon monthly updates for all but the unlocked American model. But this is also my favorite phone that I have personally used this year, which is admittedly a short list.
But the A9 checks a lot of boxes for me. It's compact enough for good one-handed use and pocketability, even with a case to offset its insane slipperiness. It's mostly stock and since I have the unlocked version, I should see regular updates. Should doesn't mean will, but a girl can dream. And with Marshmallow, I've been able to take advantage of new system features like Doze and Adoptable storage. It's got a decent camera and its fingerprint scanner is on the front, meaning that I don't have to pick up my phone to quickly unlock it.
If you'd told me last year I'd willingly be using an HTC phone over a Motorola, Samsung, and Nexus, I'd've laughed in your face. But the joke's on me, because even with a less-than-stellar battery, the A9 is still the phone that goes in my pocket rather than in my desk.
2. Favorite smartwatch: Huawei Watch
I have only used two watches this year: the first-gen Moto 360 and the Huawei Watch. And there are still a few things I miss from the 360 when I wear the Huawei, but there's a lot more the Huawei gets right. Except wireless charging. Every watch should use wireless charging.
The Huawei Watch's battery is a breath of fresh air after a Moto 360 that would sometimes be limping to the barn. Even if the watch is still thicker than I'd like, I'll take it for a watch that'll go two days without charging, three if you turn it off at night. It's got a bright little screen, though sometimes I miss ambient brightness from the Moto 360. My biggest complaint with the Huawei watch is that it its casing shows scuffs and scratches really easily. If you're going to own a Huawei Watch, invest in some stainless steel polish to try and buff things out with.
That said, the watch fits my needs, and I don't see myself upgrading again until Android Wear gets NFC with tap-and-pay support. That should've happened six months ago and I have no earthly idea what's holding it up, but it needs to get sorted out PDQ.
3. Favorite streaming device: SHIELD TV
I have not had a very long time with my SHIELD TV since it was an early Christmas present, but I can tell you right now that it is head and shoulders better than my old Chromecasts. And for the price, it better be.
I've found myself bingeing more and more quickly with the controller than if I were casting from my phone. Yes, controller. Even though my SHIELD TV came with a free remote, I still find myself using the gaming controller more, even though I don't really intend to game on the device. The controller is just faster, especially when putting in passwords for purchases and streaming service logins.
It's absolutely a luxury, but if you're going to blow hours a day in front of an idiot box, the SHIELD TV is simple, snappy, and won't judge your viewing habits.
4. Favorite VR system: HTC Vive
Google Cardboard is fine, Gear VR is promising, but nothing makes me want to strap on a heavy headset and fall into another dimension like HTC Vive. I was one of many who tried HTC Vive at the Big Android BBQ, and while it was a short 15 minute demo, it was a beautiful experience that I'd love to repeat. Well, except for Portal. Screw GLaDOS.
Walking around a shipwreck was sweet, and the kitchen game put the Wii to shame, but the moment I gave myself over to the Vive was when the world faded away and they gave me a brush to create my own. The moment the technician overseeing my demo opened the Tile Brush demo for me, I started drawing, terrible at though I may be. And waving the paintbrush over my head and summoning snow flurries — in hot pink, no less — was a moment where the 6-year-old inside me just couldn't stop squealing with delight. As much as VR is a platform for content consumption, when you start creating content of your own, the platform becomes far more memorable and valuable.
Seriously, let me loose in Tilt Brush. The Tilt Brush gallery app for Google Cardboard isn't enough. I need more.
5. Favorite "New" Google Services: YouTube Music and Google Photos
I accept that these services aren't really all that new. We've been listening to music on YouTube as long as there's been a YouTube, and I was a Photos user even when there was a + in the name. But change is inevitable and change is good.
Google Photos has made searching, syncing, and ordering my photos a snap, and now it's much easier to recommend to my friends and family since none of them will give Google+ or any of its services the time of day (sigh). Shared albums are great for events, and the ability to search by location or the name of a person means that I'm not scrolling through tens of thousands of photos for a picture of my mom and dad at Disney World. Or that picture of me kissing Duffy…
YouTube Music is a new app, and it is most definitely not a finished product yet. There's a list of missing features as long as my arm, and I'll be filling that list out shortly, but I'm still using it. Because YouTube Music is one of the few places I can easily find music of a certain type. And that type is unpublished. What could once only be found by trading with private collectors is now uploaded and available on YouTube Music, in high quality and with a personalized station to go with it. And if it can't find it's way into the All Access library or the Google Play store, I take heart in knowing that YouTube Music won't let me down.
6. Biggest disappointment of the year: Motorola
Before this year, Motorola had won my heart with two flagships that offered sensible software, customizable hardware, and decent one-handed use in a world of super-sized phones. They had just been starting to fall behind on the Lollipop updates they'd promised, but I was still hopeful, and still proud to rock my Moto X 2014 and first-gen Moto 360.
Well, a lot can change in one year.
Motorola's Lollipop updates were slow to come and were plagued with bugs. Their Marshmallow updates were even worse, not because they were late, but because for many phones that were hardly a year old (or less) they wouldn't be coming at all. One of the reasons I so frequently recommended Motorola phones was because they would be updated, and they would be updated fairly quickly. And I just can't say that with any real confidence anymore.
This year also saw Motorola stray further away from the company ideals we had seen and heard just a few years ago: the 2015 Moto X Style/Pure Edition/whatever bucked any attempts at one-handed use for a 5.7-inch phablet, and Motorola's list of models (and regional variation of those models) continued to grow and grow.
I'm still rooting for Motorola to turn it around. There are so many 'if only' scenarios that run through my mind as I think about the company over the last year, but ifs don't give me better devices or my carrier-branded Moto X updates. Until I see a decently-sized phone with Moto Voice and some more favorable update schedules, my heart may yearn for Motorola, but my pocket will be hosting someone else.