No matter how stable Android gets, it's still too hard to master

Pixel 4a Quick Settings
Pixel 4a Quick Settings (Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

This Sunday morning, I am hopefully sleeping in my own bed again after three weeks in Texas visiting family and friends. Going home is always fun in seeing what's changed, what hasn't, and what tech support I can do in person instead of over the phone half a continent away. I got some Fredericksburg peaches — which are the best on the continent, sorry, Georgia — I caught up with friends I haven't seen in years, and I got a nice dose of reality when helping my parents with their Android phones and laptops.

I have been an Android user since early 2012 and have been writing Android how-to guides since 2014, so I like to think I've got a pretty good grasp on the ins and outs of just about every core Android feature and Google service. But trying to troubleshoot some wonk on my dad's Pixel 3a XL surrounding Quick Settings and his Golf Pad app — which may be one of the worst app UIs I've seen in years — and Google Assistant features on my mother's phone reminded me of an important lesson.

Just because something should be easy to change or fix on Android doesn't actually mean that it is. And after being around for 13 years, it's a problem Android should have solved long ago.

There were a variety of things that needed "fixing" on my parents' Pixels when I came home. My dad was having issues with his flashlight randomly turning on, then once I fixed that, he started having issues with the mobile data turning off randomly. This turned out to be his sweaty pants pocket accidentally tapping Quick Settings while working in the yard or golfing.

When I explained what had happened, he asked if there was a way to keep Quick Settings from getting triggered on the lock screen — and there's a way to at least keep some Quick Setting toggles locked when the phone is locked. However, that's only on Samsung phones, and it only applies to the Wi-Fi and Mobile Data toggles. Instead, I had to remove these options from the first page of Quick Settings after looking through the Lock Screen, Security, and Screen Lock settings menus to find no avail.

Google Assistant on the Pixel 4 XL

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Thankfully, some fixes are easier. Getting voice dialing set up so he could use Assistant in his non-Android Auto-enabled Silverado was a simple matter of showing him that you press-and-hold the mic button on the steering wheel, then set Assistant as the default AI service over Alexa. Of course, Assistant doesn't make everything easy.

It took digging in four separate sections of the Google and Google Assistant apps to finally re-enable OK Google hotword detection on my mother's phone due to both Assistant being set to the wrong Google account and the settings menu being three different places depending on if you were accessing it from the main Google app, the Google Assistant app, or the Settings app.

Source: Android Central

I've written Google Assistant how-tos since the Google Now days, and even I had to double-take and remind myself where everything was. And this is my job. When everything changes based on the manufacturer, individual apps, and the yearly changes from new Android versions, mastering Android is like trying to turn a desert into a zen garden. No matter how many times you rake the lines, it's just going to shift again.

Even some of the more basic maintenance tasks on Android can require a decoder ring:

  • Want to back up your text messages before you move to a new phone? Well, Android technically backs up SMS already, except they don't do MMS backups unless you're a paying Google One subscriber, so here's the app you need instead and how to use it.
  • Do you need to turn off tab grouping on Chrome for Android before you lose your mind? You can't even find that in Chrome's settings; you have to go digging in Chrome Flags instead, and the flag involved isn't called tab groups; it's called tab grid.
  • Even blocking spam and incoming calls on Android can vary depending on who made your phone and which Caller ID or Spam Filtering service your manufacturer uses.

And the list goes on. On one hand, this means that help and how-to guides will be in high demand for the foreseeable future, and, thus, my job is secure. On the other, it's hard to try and convince new users — or even current Android users — of Android's ease and quality when so many Android settings, features, and abilities hinge on the user either having enthusiast-level knowledge or a spare device nearby to read the how-to guide.

Android Figures iPhone

Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Now, Apple has far fewer freedoms in its ability to set default apps, theming your home screen, and, of course, Siri keeps falling farther and farther behind Alexa and Assistant. But if you want to change a setting on an iPhone — system setting or app setting — you know exactly where to go. Almost all settings are either directly in the Settings app or just 1 or 2 touches from a shortcut.

Granted, Android already has a disadvantage in that the Settings app is laid out and organized differently on every phone. Most of an app's settings are in a menu within the app that could be placed in a dozen different places depending on the app type and how often developers think you'll need to access them. While the search bar in the setting app can help with some of this, you still have to know the magic words, and even then, unless it's a core Android setting or a Google account setting, you'll still have to dig through menus manually trying to figure out where that stupid toggle is being hidden.

Android 12 Hero Quick Settings

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Material You is the biggest visual update to Android in five years, but much of those changes revolve around general app and widget look, shapes, and colors more than shifting the way apps are supposed to lay out their content. Take the Quick Settings above: the toggles are bigger and easier to tap, but we still don't have any options to disable Quick Settings on the lock screen, and most users still don't know they can edit Quick Settings at all.

With each Android update, things come a little more in line across manufacturers. While there are still many first and third-party apps with egregious UX flaws — I have a whole litany for the grief GolfPad has given my father and I during months of troubleshooting — most are getting better and better about making settings intuitive and easy to find, and the permission changes with Android 12 and the new transparency protocols for Google Play listings will hopefully continue that trend.

In the meantime, I'll keep playing tech support for my family and for everyone else to cross my path. Here are some notes from an exhausting weekend:

  • The Nothing (1) earbuds — oh dear god, that name — look interesting, but I'm looking forward to the Galaxy Buds coming at Samsung Unpacked this month.
  • Speaking of the Unpacked event, cases may not be as sexy as the phones themselves, but the first party case leaks are giving me pause in a good way. Having a strap on the back to both connect the two halves of the case and more easily slip it out of your pocket sounds good, given how small some of the pockets we'll be putting it in after it launches.
  • The One UI Watch tease still doesn't give us the in-depth look at the UI and navigation that I want, but it's a good look at some of the watch faces and some of the more popular apps. I'm digging the new look for the Sleep tracking, and I'm hoping that translates to the rest of Samsung Health. I'm also hoping that Samsung's timer app stays exactly the same as it is right now because that timer is a girl's best friend while trying to listen to a meeting and cook.

— Ara

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

  • There are allot of settings in Android, so some settings can be difficult to find.
    If you have a Samsung phone, the OneUI arranges the settings differently then from stock Android.
    Also, some OEMs may include additional settings/features
  • Sure, it is easier on an Apple product because with Apple there are so fewer things that the user can change. Apple decides what your phone should do and look like, not the user.
  • Exactly. Hate it.
  • yes, iOS has less customizable features. For Apple, they are more restrictive and it's Apple knows best. It used to be you couldn't set the default app on iOS and Apple forces you to use their own app.
  • Apple does not give users choice, Apple thinks they know better than their customers and thinks they're dumb LMAO 🤣
  • Whenever I've used IOS it's felt like a toy. I can't do basic things like: 1. I choose what picture folders Google Photos backs up.
    2. Access any folder when Sending a file in WhatsApp because IOS still blocks basic user level access to the files on the user partition of your own phone. And: 1. The UX still hasn't been optimized for large screen phones.
    2. Notifications still suck compared to Android. Sure Android isn't perfect, in some ways it's Settings overload, but I fail to see ow IOS is "better". It's simply different, by removing controls away from the user of their own phone. Imagine if Apple did this to MacOS. Personally I've found Android stable since about Android 6.0. Samsung's OneUI is so polished too.
  • I'll argue it was 4.4 KitKat that made Android stable and quick responding as an OS, then 5 gave us a largely unified UI with it's material design, and finally 6 brought some very nice security features such as encryption iirc (or was it 5 that introduced that? I don't remember.) On top on doing the final polishes on the UI 5 introduced. Eh overall you're right, I just thought I'll mention 4.4 since it seems to not get as much credit as it deserves nowadays. Is oneUI really good tho? I've yet to use any recent Samsung device. My father has an A51 and so far it's doing great (he's had it for a few months), he really really doesn't like the UI vs his previous Moto G first gen device, but the overall phone is smooth atm, although I've watched the reviews of the A line here and apparently they still lag and stutter sometimes. Wtf.
  • Google apps are inferior and watered down on iOS due to Apple's locking out of third party apps on iOS and let's not for get that Apple won't give users the choice to enjoy game streaming services like Xbox Game Pass and Stadia.
  • Android's supported SMS backing up since Android 8 which was late but it does what it needs to do. You restore a backup when you setup a new phone. Who still uses MMS in 2021? It's always been expensive to send them, the quality is low. wonky, doesn't often work across different company's phones. So often you sent an SMS with this awful link to some poorly made carrier website just to view a low resolution photo. It's never been improved because carriers knew how rubbish it is and better mechanisms to send photos/videos were created. I'd question why you're even still using it with a multitude of much better ways to send photos or videos. SMS is good but MMS has always been a terrible experience.
  • Last time I used MMS was in 2019 when in Australia. Found the MMS APNs were set wrong by default on roaming. Haven't used it since. Use WhatsApp.
  • This is why Google has been pushing RCS hardcore and now that finally all 3 carriers are reported to be on board, that increased limit to 105 MB for images should come into play for many OEMs. The MMS/carrier system was in the way.
  • "It took digging in four separate sections of the Google and Google Assistant apps to finally re-enable OK Google hotword detection on..." Clearly the author is dramatizing. Because it would take seconds to type "hotword" or "ok google" into the search bar and we can see she does this with "assistant". Did anybody learn something useful from the article? Seems like every single article on the internet about smart phones is mostly useless clickbait.
  • Every week I find it strange how many people apparently still don't realise that Sunday is opinion-piece day...
  • "Seems like every single article on the internet about smart phones is mostly useless clickbait." ....I agree. Also, dude doesn't sound like he has used Android for very long at all. I love how Android allows the user to determine how the phone is personalized. And I've never used the stock UI (from LG V10 - V60). I used Nova Launcher on all of my phones since Android 5. It's easy to go into Nova settings and set up the launcher to do exactly what I desire it to do.
  • See: Trying iOS made me appreciate these 8 Android features a lot more "Good" is what is familiar.
  • Instead of moving things around in Quick Settings, wouldn't the easiest solution just be to set the Pixel not to turn on the screen when it gets inadvertently tapped in a pants pocket? Then it's impossible to access Quick Settings without first hitting the Power button to turn the screen on. Settings > Display > Advanced > Lock Screen, toggle "Tap to Check Phone" off.
  • That was turned off last fall to prevent him from pocket dials and pocket sending me 200 stickers in Hangouts again -_-
  • And also teach him to learn the fine art of the very useful LOCKDOWN feature.
  • Android sucks. Almost as much as iOS. Two mega billion dollar corporations that can’t make an OS that doesn’t suck the life out of you.
  • Android doesn't suck but iOS does suck for being so restrictive and having so little customisation end flexibility.
  • iOS does not suck. Sure a user can't customize their Home Screen but what app can a user not run ? What productivity can a user not do ? So iOS users can not sit in their parents basements playing with icons or changing the color of something. Big deal. iOS is stable, consistent and used by real people every day to accomplish what they need to. 99% of what you do on a smart phone is done via an app and iOS is just as good if not better than Android in this regard.
  • Android is stable on most phones including Samsung, Apple on the other hand have pushed out buggy updates for older iPhones and Android gives users choice with its wealth of options and customisations and love it's flexibility and openness, come back when iOS has a proper file system, multitasking and when Siri actually becomes smarter because as things stand, Android demolishes iOS by a wide margin even though iOS has closed the gap a little bit.
  • Android never pushed out an update from Google that I know of which throttled down the CPU like Apple did for the much older iPhones a couple of years ago. It wasn't buggy though, it was intentional and garnered massive backlash.
  • So which one is currently sucking the life out of you?
  • To summarize; "my dad uses a crappy golf app, he is the only user that has quick settings on his lock screen, and it is difficult to set up ok Google, BUT I am the savior for my Luddite parents" A quick Google search and YouTube would answer any of these questions.
  • Did someone have a bad day?
  • Sounds like the OP and her whole family could benefit from iOS.
  • Might want to switch your parents to flip phones
  • I think the writer is pointing out that phones need not be so damned esoteric. When smartphones can be used effectively by average people then they will be truly smart. Right now, not so much.
  • This is absolutely incorrect because average people have been using iPhones forever. /s
  • Well you can teach a chimp to drive a go-kart but if something goes wrong can he diagnose the proplem and fix it?
  • I've using Android since 2015 and I still haven't fully mastered it but I'm far more experienced that I was initially and I'm glad I used stock Android first (Moto G 2nd GEN, Nexus 6 and Pixel 2 XL) otherwise I'd have hated Android and Android Lollipop almost made me hate Android because of how buggy it was but I think that I found Android on my Moto G, Nexus 6 and a few cheap Chinese phones in between my Pixel 2 XL very pleasant to use and really found the settings easy to navigate unlike my S20 FE which I still find it hard to navigate thanks to Samsung's features and settings overload with that rearranging the settings that I was used to on OnePlus 7T and especially my Pixel 2 XL and Nokia 8.1.
  • Samsung are at fault for 90% of the difficulty in changing phone manufacturers, they are the OEM that deliberately move everything for that exact purpose. If you're used to Samsung then the rest of Android can feel alien and vice versa. That's why long term Samsung users always go back.
    But at the end of it all this article is pure hyperbole.
  • Samsung feels alien to me in settings and I hate how Bixby is used for basic things like having to use it for setting up when your phone goes into battery saving mode and with my S20 FE it didn't always work and I'd still have to turn on power saving mode manually. And don't get me started on the amount of bloatware that Samsung has on their phones.
  • I gotta say I recently got an iPad and almost everything I read here are the issues I have been having with it. Settings are all over the place and don't make sense. I actually had to ask a non-tech user for help and they of course didn't know but I figured it out and I wondered who this makes sense for. It's almost as if you have to think their specific way to get it. I will say that I find new users tend to have an easier time with a Pixel than an iPhone but I only have like 4 people with recent experience.
  • I definitely find the Pixel software easier to navigate than my S20 FE due to the layout of Samsung's settings, it's the same with my iPhone as well, but I hate how restrictive iOS is and how everything including the camera settings is in the settings app on iOS also. I prefer using Android over iOS but unfortunately most apps still work better for iOS and the Android version of a lot of apps are just an afterthought.
  • My wife has an iPad for work, I dread the words "can you help me" when it comes to that thing. iOS's settings are obscure in the extreme.
  • When you open settings, right there at the top is a thing they call Search. Give it a shot.
  • At least we have settings...;D
  • All I want is a single place to set if I use data for large downloads or not. I have an unlimited data plan, and set the options to use data everywhere I can find, and way too many apps and services still ask, including the bloody play store saying 'waiting for network'.
  • Oh look. Another Android article from someone who has to violate the law of common sense and compare settings to the walled sheep pen of that other OS. Doesn't take much to be an "Editor" here it seems. Android Kit Kat is when things started to truly gel, and with Oreo it started becoming really good. I can "master" Android even unrooted. Everyone knows Samsung will always be king of useless bloat. No matter how stable Android gets, some of their users are still too hard-headed
  • I keep shooting myself in the foot by still re-reading the article...
    Most people don't know how to change quick settings?? Are you really that daft, Ara? Are you really needing to go to such great asinine lengths to make yourself one of the very few technically-minded gurus in the entire ocean of Android users, and especially the legions of Power users that root phones for breakfast? The sheer audacity.
  • The moral of this story is that noatter how stable Android gets articles like this will always be published. My issue with Android isn't Android itself, it's with OEMs like Samsung making their version of Android more difficult to master with the bloatware and drastically different and heavy skins they slap on top of Android.
  • Not being funny but what's hard to master? yes Samsung phones have alot of menus etc and maybe because I've owned alot of them but I find One Ui excellent compared to the old Touchwiz. It's like everything take the time to learn about your new phone, read online, ask in forums, watch YouTube tips, tricks videos etc if you can't be bothered or want to take the time to learn how the phone functions then I think that's more your issue.
  • I think the point is that the endless inane how-to videos on YouTube wouldn't be littering the site if Samsung wasn't such a pain in the ass with wild settings menus and native apps constantly running and sucking up resources. You pay $1400 for a phone, you shouldn't have to deal with garbage UI.
  • See that's were we differ I don't agree that One Ui is garbage, quite the opposite but that's why we have choice in the Android space if you don't like One Ui there's other OEMs or launchers. I do agree there's alot of menus, but thats because Samsung pack so much into their phones, and I prefer that over bare bones so called 'Vanilla Android'.
  • I hate pedants, so don't consider this a personal attack, but I have seen too many instances of this and it tweeks me... so I need to allot some space to clarifying that a lot of things are not allot of things. "Allot" is totally different and everytime I see it used wrong it messes with my poor brain that's just barely hanging on after years of speaking this god forsaken language so for my sake and the sake of those like me... correct usage would help A LOT. This has been a public service announcement. Cheers.
  • IOS is mind numbingly easy to use, that niche is already filled. You can't have all the options that android has while catering the the lowest common denominator like iOS does and I don't want Android to become iOS.
  • I've been using Android since 2012, I've had four Android phones and four Android tablets. I'm a retired database and web developer. And the article above could have been written by me, except there would have been a lot of vulgarity and swear words. Particularly if I had been trying to write using dictation, swipe typing, or fat fingering on the gboard. I am completely fed up with the Android UI, its continual interface churn, and the lack of correct, coherent information on the Android OS, particularly when searching Google's own 'help' system.