Android Oreo Review: Third Party Software

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 5 min read

This is part 4 of a multipart series on Android Oreo. The subsequent parts in this series will be posted daily to BirchTree, so subscribe via RSS, Twitter, or Apple News.

My overall opinion of Android is largely covered by this part of the review. Third party apps are so important to the enjoyment delivered and power provided in any operating system, and as a platform owner, you live and die based on how good the software is that’s written for you platform. To this end I can say that Android has the worst library of software I have used across any mainstream consumer operating system today. It’s just bad.

Before getting into specifics, I will say right up front that I have had to uninstall and reinstall apps that were behaving badly on multiple occasions. I have had to make decisions on what app to use for a certain task based on which one I found the least offensive, not which I liked the most. I’ve had to use apps that were they on iOS, would not even make my top 3 options for that type of app. I’ve had to clear cache and clear data from apps once in a while because “that’s just what you have to do sometimes.” While the operating system itself has some laudable characteristics (which you hopefully read about earlier in the review), the apps that are made to run on top of it leave a very bitter taste in my mouth.

Let me get this out of the way: every app on Android that I have used is at best just as good as its iOS counterpart, and at worst a poor imitation of it. After wracking my brain, I can not think of an app that is better on Android than iOS, outside of some specific apps that simply aren’t possible on iOS.

The Highlights

Some apps are pretty decent on Android. First up is Pocket Casts, which is just as good as it’s iOS version. It is both nice to look at as well as easy to use. Seriously good work on this app.

1Password is another app that is just as good as its iOS counterpart. 1Password originated on the Apple side of the fence, but it’s transitioned to Android nicely and feels like a first class citizen here, even implementing Oreo’s new autofill API pretty nicely.

Action Launcher is a fine launcher and has been my personal favorite for years. This launcher brings most of the Pixel Launcher’s features to non-Pixel phones, all the while including some if it’s own niceties like having adaptive folders, a customizable UI, thumbing, and more.

Firefox is a pretty good browser for Android, and because Android allows you to set default browsers besides Chrome, you can make this your default browser and use it more seamlessly with other apps than you can on iOS.

Pushbullet is another solid Android app, as it allows for sharing files between your devices, and feels little more at home than on iOS. Pushbullet also has some Android-only features such as SMS sync so you can reply to your text messages from other devices, like your Mac. It also has a feature called Notification Mirroring, which makes your phone’s notifications show on your desktop. Both of these Android-only features are sadly wildly unreliable, so I don’t use either of them anymore, but if they work for you, they help you get a similar experience to what you’re already used to between an iPhone and a Mac.

And then there are the major third party apps that are mostly the same on iOS and Android. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and more all have the same features in almost every case, with the only differences being with how they interact with the system. These apps usually update in line with their iOS apps, but not always. Twitter, for example, still does not have a high contrast mode that I find so useful on iOS and was added earlier this summer. Twitter has also been very buggy for me, with tweets routinely saying “Sending…” forever and also not being able to show me my DMs without restoring my phone to factory settings.

And the Rest

The rest of the apps on Android are less impressive to my eyes. I do not wish to name names here, so I’ll speak more in generalizations. Overall, I find it harder than it should be to find apps on Android that match the quality I have on iOS.

As a general rule, there tends to be an app tat does everything on Android, but typically only one good one. Podcasts are a good example of this. I use Pocket Casts for my podcast needs, as does just about every other serious podcast listener on Android because there simply aren’t any good alternatives. On my iPhone, I’m constantly switching between Pocket Casts, Overcast, Castro, and even Apple’s Podcasts app as they each are special in their own ways. The same is true of some other categories as well, and it’s just frustrating to have to go with one app because that’s “the good one” and not have a library of alternatives nipping at the current leader’s heels.

And then there are some app categories where there simply aren’t any really good options. One answer I get to these are “just use the Google app” which is note great, and the other answer is that I don’t really need a fancy app to do XYZ, and I should be happy with the barebones options available to me. Neither of these answers are particularly appealing.

In a November 13 episode of my podcast I mentioned these apps as ones that I was not able to replicate on Android:

  • Apple News
  • Files
  • Reddit
  • OmniFocus
  • HomeKit
  • Ulysses
  • Mic
  • Scanbot
  • Television Time
  • Tweetbot
  • Deliveries
  • Annotable
  • Workflow
  • Transmit
  • Feedbin Notifier
  • Ferrite

To this day, I have only been able to knock 2 apps off this list: Scanbot and OmniFocus. Scanbot turned out to be on Android already and I missed it somehow, and then I switched my task management to Remember the Milk, which has turned out to be just what I needed.

The rest of the list remains elusive to me. Tweetbot should be easy to replace, but all third party apps I’ve tried have been too buggy to use (did you know that push notifications for most Twitter apps on Android require you to install the official Twitter app as well, turn on the official app’s notifications, give the third party app full access to all your phone’s notifications, and then it will present Twitter’s notifications as its own? It’s true!) and all have interfaces that I find either offensively ugly or pretty and buggy. Workflow remains unrivaled, as the sorts of workflows I rely on with iOS simply can’t seem to be done on Android1. Ferrite’s pro-level audio editing is unrivaled, Ulysses wipes the floor with all other writing apps on Android, Files blows all other file managers on Android away with its ability to combine all my file hosts in one interface, and Transmit puts to shame all FTP clients on Android2. The list goes on, but I think I’ve made my point.

Most software preferences are opinion, not fact, but for me it’s a fact that iOS apps not only let me get more work done, but I enjoy getting that work done better using the apps iOS, and iOS alone can provide.

  1. And if they can, they certainly can’t be made with such a beautiful, intuitive interface. 
  2. Transmit does a whole lot more than FTP, but even if that’s all I’m asking of it, it’s still in the lead.