iOS 5, Apple’s latest update to its mobile OS, was released this week, and with it came a ton of great new features for iPhone and iPad owners. If you own an Android phone and wish some of those new features can be yours, they’re closer than you think. Here’s how you can get some of them, like Wi-Fi sync, cloud storage for music and documents, and free messaging right now on whatever Android phone you have.
This guide isn’t meant to shoehorn iOS 5 on your Android phone. If you wanted iOS, you would have purchased an iPhone. The goal here is to show you how to incorporate a few features into your device that may have made you the tiniest bit jealous when you saw some of the iOS 5 feature demos.
Feature: iCloud; Solution: Google Apps/Dropbox
What it is: iCloud offers iPhone users the ability to synchronize and store information in the cloud. It’s essentially a beefed up version of MobileMe, and synchronizes everything from documents created on a mobile device to photos taken, contacts, and calendar appointments. Plus, the service is completely free.
How you can get it: Much of what iCloud offers to iOS users is already handled by Android natively. Your contacts and much of your account preferences are already synchronized with Google’s servers (you can verify this by going to Settings > Accounts and tapping your Gmail or Google account to see what’s being synchronized.)
However, Android does fall a little short when it comes to documents, photos, and files. That’s where Dropbox comes in. Dropbox’s Android app integrates well, and because the files in your Dropbox account only take up space on your Android device when you specifically download them, it makes for a great way to see and have access to your data without worrying about the amount of storage you’re using. Dropbox also inserts itself into the “Share” menu of just about every Android application, including your photo gallery and favorite camera app, making it easy to upload files. It’s not quite as easy as the hands-off approach that iCloud promises, but it’s close.
The one drawback to this combination is that Dropbox is a little kludgy when it comes to photo uploads. You can create galleries by uploading to your Dropbox Photos folder, but if what attracts you to iCloud is its seamless photo uploads, consider the Google+ Android app, which instantly uploads your photos to Google+ as you take them.
Feature: iTunes Match; Solution: Google Music or Spotify
What it is: Another notable feature about iCloud is that, for an additional $25/year, you can synchronize your music across all of your devices. The iTunes Match service supports up to 20,000 songs, and will even scan your music library and provide a high-quality iTunes version of the song in your iCloud account that you’ll be able to stream—or more appropriately, download and play locally— when you’re on a computer without that song.
How you can get it: Google Music is the closest service for Android we’ve seen to iTunes Match. It’s web accessible, the Android app and music player is gorgeous, and it supports downloading some of your songs for offline play when you’re without a data connection. Yes, you’ll have to upload all of your music to Google Music before you can listen on the go, but you get room for 20,000 songs and the service is completely free. While Google Music won’t identify or organize your music for you the way that iTunes Match promises to, it addresses the core need: free, cloud-based backup and storage of all of your music with easy access from any device.
However, Google Music is currently invite-only and only available in the United States. For everyone else, try Spotify instead. Spotify serves up the music you already own and gives you access to a broad selection of streaming tunes from Spotify’s own database. You can’t upload your own music to Spotify to stream elsewhere, but it will link songs in your collection to Spotify tracks in its database so you can listen to them on the go. You’ll need to drop $9.99/month on Spotify Premium to use the mobile app, but if you’re in love with streaming music on the go, it’s worth it.
Feature: Notifications Menu; Solution: Already Available
What it is: When we got our first look at notifications in iOS 5, more than a few people sat up and took notice that iOS 5’s slide-down notifications screen looks like Android’s default notifications pane, and is accessed the same way. The addition of weather to the notifications pane and organizing notifications by type or application are a nice touches.
How you can get it The way Android handles notifications works pretty well, and Apple clearly built on that idea in iOS 5. Depending on the ROM you’re using, you already get access to valuable information like your power controls and weather in the notifications pull-down, and it’s already organized based on ongoing alerts and those that are spawned by specific applications, each with their own icon to tell them apart.
Feature: Wireless Sync; Solution: AirSync, Spotify, or Google Music
What it is: In iOS 5, you can sync your device with iTunes without connecting it to your computer, backing up your apps, account preferences, and all of your phone’s data easily and seamlessly. It’s a great and hassle-free way to make sure your photos, music, apps, and everything else are safely synchronized and backed up before you head out on the town with your iPhone, and it’s a long time coming in iOS 5.
How you can get it: If you get your apps through the Android Market or Amazon App Store, they each keep a record of what you’ve downloaded. As for your music, videos, photos, and other files, we’ve mentioned ways to completely back up your phone before, whether you’re planning to migrate to a new device or just want complete, automated backups. However, in this case, we don’t want to sit around waiting for everything to back up, we want to sync some new music and be on our way. Here are your options:
- AirSync ($4.99) – This utility works withDoubleTwist to synchronize apps, photos, videos, playlists, music, and more wirelessly between your Android device and your computer. It’s the closest parallel to iOS 5’s Wi-Fi Sync. Plus, it supports AirPlay, so you can stream video to an AppleTV in your home.
- Spotify ($9.99/month for a Premium Account) – You’ll need a Spotify Premium Account to get the Android app, but once you have it, Spotify will wirelessly sync playlists and songs from your local music library with your Android phone. It also gives you access to Spotify’s massive library on the go. It won’t handle photos, videos, or other files however.
- Google Music (Free) – Streaming from the cloud isn’t as good as sync, and it doesn’t take care of your photos or videos, but you have access to all of your music, and you can choose to store as much music as you like on your Android phone locally for offline listening. Plus, it’s completely free.
Feature: iMessage; Solution: Google Talk/Google Voice
What it is: iMessage in iOS 5 lets you send text messages to your friends with iOS devices without paying the SMS charges imposed by your carrier. In the United States, we’re still stuck paying for text messages we send and receive, which makes the problem especially annoying. You can communicate with any other iOS device, including iPads and IPod Touches, for free with iMessage, as long as they have some connection to the internet. It’s a great way to stay in touch with friends and cut off your carrier’s texting plan entirely—assuming all of your friernds have iOS devices, that is.
How you can get it: Just by virtue of having a Gmail account and an Android device, you have access to Google Talk. In fact, you may already be signed in to Google Talk on your Android device. Since every Android user has access to Google Talk on their Android phone, as long as you exchange phone numbers or Gmail addresses, you can send any Android user text messages for free.
Google Talk for Android also supports video chat, and while it’s not our favorite video chat app for Android, it’s definitely a good one. Plus, you can use the Android app send messages to Google Talk users on their desktops or laptops. Best of all, all of this is completely free (exlcuding data charges, of course.)
If you’re in the United States and use Google Voice (GV isn’t available outside the US, sorry!) you can take this a step further and shunt your SMS messages over to Google Voice instead of using Google Talk. This gives you a way to send SMS messages to any phone, not just Android devices, and bypass your carrier’s SMS charges in the process. Unlike Google Talk, your recipient may have to pay to get your message, but hey, at least you can cancel your texting plan, right?
Feature: Siri; Solution: Vlingo
What it is: Siri, iOS 5’s new voice assistant (only available on the iPhone 4S) is a generational leap in speech-to-speech and speech-to-text technology. Siri’s ability to understand common language and the way it is deeply integrated into iOS makes it an excellent tool for hands-free phone operation at home or on the road. Siri can compose and send SMS messages and emails, perform complex actions like calculations, web searches, play music and playlists on your phone, fetch the weather, schedule appointments, and more.
How you can get it: We discussed this earlier this week when we looked at somegreat Siri-like alternatives for Android, andVlingo was the app we found that came the closest to Siri, complete with voice-activated listening modes, an in-car mode that’s sensitive to hands-free operation, and an impressive number of commands that the app recognized and could perform when asked to. Vlingo can update your social networks, find the closest cab company, locate a nearby Chinese food restaurant, send an SMS to your best friend, and pull up turn-by-turn driving directions for you.
Google’s own built-in voice features are no slouch, and Google isn’t likely to let them be eclipsed by Siri for long. Plus, they’re already on your phone. Still, none of alternatives are quite as integrated with Android the way Siri is with iOS, none understand common language to the same degree, or are capable of having quite the same level of back and forth conversation with you.
Feature: Location-Based Reminders; The Solution: ReQall, Astrid, or Remember the Milk
What it is: Reminders is an Apple-provided to-do manager that supports location-aware notifications. Since the reminders are location aware, you can set up areas on a map where certain to-dos are supposed to be completed. When you leave or arrive at one of those areas, you’ll be alerted to a to-do relevant to that location.
How you can get it: Android has a wealth of to-do managers that support location awareness. None of them are built-in to the OS, but many of them are more feature-rich than Reminders is. ReQall Pro ($2.99/mo or $24.99/yr) is one of my favorite to-do applications for Android, partially because it will alert you when you’re in proximity to a location where a task needs to be completed. You can configure as many locations as you want, and when you add to-dos, just assign them to a location and the app handles the rest. Astrid is a free alternative, but you’ll need theLocale Add-On ($1.49) for location-based alerts. Remember The Milk Pro ($25/year) is another robust, location-aware alternative.
Feature: Camera Updates; The Solution: CameraZoom FX
What it is: iOS 5 boosts camera speed, and provides a new camera grid that makes lining up and framing your shots easier.
How you can get it: CameraZoom FX, our pick for the best camera app for Android will set you back just under $5 USD in the Android Market, but for your money you get the ability to configure which hardware buttons trigger your camera and you get a camera grid so you can line up your shot.
You also get filters to apply to your photos, options to tweak the white balance, the ability to shoot in burst mode, and one-tap uploads to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and other services. If you’re looking for a powerful camera app, this is it. If you want to mimic iOS 5’s new one-tap access to the camera, previously mentioned Widgetlockerlets you add an icon for the camera right on your phone’s lock screen, so you can tap it to go directly to the camera app, even if your phone is locked.
Read the entire article at How to Get iOS 5’s Biggest Features in Android Right Now.