While the benefits of using visual programming environments at the level of K-12 education have been well-studied, little is known about the plausibility of using visual programming in higher education settings. This empirical study compares the merits and demerits of using textual programming environments (e.g., Android Studio) and visual programming environments (e.g., MIT App Inventor) in an Android app development course targeting first year university students in a faculty of engineering. The analysis is based on instructors’ reflection as well as feedback from students. Our findings show that a visual programming environment was useful even for university students. It allowed beginners to focus on the logic of apps without facing the barrier of too many technical details. They could quickly develop functional apps with complex features. On the other hand, textual programming takes an upper hand when it comes to providing an authentic learning experience as well as supporting efficient source code management in collaborative development. We discuss the implications of the findings within the framework of the distributed cognition theory and point out directions for future research.