A month with the Nexus 5


Last month, I decided to switch from the iPhone 5 / Verizon to the Nexus 5 on Ting . The switching process went pretty well, and I was able to sell my iPhone to pay for the early termination costs. I’m going to try to go for about 6 months with this device and service to see if the tradeoffs are worth it. If you want to know how this story ends, the short version is that I’m happy with the phone 90% of the time, with the core functionality of the phone offering the ability to do a lot of things that aren’t possible on iOS. However, the polish and ‘seamless’ integration that iOS and an iPhone offer do leave me missing it from time to time. On to the bulleted lists!

First, the things I like about the Nexus 5 and Android.

  • Actionable notifications. I hope something like this is coming in iOS 8. Being able to reply to a message, tweet or email from the notification is so awesome. The current iOS implementation of notifications is awful in so many ways – ‘whack a mole’ badges, no way to dismiss singular notifications, and more make it a bad experience. Android has nailed this and made it even better over time.
  • Granular info about battery life and data use – helps track down offenders and changes my behavior. This has resulted in my using much less data and power than I was with my iPhone.
  • Easily share to any app you like via Intents. One of my favorite things about Android.
  • Setting defaults for all sorts of tasks. You can, for instance, set a default action for when you say “Make a note to ….” to put that note in any app you choose. What a concept, eh? Setting a default text client, email, calendar etc is great too.
  • Long press keyboard shortcuts for numbers and punctuation. I can type so much faster than on iOS.
  • Custom keyboards. I’ve installed SwiftKey, which you can optionally plug into your Gmail, Facebook or Twitter accounts to learn your speech patterns and offer predicitive sentence completion as well as the standard auto-correct. I type so much faster and accurately because of this feature as well.
  • Being able to choose from Dropbox when browsing files – composing emails, selecting images etc can use the Dropbox file system, making the phone feel even more like an extension of the desktop.
  • I won’t miss random rebooting of the phone after upgrading to iOS 7, that’s for sure.
  • How you can submit bug reports on app crashes. I feel like they actually make it to developers.
  • Real multitasking – things update when I tell them to, not based on some voodoo that Apple has determined (which is admittedly pretty nice, but it still feels like guesswork). The task switcher is also nicer. By stacking vertically you can see more apps at a time and quickly scroll through open applications.
  • Widgets. Evernote, Wunderlist, Calendar and Gmail. I don’t overdo it but I do use a few widgets and it’s really helpful – I haven’t tried any home screen widgets yet, but I may go that route soon.Being able to arrange my home screen in different ways.
  • The screen is a bit too big for me to reach the top left corner with my thumb (I’m right handed), so I have the ability to arrange the icons in a way that there’s nothing in that corner. Nice to have that flexibility.
  • A user interface that isn’t trying to hard to be cutesy. Buttons look like buttons and text looks like text.
  • Google Now & notifications about travel time, etc. Having an Android device even for a month has made me realize how much Google knows about me – it’s definitely creepy on some level, but so far has also been extremely helpful & convenient to be notified of package delivery dates, appointment travel times, and breaking news based on sites I frequent.
  • The way Google releases most software unbundled from the OS means you get timely updates.
  • Vibrate and silent are two separate modes. Switching between the three modes is simple and gives you more control, as sometimes I don’t even want my phone buzzing.
  • Using an app like Locale or Tasker means you can set ‘conditions’ – things like being on a certain wifi network, at a certain location, or connected to a certain power source – and then do things based on that. I use it to disable a passcode when I’m at home or at my parents house as well as bluetooth state and ringer volume.
  • The concept of system wide accounts. Add dropbox, twitter, etc once and it’s used system wide. Kind of like what Apple is doing with certain partners but greatly expanded.
  • Fine grained control of what apps can sync via wifi or cellular.
  • I love the date picker so much more than the iOS implentation.
  • Persistent notifications for things like audio players so it’s easy to quickly see what track is playing. Similar to Control Center but I like the Android implentation better.
  • Surprisingly, the LED notifications are useful. Less checking to see if you missed a notification.
  • The whole ‘there’s an app for that’ is even more true on the Android side. So many utilities that do little one off tasks or tweak the system. Very *nix-like.
  • Being able to install and manage apps from the web. Anywhere. I do this all the time and it’s really awesome.

Overall, the transition has been pretty easy, but I am missing a few apps:

  • Calendars 5 – still searching for a good calendar app. Still using the default Calendars app for now.
  • Day One. Nothing like it anywhere – I tend to just use the app a lot less and only on my iPad.
  • Tweetbot. I’m using Plume but it’s nowhere as good at Tweetbot, but it works the way I expect it to and isn’t buggy like some of the other apps.

Along the way, I’ve discovered a handful of really neat apps that have made the transition a lot easier.

But it’s not all puppy dogs and rainbows. There are definitely some things that iOS and the iPhone did differently and better in my mind.

  • Visual voice mail. This doesn’t exist on Ting (it’s possible on the Nexus, but is dependent on the network you’re on) so I’ve been transported back to 2006.
  • The ‘security’ of iCloud backups. I knew if anything went wrong with my phone, I could restore to a very recent version of my phone and not miss a beat. Android doesn’t really have anything like that out of the box.
  • Better quality hardware. The vibrating motor on the N5 is substandard and the phone is nice but just not on Apple’s terms. I’m still terrified of breaking that protruding lens. The screen quality was a bit better on the iPhone 5 – not a huge deal, but the color and brightness seemed to be better in iPhone world.
  • The camera is better as of 4.2.2 but it’s still not as good as my 18 month old iPhone 5 was.
  • Predictability and simplicity. Overall, the system may not be able to do some things that I can do on my Nexus, but everything works predictably and consistenly. This is a big deal.
  • iMessages, iMessages, iMessages. I’m trying to settle into something that isn’t as jarring for others – most people just can send texts but it can be problematic for group texts or for people sending Messages from their iPads. Facebook messenger is the best option so far. I miss sending and receiving messages from any device and it just working (although iMessages has its own set of issues).
  • No universal scroll to top. This has proven to drive me bonkers on many occasions. Most apps have a way to do this from within their specific app but there is no system wide way to do this like in iOS.
  • No system-wide undo. Really.
  • Buttery smooth UI. You learn not to care as much but it’s an issue on Android. Some apps scroll brilliantly and others feel like you’re on a 386.
  • Apps seem to crash more in Android than on iOS. Same goes for hung processes – there have been a few days where I’ll notice my phone is warm and some rogue app has been running in the background for 2 hours, killing a quarter of my battery. It’s awesome that you can use Android’s built in battery stats to find the offender, though.
  • The community for Android folks just isn’t the same. No good Android podcasts or blogs. Sounds silly but it is a con. There’s no John Gruber for Android, etc.
  • Same goes for indie developers. The stock Android apps are really quite good, and there are a lot of good indie devs, but the community is really no contest.
  • Notification / privacy settings are all in one place. I liked how easy it was to go down the list and quickly make a decision about which apps have permissions to do what on my phone. On Android, you have to make most of these choices from within the apps themselves, and then only with the preferences they give you.
  • Better quality software. I’ve found lots of great alternative apps but they are all good enough, not great.
  • No swipe down to search spotlight. I didn’t realize how addicted I was to this. You can search for apps from the Google box on Android or say “OK google, open ”, but it’s not as ingrained in my muscle memory yet.
  • Urbanears volume buttons don’t work on Android – the play/pause works fine, however.
  • iOS’ Control Center is actually really nice from an accessibility standpoint. turning on/off bluetooth, Wifi etc is one tap less than it’d take to go through the same means on Android.
  • If my iPhone was muted and I plug in headphones, the audio level changes. It’s a little more complex on the android side.
  • Do Not Disturb mode. I can use an app like Locale and others to replicate similar functionality but the Apple solution was very elegant in that you said “don’t disturb me between these hours” and it took care of the rest, even knowing who your VIP contacts were, and making exceptions for them.
  • I’m still working through photo management. Right now, Google+ and Dropbox both get a copy of my photos pushed to the cloud. Sharing photos with family straight from my phone is no longer as easy, as we all have a shared photo stream that we post to. Sharing photos w/ my family now involves me doing it from my Mac or iPad, copying the files from Dropbox to iPhoto’s shared photo stream. It works, but it’s just not as ‘instant’ (which may or may not be a good thing for my family). But for me, it means I don’t get to see those photos during the day of my son unless they’re sent via Facebook messenger or another medium I use.
  • Safari’s Reader mode. Great for those non-mobile optimized pages.
  • Google Now isn’t as magical at this moment as I hoped it would be. That may change if/when I travel, but right now it’s useful but not as predictive as I’d hoped. Not sure it’s worth the sort of tradeoff you make regarding privacy. The voice search is better than Siri’s offering in speed, accuracy and results presenstation, though.

Ting’s service so far has been pretty solid overall. In my daily use I get solid LTE coverage in most places, degrading to fast-enough 3G when I’m a bit off the beaten path. I have had a few instances already where coverage is bad which has a tendency to nuke the battery as it’s searching for network. I’ll have more on this after I spend more time out and about with the phone.

As I use a tablet more than I do a phone nowadays, the fact that the Nexus 5 is ‘good enough’ is about all I really need. I use my phone a lot less now in general, which I like – I want to focus more on using my phone for a few things – taking photos, getting directions, consuming media and catching up on news when killing time.  I feel like I spend less time just seeing what’s going on now with my Nexus, as the OS and apps feel ‘smarter’ in a lot of ways – bubbling up key information into the notification view in a way that I can take action on it very easily, usually not even having to view the actual app. I think that iOS 7, love it or hate it, focused on UX and aesthetics along with a few nice new features under the hood. Hopefully iOS 8 is focused more on the brains behind the ‘beauty’, as I think there are a lot of places Apple could take cues from Android to make the OS more intuitive and make the ‘virtual assistant’ side of Siri much more useful. By making notification center more useful, adding some sort of inter-app communication, and focusing on the typing experience, Apple would make some massive strides to making up for the gap between it and Android.

I waffle on whether or not I miss the iPhone. Things are certainly simpler and more ‘cohesive’ on iOS, the apps are more polished, and the hardware feels nicer. App discovery is a lot easier too, as it seems like there is an entire community on Twitter and the web focused on surfacing the best apps and games out there, which in turn drives revenue for the developers. Everything feels more polished, integrated, and focused even if it doesn’t do quite as many cool things as Android does.

But really, Android and the Nexus 5 is good enough 90% of the time. I do miss iMessage, a handful of other apps, and how easy Photo Stream is to use, but otherwise more days than not I’m happy with the Nexus 5. I’ve leaned a lot about the joy of off-contract phone use, and will probably get my next phone off contract, wherever it is. Even if you buy a brand new iPhone, you’ll end up saving a good $300-$500 over 2 years. That’s not nothing. What I’ll probably do is wait until the iPhone 6 (or whatever it’s called) is announced and then decide what to do from there. Bottom line – the iPhone and its ecosystem is better than Nexus and the Android ecosystem. But the phone costs nearly half what an iPhone does AND my phone bill is half what I was paying. Is the iPhone, its ecosystem and phone plans TWICE as good as what I’m using? I guess the next few months will answer that question for me.

Ok, now what?

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