Back to the iPhone

I suppose we all saw this coming.

After a few months with a Nexus 5 as my primary phone, I’ve switched back to iOS and moved to AT&T. I was able to sell the Nexus 5 on eBay and actually make decent money on the switch back, and while my average monthly phone bill will increase by about 20 dollars, I’ll be getting unlimited texts and calls with a shared 6gb data allowance between my wife and I. I got a 32gb 5s and it feels good to be back ‘home’.

If Ting had supported the newest iPhone, I would have paid full price for the phone and considered staying with them. The service was a great value and coverage was rarely a problem for me in the metro Atlanta area. However, with AT&T altering their family plans and offering fairly generous shared data, the time was right to make the move. The only real knock on Ting is they are a great deal so long as you stay below 2 gigs of data and a fairly small number of texts and calls. I was always paranoid about sitting on work phone calls when I knew it might bump me into another tier.

So why did I ultimately ditch the Nexus 5? Two factors sealed the deal for me, and only one of them is going to get better any time soon in the Android world.

Android is too fiddly

In general, I found myself having to constantly tweak things to work the way I thought it should, and settle for average quality applications. If you’re an iOS user, you’ve come to expect a level of polish and attention to detail that just isn’t as common in 3rd party Android apps. As I said in one of my previous posts, Android definitely is ‘good enough’ to make the switch but I’ve become spoiled by apps on the iPhone and even a few months away wasn’t enough to get me over that. I can see myself considering Android in the future, but right now the lack of polish overall drove me bonkers.

It was really death by a thousand paper cuts. I’d get odd notifications at times I couldn’t figure out or adjust. Some apps would crash every time I used them. I could never find a Twitter client worth using. I could never get into using Wunderlist instead Things or OmniFocus. The battery life was good as long as I used the phone very lightly. And on and on. I felt like I was settling, and with iOS I had a known entity with its own flaws but overall worked way more in line with the way I expected things to work.

The stock Android system is actually quite nice. If you only want it use the stock apps, it’s actually a really impressive offering. For me, it was all about the 3rd party apps, though. I now realize how much I miss some of the key apps I use on my iPhone / iPad. The attention to detail and the focus on great user experiences on iOS really started to become apparent to me while using the Nexus. I kept looking at the phone saying “how are there 5 good versions of this app on iOS and not ONE good one for Android?” It was too much settling for ‘good enough’ – I missed using apps that delight the user (Tweetbot, OmniFocus, Pushpin, Byword, Day One, and more come to mind).

Not only was I missing those key apps, I felt like I had to manage the system too much. There were a lot of times that a rogue process would kill my battery, routinely forcing me to uninstall or troubleshoot. I’m not saying that’s an Android exclusive, but it happened more to me in the past 2+ months than any similar period with iOS. Overall, the Nexus 5 feels like a tiny little computer, which is great for the most part. iPhones, on the other hand, feel like they magically work nearly all of the time. There are limitations to being in Apple’s walled garden but the tradeoff is worth it for me. In general, I didn’t think I’d miss the Apple ecosystem as much as I did. iTunes, iCloud and everything else are a confusing mess at times, by they’re my confusing mess.

I had it in my head that by using the most of the Google ecosystem, that data would make my phone smarter. I really haven’t seen much of a true tangible benefit from buying all the way into the Google ecosystem at all, to be honest. When you add in the fact that it was doing this at the expense of using apps that aren’t as polished as I’m used to, it was hard to justify using Android. What’s interesting is that I think that the best ‘Google Experience’ may very well be an iPhone 5s with Gmail pulling in your email, Google Now alerting you to important events, G+ backing up your photos, using Google Maps for navigation and Chrome for browsing, while having the best built phone out there right now and having access to the great App ecossytem that Apple has. That’s basically what I was doing before switching to the Nexus, and I now realize the iPhone + Google services route is actually the best of both worlds.

I’m sure some of it is nearly 5 years of me learning how to use iOS vs only a few months on Android, but it just never felt right. I found myself fighting the interface and never felt as in control of the system as I ever did when using iOS – nor did I feel like the experience was as seamless as I was used to.

The hardware is average at best

The thing that Android handset makers can improve on but the Nexus 5 is lacking in is overall build quality. The handset, the camera, and things like the ringer and speakers all just feel kind of cheap – which I suppose is to be expected when you’re dealing with a handset that’s half the cost of an unsubsidized iPhone (I had even mentioned that in my previous post – is the iPhone really 2x as good as the Nexus 5 / Android 4.4? No, but it is better). The quality of photos I’ve taken in the past 12 weeks compared to the now 18 month old iPhone 5 were vastly inferior, which is disappointing. I spend so much time using my phone as a camera and I’m really realizing how crucial it is during my son’s early life to have something that I can take great photos with. Apple invests a ton in their cameras and it shows. So that’s one of the major driving factors in my purchase.

Other fit and finish issues:

  • The phone itself had issues with the speaker and required an RMA. To Google’s credit, this was a seamless process.
  • The screen is nice but otherwise the phone feels very cheap and I miss the quality of the iPhone.
  • The bulging camera on the back has annoyed me to no end. I want my phone to sit flush when I set it down on a table, and have no idea why Android device makers can’t figure this out.
  • I missed a lot of calls. The ringer just isn’t very good, nor is the vibrating motor. Never happened with iPhone.
  • GPS stinks on the Nexus 5.
  • I lose data connectivity often. Is this a Ting issue, or a Nexus one?

Conclusion

Android’s greatest strength is it’s “open” nature. This lends itself to never be able to compete on the “details” that Apple does so well, just like Apple’s focus on doing a few things really well make it tough for them to open things up to have the same level of customizability. All that being said, I can absolutely recommend an Nexus 5 to anyone looking for a good, affordable unlocked handset but for me, my investment in the Apple ecosystem was too much to keep me away for long. I’m used to and like the way that Apple does things, even if I am a bit turned off by a lot of the things that Apple did in iOS 7. I look forward to iOS 8, but also to the next generation of Android hardware and software. When my contract is up, I’ll definitely be looking to see who best meets my needs.

On Trusted Systems

One of the side effects of switching from iOS to Android was my quest to find good cross-platform tools to accomplish all of the things I was already doing with my iPhone. This meant making some compromises and getting rid of some apps I have been using for years. One of the biggest casualties was OmniFocus. If you don’t know what OmniFocus is, it’s a task-management system that allows you to categorize to-do items with very powerful filtering so you can easily capture and show tasks that you need to be doing in a particular context (that is, a place or type of job).

In an effort to find something like OmniFocus, I tried a few similar apps, and finally settled on Wunderlist. While it’s a good enough app, I slowly fell off the wagon of truly trusting the system I was using to track tasks. I also took for granted how easy it was to add a task to OmniFocus via Siri (once OmniFocus is set up to pull in reminders, you simply tell Siri “remind me to…” and it’ll automatically be added to your list, for sorting later). Once you stop trusting the list as THE place to go for all of your to-do items, it has nearly zero value to you. The tasks you do add are too large to really break down into actionable chunks, and once this happens, the inertia of a bad list takes over, making it even more difficult to use a list of any kind.

One of the most important aspects of the GTD system of task management is breaking down every project or goal into the smallest, achievable tasks so that blockers can be eliminated and progress toward completion can be made. Wunderlist just wasn’t doing that for me. So, I’ve decided to switch back to OmniFocus, even if that means I won’t have access to viewing my tasks on Android (there is no Android app for OmniFocus to sync with). What I have done instead is found an Android app that allows you to add items to the iCloud reminders list, which allows me to at least quickly capture tasks when they come to mind. I will sort these items when I’m at a computer or on my iPad, which I have with me almost all of the time.

Is this an ideal solution? Not exactly, but it gets me back in the habit of doing daily reviews in the morning and weekly reviews over coffee on the weekends. I’ve been going with this approach for about 2 weeks now and I already feel like a lot of that mental clutter is gone, which is extremely valuable to me. Being able to trust that a list is the place that I dump any and all tasks in my brain is a huge burden lifted from a forgetful guy like myself, and has helped me stay more productive at work and able to get things done around the house as well.

As Cinderella once said, You Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone). If feels good to be back in OmniFocus land – and I’m really looking forward to the v2 updates for the Mac and the iPad – whenever those actually land.

A shorter version ‘A month with the Nexus 5’

I realize how long that previous post was.  If you want the short version, here are my reasons to stick with Android and the Nexus 5 vs the reasons to switch back to an iPhone when the iPhone 6 comes out.

Reasons to stick with Android

  1. Keyboards are much better – more accurate, offer predictions.  There’s nothing like it on iOS.
  2. The larger screen is a joy to use.
  3. Intents are better than the half-baked url schemes in iOS.
  4. Notifications are better on Android – actionable, you can clear them singularly, and the LED notifications are a nice touch.
  5. Locale and apps like it are game-changers in how they allow you to let the phone manage itself.

Reasons to jump back to iOS

  1. Android is missing key apps (OmniFocus, Tweetbot, etc) that make using the OS always feel a bit hollow.
  2. The hardware isn’t as good as Apple’s. Camera quality, overall build quality and screen quality are unmatched.
  3. Apple ecosystem is more integrated, especially given my ownership of mostly Apple products.
  4. iMessages, warts and all, is a fantasatic way to keep in touch with my world, who almost exclusively use iOS.
  5. Android is too ‘fiddly’. I’m always searching forums for bugs and how to address them, dealing with janky software, and searching for good replacements for apps I loved on iOS.

A month with the Nexus 5

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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.

Sorry, I just can’t help it.  Little guy’s first Christmas.

Step One: Moving from Verizon to Ting

In my previous post , I mentioned I was considering switching to the Nexus 5. So after thinking about it for a bit, I’ve decided to take the plunge. Best case scenario, I use a phone I really like and save a lot of money doing it by switching to a lower-cost carrier off contract. Worst case, the money I’ll save even in a few months means I can jump on my wife’s carrier and get an iPhone 5S or whatever is out at the time. With that mindset, I ordered a SIM from Ting, the provider I’m going to use for my Neuxs 5 about a week ago, and it arrived in the mail yesterday. With all of the materials in place, it was time to move from an iPhone to a Nexus, and from Verizon to Ting.

There are a number of steps involved with a ‘bring your own device’ setup with a carrier that we take for granted but fortunately all of this is documented very well on Ting’s knowledge base. First off, I had to do a carrier reset for the phone to recognize the SIM card. Secondly, when I tried to activate my phone, apparently the activation service on Ting.com was down. I spoke with a rep on the phone who suggested I try again later. I tried again the next day and things were then up and running. I entered in my phone’s IMEI number as well as the SIM’s number and I was on my way. I had to enter a few things on the phone itself to configure it to work with text messaging and such, but the entire process (there is a support article that covers how to do all of this.), once the web site was working, took about 5 minutes.

My setup process was far from a great first experience given the one day delay, but these things happen. I’ll be honest – most all the terms and screens I dealt with were new territory for me, which means that most anyone should be able to do this, but also is kind of frustrating that it’s this difficult to get a phone working on a carrier by yourself. Maybe I’m being naive, but I just hope for a world where consumers really can take their device to any provider just by putting in a new SIM and signing up online without tons of configuration options.

Once I set up the phone as a new device, the number just ported over and that officially ended my service with Verizon. This month’s service is already paid for so my final bill from Verizon will be an ETF for canceling my service early. Within about 2 hours of porting my number, the Nexus 5 was working as intended. I deactivated iMessages on my iPhone so that texts would more reliably go to my Nexus when sent from other iMessage users, but otherwise didn’t do anything but shut off my iPhone. Through Gazelle, I sold my iPhone 5 (Verizon, 16gb) for $240 – more than enough to cover the ETF from Verizon ($200) on it’s own. It doesn’t hurt that Ting will pay $75 towards that as well. All you have to do is provide them with your final bill, proving you did in fact cancel and port that number over to Ting. Not bad.

My goal is to use Ting and the Nexus 5 for a few months and then make a decision about the long-term feasibility of this setup. It’s not like I’m ditching iOS completely, I’ll just do most of my iOS use on my new retina iPad Mini or my iPod touch and use the Nexus as my phone. I’m hoping it’s the best of both worlds. I’ll try to post a few updates as I go along regarding, Ting, the Nexus 5 and Android in general, all from an iOS user’s perspective. I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of folks out there like myself who are growing a bit weary of the way things are going in the iOS / carrier subsidized phone world, and maybe I can give some information on the pros and cons of making the leap.

Switching to the Nexus 5?

12/10/13 UPDATE: The Android 4.2.2 update made a huge difference in the photo quality.  Take a look on my Google+ page if so inclined.

Last year, I got and posted my thoughts on the Neuxs 7. From time to time, I get an itch to see what is going on in the Android world and get my hands on a device to see how things stack up to iOS. I’ve been a fan of Nexus devices mainly because they are quickly updated, generally sold unlocked, and don’t feature the bloatware that HTC and Samsung put on their phones. I’ve owned a Galaxy Nexus, a Nexus 7 (a tablet) and now the Nexus 5. It’s a 5-inch smartphone made by LG but sold by Google and features the latest version of the Android operating system. While I currently own an Apple iPhone 5, I’ve had a desire to try out Android more seriously because of the direction iOS 7 is taking us.

So, without further delay…

First impressions

Out of the gate, I was pretty impressed with the Nexus 5. The packaging was similar to what I’ve seen in the other product offerings from Google – minimal, colorful and easy to get to the product. They’re taking cues from Apple in this area for sure, and it shows.

The phone has the same rubberized back that is on the 7, which feels nice in your hand but you wonder how long it’ll last before falling apart. It also shows fingerprints and smudges quite easily, so I’m not sure how I feel about that. While extremely lightweight, the phone is very thin but wide and tall. I’m coming from an iPhone 5, but the phone is just a bit too big for my tastes. It’s tough to easily hold with one hand sometimes and I’m afraid I might drop it. That being said, the screen is bright and beautiful, but it’s hard to get over how huge it feels in my hands and I’m not able to touch every part of the screen easily. I’m sure over time I’d adjust to this, but it’s definitely something that is always in my mind when using the Nexus – how stinking big it is.

The camera lens protrudes a bit out of the back, and it seems like the sort of thing that could easily get it broken or scratched. Quality wise, the photos are quite good, but actually taking the photos is unbearably slow. Invoking the shutter takes a few seconds at times which makes it nearly impossible to get shots of my son, who I used as a test subject (and I just like taking pictures of the little guy). If you can manage to get a good shot, the colors are rich and the depth of field seems very good as well. However, that slow shutter speed is a killer. Apparently Android 4.4.1 will drastically improve the camera speed and quality, which gives me hope that it’s more of a software issue than a hardware one.

Overall battery life seems on par with my iPhone 5 (keep in mind that’s a phone with over a year of use). Idling, they use about 5% of energy every hour, and can go 12+ hours without a charge with fairly regular use. The Nexus 5 has Qi charging, which is a standard for inductive wireless charging much like the Nexus 7 and others. It’s so nice to be able to simply place it on a pad and have the device charge up.

Hardware wise, I’m quite impressed with this device. It’s light and thin, but the overall screen size and protruding camera do concern me a bit. Further, the camera shutter speed is extremely slow but future software updates will address this.

KitKat

I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I think I like the UI of Android better than that of iOS 7. I feel that the recent moves Apple made make the OS less intuitive, more generic-looking (every app is basically an entirely white canvas with text buttons), and the icon styles on the first party apps are particularly horrendous. Not everything is bad about Apple’s newest OS – the background updating feature makes things feel faster but it’s sadly overshadowed by the direction iOS 7 took visually. I think these issues will eventually be remedied by 3rd party developers and Apple alike, but I do wonder if the folks in Cupertino are biting off more than they can chew these days. All that is to say, Android looks and acts the way I’d like a mobile OS to, and I think it’s time to give it a serious shot.

Android’s notifications and background updating run circles around what iOS offers, without sacrificing battery life as Apple bloggers love to talk about. This may have been a problem in the past or I just don’t use apps that hog the battery, but the battery life is comparable. Android’s notification shade makes it so much faster and easier to catch up on everything that you’ve missed since last using your device and you don’t have to play whack-a-mole with badges on every app, either. That sounds trivial but it’s a vastly superior way to use your device and going back to iOS notifications after using Android for a while is painful. KitKat refines a lot of the things under the hood with Android all while putting a fresh coat of paint on the OS, making things look a bit more uniform. Scrolling is snappy, which is a change from previous Android phones I’ve used.

Google Now’s predictive search card interface is easily accessible from the home screen and is a huge improvement over Siri in a lot of ways, but you can also do a lot more with Siri conversationally right now. Setting reminders, texts and emails are a bit easier with Siri still but searching the web and getting answers to basic questions is way easier with Google Now.

The entire OS feels snappy and the good Android software is starting to become easier to find. Things are looking more consistent, and developers are paying attention to the little things. All in all, KitKat’s software update lacks a ton of surface features but nips and tucks in all the right places to offer a very good user experience. Right now, Android works the way I’d like my phone to better than iOS does.

Apps & Exclusives

Android and the apps that are in the Play store have come a long way even in the past year. It’s still a very phone-focused store, with most tablet apps just being blown up versions of the phone app. There are a few things that are going to make it extremely diffiuclt to ditch iOS whole hog, though. An an exercise, here are the apps on my iOS home screen right now along with their alternatives if they exist:

  • OmniFocus (no viable alternative. Wunderlist or Any.DO are cross platform but neither holds a candle to OmniFocus.)
  • Calendars 5 (nothing as polished on Android but stock Calendars app or Calendars by Any.DO will suffice)
  • Evernote (Good Android version available)
  • Check the Weather (nothing quite as good but lots of alternatives)
  • Rdio (Average Android version available. Syncs in background, which is a huge plus)
  • Pocket Casts (Great Android version available)
  • Photos (No Photo Stream alternative available, but the G+ Photos feature is close. Offers some things better but sharing to iOS users won’t be as easy.)
  • Day One (No alternative available. Apparently there is an Android version in the works, but for now I’d have to give up Day One on my phone)
  • Tweetbot (Sadly, nothing even close. Falcon Pro or Tweedle is the best you’ll do)
  • Instapaper (Good Android version available)
  • Reeder (Press is better than Reeder, so no dropoff here)
  • 1Password (Awful Android version available, but v4 for Android is in beta now)
  • Pincase (Nothing close available for Pinboard users on Android)
  • Chrome (Superior Android version available)
  • Instagram (Good Android verison available)
  • Byword (Good dropbox text editor alternatives available, nothing quite at the level of Byword though)
  • Google Drive (Superior Android version available)
  • Drafts (Can’t find anything close, but it’s not as needed given the way Intents work on Android)
  • Mail (Gmail or built in Mail app will do)
  • Messages (Google Hangouts fills this void but I’d be giving up iMessages. This is a huge deal given some of my family don’t text that much but do send messages from their iPads a lot to me).
  • Phone (Android’s phone app is amazing, huge upgrade here)
  • Camera (Downgrade, photo quality and the app itself are a big step down right now)

Writing this all out makes it clear there are alternatives available, but iOS apps are generally so much more polished than their Android alternatives.

A few notes:

  • Rdio kinda stinks on Android. Taps sometimes don’t register, it’s slow, loses connection at times and just feels buggy. However, it syncs tracks in the background and that’s amazing.
  • Chrome for Android is so much faster than anything I’ve ever used on a mobile device.
  • There are just no great calendar apps for Android. Odd how that’s a UI playground on iOS but a wasteland on Android.
  • Swiftkey is magical most of the time. After using it for a few days, I really hate the iOS keyboard.
  • Most apps I use now have great Android versions. There are a few exceptions, but generally you can use both OSes and have everything in sync between the two platforms.

Switching?

So, how to switch. I’m currently on Verizon so I’m considering paying an ETF and switching to Ting. They will pay 25% of that cost and if you use a promo code (by clicking on this link) you can get a $25 off your first device or your service. Since it’s no contract, if the coverage sucks I can switch onto my wife’s AT&T plan or another prepaid plan. I could then sell my iPhone to even further recoup costs.

Is it worth it?

That’s a good question. Android for me has finally crossed into that “good enough” territory where there isn’t a great reason to NOT use either platform. Android does a lot of things way better than iOS and the contrary is definitely true as well. If you’re an Apple loyalist that’s a scary thought I suppose, but in my opinion it just opens the doors for consumers. If Apple has to do more to keep folks from jumping to Android they’re going to have to do one of two things:

  1. Get better at the things that are currently weaknesses (good for consumers)
  2.  Create more vendor lock-in (bad for consumers)

Apple tends to do best when they are an underdog anyway. They’re not the best ‘benevolent dictator’ (nor is any tech company FWIW). In a lot of ways, the fact that both companies offer a product that’s 80% the same and both do 10% better on each side makes a decision even more difficult. As I said though, this is a great time for consumers, as even Apple nerds have a viable alternative finally.

That still doesn’t answer the question, though. What am I going to do? Let’s break it down one last time.

THE DILEMMA:

  • I’m kind of bored with iOS and don’t feel Apple is moving in the right direction with their mobile products. It seems as if they are either out of ideas or have bitten off more than they can chew.
  • Android offers a lot of system level stuff that makes for a better experience and Apple will probably never match it.
  • I can use an unlocked Nexus 5 on any non-Verizon carrier and save a lot of dough.
  • Most of the apps and services I use are platform-agnostic so either platform can serve my needs.
  • I have an iPad and an iPod touch so it’s not like I’m abandoning the iOS ecosystem anyway. Great games and apps can still be used on my other devices.

HOWEVER…

  • There are a lot of great iOS apps and games I’d be giving up by moving to Android.
  • Google does some shady stuff with your data. Do I want to further invest in that ecosystem?
  • A lot of the cool stuff Android allows isn’t even taken advantage of by developers at this time. It’s nothing like the iOS ecosystem, where developers are always using the latest and greatest APIs.
  • The camera on the Nexus 5 isn’t up to par at all.

I’m genuinely torn for the first time. The tradeoff is a drastically cheaper phone bill (to the tune of $500+ a year, on top of $225ish that I can net for an iPhone 5 on Gazelle) along with a more intuitive operating system in exchange for not having access to some of the amazing apps I have grown to love and rely on (at least on my phone). I know there are tons of Android gems out there that I don’t know of right now and it’s possible that if I do switch, I’ll find better alternatives for some of the apps I feel like I’d be giving up. I think I’d be willing to do that as long as I can still use my phone as a camera when out and about or around the house, as I love to take photos and videos of my son. Right now. that’s just not possible.

That’s a really long winded way of saying that I’m going to wait for Android 4.4.1 to see if the camera improves at the level that the Verge writers say it does. If that’s the case, I think that I’m going to sell my iPhone after the holiday season and give the Nexus 5 a go until I either run back screaming to an iPhone or post here again saying I’m an Android user for the foreseeable future.

Bulletin Blog: Week one in the books!Thank you to all of our users for a great first…

Bulletin Blog: Week one in the books!
Thank you to all of our users for a great first…