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November 20th 2013 7:36 pm

My Year with Android

I’m coming up on a year of living with an Android phone, so I thought now might be a nice time to post some thoughts about it.

A year ago, I was using an iPhone 4, which I had seen though iOS 4, 5, and 6. I was on the route to getting a used 4S, and then Google came along and announced the Nexus 4 – a pretty well specced, stock Android phone for $350 unlocked (16GB). I’ll admit, although I liked what I was seeing in terms of Android evolution at the time, I was pretty deeply invested in iOS. If the iPhone 5 were the same price as the Nexus 4 unlocked, there’s no doubt I would have grabbed one of those right away. However, the Nexus 4 seemed to be a much better value proposition than the used 4S, so I took the plunge.

I should add that this wasn’t the first time I’d switched to Android from iOS – I had the Nexus One and T-Mobile G2 (Android 2.3 via CM on both) before my iPhone 4. Back then, Android was terribly ugly and it didn’t even have Instagram (I’m an addict).

Disclaimer – This isn't to convince you to use iOS or Android. You should use whatever suits you best or whatever you enjoy using the most. These are simply some observations: things I like about Android and things I miss about iOS.

Let’s start with what I like about Android (4.2, 4.3) -
  • “Connected app experience” - 
It doesn't feel like I'm going into one app, out, and going into another app. I can open something directly into an instance of another app. One common example is selecting a photo directly from the built-in gallery interface (a swipe away from the camera app) and dropping it into Instagram rather than taking the photo, opening Instagram, and selecting it from the Instagram browser. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s one of those small things that makes a difference in workflow.
  • Link detection - The second part of the whole "connected app experience" thing is the awesome application detection for links. If it’s a “twitter.com­/something,” I can have it default to open with the Twitter app, instead of a mini browser inside of the app. The same goes for Instagram and basically anything else that has an app.
  • Unified sharing system
 - Each app adds a component to the “universal share menu,” so the app you're trying to share from doesn't have to build that sharing service into the app itself. A big one here is Instapaper.
  • File format support (multimedia) – This probably has more to do with Android having an actual user accessible file system to download and transfer files, but it has apps that can properly “do” video. The amount of configuration you get also makes for a better video watching experience. I know you can download 3rd party video apps on iOS to support more file formats, but it’s such a pain to get the files on the phone and the viewing options are a joke.
  • Choose your own default app – You can set your own defaults for browser, camera, music, video, keyboard apps. On my Nexus, most of these are the stock apps, but I swap in some third party options for a better overall experience (ex. MX Player for video).
  • Built in swipe keyboard - 
Huge pro for one handed operation.
  • File browser - 
I don't really need to deal with this most of the time, but having access makes sense for organization and browsing.
  • Torrenting - 
You can torrent and directly manage files via the file browser.
  • Bigger screen - 
Android comes on a ton of difference devices, of which the biggest advantage over the iPhone is the option for a larger screen.
  • Virtual buttons - 
One less hardware thing to break, feels more responsive, saves space on front of phone.
  • Faster animations 
- This goes with the whole not feeling like “going into one app, out, and into another” thing. The animation, even compared to the one in iOS 6, makes closing/opening apps feel faster.
And here's what I miss about iOS, mainly regarding the iPhone
  • Scrolling
 - Android can't "scroll properly," even on the latest, most powerful hardware – it feels stuttery for some reason and doesn’t have that nice “intertial” scrolling feel and instant touch response. It isn’t so bad after a while, but if I use an iOS device for a few minutes (yes, even the iPhone 4), it’s instantly apparent to me.
  • Camera
 - Blazing fast, consistent quality (and dynamic range!) on recent iPhones. This is a software thing. I have no idea why the autofocus is so atrociously slow, but it isn’t just on the Nexus 4.
  • App selection
 - I rarely ever go into the Play Store for new apps - only use it to update existing ones. On iPhone, I would check the App Store daily and the top charts would always be different, with a ton of new quality apps to try. The Play Store top charts have largely been the same for the past year.
  • App polish – iOS apps like Tweetbot are ridiculously polished and high quality. There’s a disconnect even for directly ported apps (look at the minor interface differences between the Instagram app on iOS and on Android. I feel like I’m using a beta app in comparison).
  • iMessage – Many of my good friends use iPhones, so I carry my iPhone 4 in my left pocket for iMessage.
  • Hardware design – The best of Android in this department is the HTC One, and the attention to detail there still doesn’t compare to the iPhone 5/5s. Most people won’t notice this, but I’m, admittedly, incredibly obsessive about minor design details. On that note, the front design (curved glass edges and featureless face) of the Nexus 4 is simply fantastic.
In about a week, I'll have successfully lived with Android for a year (never possible for me before Android 4.0). I love my Nexus 4 and will definitely keep that around as my main phone for another couple of months, but I'm almost positive my next purchase is going to be a used iPhone 5 to replace the iPhone 4 in my other pocket. It feels like I'm missing out on some great camera experiences and some fun indie games.

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4 replies

Oh gosh. I carried 2 Phones for a while back in 2010. A corporate BlackBerry and a personal Android Phone. Not fun.

So reading in between the lines is that neither ecosystem has everything you want? Also that iMessage is important enough for you to give up valuable pocket space and charge 2 devices?

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So I think the easiest way to sum this up is to describe my ideal phone - hardware design, build quality, camera, apps of the iPhone 5s, OS experience, screen res of the Nexus 5, size of Nexus 4.

As for carrying the second device, yes, I think so. I've also been testing the Pebble recently, so it's nice to be able to tether that to my iPhone to avoid battery drain on the already somewhat anemic Nexus 4.
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that would be an interesting phone. i wonder how close iPhone 6 will be to your ideal phone if its lives up to the rumors of getting a 5 inch screen.

Also, with Apples changes in iOS 7 i wonder what they have in store for the next version. will it be more like android and offer more customization?
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I was using an 4S, then switched to a S4 and back to the 4S again. I now bought a 5S which will love long i hope. i don't like the style of that new iphone 6 at all. too big, too fast(^^) too everything.

I just reviewed my experience with the 4S here on engadget. :-) Its such a lovely device, if you don't cramp iOS 8 on it. then it gets slow, sadly i did so.
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