Like many of the big names who are switching from Apple’s iOS to Google’s Android mobile platform, I’m an Apple fan who has bit the bullet and made the transition. I’ve swapped my iPhone 5 for the Nexus 4. While this article is about that switch, it is also about a bigger migration toward Google’s cloud + hardware ecosystem that is rapidly becoming more viable.
We’ll talk about the good, the bad, and the boatloads of money I’m saving in just a bit. First, I think it’s important to set up a little bit of the backstory, so you can better gauge how relevent my experience is to your own circumstances.
When I look back, as objectively as possible, at my own technology usage since the 1980’s, I can say that I’m not quite an early adopter, but I do have a solid track record of switching to new technologies well ahead of the majority.
This applies to the big “moves” I’ve made: there was the IBM XT clone, the huge hard drive (a whopping 110 Megabytes), the Windows 3.0 operating system, signing up with a small ISP for Internet connectivity, streaming content to my living room television from a media computer, embracing Gmail, ditching MS-Office for Google Apps, and adopting the Apple ecosystem. Except for a brief love affair with the Amiga 500, the masses have been making virtually the same technology choices that I have made…about six to 18 months later.
And now I’m switching to Google in a big way. If anything, I’m late to the game.
Gateways to Google
In the early days of Apple’s renaissance, the gateway to Cupertino was clear: the iPod.
Millions of people began carrying around a wonderful little device that “just worked.” It played their music for them reliably, simply, elegantly.
If only all of our devices could be like the iPod, we thought to ourselves and eagerly told everyone who would listen. Just like that, ALL of Apple’s products started to look more appealing. Certainly more appealing than Windows Vista, which was sprouting at around the same time.
The gateway product that sucked me through the wormhole that leads from Sunnyvale to Mountain View was a Nexus 7 tablet that I fortuitously won by taking 2nd place in my company’s annual rock-paper-scissors tournament—a holiday party tradition.
Much to my surprise, I fell in love with the “7” device and found myself reaching for it over my iPhone and the other iOS devices that we’ve collected over the years in my family of six. I even preferred the Nexus 7 over my Macbook Air for late-night surfing in bed.
WTH!? Not what I expected at all.
With Google it starts with Google Search—which nearly everyone uses—and then branches out to Gmail, Google Chrome, Google Apps, Google Chromebooks, Google Android tablets, and Google phones—even Google Plus is starting to look cool. At some point, when you’re waist-deep in the Kool Aid, you’ll discover Google Now, Google Latitude, Google Goggles, and other products that range from very good to exceptional. The new Google Keep is looking interesting, too.
These products are all gateways to Google’s hardware + cloud ecosystem. Yes, the entire product line.
These gateways have at least one powerful commonality: they are free or inexpensive. Even though Apple has been very successful with premium pricing, make no mistake about it, free and inexpensive are huge forces in the current platform marketplace. Google and their partners have been successfully closing the quality gap between their products and Apple’s products, which makes pricing a stronger decision making factor.
As little as one year ago, Apple’s products were clearly superior. Although more expensive, they represented a better overall value, because they were that much better. Competing with Google on price today is not the same game that it was years ago when Android hardware and software was cheaply built, unstable, and usually possessed deal-killing flaws, such as nonexistent battery life.
Today, the Nexus 4 compares well to the iPhone 5 in every way, yet the price is $299 for the Android device and $649 for the iOS device. Similarly, Google offers a $249 Chromebook which is well-built and competes fairly well against the $999 MacBook—as long as the user lives their computing life in the cloud. For the majority, the Chromebook is powerful enough to keep productive, complete school work, and enjoy video and light gaming entertainment.
In short, it clearly possesses the “it-just works-factor.”
Now that I’ve offered my interpretation of the landscape, let me also mention a little bit about me as a technology user. I am comfortable with technology and enjoy learning new user interfaces. I don’t mind investing some setup time in order to customize my experience with a computer, software, or a device.
Boiled down: I can bask in the warm seas of choice, options, and even complexity when appropriate—but, I despise fighting with technology.
iPhones are extremely well designed and everyone from kids to grandparents can use them happily, right? Well, now that Google’s hardware and software easily meet the minimum bar for quality excellence (that Apple gets credit for raising), I’m happy to move on to a device that may not be the best choice for novices.
And now, my experience with Nexus 4, two weeks in…
The Nexus 4 as a Phone
Like many others, I’ve come to use the actual phone features of my pocket computer far less than I use it for other forms of communication. But even still, the phone must do the basics nicely or it’s no deal: reception, sound quality, and plenty of talk time on the battery. In this case, the Nexus 4 performs as well as or better than the iPhone 5.
Sound quality and reception are nearly identical. My iPhone 5 was on a different carrier than the Nexus 4. So far, they are performing equally well and have good, clear reception and no dropped calls for either one. I’m sure everyone’s mileage varies here, depending on location and other factors, but fortunately for me the good service from both carriers cancel each other out and I can focus on apples to apples comparisons.
The Nexus 4 is a larger device, which means a couple of things as far as the phone is concerned. 1) Some folks may find the hardware a bit cumbersome to carry around. 2) There’s a heck of a lot more room for battery power—about 45 percent more. This translates to 15 hours of talk time and 390 hours of standby endurance. The iPhone 5 lasts about 8 hours when talking, 220 hours when powered on but idle.
Contact management, texting, and other standard phone features all work well with the Nexus 4. Because the Android system is more flexible than iOS, you don’t have to stick with the operating system’s default apps. For example, you can download an SMS texting app that completely replaces the stock program. Why do this? Any number of reasons, you’ll have the ability to send hand-drawn pictures, back up your messages in the cloud, hide conversations or any of the other nifty things a development team that is passionate about texting can dream up.
For those concerned about radio frequencies, particularly those absorbed by the human body due to cell phone usage, the Nexus 4 is the better choice. Its SAR (specific absorption rate) comes in at 0.550 W/kg compared with the iPhone 5’s 0.901 W/kg.
The Nexus 4 as a Camera
If you focus on the specs, you’ll find that the iPhone 5 and Nexus 4 have nearly identical cameras. You might even give an edge to the Nexus 4, because the front-facing camera has ever-so-slightly more pixels.
In reality, those extra pixels are imperceptible and cameras are about photographs, not specs. Here are several photos taken inside and just outside of the Axosoft offices. I will leave it up to you to decide which camera you prefer. These images are completely untouched.
Looking Into a Dark Room
Looking Into a Dark Room with Flash
Inside Looking Outside
The iPhone 5 is a bit quicker when it comes to accessing the camera from the lock screen. This has nothing to do with pixels or lenses, but this simple advantage could be all of the difference between getting the picture you want and missing the moment. As far as the stock camera apps are concerned, the Nexus wins hands down because of the innovative UI and deeper feature set. Settings are easily accessible via a visual option wheel that makes features like adjusting white balance and picture modes quick and easily. Also, switching from stills to the video camera to two different panoramic modes is a seamless transition.
The Nexus 4’s built-in photo editing is superior to Instagram and is on par with a fully decked out editing app, like Pixlr Express (Google Play • Apple iTunes).
My main computer at home is a Mac Mini with plenty of external storage to hold on to my photos and media. There is no question that my iPhone 5 integrated with Apple’s iLife software seamlessly. Now, I must transfer my pictures to my computer first and then into iPhoto manually. It’s not difficult or terribly time consuming, but it’s another one of those things that isn’t ideal for novices and could be an annoyance to any user.
There may be apps to facilitate this process, but for now I am considering migrating my photo and video libraries to Google+ Photos-an appealing cloud storage system and automated by Google+. For instance, my high-resolution pictures and movies are automatically uploaded and sorted into private albums that can be easily shared.
This article at GottaBeMobile has more information about how the two cameras compare, along with more image examples.
The Nexus 4 as a Computer
Thinking back to a couple of years ago, I thought it was a bit odd that Android ads, reviews, and devotees focused so much on specs. Heck, I didn’t even know my iPhone’s specs—all I did know was that it always worked.
That was then.
Now, I am impressed that my Nexus 4 has a quad-core processor with 2 gigabytes of memory, which is about as good as the computer I’m using to type this article. I seem to be able to do so much with it, even processes involving background location services, yet performance and battery life don’t take a noticeable hit.
In all fairness, I had never felt that my iPhone 5 was slow. But, here are some of the apps I constantly have running on the Nexus 4. Whether the iPhone 5 could handle this as well I don’t know, because most of these things can’t even currently be done with iOS:
- Llama – It chooses custom profiles for my phone depending on where I am. For example, late at night it mutes everything, but still allows calls from selected people to come through with full ringer volume. When I leave home it turns off wifi. When I get to work, it turns on bluetooth and launches an app that sends my texts to my tablet.
- Light Flow – An app that gives me total customization of the glowing LED notifier light on the Nexus 4, as well as other forms of notification like vibration and sound. For instance, if I miss a call from my wife the notifier can glow and pulse orange. Heavy traffic on my way home according to Google Now? Glow red with a rapid pulse. Did I miss a tweet or Facebook message? Glow blue. You get the idea.
- Google Now – This is Google’s app that is designed to quickly get you the information that you need when you need it. It has cards for everything. Look at it in the morning, and it tells you if your commute looks good or suggests an alternate route. Weather, packages, activity levels (as in walking and cycling), nearby events…there’s a card for everything.
- Google Voice – This is Google’s communication service that allows me to route my voicemails to a Google phone number, keeping and tracking them online. It also offers great rates for International calls. It can even be integrated tightly with the device itself, using the Google Voice number for all calls instead of the one issued by your carrier.
- Google Goggles – This app integrates with the phone’s camera to conduct Google searches based on logos, barcodes, landmarks, paintings, products, and such. It’ll even translate photos of foreign-language text.
- I also run Juice Defender to maximize battery life and AVG AntiVirus to keep the phone safe and free of nasty bugs, something I never worried about with the iPhone. And also something I don’t worry much about on the Nexus 4…the virus protector is installed. I’m downloading popular apps from known vendors on the Google Play store—so we’ll see what happens there. Also running in the background is a custom launcher called Smart Launcher, which I’ve switched to be my phone’s main UI for accessing apps and settings.
Not only are these pretty cool apps that help me use my Nexus 4 like a boss, but again, it really does amaze me that they don’t seem to slow the phone down or lead to premature battery drainage. All of this commentary essentially boils down to this… the Nexus 4 is fast and powerful—and it matters.
Yesterday, I picked up my wife’s iPhone 4s. I did not find myself missing the familiar grid of icons, but what really struck me most was just how small the screen was. It felt tiny, like a child’s toy. The 4s is smaller than the 5, and the 5 is smaller than the Nexus 4. So, stepping back a couple of generations was a real eye-opener. I could never go back.
The 4.7″ display makes it far more comfortable for reading and, without a doubt, lends itself to increased productivity. If the Nexus 7 tablet isn’t handy, I will use my Nexus 4 to open Evernote without hesitation. I was always hesitant to use my iPhones for anything that involved more than a little typing. But on the Nexus 4, I can take notes like a grad student strung out on caffeine pills.
I was used to the iPhone 5’s retina display, and the Nexus 4 allowed for a smooth transition with a screen that is almost as densely populated with pixels. More specifically, 318 pixels per inch, compared to the iPhone 5’s 326 PPI. However, the Nexus 4 provides extra screen real estate with a resolution of 1024 x 768 versus the iPhone’s 1146 x 640. This feature is definitely appreciated on a handheld device as it is on a desktop monitor.
Although I have two complaints regarding the Nexus 4 screen: fingerprints are far too noticeable, and the display is not as vibrant in the sunny outdoors. Apple, on the other hand, has nearly perfected these issues.
What about apps? Interestingly enough, after years on the iPhone, I don’t miss any of my apps. The ones I use are available on Android, and the Google Play store is loaded with apps for everything one can imagine. A very nice feature is the ability for apps to auto-update, whereas on the iPhone this is a manual process. With the Nexus 4, my apps stay current on their own, and it’s one less thing for me to worry about.
At the time I made my switch, there were two apps I used on iPhone 5 that were unavailable on the Nexus 4. The first is Moves—a cool little app for tracking physical activity. I was mostly using it experimentally to see if I would like to use it regularly and recommend it to others. It turned out that it was cool to use for a short period to get a baseline idea of my activity levels, but I’m not all that interested in the numbers long-term. Also, I was number 120,000 or so in line for the Mailbox app, so technically I wasn’t a user—but looked forward to checking it out.
A big part of what smartphones provide for us today is notifications. Emails, missed calls, text messages, appointments, tweets, Facebook messages, weather alerts — you name it, the phone has to account for it and let us know what we’ve missed, and what to expect. The Android experience here is worth noting, both for its thoroughness and the ability to keep notifications out-of-the-way.
The pull-down notifications we’ve become used to in iOS originated on the Android platform, therefore it’s not surprising that it’s a bit more fleshed out on the Nexus 4. Some notifications, like email and appointments, allow you to drill down to see more details without leaving the notification pane. You can swipe to dismiss a single notification, or dismiss them all with a single touch.
On the iPhone, notifications are configurable, and you can configure them from one place in the settings area. On the Android, however, notifications are generally configured within each app’s settings. This tends to provide a bit more flexibility and a bit more complexity. A trade-off that is common on the Android platform.
While using my iPhone, I would not have said that I received too many notifications. But now that I’ve been on the Nexus 4 for a couple of weeks, my phone doesn’t buzz or flash nearly as much. The default settings are a bit less disruptive, and notifications don’t appear on my lock screen. Instead, the glow of the front-facing LED attracts my attention, and apps like Light Flow (described above) provide an eye-opening level of granular control.
I can’t talk about the utility of a Nexus 4 as a computer without talking about its keyboard, voice recognition, and the incredible ease to edit text. Here’s the deal: the easier you can input and manipulate text on a device, the more it veers toward becoming a content creation device and not simply a content consumption device.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not implying that I would enjoy creating an article like this one entirely on the Nexus 4, even if it is doable. However, I would have no problems with editing this article on the device. Taking notes and composing emails are far less painful than on any other mobile platform I’ve used.
The latest stock Android keyboard brings the popular swipe gesturing feature to the Nexus 4 without 3rd party apps. Instead of tapping at the soft keyboard, users slide their fingers across the letters and allow auto-correct do its thing. Pressing the spacebar is not necessary, simply pick up your finger and start sliding the next word.
Here it is in action, and about mid-way through the video, you can also see how the Nexus 4 allows 3rd party keyboards to tightly integrate into the operating system.
I can’t express enough how important and luxurious it is to use a keyboard that works so well. Emails, tweets, Facebook comments, note taking, list making…these are all things our smartphones enable us to do while we’re on the go and the keyboard is a central piece of the user experience puzzle. Apple’s one-size-fits-all approach no longer competes well with what is available on the Android platform.
Finally, let’s shift gears for a moment and talk about something very basic: the micro USB charging port.
“Another thing I like with Android is they don’t have some stupid proprietary cable. I can go to any hotel front desk and if I’ve forgotten my cable they always have a micro-USB around. I can use my Nexus 7 and it’s on the same cable as my Samsung Galaxy S3. What a concept! A standard cable.”
– Guy Kawasaki, former Apple Evangelist, currently employed by Google’s Motorola unit
Standards rock. These cables are cheap, and you don’t have to worry about your accessories becoming obsolete any time soon. You see, I still haven’t forgiven Apple for changing its charging connector, without including a converter with the $649 iPhone 5. Instead, they had the audacity to charge $30.
This borderline insult affected Apple’s most loyal customers the most. The longer you had been using iDevices, and the more accessories you had purchased, the more $30 adapters you needed. They really couldn’t have included just one? I could be wrong, but can these possibly cost Apple more than a few dollars? They should sell them for near cost, in my opinion.
The Nexus 4 as a GPS
One of the results of the mass adoption of smartphones is that people who have them don’t get lost anymore. That would be a great segue to bash on Apple for their recent issues with their new default map app, but I won’t go there. I actually enjoyed Apple’s new Map app UI, and I’m sure it will soon become an accurate, solid solution for getting from point A to B. Perhaps I was one of the lucky few who was never led astray, but I thought the whole ordeal was blown out of proportion.
With that said Google Maps and Google Navigation on the Nexus 4 is fantastic. The Maps app is quick and snappy, and offers features like a Google Latitude layer that allows you to share your location with others. Some people may find that feature to be a bit creepy, but for motorcyclists like me who don’t talk and ride, it’s convenient: my wife can see where I’m at and estimate when I’ll be home.
Google Navigation is the turn-by-turn GPS app that I use when I’m in my car. It’s well-designed for use while driving — nice big buttons, and the option to include map layers for gas stations and restaurants are nice touches. More than one person has told me they prefer Google Navigation’s female voice-over, instead of Siri’s more robotic inflection. The integration with Google’s street view works well, too. For instance, once you are near your destination, you are shown a close-up picture of the location you are looking for.
I’ve discovered that there is a car mode option for the Android operating system. Third party launchers are available that provide a more driver-friendly interface for those times in the car. Car Home Ultra is a good example. To be clear, this is not just an app, it becomes the home screen for the device. Although, in the latest version of Android, a patch is required to ensure pressing the Home button displays the car mode view.
Should You Switch?
The question of whether you should switch to Android, or any other platform, from iOS depends on far too many factors for a simple yes or no. How heavily invested are you in iTunes? Do you want to continue to make that investment? How about apps…are there any apps you absolutely need that aren’t available on other platforms? Do you want to experiment with something else for the sake of trying something new?
In my home we have essentially moved from Apple-only to an Apple-Google mix. I’ve got the two Nexus devices, my wife and daughter have Chromebooks, I have a MacBook Air that’s a couple of years old and a Mac Mini on my desk. In the living room, we use the Apple TV. It’s working well for us. Your mileage may vary.
Whether you want to switch devices or not, it may be worth your while to consider switching carriers.
When I decided to switch to the Nexus 4, I also started shopping for plans. I found that I could purchase a customized 4-line plan, similar to what I already had for a $100 savings per month! Some quick math, and I couldn’t make the switch fast enough. Here are the numbers in my situation:
- Purchase Nexus 4, 16GB: $380 (including tax)
- Switch to a new carrier and plan: $1200 annual savings
- Sell my iPhone 5: I got $450 for it after 1 day on Craig’s List
- Pay contract cancellation fees: approximately $400 total
- Bottom line: An $870 savings after the first year and about a $2,000 total savings after 2 years.
That’s $2,000 that stays in my bank account instead of going into my original carrier’s bank account, and I have a phone that I enjoy much more. That’s friggin’ fantastic!
My wife and kids kept their iPhones, and other than a few minor inconveniences that are inevitable when porting a number to a new carrier, they’ve noticed no difference. Well, other than the fact that they now have unlimited data and talk-time to go along with their unlimited texting. I opted for additional savings by limiting my own line to 500 minutes of talk time per month, because I rarely use minutes and I trust myself not to go over.
When Apple first introduced the iPod and even the iPhone, everyone took note of the revolutionary simplicity of these devices. How many articles have been written lauding the Zen-like superiority of simplicity? How many products have been introduced into the market emulating it? Countless.
But did the iPod and iOS really take off because of simplicity? Perhaps?
More importantly, they were well-built and did what they were supposed to without frustrating users. Those are the basics, and frankly prior to the iOS ecosystem, no one was doing those basics with smartphones very well at all.
But what about after you nail the basics? After babies learn to walk, they want to run, leap, dance, drive, and fly. In technology, simplicity can become boring and limiting at times.
We’ve reached a point in time where Apple’s competitors have caught up with them on the basics. And now it is those competitors that have the advantage of 60+ manufacturers and a huge developer network all competing with each other, attempting to out innovate and win the hearts and dollars of consumers.
It may surprise you to learn that Android owns almost 70 percent of smartphone marketshare. Almost 60 percent of smartphone app downloads land on an Android device as well. This infographic provides more detail.
Users like me are moving from “it just works” to “it just works, and…” with the “and” being followed by any number of key factors that vary from person-to-person. For some, it’s larger screens. For others, it’s better keyboards. For some, price and savings play a factor. For most, it’s all the above.
Many have compared today’s battle between Apple and Google to the 90’s battle between Apple and Microsoft. As we all know, it was a battle that Microsoft soundly won with partners and developers. Google appears to be working from the same playbook and is executing well.
It would be silly to count Apple out. They’ve learned their lessons better than those of us who have observed from afar. Of course, they know that every time they were down, it was innovation that lifted them back up. That’s why it is so exciting to see what else they have up their sleeves.
What do you think of Google’s hardware + cloud ecosystem? What does it mean for tech in the valley? Are you an iOS fan who is thinking about switching? Why or why not? As an Android newbie, what did I screw up or miss in this article? I’d love to hear from you.
Sources: TechHive • Business Insider • The Verge • Apple • GottaBeMobile • TradeMob
*AZ Tech Beat is not endorsing any product or service – this is an in depth OpEd about a user’s experience. AZ Tech Beat seeks to ensure that all information is accurately represented.