I recently switched from an aging iPhone 5 to Google’s (LG’s) Nexus 5, but it certainly wasn’t a decision that I took lightly. Considering my phone is the device I rely on most often, I wanted a device that I knew was functional, fast, and preferably aesthetically pleasing. Functionality was probably the most important of the three criteria for me, but unfortunately, there does not seem to be very much information on the web that describes a user’s switch from iOS to Android without a fair amount of fanboy-ism in the mix. The following will be my attempt to describe the most notable aspects of my conversion.
The first question a person might ask me is, “Why did you switch?” Well, honestly, I don’t know if I can answer that question very easily. Partly, I just enjoy trying new tech and tinkering with things. My main OS I use on my desktop and my Macbook is OS X. I bought my first iPad a few months ago (the iPad Air is phenomenal, by the way). I had been an iPhone/iPod touch user since first release, so I was pretty much embedded into Apple’s ecosystem. While I don’t think it would be fair to describe me as an Apple fanboy, I quite enjoy most of their products. However, when iOS 7 was released, I found myself really underwhelmed. Though it managed to keep iOS and Android fairly level (in my opinion), I found it really underwhelming. iOS 7 felt (feels) half-baked and a little gimmicky (though not nearly to the extent of Samsung’s TouchWiz software), and it just feels handicapping. I think it’s beautiful, but beyond that, I quite frankly was completely disappointed by it. I definitely willing to experiment with the Google side of things, and shortly after the Nexus 5 was released, I had fairly well made up my mind.
I don’t think it’s useful to talk about application variety or major features or functionality differences between Android and iOS. Both are now very mature operating systems, and neither of them are ahead of the other in any substantial way. That said, I think there are a few major differences between the way iOS and Android are both heading. Google is a data company first, and it really shows in the new features that keep arriving in Android. Google is coming forward with all sorts of nifty timesaving features (integrating Waze into Maps, for instance) that, for me, really makes it a no-brainer. Google’s real strength here, I think, is that they can integrate their data services into the OS and they can bring the latest features to Android first. I want the latest features, both because they’re useful and because they’re so cool. The Google Now launcher that debuted with the Nexus 5 is a prime, if early, example of this.
The Nexus 5 itself is, overall, a much nicer phone than the iPhone 5 (or the 5s, I believe). It feels solid in your hand, and I think it looks quite nice. I’m actually getting really tired of the idea that companies need to copy off Apple’s design standards in order to get a nice-looking device (see: HTC One, Samsung S series, etc.). The Nexus might be plastic, but that’s not a bad thing. I appreciate the screen size increase and the increased pixel density. Apple’s retina displays come nowhere near a quality 1080p screen. The only thing I will give Apple victory here is the headphone amplifier (negligible differences, but noticeable if you have a nice pair of headphones) and the camera. I don’t use my nice headphones with my phone most of the time anyhow, and I’m not much for phone photography, so those were not problems for me. Speed? Responsiveness? I think that we’re talking about high-end enough devices that that the differences are negligible. I pay only the slightest bit of attention to benchmarks – they really can’t tell you about the experience of using the actual phone. Given that, I think that the Nexus 5 feels much snappier than my iPhone 5, but the 5s brings the two fairly close.
Did I miss anything from iOS? Yes. I think a lot of Apple’s gestures make a lot more sense than Google’s gestures. For instance, the back button on Android: it’s still a very confusing idea, even after having been using the Nexus for the last month or so. It removes the obvious separation from, say, the home screen to an app. The fact that I have two buttons that will send me home is strange. The back button, if it exists at all, should exist within the application I am using, not as an OS-wide control. Another issue I’ve been having is with bluetooth and my Fitbit. I have a Fitbit Flex that I used to have syncing with my iPhone 5 with no problems at all, but every day or so I have to restart my Nexus in order to clear up the syncing problems that inevitably occur. Otherwise, my gripes are few and far between. Application selection is becoming less and less of a problem (though I would love to see Twitterrific for Android), and I can usually find whatever I need.
To sum up my experience, I was curious. I had never really given Android a shot because the one experience I had with it (back in the Gingerbread days, I believe) was really miserable. Android has come a long way, though, and now it barely edges iOS in terms of operation. It feels more functional, it looks nicer, and I think I can rely on Google to innovate more than I can Apple. That last sentence is a long time coming. I know it’s vogue to criticize Apple for losing its touch since the iPhone, but I really think that they are now a brand. They have a featureset and a slew of platforms on which to deliver that featureset. Google has its own, and quite frankly, Google’s promise is better than Apple’s. The hardware is negligibly different. The execution is negligibly different. When I think about where the future is headed, though, Google will win this one, for better or for worse, and it shows. Google knows everything about me, and if they keep delivering with awesome new services as they have been over the last several years, then I’m glad they know everything about me. Apple just doesn’t have that.