Life after iOS

As I explained in a previous entry on Tuesday, I’ve made the decision to leave the world of Apple mobile devices for the land of Google Android. To briefly bring you up to speed:

Ever since the iPhone supported Exchange, I’ve been a huge supporter. I’ve spent two good years on the iOS with my iPhone 3G. … When the iPhone 4 was announced, I followed the WWDC keynote with great anticipation. I ooh’d and aah’d at all the advances in design and software. … (after getting it) Taking it home that night, I started to notice something was a little off with my phone. … (antenna issues) I dropped a few calls that weekend, including one to my father who seem’d to have lost my mother, but I could make due. … The view from most of the people within the Apple world was that it was firmware related, and would be quickly fixed. Then Steve Jobs opened his mouth. … I found myself deeply disappointed in the device and the operating system. Enough so that I’ve made the switch to Android.

There, now that we’re all up-to-date, I’m happy to say that my Nexus One is activated and I’ve had the last couple days to play with it. Having had experience with many different mobile device styles and platforms, including Windows Mobile, Palm OS (the original, not the WebOS) and iPhone, I can honestly say that the Nexus One and Android OS is the best mobile experience I’ve ever had.

I say play, but really, I use my phone as a tool. It’s a tool for me to communicate with friends, family and co-workers. Not just through phone calls, but SMS, email, Facebook, Twitter and IM. I need that tool to work reliably all the time, because if its not, I’m going to miss out on the important events of my life. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone with a smartphone. It’s pretty standard stuff.

I put a lot of thought into what device to make a switch to, so why did I choose the Nexus One? It’s been out since January, and can’t be considered a new device. In two weeks Motorola will release the Droid X and you can already get the HTC EVO 4G from Sprint, today.

  • I needed a solid phone, now. Not on July 15, so that made the Droid X a non-starter.
  • 2x I needed a solid phone now. Since the HTC Incredible is on backorder until the return of Jesus, it’s not an option, and thus Verizon was out since those were the only two phones I was interested in.
  • Sprint’s network in Kansas City can be considered third world, in some areas. Having experienced this while living less than 2 miles from the Sprint world headquarters in Overland Park, while using a Treo 700wx, didn’t even allow me to consider the HTC EVO 4G.
  • Everyone I know in this area is on AT&T, because unlike what you may see in San Fransisco or New York, they have the superior network in Kansas City. As a result, my entire family and a large chunk of my local friends are all on AT&T. Seeing as these are the people I communicate with most often, the free mobile-to-mobile made them an attractive network to be on. It’s also the same network I was with on my business account for the iPhone. This made transferring my number to a personal account a lot easier.
  • I was attracted to purchasing an unlocked phone and keeping myself out of a contract. Since the Nexus One came direct from Google, and not tied to the provider, I can use it on any GSM network. I realize it would limit me to only two in the US, and if I used T-Mobile on it I’d only get EDGE speeds for data, but the ability is attractive and also the ability to travel outside the US and swap SIMs without any fuss was one I added into consideration.

Ordering & Delivery

The process of ordering the phone from Google was almost flawless.

I placed an order for the out-of-contract AT&T version on June 29, for $529, at around 9AM. The web store was very straight forward and easy to use. My only complaint is that the confirmation screen can be confusing for those who don’t know which bands the AT&T phone uses vs the T-Mobile, and it doesn’t clearly say on the receipt and invoice. However, this was my only complaint. Google gave me the option to engrave a custom message on the back of the phone, for free, but said it would delay the device by up to 72 hours in shipping. Since I needed the phone by next Friday, I opted not to. If I’d known how fast things would ship, I would have reconsidered. Overnight shipping via FedEx was free. I opted to purchase an extra battery for $25.

By lunchtime Tuesday, my phone had left the Googleplex and was on it’s way to my office. By 8AM on Wednesday, it was in our campus mailroom ready to use. Less than 24 hours after I’d placed the order. Already, I’m impressed at their speed.

Build Quality

Out of the box, the build quality of the Nexus One is obvious. In your hand, it feels lighter than an iPhone 4, about the same as the 3G/3GS. Size wise, it’s slightly longer and thicker than the iPhone 4, but looks smaller than the 3G/3GS. The face is glass, wrapped in an aluminum band which crosses over the back and bottom of the face. The slightly darker plastic feels very nice to the touch, and is much easier to keep a grip on compared to the all glass back of the iPhone 4, or even the slick plastic back of the 3G/3GS. The curves are attractive, and feel very natural in your hand, compared to the squared off and ridged feel of the iPhone 4.

Other than the glass front, there are no places on the Nexus One where I feel like normal use will damage or scratch the device. The back of my iPhone 3G over the course of 2 years had normal wear and tear, but the iPhone 4 I used for a week, after three days of use, had a large scratch in the glass on the back, right where my wedding ring sits. This scratch was easily visible and easy to FEEL. My tungsten band had cut into the glass after only a short term of casual use. Two days later, another scratch appeared.

I have no indication that the Nexus One will have any of those issues.

Hardware

Apple doesn’t like to talk about the internals of their devices, unless they actually have a technical advantage over their competition, except to say that their “magical” or “amazing” — that said, others constantly tear down and analyze their equipment, so we end up knowing a good deal about them. In contrast, HTC (who makes the Nexus One) and Google (who designed it) are pretty open about the hardware specifications. Reason being, the Nexus One was designed to push mobile devices (and Android) forward, something it has been pretty successful at doing. When the Nexus One came out, the only thing to compare it to in the Apple world was the iPhone 3GS, which in a hardware tear down, the Nexus One was superior in nearly every way. Now that the iPhone 4 is out, we have something else to compare it to… and in a side by side comparison they stack up pretty well against each other.

Processor

The iPhone 4 features a “custom” ARM chip called the A4, the same chip that is in the iPad. This chip is able to run at 1GHz but the current understanding is that it’s purposefully under-clocked by Apple to reduce battery consumption and the amount of heat that it gives off in such a small body.

In comparison, the Nexus One features a 1GHz Snapdragon processor. The chip is not underclocked and can actually be over-clocked using non-stock kernels. While Apple sets their chips down a notch to keep them from heating up, I always had issues with iPhone’s being warm in my hands after long periods of use. With the Nexus One, I’ve never had that problem.

Memory

Both the Nexus One and iPhone 4 feature 512MB of RAM. The previous 3GS only had 256MB, as does the iPad.

In terms of internal storage, the iPhone has the advantage of a built in 16GB/32GB of storage. On the flip side, it is non-expandable. The Nexus One only has 512MB of internal storage for the operating system and applications, however, with Android 2.2 applications can now be installed on the external micro-SD card, which is capable of going to 32GB. Bundled with the phone, is a 4GB card.

This is a double edged sword of sorts. Trying to find 16GB microSD cards is no problem, and a great SanDisk card can be found on Newegg or Amazon for as little as $30 plus shipping. However, the jump to the 32GB cards more than quadruples the price in some cases. To be honest, I wish Google would have included a larger card as 4GB is tiny when you start adding pictures, music and video to the device. For the $529 I paid, they could have easily ponied up for a little more memory. Add-in installed applications, and it fills up quick.

The best path I’ve seen is what Motorola is planning for the upcoming Droid X. 8GB of internal storage PLUS a microSD slot able to go to 32GB WITH a 16GB included at purchase. This equals 24GB of storage for the same price (with contract) as a iPhone 4 16GB. If you’re willing to go a little farther you could surpass the max storage of the iPhone platform at 40GB. (8GB internal + 32GB expanded) — it’s my hope that this is the model that every Android phone takes in the future.

Screen

Nothing beats the “Retina Display” of the iPhone 4. Nothing. It’s superior DPI, resolution and color clarity is unparalleled. It looks good in all lighting conditions even at low brightness. It’s the one thing about the iPhone that anyone can look at and compare the previous versions and instantly see massive improvements.

However, the Nexus One screen is still very nice. A lot has been said about the PenTile display and the color clarity, and while it’s not as nice as the iPhone 4, I find it to be superior to the 3G/3GS screen, and a lot better than most other devices. It’s also slightly larger than the iPhone 4 (3.7″ vs 3.5″) which isn’t a horrible thing. I will say that it takes a little adjustment, and for someone who has smaller than average fingers, any bigger and I’d be afraid it’d be too hard to hold. This is one thing where I worry about devices like the Droid X and EVO (4.2″+), that for most users it’ll be too large to comfortably hold and type on. Some people like the large screen, I feel that the Nexus One is about the biggest I could comfortably use.

I’ve found that in low/no light, the AMOLED screen on the Nexus One is superior for long term reading compared to the iPhone 4. I like to sit in bed after my wife has gone to sleep, catch Jon Stewart or Letterman on TV and use my phone to read the news, Twitter, etc, and with the iPhone 4 my eyes would get tired and irritated quickly. With the Nexus One screen, it was much easier to use for long periods of time.

Camera

The camera on the iPhone is hard to beat. However, the Nexus One is pretty comparable. Both feature a 5MP sensor with an LED flash. However, the iPhone sensor has a lot more power behind it and as a result the color quality and speed at which the camera fires is superior. Although, the Nexus One seems to have a lot deeper depth of field and a slightly wider angle of view, resulting in images where more of it is in focus.

It’s a trade off, as an proamature photographer, the thought of having a great camera with me at all times is very appealing, and with my iPhone 3G it was my daily shooter for almost anything. There were times I’d find myself taking pictures of things where my Canon point and shoot or even my Nikon D200 DSLR would have been the far superior choice. However, as Chase Jarvis says (and wrote a book and iPhone app about) “the best camera is the one you have with you.”

When you look at color quality vs image sharpness/focus, it’s a tie. However, the speed at which the iPhone 4 is able to perform takes the cake, and when you add in 720p video out of the box (the Nexus One will do it with third party software) it’s impossible to do anything but hand it to Apple on this.

My ONE caveat in saying that, is that iOS 4 currently has a bug that adds a “green ghost” to the center of images taken under florescent lighting. However, I’m confident Apple will correct this and as pointed out to me, HTC has had issues like this in the past, and even the big dogs of Nikon and Canon who do nothing but make cameras have similar issues with their high end DSLRs that frequently require firmware updates to correct.

Android vs iOS

I could spend the next three days comparing these two operating systems, their features, multitasking abilities (or inabilities) and their quirks. But, there are already many reviews out there doing exactly that. However, I will point out a few key points that I find beneficial on each platform.

Integration

The Nexus One is probably the only fair comparison to the iPhone when it comes to the integration of hardware and software. It’s the only device that Google has had total control (along with their partner HTC) in building the device and designing the Android OS around it. Obviously this is Apple’s primary business model in all of their hardware products, and little explanation of the benefits they see from it are needed.

That said, Android is very well integrated with the Nexus One, and the entire process of using the device is nearly perfect end-to-end in terms of tie in with other Google powered services such as the Maps, Gmail, Contacts, Calendar, Google Talk, Google Voice and of course Search. The fact that every text box or search field can be powered by voice commands that are highly accurate (as long as you speak clearly) is a huge plus. In contrast, Apple has to rely on a lot of third party technologies that are integrated with the iPhone like… Google Maps and Search. Even Apple’s implementation of MobileMe as an “all in one” provider of email, calendar and contacts is somewhat flawed. My wife uses MobileMe for her primary email after purchasing a 3GS and we’re just waiting for it to expire and switch her to Gmail or Live Mail after their ActiveSync service comes online. She complains constantly about MobileMe not pushing email and about calendar events disappearing. Problems I didn’t even have with iOS tied to Microsoft Exchange 2003/2007, which always seemed to work flawlessly.

The Nexus One is pure Google, end to end. For some people who worry about what Mountain View and their datacenters are up to, that’s scary, but the device is very well integrated into all their services. It’s a total Google package, or as they put it “the Google experience.”

Notifications

The funny thing about the iPhone notifications system, is that it didn’t used to bother me, until I used the Android system and saw how far superior it is. No more hunting for desktop icons with indicators, spread across multiple screens, with Android every system or program notification is displayed in a single drop down menu at the top of the status bar. They can all be cleared with the push of one button, or opened and flipped back to the app that needs your attention. No app can overtake another app you’re viewing with random status windows, they all cleanly take their place and await your attention in the top corner.

In this area, the Android OS is superior to the iOS in every way. Maybe for iOS 5, Apple can finally implement a real notification system.

Applications

One of the things I was really worried about after making the switch, was that the applications I’d grown to love on the iPhone, wouldn’t be there on the Nexus One. I was wrong.

While the Android Market features a fraction of what the iTunes App Store has, it’s only been around a fraction of the time. The built in Twitter and Facebook applications for Android are top notch, and beautifully integrate into the Contact list on the phone, as well as flow with the rest of the Android interface. While the Twitter application lacks some of the advanced features of the official iPhone Twitter App (aka Tweetie 2) it’s still a great application. The upcoming social networking platforms like Foursquare all have their official applications, as well as many others. To my great surprise, I’ve yet to be unable to find the app I was looking for in the Market. In many cases, the application developers have ported their programs to Android and in other cases, a nearly identical program exists. I don’t do a lot of gaming on my phone, so I can’t speak to the Market vs App Store in that respect, but there are plenty of other resources that can if you know where to look.

One thing the Market has that Steve Jobs would rather die before he allows is a open submission process. There are apps in the Market that require your phone to be “rooted” to function. (For you iPhone users, root = jailbreak+) — And beyond that, with the click of check box, non-market approved applications can be installed from any source.

Updates

Because the Nexus One is the Google flagship phone, it’s been updated pretty frequently since it’s launch. Other Android phones have not been so lucky and official 2.2/Froyo updates for devices like the Droid and EVO have yet to be released, and some devices such as the Hero and Moment may never get official updates. My Nexus One came with Android 2.1 installed, and since then has been updated twice. Once as a full upgrade to Android 2.2 soon after unboxing, and again last night with a security patch. While the frequency of updates for all devices leaves something to be desired (and Apple has Google beat in this department) the method in which updates come really shakes Apple’s tree.

The over the air update process for Android is something Apple should be looking into right now, if they’re not already. I have known too many iPhone owners who’ve never even plugged their phone into a computer, let alone sync’d and updated with iTunes. As a result, people on the iPhone 3G can still be running 2.0 firmware when there is 3.1.3 or 4.0 for their consumption.

The manual update process for Android is fast, and fairly simple. On the Nexus One it’s simply a matter of copying the updated firmware to the SD card, rebooting the phone while holding down a magic button combo, and selecting the firmware update. The upgrade from 2.1 to 2.2 took around 5 minutes, and the patch last night was about 2 minutes. This includes copying the file to the card and booting the device into the update mode. Most times it takes iTunes/iPhone this long to even begin the process syncing to tell you there is an upgrade for the phone. Then there is a process of writing the entire upgraded firmware to the phone (300MB) instead of just what needs updating (900KB) — in my view, Android wins. For anyone technical enough to read this website, the manual update process should be a cakewalk.

For the average non-technical user who actually does sync, and stays up to date, the iTunes method is probably superior to the manual update method… but nothing beats over the air updates.

Final

In conclusion, I have found the Nexus One to be superior for my needs as a power user. If you’re the type of person who buys an iPhone just to jailbreak it soon after, or finds themselves restricted by Apple’s methods, then Android is the obvious choice to switch to. The Nexus One, while not fully superior hardware wise to the iPhone 4, can hold it’s own in processing power, and when combined with Google’s fully integrated and yet open platform, is a win-win.

I’ve been very happy thus far with my choice to switch, even from the latest and greatest that Apple has to offer.


Originally published at techvirtuoso.com on July 2, 2010.