Nexus and iPhone
Anyone who knows me knows I’m an unabashed Apple fan. My recommendation for any new computer purchase is always, without fail, buy a Mac.
I use Macs. Not out of love for the company, but out of love for not having to concern myself with endless configuration hassles.
By contrast, Windows lacks a viable and useful Unix underpinning. Desktop Linux is a labour born of enjoying system configuration; an endless parade of poor GUI interoperability and setup hassle.
OSX, for me, just works. There’s certainly issues, like needing Homebrew or Macports, and the trend towards a more locked-down environment, but on the whole it’s just better.
I have an iPhone for the same reason; my original Galaxy S was often slower than my first-generation iPhone. Apps, at the time, were often poorly-designed and somewhat user-hostile. By geeks, for geeks, lacking a culture of design feedback.
It was very similar to the desktop Linux experience, and I hated every minute of it.
For the Firefox OS Dev Day, I wanted a handset to test on; my app requires development hardware.
Mobile Firefox runs on Android. Many of my friends and acquaintances have Nexus 4 handsets, and I loved the look and feel of the handset.
I failed my roll vs. Shiny Technology.
Since the abysmal Galaxy S, this is the first time I’ve used a modern Android phone for an extended period of time. It’s certainly the first Nexus I’ve ever used; the Nexus One was too poorly designed, the Nexus S came out right after I’d purchased the Galaxy.
Always intended as a reference for a given release of Android, what the Nexus 4 really shows me is what Android can be, when sufficient love and care is applied.
A Love Letter to LG and Google
The Nexus 4 has been my primary handset for over a month now; previously I was using an iPhone 4S. I’ve often been told that I am extremely demanding of my devices; requiring that what they are is amazing.
The Nexus 4 doesn’t piss me off like the Galaxy S or Nokia N9 did. It fits its role in my life beautifully.
It’s fast enough
The Galaxy S and every other Android handset I had opportunity to use was slow.
Pick your synonym, but they were all frustratingly unusable; ceasing to respond to input, halting the music playback, not responding to the home button. Lost in I/O wait or a stop-the-world GC event.
Jelly Bean was intended as the point where Google said “this lag thing sucks”, and it finally shows. The Nexus 4 is buttery smooth and feels good to use.
The specs of the device don’t really matter; the iPhone was able to do more user-responsive input with less hardware, so this was really an optimisation issue.
4.2 is optimised enough that I don’t notice it anymore, and that’s great.
Replacable App Handlers
I run Firefox as the default browser on my phone. No one has to write custom hacks just to support Firefox, no one has to do any special cases. I click a link, it opens in Firefox.
Easy, neat, and delightful.
I suspect this works the same for Email, Calendaring, and other core parts of the experience.
More than anything, though, it’s nice to be able to configure just a little further, use what I want to use.
It’s Big Enough
This one really surprised me; I’d bought the Apple line about 3.5″ being the right size. The iPhone 5 looked weird to me, and I didn’t like it.
The Nexus 4, while huge compared to the iPhone 4S? Finally feels like the right size for my hands. I don’t feel cramped trying to type.
The Industrial Design is Brilliant
I said it before, and I’ll say it until another manufacturer tops it, but LG nailed it.
The Nexus 4 is the first Android phone to have good design. Someone loved the physical feel of this phone; someone paid extremely close attention to the why of the iPhone 4 and 4S. Discovered what mattered about with the N9.
They answered, what’s most important and critical to the user, using the device.
It’s solidly weighty; the dual-glass is smooth and pleasant. There’s no extraneous buttons, trim, or weird bulges. The back has the subtle, understated grid effect.
There’s no carrier or vendor garbage that pollutes so many devices.
It’s just beautiful.
The Default Swipe Keyboard is Brilliant
It’s like Swype, only built-in! This is often much nicer than two-thumb typing.
Holding in one hand, drawing on the keyboard with the other? This interaction feels right. Typing on my iPhone now feels irritating, painful, and cramped.
When I initially used the Galaxy S, the apps were crap. Nowadays, there’s often design sense on par with iOS apps, and there’s less of a delta for interesting apps not being on both platforms.
There’s more garbage on the store, and piracy makes ad-centric apps unfortunately more prevalent. What’s for sale is good, and I’m not unhappy.
Battery Life is Good Enough
It lasts all day under my normal heavy use, similar in length to how long my iPhone 4S lasts in a similar usage pattern.
What I Don’t Love
The Camera is Meh
The iPhone 4S appears to take better pictures, have a better focussing element, or my Nexus was damaged somehow, but photos I take are blurrier, have a harder time focussing, and other problems.
I’m often left unimpressed by what I see.
Photos viewed on the screen after the fact look decent, though. It’s hard to tell what the real problems are.
Music Syncing is Atrocious
Disclaimer: Google Music is not available in New Zealand
Seriously, how is this not a solved problem? iTunes does a brilliant job of syncing stuff to my iPhone. Plug in, sync go.
No one else seems remotely capable of making a useful syncing program. Android continues to be no exception.
I’m ending up building my own wireless sync system just so I can get music onto my phone.
It gets Really Hot
Like, nearly burningly so. I understand this is an issue more with the CPU throttling and power management than any fundamental flaw with the hardware, but this really needs to be addressed.
While the apps are there, and the design is improving, there’s still big deltas from the consistent design quality of top iPhone apps.
Nothing on the level of Reeder for iPhone, for instance. The official Twitter client is awful.
The lack of design culture is partly to blame, but I’d also be more than happy to blame the terrible developer environment.
The Development Environment is Awful
I saw a link to this kickstarter project, which looks an awful lot like Interface Builder.
Eclipse is something of a nightmare of undiscoverable functionality; puzzling out what to do to get started with app development is nearly impossible.
An Interface Builder lookalike is being developed 25 years after NeXT shipped theirs.
It’s not friendly, and I’m looking for great resources to make it friendlier.
I love the Share context menu; anything can register as a target for receiving and sharing content. Adding things to Instapaper is a dream, for instance.
But once basic apps are installed, everything seems to show up in the Share menu.
I really wish there was a useful way of trimming this back.
The Browsers are Worse than Safari
I’m not quite sure how to say this; Mobile Safari is an incredible feat of engineering.
Mobile Chrome and Mobile Firefox really, truly aren’t.
Firefox is definitely much smoother and faster than Chrome, but both, from a UI standpoint, lag significantly behind Safari.
Again, probably to blame on the lack of UI or design culture.
It’s a good piece of hardware. It works exceedingly well as my primary platform, save for the minor irritations listed above.
Some are fixable, like horrifyingly bad music sync or terrible development environment. Excellent strides are being made.
Others aren’t, like the poor camera performance or thermal issues. The hardware is great, but not quite excellent.
Overall, LG and Google have finally made an Android phone worth buying, and that’s something to respect and enjoy. I’m happy to have switched as my primary platform.