The Nexus 5 just released! And, I've been Android-curious for a while.
Smartphones aren't perfect
There were so many drawbacks for power users not found on other phones at the time… like a lack of copy-and-paste, lack of internet tethering, the inability to attach a photo to an email after you'd drafted it, etc. — The simplicity drove me away.
I didn't switch back to iOS until the iPhone 4, and had adopted a BlackBerry until then for its previously superior communications and ability to do things like tethering, copy-and-paste, and the ability to attach a photo to an email after you'd drafted it. 😂
Things like the Retina screen on the iPhone 4 didn't really matter to me at first, but I quickly began to love the device and appreciate iOS more as well thereafter. — My main requirement, though, was that I didn't want my phone to get in my way.
The Android OS itself looks great from the pictures. I was excited! And yet, I kept hearing random tidbits from people about how Android “sucks” or how it was a “UX nightmare.” — Also, I'd heard about how nearly every Android phone has a “terrible camera.”
The most uniform complaint was the inconsistent experience across carrier builds and the inconsistent customization of the OS by various manufacturers. — These companies would apply their own custom software interface “skins” and “bundled apps” (bloatware) that generally varies from tolerable to terrible. The Nexus 5 avoids all of this by shipping with the latest, vanilla, updatable build of Android… straight from Google, with no added “bloatware.” 👍🏻
But, switching now wasn't the right choice
Many of the people trash-talking Android have never really used it. Many of them also haven't used the latest updates, either. — But, Android is just so close to being good, while just not really being quite there for me.
On paper (or in mind), the Nexus 5 may seem like the ideal phone: simple, discreet looking hardware with vanilla Android and no carrier bloatware! It had the latest Android v4.4 “KitKat” pre-installed, an integrated Google cloud-based backup service, and the rest of Google's services (email, calendar, etc.) built-in. Nice!?
… What's not to like? Even my iPhone 5s on iOS 7 does a “meh” job of supporting Gmail and Google Calendar, to this day! — It certainly didn't help that the best way to support Google's services is through the Microsoft Exchange protocol, and support for this for most customers was discontinued. (Seriously.)
The only things on the iPhone that I really had to walk away from were the iTunes desktop software and iMessage. — So far, I've been a huge fan of iTunes Match, Apple's cloud-based tool for syncing large music libraries across multiple devices. Things like star ratings, play counts, and music metadata sync effortlessly between devices over-the-air, and you can maintain a single music library with only occasional fragmentation.
iMessage is totally replaceable, but getting your friends to agree on a service that's not already built into their phones is a bit trickier than it sounds. — SMS is a rip-off and has other constraints, so nobody wants to use that, and yet iMessage is only on iPhone… so the only consistent cross-platform and cross-user alternative is paying per-message through typical carrier communication channels right now.
Still, I was willing to give Android a go, even without iMessage and iTunes.
Roadblock #1: No way to “undo” text-edits!
This, honestly, I couldn't believe. — Accidentally delete half of an email on your Android phone by hitting a key with text selected? Don't worry, just pull the battery and hope that it hasn't synced to the cloud yet!
Oh wait, the Nexus 5 doesn't have a removable battery! …Better quickly pull the SIM card, then! 🤬 — You'll need to carry that SIM card eject tool around, or always have a paperclip… or better yet, just get your ear or nose pierced and wear a straight-studded piercing! Just kidding, haha. 🤣
Either way, this is a completely ridiculous omission in my opinion. Typos happen, especially on touchscreens. — The iPhone and iOS offer this in virtually any situation with its “shake-to-undo” implementation and for nearly any of your changes when typing. Android users, on the other hand, either expect developers themselves to implement this behavior inconsistently on an app-by-app basis, or are expected to install a third-party keyboard that somehow offers this functionality on its own. 😞
Roadblock #2: Lack of straightforward device backup methods
I hate setting up new phones and computers from scratch. — I'd rather have the option to restore from a backup, tweak a few settings, and be done in an hour (or less).
Logging into every single app or account, having to completely reconfigure each homescreen + app folder, retype my owner information from scratch, etc. That's all a huge waste of time. — Meanwhile, it's 2013 and I honestly still do not know how to correctly and securely backup an Android phone. This makes me… nervous. Where is Google on this? Can't they release a tool, or a service? …Oh wait, they did!
… Or, they tried to? By default, Android v4.4 “KitKat” enables a cloud-based backup service automatically. You can turn it off (and might as well), but supposedly it will restore any new Android device with your same apps and settings automatically just by logging into one's Google Account.
“Where's all my stuff?!” … was the first question I asked myself after testing it:
The only custom configured thing that eventually reappeared was my wallpaper. None of my preferences, apps and their preferences/logins, my homescreen organization or its preferences were ever restored by Google's backup system. — These things are important to me, and Android completely discarded them.
In my experience, after doing a test-wipe of an Android device, it restores nothing except for my wallpaper and apps list. I tried it two or three times, actually. — After making a ton of configuration changes and customizations… such as downloading add-ons and setting preferences within Google's own apps, changing the settings in third-party apps, changing device preferences such as “owner information,” etc. …Nothing is restored except the wallpaper and apps list each time! Not the homescreen, no custom folders, no organization, nothing! Why would I want to redo all of this when I should be able to just restore from a backup?
…Maybe I'd somehow done something wrong. I figured I'd give it yet another try. I reconfigured some of my apps and accounts, downloaded a podcast, and then added a VPN to the phone. — I then let the phone sit overnight with Google's backup configured, re-wiped it, and restored it again. Still, nothing came back. …How is this a backup at all? 🤬
To summarize, Google's “backup” service for Android v4.4 KitKat is not actually a backup service but a “service in progress.”
Roadblock #3: Can't manually re-focus the video camera
I absolutely love traveling with a smartphone.
Walking in foreign cities and having both Google Maps for directions and text-messaging to communicate with local friends is a lot of fun and something that we couldn't really do a few years ago. — Having a podcast or two for ambiance while riding the local public transit is nice, and the device even has a built-in flashlight for trying to read a paper map in the dark. Smartphones are great!
Android makes an epic fail for travelers that like to shoot video, though. One cannot simply refocus the video camera by tapping a subject on the screen. — Doing this, instead, takes a blurry picture of the blurry video! 🤬
The camera can only auto-focus (not manual focus) when recording a video. This is absolutely ridiculous! — I would never travel with a phone like this. It could ruin entire videos that cannot later be recreated.
Roadblock #4: Can't change disk encryption password without “rooting” the device
This, by far, is the most technical and paranoid out of all of the roadblocks. But, I figured I'd mention it anyway. — For the most part, I could care less about rooting my phone because I just want it to work. However, if you do lose your device, why would you want people to be able to easily access your data? …Set a password!
Here's the thing: Typing a password to unlock your phone every time that you want to use it is annoying. The root theme of this blogpost is smartphones ideally not wasting one's time and getting in one's way, but by typing a password every single time you want to access your phone, you're breaking your focus when you just want to use a particular app!
Apple's fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5s does a great job of saving some time for users, but the best thing about it is that you can set a much longer and more secure password due to the ease of unlocking the device in most situations just by touching your finger to the home button.
The ability to set a longer device password (that is more secure and difficult to crack quickly) is also somewhat available on Android through the “disk encryption” password. The device prompts for this on boot, if enabled, but never again until the device is powered-down or restarted. Then, it only requires the standard device password once fully-booted. — This approach is actually pretty solid considering that anyone wanting to rip the data from the device would need to figure out the longer password, and the shorter password can only be attempted a fixed number of times before the device itself locks up entirely.
The annoying thing, though, is that by default Android v4.4 KitKat automatically changes your disk encryption password to be the same as the device password whenever the device password is changed. There is no way to separately change the disk encryption password by default! You can't easily set two passwords without manually rooting the phone and changing one (but not the other) through the terminal. — That is just silly.
I don't want to root my phone! …Why can't we do this without doing that? 😞
Roadblock #5: External hardware incompatibility, buying all new headphones
There are a ton of accessories available for iPhone, iPad, etc.
Even though Apple changed its connector to be smaller last year, there has since been a surge of new devices that are compatible with the newer Apple Lightning connector. That's even considering that it doesn't directly provide an analog output, and is therefore more challenging and costly to interface with.
Before, car stereos were a sore-spot for non-Apple device manufacturers. — Most automakers focused on being “iPod ready,” which left the Zune and other players alienated. Eventually, though, most settled on the more common USB standard.
While nearly all of our consumer audio devices share the 3.5mm headphone jack (and have since before I was born), my Apple EarPods don't function properly with Android phones! — Even my Mac can accept remote commands from and utilize the microphone of these. There is apparently no uniform standard for this protocol.
My Nexus 5 didn't come with headphones nor a remote, but the phone was cheap… so I wouldn't have minded buying some separately. While I would have missed the fact that Apple warranties their headphones and chargers that ship with new devices alongside the devices' actual warranties (offering free replacements)… I still can't believe that every device's headphones aren't interchangeable at this point, regardless of brand!
How to solve this? Well, there is a way to make Android understand both Apple and other third-party iPhone compatible headphones using resistors (see photo above), but possibly at the expense of the durability of the headphones themselves and the cost of a bunch of time and effort.
Aside from headphones, though, it's the small things that you don't expect. — When my friend Paul Stamatiou (who famously wrote that “Android is better”) and I were both in Japan recently, he mentioned that his Android phone didn't support the SIM card rentals at the airport. Our mutual friend Anand had no issues with his iPhone 5 (with a standard nano-sized SIM card rental), but Paul was left carrying a rental Wi-Fi hotspot in his camera bag for the whole trip.
The strength of Android being “more popular” in terms of devices sold than iPhone seems like a bunch of statistical noise in the realm of third-party hardware manufacturers.
As mentioned, after trying the first iPhone, I used a BlackBerry until iOS 4 and the iPhone 4. — I may have a set of specific basic expectations that others don't share as strongly… but I digress.
There are a lot of anti-Apple or anti-Android people that have never actually used the other platform for more than five minutes. — I'm lucky to have played with iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Android all in both physical and emulated forms, and I can say that they all have their strengths and weaknesses.
But, it's late 2013. — I don't feel like anything that I wrote about above (except maybe #5) should be an issue at this point. Most iPhone users would agree.
Power users are used to getting things done routinely. BlackBerry, for example, had a cast-iron grip for a long time with business customers and those who wanted powerful mobile communications. — Power users take advantage of the devices that they carry and their abilities to get things done in the minimal amount of time from anywhere and with the most flexibility possible. While some say that Apple doesn't offer enough flexibility with its closed hardware/software ecosystem, it seems like they at least understand the basic needs of their users for undoing text edits, for example. Maybe more power users who care about mobile-efficiency stick with iPhone in the end.
Power users are also going to be skeptical of a device that's not easily restorable from a backup. — Travelers aren't going to want to record out-of-focus videos while on “once in a lifetime” trips. Parents won't want to miss the opportunity to capture a clear video of their children's first words, etc.
I'm just going to go ahead and return my #Nexus5. I feel like I'm using 1000 chewing-gum 3rd-party apps to try to fix basic UX fails.— Ben Guild (@benguild) November 11, 2013
Next year I can potentially see myself rocking a Retina iPad Mini and an Android phone.
But, for now, I'd rather be able to undo text edits. And, I'd rather not have to install a million third-party fixes, and then worry about losing them all when restoring from a backup, either. 😕