The Nexus 5! I'd been Android-curious for a while. Aside from losing iMessage access, I was honestly willing to give it a solid “go”. Maybe I could get all of my friends to use Google Hangouts instead? Ha.
I hated the original iPhone. Things like copy-and-paste, lack of 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 then 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 the time, but I quickly began to love the device and appreciate iOS 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 heard about how nearly every Android phone had a “terrible camera”.
The most uniform complaint was the inconsistent experience across carrier builds and the inconsistent customization by various manufacturers. These parties would apply their own custom software interface “skins” and “bundled Apps” (bloatware) that generally varied 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 “bloatware”.
Switching now wasn't the right choice.
Many of the people trash-talking Android have never used it. Many people trash-talking anything have never used the latest version of that something.
Android is so close, but just not quite there for me. — On paper (or in mind), the Nexus 5 seemed 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 services, and the rest of Google's services and email/calendar built-in. Nice!?
What's not to like? Even my iPhone 5S on iOS 7 does a half-assed job of supporting Gmail and Google Calendar, still, to this day! — It certainly didn't help that the best way to support Google's services is through Microsoft Exchange. (seriously, until they decided to discontinue it for most customers)
The only things on the iPhone that I really had to walk away from were iTunes 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, 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 so nobody wants to use it, and yet iMessage is only on iPhone and the only consistent alternative to paying per-message for most users not following the “App craze”.
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 into the cloud yet!
Oh wait, the Nexus 5 doesn't have a removable battery. Better pull the SIM card! … You need to carry that SIM card removal tool around like for the iPhone. Always have a paperclip, or better just get your ear or nose pierced and wear a straight-studded piercing. I used to borrow friends' earrings to switch SIM cards in my iPhone when I was in India.
Either way, this is a completely ridiculous omission in my opinion. Typos happen, especially on a touchscreen. The iPhone and iOS offers this in any situation with its “shake” to undo/redo nearly any of your changes when typing. Android users, on the other hand, either expect developers themselves to implement this behavior 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. I'd rather 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 your Google Account.
Instead: “Where's all my stuff?!” … was the first question I asked myself after testing it:
I already know what a folder is! — 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 discarded them.
In my experience, after doing a test-wipe of my 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 done something wrong. I figured I'd give it another try. I reconfigured some of my Apps and accounts, downloaded a podcast, and added a VPN to the phone. I then let the phone sit overnight with Google's backup configured, wiped it, and finally restored it. Nothing came back. How is this a backup?
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 my smartphones. Walking in foreign cities and having both Google Maps for directions and Facebook Messenger to communicate with local friends is a lot of fun and something 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 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 (as I do): One cannot simply re-focus the video camera by tapping a subject on the screen. Tapping the screen takes a blurry picture of the blurry video…
The camera only auto-focuses when recording in video mode. This is absolutely atrocious. 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’
This, by far, is the most technical and paranoid out of all of the roadblocks. 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 you want to use it is annoying. The root theme of this blogpost is smartphones ideally not wasting one's time, but by typing a password every single time you want to access your phone you're sure wasting a lot of it!
Apple's fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5S does a nice job of saving some time for those 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 using your unique fingerprint(s).
The ability to set a longer device password (that is more secure and difficult to crack) is also somewhat available on Android through the disk encryption password. The device prompts for it on boot, if enabled, and never again until the device is powered-down or restarted. Then, it only requires the device password from there on out. — 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 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 maintain two passwords without manually rooting the phone and changing one but not the other through the terminal. — That is just silly!
I don't necessarily want to root my phone! Why can't we do this?
Roadblock #5: External hardware incompatibility, buying all new headphones
There are a ton of accessories available for iPhones, iPads, 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 Lightning connector. That's even considering that it doesn't 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 computer can accept remote commands from and utilize the microphone of these (for audio/video calls). 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. While I would have missed the fact that Apple warranties their headphones and chargers that ship with new devices alongside devices' actual warranties (with free replacements) … I still can't believe that every device's headphones aren't interchangeable at this point.
There is a way to make Android understand both Apple and third-party iPhone compatible headphones using resistors (see photo above), but possibly at the expense of the durability of the headphones themselves and a bunch of time/effort.
Aside from headphones, though, it's the small things that you don't expect: when 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 (+ Nano SIM rental), but Paul was left carrying a rental Wi-Fi hotspot in his camera bag.
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 have a set of specific basic expectations that others may not share as strongly… but I digress.
There are a lot of anti-Apple or anti-Android people that have actually never 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. I can say that they all have their strengths and weaknesses.
It's late 2013. I don't feel like anything I wrote about above (except maybe #5) should be an issue. Most iPhone users would agree.
Power-users are used to getting things done routinely. BlackBerry had a cast-iron grip for a long time with business customers and those who wanted powerful mobile communications. — These power-users take advantage of the devices that they use and the ability to get things done in the minimal amount of time from anywhere with the most flexibility possible. While some say that Apple doesn't offer flexibility with its closed hardware/software ecosystem, it seems that they at least understand the basic needs of their users for undoing text edits to not be an issue at this point.
Power-users are going to be skeptical of a device that's not easily restorable from a backup, or that cannot undo text edits. — 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.
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. Supposedly this first generation Retina iPad Mini's screen has some issues. I'm glad to be waiting for now. It's possible that Android will be my next mobile OS.
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.