Last week, T-Mobile announced they’d pay your Early Termination Fee to switch from another carrier to T-Mobile. I had been thinking about trying out an Android phone for a while, and the Nexus was my top pick. I couldn’t have a Nexus on Verizon because of GSM/CDMA crap, and I wasn’t about to go back to AT&T since I left them in disgust for Verizon a year back. The T-Mobile deal was my ticket off of Verizon, which was a decent carrier if expensive, and into the Android world. The next day, I went out and swapped my iPhone 4S for a Nexus 5. I’ve been keeping notes in Evernote on my new phone about how the experiences differ.
I love the default keyboard Google put on the Nexus 5 so much. It has Swype-like functionality, from what I understand of Swype though I haven’t tried it myself, and it blows the iPhone keyboard out of the water. You have to tap-tap-tap away at your iPhone keyboard, which can already be frustrating because the screen is so much smaller than my Nexus 5’s. You can get downright lazy with the Android keyboard. I wave my finger about, brushing it in the general vicinity of the letters I want, and the bastard somehow knows what I was trying to type. Even when it doesn’t, it offers a list of suggestions, one of which is usually correct. The iPhone offers a single suggestion for a word it wants to autocorrect for you, and you have to tap it to cancel the suggestion otherwise it overwrites what you just typed. There’s no list of alternatives for what you might have meant, possibly because there isn’t enough room to display such a list.
Large, pretty screen
The feature that made me want to try an Android phone in the first place was being on a road trip with a friend who had a Galaxy S3. I was put in charge of the music, handled via Rdio on his phone. The screen was ridiculous. I could set my dainty iPhone 4S on top of his Galaxy and it seemed like the whole iPhone could fit in just the screen real estate of the Galaxy. It’s the same with my Nexus. I’m a lady and I don’t have particularly big hands, but the Nexus does not feel too big for me. It fits comfortably when I’m browsing on it as well as talking. I know the iPhone 5 is taller with that extra row of icons, but honestly, it’s still too small. The iPhone just feels so cramped. I hated trying to browse the Internet on it, while that’s actually pretty fun on my Nexus.
Widgets are neat. I discovered Dashclock and set it up with multiple extensions, so as soon as I unlock my phone I see a big display of the current time, date, and unread counts on different messaging platforms, if I have any missed messages. I’ve also been playing around with widgets that list latest stories from Reddit and other sites, to see what is most convenient and interesting for me. Even if I don’t use widgets for anything more than a giant clock and some message indicators, it’s still a step further than anything I had on my unjailbroken iPhone.
Fucking iOS 7 autocorrect was a pain in my damn ass. iOS 6 seemed all right, it would mostly be correct and mostly stay out of my way. Something happened in iOS 7 to make autocorrect very eager such that many times it would “correct” something I had intentionally typed, and I wouldn’t notice the correction until I had already hit another key. To fix this, I would have to backspace over the miscorrection and retype what I wanted, sometimes having to pay close attention to cancel out of the suggestion before it could apply it automatically. Autocorrect was helpful enough with common typos that I didn’t want to turn it off entirely, but when it got too invasive it was a real nuisance. It would change correctly spelled words if I typed a phrase that seemed too uncommon, I suppose. On Android, if autocorrect fixes what it thinks is a typo, I just hit backspace once and it reverts to what I originally typed. This is like Microsoft Word behavior, and it’s what I expect. I also have the option to add words to my personal dictionary right then, instead of entering them in some obscure settings panel that I might not remember to do.
Word suggestions while typing
Along with autocorrect comes suggestions for other words while I’m typing. Normally I’m swiping my finger along and don’t lift up mid-word, but if I am hunting-and-pecking for some reason, perhaps spelling out a word I don’t think is in the dictionary, it’s nice to see words already spelled out that I can just tap to insert. It’s like typing on the Playstation: don’t make me write it all out if you already know what I’m trying to say. The iPhone will make a single suggestion at a time, while my Nexus offers at least three.
Scrobble music to Last.fm from different apps
I use Last.fm to track my music listening history and I like for every song I listen to to be scrobbled. In iOS, this means the app I’m using to listen to music has to have Last.fm integration built into it. Most of the time that’s fine because I prefer Rdio and it has scrobbling support, but for apps like Soundcloud that eschew Last.fm, I’m out of luck. My Android phone feels more like a miniature computer, letting me do what I want with it. Stuff just feels more relaxed, so an app like Simple Last.fm Scrobbler can exist. That app supports many other apps, paying attention to whatever app I’m playing music from and sending scrobbles off to Last.fm for me.
Global “back” button
I’m reading through my Twitter feed when I find a link that interests me. I tap it and Chrome opens the link. I read the article and want to return to my Twitter feed. On my iPhone, I would press the Home button and browse through my screens to find the Twitter app, or double-click the Home button and swipe over to Twitter again. Both routes feel more arduous to me than just tapping the dedicated ‘back’ button on my Nexus, which pops me back out of Chrome and returns me to the spot I left off at in my Twitter feed. The ‘back’ button on my Nexus is an on-screen button, not a physical button on the device, and I prefer it this way.
Beyond the convenience of going back through a trail of applications, the Android ‘back’ button will take me back through the different panels and screens within a single app. On the iPhone, navigating this way differed by app. Going back is such a common, universal thing that I like having a button in the same place for every app that does just that.
No physical Home button
There’s something about having a real, clickable button that bothers me. I used the Home button so much on my iPhone and I didn’t like doing so. That one button is so overloaded with functionality, double- and triple-clicking it to produce different effects than a single click. I prefer the Android route of not having physical buttons and instead offering more on-screen buttons with dedicated features.
Dedicated single-tap button for app switching
Switching apps on my iPhone felt like a second-class operation, like something I ought not necessarily be doing. It feels very much a main feature on my Android because the button is right there, always available, and its sole purpose is to switch between running apps. A single tap rather than a hasty double-click lies between me and the other apps I was just looking at.
Dedicated button for hiding the keyboard
Likewise, I like having a button to let me hide the keyboard when I’m done with it. On my iPhone, when I would post an entry on Tumblr or a link on Reddit, if I wanted to preview what my post would look like before I submitted it, I had to find some piece of screen real estate not taken up by a form field and tap it, hoping the keyboard would slide out of view and stop blocking half my screen. On my Nexus, when the keyboard is out, the ‘back’ button is a little collapse arrow that, when tapped, hides the keyboard. When the keyboard is hidden, the button looks like a normal ‘back’ button. I find this pretty intuitive, and it’s nice not to have to tap various places on the screen to get the keyboard out of my way.
Sharing between apps
There is no universal sharing that I’ve seen between apps in iOS. If you’re reading an article in one app and want to post it to a particular site using another app, you better hope the app in which you’re reading thought to add that other app as a place to share to. This leads to using a lot of popular apps, because why would you use some little-known app when all the apps in which you consume content don’t support it? If your app of choice isn’t listed in the share menu, you have to find some way to copy the content or link you’re interested in, load up the app you want to share it in, and paste it in yourself. Android is lovely in this regard. Every news reader I’ve tried has a share button, and that share button lets me see every app that might do something with the content I’m trying to share. Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, Hangouts, Pocket, my email… everything is there. It’s smart about it, too, asking me which Google account I want to use and which Hangout I want to post a link in when I share to Hangouts, or which tags I want to add when posting to Pocket. Sharing content between apps is just easier on my Nexus than it was on my iPhone.
Choice of default apps
If I didn’t like the keyboard Google provided, I could change that. When I wanted to try a different icon theme and launcher, I had the option to change that. I didn’t like Hangouts handling my text messages (more on that in the cons section below) so I set 8sms, an app I downloaded from the Play store, to handle those. When I tried to crop a photo for the first time, it asked me whether I wanted Gallery or Photos to handle that operation, and it offered to remember my choice for the future. You don’t get that kind of customization in iOS. I never got into using the Chrome browser on my iPhone because any time you went to open a link in another app, Safari would open it. If you don’t like how one of the default apps works, too bad, because any alternative is a second-class citizen on the iPhone. Want to get your directions using Google Maps instead of Apple Maps? Sorry, Siri will only open Apple Maps for you.
Curated list of apps on home screen is separate from complete list of apps
On the iPhone if you’ve installed an app, it’s on your home screen. You may have stuck it in a folder and moved that folder to its own screen way off to the right, but it’s there. On Android, there’s a master list of installed apps that is separate from your home screen. I have some apps that I want to be able to access if I need them but that I don’t use on a daily basis. If I’m not using an app like at least once a day, I don’t want it in my face. It’s a mindset of an app I’ll casually browse as I see it, like Flipboard, versus one I use for a specific task that I seek out, like 1Password Reader. So I keep my daily apps on the home screen, arranged how I like, and Android keeps a master list in alphabetical order of every app I have installed, tucked away behind a single on-screen button tap if I need them. This also means that I don’t have a “Google Crap” folder equivalent to the “Apple Crap” folder that existed on my iPhone as well as my iPad; I just don’t need you, Compass, Stocks, and Game Center.
I love how, when I have a new notification, I see a little icon in the top bar specific to that notification. If I just installed three apps, I see three instances of the same icon in my notification bar. There are no different categories for missed notifications, all notifications, etc. like in iOS 7. It’s just a simple, straightforward list of crap that happened while I was away. I can swipe notifications away without having to load the actual app. I haven’t once had the problem on my Nexus that I did on my iPhone where I have lots of meaningless notifications from apps I don’t care about from months ago. I never used the notification center in iOS because it was cluttered. Too much text, things run together, and outdated notifications. I tried to turn off all the notifications I could for most apps because they were more an annoyance than anything. Did I want badges or popups? How about sounds? Do I want the app to show up in notification center? Blecch, I don’t want to mess with all that, and I pretty much didn’t want the shit notifications different apps would give me. It’s been overall simpler and easier to manage on my Android phone than the iPhone.
I use a MacBook Air for my personal computer and a MacBook Pro as my work computer. I don’t use Safari on either of them. Chrome is my browser on both my Macs as well as my Windows gaming PC; it’s just my browser of choice wherever I’m at. It’s great to finally have it as a first-class citizen on my phone. It’s also nice having the Google account integration, which means that for frequently-visited sites, I have to type at most a couple of letters in Chrome on my phone for it to realize “hey she wants to go to that one site she always loads on her desktop, let’s autocomplete that for her on this tiny mobile device.” It’s also nice to be able to access my open tabs from my desktop on my phone. Mobile Safari had that feature, too, but since I didn’t use Safari on the desktop it wasn’t much use.
App icons stick where you place them
In iOS, your home screen is more like a list of apps than a desktop of icons. Android acts more like a computer desktop, and I prefer it this way: you can stick an app icon to the bottom right of your screen and it’ll stick there, even if it doesn’t have other app icons next to it. In iOS, that app icon would immediately snap adjacent to the previous app icon. So if you have a screen with only two icons, they will be right next to each other in the top left in iOS, whereas on Android, you could have those two icons positioned anywhere you like.
No unified inbox in Gmail app, no Archive button in Email app
I’m a little baffled by the email situation on my Nexus. I got spoiled by the default Apple Mail app and later Mailbox on my iPhone. I have my work email and my personal email, and while I want to view all new messages from them both at the same time, I don’t want them actually merged. Both are Gmail accounts, but I don’t want to set up forwarding at the Gmail level in my work email to route new messages to my personal email.
The Gmail app on my Nexus does not have a unified inbox view, so I have to tap the account selector and then choose which account I want to view. Not what I want. I tried setting up IMAP accounts in the generic Email app but I discovered it has no Archive button. I like to keep my inbox empty, archiving emails as I read them. I don’t know what Google was thinking, adding a unified inbox in their generic Email app but not their Gmail app. Luckily, I found CloudMagic, which has both a unified inbox and an Archive button. It reminds me of Mailbox, which I dearly love; I can’t wait for the Android port of Mailbox to come out.
Reminders not in Keep app
I spoke to my Nexus and told it to remind me to do something. I wanted to confirm the reminder got made correctly, so I opened the Keep app, expecting the reminder to show up there. No dice, there weren’t any reminders listed. I searched around the Internet and discovered that when you tell your Nexus to remind you of something, they get tucked away on the Google Now screen. So you swipe left, scroll to the bottom, find the little finger-with-a-ribbon-tied-on icon and tap that, and that’s where your reminders are listed. Why have this whole app – Keep – focused on reminders and notes if you don’t actually use it, Google?
No touch to scroll to top
One simple gesture I sorely miss from iOS is being able to tap the notification bar once to scroll to the top of whatever app I’m in. Reading a long Twitter feed, scrolled to the bottom of a long web page, whatever; you touch that notification bar, you’re going straight to the top. It’s a universal thing in iOS, and I haven’t found its like in Android. You just have to flick your finger really fast and be patient, manually scrolling to the top.
Google Maps prefers old route over my just-spoken route
I used the Google Maps app to look up a latitude and longitude. I looked up directions from my current location to there, but I didn’t actually start the navigation because I only wanted an overview of how long it would take me to drive there. Some time later, I spoke aloud to my phone, asking it for directions to a different address. It loaded the Maps app but instead of being to the address I had just told it, it still had directions to the latitude and longitude from earlier. It was immediately obvious, because the lat/long pair was some 40 minutes away, while the address I had just asked it about was for a destination maybe five minutes away. I tried asking it again, not wanting to type the address myself. Again, Google Now showed the address, correctly interpreted from my spoken words, but when it took me to the Maps app, it was still showing the lat/long directions. I ended up having to hit the ‘back’ button while in Maps until it returned me to just showing the map with my current location. Then I was able to say to my phone ‘directions to X’ and when it loaded Maps for me, it loaded the directions to the place I had asked it.
I definitely think any voice commands should take precedence over previous results. If I’m asking my phone something, it’s usually when I’m in a hurry and I want results now dammit, so don’t make me dick around with crap I cared about two days ago, just show me the answer I asked you for a minute ago.
Lost text messages in Hangouts
I had had my new phone for a few days when I realized I hadn’t received any text messages. I sent a couple out to friends, asking them to please respond once they got my message. Nothing. I sent an email to my mom, asking if she had received my text; yes, and she had responded. Hmm. I searched around online and saw some people had issues with Hangouts for SMS messages, so I downloaded 8sms and changed it to my default text message app. Bam! I started receiving text messages.
No custom text abbreviations
In iOS, you can set up custom abbreviations that, when typed, will immediately be autocorrected to a set phrase. I assigned
@@ to expand to my full email address, which is quite handy for filling out forms. I wish Android had the equivalent. It would make signing into different apps and web sites much faster.
Edit: Redditors pointed me to the Kii Keyboard, which allows custom text shortcuts. They also directed me to the built-in personal dictionary, which lets you set shortcuts. I discovered with the built-in personal dictionary, shortcuts don’t automatically convert into the full word, the full word just shows up as a suggestion and you can tap it to replace the text. With the Kii Keyboard text shortcuts, they autocorrect as soon as you type the shortcut, replacing the text with your desired replacement. I couldn’t get my usual
@@ to work in either case, but using three letters from my email address that I wouldn’t normally type together works fine.
So those are the things I’ve noticed after a week of use. The iPhone 3G was my first smartphone and I used it until I finally upgraded to the 4S a year ago. The only tablets I’ve had have been the iPad 2 and now the iPad Air. I’ve been an iOS user for years and it was all I had ever known. I got curious about how the other side lived, especially after noticing the majority of my coworkers used Android phones and seeing how large and pretty their screens were. I got tired of iOS after iOS 7 came out and I realized it felt dull. There was nothing that excited me about iOS 7. I was indifferent about the UI changes after using it for a time, and I was ready for a change. My current opinion is that I will not be returning to an iPhone when I upgrade from my Nexus 5 in a year or two. I’m still happy with my iPad Air, but I do find myself frustrated by its keyboard and the overexcited autocorrect. I find it easier to type on my Android phone than on the larger keyboard of my iPad, and that’s saying something. I’m excited about exploring the world of Android apps that I’m now exposed to, and all the customization options that are available to me.