My Galaxy Nexus will beat up your honor student, or why the Nexus is the best imperfect phone I’ve ever had.Posted: January 12, 2012
I posted this on “The Verge” forums a few days ago – adding here for my own edification. 🙂
I’ve never had a perfect phone. Chris Ziegler states he hopes there never IS a perfect phone (my paraphrase from his blog). The Galaxy Nexus doesn’t come anywhere close to perfection, but it has a blend of compromises that I neither mind nor think are meaningful. Not that you may care, but I’m writing this and it i how I got to own a Galaxy Nexus from being an early adopter of the iPhone.
I waited a week or two to get the original iPhone. It was definitely imperfect. After being woo’ed by its good job of contact management, e-mail, maps, multitouch and a real web browser, I was underwhelmed by the 2.5G speeds. On WiFi, oh man did that phone shine! When the iPhone 3G was available I jumped on it thanks to two $100 credits from Apple since I was a stupid an early adopter. 3G data speeds helped, but the app store that launched the day before the 3G opened the promise gates of a portable computer. I skipped the 3GS (stupid contract), and was crushed by iOS 4. After installing iOS 4, I suddenly had a very expensive contractual paperweight that barely made phone calls.
My iOS 4 experience wasn’t unique on the 3G, but it really pissed me off. Here I had a phone that I got fairly soon after its launch, that was still under contract and an Apple update had ruined it. Calls would go to voicemail because the slider didn’t respond. Apps were glacial to load. Unlocking it was a lesson in patience. I wanted out of the Apple experience and was amongst the cacophony of naysayers against AT&T’s customer service and dropped-calls-R-us network. It didn’t help that I saw the modal notifications as a form of denial of service attack harkening me back to the days of pop-up-browser hell in the late 90s.
I decided to jump ship to Verizon and Android. I loved notifications, multitasking and widgets. I got the Droid X when it launched and knew I’d made the right choice. Like the iPhones before it, my Droid X was not bereft of flaws. Indeed, with regular use I could drain a battery in hours. Updates were snail-quick to arrive. There was pervasive lag periodically throughout the Blur experience. Apps at the time were much harder to find – but there was promise delivered on notifications and multitasking and the Google apps were life changingly good. When the Droid Charge was released, I jumped to it to grab unlimited 4G data before it disappeared and was jarringly dropped into the world of Android fragmentation. My Droid X had Gingerbread and the brand new superphone, the Droid Charge, was on Froyo. Uhh – what? That aside, I loved the 4G data speeds and after some tomfoolery with leaks, I was back on Gingerbread.
Much to my surprise, I enjoyed the native sharing in Android – it was one of those “I didn’t realize I was missing it until I had it” items. On the iPhone, iOS takes a decentralized approach to sharing – you share based on the app you want to use. Sure you can take a picture with the camera and then go into facebook or twitter and share from the gallery, but generally it would be a multi-app process. And that’s where I was surprised how much I liked Android. Take a pic, there’s a share button and based on the apps that have said they can accept a picture, you can directly share – from the camera or gallery – the picture.
Behind the curtain, this is due to a fundamental difference between iOS and Android – intents. Put simply, an intent is the way an application in Android publishes its ability to accept data from another application. If you write a twitter app and you want a picture to be able to be shared with your twitter app in this fashion, you publish an activity capability to Android saying “I can accept a picture object”. Then, when the user taps the share button (an activity in Android) it is either an explicit intent (mapped to a specific activity) or an implicit intent (select from a list of appropriate activities) and the appropriate app is launched in its activity (mapped from the selected intent) to accept the object. Facebook opens to the “post a picture” activity, for example, and messaging opens an MMS message to a yet unspecified recipient.
Of course it goes beyond that. Apple seems to see it as a security risk for one application to see another’s data. You can’t have a different messaging app than the built-in app because the SDK provides no means that I am aware of to attach to the SMS database, or the contact database. This is a huge concept because it allows you on Android to do things like tap a youtube URL in the browser and have the youtube app launched (the native one) instead of the HTML5/flash version in the browser. It is HUGELY powerful – and as some commenters will undoubtedly mention, can be misused.
However – it’s that level of interactivity that really makes Android functionally efficient to me – and that really surprised me. As much as Apple purports for its products to “just work” (full disclosure: writing this on my beloved MacBook Pro right now), iOS really falls short here. When I show iPhone friends how sharing works in Android (that is, after I show them how their own multitasking and a litany of other iOS features work, like swiping a notification on the lock screen to go into that app), they inevitably go “oh wow – that’s cool!”.
So why is all of this about the Gnex? Simple. It’s the most functional phone with Android on it right now. It “just works” in ways I hoped Gingerbread would. The pervasive lag is at or better than that which I’ve personally experienced on friends’ iPhone4S devices, except I have the experience-changing Verizon 4G network speeds to back up the phone’s capabilities. It has gestures where I always wished there would be a way to do something. They finally got real copy-paste nearly everywhere (ebay app, I’m looking at you!). Notification bar from the lock screen is genius. Application groups on the home screen are long overdue and well implemented. This is the first Android phone I haven’t replaced the launcher or lock screen for on the first day I owned it.
It’s nerd nirvana. It’s imperfect. The camera is absolutely fine to me. The data speeds make any iPhone seem stuck in molasses while downloading. The screen Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – strongly flawed at low brightness and OMG amazing at full brightness. But you know what? It delivers the best smartphone experience I’ve ever used. No – I haven’t used an iPhone4S as my daily driver, but I’ve taught so many friends how to use it, I feel like I have.
Of course, had the Galaxy Nexus not been released or so reverently reviewed by The Verge, I’d own an iPhone4S right now. But I’d be ticked off at missing my sharing and 4G, and pretty sorry once I saw ICS in its Google glory anywhere else.