After three years on Android (from Froyo to Jellybean), I moved to an iPhone 5s. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about it who share similar thoughts / questions, so I want to write it all down.
I won’t try to change your mind. I still love Android and Google’s platform. I’m a chrome user, hangouts user, drive user, gmail user, chromecast owner, and nexus tablet owner.
I will not mention iTunes, media, or the apps (except Google’s). Those conversations have been had before and they didn’t affect my decision at all.
So why did I switch? There was no killer feature that drew me toward the iPhone. It was a death by a thousand cuts that pushed me away from the current suite of Android phones.
Bad hardware. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus (toro) was a really crappy phone. It had bad battery life, bad radios, a bad screen, bad memory, and a very short shelf life. My model also had a blocked headphone jack that I never got fixed (I didn’t use the headphone jack enough to justify it, but it added to my dissatisfaction with the phone). I bought a 3800 mah battery and battery life was between 12-24 hours most days. This was largely dependent on signal and apps. The radios were famously bad. Verizon released several updates to fix dropped calls and loss of 4G signal. The screen had a fairly high DPI, but was about 50% blue pixels. This led to a very blue and dingy experience. Put on some polarized sunglasses and look at an iPhone and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. The memory on my phone was slower than similar phones (e.g. Galaxy S3) in I/O benchmarks. There’s also an app to check to see if you have one of the bad memory controllers out there that could be responsible for your phone problems.
Verizon. Verizon cannot handle a nexus program. They proved that with the Galaxy Nexus by the weeks (months?) of delay in introducing Google updates. They disabled Google Wallet, too, with a flimsy explanation, in order to make room for their Isis solution which arrived too late. There’s a reason that Verizon doesn’t have the Nexus 4 or the Nexus 5.
Bad support. Really Google / Verizon / Texas Instruments? A 24 month contract and only 23 months of updates? No kitkat?
Bad software. It took more than 30 seconds to open Google Chrome and start typing before the letters would show up in the text box. Facebook and Google backup caused extremely high amounts of iowait. Google now ate battery and heated up the phone pretty badly, especially when traveling. MMS were hit & miss. The stock e-mail client didn’t work with Exchange properly (it couldn’t see some folders).
Well, the Galaxy Nexus was a self-service device, right? I did learn a lot about flashing recovery images, unlocking the bootloader, flashing ROMs, wiping the cache partition, what the dalvik cache was, how to root to phone, etc. I put Cyanogenmod on the phone, got the latest radios, tweaked settings, found a new browser, and fixed as much as I could. I just got so. damned. tired. I didn’t want to spend that much time fixing something that should just work. I got tired of bootloops and surprises (hey, half your battery died while you were in the movie! hey, guess which app won’t open!). So it was definitely time for a new phone. But which one? I was pretty set on an Android phone, but …. which one? After reading all of the reviews, let me summarize them for you:
“This android phone is great except for [ screen | build quality | battery life | camera | software | it's not available on your carrier ].”
The S4, One, Note 3, and Moto X. seem to be best of breed, but I didn’t really like them when I used them. Coming from a stock experience, the touchwiz / sense software was appallingly awful and I didn’t like the vendor lock in*.
Moto X was nicer, but was basically a cheaper, neutered nexus device. Props to Google/Verizon for getting KitKat out to it so fast, though!
* Okay, astute readers will realize that Apple is the ultimate vendor lock in. To me, here’s the difference: Google has released new features for KitKat. Now Samsung has to integrate them and release an update. Then Verizon has to allow it to be released. So even in Samsung’s own arsenal (SG3, SG4, note 2, note 3, different carriers) there is feature drift. Customers are powerless to fix this themselves. Apple has one “authoritative” version of iOS. It’s released on the same day for everyone for every iPhone purchased in the past few years. As long as I’m guaranteed the latest version … I’m happy.
So why did I switch? While I had 18 months of Galaxy Nexus hell, my wife sat next to me with her iPhone 4S and happily had none of the problems I had. She loved her phone and had consistent performance, very few problems, some delightful little features I envied, and could always outperform my phone in any contest I dreamed up.
The quality. It feels like a tool, not a slippery bar of soap. It’s a personal preference, and it’s a little moot since most phones go in cases, but I am not excited by slippery plastic phones. I do like the buttons, though. I like a physical reaction to a physical action (e.g. I press a button, it clicks). The volume rocker on the nexus was unresponsive and the virtual home button was laggy, so I was never sure if it was just taking a while, or if it missed my click.
The screen. It gets really bright, and it gets really dim. The auto-brightness on it is really smooth (I never see it change) and always appropriate. The super-dim screen is great for dark rooms like theaters or if I’m browsing before bed.
The battery. It is 1500ish mah and I get better battery life than my nexus with 2.5x the juice. This appears to be due to Apple’s ruthless management of background tasks, appropriately powered vibration, and good management of brightness. The vibrator on my nexus rattled the plastic shell like a subwoofer in a Honda Civic.
The fingerprint reader. I thought it was a gimmick when I first saw it. Then I used it. I instantly fell in love with not having to enter a PIN (or draw a pattern). My phone just “knows” me.
The camera. I’m not really a photographer, so I can use all the help I can get. The pictures are just a little better. They take instantly and they are clearer.
Siri. In every head-to-head siri vs. google voice search competition, Siri was more responsive. Even if Siri got the answer wrong, it was easier to talk to. Also, the simple things like “Remind me to water the plants tomorrow at 8am” worked properly. Google would never get the time right. It considers “water the plants at 8am” the entire task.
Google. I can still get google now, google authenticator, gmail, google music, google plus, google hangouts, etc. all as native iOS apps. I would not have moved without that.
Backups. The backups in iTunes appear to be much more comprehensive. When my wife got her phone stolen, she was able to get her new one back up and operational really easily by restoring from a backup. Conversely, it takes me several hours to rebuild an android phone by installing apps, reconfiguring the launcher screens, logging in to different apps / setting settings, etc.
iMessage. It’s gimmicky, but I like the enhancements to SMS like delivery confirmation, read receipts, larger messages, typing notification, and computer<->table<->phone messaging without having to do anything special.
Keyboard. This keyboard is sooo good. I just stab at it with my whimsical meaty thumbs and it figures out what I meant 99% of the time. I have used a dozen Android keyboards and have never encountered done this good.
VPN. iPhone supports Cisco ipsec VPN. I could never get Android to do it properly.
Less configuration drift. A coworker corrected me … there’s not “no” configuration drift because when the iPhone 4S came out with Siri, the feature didn’t get back ported to the iPhone 4. And when iOS7 came out with airdrop, it didn’t get backported to older hardware (maybe due to hardware limitations?). So while everyone is on the same UI, same version of everything … there is less configuration drift. Take a look at how many phones / carriers / overlays / Android versions there are on the other side and the matrix is a lot bigger.
Stable & runs fast. Enough said. I need the phone to do something and it responds how I think it would/should. I’ve had 1 surprise reboot since I got it, and it booted really fast. If you just compare the processor speed and RAM, it has similar hardware to the Galaxy Nexus but it just runs so much faster.
So what will I miss?
Intents. This is the API that Android has that lets apps “hook up” with each other. So when you click “share” you can see a list of apps that you can share to. So when you install “New Twitter Client XYZ” then go to Chrome and click “Share Page” you’ll see “New Twitter Client XYZ” in the list.
MightyText. This app let you send/receive SMS messages from your computer/tablet. Android is a bit more open with their APIs. Apple won’t let any app have access to the SMS messages, though, so this isn’t possible (without jailbreak, and even then I’ve heard it doesn’t work well). If everyone I knew had iMessage, this wouldn’t be a problem.
Keyboards. I like swype.
Widgets. I like widgets, too. The badge notifications are pretty neat, though.
Notification LED. I got trained really well to leaving my phone on completely silent (no vibrate) mode and looking for the LED during meetings at work. iPhone doesn’t have a nagging notification system.
Expandable storage. The nexus didn’t have it. They didn’t for a reason — so the entire memory (on-board system memory and user memory) could be presented as a single block of memory. This wouldn’t be possible with a removable storage card. It would break storage into “user stuff” and “system & apps.” I suspect Apple made the same decision because it’s a better user experience. It would still be a nice option. Even via USB-to-go or something for offloading files fast.
Removable battery. I carried a replacement battery for my Droid 2, and bought an expandable battery for my Nexus. I have an external battery pack for my iPhone, but I don’t like the prospect of needing the battery replaced and having to just swap the phone out.
Standard navigation buttons. The back button at the bottom of the screen was great. iOS7 apps hide (or forget?) how to get back. Usually it’s in the top left, but sometimes you just sorta … click somewhere else, or swipe. Or just hit home and go back into the app.
Browsing while talking. For verizon, browsing while talking requires two radios. The iPhone 5s has 1 radio so this isn’t possible without a wifi connection. I didn’t use this feature often, but I miss it. Hopefully VoLTE will be here soon and save us all.
And that about covers it.
I hope I made the right call. And I hope this gives you some food for thought, too!