Why I moved from Android to iPhone

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!

Thailand Learnings

I just got back from a trip to Thailand for a friend’s wedding.  I learned a few things and am recording them here:

  • If you’re overweight, the best thing you can do to prepare for the trip is to lose weight.  It will make traveling in small seats more comfortable, walking / climbing easier, you will stand out less, and any new clothes you buy will probably fit. Lots of places we visited didn’t sell XL (much less 2X or larger)
  • Learn some Thai words.  I didn’t know any Thai before the trip.  Now I can say:  Hello/Goodbye, thank you (and thank you very much), you’re welcome, cheers (as in “let’s drink”), drunk (and very drunk), glass, and bathroom.  I also learned to gesticulate like a mad man.  When people speak English at you in a foreign country, it’s a bit like saying “I know Windows” on a resume.  Levels of competence vary, so be prepared to act out whatever you want — talking louder doesn’t help.  Also, if you want another something (e.g. you need another purell) bring the thing you want with you.  Acting out “hand sanitizer” is not easy.
  • Luggage — we brought backpacks.  This turned out to be a good decision for some situations (we had to climb stairs, walk on beaches, etc.) where wheeled luggage would be a hassle.  But in other situations, backpacks were a bad idea.  My wife got a bad sunburn on her back so I had to carry 2 backpacks for a few days.  Also, they weren’t organized well (that was probably user error) so staying for 1 night in a hotel meant you had to explode the whole thing and repack it in the morning.

    Luggage.  We got so sick of moving this crap around.

  • Luggage — look up the luggage policies on the airlines before you go.  We flew three different airlines (2 were domestic to Thailand) and one of them had fairly restrictive luggage policies. I paid the extra $7 to upgrade our luggage to a higher weight class when I bought the tickets, but other group members didn’t.  They paid an extra $40 (I think?) to check all of their luggage.
  • Bring Febreeze.  We went to JJ Market and I took my messenger bag to carry some purchases.  It got a serious infection of “shrimp smell.”  That’s just how the market was.  Febreeze cured it when I got home, but I had to endure that smell for a week.  I would’ve paid a small ransom for a 3 oz spray bottle of Febreeze.
  • Bring rehydration powder.  We didn’t, but it was readily available at local pharmacies.  Unfortunately when you’re dehydrated, you don’t feel like traveling. We were also on an island where access to the main land was only between 10am and 6pm (roughly) so if you didn’t have it, you had to wait.
  • Buy TP when you get there.  They have purse packs at 7-11.  Very few places have TP in the stalls.  You have to grab it before you go in (or ladies, have it in your purse).  Also … they have bidets there.  External ones … like the sprayer in your kitchen sink.
  • Ask the hotel staff to show you how to use the hot water.  All 4 hotels we stayed at had different hot water configurations.  We figured them all out, but some other people in our group took cold showers most days.
  • Plan your layovers.  We had an 8 hour layover in Incheon (Seoul’s airport).  We kinda wanted to do a transit tour (it’s a tour around Seoul where you don’t need a visa or have to go through customs/immigration) but we didn’t realize that it was 34 degrees in Seoul this time of year.  We were in tropical weather wear.  So we grabbed a room at the transit hotel, took a nap, used the wifi, and took a shower.  The layover at your airport may offer different amenities.

There’s so much more I could post … this is the stuff I want to remember for next time we travel.

Things we did right:

  • Called the banks / credit card companies.  All of our credit cards / ATM cards worked.  I even found out that one of my credit cards didn’t charge a foreign transaction fee!
  • Bring your own medicine.  A bite stick (mosquito bites), sun screen, bug spray, purell, pepto bismol tablets, immodium, antibiotics (only if needed), neosporin cream.
  • Look at all the clothes you want to pack, and leave half.  I didn’t wear a few of the ones I brought even then.  I bought some clothes while there, and we had laundry done a few times, too.
  • Keep some toiletries in your carry on.  On our trek back, we had 4 flights (20 hours) over a 2 day span including 17 hours of layover time.  We needed a shower, to brush our teeth, and to reapply deodorant during that window.
  • Mobile data plan — this was half right / half wrong.  I borrowed a phone from Verizon (free) and didn’t make any calls, didn’t send any texts, and sipped data for $25.  My wife’s phone didn’t work (VZW didn’t set something up right?) so we bought a burner phone ($26) and 300 baht ($10) worth of time.  Her phone + time was more expensive, but we used the heck out of it.  If we needed a taxi and couldn’t give the driver directions to the hotel, we’d bust out the thai phone and call the hotel.  I don’t know what was said, but we arrived safely and the meter was running.  She still had like 150 baht when we left, too.  So next time, we’ll bring the $26 phone and just pick up a new SIM (if we go to a diff country) and more time at a gas station / airport.  Her thai phone didn’t do data, but we didn’t need that.  My phone did data, but we didn’t really use it — only in a pinch.

Anthony Bourdain is a personal hero.

I have many personal heroes. When I was young, I appreciated Houdini because he was the world’s greatest magician. As I grew older, I appreciated him because of his ability to shape modern magic as he performed his escapes up close and personal. Then he became quite the salesman, and would show up in a new town frequently to put on a free public daredevil act, then let everyone know he’d be selling tickets to his show.

Magic did pay the bills, but he had other passions. He loved his wife Bess, and together they took on all of the psychics and spiritualist frauds during the day.

I would recommend “The Secret Life of Houdini” for further reading.

… but I digress.

I’m inducting Anthony Bourdain into my list of personal heroes. According to his life story so far:

    • Interested in cooking, but got his butt kicked at a real restarant, and fell in love with the lifestyle
    • Went to CIA (Culinary Institute of America)
    • Got back into a restaurant … then catering …. then bigger / better restaurants …. then eventually he became the head chef at Les Halles in Manhattan

That life path is difficult enough to do. But then he took it further. He wrote an article for a newspaper. And it went well. So he wrote a book. And it was a sensation and instantly legitimized him as a culinary insider, not just a poseur.

From there, he’s written a more books and become a world traveller on “No Reservations.” He was never on vacation, but struggled to make sure his trips were varied and interesting. Frequently, he would engage a host family to feed him or tell him stories. He cooked infrequently, but often explained why the food was so good using his frank descriptions and engaging imagery.

And all of this …. and I don’t have any “Tony Bourdain” products in my kitchen. The man has kept his soul intact.

I will miss “No Reservations.” I look forward to what Tony has coming up next.