Thoughts on Android and the Nexus 5 from an Apple user

I'm about 10 days into my 'Android experiment' and here are my thoughts on Android and the Nexus 5, from the perspective of an Apple user and fan.  For the past year I've been using my iPad Mini as a smartphone.  I also own a Macbook, Apple TV, and four iPods.  In the past I've owned two iPhones, the original iPad, multiple iPods, and used a Macbook as my work computer.  Suffice it to say I'm very familiar with Apple's products and really enjoy using them.  But I also use a lot of Google services for work and play and am firmly and happily implanted in their ecosystem.

I chose the Nexus 5 when finally purchasing another smartphone.  My primary reasons were:  Android curiosity, larger screen size (I was migrating from an iPad after all), and price.  After using the Nexus 5, here's how my expectations stacked up against reality.

Android form factor, 5" screens, and Nexus 5 build quality

The Google Nexus 5 running stock Android made by LG

The Google Nexus 5 running stock Android made by LG

Yes, the Nexus 5 is a touchscreen slab just like most other smartphones and tablets.  But using it has been a bit of an adjustment due to the placement of exterior buttons and lack of a home button.  I'm not sure whether I just like what's familiar or Apple's design is actually superior, but I prefer the overall layout of buttons on Apple devices.  I like the idea of Android's back button but its implementation across apps is inconsistent.  In one app I'm going up a level in the menu, in another I'm going to the previously viewed page, and in another I'm backing out to the home screen.  Apple's home button may be limited, but it's consistent.

I like the notification LED a lot.  It's a simple low-power way to notify the user something wants their attention.  I'm waking up my phone to to see if I missed any notifications a lot less than I used to.

After using my iPad as my primary mobile device for so long, iPhones started to feel really small in my hand and I wanted my next phone to have a larger screen.  I do like the Nexus 5's 5" screen, but I also now understand it's not for everybody.  iPhones are easy to use with one hand.  The Nexus 5 isn't.  It's possible, but it takes a lot of contorting and adjusting of my grip and I default to using two hands whenever possible.  I'm willing to make the tradeoff, but I realize others may not be.  Originally, I would've bought the largest possible phone I could fit in my jeans pocket, but now I think five inches is about the biggest phone I want.

Having the volume rocker and wake/sleep button directly opposite each other on the Nexus 5 is annoying.  I find myself hitting the wrong button more than I'd like.  I also think Apple's placement of the wake/sleep button on the top of the device is easier to access with a variety of grips.

As for build quality, the Nexus 5 has met my expectations.  I like that the device is one solid piece without a creaking removable backplate.  No, it does not feel high-end, but it feels a lot better to me than most glossy plastic devices.  One hardware-related complaint on the Nexus 5 is its loudspeaker.  It gets loud, but sounds very thin or hollow to me.

Android vs iOS

There are some things I love about Android and some things that I don't.  I love widgets, quick access to Google Now, integration with all things Google, and all the customization options.  But it's not always as polished as iOS, and getting everything set up and customized to my liking took a lot of time.  Hopefully it'll be quicker next time.

I've been wanting a home screen widget with missed messages, upcoming calendar appointments, weather, etc since giving up my Nokia E71.  Now I finally have it again.  I also have widgets for my to-do lists, to find what song is currently playing, my twitter feed, and Google Now is just a swipe away (on iOS you have to open an app and wait for the cards to load.)  This makes getting to little bits of information so much quicker and easier than on iOS.  It also has me wondering how I would implement widgets on a nice big tablet screen.  It is a little odd not seeing the number of notifications noted on every app icon, but I'd much rather have the notification widget on my home screen.

On to some of the not so good.  There were times when I was asked what app to open a video or picture file with.  Why would I open a video in a music app?  Why are there two photo apps (Photos and Gallery)?  I like the way iOS puts notifications on the lock screen, but there was no such option in Android.  Thankfully, the free NiLS app was exactly what I was looking for, and I also use it as my home screen widget.

I found a number of other minor annoyances in Android.  I miss tapping the top of the screen to automatically scroll to the top.  When using my old Apple headset on the Nexus 5 I can pause audio playback with the headset button, but not restart it with some non-Google apps.  I also want a long-press on the headset to activate Google Now when the phone is locked, and not just the voice dialer.

I also found some really neat things on Android.  Cover is a contextual lock screen widget.  For now it only displays apps based on your location and habits, but I'm excited to see what else they can do.  I use a free calling and texting app from Talkatone on my iPad.  I installed it on my Nexus 5 and was pleasantly surprised to see that it's able to integrate with the default phone dialer app. This type of stuff just isn't allowed on iOS.

In terms of looks, I don't prefer one OS to the other.  I'm more of a function over form kinda guy, and both OS's are very capable and both look good to me.

Integration of Google services

I use Chrome, Gmail, Voice, Hangouts, Maps, Drive, Play Music, Calendar, and more.  Getting signed in and set up with all of my data was very easy.  Having single sign-in for all the different Google apps and services was great.  Google Now has become one of my favorite apps, and it's even better on Android.  I find Google's voice search faster and more accurate than Apple's Siri and am glad it's now right on my home screen.

I also like Google's browser-based implementation of the Play Store.  It's much easier to open a webpage and hit install on an app than it is to open the iTunes application on your PC and do the same.

App availability

I don't pay for many apps, and most of the free apps I use are pretty popular.  I had no trouble finding what I wanted in the Google Play Store, with one minor exception.  Swell is a great audio app, a sort of 'Pandora for podcasts' that is only available for iPhone (there isn't even an official iPad version.)  But I also found some apps that aren't available yet on iOS:  Google Analytics and Keep.  Because I rely so heavily on Google for work and personal services, I actually came out ahead.

Nexus 5 and iPad both sitting there, which do I grab?

At the end of the day, with both devices in front of me on the coffee table or desk, which do I pick up?  I still use both a lot.  When I'm trying to quickly get to a piece of information like the weather or the score of the game, I grab the Nexus 5.  It's so easy to get to information on Android without actually selecting and opening an app.  If I want to do something that requires opening an app like browsing the web or playing a game, I go for the iPad. I frequently use the iPad with my Apple TV in the living room.

I see myself being a hybrid Android/Apple user for a while.  If Apple ever wants me to buy another iPhone they need to make one with a bigger screen, allow widgets in iOS, and price it competitively.  I can't justify spending $650 for an unlocked iPhone when I can get a Nexus 5 for $350.