My reliance upon an IPhone provokes all too much shock and controversy with acquaintances. The reason for this is that my company Novoda develop products solely for the Android platform. Developers within IPhone and Android camps occasionally feel I am somehow acknowledging a platform limitation or crossed allegiances when using an IPhone. This vain of thinking is somewhat unique to those within the eye of the storm as outside of mobile development, consumers are assessing the value of cellular phones based on their communications utility within their daily lives. The mobile developers in question tend to view an HTC Hero, Nexus One or IPhone not as a cellular phone product but as a selected chipset, OS and software stack. The developers are assessing value not just upon it’s merits as a communication device but also weighing in it’s hypothetical utility and perceived platform limitations.
Novoda develop for the Android software platform because we believe it to offer the most value based upon it’s utility and lack of perceived limitations as a platform for mobile software. I use an IPhone because assessing it upon the merits of being a base for communications and a portable entertainment device, it currently offers me more utility than alternatives.
I was given a Nexus One at Londroid / Android Developer Day and it is the first Android phone to pose question in my mind of the IPhone’s utility advantage. There is quite possibly no other who wants more dearly to switch from IPhone to an Android based device so I can avoid the inevitable justifications in defence of my IPhone patronage. But I stubbornly refuse to sacrifice utility before logically being offered a clear alternative.
Everything about the Nexus One has been engineered to raise questionable comparison to the IPhone. Unwrapping and holding a nexus one is a similar experience. Visually a Nexus One’s form is heavily influenced by the best aspects of the IPhone. The aluminium unibody of the Nexus one feels cool to the touch whereas the IPhone’s alloy feels slightly malleable. Both the IPhone and Nexus One are individually pleasurable. First turning on a Nexus one is a celebration of light and colour with an intentionally colourful yet techie live wallpaper background.
Form - Hardware housing
The aesthetics of the Nexus One are admittedly the driving factor for my re-examination of my primary phone choice so I’ve carefully considered it’s aesthetic merits over other more familiar elements. The edges of both phones are rounded and have forms which lend well to being rotated playfully in the palm of your hand. A Nexus one is ever so slightly thinner in width than an IPhone front and side. The casing of the IPhone has reflective metal around the edges and within the the Apple logo. This shiny metal face lends to scratches within the daily tumult your pockets but when the scratches are created they are so fine as not to visually affect reflective ability of the metal. I appreciate the fact that the majority of an IPhones backing is dark because again this limits the visual affect of scratches which inevitably affect both visual appreciation and resale value.
My aesthetic evaluation of the Nexus Ones housings may be bias to the newness of the Nexus as I have my IPhone for nigh on two years and I have only just received the Nexus a few weeks ago. Interestingly the Nexus is accompanied with an attractive slip case in which I shall keep it safe.
To simulate the wear and tear of keys and change in pockets I took a pen knife to modestly scratch both the rubber and metal areas of the Nexus One backing and it appears to be even better than the IPhone at hiding the effects of fine grained scratches.
Both the IPhone and the Nexus one a ‘lock’ button and headphone jack at the top of the housing with a volume up and down to the left of the screen. The lock and headphone jack are oppositely positioned on the IPhone and Nexus but when holding the phones in your hand your finger can regardless naturally hit the lock before returning the phone to your pocket. As I am right handed I find the Nexus One’s placement of the lock to be more convenient than the IPhones as my index finger more naturally rests upon the lock. All of the Nexus one’s buttons are slightly too flush with the casing and less instinctive to use in your pocket without looking, this is especially noticeable in the lock button which I use more or less every time I use the phone. Clicking the Nexus One’s lock button does not have the same pleasurable and audible click of the IPhone. While commenting on the lock, although software based I find it dreadfully annoying that the trackball does not wake the phone from sleep when you’ve clicked the lock button. The track ball is naturally the most clickable element of a Nexus one as it protrudes more than anything else, even on the IPhone where the button is deep set I still commonly press the button to wake the screen and tell me the time. The only solution I have found to activate the Nexus One’s screen upon a track ball press is to install the Lock 2.0 app which basically gives you the IPhone lock.
Not a huge problem but it means you sacrifice the much prettier live wallpaper.
There is a speaker which runs along the top of the Nexus one’s case rather than the smaller pitted grill on the IPhone. Both Nexus and Iphone have a sole button on the front cover. The roller ball on the Nexus Ones design is the one aesthetic element of the Nexus One which falls short of the IPhone. The roller ball’s material feels plasticy and it’s overall impression is not too dissimilar from a low grade artificial clitoris. It will interesting to somehow find out how this affects sales to both men and women in the consumer market. Is Google’s hidden intention that in the hope of muscle memory girlfriend’s will encourage Nexus One adoption?
I am in two minds about the buttons for back menu, home and search. Because they are flush with the screen, I keep hitting them by mistake and sometimes I can’t get them to respond until the second touch. This kind of redundant repeated mistake caused by deficient interaction design is unheard of on the IPhone. Sitting in my right hand, my preferred button order would be home, menu, search, back. Instead it’s back menu, home, search. I think the positioning may have been influenced by the need to have the emphasis on search on the right but in practice I find it slightly laborious to press back and would rather it were in place of search. The trackball light on the Nexus One is always lighting up to alert me of a new sms, emails, etc which neglects the fact I am distracted enough without having another flashing light in my life. I appreciate a lot of people will like this feature as they don’t get like 50 > mails a day but for me it’s annoying that you cannot turn the visual alert off.
The Nexus One’s bottom has little dimples for docking and a micro USB port for data transfer and charge. I greatly prefer the standardised approach to peripherals rather than the Apple particular connector format on the IPhone.
Finally and importantly the nexus one is mission a quiet button. If you come from using an IPhone and you are the kind of person who likes to give people full attention when in a meeting, You’ll find yourself reaching into your pocket to move the phone into quiet mode. On the Nexus One, to put the phone into quiet it requires waking the phone via the lock button then pulling the quiet icon to the left.
Verdict: Nexus One preference apart from the constantly glowing ball and lack of physical quiet mode button
Form - Hardware architecture
Both phones offer the same connectivity as they are quadband and GSM-based with 3G, Wifi, EDGE, GPRS & bluetooth. However, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Arm Cortex, 1Ghz processor blows the IPhone’s 600MHz processor out the water. In terms of memory again the the Nexus one come’s out trumps because it is extendable and out of the box offers a greater 512MB rather than the IPhone’s 256MB. Internal storage has reached the state where I don’t consider it a limiting factor but none the less Nexus one is bundled with a relatively small 4GB mem but this is easily and cheaply upgradable to 32GB the IPhone offers the same size storage sizes inbuilt into base models. Time is kind to tech and the Nexus One’s hardware is just naturally more bang for your buck.
Verdict: Nexus One preference
Form - Battery Life
My IPhone’s 2 year old Li-Ion battery has been put through it’s paces and will not last much longer than 2days of basic comms and email. There is an obvious difference in battery life when using a device for many system intensive things or just one. If you are using the phone purely as a cellular phone you can be guaranteed that both phones will last days. But using smart phone utilities such as internet and media players will pelt the battery. Although the battery is removable from the Nexus One I rarely meet people who carry additional batteries, I certainly would not as it affects the phones portability. The Nexus One has not accumulated favourable reports for battery life these can reportedly be improved by sacrificing some of the convenience such as switching off wifi, GPS, Sync and Bluetooth which is not a bother for someone familiar with the settings such as myself. But even with these settings turned off the battery the is predicted to last 8-10 hours in varying reports I consider these to be varied in both location and bias to be considered genuine. By this measure the IPhone’s battery life is equivalent to the Nexus One.
Verdict: Draw between Nexus One and IPhone
Form - Weight
Nexus One 130g (4.6oz)
Nexus One is an ideal weight, lighter than the IPhone.
Form - Screen
Nexus One: 480 x 800px, 3.7in (94mm)
IPhone: 320x480px, 3.5in(89mm)
The IPhone is known for it’s lovely large, brightly lit screen and the Nexus One’s screen is larger and brighter.
Regardless of viewing angle the Nexus one screen is vivid and sharp whereas tipping the IPhone on it’s side exposes a cloudiness which interferes with the purity of on screen colours. It’s noticeable that colour upon the Nexus one is slightly red heavy. I don’t think hardware engineers missed this during display calibration instead I think the decision for an added red hue was based upon the users predicted positive emotive reaction to red and it added some zest and excitement to the devices image over what would otherwise be a much more clinical offering.
Verdict: Nexus One
Form - Software architecture
I’m ridiculously bias on this one. Android. I’m not going to take up any more room in this article, maybe another day.
Verdict: Nexus One
Form - Interface
The Nexus One has seen Google really polish up that initial bam! home screen offering. You are just struck by how nice the default Live wallpaper theme is upon initially booting the device. All of the usual icons now look extremely well polished and the fading in and out of the application list is much nicer than the sliding up and down drawer of previous Android versions. I also feel the photos application is really worth mentioning, this is mostly more attractive and faster than IPhone’s native offering. Using the photo app I noticed a Nexus One oddity in that you can only switch orientation turning the phone to the left. Chances are that you will notice this using the gallery app when swinging your phone in all directions to show your friends photos taken at all angles..
The UI is just altogether more unified on the IPhone, I appreciate the ease with which you can add and amend entries through touching mentions of that contact entry regardless of the application. When I’m reading email on an IPhone I can just touch the new address or phone number and then I am presented with a screen of relevant actions. With Android I find that data which could be added to my contact manager is less easy to add.
Concerning utility I will mainly be using the phone, browser and email. This is where my productivity will be affected by the interface and they are all part of the communications aspect of this device. I think the particular interface gripes are inseparable to their individual applications so I’m just going to chalk this one up to the Nexus One and explore the UI hangups within the apps.
Interface: If I were evaluating purely on home screen & menu it would be a clear win for Nexus One but the out the box niceness of Iphone menus is still a winner in my book.
Communications - Phone dialler
Why are there spaces between the numbers on Android’s dialler? Spaces between the buttons has surely been proven redundant by the IPhone dialler interface. In fact I can’t pull up any flaw with the IPhone’s dialler. Feedback is immediate and after years of use I can’t recall having pressed or dialled a wrong number. I can’t say the same for the Android dialler because of the spaces. When rushing, my fingers will commonly and frustratingly hit a mid bar in-between two numbers rather than pressing the intended number. The impact of this experience is a perceived occasional lag in performance. In actuality if you hit the number precisely in the middle every time you will always get an immediate response. I am currently unaware of a dialler alternative which will remove spaces between the numbers.
Communications - Audio quality
Voice quality is better on the Nexus one. This is reportedly down to the noise cancelling software teamed with two microphones, one dedicated to identifying background noise and one for your voice. This seems to work better than apple’s especially during phone calls with music in the background. I haven’t had much luck with VOIP clients yet (like Sipdroid, Sipagent, Fringe and Ribbit) on either so I couldn’t give them a try.
Verdict: Nexus OneContacts
On the Nexus’s Android, contacts can sync with accounts from Outlook, Gmail, hotmail and yahoo. Mine are in yahoo and Gmail and I find it to be a great convenience to have them al lumped together on my Nexus one. Aesthetically the contacts manager reminds me of a linux app as it is a bit blocky and inelegant. You can really see that a lot of love and time has been spent on the IPhone’s elegant scrolling as just flicking it up and down is a much smoother and pleasurable affair. Another gripe which is not limited to this one icon is the presence of an Android icon as a contact instead of the more obvious silhouette. Slapping the Android avatar on everything at development time is a common fun and games activity for Android developers but come consumer device time I prudishly prefer the more recognisable silhouette of human being rather than a cartoon robot. Small things like this also make me question the phones intended longevity away from a geek plaything and novelty when coming from a phone which I have had for over 2 years. Not so much of a worry to the intended audience but worth noting is that this kind of image is a warning indicator to businessey people and non tech girly girls that this might be a geeky boys toy and so limits the potential audience.
Both the Nexus One and the IPhone can scroll through a list of contacts by running your finger down a listed alphabet on the right hand side. But for some reason the Alphabetical letters are not shown on Android and you have to pull the slider rather than just jumping to a character. Instead of subtly having the character at the side and as a rolling header the Android way is to have a big letter taking up the middle of the screen which should surely be reserved for actually seeing the details for which you are searching? My final point is that an individuals contact details are just not in anyway attractive, mimicking the rest of the contact manager it is just a bunch of form input elements.
After all of these gripes I still prefer the Android contact manager. Having an amalgamated address book and phone number manager on my phone which synchronises across remote accounts is just such a big win that I’ll sacrifice a great many niceties, ease of use and presentation included.
Preference: Nexus One
Communications - Email
Email all day every day, this is the primary functionality I expect to work in my phone over and above even the telephony so the email has to be perfect. The email client bundled with the Nexus One appears to be faster than the one with the IPhone. I say appears because the only real difference seems to be that the Android based client downloads the majority of emails onto your handset and the IPhone one seems to be lazier with it’s loading habits. The effect is that the Android based email client seems snappier. Deleting or marking multiple emails at a time on the Android based email client is slightly easier than the IPhone down to the tick boxes being presented by default and I may be inclined to delete more mails.
Both Nexus and IPhone allow connection to your normal IMAP/POP3, Outlook and Gmail and paid accounts for hotmail & yahoo. Email accounts are even easier to add on a Nexus One than on an IPhone as it sets up the ports for different services automatically( experienced in Yahoo mail set up).
The advantage of using an Android based phone with a Gmail account is that you can also take advantage of the stars in the portable email client.
The act of sending an email would be nigh on identical on both the IPhone and Nexus one if it were not from one glaring difference; the keyboard. In all my time using the IPhone keyboard I hardly ever press a wrong character, I mean like extremely rarely. Within 2days of heavy use I have had to go back and correct myself a number of times using Android’s default keyboard. Holding the phone’s side by side it’s quite amazing that the IPhone Keyboard seems so much more generously spaced and easier to use when it takes up the exact same screen revenue. This used to be solved by installing the ‘better keyboard’ app but at the time of writing this was not available for the Nexus on the Market.
I’m optimistic that I am not the only person on the planet frustrated with moving from a really good software based keyboard to not as good software based keyboard and this problem will soon be tackled for Nexus One users.
It’s a bit confusing having both a Gmail and an Email app. But I’m force to use both because I have a yahoo email address which is only supported by the email app and I have gmail accounts where I can benefit from setting a signature and replying from a domain! This is a potential deal breaker. In the email app there is currently an inability to set up a domain for the response. I have a Gmail & Yahoo account behind my domains but wish to seem to be replying form the domains with no mention of Gmail or Yahoo. This is currently not an option.
Preference: Nexus one (pending Keyboard replacement)
Communications - Web Browser
The browser is fast. Coming from the IPhones safari based browser I don’t know the stats but I’m noticing this one is faster.When ever I tried to cache anything for out of connection reading on my IPhone I constantly had the problem of it randomly refreshing when I navigated to the tab, This problem does not seem to exist on the Nexus One. Apart from the speed of this browser the other big thing is the multitouch which is more efficient than on the IPhone that standardised the gesture! This was included with the first Android update and it makes such a difference when using the web browser. Google totally tried to sell that little zoom box in previous versions of Android but it just didn’t work as naturally. One piece of functionality missing for me just now is the ability to save ‘link as’ which I would have used to add scriplets to my faves in this browser. As a heavy user of google reader and delicious I have to have the scriplets for “add to reader” and “add to delicious”.
I really do not like the choice of orange as for a border to links. I’m really unsure why this decision was made when the convention of blue and hyperlinks has been around for close to 20 years. A Nexus One’s Android software is less smart at detecting potential contact details contained within a browser page. Touching a number on an Iphone will ask you if you wish to call the number and it makes searching for businesses slightly faster.
Preference: Nexus One
Communications - Camera
5mp camera against a 3mp camera both are pretty bare bones but megapixels matter at this size. A slight gripe with the camera app is that I would expect touching th elfish icon would enable/disable the flash. I’ve seen a few people been caught out by this but it’s not a show stopper. The actual photographs are generally better than the IPhones
Preference: Nexus One
Communications - News
The same on both the IPhone and Nexus One since I use the web based Google Reader.
Communications - Journey planning
I keep very mobile so the apps that matter most to me are for train timetables, tubes and busses.
IPhone essential: Tube Deluxe - This one really is the most essential, London feels bigger than it really is, with a tube stops spidering through one another every two seconds but walking is just as difficult when it’s not great weather outside or you have misjudged the distance. Tube deluxe regularly saves me time and quickly calculates an itinerary of tube travel for me and people who are with me.
Android alternative: Tube Map - - initial impressions of this application were good as you are first presented with a big tube map upon startup. The slider interface a the bottom is a little small for touching an I kept having to press everything twice. Once I realised to click the filtered results it did the job. Not as attractive as tube deluxe by a long shot. Not a fan of their very small menu running along the bottom bar, but I like the concept. They just have to make it bigger for human fingers instead of for whatever pixies were testing their application.
Android alternative 2: London underground - Nice; how 90s to have no predictive typing for your station! The Keyboard rises up above the input box, return characters are allowed and it won’t recognise a station name if you mis-spell or forget a capital where it has placed one. These are all the kind of UI problems common to Android applications because people are just so rushed to get them out the door. The actual results are correct but they are needlessly verbose with written directions and don’t how you the colour of tube line you need to head too! Visually London underground is all about the colour of the line rather than the name, during rush hour you are frantically looking around the halls for a glimpse of a colour. You can show the route on the full map though (with no pinching enabled) and this is nice but for speeds sake I’d just want the name of the tube stop and the colour please. So verdict is works but is currently a productivity hit.
IPhone: National Rail App - Needed for going in out of London from Camberley and also getting to Scotland. Outside of London this is my most importune travel app as it also covers cancellations and has updates.
Android alternative: UK Trains live departure board - Doesn’t work and looks awful. Please add auto completion for the station names! If I am traveling somewhere new I don’t necessarily know the correct spelling never mind if the author referenced it by a capital!
IPhone: London Busses - It’s a rarity but sometimes I’m asked to take a bus. Without this query app, deciphering bus route listings at shelters is a real pain.
Android alternative: Take me home - As long as you know exactly where you are this will work. This a bother when anywhere but the most central location such as Waterloo or Victoria. The results are a rather verbose but correct list of directions.
This is where Android should shine. Android is open to extension and data migration so how is this going to make my life more productive?
IPhone - PhoneView you plug in your IPhone and then you can export sm., contact cards, call history and photos. You can also avoid Itunes for your music if you are so inclined but I use it so I can subscribe to podcasts.
PhoneView - http://ecamm.com/mac/phoneview/
Android alternative Spritie Mobile - Looks good, but was unavailable for the Nexus One at the time of writing but I’ve heard good things. Check out the website, it looks like they’ve taken time to polish the app(shock) which leads me to believe I can trust them with making an effort to do what they say they can
SpriteSoftware - http://www.spritesoftware.com/
IPhone: FileMagnet/Dropbox - I use this to carry around documents in pdf form for when I need flight documents or there is a agenda to an event I am attending.
Android has the advantage of being able to be mounted as a drive on your machine. So I can just drag and drop files onto it for safe keeping but I haven’t found many good alternatives for the usability of document apps on IPhone. With Filemagnet I can synch my file by pulling it into a partnering app on my desktop which then synchs over bluetooth.
Android alternative Astro - Allows navigation over the directory hierarchy. It’s pretty full featured one you have the files on the device but I miss the ability to just synch files on the desktop.
80% of apps are currently downloaded via the handheld so I am definitely in the minority when I say that I prefer to browse on my desktop. Although I’d rather it weren’t the case, Apple’s weakness is that they are a central point of failure in the IPhone App distribution model but as a strength they are also a central point of reference. Searching the Apple app store for ‘London’ receives back an inventory of IPhone apps and pictures, organised by popularity for London. On Android, a similarly intentioned Google search: ‘London Android App’ presents a list of forums and blog posts. Android’s decentralised App distribution model will only work if reputable distributors exist from whom consumers can search as points of reference. Google’s App store is browsable only upon the phone which I personally find limited in appeal apart from being a definitive list of available apps.
Upon the IPhone I have appreciates alternative means of discovery such as magazines, features and referrals. Through ITunes the AppStore client lends well to browsing, always greeting a user with fresh images and feature apps. Looking through the Android app stores it shocks me how none have adequately taken the initiative to develop an opinionated magazine interface seeking to add value over their listed inventory. Some app stores have intentionally taken the strong stance of not passing opinion, likening themselves to the impartial mediator. But if everything in your shop has equal priority then nothing is important. That may be the ‘Android way’ but it’s certainly not conducive to my browsing habits as someone who wants to be recommended cool new alternatives to my IPhone apps. It’s a fact that featured apps get more attention and archived apps get less.
So lets have a look at the contenders, to be honest none of them are very fun but I’ll try them out:
http://slideme.org/ - Bam! Wins the prize for first impressions with it’s big bold design, accordingly I tried to drill down but found the list based paging to be insufficient to browsing 100s of entries. It seems like a lot of apps have put the effort in to fill out screenshots and such. I also liked the clear ratings with nice icons which enticed me to pick some applications over others.
http://andappstore.com/ - Nice although limited selection. The interface is very clearly organised but could really benefit from revealing ratings higher up the list so I could get an idea of the popularity before drilling down to details. I’m not sure how the existing rating system works either as the ratings were there but I could’t see how they had been contributed as there was no where for me to add my rating.
http://www.getjar.com/ - Nicest, most intuitive interface which clearly moulded the app directory around the apps available for my Nexus one. There are a lot of elements in here which are Apple App store influenced and I think it works to good effect of all the stores this one seems like the most obvious alternative. …
http://www.handango.com/ - Again there is the benefit that you can clearly choose from on the apps which will work on your phone. It was easy to browse but had a very limited selection for the Nexus one. Looks nice and colourful though. Didn’t feel moved to download any applications.
http://www.androlib.com/ - Although it’s a list there is slightly more energy around it’s entries with a few adverts and a list of currently viewed apps. I especially like the top of the day which gives me an idea of what others are tending to download.
http://onlyandroid.mobihand.com/ - Easiest place to filter by phone. I was even browsed the shop for a while but all of the games and apps looked so j2me! Not to mention the fact that the majority of software was paid.
I would love to see an appstore interface becoming available through the Double twist interface and then just completely ripping off the apple take. The Android appstore problem is like the food problem in Brigeton in Glasgow, yes there are lots to choose from but they all sell and look like crap.
IPhone wins here.
Games & Entertainment
Access to games is not as important to me as days gone by but when I do get the urge I appreciated the availability of title’s such as GTA, Firemen, Beneath a steel sky, Doom and Wolfenstien. The last two are inevitably going to be available to compile from source but what about new apps? Scarcity of any mention of Android within mobile gaming magazines such as pocket gamer(4 reviews),<Another> and <Another> indicates that games have still to break into commercial success with Android’s consumers. Yes, I’ve seen the 50 games video but I’m into “big beefy spend a while getting through” games. The landscape is similar to the IPhone’s early days where games based around a singular gimmick or algorithm are in abundance since developers can sell their strengths but for me these sorts of games are not so immersive over one month of play. I did give try a fair few games though and enjoyed Skyforce, Shoot U and toonWarz. Once the platform attracts marketing money and developers can justify the costs of outsourcing artwork and design I predict this will change very quickly although right at this very moment there is not a great choice for gamers such as myself.
Preference: IPhone but this is no way affects my judgement since good games are few and far between on both platforms and as long as I have Doom I’m happy.
Forgetting that the media player looks like an ugly, boxy trip to Linux UI town, it plays music. As Android flag wavers will be quick to point out it also covers a greater range of audio/video formats. The only time I really make use of the audio player is when I’m stuck somewhere and then realise I can make the best of a bad situation and can listen to podcast which was automatically synched earlier. To replace the RSS feed I tried out the Google product ‘Listen’ and was pleasantly surprised. I prefer actually prefer the logical separation of my music from my podcast subscriptions so I am willing to forego the interface which I usually use to find them in ITunes and instead enter the RSS address of my faves. There is also quite a promising search in Listen which I used to find a few new podcasts. Just for future note some Podcast faves of mine are Software engineering radio, Java posse, Erol Alkan and Giles peterson.
Nexus one: 10
As expected, I found that feature by feature Nexus One is a superior device. So why do I intend to stick with the IPhone as my personal phone? Google have intentionally bettered the IPhone on a feature by feature basis but the bits where Google stops is where the problems start. The IPhone is a product curated with care for the consumer and until maybe now, there has just not been enough incentive for Android developers to invest the kind of love lavished on their IPhone Apps. I love the Nexus for development but not for lifestyle. If more functional and beautiful apps start to be created on Android then I’m quite sure the App stores will also get their act together. Until then I am not willing to sacrifice the apps which make my daily life more enjoyable in exchange for better hardware. Nexus Two maybe be a very different story.