A few weeks back on Android

A white Nexus 5X seen from front and back. The back has the light sensor, camera, fingerprint sensor, and Nexus and LG logos. The front has the speakers, and the screen which shows an aerial view of a beach with houses fronting it, with various application icons.Over the summer, my iPhone broke down. The charging point initially stopped charging when the Lightning plug was not plugged in at exactly the right angle, but one morning while I was out driving and needed to charge, it just wouldn’t. I took my phone to the local Apple Store in the afternoon after work, and they told me they couldn’t fit me in that afternoon and that I’d have to come in first thing Saturday morning. As I needed a phone and couldn’t guarantee that they’d be able to fix my iPhone, which was out of warranty, I went and bought a Nexus 5X from the local Carphone Warehouse. It’s a 32Gb in, I think, aqua blue (which was the only colour they had left). The next morning, I went into the Apple Store and they did manage to get my iPhone charging again, and I put the Nexus back in its case intending to sell it.

About a month ago, the new version of Android, v7 Nougat, came out and I decided to give it a go on the Nexus. While using the Nexus (which came with version 6, Marshmallow) briefly, I had a taste of my former frustrations at the quality of the Twitter apps, which may seem trivial but it’s a large part of what I use my mobile phone for. I wasn’t willing to use the official app because of certain limitations (I wanted traditional Mentions and Retweets columns, not “Interactions”) and the competition all has serious drawbacks including infrequent updates and bugs (e.g. timeline updates and streaming which leave gaps which won’t fill). But I was also reminded of the flexibility: being able to install direct dial buttons and other widgets on the home screen, which you just can’t do on iOS (though the process for doing this on Android really needs to be simplified). To access any contact, you have to go into the dialler (where you can add them to the Favourites list) or the Contacts app.

So, once my iPhone was repaired, I put the Nexus back in its box and into my cupboard and contemplated selling it on eBay. But then along came Nougat which the reviews told us was a major release, and I got it out again and upgraded it (after installing several sets of monthly security updates, which Google should really make available in one download so that the user only has to go through the process once). The Nougat update itself was fairly quick (much quicker than an iOS upgrade) and once it was over I went through the usual set-up routine (you use your Google account for the Play Store which supplies the apps but not, unlike its equivalent on the Mac, OS updates and upgrades).

I decided to give my Nexus a few weeks’ proper use as my regular phone and put the iPhone away, so I put my SIM into the Nexus and added my regular contacts (relatives and job agency offices) to my home screen. I also transferred all my audio files over to the device (which was easy as Apple now stores iTunes files as MP3, not AAC, so it’s just a question of finding the files and using Android File Transfer to transfer them folder by folder). I paired the phone with my car and with the sat-nav I use when driving trucks. The sat-nav paired without much effort, but the car took a lot more effort, failing several times, telling me it was already paired when it wasn’t. When I finally managed it, however, I found the Nexus vastly more reliable in its Bluetooth pairing than the iPhone. In particular, it reconnects very quickly when a connection goes down. With the iPhone, when it first meets a device it’s paired with, it pairs automatically, but you have to manually reconnect whenever the connection goes down (e.g. when you turn the car engine off). That doesn’t happen with the Nexus, which automatically reconnects.

Android has offered interchangeable keypads since its inception (or at least since I first started using it in 2009) and the default offering, although a bit clunky for my liking, still excels far beyond Apple’s stock keypad (which has offered multiple-choice predictive text only since 2014), which remains slow, largely because the choices appear with a sort of animation rather than just appearing, as on every other keypad. I installed SwiftKey, my preferred keypad both before and after I bought my iPad and iPhone, which on Android is far more flexible than its iOS equivalent; you can resize the keypad, you can long-press to get numbers and symbols, you have more options for speed typing and avenues for personalisation. On top of this, I’ve never had a keypad fail to appear when I need to type (e.g. when a text entry field appears or is activated by my touching it on the screen), which is a regular occurrence on iOS and is only solved by force-quitting the app. On Android, there is always an on-screen button that lets you swap keypads; there isn’t on iOS, where it is more needed. The iOS version of Swype is an even more limited, cut-down version of the Android equivalent, although it offers long-press symbols, unlike SwiftKey.

The user interface in general is a lot brighter than iOS’s. The Nexus’s resolution has improved a lot over the last few versions and the naked eye (mine at least) can’t tell the difference between it and Apple’s Retina screens. Both systems have moved towards a flatter interface, getting rid of button shadings and “skeuomorphic” designs (e.g. a note-taking app expecting you to write on a picture of a notebook) and third-party apps have mostly followed suit, but Google’s “Material Design” has used colour a lot more in all its stock apps (its headers are usually white on a coloured background) while Apple’s use mostly black on white or light grey. None of this is new to Nougat or recent versions of iOS, of course. Both recent iPhones and the Nexus 5X (based on an LG phone) have fingerprint sensors to unlock the device, and the Nexus’s is much more reliable — Apple’s fails if I don’t have absolutely clean hands, while the Nexus’s almost never fails (and if you think yours is failing, make sure that your finger is on the sensor, not the camera which is above it). The Nexus is bigger, and is thus a bit more difficult to operate one-handed; the iPhone lets you tap twice to access content at the top of the screen (it drops everything on the screen halfway down, with the bottom content disappearing), which isn’t the case on Android as far as I can tell. Android has the usual three buttons at the bottom, with “Back” on the left and “Home” in the middle; much less use is made of swiping on Android than on iOS. It took a bit of getting used to. The back button at the bottom is far more convenient than on iOS, where apps usually have the Back button at the top left.

That leaves apps. Android has access to one important and really useful app, namely the AquaMail email client, which offers nearly all the options you get on a decent desktop email client, which no iOS email client that I’ve found does. For example, you can’t choose where to put the quoted text in a reply on any iOS client (it was customary to put it at the top, and delete and interpolate as necessary). A lot of other Android apps leave a lot to be desired, however. Most are perfectly adequate but lack the polish of their equivalent on iOS, if there is even an Android version. There is no equivalent of TweetBot, and there are a lot of Twitter clients which have fallen into neglect largely because of Twitter’s token limit (TweetCaster being a good example). The Facebook client is not quite as polished as the iOS version, with some bugs and peculiar features in the user interface, although when I reported one of them, it was fixed a few days later. A common iOS problem is apps that are designed for older devices and the text and keypad are scaled up, which looks pretty ugly; Android had different form factors from the start, so apps aren’t built for fixed screen sizes. Android also features a contactless payment system which you have to link to your debit card, but my bank supports Apple Pay but not Android Pay (it has said it will in the last quarter of 2016; we shall see) (my bank enabled Android Pay shortly after this was written).

So, do I intend to carry on using Android? Yes. I much prefer its flexibility, its superior user interface and its vastly better Bluetooth handling. Although you can replace some stock Apple apps on iOS, you can’t set them as the default app for certain functions. Would I recommend that everyone switch? Not necessarily, as Nexus devices (which all but my first two Androids have been, and are the ones that get the regular updates straight from Google) are often in short supply and aren’t as powerful as, say, the Samsung G-series, yet the latter gets Android updates late if at all. The Nexus is a superb phone at just over half the price of the roughly equivalent iPhone, which in my opinion is poor value for money despite recent improvements. If Nexus was as readily available as the iPhone, it could easily give the iPhone a run for its money.

Image source: Wikimedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence.

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