Posted on August 25th, 2013
I've been unhappy with the screen size and increasing sluggishness of my two year old iPhone 4 for some time now. Having purchased a Nexus 7 tablet this winter, I've been leaning more and more toward switching to an Android phone. So, two weeks ago I took a trip to a local T-Mobile store, started a new account, and took home a Google Nexus 4 phone.
Frankly, it's an awesome device. Big screen, but not so huge as to be cumbersome. Really fast. The OS (JellyBean 4.3) is almost freakishly flexible and customizable. I was loving it from the first hour or so that I spent setting it up. I got it just the way I wanted it, even mimicking the placement of app icons and folders that I had on the iPhone. I tweaked notifications and sounds, made some adjustments on my network to accommodate different apps and forwarded my iPhone number to the Nexus. I had two weeks to return the thing to T-Mobile.
By day two or three, I was ready to take the plunge, port my number from AT&T to the new phone and never look back. How did I not switch sooner? What was I thinking?!!
Then it was my daughter's birthday, and the plan began to fray around the edges in a way I had not expected would matter so much. As I walked around with my shiny new Nexus 4 snapping pictures at her gymnastics party, I quickly realized one important thing. The camera on the Nexus was not very good. I had focus speed issues, exposure issues and noise issues in the pictures I was taking. I tried to shrug it off, telling myself that my phone wasn't really meant to be a high end camera anyway, but it wasn't a terribly convincing argument. My daughter asked me to take a silly picture of her with chalk on her face and send it to her so she could post it on her Instagram. Sure, but how was I going to do that? She has an iPod, not an iPhone, so I can't text it to her. She NEVER looks at her email (find me a 13 year old that does at this point), so while I could have emailed her the picture that would force to to do something she normally doesn't do. Sorry, no iMessage with an Android phone. No photo stream either. Oh, and no FaceTime. I knew all these things already, but suddenly they seemed like huge issues to me.
What I had was a really cool phone that was auto-uploading sub-par pics to Google+, where I am .... an island (at least with regard to my family and closest friends).
At that point I knew I had a problem.
On day 12 of my 14-day return period at T-Mobile I went back to the store with my Nexus 4, all my original packaging and paperwork, and decided I was going to play with an iPhone 5 for a little while. Was it fast enough? Was the oddly tall screen large enough for me? 30 minutes later I was reluctantly factory defaulting the Nexus, eating the $50 re-stocking fee, and taking home a new iPhone 5. What can I say? I enjoy good photography and I like being easily connected to the rest of the people that matter in my life.
I was disappointed that it didn't work out with Android. Really I was. The iPhone 5 is a great device too, but really there's nothing terribly exciting about it to me. Its what I already know, just faster and with a screen kinda large enough now that I can live with it. As I headed home with the iPhone, I didn't exactly have buyer's remorse, but I wasn't jumping for joy either.
Its been a few days now and I'm actually liking my iPhone again. Its much faster than my old one, and its a 4G LTE device (the Nexus was not) so I'm blown away by getting 15 Mbps+ download speeds on a cellular data network. I'm also really happy to have a good camera in my pocket again. Taking good pics and instantly sharing them in a family photo stream makes me happy. Being able to turn the phone into a wifi hotspot at a baseball game so my kids could post their pics to Instagram was also very cool, but admittedly that's more a carrier thing (you suck, AT&T) than a phone thing. The new ear buds are comfortable and sound way better than the old ones ever did thanks to a new design. The speakers are much nicer than the speaker on the Nexus, or the Galaxy S4, or a few other Android phones I looked at. Its not a critical point, but apps "look and feel" better on an iPhone than they do on an Android phone. There's something to be said for good design, even though that means a sometimes frustrating lack of flexibility.
I should add that switching from AT&T to T-Mobile will save me a bucket of cash every year once I get all the phones on my account switched over the next few months. Additionally, Apple appears to be readying the iPhone 5C, which means my kids can get iPhones without totally breaking the bank. If the iPhone 5s is compelling enough, my flexibility with T-Mobile means I get one of those and my wife gets this iPhone 5 come Christmas when her AT&T contract is up. Heck, even my mother - who is also on my AT&T plan - can switch to my T-Mobile account and have an iPhone 5C and we'll still save a boatload.
Still, I miss widgets and I'm hoping the new faster access to often-tweaked settings in IOS 7 comes through for me. In the end, while the Great Nexus Experiment of 2013 was a failure, the end result is positive on many fronts.
Here's a wildcard. My 13 year old will be handed a Google Chromebook by the school district when she goes back to school. Her younger sister will likely get one next year. We already have one in our house (I'm writing this post on it now in the Evernote web interface). When all their friends are using Google Hangouts instead of FaceTime and sharing on Google+ instead of Instagram or Facebook, I'm curious to see if the Apple ecosystem begins to lose its death grip on my family. Maybe we'll all wind up in Google-land after all, but that's a topic for another way-too-long blog post.