This past weekend, I made the switch. I activated my Google Nexus 4 phone with T-Mobile and now, I’m fully converted to Android.
As much as I love to hate on Android, I knew very little about the platform. Even after about a week playing with it, I’m still learning new features and tweaks every day. For instance, widgets was one of the things that has always confounded me about Android. After trying them out for size, I’ve learned to love them.
In this review, I will focus on three elements: design, hardware, and software. I don’t anticipate it being comprehensive in detail, but I will try my best to highlight some of the things that caught my eye during my short period of use thus far. If you’re a Nexus 4 owner, feel free to share your your experiences with it so far. I’d love to hear them.
One of the things that annoys me about the Nexus 4 is its symmetrical design. Since the device lacks any physical buttons in the front screen, it’s difficult to identify the correct orientation of the phone when you first pick it up. I find myself pressing aimlessly trying to find the lock screen only to realize that the device is upside down. Especially in dim lighting, you can only rely on touch to determine whether you are holding the device correctly or not.
Speaking of the lack of physical controls…coming from the iPod Touch, it was definitely weird not having a button to press to take me back home. I guess old habits die hard.
Instead, they’re replaced with three on-screen controls: back, home, and multi-tasking. One annoyance I’ve found with this is that it’s very easy to accidentally hit the controls when you’re using an app. With a physical button, you can easily avoid this mistake since it requires a downward press versus a mere tap on a flat surface.
Where exactly is the cutoff point for phones that qualify as the so called “phablets?” The Nexus 4 feels pretty close, with its 4.7″ diagonal display. Having used an iPod Touch and its 3.5″ screen, it was quite the jump up in screen real estate. Now I know why some people hold their phones in their hand wherever they go. Smartphones these days are too big to fit in people’s pockets!
While I can learn to love the bigger screen, I am worried about one thing though. The Nexus gets pretty warm after some extended usage. Even after putting a case on it, I could still feel some heat radiating from the device. I have yet to play a single game thus far. Hopefully I won’t need to wear oven mitts.
The location of the speaker, microphone jack, and lock button is another conundrum for me. The speakers are located in the back, lower-right hand corner. Wouldn’t my hand obstruct some of the sound when I’m holding it? Also, since the speakers are pointed away from you, you have to crank up the volume a tad bit just to achieve an ideal listening experience.
As for the microphone jack, I’m accustomed to inserting my earphone jack at the bottom of the device when I’m holding it (on the iPod Touch). Let’s say you’re listening to some music. You receive a text message and your phone is in your pocket. Assuming your phone is sitting in your pocket with the microphone jack side at the top, retrieving your phone from your pocket would require you to turn it over to its upward position after you remove it. On the Nexus, the jack is on the opposite end.
The lock button is another similar issue. Since it’s located on the right-hand side, I’ve accidentally locked the phone while attempting to take photos in landscape mode. It’s kind of nit-picking I realize but I can’t tell you how much that has annoyed me on several occasions.
The phone is built with Gorilla Glass, which apparently protects both sides of the device. After reading the litany of horror stories from users who dropped their phones though, I’ve become extra paranoid with handling the Nexus. For protection from a certain night of sorrow, I bought the Ringke Fusion Hybrid case on Amazon. It’s much easier to remove than the Incase case I got for my iPod; removing it is like wrestling a ham from a grizzly bear. Other than that, it’s cheap, doesn’t add bulk to the device, and hopefully can save my phone in the event of a catastrophic 2-inch drop.
Ahhh…the topic I was looking forward to diving into. The Google Play Store has come a long ways. The iOS App Store absolutely dominated the mobile app market in the early going, but now the tide is shifting. My biggest complaint with Android apps is that they look terrible. Compared to the finely polished designs you often see on iOS apps, Android apps looked like they were designed by a blind penguin.
Speaking of 1Password…have you seen their Android app? It’s hideous. Now take a look at it’s iPhone app. It’s like this poor neglected child that no one wants to play with anymore. Last time it was updated? January 30, 2012. Thank god it was free.
I wasn’t a fan of Apple’s most recent redesign of their App Store. The introduction of horizontal scroll made it much slower to browse through app sections and search results. Luckily, the Google Play Store is a far better user experience. In addition to its sleek design and layout, I can also download and purchase apps via the desktop. When you turn your phone on, the app is already there or starting to install on your device. Also, I don’t know if this is a good thing or not, but you are never prompted to enter your Google account password when you download something. Especially on a mobile device, entering passwords is a major pain. With my ridiculous 30-string long passwords, I’m glad Google saved me the trouble.
Another cool thing that I discovered although I haven’t taken advantage of it yet is that the Play Store has a 15-minute refund window. Yup, you read that right. If you find something you don’t like right away, simply head to the app’s detail page on the Play Store and find that refund button, and you will get your money back! You won’t find something like this on iTunes.
The last thing I wanted to mention is keyboard typing. I’ve never been a very good typer on mobile devices. I misspell words, autocorrect fails me repeatedly, and it’s just so damn slow. On Android, there is a feature called Gesture Typing which makes it super easy to type with one hand. The software is smart enough to guess what letters you are trying to spell out without you ever lifting your finger from the screen. Currently, there is another similar app called Swype that is atop the Paid apps chart on the Google Play store. I haven’t tried it out yet but I do plan on doing so eventually.
Android has surprised me. A lot. It’s fun, intelligent, and only getting better. Is it better than iOS? No, but given its trajectory over the last year, Android has a chance to wrest away my loyalty. Frankly, I might let it.