iPhone to Nexus One: Making the Leap

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It’s been exactly one week since I scrapped my iPhone 3gs 32gb in favor of the Google Nexus One. The choice was clear as soon as Leo Laporte (“The Tech Guy”) reported he had completely made the switch to his Nexus One. I hit the order button the moment the new AT&T/Rogers 3g Nexus One hit Google’s phone page, and within three days, it was in my hands. My range of emotions through this first tumultuous week have ranged from “wow, this is the greatest choice I’ve ever made” to “my god, what have I done?”

The bottom line is that both devices are good–actually unbelievably good. When the iPhone 3gs first hit the market, I labeled it the greatest tech device ever made, and that was no exaggeration. I’ve been through every type of smartphone since the Treo 270, and I’ve paid the price for staying on the cutting edge by paying countless early termination fees whenever something new hits the market. With the nearly-dead Palm OS, the downright awful Windows OS, and the more corporate-oriented Blackberry, there are only two real contenders in the superphone market: the mighty iPhone OS and the up-and-coming Android OS. And the new Nexus One (aka the “Google Phone”) is the king of the Android platform.

Why switch? Well for one, I use all of Google’s services extensively and Apple has been making things increasingly difficult for Google power-users lately. I found I was growing increasingly dependent on a mishmash of jailbroken apps to make things work with Google. And secondly, I don’t want to fall into Apple’s proprietary and bloated iTunes system–not to mention I can’t even run it as a Linux user, and managing music on an iPhone without iTunes is just way too much effort.

Over the past week, I found myself struggling with some glaring shortcomings of the Nexus One’s Android interface–things that the iPhone handled well and I found myself missing dearly right off the bat. These are mainly: (1) the keyboard, (2) text messaging, (3) lock screen design, and (4) the music player. Fortunately, I’ve managed to (mostly) solve all four of these issues with 3rd party apps.

Making the Switch

When my Nexus One arrived, I simply swapped my SIM card from my iPhone, entered my Google Account username and password, and voila–that’s all there was to it. My contacts, email, calendar, tasks, docs, photos… everything was right there. No hours of jailbreaking, setting up Nuevasync, and setting up all the old workarounds I had to deal with on my iPhone.

iPhone vs Nexus One: A Comparison

The Hardware

Both devices are nearly the same size–the Nexus One a bit slimmer and narrower than the iPhone but also slightly taller. However, the Nexus One has a much higher res screen (and wow is it amazing), faster processor, four commonly used built-in buttons, a trackball which doubles as a glowing notification indicator, a 5MP camera (with flash), and a 720p high-def video camera. Rather than built in memory, you need to add a micro SD card to the Nexus One for storage. I swapped out the 4GB for an 8GB that I had lying around, but I’m holding out for a 32GB which are just now hitting the market. The Nexus One also has a removable battery which is a big plus so you can easily swap it out when it begins to tire out. And the Nexus One has dual microphones for noise cancellation. One big disappointment with the Nexus One is the lack of a ring/vibrate hardware switch–you need to turn on the phone and switch off the ringer either on screen or hitting volume down until it vibrates.

The User Interface

The iPhone has a carefully thought out clean, smooth, and polished interface. The Nexus One seems a bit more clunky and the buttons/controls are a bit inconsistent and uglier than the iPhone’s buttery-smooth layout.

Desktop Layout

With my iPhone, I had seven different screens grouped by category. This works, but I was always flipping through screens trying to get to the app I need. The Nexus One really shines here–you can add app icons to your heart’s content, but you can go much farther and add folders and live widgets. Folders allow you to pop-up a group of app icons by category without scrolling to a different screen. And with an app called Beautiful Widgets, I was able to add nice toggle switches to my main screen to quickly turn things like Bluetooth or wifi on or off quickly. I also added widgets to show the weather forecast, my Google calendar agenda, and Google task list right on the screen without having to open up the app. And one touch of the widget brings up more detail. You can also add shortcut icons to do things like directly dial someone or open the navigation app to get you back home from wherever you are driving. Very nice indeed.

Playing Music

Out of the box, the Nexus One has a horrible music player. The simple act of pausing a song is tremendously difficult while driving–you need to hit the power switch, draw in your unlock pattern, find the music app, open it, and hit the pause button. If you haven’t crashed your car by then, the music will pause (when using earphones the standard click button pauses the music, however). But I call this one a tie because a third party app called bTunes emulates the iPhone’s music player almost exactly, and includes lock screen play/pause/back/forward controls similar to the iPhone. This is a must-have app.

Music Management

This is a very personal choice. If you like iTunes, you’re probably happy with your iPhone. But I can’t stand iTunes and, as a Linux user, it was nearly rocket science for me to get music on and off of my iPhone. With the Nexus One, you simply have a folder called Music on your storage card and drag and drop your music into it. The Nexus One recognizes cover art embedded in MP3s, or the standard cover.jpg coverart in the album’s directory. Nice and simple and I love it.

GPS Navigation

The Nexus One has Google Navigation with voice turn-by-turn directions built right in–and it works well. With the iPhone, you get Google Maps with the little blue dot that you need to guide along your path–not always easy to do while driving. One major bug with the Navigation app–it sticks to whatever transportation means Google Maps last used, so if you use either the Maps or Navigation apps for walking directions, it is still in walk mode when you get back in your car and call up directions from a different app like Yelp–and you can’t change it back to car mode without manually entering the address–very frustrating.

Typing

Bottom line is that typing and autocorrect are better on the iPhone. On the Nexus One, I use an app called Better Keyboard with the iPhone look-alike skin, but after one week, I’m still not typing as fast as I was on my iPhone. Even as typing accuracy improves, it will never be perfect and autocorrect accuracy is important. I got to the point where I could type on my iPhone without even looking at it, thanks to a well-engineered autocorrect system. Hopefully the Nexus One will improve in this area with future Android software updates. The Nexus One does have a user-defined custom dictionary for autocorrect, but I’d also like to see the option to remove standard dictionary words from the list that I would rarely use. One nice thing about the Nexus One is that it shows around four similar words as you type right above the keyboard and you can click on the word you’re going for.

Multitasking

The iPhone can multitask, but multitasking for third party apps is not possible under Apple’s architecture. I understand Apple’s desire to keep apps self-contained so they can’t do too much damage, but it really limits functionality. The Nexus One allows multitasking galore, which is great for geo-tracking apps, listening to podcasts, and switching around open apps (through the equivalent of a virtual alt-tab function). With the power of multitasking comes a bit necessary caution on the user’s part–I’ve heard of completely crashing the phone, although I haven’t had any problems yet. Also, you need to keep an eye on what is using up your battery when you’re not using it–and the Nexus One will show you at a glance. Some apps are battery hogs even when you think they’re turned off.

Text Messaging

I don’t like the stock text messaging apps on either platform. I used a jailbreak app called BiteSMS on my iPhone and thankfully, the same fine folks make an app called ChompSMS for the Nexus One. This gives you the “bubble chat” conversation view and has tons of options that the stock apps lack. But ChompSMS is even better than its iPhone counterpart with additional features like blacklisting. And on the Nexus One, new text messages appear on the notification bar, so you can pull down the text message without having to exit whatever app you’re in to reply to a text message.

Web Browser

I think both browsers work well now that the Nexus One is pinch-zoom capable. Many people seem to swear by the Dolphin browser on the Nexus One, but I haven’t tried it. Flash should be available later this year. I give a slight edge to the Nexus One for the way window-switching is implemented–rather than flipping through open browser windows, you simply call up a list of open windows and click on the one you want with one touch.

App Market

With way more iPhones out there it’s understandable that there are way more apps. The Android apps that run on Nexus One seem to be under heavy development though. I think developers are overloaded right now with the iPad coming out next week, and have put Android development on the shelf to scramble to build iPad apps. The latest market numbers show Android phones growing at a much faster rate than iPhone right now, so hopefully the Android Market will grow quickly with these numbers. Just like the iPhone, the Nexus One has both paid and free apps–paid apps are billed to your Google account which bills directly to your credit card. One really nice advantage of the Android Market is that you get a 24 hour money back guarantee for all apps–just click the refund button within 24 hours of purchase and your credit card is not charged–I’ve done this twice already. I’ve found Android equivalents of almost all of my iPhone apps, but three I really miss are: Mint.com, Zipcar, and Amazon’s Kindle app. And the Yelp app that I use nonstop is also not quite as full-featured as its iPhone counterpart.

Phone Calls

Both have similar phone functionality. The Nexus One wins for total integration with Google Voice. I’ve used Google Voice since day one because it is quite simply amazing. The Nexus One will give you built-in Google Voice functionality if you choose (you need a Google Voice number) and even allow you to make phone calls directly from your Google Voice number. This almost lets you replace your cell phone number 100% if you want, but the problem is that you still can’t send/receive text messages natively using your Google Voice number outside of the Google Voice app. In other words, the Nexus One is 100% integrated with the voice side of Google Voice, but not quite with the text messaging side.

Accessories

The iPhone has way more stuff you can buy for it. I was sad to see that OtterBox doesn’t make a Nexus One case, but I did find a decent rubber mold called Box Wave FlexiSkin. Another disappointment is that the volume click up/click down buttons don’t work on my beloved Klipsh earphones–but at least the pause and double click song skip button still works. I hope this can be fixed in the future with software. And my iPhone clock radio and car holder are history. One advantage is that the Nexus One’s data/charge jack is the much more compact micro usb and I found a nice car charger from Cellet with push button retractable cable.

Camera/Video

The resolution improved from the iPhone 3g to the 3gs, but the Nexus One is better by a long shot. I mean it’s no contest! The photos are beautiful and the flash lights up subjects within a couple of feet. And the video is nice smooth HD. And best yet–the video format is industry-standard .AVI rather than Apple’s god-awful proprietary .MOV format which means no more .mov to .avi post-conversions for me. You can also tweak with the photo and video to set custom white balance, effects, quality, etc.

Security

This is another one where the Nexus One needs some help from a third party app. The stock Nexus One treats screen power off and lock as the same thing, whereas the iPhone handles them as two separate events. In other words you can have your iPhone’s screen auto power-off after 30 seconds but not lock until after five minutes. I found this to be the single most frustrating part of the Nexus One–if you have security turned on, you need to unlock your screen every time it turns off. Fortunately there’s an app called Autolock that allows you to emulate the iPhone method. As far as unlocking, the iPhone requires a 4 digit pin whereas the Nexus One uses a connect-the-dots scheme. I prefer the pin method because it’s easier and doesn’t leave swiping finger smudges all over the screen (which can help reveal your unlock pattern if you look at the smudge pattern). But the Nexus One redeems itself with apps that help you locate your phone if you lose it–Mobile Defense will pinpoint your Nexus One on Google Maps right in your web browser with no need to subscribe to a paid service. There are also apps that let you set off alarms on your Nexus One by sending it a certain text message. And it’s also simple to go into Google from any web browser and force a log off of all other Google sessions so that you can effectively lock your Nexus One out of all Google services if it wanders away from you.

The Choice Was Clear For Me

So there it is. I’ve found that both phones have their own strengths and weaknesses, but after one week of full immersion with my new Nexus One, the clear winner for me is the Nexus One by a long shot. That being said, I still think the iPhone is a better choice for someone who wants simplicity, doesn’t mind iTunes, and doesn’t care about all the tech-geek bells and whistles. The Nexus One is for someone who loves Google’s services, enjoys tweakability, and wants the best quality in photos/video and voice clarity. Let’s just say the iPhone is finesse while the Nexus One is brawn.