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My review of the GSM Galaxy Nexus compared to iPhone 4S (long)
I’m making an effort here to be as impartial as possible, and I'm posting this on both android and iphone forums. Hopefully some will find it of some benefit. Your thoughts are welcome
-"look and feel" is really top notch. I've never been a fan of cases, but this is a phone that begs to be used without one, IMO. I like the solid, heavy feel, and the use of glass and metal resonates with me
-icloud. it really does make syncing photos and videos taken with the onboard camera and my ipad and MBA just brain dead simple (read: automatic). Very nice to have. Also love the backup to the cloud, and that other apps use it too. That I can transfer pdfs between my ipad and iphone with the goodreader app and the cloud is very slick. I use my ipad at least 70% as a e-reader.
-Display. Of course, what else can be said? color reproduction is very good, though not as eye-grabbing as an OLED display, more accurate. Blacks are still "very good", though not excellent.
-The "experience". As mentioned, things "just work". It sounds like marketing BS to non-apple users, but it's true. First and foremost here is the browsing experience on the iphone. They have simply _mastered_ the use of touch-scrolling through a webpage. Just the right amount of "inertia" and as smooth as glass.
-It's the de facto standard for a smartphone. The fact that there are more iphones sold than any other single smartphone is compelling when you're a peripheral/accessory manufacturer. Eventually though, I see this changing though with android's overtaking of iOS.
-App store. There's an app for just about everything. Really.
-Works exceedingly well with the apple ecosystem. With a MBA and ipad, it definitely complements these components well.
-Size. Fits very nice in my small-average sized hands. Can hit any part of the screen with my thumb and use without too much trouble with a single hand.
-Battery life. I have no clue what reviewers are complaining about with regard to battery life of iOS 5 and the iphone 4s. I can get a solid two days if I don't use it too much and I have a decent signal the entire time. I could _never_ get that with my Epic or Epic Touch (SG2), even rooted and with battery management.
-Text entry. No swype is a big fail, IMO. After about 2 hours of use I did get much better at using iphones keypad, but it's still a far cry from android IMO.
-Almost zero customization. Little things like "vibrate on key press" are conspicuously absent. Really apple? BB pioneered this very useful feature years ago and it's pretty much ubiquitous in the smartphone industry, why isn't it on the 4s? No widgets is also a big downer. Auto brightness sucks (way too dim in darkness), so when I want to change brightness at night, I have a rather complicated process for doing so, instead of just pulling down a bar from the top and changing there. Even the ipad gets this right, but the iphone, not so much. Just another example of how user customization would go a long way. Not to be harsh, but iOS feels like an app launcher with features added on as opposed to a true full featured OS (see “inflexible data storage…” below for some reasons why I say this).
-Screen size. This is a big one. 3.5" screen reminds me of my old HTC Diamond Winmo 6.1 phone. Doesn't seem to be as much of a problem as I originally thought since the resolution is just awesome, but it does force me to browse very close to my face to seem decent size.
-Ruggedness. Granted, I think from an electronics perspective, this phone will be working for quite awhile, but the materials used are not conducive to long term use. Period. Drops can be catastrophic, screen scratches relatively easily, the back is glass and scratches easily. Antenna is in an inconvenient spot, meaning cases and other external interfaces can reduce signal strength.
-Apps are expensive. Even on sale, apps that are released on both android and ios are almost invariably more expensive on iOS. The vast bulk of android apps are free, which I can't say for iOS.
-Inflexible for data storage/transfer/app usage. I hate hate hate the fact that if I want to read a single PDF in three different PDF viewers, I have to have it on my device three separate times. Each app "stovepipes" it's own file system. This is completely stupid. Not to mention how (relatively) difficult it is to get files on and off of the thing. This is getting better with iOS 5 and cloud, but it's definitely not where it needs to be.
-Poor integration with google apps (like navigation, goggles, shopping, etc)
-Poor navigation app (no turn by turn) and most decent ones cost money
-Display, display, display. HD and OLED = one drool worthy display. PPI might not be quite as high as the iphone, but it's still better than print, so it's good enough for me. Colors have a ton of punch, and blacks are to die for. I love that I can’t tell where the display stops and where the bezel picks up if I’m looking at a black background.
-Customizable. Yeah, you can do just about anything you want with this device, especially once it's rooted.
-Google mentality. Granted, I don't like everything about Google, but their mentality when it comes to open source and free sharing of information is a damn sight better than apple IMO
-Durability. The Galaxy line of devices are all very durable, this one seems to be no exception. They say the screen is fortified, but I can’t attest to actual strength or scratch resistance. Still, the body feels very tight and well put together, no play in the back or any of the construction, and though it feels light, it’s not light enough that it feels cheap.
-NFC. Don't think I'll use this right away, but it's very nice to have. I understand hackers have already gotten this to work with google wallet.
-More "command buttons". This is a big one for me. Having multiple buttons (menu, home, etc) just makes apps easier to work with. Instead of taking up screen real estate with "back" buttons and the like (a la apple), it's all available to the app. After having no dedicated back button for a month while using the iphone, going back to it is extremely refreshing. It’s amazing just how useful it is.
-User replaceable battery. Yeah, this is definitely a low priority for me, but it's nice to have.
-Google experience. Navigation, apps, places, goggles, etc. Android will always get all of them and get them first. Plays well with gmail, which is my go-to for email.
-Google music integration. This one is big enough to stand on its own. The fact that google allows you to upload up to 20000 of your OWN DRM-free songs to its cloud server and use them anywhere is INSANE. I’m currently taking advantage of this to the tune of about 45 GB of storage for FREE, with apparently no upload/download caps. What’s even better you can simply have it synced to your music directory on your desktop (like dropbox), so anything you add in there is automatically added to the cloud. Awesome, just awesome.
-Ergos. Curved glass, soft touch back, thin. All very practical, if not beautiful. Was hoping the soft touch plastic would be a little more no-slip – though it’s definitely a step up from the Galaxy S2, it’s not like HTC soft touch no-slip products that use that creamy feeling plastic. That’s what I was hoping for. Also, it feels great in the hand – it’s not all sharp edges and squared off like the iphone. Part of this is probably the fact that the on-screen keys are closer to the screen than the previous capacitive buttons. I have average to small-sized hands and, for all its size, I have no trouble using the Gnex one-handed.
-Hacking community. This may sound like a pretty flimsy "pro", but the hacking community always seems to be able to accomplish far more with android devices than with ios.
-Notification light. This could have been a LOT better than it actually is (I was hoping for a charging indicator, a “charge full” indicator, and longer flashing frequency – right now it only flashes for a second out of maybe 5-6 seconds, a casual glance can easily miss the notification), but it’s still better than nothing.
-Voice command. I like Siri sometimes, and it does a much better job with some things (mainly, the stuff that google voice command doesn't do at all) like setting reminders, setting timers, checking weather, stuff like that. But overall I found google voice command to be much better and much faster than Siri. Finding phone numbers, calling places or contacts, writing text messages and emails, dictation, and finding websites were all consistently more accurate and usually faster with voice command. Plus, the near real time dictation is just incredible and simply doesn't have an analog in Siri.
-Plastic. You just can't beat the look and feel of Apple products. The curved shape may be ergonomic, but it certainly ain't a looker (IMO).
-Not true "state of the art" hardware, with the exception of the display. This is a big one. CPU, GPU, Ram, etc are all at or even below industry standards established several months ago. Feels like a cop out for a true game-changer and flagship device. Why didn't they at least give it the Note internals?
-No SD slot. I'm shocked about this one. Except cloud storage, you're limited like the iphone.
-New OS version and display resolution means app support is somewhat sub-par right now. For example, my “go to” video player app for android, Rockplayer, doesn’t always seem to work, and many of the other apps I’ve used either crash, don’t display at the right res, or are just buggy in general. Naturally, this is likely only temporary.
-Unfortunately, touch screen buttons aren’t all good. I’ve found myself hitting the home button on occasion when I’m typing a note and hit the space bar. There’s something to be said for a physical button – you can rest your finger on it to make the phone easier to hold without actually _pressing_ it.
Unfortunately these, by nature, are going to be more use-case specific, so whether they will apply to you I can’t say.
Android has made a big step with ICS over Gingerbread (or even Honeycomb, IMO). In general, it’s cleaner and less cluttered than GB, and the UI is noticeably more responsive to homescreen and app drawer swipes and the like. Clicking the home screen button works instantly without lag, and the back button is a bit faster too. Does it achieve parity with iOS? I would say no. “Smoothness” is still not quite on par with iOS, though it’s clear that this is because iOS essentially takes the easy way out in many situations, and Android is attempting to give the user a bit more of a “flashy” or windows-like experience. Examples include the multitasking command – in ICS it has its own button (which, to me, is overkill – I really don’t use it that much) and it pops up an overlay with a condensed version of what’s displayed in each “window” of those apps at the current time. These can be swiped away very nicely, and it gives a very desktop feel to multitasking. In iOS, a double click of the home button gives you a bar that pops up at the bottom of the screen with a list of the apps currently running, though it only gives their icons, not an image of the app, since, in reality, most of them are not actually running simultaneously. In ICS (at least on the Gnex), the multitasking button was one of the most consistently laggy commands you can issue. If I had more than about 2 apps running, it almost always took a half a second for it to respond to my button press. In iOS, it’s always instant. This theme – additional functionality or ability to customize at the expense of some smoothness/responsiveness – is pervasive throughout ICS (and Android in general).
The browsing experience on the iOS device is slightly better than on Android IMO, but it’s VERY close. The GNex pretty consistently beat my 4S on page loading times, but the browser and interface on iOS is slightly smoother and feels more connected to your inputs. On the Gnex, when I put my thumb on a line and swipe up and down a bit to move the website vertically, the response of the browser is always a split second behind your finger, unlike the iphone, and it doesn’t inspire confidence with a true no lag experience like the iphone does. The double-tap-to-zoom-in process on the iphone is a little more effective at getting me zoomed in where I need to be, though not by much, and though both devices don’t do flash right now, video content loading is not a flawless experience on ICS, whereas it usually is on the iphone. On iphone, you just click the video to run it and it will usually load right into the youtube app for you and play the video - very easy. On the Gnex, if you click it once, it’ll play right in the browser first, but then if you want to load it into the youtube app, you (strangely) have to click the title, NOT the little “full screen” button as you would think. The latter does nothing but make it pause – maybe that requires flash to work correctly? Clicking on the video title isn’t a flawless experience too, as it disappears after a second or two. Both stock browsers are among the best available for each platform, but I have to give the edge to the ICS browser itself - as far as features are concerned - since it allows for true full screen browsing, unlike safari.
The display on another big factor here, and I would say it’s an unequivocal win for the Gnex. Size DOES matter, and in this case (to me) the relatively small size of the display on the iphone is extremely limiting when switching back from the Gnex. I used to think that I liked AMOLED much more than IPS (for phones), but now I’d have to say they’re about even. Colors have more punch on the AMOLED, but they’re definitely more accurate on the iphone. The image on the iphone is noticeably sharper, even though the PPI is about the same, which is almost certainly because of the pentile matrix of the Gnex. Pentile also tends to yield some unwanted side effects, like a visible crosshatched pattern on a dim gray background (something ICS has plenty of). Still, the size issue is key. Though you can physically see almost as much on the iphone display, I found myself having to hold the phone much closer to my face to do things like browse the web and read pdfs on the iphone.
Battery life is important to a lot of people, and I’d say that this is a qualified win for the iphone. In terms of actual use time, the iphone battery will last you MUCH longer than the Gnex. That is to say, if you used both with the display (obviously) on and running various apps, the iphone would go much longer until the battery is dead. However, with my normal use profile, they’re probably about even. With about 2 hours of use each, and the rest of the time in standby (push gmail, google voice, facebook notifications, wifi active, etc), both phones put me at about 30-40% battery life when I got to bed, assuming a full charge in the morning. The gnex standby in standby just SIPS power. I’ve found it’s not uncommon to use only about 2% battery in an hour! My iphone in standby uses about 3-4% over the same period with the same signal conditions. So though this is really a win for the iphone, for most of my use, the Gnex has enough battery for me to be comfortable.
This probably relates to the display, but I think it’s really more about the OS, so I’ll separate it – iOS seems to be much more “information dense” with regard to the display. This is a good thing. Despite the massive difference in size, you still have the same amount of “app squares” on each desktop, and the font seems to be more compact for some reason as well. Just an observation, but as previously stated, with the exception of things like websites, it seems that Apple just chooses to pack more information onto the any given screen than Google does with android. Personally I wish I had 5 icon columns on ICS, as the standard is becoming larger and higher res displays, the previous 4x4 home screen grid looks somewhat sparse. I also like Apple’s uniformity of icons. The shape of Android icons varies so wildly that it gives it a somewhat cheaper appearance. Yes, this is purely aesthetic, but things like this matter overall. Apple has clearly put more time into making each element of the experience polished, as opposed to focusing on the overall interface and functionality, like Google. Both approaches yield benefits for their respective platforms, and I do think Google made big strides here from GB to ICS.
I won’t comment too much on the camera as I’ve not had a whole lot of experience with Gnex’ camera yet. What I did like about it was the zero shutter lag aspect. Even though this does translate to a lot of blurry pictures, I found it preferable to simply take 5-10 photos like this and throw out the chaff than work to get a couple good ones with the iphone. I’ve found the video on the Gnex to be very good, and I love the zoom feature, even though it comes at the expense of quality. Sometimes this is just nice to have. Neither has a dedicated camera button, but the slight nod there goes to the iphone since you can at least use its volume up button to snap pics. Overall, the iphone 4s wins decidedly here, but for my purposes, I actually like the camera on the Gnex just as much, since for anything beyond fun shots and stuff I’m going to post with the craigslist app, I’m going to use my Nikon D300 DSLR with a dedicated flash.
For me the decision was really “which one do I keep?” My answer isn’t straightforward, unfortunately, but the the bottom line is that the Gnex will likely be my "daily driver" for now. It was very close though – the key differentiators for me were the display size, ICS functionality, the open file architecture, and google music. With that said, all but one of these (the display) are not deal breakers for me, and if Apple comes out with a iphone 5 with a 4”+ display (with the same PPI – keeping the same res will lose the “retina” factor), I’ll likely be switching back to iOS. Android has a bit further to go before it feels as seamless as iOS IMO. Then again, we’re seeing ICS at its worst right now, and knowing Google’s track record for rolling out significant incremental updates, I feel that the Gnex is the best phone (for me) to have at the current moment.
For those people who’ve always been iOS users and are now considering Android for the first time, unless you’re really bothered by the size of the screen on the iphone like I am, I don’t think ICS and the Gnex as it currently sits fixes everything that was wrong with Android before. With that said, as to the difference in responsiveness and overall build of the OS, I feel ICS is only a very slight step down from iOS at this point, so if you can find enough positive in what the Gnex offers, I recommend at least trying one out.
For Android users that have bought into the google ecosystem, happily used Android to date and have never used iOS as a basis for comparison, it’s probably best to just go out and buy the Gnex and be happy. Though I’ve never tried the Droid RAZR or Rezound, after my experience with the Galaxy S, Galaxy S2, Galaxy Note, LG Nitro HD (only demoed in the store yesterday), Bionic, and a few other Android phones, IMO the Gnex and iphone are definitely the two best phones on the market.
flame suit on