Here's what happened when an iPhone loyalist tried a Nexus 5

Credit: Ron Miller

My first smart phone was an iPhone 3G, which I got around 2008. I replaced it with an iPhone 4 three years ago, and that's the phone I'm using today. I don't have LTE. I don't have a lightening fast processor and I haven't updated it to iOS 7.

I decided it might be fun to try an Android phone, so I asked Google if I could use a shiny new Nexus 5 for a couple of weeks and compare it to my experience as an iPhone user. I've played with Android phones, but I've never lived with one and I thought it would be interesting to compare my Apple experience to the Android one. Anyone who reads about smartphones knows there's a ridiculous level of passion from both audiences.

I'm here to tell you that that the experience isn't dramatically different. If you have even a little bit of tech savvy, a phone OS is a phone OS, but there were aspects of it I liked and ones I didn't. 

Before you leave nasty comments, yes, I know I'm using an older iPhone. Your experience could vary from mine and I acknowledge that.

Also, please note this isn't a review so much as a description of my first extended experience using an Android phone after five years on iOS. If you want to read a review, check out my colleague Chris Nerney's

A big phone

The first thing I noticed was the size. The screen is appreciably bigger and sharper than my iPhone 4. I liked that. Having more screen real estate is always good, but it comes at a cost. I don't have small hands by any means, but I'm used to holding an iPhone 4.

One thing Apple does very well is take into account ergonomics and the way the device fits in your hand. The iPhone has been designed to fit comfortably. It has a certain sense of balance and it just fits well, although I know people with larger hands who don't share this impression.

Overall, I didn't like the feel of the larger phone in my hand. It didn't feel right. The edges weren't soft. I found myself putting it on a desk and using it on speaker because I didn't like holding it in my hand. 

Amazing screen, atrocious sound

The screen quality is just outstanding. I found it easy to read articles on the phone and I downloaded a Pixar movie. The experience was fantastic. As I watched, I forgot I was looking at a small screen. It was that good.

The sound is another story. It's tinny. The speakers are horrible and playing music without headphones is barely tolerable. I'm not sure what they were thinking here, but they seemed to have skimped on the speaker quality. I found this to be true with phone calls and music. The iPhone 4 doesn't have great sound either, but it's certainly better than what I was experiencing on the Nexus 5.

Customization is a double-edged sword

Another key difference between Android and iPhone seems to be the ability to customize an Android phone and make it your own. One friend who is an avid Android user told me that being able to swap out ROMs to give you a different Android look and feel is one of the joys of owning an Android phone.

I found this to be a double-edged sword. One of the joys of iPhone is that it just works. You open the box, you turn it on and it's fairly self-explanatory. If I have an issue I can ask any iPhone user for help and we are for the most part sharing a common experience. Even if you're using an earlier version of the operating system, the system works in a fairly consistent way.  

With Android, it depends on the flavor.and what version you are using. Individuals can customize it. Carriers can customize it. Manufacturers can customize it. That can be a good thing or it can get messy. I asked for help with a problem on Android KitKat (the version running on the Nexus 5) and only people who have updated to the latest vanilla version could help me.

The texting problem

One of the key things I like to do with my phone is texting. I have two children and they prefer texting to talking on the phone, so I've gotten in the habit of texting with them and my wife. That's why I was confused when I went looking for a texting app on my Nexus 5 and I couldn't find one.

After consulting with my social networks, I realized that Google Hangouts was the default SMS tool, only it didn't seem to offer a way to send or receive SMSs. That was a problem. I finally gave up in frustration and went to Google Play and downloaded a third-party SMS app, Handcent. It worked fine. Surprisingly, soon after I did that, Google Hangouts told me I could turn on SMS in Google Hangouts too. I'm not sure why it wasn't on by default, and that's a problem.

Google Now and other Google services Integration

If you use Google services -- and I do -- those services are so well integrated into the phone experience. That's especially true for Google Now, the customization engine that learns what you do and presents you with information like the weather and other information. I loved this aspect of the phone. [See: It's almost impossible NOT to use Google Now with the Nexus 5.]

Google Now is very convenient, and quite smart. For instance, it knew that I was traveling and had a map displayed with directions to the hotel. But the idea that Google somehow figured out what I was doing and where I was traveling was a bit disturbing -- it's something you have to get used to. You can customize Google Now even further to teach it what types of information you like. [See: How to turn Google Now into a powerful personal assistant.]

iOS 6 has a a summary page you can see with email, texts, calendar entries, and so forth, but it's not nearly as slick as in KitKat. I understand this is something that Apple changed in iOS 7 and I will be interested to see how it compares to the latest Google update.

Getting mail, Google + updates, Twitter updates, and appointments -- it's all integrated into the phone notifications and overall the interface is pretty slick. It was one of the things that made me really like this phone.

The migration problem

There was also the whole matter of migrating from one ecosystem to another. I had to download all of my favorite apps again for Android, and go through the trouble of authenticating on each one -- no trivial matter. I didn't even try to get all my media over to the new phone, but I know it would have taken more work than it would take if I simply bought a new iPhone and connected it to iTunes. 

It's one thing to want to move between systems, but on a practical level there are issues involved beyond the hardware. [See also: The stickiness of the Apple ecosystem.]

Overall feelings

When it comes down to it, the Nexus 5 is certainly a decent phone, and the way it presents information is superior to the iPhone I've been using, but I'm not ready to switch. Maybe in some sense it's the devil I know, but overall I like that when I take an iPhone out of the box I can pretty much count on a solid experience.

Sure, Android gives me lots of flexibility, but as much as I'm a huge fan of open source in general and I'm happy there is a check for Apple in the mobile space, I won't be choosing a Nexus 5 when it comes time to buy a new phone. I'll likely go with the iPhone 5S instead. 

Correction: The iPhone 4 in fact was the first iPhone to ship with a Retina display, and has the same pixels-per-square-inch as the current models. We regret the error.

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