Nexus 4 vs iPhone 5

[UPDATE 3/23] After using the Nexus 4 for several months, a few fundamental issues have surfaced that have led me to go back to the iPhone 5. Traces of these issues are highlighted in the original post below, but they’ve come to bother me so much that the iPhone’s pros now outweigh the cons.

The lack of LTE on the Nexus has really bothered me – AT&T’s HSPA+ network achieves similar speeds to what my iPhone 4 had on 3G (aka it was acceptable but nothing to brag about). Having experienced wifi equivalent speeds on the iPhone 5’s LTE, every day of using HSPA+ annoyed me more and more. If I was on T-Mobile, this would be a very different story.

Another major issue is the refinement of some my most-used non-Google apps, mainly Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. While they have similar usability between platforms, their feedback (when things go wrong) and reliability differ noticeably. I did not appreciate the polish that iPhone apps had until I experienced their lesser counterparts on Android. Android’s apps have substantially improved, but they still have a ways to go to rival their iOS versions. One thing I will say about Android refinement is that Google Now runs circles around Siri. But that doesn’t really matter since I found myself hardly using that functionality. I’d mostly show it off to my friends, but it had little personal utility.

While the first issue is unavoidable (unless I switched carriers), the second is something that may sort itself out as Android gains market share and thus convinces developers that they should invest as much (if not more) resources into refining Android apps as they do for iOS. While it’s a very tough decision, I won’t be returning to Android until an LTE Nexus device is released and Android apps catch up to iOS.

I also have a few thoughts on how my perception and usage of my smartphone has changed, but I’ll save that for a future post.

After owning the Nexus 4 for a few weeks, I decided to use my AT&T upgrade to get an iPhone 5. My switch to Android felt abrupt – I simply hadn’t been impressed with the iPhone 5/iOS 6 and my Google life begged me to return to Android (I owned a G1 several years ago). I spent this past week exclusively using the iPhone 5, taking notes on its characteristics versus the Nexus 4. This post summarizes my findings!

There are a few things you should know about my digital life and where I’m coming from:

  • I live in the cloud: my contacts are on Google, mobile photos on Dropbox, notes on Evernote, books on Kindle, music on Spotify, etc
  • I utilize many Google services – primarily Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Reader
  • My hardware, excluding the Nexus 4 and Kindle, is exclusively Apple: iMac, Macbook Pro, iPad, and formerly iPhone 4. Efficient cross-device synchronization is very important to me
  • My ideal smartphone is fast, intuitive, and “smart” enough to know what I want before I want it and help me figure out what I want when I don’t know what I want

What I enjoy about both phones:

  • Incredibly easy to transfer contacts and switch between devices. Both phones had my contacts synced within seconds after unboxing them (thanks to Gmail). App setup was brilliantly easy as well: everything I use was installed, logged in, and synchronized within 15 minutes. I even simulated the switch from Android to iOS by not restoring the new iPhone from my iPhone 4 backup and installing everything manually.
  • Amazing cameras and unbelievably seamless photo backup/storage thanks to Dropbox
  • Powerful performance – the hardware in both phones is blazingly fast and noticeably better than previous generations
  • Great hardware design: I don’t just enjoy using these phones, I love how they look and the detail put into creating a not only aesthetically but functionally beautiful device

The Nexus 4
What I like

  • Amazing utilization of what Google has to offer: everything from search to my calendar is brilliantly integrated. My favorite part is the genius of Google Now
  • Phenomenal screen and the best I’ve seen
  • Android 4.2 + 1.5 Ghz Snapdragon Proc + 2 GB RAM = an unbelievably fast and fluid user experience. Multi-tasking and switching between apps is the most efficient I’ve seen
  • Brilliant account management: the centralization under Settings makes it really easy to integrate and manage Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, etc
  • The vibration and screen lock animation. The refined yet subtle vibration of the Nexus 4 is glorious (I never cared about how my phone vibrated until I got to experience the Nexus 4) and TV-like screen lock animation are two easily overlooked things that make the phone really cool. Also, I really like how quick it is to unlock – pressing the button takes you straight to the home screen (as opposed to the iPhone, which requires pressing the button and then swiping to unlock)
  • Free tethering/mobile hotspot and simple one-click activation
  • Small notification light is very handy and highly customizable to show different colors for different notifications

What I dislike

  • Poor battery life: while I’m an active user, I don’t consider myself a true power user. I only sync over wifi and try to cache as many things (like Spotify) as possible. Despite that, my normal usage drains the battery in 10 hours. While I appreciate the slim and sleek design, part of me wishes the Nexus 4 could swap batteries like the Galaxy Nexus
  • Not as durable as I hoped for: the back doesn’t have the same Gorilla Glass as the front and gets scratched easily
  • HSPA+ on AT&T is disappointing, especially compared to AT&T’s LTE and T-Mobile’s 4G (which I observed on my friend’s Nexus 4)
  • There is no Reddit app as good as Alien Blue. I’ve tried 5+ (including via Chrome) and not found a single one I enjoy. As a result, I don’t browse Reddit on my smartphone – maybe that’s a good thing?

iPhone 5
What I like

  • So simple – everything about the hardware and OS “just works”
  • Unbeatable music listening experience. I have yet to find a manufacturer that beats Apple in building hardware that plays music really well. Tracks at identical quality on identical listening mediums (I’ve tried several headphones and speakers) are overwhelmingly in favor of the iPhone (comparisons were done on Spotify and Pandora, both of which I pay for premium accounts)
  • iMessage: my all-time favorite Apple feature. I love that you can send messages to any Apple device from any Apple device you own. Much better user experience than Google Talk, Google Voice, and any related service
  • The lightning connector, while expensive and annoying (my former iOS device cables are obsolete now), is actually really great to use. No more fidgeting around in the dark to try to plug in the adapter the right way – as far as I know it’s the only smartphone that has a cable that can be plugged in both ways
  • LTE is unbelievably fast. I often can’t tell the difference between LTE and wifi; Speedtest reports astonishingly similar numbers
  • Amazing battery life: I actively used it for 16 hours yesterday and still had >35% battery

What I dislike

  • Lack of customizability and innovation in iOS: Apple’s homescreen looks the same as it did in 2007. While it’s a good interface, it’s not a great one. Simply put, it’s too simple – smartphones are capable of so much more nowadays. Widgets are brilliant, and I’m surprised Apple hasn’t integrated at least a few proprietary ones
  • Siri underwhelms. The first time I got an iPhone 5 and Nexus 4 together, I spent 15 minutes comparing everything from finding the nearest Thai food place and traffic information to setting a reminder and the score of a recent Seahawks game. I mainly judged on speed and quality of results. Android ran circles around iOS and I cut my comparison short because I felt bad for Siri…
  • The screen feels too narrow when I’m reading. I read in portrait orientation on my Nexus 4, iPad, and Kindle and have a great experience on all of them. Small fonts are perfectly manageable on each of those devices, but on the iPhone 5 I struggle with some emails (especially the ones not optimized for mobile). I simply don’t enjoy reading on the iPhone, which is disappointing because I love reading on the go with Pocket and Kindle

While the iPhone 5 was much better than I expected, the Nexus 4 is the victor. I wasn’t impressed with Android until 4.2 came out, and I am amazed at how well they’ve innovated. I am disappointed in iOS6 because I know the iPhone has so much more potential. Regardless, they are both beautiful devices and I am blown away by where smartphones are now (I remember the flip phone I had in middle school).

How I’ve come to look at the two is that the iPhone is better for those who want a simple UI and don’t need the fancy features that a geek like me wants. While I believe Android 4.2 is a generation ahead of iOS6, I can see perfectly valid use cases for both OS. Ultimately, the Nexus 4 is the phone for me.