My Switch to Android After 8+ Years of iPhone

Photo taken with my iPhone 5S. May it rest in peace.

After about a month with my Nexus 6P, I’m ready to call myself a convert.

I bought the first-generation iPhone the week it was released. Yes, I’m one of those guys who paid $600 and signed a two-year contract with the exclusive carrier, AT&T. However, I would never call myself an Apple fanboy. Sure, my work and personal computers are Macbook Airs, and I own an iPad Air, but I also own a first-gen Nexus 7. I’m not loyal to any brand; I’m just a fan of good mobile tech. In fact, the last three times I purchased a phone, I considered Android, but iOS felt more solid to me. My Nexus 7 was slow and the interface felt clunky. I didn’t want that experience in my phone.

Nevertheless, things change, and new developments have lead me to try Android this time. First, I was more price sensitive due to the fact that carriers and phone manufacturers are getting away from 2-year contracts. When this recent upgrade came around, I looked at unsubsidized prices and asked myself,

“$650 gets me the top-of-the-line Nexus (128GB with a 5.7 inch screen)…but it barely gets me the new entry-level iPhone (16GB iPhone 6S). When comparing the 6P with the spec equivalent $950 128GB iPhone 6S Plus, is iPhone really $300 better in 2016?!”

The argument has always been that iPhone users pay a premium for a more harmonious combination of software and hardware. Well, I’ve learned that we’re pretty much at parity these days. Both Google and Apple make great phones that are well-designed and super fast. That wasn’t always the case, but it is now. Which brings me to the final reason for my switch…

Meh.

I’m bored with iOS, and I have been for a long time. Every year, I follow the announcements from WWDC and Google I/O, and I’ve been impressed with Android’s progress, but iOS advancements have felt gradual. I’ve been wanting more flexibility and customization options as well as better ways access the information I care most about. iOS widgets were an improvement, but not enough.

So with all that in mind, I made the switch.

First-World Anxieties

I had to get over a few things. One was the idea of Google as Big Brother. Having so much of my life tied to Google is a little creepy, but I realized that I’m already there. You probably are too. I use Gmail for my personal and work email, Google Calendar for multiple calendars, Google Docs, Chromecast, and as I much as I’ve tried to use Safari and Apple Maps, I always come back to Chrome and Google Maps. I’ve concluded that if Google already has all this data, why shouldn’t I get the most out of it with Android’s feature set.

Additionally, I had to come to terms with breaking away from the “social” features that I was locked into with iOS. My wife, sister, parents, and many of my closest friends have iPhones. That means that on Android, I’m missing out on iMessages, Photo Streams, and FaceTime on my phone. However, I still own a Macbook Air and an iPad, so I’m not totally missing out on the photos and ease of FaceTime.

I thought that I may also miss Mac OS + iOS features like AirDrop and Handoff. It turns out that Pushbullet — which works on both iOS and Android — is a better solution for me than AirDrop, especially considering that Apple decided not to include my poor, four-year-old Macbook Air in the AirDrop iOS-compatible fun. Furthermore, unlike with AirDrop, I don’t have to worry about turning on both my wifi and Bluetooth to use Pushbullet. As a matter of fact, I’ve started using Pushbullet on my iPad since discovering it with my Nexus.

Now you may be asking, what can my Nexus do that my iPhone 5S couldn’t? Well, read on! (Warning: I’m kind of a power user, and I get into the weeds a little from this point):

Widgets and other home screen fun

Google Calendar Widget

I’ve wanted real widgets on iOS for a while. Sure, widgets were added to iOS some versions ago, but they aren’t on the same level as Android widgets. For one thing, I don’t like that iOS widgets only reside in the pulldown notifications pane, and how I have to scroll up and down to find my desired widget. In addition to that, the widgets updated slowly, and surprisingly, there are still a few obvious Apple native apps without widgets including Notes, Apple Maps, and Safari.

Evernote provides great examples of what you can do with Android’s widgets on the home screen. While the Evernote iOS widget is limited, its Android sister has three sizes with many tinkering options to choose from:

Customizing the Action Bar
Customizing the Action Button

On top of that, I can add specific Evernote notes to my home screen. I can’t do that on iOS:

Notifications

I had to get used to Android’s notification system, but I’m a fan. I love that I can “long press” a notification to quickly access that app’s notification settings. It’s been great as I’ve tested apps.

Accessing App Notification Settings from Notification Itself

Also, notification cards appear after taking screenshots, so I can act on them quickly. No one takes a screenshot for it to just sit in a photos app, and as you can imagine, this feature was useful while writing this article.

Home is where your favorite apps are

Initially, I wasn’t fond of the App Drawer concept, but that changed as I started putting widgets and app shortcuts on my home screen. I realized that my home screens could become a place for all of my favorite apps, widgets, and shortcuts. I didn’t have to worry about placing less-important apps somewhere like in iOS. The drawer is the archive for everything else.

My Current Home Screens

Google Now on Tap

Now on Tap was a new feature with Android Marshmallow, and there’s a lot of potential. It doesn’t do a ton right now, but one cool thing is looking up a location that comes up in a message thread. For example, I was texting with a friend about meeting at a bar called Rickhouse, and Now on Tap provided useful info. All I had to do is hold the home button for navigation options, bar hours, etc:

Oh…I can actually buy things without going through Apple or Google?

Apple forces some in-app purchases through the App Store, especially for competing products like e-books. I think Amazon doesn’t want to give Apple a cut of that business, and as a result, I could never buy Kindle books directly from the Kindle app on my iDevices. Not the case with Android:

The same is true for comic books from Comixology.

Not only that, Android gives me the flexibility to download alternative app stores like Amazon Underground, where “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” is free compared to $9.99 on Google Play.

FTW!

And oh yeah…Project Fi…

If all that flexibility on the device wasn’t enough, with Nexus, I also have an additional choice of wireless carrier with Google’s Project Fi.

I’d heard of Project Fi, but never looked into the details until after buying my 6P. I’m glad that I checked it out. The offering feels like the future of wireless:

  • No contract
  • Very simple billing: $20/month for unlimited calls and texts, $10 for each GB of data. Tethering is included. If you go over in data, no big deal, you pay for it next month. If you’re under, you get a refund for unused data!
  • Fi switches between T-Mobile and Sprint’s networks as well as public wifi for secure wifi calling through Google’s VPN. It also uses public wifi to save on your data plan.
  • Those data prices don’t change when traveling to 120+ countries! Texting is also unlimited in those countries.
  • And finally, you will never have a more delightful experience signing up for a carrier service:
Keepin’ it Simple
YUP! It looks good!
Buh-bye AT&T 👋🏾

What a pleasant surprise! Project Fi wasn’t an initial reason for my switch, but it may become one of the biggest reasons I’m happy with Android. I started my Fi plan last week, and coverage in Oakland and San Francisco is good so far. I’ll be traveling a little in February, so I may have a revised opinion soon.

Weird stuff / Dislikes

Of course, not everything Android has been perfect. Besides the Apple-exclusive features I lost, there’s an assortment of weird stuff I’ve run across using my Nexus.

  • iOS does a good job of letting users control audio playback from a locked home screen, but Android is a mixed bag since the controls aren’t standardized:
Different controls for Soundcloud, Pocket Casts, and Spotify
  • Sometimes Google Now does some wacky stuff like giving me the weather report from a random place
  • The Nexus fingerprint sensor is on the back, which is great when holding the phone, but not so great when it’s sitting on a desk or table. I was used to iPhone’s front sensor.
  • There aren’t badges on the app icons like iOS. It would be nice to have them, especially on apps like Messenger, Hangout, and Gmail/Inbox. Luckily, I can get badges using a 3rd party app launcher like Themer.
  • I love 1Password, but it doesn’t work as simply as on iOS. I have to switch to a special keyboard on Android; iOS apps activate the share sheet.

Android:

iOS:

That’s all folks

That’s it for now! Overall, I’m very happy with my choice!

There’s still plenty for me to test. Automation is a big benefit of Android’s open system, and I have yet to set up Tasker actions to take advantage of it. For example, one useful action will be turning on Bluetooth whenever I open TuneIn or Pocket Casts.

I’ll probably write a follow-up post in a few months. I’m sure that some of the initial luster will wear off, and I’ll have a longer list of Android and Project Fi gripes (I hope it’s not too long). Until then, I’m looking forward to questions and comments!