Why I switched to Android (again)

I’ve been using Android on and off since 2008. Generally, I’ve found Android good in the sense that I can customise the user interface along with the general flexibility of the OS. However, on balance I’ve leaned towards iOS – purely because I prefer the consistency of the experience. That consistency, or rather lack of it, is one of the biggest frustrations I’ve had with Android hardware.

Worse still manufactures such as Samsung seem to insist on adding their own flavor to the particular version of Android running on their phones. Ultimately I felt short changed. Not only because of the inconsistencies and bloatware, but also because buying a phone running Android was (and still is) a bit like playing Russian roulette. You could spend a chunk of money and never really know if/when you’ll get the latest security patches and OS upgrades. For me that was a barrier. As someone who loves the latest tech, the thought of no guaranteed updates was a non starter. So in recent years, I settled on iOS.

iOS is a solid operating system. Apple are generous with their updates and support hardware for as much as 5 years. I value that. However, lately I’ve just found ioS to be stagnant. Even iOS 13 doesn’t over much change either. In short, it’s dull and doesn’t seem to offer enough to keep my interest.

So after a lot of consideration I decided to move back to Android as my primary phone. However, it was clear in my head from the beginning that if I was to move back to Android I would want to get a phone that guaranteed updates, patches and the purest Android experience I could find.

Introducing the Google pixel 3a

It wasn’t a difficult decision. One of the best Android phones I had in the past was the outstanding Google Nexus 5. The Pixel 3a is essentially a modern take on it – but better. Way better. It draws heavily from its more expensive Pixel 3 brother and has an identical camera – a signature feature of Google’s Pixel range.

However, the main difference compared to the more expensive Pixel 3 is that the 3a processor is (on paper) slower and it has a polycarbonate body. I’m incredibly impressed by the phone. In many ways, it almost feels like the iPhone of the Android market. Being a Google product, they have clearly been able to integrate the hardware and software together to give an outstanding user experience. The specifications don’t matter. That’s a good thing. It doesn’t feel slow – it’s stable and, above all, it provides the very latest google OS and updates for at least 3 to 4 years. This is something that no other manufacturer can offer. And that camera, oh that camera. It’s a game-changer. I’m blown away by just how good it is. Frankly, I’ve not had a camera as good as this on any device. But what is the biggest feature of this phone? The price. It currently costs….wait for it….£349.99. I’m hard pressed to find anything remotely close to it for the price. In short, if like me, you’ve been an iPhone user for years and are looking for a change then I highly recommend the Google Pixel 3a. It won’t disappoint.

Platform emancipation

I love Android. Always have done. But over the years since I’ve been using it in parallel to iOS I have generally found iOS superior. iOS lacks the flexibility of Android, but the consistency of use, the higher quality apps and seemless integration of hardware and software has always made iOS such a great experience.

Over the last few years, i’ve been on a journey of trying to become platform agnostic. I’ve invested in cloud services which, by definition, are all platform independent (such as EverNote, numerous Google services and Microsoft Office365.) Locally, I’ve invested in a NAS and running my music library off it, together with Plex (media / server).

I’m also heavily invested in the ‘internet of things’. All my devices from Philips Hue lighting , Sonos, WeMo switches, Canary and most recently my Amazon Echo (full review to follow soon) can all run/be accessed on any platform of choice.

With all that infrastructure in place, I’m now at the point where I’m changing a number of my computing devices.

img_0034My first choice, is that I’m finally ditching my iPhone as my primary phone and replacing it with an Android phone – the outstanding OnePlus 3. (I still own the OnePlus 1 – which I loved) Why? Because, I miss Android and it’s flexibility and secondly because, as I blogged recently, I find it difficult to justify iPhone prices anymore. But perhaps, more importantly – I don’t like what Apple has become to its millions of users. It’s a fashion accessory. It’s a must have item. Folk want to be seen with the latest iPhone because, like any designer label it demonstrates wealth, style and prestige. The type of users that now seem to dominate iPhones sales are fashionistas – the original geeks are few and far between. Ironically, they care less about what the iphone is capable of and more about what the latest colour is. In short, it’s crass. I no longer want to be a part of it. I’m going back to my linux roots and intend to move forward with an Android device in hand once more.

I’m also planning to ditch my MB Pro. (I’ve already handed off my MB Air). In short, I only use it now to maintain my server. It’s surplus to requirements. I plan to buy either a ChromeBook or a laptop optimised for running Ubuntu Linux (such as the Dell XPS developers edition).

With these changes in place, by the end of the year, the only Apple device I’ll actually own is my iPad Pro 12.9” . (Which I absolutely love). In fact, it’s now my go to computer of choice. And since my break-through of being able to produce and edit my weekly podcast,  www.blackonblues.com , I can see myself sticking with it for a very long time.


The Nexus 5 – initial thoughts

Two days into my Nexus 5 and I’m loving it. Of all the Android based phones I’ve owned there’s no doubt the Nexus 5 has the most refined feel.

It’s the closest I’ve got to an ‘Apple experience’ on a non Apple device. By that I don’t mean a cheap,  half baked copy of iOS and Apple (Samsung are great at that).  What I mean is that it genuinely feels like Android was built for it. And of course it was.  In fact,  I’d go further to suggest that it is superior to the iPhone. Remember, this is pure, unadulterated Android. Offering all the flexibility the brilliant OS brings to the mix.

The hardware feels refined and elegant. Sure it’s plastic… But it’s solid, with a gorgeous matt finish. It sits naturally in the hand.

Android 4.4 (kitkat) behaves like a mobile operating system on steroids. It’s slick, fast and beautifully crafted. It really does feel optimised around the hardware. In short, it’s the perfect access point into the Google world.

Switching between my Samsung Note  3 and my Nexus, it reminds me why I’m struggling with Samsung. Despite modifying my Note 3 with Nova launcher and a wave of other utilities… It feels sluggish, by comparison .

But this post isn’t about attacking the Note 3. Despite its flaws,  it’s an incredible phone.  I intend to keep both and use either phone as a swappable replacement.  Despite the bloatware, the note 3 with its stylus, huge screen and battery has become essential to my work flow.  But my frustrations with the lack of stock android on the device and Samsung’s obsession with the nasty touch-wiz UI spoil the experience somewhat.

That said, the closest metaphor I can give to both devices is with cars.

The Note 3, with all its flexibility, size and power is the sports utility vehicle of smartphones.  The Nexus 5,  with its speed, performance and beautiful design is the sports car. Both have a legitimate spot on the driveway.

But back to the Nexus 5.  In my view it is simply the finest example of what Android can be. And for the first time I’m using hardware that makes Android shine. It is clear that Google cared as much about the hardware as they did with the software when producing this beauty. Pound for pound,  it is the sharpest, quickest and most refined Android phone I’ve ever used.

But perhaps the biggest compliment I can give it, is that it’s NOT trying to be the iPhone.