Living the Google Life – Day 10 : The Nexus 4

It’s been a little over a week now since I swapped all of my Apple gear for the current Google alternatives. On the whole it’s been a fascinating experiment as I’m learning how I actually use devices and services.

The Nexus 10, Samsung’s iPad rival, has been a challenge, partly due to the wider, shorter construction which feels less comfortable to use, but mainly the lack of tablet optimised apps that Android currently offers. This might not be the whole story though as I’ve found myself using the Nexus 4 for many of the jobs that a tablet was previously employed. Could it be that having a bigger screen on my phone means that I don’t need a tablet as much as before? Curious…

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The first time I held the Nexus 4 in my hand I thought…Crikey! This is a big phone. Coming from the diminutive lines of the iPhone 4S, the N4 seemed like a canoe in comparison. Holding it up to my face felt odd, silly even, and not being able to accomplish many common tasks with one hand took some getting used to. I’ll have to admit that throughout the first week I was seriously doubtful of the size and shape of the phone.

Then an odd thing happened.

On Monday morning, while going about my normal blog reading, podcast listening, article researching routine I realised  that the N4 had suddenly become normal. No decision to stoically endure the vaste expanse of gorilla glass had taken place, my hands hadn’t been charmed by the songs from WhooVille and grown two sizes that day, instead I’d simply gotten used to it. Even more mysterious still, returning to my iPhone quickly revealed that the up till now perfect screen looked…well, cramped. What kind of sorcery is this?

Part of the mental adjustment was not being an idiot on purpose. You see as a creature of habit I tend to keep all my app icons in the same locations when moving between handsets. This invariably means that Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and such things are on the left side of the screen so that I can, being left handed, access them all with my thumb. Now the Nexus 4 has its power button on the right hand side, so without thinking I started holding it in my right hand (so I could actually reach the button), and then found that tapping any of my daily icons was quite difficult. The problem initially appeared that the screen was just too big, but after realising what I was doing I moved the icons and, of course, suddenly I could navigate the phone with one hand again. I wonder how many other daft things I’m doing in life that I could fix with a little thinking?

The stock Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS runs very smoothly on the device and I have to say that in the week and a half that I’ve been using the Nexus 4 there hasn’t been a single error message or app that stopped responding. A nice change from the older iterations I used before. All of the apps I wanted where in the store, with the sad exception of the excellent Downcast podcasting app, which I use everyday on my iOS devices. I did try a few others but none of them really felt as friendly as Downcast, and in the end I returned to my previous app of choice Podkicker, which does the job well and is easy to use.

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Otherwise it was pretty much business as usual in smartphone land. My emails flowing gracefully into the Gmail app – which it should be noted looks and works a lot better here than it does on my iPhone. Calendars synched without issue, phone calls where loud, clear, and didn’t drop, while texting and browsing were transformed thanks to the swype style functions that Android offers on its keyboards. On my iPhone I have to type all the words in a traditional fashion letter by letter. Its fine because the iPhone keyboard is very accurate.  On Android I can quickly drag my finger over the various letters and the phone will decipher my scribblings into words, with impressive accuracy. It’s great! Writing long emails is now a fun game as I see how fast I can move my finger. This is undoubtedly one of the things I will miss most when I return to iOS.

Another impressive feature is the amount of services I can send files to. On iOS it tends to be a limited set of apps that I can either choose files from or send them to. Dropbox if you’re lucky, Camera Roll, Gallery, and iCloud are the regular offerings. Android opens this up much wider with Skydrive, Google Drive, Amazon, Dropbox, Bluetooth and several other often appearing in the options. I like this freer attitude to file access and still find Apple’s implementation rather crude and proprietary.

Even the camera on the Nexus 4 is good. I had heard rumours that it wasn’t up to much, but in use I haven’t seen this at all. Whereas it’s not quite as easy to use as the iPhone (size again), the result I achieved were the equal of its Apple counterpart, which was something that genuinely surprised me. In a good way.

An impressive camera makes the Nexus 4 a complete package.
An impressive camera makes the Nexus 4 a complete package.

After my initial concerns I have to admit that the Nexus 4 has gotten under my skin. Where once it was enormous, now it’s a handy screen size. The apps I want are pretty much all there, and the camera would make a transition from the excellent 4S feel like you weren’t losing out in any way. When you then consider the cost of buying a Nexus 4  –£279 in the Google Play store for the 16GB model off-contract model – it really does become a hugely compelling device. I can’t think of a better value-for-money phone out there that is anywhere near as good as this one.

Will I be switching? I don’t know…it’s still a big decision, but one that the Nexus 4 makes a lot less frightening.

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