A 5 for a 5: From iPhone 5 and AT&T to Nexus 5 and T-Mobile

I now have a Nexus 5 and have traded in my iPhone, and it’s not because I was desirous of a change from the Land of Apple (I’ve done that once already), but because it was my best option in taking advantage of a great money-saving opportunity by switching from AT&T’s onerous subjugation, to being a free-range T-Mobile customer. I could have gotten an iPhone or more fancy-pants Android device like an HTC One when I switched, but their cost would have negated the whole point of the switch. Luckily, Google has priced its own flagship phone so that it’s affordable without a contract. And so a couple of days ago, I came home with a Nexus 5.

There are two big changes, then, to document: the device/OS change and the mobile service change. One, obviously, is more interesting than the other. So let me get the carrier difference out of the way. I admit, I felt a bit of enthusiasm for joining T-Mobile’s “revolution” and getting my service from a company whose CEO is obviously a little nuts. I’m still happy to be free of AT&T and free of a contract, but it must be said that T-Mobile’s coverage in my area of Maine is acceptable, but a big step down. I get good-enough “4G” coverage in the main residential and commercial areas of my town, but in places a little on the outskirts, like my kids’ daycare, I get no data coverage at all (technically a “1G” connection, meaning calls can go through, but very little else). LTE is now a happy memory until I enter a larger metro area, or until T-Mobile expands.

It’ll do for now. And after my AT&T early termination fee is paid and I’ve been on T-Mobile for a fair-shake’s bit of time, I can always unlock the phone and switch to something else if I must. But I miss those LTE speeds. On the plus side, it’s unlimited data, like, for reals. Just on principle, I feel like I should suck down as much of it as possible.

Two embarrassing notes: It took over a full day to port my number to T-Mobile, which turned out to be my fault, as I had given the T-Mobile guys my AT&T pin to do the port, and wouldn’t you know it, I don’t have an AT&T pin, and that confused the system. When my number did move over, I got no data reception at all, which I assumed to be because T-Mobile’s coverage was worse than advertised. Turned out it was because I didn’t restart the phone when the port was complete, as I was instructed. So yes, it wasn’t working because I didn’t turn it off and turn it back on again. Yep.

Okay, let’s talk about this device.

The Nexus 5 is a very nice phone. Its screen is flat-out gorgeous, and beautifully high-resolution. I didn’t think I’d notice the difference between this display and the iPhone’s Retina, but I do. Pixels aren’t just hard to see on this screen, they’re, for me, impossible. I’ve been trying. The display is bright, colors pop, and it’s just a joy to look at. One could conceivably use this phone with its 5″ screen as a suitable Kindle alternative for long-form reading.

But it’s also bigger than the iPhone’s, which means my tiny thumbs can’t reach a good deal of the screen in one-handed use. And the more I struggle with this, the more I appreciate Apple’s decision to stick so stubbornly to the iPhone’s relatively small size. Given this, I almost think it would make more sense to just take it as given that these larger devices can’t be used with one hand, and just get a big-ass phablet type device. I mean, why not go all the way?

Structurally, the Nexus feels like a quality piece of plastic, but chitzy if you’re coming from the iPhone 5. It’s very thin, very light, and with a nice matte finish. For its price, I can’t complain. It doesn’t feel cheap, but nor is it premium.

The camera, though bursting with megapixels, is noticably slower than the iPhone’s in snapping photos (a big annoyance when you have adorable kids), and so far the indoor photos have been acceptable but not great. The iPhone 5’s camera was much better, but this one will do.

As for actually just using the Nexus as a smartphone, there’s very little not to like. The Android lag I have experienced with every single Android device I’ve ever used is not to be found here. In fact, the Nexus 5 feels weirdly smooth and fluid, but still very different from iOS. It’s difficult to put my finger on it (no pun intended), but I think the difference is that the Nexus 5/Android fluidity in scrolling and moving elements around is super-specific, where things go exactly where your finger puts them, in near-real time. It’s great. iOS feels more “liquid” or maybe bouncier, like the interface is ready to zip on ahead of you until you get there. Both are excellent, but feel quite different.

And there are two elements of Android that really set it apart. First is the fact that apps can share information with each other, and no apps are excluded from being able to partake in sharing menus and the like. Apple generally only allows interface with Facebook and Twitter throughout the OS.

But even better is swipe typing. I’m telling you, being able to just “draw” across the keyboard is about 1000 times more efficient for typing on a small screen than tap-tap-tapping. That in itself could almost cause one to switch by choice.

From the last time I owned an Android device (a first-generation Nexus 7 tablet), “Google Now” has come a long way, from being an experimental whiz-bang gimmicky thing to being the center of the OS’s artificial intelligence. It’s cool, no doubt, when looking for things of a more informational nature, and very responsive. But it’s crap so far when it comes to controlling your device. In that, Siri beats the pants off of Now. For example, several attempts to get the phone to play my Toad the Wet Sprocket songs by voice command failed until I just gave up. Siri would have no trouble with that kind of thing.

And Google Now has no sense of humor. It won’t tell you jokes, it won’t sing to you. I miss Siri. (Luckily she still lives in my iPad, so I see her from time to time, but it’s just not the same. And I think she’s mad at me.)

Overall, my feeling is that this will be just fine. As I keep saying, “It’ll do.” In many ways, the Nexus 5 is an excellent phone, besting the iPhone in some important ways. But iPhone, inside and out, still posesses a simplicity and a fit-and-finish that, taken as a whole, make for a superior overall experience. But this’ll be fine. It’ll do.

A lot of it, I know, is just unfamiliarity. I’ve been using an iPhone since its first generation, which I got in 2008. It’s what I know. Often, I find myself frustrated by “how much worse” something is on Android, only to realize it’s just different. Case in point: Unlocking the phone. I was under the impression that it was easier with iPhone, where I slide to unlock, and pop in my 4-digit pin, which opens the phone. Easy! Meanwhile, using a 4-digit pin with Android, it seemed like there was more business. But there’s not, there’s just no slide, but there is an “enter” key to hit after the pin.

In other words, it’s 5 steps each. iPhone is slide-tap-tap-tap-tap, and Android is tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. One is not easier than the other, they’re just different. But because it was new, I took the Android approach as unneccesarily more difficult.

But there’s also no doubt that Android is far more fiddly than iOS, and it’s already been a problem, as I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to keep Twitter notifications from making the phone vibrate. Layers and layers of settings menus revealed nothing to me, and Googling around showed me that I was not alone in this. This should not be this hard.

Most of it’s not hard, of course. I think I’ll enjoy the Nexus 5 a lot for the most part, but I definitely feel a twinge for the iPhone. One day I shall return. But in the meantime, I’m free of AT&T, and I saved my family a good deal of money. It’s worth it, and it’ll do.

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