There was a strong sense of déjà vu as I carefully packed my Nexus 5 back into its shipping box. After sitting out last year’s Nexus 4 due to its lack of LTE, I was prepared to rejoin the ranks of the Android faithful with a true Nexus device. When the phone arrived, I was genuinely excited. The Nexus 5 was fast, thin, light, had a great screen, and ran the latest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat. But it was also large and lacked a good camera, two characteristics of a phone that had become increasingly important to me during my six months with the HTC One. Almost exactly two years ago, I found myself in a similar situation, as I sold my iPhone 4S after only one month’s use. As with the Nexus 5, my initial excitement for the 4S quickly waned as I realized the phone didn’t offer anything substantially better than the phone it was replacing. Having gone through four Android phones in the last two years, I felt jaded and exhausted. What exactly was driving me to buy a phone only to sell it off a few months later? Was it the promise of something better just around the corner? The Nexus 5 offered me no better experience than the HTC One, so why bother having a Nexus 5 at all?
It wasn’t just the Nexus 5. I had spent hours reading tutorials and watching how-to videos over the last six months to strip my HTC One of its carrier bloat, and turn it into a bonafide Google Play Experience device. And yet despite Google’s claims of fast and speedy OS updates, three weeks after the release of KitKat and the HTC One was still stuck on Android 4.3.
It was with all this in mind that I applied the return label to the Nexus 5’s shipping box, prepared the HTC One for resale by reinstalling its stock Sense 5 software, and decided I would get an iPhone 5S.
In a perfect world
If I could design the perfect phone, it would run Android, be the size of the Moto X, have the HTC One’s screen and speakers, have as responsive a touch screen as an iPhone, receive the latest and greatest apps first like iOS, have an unlocked bootloader, come with no carrier bloatware, and receive updates directly from Google the day the new OS was released; basically an iPhone running stock Android. If there’s one thing the last two year’s have taught me, however, is there is no perfect phone. The iPhone is slightly too small and iOS is still feels like a disjointed system of apps rather than a cohesive platform on which to run those apps. Android promotes its openness and choice, but many of those choices are determined by carriers, including what apps can and can’t be installed, and when (i.e., if) you’ll receive OS updates. In this imperfect market, one makes compromises to have the phone that best suits their needs. Over the last two years, I’ve made several of those comprises. Leave the stability and lack of carrier control on iOS for Android because I can take greater control of my user experience; buy a phone with a larger screen size because the high-end handsets on Android only come in large sizes, etc.
Back to reality
While there will never be a perfect phone, clearly what I was willing to compromise was changing. After a recent trip to Ireland, camera quality shot to the top of my phone wishlist. Sure, I can invest in a better point and shoot, or DSLR, but I’m no photographer, so spending lots of money on a good camera just isn’t an option for me. Besides, as the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you, and there’s always a camera with me, so why shouldn’t it be capable of taking decent shots? The Nexus 5 promised a revamped camera experience but failed to deliver. It managed to maintain roughly the same footprint as the HTC One despite having a large screen, but I still often had to awkwardly position my hands to use it.
As I mentioned, compromises also exist with the iPhone. Despite wanting a smaller screen size, the iPhone’s four inch screen is too small to my eyes, and my issues with jumping around from app to app in iOS are still present. But having used iOS everyday for work and on the iPad Mini, the OS is far more usable for me than it was two years ago. Put another way, I’d rather have a screen that is slightly too small than too large, and an OS that is slightly less cohesive than one that changes radically depending on which device I own.
Can I honestly say the Nexus 5 will be my last Android phone? Probably not. Someday there could be an Android device that has a great camera, is easy to use one-handed, and runs a stock or mostly stock version of Android. The Moto X is already very close, but lacks a great screen and camera. If and when that time comes, I’ll re-evaluate my options, but for now, iPhone 5S it is.