Review of Android Devices

Edit: The first version of this post said the Nexus S battery life was bad. This was inaccurate. The battery life was only bad when an Exchange-based email account was added.
Edit 2: Added disclaimer to bottom, and examples of problematic carrier modifications to summary.

HTC Dream

The first Android phone. Sold as “T-Mobile G1” in the US. It was clunky and had a rickety slide-out keyboard. The OS was immature, but it got the job done. I liked that the back half of the phone was a grippy rubber material, to keep it from sliding out of your hand. The OS had little (possibly no) modifications from T-Mobile, which I liked.

The phone wasn’t for everyone, but I was happy with it (I’m an Android fan).

Nexus One

HTC hit it out of the park with this phone—well done, boys.

My second Android phone. Also manufactured by HTC. This phone is fantastic. I used it happily for three years. Solid build. Good battery life (I easily made it through the day without having to recharge). Good size (although it could be thinner). Satisfactory speed. No modifications to the OS by wireless network companies because it was sold directly by Google. The back of the phone is a mildly grippy felty suede-like polymer.

It does have some flaws:

  • Only 192MB of internal storage. This is not enough! This is a severe problem! Many apps can only be installed on the built-in storage and not the SD card. After three years of evolutionary updates, if I update every app on the phone I’m basically out of space. This leaves no room to install 3rd party apps. Bad foresight.
  • The Amazon MP3 and Facebook apps are pre-installed. I don’t use them and can’t uninstall them.
  • If the phone is off it’s easy to accidentally turn it on, because just tapping the power button turns it on (newer phones require holding down the power button). This is a problem if you want to turn your phone off and put it in your hiking pack in the middle of the woods, or in your pocket on a plane, in a movie theater, etc. It also means that there is no way to check whether the phone is off (normally you would tap the power button).
  • Years of pocket dust made the power button difficult to operate. Sometimes it doesn’t trigger. Sometimes it triggers twice.
  • Some dust worked its way under the bottom left corner of the screen, making it “foggy.”

Nexus S

Manufactured by Samsung. It’s ok. The case is hard plastic and has always felt like it would crack easily. And since plastic is slippery, it tends to be easy to drop. Emily dropped her Nexus S and the screen cracked. This phone doesn’t have the power button problem from the Nexus One, which is good. No carrier modifications.

Flaws:

  • The GPS. It’s bad. Sometimes it works fine. Other times it takes minutes to get an inexact location. Sometimes the location is just plain wrong (usually by not more than a few miles, but enough to be inconvenient if you’re trying to navigate). Sometimes the GPS loses the location while navigating. Hopefully Samsung has fixed these issues in their newer phones.
  • “Exchange Services” in Android 4.1 (used by the Email app for an Exchange-based email account) consumed lots of battery. This started when Emily added an Exchange-based email account and went back to normal as soon as she removed it. Her battery would usually not last through a day when the Exchange email account was added, otherwise it was fine.

Nexus 4

Manufactured by LG. This is the current Nexus phone, and it’s terrific. The battery life is normally good. I normally make it through the day without having to recharge, but occasionally a rogue process (sometimes related to Maps) will be abnormally active and chew through the battery. I speculate that this bug lies in the OS or an application bug and not the hardware.

The screen on this phone is great. The surface is thin, so your finger is closer to the stuff you’re touching. It subconsciously feels better to use. The glass also satisfyingly rounds at the edges.

Update (2014-04-29): I’ve realized that this screen is a bit washed out. Like when you increase the brightness level of a picture using photo editing software. Not horrible, but you definitely notice it when coming back to this screen after looking at a better screen.

My gripes:

  • I wish it was smaller. Sure it’s nice to read on a large screen, but I’m also happy reading on a slightly smaller screen. It’s a little too big for me to hold it confidently, especially when trying to type with one thumb.
  • Although the polished plastic back is beautiful, it is slippery as hell. The edges are rubbery, which is good, but not good enough. I’m an extremely careful person and I think it’s likely I’ll drop this phone at some point.

Nexus 7, generation 1

A tablet with a 7″ screen, manufactured by Asus. I have no experience with other tablets so I have nothing to compare it to, but I like this. It’s great for watching movies, browsing the web, reading news, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.

It has a front-facing camera, so you can video chat, but no rear-facing camera and no Camera app.

Nexus 7, generation 2

(Added 2014-04-29)
Like the generation 1 Nexus 7, but everything is a little better. This screen is washed out similarly to the Nexus 4.

Summary

I’ve harped on three points:

  • Slipperyness – People drop their phones constantly and sometimes they break. This sucks. Grippier phones are less likely to be dropped and therefore less likely to be broken. Shiny glass may be pretty, but it’s less functional, and function is important. Making slippery phones is a disservice to your customer.
  • Carrier modifications – I hate when wireless carriers change the software on the phone. Google has many engineers dedicated to making Android great. I have little faith that a wireless carrier would be able to make any significant improvements, and I worry they would introduce problems (for example, a bug that allows someone to bypass the lock screen and Carrier IQ potential logging of keystrokes and other personal information). This is the primary reason I have continued to buy Google’s Nexus phones.
  • Size – I don’t like carrying a huge paddle in my pocket. I don’t care about a large screen. I want something small and unobtrusive. Almost all current phones fail here.

Disclaimer

I’ve been a Google employee for about 8 months. These thoughts are all my own and don’t necessarily represent the opinions of my employer. I don’t think my employment has influenced this in any way, but I’ll let you judge.

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