My Nexus 4, As It Happened

Initial thoughts

Damn this thing is big. I mean seriously. Same height as my iPhone 5 but wide in the hand. I am not yet comfortable with a phone this size.

Hmm. It’s just getting on with downloading all my apps and… ooh, hey, that’s the wallpaper I put on my Nexus 7.

System update. The bane of all new gadgets. Reboot time.

… whilst I’m waiting for the reboot, I’ll just let y’all know, I saw the 9 minute preview they’re doing for Star Trek Into Darkness in IMAX cinemas. It looks awful. Ah. Phone’s back.

Urgh. Am I going to have to sort out my Google Music account? Why is Terry Pratchett’s Dodger turning up in my Nursehellamentary EP album? NONSENSICAL

Oh yeah, is there a way to play my non audible audiobooks? Add audiobook player to podcast catcher as software problems I need to solve.

Living with Android

So I continued with the Nexus 4 for a week. I was determined to live with it and draw my conclusions. So many people weigh in on the Android vs iOS fight armed with one side of the story. I wanted to go from iOS6 on an iPhone 5 to Jelly Bean on a Nexus 4. Let’s see the flagship experience on both sides.

Listening to Android

One of the first things that bothered me is Play Music. I’m coming from iOS and you have to remember, every iOS device is an iPod. That means years of maturing the interface for navigating music and controlling its’ playback. Between music, podcasts and audiobooks this is the primary use of my smartphone, beating out ‘communication device’ in number 2. Play Music is simply not good enough.

This is search. On Google. Let me repeat search on Google and it’s hopeless. One of these songs is by Perfecto. One is by Disturbed. One is by Yoko Kanno. They are all called ‘Rise’ and I know which one I want to listen to. I can’t, however, tell which of the three that is. Still, they have a context menu. Presumably that’ll help.

Presumption is the mother of all fuck-ups. I literally had to play each one in turn to work out which was which. One of the reasons I decided to jump to Android was the incredibly slick user experiences of their apps on iOS. Google Maps, Google+ even gMail are utter pleasures to use. Play Music is shockingly bad.

As far as audiobooks and podcasts go I have only this to say: I have been mean about the Podcasts app on iOS. I regret it. It was, at least, free. I have yet to find a podcast manager on Android that is a comparable experience to Podcasts on iOS at its’ worst and they’re all for-pay apps.

In-Pocket Controls

Now let’s come to headset controls. This is a logical follow on. Because the vast majority of my usage of a phone is actually as an iPod and the vast majority of that is done whilst it’s in my pocket I have come to rely on my headset controls. They are simple:

Volume Up Button
Center Button
Volume Down Button

The volume buttons do what you might expect. The center button is clever. Its’ role is: answer a call when phone is ringing, double press to send ringing call to voice mail, hang up a call in progress, place call on hold if new call ringing, long press to ignore incoming call whilst already on call, play music (when no call in progress or ringing), pause music in progress, double tap whilst playing music to skip forward, double tap whilst playing music to skip backward, double press and hold to scan forward, triple press and hold to scan backward, long press to activate siri.

On my Android device, using the same headset, the volume buttons do nothing and the center button’s roll is: press once to maybe start music, maybe start a podcast, probably do nothing. Whilst listening to something, press to maybe pause it, one in five times perhaps, but otherwise you’re gonna have to get your phone out of your pocket, mate.

My TIOLI co-host Andrew, a vehement Android supporter whose opinions on Apple are well documented was quick to jump in with a suggestion:

But no, I’m not using Apple headphones.

Sennheiser, your mileage may vary.

I cannot stress this enough. I use my phone as an audio player constantly and the vast majority of that time it’s in my pocket. Reaching up to tap the button to pause and knocking my left earbud out so I can talk to someone is goddamn reflexive. I feel like a part of myself is missing and I have to ask you, Android users, how do you live like this?.

The iOS methodology for handling audio applications is that there is a single channel for audio output. Sound effects can be played incidental of this channel but if you want to do VOIP, streaming, audio playback or even video playback you’re using this single channel. The headset controls, if there’s no phone call going on, simply attach to the last application to use that channel.

Android is… confusing. There is one single channel for audio output. You’d think that the headset controls would attach to the last application to use the audio channel here too, but that’s not the case. The strangest example I can cite was walking home from work. I was listening to music, but switched to my audiobook app. This was a problem in itself. Switching to the audiobook application instantly set the volume to full whilst still playing my music back. There was a pause of a second or so before the audiobook began but I was already deaf. When my audiobook was done (I only had 17 minutes left) I switched to podcasts.

Coming out of the train station I stopped in to pick up some dinner. Reached up to pause my podcast but when I touched the headset button for some reason my audiobook began playing its’ closing credits again. Not quite what I’d had in mind.

What really confused me was the whole time the on-screen controls seemed to be coming from Play Music. This suggests the headset buttons and the lock-screen audio playback aren’t even using the same rules to work out what last played sound.

You Touched What?

Apple have made claims in their marketing before. Bold claims. Some would say bullshit claims. One of these was “a patented system for ignoring unintentional touches”. I always thought this was marketing spiel before using a phone that didn’t have a patented system for ignoring unintentional touches.

The first kind of unintentional touch I encounter is when I put the phone in my pocket with the screen facing inward. The material of my pocket must be very thin because my thigh appears to activate the touch screen. Walking along I am interrupted every 10 feet by the pitched-tones of my phone dialing itself. It has activated emergency call mode and begun dialing just from the movement of my leg as I walk. This, frankly, is shit. So I learned to place it in my pocket screen facing out. That fixed that problem but the fix is what we in the biz call ‘a hack’.

The second kind of unintentional touch I encounter is almost worse. The screen is significantly larger than my iPhone’s and to reach the top of it or the far left is a stretch. This means I fold my hand around the screen and sometimes my thenar eminence (learning is fun with wryterra!) just touches the bottom right of the screen. In most cases this results in an unintentional multi touch as I press the tip of my thumb down and something resizes. Not every time though. Jelly Bean has introduced a menu that is accessible from a small touch area in the very bottom right of the screen, indicated with three vertically spaced dots. When one of these menus is present the unintended touch will present that menu which is a very jarring experience.

Google, license Apple’s method for detecting unanticipated touches. FFS.

The Good

It’s not all bad. That photograph of my earbuds would have been unusable if I’d been stuck with what I got when I tapped the shutter. Given that I have a modicum of understanding of digital photography however I was delighted to discover that I could deep-dive into the image processing. I adjusted the curves of a phone camera snap before posting it. That’s pretty awesome.

I love the notifications. It’s no wonder to me that Android users made a lot of noise about Apple stealing Android’s notifications system. What you guys should have been saying is how bad a job Apple did of it. The Nexus 4 even has a neat multi-colour LED that gently pulsates with a colour indicating what type of message is waiting for me. That’s cute.

Intents, the means by which the OS presents you with a menu of applications able to fulfil a request, are great. I’m beginning to see a lot of peoples’ points on this. It’s also the lowest-hanging of fruit left to the iOS team and I expect to see something like it get into the next version of iPhone’s OS. Or at least the version after.

Google Now

The Future

As of right now I carry two phones because my experience has lead to one, awkward conclusion: both platforms excel in areas that I am unwilling to compromise on. The great convergent technology revolution has created two devices that are almost perfect but neither of which can truly supplant the other in my pocket.


At least the future looks like an interesting place. If you’ll permit me a tangent?

I was talking to a guild-mate the other night about service-culture and the difference between high class American and high class British hotels. The difference, broadly defined, is this: In the US the hotel staff will cater to your every request and do so gladly and make you feel like nothing you ask for is too much trouble. In the UK they want you to feel like you never have to ask, adopting a culture of ‘if you have to ask for something, we’ve failed to anticipate your need’.

Can you see where I’m going with this? Apple have put Siri in a phone. It’s your digital personal assistant. As time goes by you’ll be able to ask Siri for increasingly complicated things and Siri will happily provide. Google, on the other hand, are fighting the Google Now approach. After all they’re a data-mining operation at heart. Their recent unified privacy policy could be read as ‘we already know everything about you, why not at least let us put that knowledge to work for you as well as for us?’. They know your appointments, your friends, your friends’ homes, your home, where you work, when you’re flying, when your package is arriving. Google Now strives to give you the information you need before you knew you needed it. That is the future I want.

Oh and I want a set of Google Glasses modified to look like Garrus’ eyepiece from Mass Effect, but that’s just a personal taste thing.


  1. Look mate, i always say both phones are great, you need to just know what you want. And I see you need ipod with phone functionality. For must people music is part of it, not yhe main thing. I agree iP… Are great with music, thats why the only thing with apple logo on it in my house is ipod nano 6g. Small, you can clip it and it is really good to control. (but i really hate the itunes thing, it is like scratching my left ear with right hand, you can do it but maaaan it looks stupid).
    In my opinion you should keep your iphone 5 (anyway i dont see why you went from 4 to 5, 5 is supposed to be better cos longer and seems like it is bad thing for you) or you should visit play store and check for music player which suits you and set it as defult. That you can do, cos with android you can decide what you prefer.
    And if you choose the second, you still have 300 pounds which you saved ( difference in price) and you can buy sonos 5 if you like. I think that makes more sence for that money then better music player in your phone.
    And for control the musoc on amdroid, hmm, in this point i agree with you (but still not worth 300 for me) that apple does good job. But check klipsch s4a. Great sound and with klipsch app really good control by the button.

    Why i said all this. As i said in the beggining i know both phones are great, but compare them because of this small aspects as music player… I know you said bit more about it, but there is much more. Just try to share stuff from your phone, try customuzation, try to use something different as defult (you can find amazing calendars, diallers, lock screens, …) And make the phone yours. Just try it.

    • wryterra

      January 7, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      Well as you can see from the article I also said both phones are great. As for why I went from the 4 to the 5 it was a combination of the light weight and wanting to have access to the flagship handset for work, as a developer.

      As for which one to keep, I’m keeping them both, they’re both excellent devices and I work in mobile app development so I have a practical reason for owning both.

      In terms of a player that suits me, there are none. There’s no player that handles music from google play, podcasts and audiobooks in m4b format. That’s just the sad truth. So it’s not actually something I can do with android short of writing it myself. There’s no difference in price involved because, as I pointed out, I own both. 🙂

      The reason I focus on comparing them as PMPs is because, as I stated, 90% of the time I use my phone as a PMP so it is the most important thing to me. It is also the largest area of differentiation between them. I won’t compare them as mapping devices, sat navs, browsers, social media devices or any of the other areas in which they are precisely identical (because I use Google Maps on both). No point.

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