Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean arrives at the Nexus party

Recently I posted some ramblings regarding Android and the new iPhone. (In short, you don’t like iOS6 maps?… give waze a try until Apple works out some of the kinks or Google releases an app.) I also commented on how when I held the iPhone 5 in hand I was impressed by the build quality (I am an Industrial Engineer by degree after all), fluidity of the user interface, and the efficiency and accuracy of Siri as compared to my Galaxy Nexus 4.0 baked in, after market and bootleg options.

Current weapon of choice

Now mind you I like my Nexus. On it’s own it has been my best phone to date and up until the iPhone 5 offered features exclusive to Android:

  • attach photos in such in email
  • 16:9 aspect ratio screen
  • larger than a 3.5″ screen
  • 4G
  • DWIW – My abbreviation of do what I wanna, e.g. buying media content where I wanna, using adobe flash content if I wanna. None of which are show stoppers. Just as a rule when I am paying my hard earned cash my initial reaction is to recoil from seemingly unnecessary and intrusive constraints.
  • Free turn by turn navigation.
  • Price. Very importantly to a man on a budget Android tended to be the more frugal choice. Not just the phone, but the accessories as well.
  • NFC compatibility.

See here’s the problem

All that being said above all has not been love and joy in Android land. To wit:

  • Software. More than once I have sat on the sidelines while iPhone applications have come on the scene, with Androidian offerings consisting of knock offs or original ports long after, e.g. Instagram. Yes, it was made available eventually, but the timing leads one to the possible conclusion that Instagram’s Android expansion was merely an exercise in sweetening the pot via market share and reach right before being snapped up by Facebook. Nothing wrong with that, but user push and innovation are not paired often enough to benefit all users in most cases.
  • Accessories. A lot of hay has been made about Android displacing IOS as the dominant mobile OS, but let’s step back for a moment and evaluate this from a developers standpoint. If you only have the resources to develop an app for one platform it will likely be the iPhone. Why? Android’s dominance in numbers is at least partially due to the extreme deviations in OS version and hardware form factors available. You still have phones on the market that are sporting an ancient version of Android. On the hardware side form factor choice is great for the consumer, but if you are to develop a product that must conform to a specific case Android’s splintering of options becomes a detractor. Case in point, the iPhone5 is barely out of the gate and I have fallen for the Artistry Woods line of cases from CaseMate (image below). So I went to their generic smartphone category for all things not iPhone (already a bad sign) and even though my nexus has been on sale for some time the best thing they had available were rubberized cases similar to what I could buy from any random mall kiosk, with one so geek gaudy my 8 year old son would dismiss it as an embarassment.

  • Voice Search. While Siri had it’s issues in iOS5 those issues were nothing compared to the many applications I tried for the Galaxy Nexus. I found myself using three different apps depending on what I wanted to do and neither was really good at what I used it for.
  • OS. Yes, Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” is by far the best iteration of Android I have experienced yet (I came on board back around Froyo, after I left running from my post Windows Mobile one BlackBerry hockey puck touch screen experiment deviation.) Gingerbread was good, but even then I had to learn ways to ‘trick’ Gingerbread in to playing nice-nice without staring back at me dumbstruck. These episodes typically happened at the worst possible times and in the end usually necessitated a battery pull. For example a couple of years ago I was giving our highly esteemed and respected Bishop a ride while touting the convenience of modern technology. After stating my handy Droid X would guide the way it promptly crashed and eventually required a battery pull to get where we needed to go. He was not bothered in the least by the delay and we had a pleasant conversation in the meantime, but I scored no points in convincing him that he should get a smartphone.  When I had a tablet on Honeycomb I was mostly happy with it, but when I held a Gingerbread phone in one hand and a Honeycomb tablet in the other it did cause me to question the logic of this strategy. For a while my phone and tablet were both on Ice Cream Sandwich, but my tablet was much less happy in this state than it was w/ Honeycomb. Let’s just say hard reboots became a  regular occurrence. Plus since my Droid X was put out to pasture (prematurely in my opinion) I had to upgrade my phone to gain access to the ICS upgrade. Then I had to sit back and watch the Nexus 7 go on sale from Google directly with Jelly Bean (4.1.1) while I heard nothing, but crickets, with regards to a Jelly Bean release date for my ‘native Android ICS’ phone purchased through Verizon.
  • 5MP camera. Even though I have been happy with the pictures taken by my Galaxy Nexus (recent sample below, w/ some HDR app and filter fiddling) on the whole I never understood that choice. Although the Droid X I had before it did admittedly struggle to take a decent pic it did pack an 8MP spec camera. It is odd to go backwards so significantly on a spec when upgrading.

Now here is the part that chafes me a little.

What chafes me a little

One of my long standing issues with Android has been it’s habit of stammering for lack of a more poetic or technical description. Essentially this is evidenced when opening an app, transitioning between apps, or simply performing a function within an app. There is often times a pause where you momentarily are unsure whether Android either a. Did not receive your command, b. Outright refuses to complete your command, or c. Just is hung up for a moment before completing your command. All three are regular outcomes. Let’s not forget the ever famous “huh-what?” prompt, as I have come to call it, which usually comes after an unresponsive touch screen stare down… including gmail (Google mail) of all things.

My tablet fares worse as gmail crashing on it has become so common as to not even faze me any more. Back to my current phone. Very recently my wife and I attended a friends wedding. Navigation worked just fine that morning, but when we needed Google Maps’ assistance to get to the reception all of a sudden the Nexus decided it no longer wanted to access the network. My phone gladly showed me that 4G was available, but with 3 of 4 bars available it still refused to access it for navigation or even web browsing. Even after cycling the power twice. So we had to wing it which led to us almost getting trapped in a long driveway procession of an event down the street from our destination. (Non NC approved NYC driving maneuvers were employed to get out of this trap and then we promptly fled the scene.)  Having gotten to the correct venue early on our own I pulled the battery and low and behold what was lost was now found when it started back up… After we got where we need to go.

The big release

I usually pay little or no attention to any product release the first day. I wait a day or two for the hype to die down and for the post pep rally assessments to roll in. There were no big ‘game changers’, but I found that Apple had quietly addressed most, if not all, of my aforementioned reservations:

  • attach photos in such in email (check)
  • 16:9 aspect ratio screen (check)
  • larger than a 3.5″ screen (check)
  • 4G (check)
  • DWIW – (kinda check) I rarely purchase music on my smartphone (A self imposed ban lest impulse lead me to financial ruin). I typically purchase music on desktop w/ Amazon (no DRM) which I have synced to iTunes. The only iTunes music I will purchase  is non-DRM. As for Adobe Flash even Android has now pulled the plug on it.
  • Free turn by turn navigation. (check w/ caveat) While iOS6 Maps may be lacking it is a moot point since I mostly use waze as stated in an earlier blog which is iPhone compatible.
  • Price.  (check) The Galaxy SIII and iPhone 5 base models are priced atop each other.
  • NFC compatibility. (check not needed) I got a bootleg copy of Google Wallet back when it was blocked (Thank for nothing Verizon). I like the concept, but in practice it offered no meaningful improvement over a boring old debit card. So few places are NFC ready and of those it was not a lock that it would work. Went to use it at Best Buy once only to be told that the readers were down. No luck getting gas at Sheetz either. Buzz kill. And as far as the tap to transfer content, it is a neat concept, but pointless if no one has a compatible phone.

Plus the iPhone 5 brought some things that I felt my current phone, and in some cases Android in general, had no counter for:

  • Design. the best Android has to offer can not compare to the physical design of the iPhone.
  • Siri. Granted my test was brief, but simply stated it did what I asked, with speed, and pleasant graphics and animation.
  • Commonality. As stated earlier it would be nice to have access to the most recent and popular apps and accessories.
  • Stability. Apple’s pedantic attention to detail will likely provide what I have come to crave most. I simply want a device that will do what I want when I want it to as smoothly and quickly as possible.
  • 8MP camera. Back to an 8MP camera that is also one of the best rated. Now granted plenty of Android phones have good cameras, but the Nexus failed to match this spec.

Android return volley

Then comes Jelly Bean. In my words not Google’s best I could tell Jelly Bean was intended to fix all or most of what ailed Ice Cream Sandwich (itself touted fix what ailed Gingerbread.) An initiative dubbed ‘project butter’ was to bring smooth, purdy transitions and snappy app response times. This would have been very helpful 2 moths ago well before I had begun to lose patience with ICS. Had this happened earlier or even if they had given a preemptive date I might not have even considered an iPhone. Now before the upgrade was even realized I was filled with cynicism due to the timing of the announcement. I find it hard to believe that it is a mere coincidence that the very same day the iPhone became available I learn that my phone would receive a long awaited Jelly Bean update.

Now I did finally receive the Jelly Bean update this morning. Ironically it seems to have happened just when the alarm was to sound. Normally not a bad thing on the weekend, but being a Pastor I would rather not be late. But I will not blame the upgrade for this since I cannot say with certainty that I did not unwittingly approve this update while in a snooze button mashing daze.

Jelly Bean 1st Impressions

I genuinely like it. I do see noticeable improvements in smoothness and responsiveness. I like the ability to access the settings from the pull down screen. Also the new native voice command software is a definite improvement yielding to my commands much more fluidly and accurately than in the past without the need of additional stand in apps. Problem is I am not wowed yet. I could be jaded by the timing or being made to wait I guess. Also the fact that I actually laid eyes and hands on the iPhone5 and came away far more impressed than I expected to be could be a factor. Plus there is the unknown. Will Jelly Bean start to fall on it’s face like ICS over time? Will some other, yet unknown, gremlin rear it’s ugly head. Will the Nexus be put out to pasture with the quickness like my last phone? I already hear talk from Samsung of a Galaxy S4 (unofficial name I would wager). Really?

The question

Have I decided to stay with my newly Jelly Beaned Nexus (The SIII is out since it does not offer any significant advance over the Nexus for my purposes.) or move on to try the iPhone5?

The answer?

Dunno. Currently I am leaning to a Johnny Mathis/Deniece Williams narrative of “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late.”, but I have given myself until Wednesday to decide whether this lengthy Android experiment is over.

Strange. If anyone had told me many years ago that so much of my time would be spent pondering a phone purchase I would not have believed them. But with 2 year contracts (I do not have budget or desire to buy unlocked phones, so I am stuck with what I get for 2 years.) and how intricately woven these devices have become in my work and play the decision I make has some significance.

The good news is that there are no bad options if I am completely honest. The phone in this bunch not chosen, whatever that ends up being, is still an excellent phone. It is a good time to be a technology consumer.