Nexus 5 review

After having used all of them and actually owning one (a Nexus S) for close to two years, I’m not exactly new to the world of Nexus phones. But in all these years I’ve never particularly been a fan of them. While I can understand the allure of stock Android for some, for me it was too much of a barebones experience that relied heavily on third party apps to make up for its many shortcomings. Otherwise known as iOS.

Nexus 5

But off late, Google has been doing some good things with Android and except for a few things it has managed to bring the base OS on par with what the Android OEMs have been doing, at least as far as the useful features are concerned. As such, when the time came to upgrade my trusty Galaxy S III (which, for all its flaws, I enjoyed using for well over a year), the Nexus 5 seemed like the most sensible option available at the moment.  Continue…

Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S4

So finally got a chance to spend some time with the Galaxy S4 yesterday. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much since for all intents and purposes it is a Galaxy S III S/+/Advance/Whatever. But I was still fairly impressed by the device.

Let’s start with the design. The design sucks; there are no two ways about it. The Galaxy S III design has grown on me over time but it still looks meh. The S4 actually looks bit worse because of the crazy pattern Samsung has going on on the surface. The brushed metal finish on the S III looked way better in comparison. It’s still cheap looking, glossy plastic and feels cheap in your hands. The build quality is good, though. As in, it feels cheap but it doesn’t creak or flex in your hands and Samsung’s plastic is known to be durable.

The improvement in design comes from the flat sides, which makes the S4 easier to hold than the S III. The S III is fairly usable for such a large phone but the curved edges constantly slip from your hands. The sharper, flat sides of the S4 provide better grip and makes it one of the most ergonomic large screened phones I’ve used. Samsung also has a convenient key arrangement on the sides, which reduced unnecessary stretching of fingers.

The display looks fantastic. The higher resolution completely compensates for the PenTile matrix’s shortcomings and even after staring long and hard I couldn’t spot individual pixels, leave alone any sub-pixel irregularities. The panel is also an improvement over the S III’s. It’s brighter, the colors are more natural and does not have that greenish tint that plagues the S III’s display. There are also some color options that let you tone down the saturation levels further.

Compared to the One’s display, the S4′s display looks every bit as good. The colors are more saturated but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s a matter of preference and a lot of people prefer it that way (the way people prefer big bass over natural, uncolored sound). You can fall in love with either display and you won’t be wrong. I prefer the S4′s display, simply because it is bigger, without the phone itself being any bigger than the One.

The software on the S4 is ridiculous. I generally prefer Samsung’s customizations but they have gone way overboard this time. Sure, you can turn off everything but there are just so many things to turn off this time it’s frustrating. Just look at this image of the expanded notification screen to get an idea of some of the software features on the phone.

The software also looks ugly. I’m fairly used to TouchWiz now but the color combination still looks jarring and puerile compared to the simplicity of stock Android or even the new Sense 5. You get used to it after a while but I wished Samsung concentrated more on the design than simply adding more features. There is one nice touch, though. The lockscreen animation is fantastic. It’s a bit hard to explain and is best experienced first hand so make sure you check it out when you use the phone.

From the short time I spent with it I think on its own the S4 is a really good smartphone and if you ordered it or are going to get one then you made a fine choice. Between this and the One, it’s a matter of personal preference and you can’t go wrong with either. I’d go with the S4 because of the bigger screen, higher resolution camera (Yeah, you need those extra pixels. Fuck those who say megapixels don’t matter. They don’t know jack shit. Try taking crops from a 4 megapixel sensor and you’ll know what I mean.) and some useful software features among the sea of useless ones. But if hardware feel matters to you or if you need a phone with speakers louder than most laptops then the One is also an excellent choice.

As for upgrading from the S III? I wouldn’t recommend it. Being an S III owner myself, I was fairly impressed by the improvements on the S4. However, I don’t think they are big enough to warrant upgrading to this phone, especially not at the current price. Perhaps later down the year I might change my mind if the price drops significantly but if you have an S III and would want to hold on for the next year’s model I would say you’re making a sensible decision.

Regarding opinions and apologies

So a few days ago Engadget wrote a post on the race to the bottom that has started happening in the smartphone and tablet market thanks to Amazon and now Google. The gist of it was that both these companies, who would (and have, in case of Google) otherwise struggled to sell their devices and make profit off the hardware, have decided to sell them at price, or in some cases at a loss, and instead rely on revenues through content sales to make money.

The problem with this model, as the article mentions, is that it would result in lower quality standards as manufacturers won’t consider innovating or spending much on the hardware if they know they are going to sell it at a rock bottom price. Moreover, it also screws over other companies who make a profit off selling the hardware, and makes people think just because they are not selling things extremely cheap they are ripping people off when it’s just a different way to make money, not worse.

Both of these were very valid points but were met with criticism from the Android-loving, Apple-hating crowd found in the comments section of any technology site these days. And apparently it was so bad that Engadget had to apologize for their article. Yes, apologize for having an opinion that not everyone agrees with.

Now there are usually three kinds of posts you write. There are the news stories where you have no business putting your opinion in. You present the facts as they happened and leave it to the readers to interpret it as they want. Then there are the reviews, which also mostly deal with the facts and numbers but there are also some opinions for things that cannot be quantified. And then there are opinion pieces, which are just that, your opinions.

Every person has their own opinion and the point of these opinion pieces is to get them across to the readers unchanged. You don’t sugarcoat it to make it appeal to a broader audience. Conversely, you don’t spice it up either to make it more sensational. If you do that it’s no longer your opinion. And if you have to apologize about you opinion, you probably don’t care much for it yourself. And if you don’t care about it, no one else will.

I’ve seen this trend recently where people write articles that are too safe, too neutral, where they are afraid to stand by their honest opinion to prevent offending people who would disagree with them. You will find articles where the author mentions something good about a product, only to pull it back with a minor complaint to not appear too excited about it. This is why I enjoy reading the writings of people such as Gruber or Siegler. You may disagree with what they say but at least they are honest and say what’s on their mind without giving half a fuck about what others might think. If you like something, say it. If you hate something, say it. No one likes the guy who tries to please everyone.

The apology has since been removed after both Gruber and Siegler posted about it. Hopefully, Engadget will continue to write sensible articles in future without apologizing for it making too much sense.

If you’re importing the Nexus 4, here’s something you should consider

I believe I am a bit late in writing this but if you still haven’t pre-ordered your Nexus 4 there is something you need to consider.

Most gadgets launched these days have some technical issues in the first batch. These issues usually surface immediately in the first couple of weeks after the device goes on sale. The companies are usually quick to rectify them in the later batches and if you bought one from the earlier ones they will quickly replace them for you.

Except if you live miles away in a different continent.

Now I’m not saying the first batch of Nexus 4 will have hardware issues but if they do there is no way to know until the phone has been out in people’s hands for a while. If you were in the US, you could just send the device back for replacement. But what will you do if you imported the device? Wait for LG to sell the phone here in the hopes that they might be able to fix the problem?

Which is why I suggest you hold your horses for a month or so to see if there are any issues with the initial batch. If that is not the case and you don’t hear any major problems being reported then by all means go ahead with your purchase.

P.S. – I admit I did not think of this while I was trying to pre-order the device for myself earlier this week.

Why iOS still gets all the best stuff first

I’m sure a lot of people know this already but I still see several people out there who wonder why iOS gets all the best stuff before Android. Their argument is that Android outsells iOS so Android should get all the best stuff first. And by ‘stuff’ I mean apps and games.

It’s true that Android outsells iOS and everything else out there by a wide margin. But to the developers it doesn’t matter how many total users are out there if only a small portion of them are going to buy their apps.

One of the reasons why Android outsells iOS by such a wide margin because devices running Android are available at wide variety of price points. In India, for example, you can get an Android phone from ₹4,000 to ₹40,000. The cheapest iPhone in comparison costed ₹20,000 (not on sale anymore) and the latest iPhone 5 costs ₹45,500 for the base model. Same is the case in most countries around the world where phones are sold unsubsidized. The point is, Android devices are inexpensive and it’s the inexpensive ones that sell the most and form the bulk of the marketshare.

The problem is, people who buy inexpensive devices rarely spend a lot of (if any) money on apps. Heck, I’ve heard people buying expensive smartphones costing upward of ₹30,000 whining about paying for apps. The problem of piracy is also more severe on Android because it’s just so easy to download and install pirated applications on the device without any modification other than enabling an option in settings. And lastly, there is the fragmentation. The sheer variety of hardware and software configurations that needs to be taken into account before making anything.

Add the three and you can see why Android still plays second fiddle in the minds of developers. Android might have a lot of users but it has few that matter, at least to the developers, and often it’s not worth the effort. iOS users purchase more and pirate less and there are more of such people than on Android. Sure, one day Android will grow so big that this particular group of people will outgrow its counterpart on iOS (even if the percentage doesn’t grow within Android itself) but until then iOS will continue to get all the best stuff first.

Regarding the Nexus 4 pricing in India

Google finally announced the Nexus 4 earlier this week, even though weather in the US tried its best to stop the launch (for what it’s worth, Google couldn’t hold the event and had to rely on press releases to make people aware of the launch). Other than the impressive hardware, which is basically the Optimus G in a different body running stock Android, the other impressive aspect about it is the price, which at $299 and $349 for the 8 and 16GB models unsubsidized is great.

The thing is, I don’t think we will get the same prices in India. Or anywhere close, for that matter.

There are couple of reasons why this phone is so cheap in the US. First of all, the Nexus devices were never about making money off the hardware but to showcase the platform and push it to as many buyers as possible. It’s a long term game, where Google, just like Amazon, plans on reaping the benefits from a platform used by millions of people, through ads and content sales from their store.

Secondly, the Nexus 4 does not have LTE, for which Google has its own reasons but then they also can’t, in good conscience, price it the same as other LTE smartphones, regardless of how capable the phone might be otherwise.

Things are different in India. Google doesn’t sell as much content in most of the markets outside the US, so they have few reasons to offer the Nexus devices there, leave alone at a low price.

Moreover, there is no LTE in India, so the battleground is even and actually tilted in favor of the Nexus 4. If the phone is launched in India, it will instantly become the best Android smartphone on the market. Period. Nothing else comes close, neither in terms of hardware nor the software. To think LG would sell this phone cheaper than some of its own phones even though it is significantly better would be naive. For reference, LG’s current flagship phone, the Optimus Vu, costs 30k in India and it’s nowhere as good as the Nexus 4.

This leaves two options in front of LG; either price the phone high enough to not jeopardize its own smartphones or not sell the phone in India at all. Either way it sucks for the buyers but I have a feeling LG would go with the second option. I know they said that they might launch the phone in November in India but then again, ASUS also said they’ll announce the Nexus 7 in October and we’re yet to see that happen.