Nexus 5: I’ve Now Retired My Other Android Phones

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 11.11.17 AMA lot of the early reactions to the new Nexus 5 from Google have been of the “solid performer, good value for money” variety.

I actually feel more enthusiastic than that. The best praise I can give the new Nexus 5 smartphone from Google is simply this: Within hours after first turning it on, I put all of my other Android phones away in a drawer.

I tend to use a few different phones at any given time. Lately the rotation has included an HTC One Google Edition (it was my favorite), a Samsung Galaxy S3, and a Nexus 4. Mostly it’s been the HTC One. It runs pure Android, works well and is really nice-looking, with an aluminum body; people would notice it and ask about it.

But they’re all packed away now. Maybe I’ll pull them back out at some point, but for now I’m committed to the Nexus 5.

Before I go on I should stop and offer a few caveats.

1. I’m an Android fan, and have used only Android phones for the past few years. I like Android. I prefer it. Not everyone does. Let’s not argue.

2. There is no point comparing the Nexus 5 to the iPhone 5s. If you’re an Apple fan, you’re not going to consider an Android phone, and that’s fine. Your iPhone 5s is a beautiful device. I know because my wife has one. I recommended it to her, and bought it for her. Same for Windows Phone. If you like that ecosystem, you’ll find some great phones.

But this post is aimed at people who like Android phones.

On to the Nexus 5

The Nexus 5 is the new flagship phone from Google, successor to the Nexus 4. The main reason to buy a Nexus phone is that you want to live in Google-Land, relying on Google services — Gmail, Maps, Google Drive, Google Calendar, and so on. Really what you’re buying into is the Google Cloud.

The phone has a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a nice big 5-inch screen with a mind-blowing 445-ppi pixel density, and the new version of Android, version 4.4, code-named KitKat.

It costs $349, unlocked, off contract. That’s a lot of phone for not much money. That’s for the 16-GB version. If want 32-GB it’s $399.

You can buy it on the Google Play store and pop in your SIM card. I took the AT&T pre-paid SIM out of my HTC One and just stuck it into the Nexus 5. Easy.

You can also buy the Nexus 5 through carriers, subsidized on a plan. But with a list price of $349, who needs a subsidy? It’s not worth getting locked in.

At $349, you can use the Nexus 5 for a while, and if next year you get bored or something better comes along, ditch this phone (or sell it) and get the next one.

The other benefit, of course, is that if you stop liking your carrier, you can get a SIM card from someone else, and use that network instead. You choose the phone you like and the carrier you like.

So in a way this is about the “free as in freedom” thing, which some people care about and some people don’t.

Google makes Nexus phones to show off new versions of Android. Nexus models run pure Android, without a skin from a handset maker. You’re always using the latest and greatest version of the OS.

The Nexus 5 is made by LG and has a lot in common with LG’s flagship phone, the G2, except the Nexus 5 has a smaller battery (23000 mAh v. 3000 mAh) and an 8-MP camera instead of 13-MP on the LG phone.

It’s too soon to tell if the smaller battery will be a problem. So far it’s been good.

As for the camera, I’m not fussed by having fewer megapixels. The shots I’ve taken with the Nexus 5 look good. I’m not intending to blow them up to poster size, so I think the camera will do. The Nexus 5 camera has optical image stabilization, which is nice. The thing is, when I’m shooting snaps with my phone I’m not really trying to create fine art. I’m taking snapshots that I’m going to put on Facebook or email to a friend. If I really want to make good-looking photos, I use a recently purchased Sony NEX-6, a MILC with a 16-megapixel sensor and nice lenses.

The Nexus 5 is lighter than the HTC One, and feels really light in the hand. It’s thin, and sleek, but it’s not an eye-catcher like the HTC One. It’s just a black rectangle with a glass front. People aren’t going to notice it and ask you about it.

Google has employed the “OK Google” voice command that is used on the Moto X. The difference is that on the Moto X the command works from the lock screen, but on the Nexus 5 you need to be on the home screen. You just say “OK Google” and Search pops up and is ready to make a call, get directions, or search for something on the Web.

Basically, it’s all Google, all the time. Google Search is on every screen, and Google Now, the predictive search feature, takes up the far-left pane of the home screen. Google doesn’t go a great job of advertising how brilliant Google Now actually is, but it should. Same goes for the voice recognition, which in KitKat has been improved by 25 percent, Google says.

My sense is Google’s culture is still built around engineers, and they figure if you put a good product out into the world, people will find their way to it.

The UI on KitKat is fresh and clean. New icons. A different typeface. It works. Web browsing is fast and smooth.

The Nexus 5 has wireless charging and works on the charger that I bought last year for my Nexus 4. That was a pleasant surprise. When I come home I just pop the phone onto the charger in the kitchen, and grab it when I’m heading out.

The Revolution

Mat Honan in Wired says the Nexus 5 “feels an awfully lot like the early stage of a new revolution.” I think it’s just the latest step in a revolution that began 10 years ago when Andy Rubin, Rich Miner and the others set out to create a new kind of smart mobile device that would understand its owner’s preferences, that would know where it was at any given moment, that would have a sense of context.

What first excited me about Android was that Google was taking the power of the open-source model and applying it to mobile devices. It all seemed like a grand experiment, one where hundreds or thousands of different models could be created, both cheap and expensive, big and small, good and bad — it was the big frothy chaotic bazaar rather than the cathedral, where a frenzy of competition and creativity would lead to innovation.

Three years ago I wrote a cover story for Newsweek about Android. At the time the predictions were that by 2014 Android would have 25% market share in smartphones. Instead, in 2013, Android hit 80%.

Android is exciting because it has the potential to radically drive down the cost of mobile computing. Here now is a really well built world-class smartphone, with all the latest and greatest bells and whistles plus a slew of  compelling Google services, selling for $349.

If you’d like you can also buy a world-class Nexus 7 tablet, for $229.

That’s a phone and a tablet for less than $600. That alone is pretty amazing. But the ultimate goal is for Android to usher in a new world of context-aware computing. That’s why Google is selling these things at such low prices. And that’s why, if you’re an Android fan, you should get one.


Reverse engineering the brain

Great story from Wired about Andrew Ng and the quest to reverse engineer the human brain. Google is going after this in a big way — I suspect it’s what Larry Page really wanted to do all along. But others are in the hunt.


Stay off the Twitter and get some damn work done!

That was the lesson I took from reading this really interesting piece by Brian Lam. I often feel guilty because I’m not very “active” on Twitter and I feel like this makes me a bad person somehow. It’s inspiring to hear someone I respect and admire say you’re better off taking a quick look then hunkering down and doing some real work.

For those of you who don’t know him, Brian was once the editor of Gizmodo, got burned out on the hamster-wheel-spinning life of a tech blogger, and decided to change. He lives in Hawaii, surfs a lot, goes diving, writes about the ocean, and makes a living by running a gadget site called The Wirecutter.

And this money quote from Brian blew my mind:

I just like getting away from blogs almost entirely—any place with a clicking agenda. I just know they’re trying to make noise to make traffic. I don’t want to use up my time getting involved in that.

Amen. Amen. Amen.


I’ve moved to a new home, and hope you will come with me

Just a heads up that I’m starting a new job as editor-in-chief of ReadWrite, a tech site formerly known as ReadWriteWeb. We have rebranded the site as ReadWrite and launched it yesterday with a new design and a new approach to covering tech news. Meaning: more personality, more engagement, more fun.

This is not going to be Fake Steve 2.0 because, alas, Fake Steve has left the building. But it will give me a place where I can write the kind of stuff I want to write, with loads of freedom and with a small group of like-minded souls. ReadWrite has a really good staff of writers, and we’re going to be adding more voices to the mix. I’m looking for interesting, thought-provoking ideas, so send them along.

My idea is that journalism needs to become more about conversation than publication. As Arianna Huffington likes to say (in her strange accent) “Self-expression is the new entertainment.” So look — come along with me on this adventure and express yourselves. Become part of ReadWrite. Add your voice to the conversation.

For those of you who are still hanging around from the Fake Steve days, first of all, Namaste, and second of all, Let’s put the band back together. We have a platform where we can do some of the things we did on Fake Steve, like create a sense of community and add a touch of irreverence to the world of tech. Now more than ever the Valley is in need of a bracing, no-bullshit shot of truth, and we are the ones to deliver it. Especially now that Michael Arrington and MG Siegler, the herpes of tech journalism (they keep going away and coming back) are now returning to TechCrunch, which is going to raise the bullshit barrage and general douchebaggery of tech coverage.

As for me, I’ve been cooped up in dying newsweekly for the last four years, and I’ve been miserable. But now I feel like I’ve been sprung from prison and given permission to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting world. I can’t wait. I hope you’ll come along and have some fun.


Apple’s new maps miraculously now work perfectly thanks to Tim Cook’s apology

That’s what I’m hearing. People around the world who were having problems with the new maps say that within hours of Tim Cook’s apology the software miraculously started working perfectly. Customers are happy, Apple has won, Google is screwed, and, in a tiny church in a remote village in Portugal, a painting of Steve Jobs (above) has started weeping real tears, all thanks to that simple, miracle-working apology. Oh, the power of contrition! By lying, but then apologizing for lying, Apple now has become stronger than before. The story is spreading like wildfire, told by Farhad Manjoo on Pando and Drew Olanoff on TechCrunch. See, in the new “perception economy,” the core deliverable is no longer the product itself, it’s the way you talk about the product. The message is the product. They are one and the same. Ergo, a company doesn’t need to make a good product; it just needs to persuade customers that the product is good. See the difference? Even when you ship a bad product, if you apologize for it, now it’s good. It’s all about perception. Or persuasion. Or how your attempts at persuasion are perceived. Something like that.


The real issue about Apple maps

The key thing in the maps situation is what this move says about Apple and the kind of company it has become. As Roger Kay points out on Forbes:

Does Apple care that its naked self interest is showing? Not at all, near as I can tell. Apple has always had disdain for what others think, even — no, especially — customers.

However, for a potential customer on the cusp of deciding whether to buy an Apple or an Android phone, this blatantly dishonorable move — to take away from consumers something that they liked and put in its place a home-grown but inferior substitute — is likely to push them definitively into the Google camp.

Speaking of “blatantly dishonorable,” there’s also the price gouging, the threats to cut back on retail, the shoddy treatment of workers at Foxconn which is driven by Apple’s relentless squeeze on its suppliers, and — finally — the patent trolling. Instead of competing in the marketplace, Apple is using lame patents and deep legal pockets to try to diminish competition. Apple doesn’t want to collect royalties. Apple wants to eliminate competition. This also hurts customers, including the Apple faithful, who benefit when Apple is forced to keep up with hungry rivals.

All’s fair in love and war, as Jethro Tull once said. But is this the kind of company you want to support with your dollars? Sure, most Apple customers are regular folks who sleepwalk into the Apple store and ask for the WiFis and the bigger gee-bees. They’re not even aware of any of this stuff. But if you’re reading this, you’re not one of those people. Why support this kind of behavior? Why spend money to take a step backward? Why do business with an organization that holds you in such contempt?


Here comes the map spin from Cupertino

The rule of thumb for following Apple is that if you want to know what Apple PR’s official line is, you just need to read the top-tier Apple apologists like John Gruber and MG Siegler. They’re pretty much operating as unpaid Apple spokesbots. Apple briefs these guys, but instead of having the balls to do it on the record, Apple feeds them some spin with the condition that they will write it up while attributing their info to “sources who are familiar with the situation.” It’s a bit like being a Kremlinologist and reading Pravda and Izvestia.

And, sure enough, in the wake of the Mapocalypse, today come Gruber and Siegler with Apple’s spin. Gruber pens “On the Timing of Apple’s Map Switch” and Siegler provides “Ripping Off The Bloody Band-Aid.”

Read More…


Pogue goes rogue!

The brainwashed brown-noser pens a vicious critique of Apple’s new maps app. Apparently he just noticed that the software is terrible:

In short, Maps is an appalling first release. It may be the most embarrassing, least usable piece of software Apple has ever unleashed.

Question remains: How did Pogue not notice this when he was preparing his original glowing review? The one in which he said the new maps app was one of the “chief attractions” of the new phone?

Did Pogue write his original review without even looking at the maps app? Or did he know how bad it was and just neglect to mention it for fear of pissing off Apple?

It’s hard to believe any reviewer could not look at the maps app at all. The new maps app was a big deal. It was the kind of thing a reviewer would have high on his or her list of things to check out.

It’s also the kind of thing that an editor at the Times might get pissed about when he sees that everyone is ranting about these messed-up maps and the situation is so bad that someone has even created a Tumblr to mock them and yet his own world-famous and notoriously Apple-conflicted reviewer failed to notice any problem.

So, maybe that.



Killer app?

Much is being about the problems with the new maps issue on iOS 6. The best piece I’ve seen so far is this one on The Verge. The key angle to this story, the one that might resonant with customers, is this: “Apple’s decision to swap out Google Maps is a rare example of the company openly placing its own interests above those of its customers,” write Nilay Patel and Adi Robertson.

I’m not sure how rare that is, but anyway. I don’t expect to see anyone getting out of line at the Apple store just because the maps app has some flaws.

But the Mapocalypse does raise a question: If the new maps app is truly this bad, how come none of those glowing first-round reviews made any mention of this fact? Thousands of words were devoted to the thinness, the lightness, the wonderful way it feels when you hold it in your hand, but there was hardly a quibble about maps.

Mossberg did the best job of covering his ass, writing that maps was the “biggest drawback” and “in other ways a step backward” — but he also pointed out that the new maps app “has one big advantage” over its predecessor, meaning turn-by-turn navigation.

Scott Stein of CNET also quibbled a bit wasn’t too upset, saying, “Odds are, you’ll own a couple of maps apps and swap back and forth.”

Pogue called the new maps app one of the “chief attractions” of the new iOS.

MG Siegler of TechCrunch wrote, “Testing the maps these last few days, I’ve come away impressed.”

Jim Dalrymple of Loop Insight wrote, “I really should mention Maps, Apple’s new turn-by-turn direction app on the iPhone. I love it. I used in Cupertino and I used it at home — it worked equally well in both places.”

Ed Baig of USA Today touted the new turn-by-turn navigation, saying “Apple has generally done a very good job with its own turn-by-turn feature,” and made no mention of any problems with maps.

Gruber’s review ran several thousand words but made no mention of maps at all. (Though yesterday, after people started howling, Gruber conceded that, ahem, the new maps app is “a downgrade.”

This is weird, isn’t it? How could all of these top reviewers have early access to the device, test it thoroughly, and not notice anything wrong with the maps app?

I’m sure there’s a good explanation.