Great news Android fanboys! You will be pleased to learn that I'm composing this article on a Bluetooth keyboard that's paired with a Google Nexus 7, which was a Christmas gift from Santa.
It wasn't a surprise gift; I actually requested it. If you've read some of my past articles you'll know that I've been an iOS and iPhone enthusiast for some time – and that love has all but accelerated ten-fold since the release of iOS 7.
You may, however, have seen my article last month in which I wrote about my experience of giving the Nexus 5 a try – ultimately, I gave it up after an intense 24-hour test drive. Some commenters weren’t impressed with my judgement, but I still stand by my decision to send back the Nexus 5. My phone is just too important to me to ditch iOS relatively cold turkey.
However, in reading the reaction to my Nexus 5 trial, I saw the flaw in my experiment. Such a drastic change of software culture was a bad idea where my precious smartphone was concerned. While I didn't stick with my first Android experience, I didn't hate it. I was actually eager to try it again under more passive and relaxed circumstances. Enter the Nexus 7, which I've been using fairly non-stop since unboxing it on Xmas day. Put simply, I love pretty much everything about it. Although my only previous tablet ownership was a first-generation iPad, I'm still fine with saying that this is the best tablet I could have got for my needs.
From a hardware perspective, the Nexus 7 absolutely flies. It feels much faster than my 11.6in Samsung Chromebook, so much so that I'm selling that and making the Nexus my primary mobile productivity device (I did not completely drink the Android Kool-Aid though; I also just bought a Mac mini for work). It feels great in my hand, and I love the rubber backing. While it's not on the same level of design as Apple devices, the minimalist aesthetic is pleasing. However, what makes this tablet truly shine is the display. Whether it's re-visiting House of Cards or playing FIFA 2014, everything looks awesome.
Then we come to the Android OS. Almost as soon as I connected the Nexus 7 to Wi-Fi, it began updating to KitKat, and for the first five days or so I kept everything pretty stock, opting to mimic my iPhone layout with multiple folders on the home screen paired with a nice wallpaper. Then I experimented with launchers and themes. There was definitely a learning curve to understanding them, but I finally found one that met my design and UX tastes. I went on the hunt for some icon packs, and eventually I created an experience I was happy with. My favourite part? My home screen, which I love so much I wish I could replicate on my iPhone. Behold:
As much as I love my home screen, I've come to realise that launchers and themes aren't perfect and they're also not universally applied throughout the entire OS, such as with the settings screens, which still preserve a high contrast blackish-grey that I'm not a huge fan of. For someone who is a hardcore stickler for design uniformity, things like that can be annoying. The launcher I'm running also organises my apps into category drawers, but it doesn't let me create new drawers. Again, a minor annoyance but one that I had control over.
Overall, there are a lot of things I really like about the Android software experience, most of all the ability to customise my home screen. Beyond that, the customisation limitations I ran into are something I'll either get used to, or as I become a more experienced Android user, I may just become a better pimper of my device.
So for now, I still vote for iOS 7 as the best overall mobile OS. That said, Apple has a lot to worry about going forward for a few reasons.
While there's a lot to love about the actual device, the primary factor that made me commit to buying (or asking someone else to buy) the Nexus 7 was the price. Google’s compact slate costs £199 for the 16GB version, compared to £319 for the iPad mini Retina, and the difference is even more pronounced with the 32GB model I received, at £239 versus £399 (a saving of £160 with the Nexus). I love my iPhone, but unless you're truly shooting Apple juice into your veins or have an allergic reaction to anything but iOS, it's hard to argue with those economics.
That's why Apple needs to think long and hard in 2014 when it comes to pricing strategy for its forthcoming iPhone 6 and the next line of iPads. Google was able to capture the delight of a tried and true iOS user with a device that equals an iPad in almost every way, but costs considerably less. The iPhone 5C was the perfect opportunity for Apple to offer a flagship level phone for an affordable Sim-free price, but it failed to blaze the trail. Instead, the honour went to Google with Nexus 5 – and now Google has my attention. Unlike Apple, Nexus obviously isn’t the only choice for Android devices, but it's Google's brand, which makes it the logical chosen one to face Apple one-on-one in the arena of public attention for several product cycles to come.
Later this year I’ll have the choice of either a costly iPhone 6 or the next iteration of the Nexus 5 for a much cheaper off-contract outlay, and it's going to be a very hard decision to make, because while my love of Apple and iOS hasn't faltered, I've had a sustained taste of Android. So far I like it a lot, and so does my wallet.