Archives For Google

I love my Nexus 5, but I’m keeping my Moto X as my primary phone for now.  And I’m simply amazed at Samsung’s marketing genius… 

Image

Over the holidays, I had a chance to spend a fair bit of time with my new Nexus 5 and some Samsung S3s and S4s that belong to friends.  And of course, I still use my Moto X as my primary device (for some definition of primary device that involves having a cellular network enabled on it).  I had a chance to use various applications on all three of these devices and to debug some things I helped build as well.

After this round of experiments, I have a few salient observations:

  • The Nexus 5 is simply blazing.  It is the smoothest Android device I’ve ever laid hands on, no doubt – in fact, if you ignored a couple of minor things, it might even be the best device I’ve ever used, period (yes, yes, including that ‘i’ device!).
  • The Moto X is reasonably fast – not quite the same as the Nexus 5 – but, its contextual features still rock! Unlock near a trusted Bluetooth (while driving, for e.g.) and the active display notifications are still amazingly useful!
  • Samsung knows exactly what sells phones.

Perhaps that’s not a fair summary? Maybe. But, let’s take a closer look at what this all means.

Let’s first set some things straight.  What I did in no way constitutes an actual A/B test and should not be construed as such.  There are many such tests out there done by professional bloggers and testers – so, if you want the real nitty gritty of it, go read some of those.  What I did do, however, was a reasonable comparison of end user (plus some developer level) observations on these devices in as similar conditions as feasible (without going through Faraday cages and such!). These devices had fairly a similar number of apps downloaded on them, similar number running, similar settings enabled, on the same WiFi conditions and such.  The Nexus 5 and Moto X were on KitKat, while the Samsung devices were on JB.  Now, on to some key factors.

Image

Shown under mediocre network conditions, the Nexus 5 is > 3X better.. Even in great network conditions, it is consistently 1.5-2X better!

  • Responsiveness: The Nexus 5 blazes. The touch interface is a pleasure!  The Moto X is reasonable (unless you have a Nexus 5 next to you, you will likely not realize that it is not as fast as it should be!).  The Samsung – well, depends. A random S4 is reasonably good (read, comparable to the Moto X), while another random S4 is noticeably slow. When you go to the S3 – let’s not even go there, since the responsiveness (or lack thereof) will make you want to upgrade your phone immediately!
  • Speed: Even though related to responsiveness, specifically talking about WiFi speeds, the Nexus 5 blows everything out of the water.  We are talking about 2-3X higher download speeds and about 1.5-2X higher upload speeds, under exact same network conditions (measured to the same server while connected to the same access point, tested over multiple time periods).  Now, my Moto X starts looking like a last gen device :(! How much of this is Qualcomm vs Broadcom performance issues?  I can’t be certain, since the Nexus 5 and the S4 have Broadcom WiFi in them and have vastly different speeds.
  • Display: Give it to Samsung here – as any other Samsung high end phones, the S4 display is spectacular.  The Nexus 5 is fairly comparable – some say the Moto X has a better display, but I’d have to disagree with that.
  • Camera: The Nexus 5 pictures are good – really good HDR+ imagery, no doubt.  But, throw them all in low light conditions and you wish you had an iPhone!
  • Developer Issues: As a developer, the Samsung devices seem to be a nightmare. From not handling PNGs to having crashes at the kernel level, it is exhausting to deal with these devices. The Nexus 5 and the Moto X shine here – but I have to say that from an app developer’s perspective, testing on these devices is never going to be enough, as things may always break down on a Samsung device somewhere and that’s just the kind of thing that will need attention…

So, what did I dislike most about each of these devices?

  • Nexus 5: Nothing significant, but I thought the face unlock was lame. It takes as long as typing a PIN (and longer when it fails and you have to type the PIN anyway).  But, more than anything, I wish it had the little contextual enhancements that the Moto X has!
  • Moto X: The camera – every time I take a picture, I wish it were better! The speed can be better (now that I’ve used the Nexus 5, I can see the difference) – otherwise, it performs acceptably.
  • Samsung S4: Almost everything. The unintuitive UI (have you experienced the ‘Remove’ option on the Samsung UI when you try to remove an app?), the terrible memory management, the innumerable inconsistent code paths that seem to cause crashes where other devices do fine, the Samsung bloatware that cannot be removed… you get it.

Clearly, I’m not buying a Samsung device.  But then, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is the most popular Android phone on the market. One thing that became quite clear to me is this – Samsung knows what it takes to sell a device.  Vibrant displays, top of the line processor speeds, cameras with big numbers of Megapixels and overall feature-packed software puts them at the top of the charts.  A truly amazing performance? Well, who cares really! The marketing prowess is surely something to be admired.

For me personally, the Moto X still does it.  I’ll continue to use the Nexus 5 quite a bit over WiFi – but to switch out of Verizon and actually make it my primary device, it’s gonna take a bit more!

Image

There are many times in the last year that I’ve looked at a problem and told myself – if anyone can do it, it is us (Google).  It certainly feels good working for a company that you can say that about.  I don’t write too often about my employer – my blog is mostly about my personal thoughts on technology, with occasional other topics.  But, today, I’m making an exception.

Working for Google leaves me being amazed at the scale, pace and breadth of innovation that happens here.  I was proud of my previous employer, no doubt – especially when I started there, I felt I was surrounded by some of the smartest minds in applied R&D as there can be (and that is still true).  But, what I see coming out of Google is absolutely mind boggling for the size we are as a company.

Collectively, the announcements around Google Wallet, Google+, Hangouts, the Knowledge Graph and a bunch of other things are demonstrating innovation at an unparalleled pace.  And while a good amount of this is coming from Google, it is also setting up for an innovating ecosystem to thrive.

While some of these improvements are small, taken independently, the collective advancements are inspiring.  Clearly, hardware and software have different life cycles and it would be unfair to compare the pace of advancements in the two areas – but, with the likes of Samsung and HTC producing stunning devices and Android providing a thriving platform for innovation, I see that the future of mobile is evolving more rapidly than ever before!

Of course, like anything else, it is not a company without its own problems and growing pains.  I’m going to refrain from discussing those here.  Instead, for today, I’m just going to leave it at calling out the amazing stuff that we have all just seen talked about at I/O!