As a long time Mac, iPhone and iPad user, one of my biggest questions was this – which device offers the best user experience, the best UI, the best OS?
After using my new Nexus 7 for over a week now, I really have to say that the winner is the Nexus 7 running Android 4.3.
I am surprised to admit this, being a long time iOS user. But the Android UI is just friendlier and easier to use on the Nexus 7.
Of course there are things which users of one OS just prefer, and some things are conceptually different between the Nexus and iPad, so I’m sure other iPad users might disagree with me. But in addition to being the more open and customizable system, there really are some objective UI advantages to Android 4.3 on the Nexus 7 over iOS 6 on the iPad or iPhone.
One major difference for me are the three soft buttons on the Nexus (which rotate with the screen) for
(1) Go back,
(2) Go to the home screen and
(3) Go to recent apps (multitasking).
On the iPad you have one fixed hardware button which accomplishes both (2) and (3). Though it doesn’t do (3) nearly as well as the Nexus.
Pressing the recent apps button gives you easy multitasking access to your recent apps with previews of what’s going on in them. It’s easier to jump between apps than with the double-click of the hardware iPhone/iPad home button. And it’s easier to slide away apps. This is a feature iOS 7 will be basically stealing from Android. But I still prefer the soft button. I’ve had problems with my hardware home button on all three iPhones I owned, and the access is easier and more reliable with this dedicated soft button. And as I mentioned, the soft buttons rotate with the device, while the iPhone/iPad button is fixed.
The back button is especially useful and the iPad has nothing equivalent. It provides a consistent UI that works throughout Android settings and apps. It’s a convenient way to go back to where you were, and keep going back as needed. Surprisingly, there just is no consistent, similar feature in iOS on the iPad/iPhone. In iOS, different apps have different ways of getting back to where you were. This is just clearly easier and more unified on Nexus 7. I can’t emphasize enough how useful the back button is. It works in all the settings and apps. For example, in the FaceBook app it is so much easier to go back to where you were from comments and notifications than it is on the iPad. Think about it. You can go from a notification to a comment and back to the notifications, etc. It’s much easier than the iOS version. And the key point is that it works the same way in all the apps and settings. It’s a reassuring, always available time-saver.
Now let’s talk about sharing. There are many many more sharing options in Android in most apps, probably due to the more open nature of the system. And the settings are easier to find, because they tend to be in consistent places, with consistent symbols indicating sharing and settings. When I go from my Nexus to my iPad I immediately feel more “confined” in what I can share.
Then we come to downloads and attachments. This is a huge one – and possible a show-stopper for Android users considering an iOS device. The Nexus has a “downloads” area, where you can save just about any kind of document. And you can share the documents lots of ways, including by email. The iPad and iPhone only have built-in features to share photos this way. In iOS, apps are “sandboxed” to specifically prevent this basic kind of file system access you are so used to on your computer.
For example, on the iPad there is no standard way of mailing a PDF file! I can’t tell you how annoying and limiting that feels. It greatly reduces iOS use as a productivity tool. But with the Nexus 7 you can easily attach just about any kind of document to emails – and share in other ways as well. This is such a major feature that I am truly surprised it was not implemented on iPads. In Apple forums, I’ve read of work-arounds using 3rd party tools and jumping through a dozen hoops to get something like a PDF file emailed. On the Nexus 7 you can just do it.
The Nexus 7 also automatically updates apps in the background, which doesn’t happen in iOS6. In iOS6 you have to go into the App Store and request the updates. This, however, is another thing that iOS7 will be “borrowing” from Android 4.3.
Keyboard input is also much better on the Nexus. On the iPad you have two ways to input text – by pressing letters one-by-one on the soft keyboard, or using Siri for dictation. On the Nexus 7 the keyboard supports one additional fantastic feature – the “gesture keyboard” (also known as the Swype keyboard). Using the gesture feature you just drag your finger around on the keyboard, basically getting near the keys you would normally touch one-by-one to spell a word and it just knows what you are trying to spell. It is much faster than doing a “tap tap tap” of each letter separately. And it’s eerily accurate.
Siri dictation, however, is considerably better than Android 4.3 dictation – particularly when it comes to punctuation and things like new lines and new paragraphs. There is almost no documentation on Android voice-to-text dictation. Even Google tech support doesn’t seem to know all the voice-to-text commands. Getting new paragraphs to work is especially hard – though if you get used to it it will work. If voice-to-text dictation is a make or break deal for you, I would say the iPad with Siri is a better bet. Google support even wrote to apologize saying it is “a work in progress.” Voice search in Google works great though.
There are other “details” which might make a person choose an iPad over a Nexus. Some things are superior on the iPad. For example, iOS along with iTunes on your Mac provides a 100% complete backup and restore option which just is not matched on the Nexus. The backup and restore features on the Nexus more closely approximate an iCloud backup of “just the most important data,” but isn’t as complete or unified as an iCloud backup. It’s not as bad as I originally thought though, and it looks like restoring after a factory-settings reset or switch to a new device wouldn’t take that long. But it definitely wouldn’t be as complete as restoring from a full backup of your iPad done via iTunes on your computer.
Even taking all of the above into account, I am finding Android 4.3 on the Nexus 7 a better, easier-to-use, more flexible, more fun and more productive system than iOS on the iPad. And I still haven’t done much customizing yet.
As I said, I am surprised to find I feel this way. But I really like the Nexus 7. And I like the direction Android is going.
I like my iPad very much too. But I think Android 4.3 has gotten more advanced at this point and iOS is playing a certain amount of catch up.
But before switching when you make your next device purchase, remember that what you are used to is also extremely important. If you are used to one UI and certain things don’t work the way you are used to, it could be a frustrating experience for some people. Being used to something and having it work well enough for you is always a consideration.