Date:6 October 2016
In the wake of Google’s new hardware releases, I have something to say to big G: too little, too late.
I am and will always be an Android fanboy. From visits to the LEAF offices in Fourways to update the software on a low-end HTC to actual tears when my Motorola Atrix screen became unresponsive, I’ve been through the wars defending and using the operating system. I’ve also evangelised many Windows and iPhone users to the enlightened cause. But for me, right now, the iPhone is the best phone.
Do I covet the smaller of the Pixels? Yes.
Am I excited for the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, LG V20 and Xiaomi Mi 5s? Hell yes.
Will I crave the pinnacle of industrial design and compactness of my iPhone SE while using those behemoths? More than you will ever know.
Getting to know you
I thought that the 4-inch screen would be the biggest hurdle to overcome. It took me about 2 hours to adjust to the tight confines of 2012 screen technology. The next day my wife’s iPhone 6s felt huge.
I always needed an iPhone in my arsenal for testing, but it was the distinctly Android-ness of iOS 10 that finally won me over. Using Chinese devices that strip the app drawer out of the Droid experience also helped pave the way by slowly eroding my reliance on a hiding place for apps I don’t use often. Apples adoption of widgets was handy, but at its core the iOS 10 homescreen is still the same old user hostile sandbox.
Those widgets are hella useful though. Swipe right on my homescreen and you’ll get a travel time estimation to my house or the Popular Mechanics offices, courtesy of Google Maps. Raise-to-wake and actionable lockscreen notifications round out the list of major features pinched off of Android.
Flaws, but not deal breakers
That actionable lockscreen comes at the cost of some loss of privacy. You can respond to Whatsapp messages directly, without having to use TouchID. And Siri can accomplish many tasks without forcing an unlock. It’s a bit out of character for a security-focussed company like Apple to leave these loopholes, but they do state that Siri learns to recognise only one voice for “Hey Siri” – a feature that causes much disappointment when my daughter tries to get answers out of the virtual assistant.
The Whatsapp issue is a 3rd-party integration flaw because there is a settings option that will disable lockscreen response on iMessage, but Whatsapp still allows interaction with it turned off.
My selfie game has also taken a nosedive because 2012’s best screen is accompanied by 2012’s idea of a decent front-facing camera. A paltry – even by 2012 standards – 1,2 MP sensor leaves much to be desired. The WiFi radio is also stuck in the past with no support for MiMo and there’s no LTE Advanced/LTE+/4G+ to be seen. Admittedly the data transfer speeds are more than enough for South Africa and will be relevant for at least another 2 years. I’m also coming off of an LG G5 which has the best WiFi radio performance I’ve ever seen on a smartphone and is equipped to deal with every LTE band on the planet.
My laundry list of things I value in a smartphone reads as follows:
– Ease of use: because tech should remove frustrations, not add them
– Speed of operation: I don’t want to feel like I’m waiting for things to happen
– Value for money: it must perform all the tasks I need it to now and be capable of handling tasks I may need it for within the 2 year lifespan, but not carry the early adoption premium.
– Longevity: it must not break, wear down or degrade for at least 2 years (water resistance helps a lot here)
But above all, a smartphone must either be exceptional at everything (looking at your Galaxy S7) or be competent at everything while having one unparalleled feature.
The iPhone SE has a killer feature and that feature is flawless one-handed operation.
It’s an iPhone so it takes great pictures, fits perfectly into the Apple ecosystem, has enough power to handle all tasks you can expect to handle on a smartphone and is built well. It shares all the same iPhone quirks and frustrations. But nothing on the market can pack that amount of power and functionality in something this small.
Look, this phone is small and that is a problem when it’s your only smart device. But it isn’t my only smart device. I use my Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S-pen for consuming media on the go and my Mac or Windows laptop for creating media. I have an Apple TV and MadCatz MOJO for watching things with my family. I use the iPhone SE to stay in contact and only as a media consumption device in a pinch. I look at my phone less now, it fits in every pocket and the battery lasts all day. It’s the perfect phone for me because it dissolves into my life instead of being the focal point.
But when I need to use it to snap a picture, record an interview or ask Siri to schedule a meeting, it’s there and it works. Since my wife is also on an iPhone it makes our relationship better because it removes communication barriers. We still heavily use and rely on Google services though and, honestly, that’s the only reason Windows Mobile has never been an option, even though the Lumia 930 almost made me jump off the Android ship.
So while Google are prophesying synergy with all hardware and software built by them, I’ve discovered it in the most mature device and software ecosystem on the planet right now. I’m not done with Android, just enjoying the comfort of the walled-in Apple orchard.