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What do you like the least about your current smartphone?
We’ve talked about gimmicky features found in the phones of 2014, we’ve talked about what we want from the Nexus, what Samsung could be doing differently and so many other topics. However, for this Friday Debate, let’s take a look at the handset that we are currently rocking. Setting aside the positive things that drew you to the device, what do you you dislike about your current phone? Missing features, unwanted features (bloat) or perhaps just areas where the phone’s performance could be better?
As is our recent custom, we start out the Friday Debate by hearing from a few members from our community, followed by members of Team AA and finally we’ll give our readers the opportunity to voice their opinion in the comments section. This week we had several responses, but as the post was already getting pretty length we have decided to showcase just one — though you can see the full list here.
I could go on and on about battery, but I don’t think anyone’s completely happy with their phone’s battery life, so I’ll skip that.
Since I’ve been a Nexus user for roughly one year now, I’ll be talking about the things I like and want incorporated to stock Android. Lollipop introduced a lot of good features (and a lot of small annoying bugs!).
One feature that has gone fairly unnoticed is the screen recording without root permissions or ADB. It’s not built-in, but there are applications that can now do that. The next feature I’m happy with is the power saving mode, but it could be better; Samsung’s ultra saving mode is something that wouldn’t benefit my Nexus 5 with LCD that much but devices like the Nexus 6 would benefit from it. Another small feature I really like and use often, now that the sun is up only between 9:00 and 15:00 (ah winter in North), is the torch quick toggle. Custom ROMs have had this feature for ages and finally our prayers were answered. And the last feature I like is something that many users won’t care about, nor will they need it more than maybe once in 2 years: the new setup that allows me to choose what apps I want to restore and makes my home screens like they were previously. Obsessive-ROM Updating Disorder sufferers know!
Then the complaints. What happened to quickly turning silent mode on from the lock screen using the menu that pops up when you press the power button long enough? BOOM gone. But that’s actually the only major complaint that I can think of now about missing features, because I’ve forgotten all the things I missed when leaving Touchwiz and because stock Android has made major improvements. Simple (and material) stock file manager could be something. Oh and yes you read correctly before, Touchwiz has good features too. Raise the awareness!
Bugs aren’t really features, depending on who you ask though, but I’ll just say that 5.0 introduced plenty of them for everyone and 5.0.1 didn’t fix hardly anything. Not happy with this, not happy at all.
What Team AA has to say
Now that you’ve had a look at what community member Mastermuffin had to say, it’s time for Team AA to weigh in:
When it comes to the device(s) I have in my pocket, there are a few consistent features I find lacking, or just not good enough. I’ll try not to talk about specific devices too much, as I would only then be ranting about the same stuff we’ve covered, and tried to fix, in the past.
First and foremost, internal storage.
To be honest, it would be enough if I were to go on a long rant about nothing other than the puny amounts of internal storage found on the average Android device today. More specifically, the lack of usable space for installing apps.
I think we can all agree, along with actual device performance, it is the apps that make or break your Android user experience. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to install a new app, or take another photograph, because your storage is full. Worse, when manufacturers and carriers lock in certain apps, bloatware, that one must take extreme measures to get rid of.
I have a new HTCDesire 510 on hand, you’ll be hearing more about it soon. For my initial setup of the device I have disabled 37 apps, worth about 104MB, and there are at least 6 more that HTCwon’t even let me disable. You notice I said “disable” as there is no way to uninstall these apps without root and risk. Considering that the full usable storage of this device out of the box was a puny 900MB, you can imagine how another 100MB would be great to have available.
Bottom line, I believe that 16GB should be the absolute minimum storage space right now, giving the user about 11GB to play with. Don’t get me wrong, it still takes careful management to be sure you do not fill up a 16GB device, but it is enough to get by, for now. I also wish there was a way to have the device treat a microSD card as though it is internal storage. I just want to RAID my internal storage and sd card into one partition. I get there are risks if I rip the card out, I can live with that, but proper RAID support should be able to handle a ‘failed’ drive, if it does temporarily eject.
Next on my rant list, app support and deviation from AOSP and vanilla Android.
Android is built fairly strictly when it comes to features available based on the various SDK levels. This has many great advantages, but it is sadly restrictive when it comes to deviating from the intended device targets. We’ve all seen the message in the Play Store “This item is not compatible with your device.” If this is a vendor protecting their software, so be it, I understand the economics of it all, but I hate seeing the message on free apps that are made for everyone to enjoy.
I come from a world of ‘try it and see what happens.’ Which feels like the core of being a Linux user. Some things work, others do not, but I know the risk going in and I try it anyway. I wish there was a developer option that let you enable all sdk levels, or something like that. It drives me nuts that I can’t at least try out an app, to see if it works, at least partially, on my hardware.
From there, the skins that many manufacturers put on top of Android far too often prevent apps and normal system settings from working. If you have stumbled across my Android customization series, you know that I use Tasker, a lot! I have a handful of rather basic Tasker projects that I have found fail to operate on top of Samsung and LG software. I would understand if I were talking about advanced Tasker projects that rely on specific Google, or other, resources, but I am talking about changing the volume or setting the display timeout.
I also have a new LG Realm on hand, which you’ll also hear more about soon. I have had to install another application specifically to handle the display timeout, as LG’s tweaks do not allow Tasker to properly control what I thought was a default Android setting. I love that there are extra features on top of base Android, but I think they should be on top of, not in place of Android. The extras should also be easily turned off, for those that like vanilla Android.
I am sure most of us can think of a sensor or two that are missing from our Android devices. For me, the biggest omission is usually a gyroscope. I get that there are some great workarounds using other sensors, but I think the ability to take panoramic and/or photosphere images should be a default for all.
Since the apps that can take these types of photos generally rely on the gyroscope to operate, and you either cannot install the apps or the app installs but disables the features because the sensor is not present, the sensor workarounds are useless. With Google trying to use our imagery to better Maps and Earth, it is not just the individual user that suffers with far too many of us being unable to use these awesome photography tools.
I am so very grateful that there is root and the Open Source ROM community, helping us get past at least one of my issues above.
In the end, one can tear apart or praise individual devices, regardless of brand and software. There are also plenty more things that I could gripe about for specific devices and software, but as long as it is running Android, I think I can handle it. After all, my complaints today are relatively minor things that would simply improve the experience, none of these result in the need to discard my Android gear.
Hardware wise, I’m pretty happy with my Android devices. I agree with Jon, internal storage space could be a little larger, it’s annoying that my almost decade old iPod can store more music, and battery capacity could maybe be a little larger. But these are only very small complaints.
For my G3, LG’s latest software is nice and functional too, but the color scheme and icons are pretty disgusting. Pastel colors aren’t my preference and, having spent a big amount of time with CyanogenMod and Paranoid Android, I’d really like to see OEMs make more of an effort to support a wider range of themes, preferably ones that can be used across all devices and not locked behind an OEM specific account. Failing that, at least the option to pick a different color scheme would be nice. Default OEM launchers also aren’t that great either, I’d like to see features like swipe gestures and icon pack support come as stock functions too.
If I was to make a big wish, I’d like to see all OEMs offer an easy root access option to consumers, at the very least on international (non-carrier branded) handsets, but I don’t see that happening.
Only small complaints from me, I think OEMs are doing a pretty good job making great devices right now.
Much like Jon and Rob, I’m not a fan of how small the storage space is on mobile devices. Games are getting bigger and bigger but the storage sizes on devices remain the same as they have over the last couple of years and that’s a bit annoying. I’ve never been a fan of having to delete games in order to install more games which is why I do things like invest in a larger SSD on my computer. It’s really too bad I can’t do that on a smartphone as well. I know that Google (and others) are trying to push for more cloud storage integration and that’s fine, but I think that bottlenecking the consumer experience by keeping the storage at a solid 16-32GB isn’t the way to do it. Not everyone has good internet all the time and I can’t install a Final Fantasy game to Google Drive or listen to music off of Dropbox effectively. Until those things happen, I’d love it if I had a phone with a large enough storage size to keep my files on.
Also, I do agree with Rob about theming. I think if Google invested the time and allowed users to create custom themes, it would bring the customization and personalization of Android to a much higher level. It would also bolster themers that already work on stuff like Nova Launcher and CM themes to expand into a territory where everyone can see their work, instead of just some people, which would bolster their earnings potential significantly and I think we can all agree that it’s a good thing. Native icon support would be awesome too. I know you can “just install a third party launcher” and get pretty much all of those things, but it would still be way better if you could do it on first party launchers too.
Last and certainly not least (out of me anyway) is the locked bootloader. I think that it’s silly that carriers and OEMs prevent people from unlocking the bootloader and doing what they want to their devices. A couple of years ago, I could sympathize even if I didn’t agree with the initiative. Rooting was still new and a far more difficult process for the end user than it is today. Now there are things like Towel Root and automated toolkits that do all the work for you and the danger to the consumer as never been lower. I think at this point, people are more likely to damage and brick their devices trying to unlock the bootloader than anything they do once they actually have root access and an unlocked bootloader.
There’s the philosophical part but there is also another part. With easily unlocked bootloaders and (another dig at some OEMs) readily available factory images, it allows people to help themselves when it comes to home repair. If I brick my Note 3, I can download the factory image, grab up my copy of Odin, boot into Odin Mode and fix it myself. On other devices, the factory images aren’t readily available and on many devices on many carriers, I can’t unlock the bootloader which makes doing this exact process much more difficult. Samsung and Nexus devices are great for this. The Nexus devices allow you to unlock the bootloader and Samsung devices aren’t much more difficult once you pick up a toolkit to do it for you if the bootloaders aren’t already unlocked, which many of them are. Never mind that -in the event that someone did make it into a store- it’d be easier for customer service reps to fix things as well because they could ostensibly stock their computer with the factory images and Odin-like software and just reset to factory right there at the counter instead of shipping it off to be fixed.
If it were up to me, every OEM would be required to make something like Samsung has for Odin, make all of their factory images readily available, and then put their bootloaders in a state where those factory images could be flashed or otherwise easily unlocked for user access. If not for philosophy than for practicality.
Oh and bigger and better batteries. Definitely bigger and better batteries!
I have approached this topic knowing full well the degree of extreme polarization my opinion will bring. Among my co-workers, among our readers. Heck probably among large segments of the IT community at-large. Yes, it’s going to be me against everyone, for the feature I want added to the Nexus 6 is…TouchWiz.
First and foremost, let me attempt to parlay the proverbial jaw-on-the-flaw-in-disbelief-shock-and-horror by offering a bit of history: I have owned every Nexus device save for the original Nexus One. This includes the White I/O Nexus 7 (2013). I am not a newbie by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, I am known to go through 4-5 different phones within a single month.
Back in the days of the Nexus S, the UI changes and functionality offered by Gingerbread were much improved from the Eclair experience on my (then) Xperia X10 and Galaxy S (i9000). Codename Crespo was special, especially with the curved glass, which still looks good today despite its demure size.
The Galaxy Nexus managed to keep my attention for a few months, largely because it was the first device running ICS. The Nexus 4 held my attention because of the attractive glass design. Still, when using both, I felt the experience to be underwhelming and almost boring after the design changes wore off.
The Nexus 5 only remained in my possession for a couple of weeks before I rid myself of it. The Nexus 6 was sold yesterday, my having had it for just about one week. So what’s the problem here? Simple: Vanilla Android.
Put quite simply, I find using the Nexus 6 to be an absolute chore. Don’t get me wrong: I am a big fan of Material Design, and the subtle flourishes. Everything from the pressure sensitive visual feedback to the app launcher animation continue to impress. Beauty is only skin-deep however, and it’s under the surface where things get ugly. For the sake of brevity, let me address just a few of my grievances:
1. The Notification Shade: I can’t stand the two-stage drop-down window. Seemingly every other device in existence has a comprehensive menu at the swipe of a (single) finger. The fact that the quick settings are on the second stage of the shade means that I’m constantly having to perform a second swipe to access because I have been ingrained to do it with one. And even then there’s the second problem:
2. Sound profiles. Why the heck is it so freaking difficult to mute the sound? Why isn’t there a sound profile button on the quick settings listing? It’s downright infuriating because said list will actually change depending on what system features are used (for example, Accessibility options). Why should it take so many steps just to mute the device and vice-versa? Similarly, why is there no option to turn off “Ok Google”? Not that it usually works when the screen is off anyway.
3. The hardware. A 6 inch screen and yet the Nexus 6 won’t display landscape mode on the home screens? Even the iPhone 6 Plus can do that. It’s just plain jarring to use the phablet as a tablet, only to have it forcefully return to portrait mode when the UI arbitrarily dictates. The camera software was truly not to my liking at all, nor the incredible delay associated with HDR image capturing. And the screen? What’s up with the color balance on lower brightness settings? Would it be so difficult to include a few extra settings?
4. Multitasking: Where is it? Sorry, the Active App button doesn’t make the cut. It’s ironic that so many are quick to point out Apple’s lack of multitasking (especially with the iPad and now the 6 Plus), and yet, lo-and-behold, the Nexus products are just as broken. Is it too much to ask for a dual-window feature?
While I could list several other topics, the core complaint is that Vanilla Android simply doesn’t allow enough customization to meet with my preferences/daily activities. Google, in making the Nexus line, is very much as “we know best” as Apple.
Bash TouchWiz for its “useless” bloat and clutter, but when push comes to shove, there are some genuinely useful features baked in. The sliding ribbon of Quick Settings that can be manually customized and rearranged. The ability to manually select the screen mode for display saturation. The ability to customize or alter more elements of the UI in general (just try to count all the options a TouchWiz setting menu has). The ability to multitask with split-screen modes or even pop-up window mode. And yes, the Galaxy Mega 6.3 even allowed for landscape home screens.
It’s really a sad reality when, after spending days with the Nexus 6, I actually started wishing it had TouchWiz, and then began wondering if someone on XDA could actually port TouchWiz to said device. Quite frankly it’s a bit surprising the engineers at Google haven’t sought to take more cues from Samsung. The notification shade’s brightness slider was a positive addition, but why not push the envelope a bit wider?
Ironically the best solution to my own situation with the Nexus 6/Lollipop is quite an easy one: Install a 3rd party launcher (like Nova) onto a Samsung flagship and presto, I can live in a Material World without having to put up with the inane shortcomings Vanilla Android fails to compensate for. It’s making use of the best of both worlds.
Personally I find it a bit disappointing that Google has sought to reign in the OEMs so as to offer a more “pure” experience. This is the same kind of control that Apple seeks to exert upon its users, and it’s arguably part of why Amazon was so eager to splinter off into its own world (well, that and profits). The Moto X, for example, offers a very pure Android experience, and therefore every single point I have made about Lollipop can be applied to it as well.
Google should be thanking its lucky stars that companies like Samsung and LG are so eager to tinker, because quite frankly, all it would take is some other major OS to come along and offer more freedom, and suddenly there could be a mass exodus. Instead of telling OEMs they should be following Google’s suggestions, how about taking a more active role in showing them the “proper” way to do so many of the unique elements the Nexus devices provide none of, and thereby making a truly futuristic Nexus flagship.
Yes, this TL:DR rant is finished. I realize that not everyone will share my ideas, and I am no way implying that anyone should. TouchWiz is reviled for perfectly valid reasons, and AOSP builds are loved for perfectly valid reasons. My complaint is chiefly at what the Nexus 6 (or Lollipop in general) fails to offer in 2014/5 compared to what I feel is a superior user experience (in terms of functionality) on competing products.
Now it’s your turn
You’ve heard what some of our forum members think, and the thoughts of our team as well. Now it’s your turn to tell us what you think. Due to the nature of this topic, there’s no poll this week, but please feel free to voice your thoughts in the comments below!