Why I switched to Android and Google Project Fi and why should you

I am a long-time Apple customer. I’ve been using Macs for the past 16 years. I had an iPad since it came out. I admit, however, I was late adopting a smartphone, but I did buy an iPhone 4S and had been using an iPhone ever since.

Two years ago I tried Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Owning a Samsung phone from Verizon was like owning a Packard Bell PC running Windows 95. It came pre-installed with a heaping pile of crapware and apps I didn’t want and couldn’t uninstall. My brief affair with Android came to an abrupt end when Verizon and Samsung pushed a software update that completely bricked it. I already had an iPhone 5S, so I switched back. I eventually bought an iPhone 6.

By the spring of 2016, however, my frustration with both Verizon and Apple has reached a boiling point. I found myself using mostly Google apps on my iPhone: Google Drive, Google Inbox, Google Calendar. My Verizon bill kept steadily growing for no good reason at all, and the biggest frustration was the data overage charges and the complexity of the international roaming. A combination of these factors led me to switch from iPhone 6 to Google’s Nexus 5X, and from Verizon to Google Project Fi.

While I have no desire to convince anyone to switch from iPhone to Android and from Verizon to Project Fi, let me at least describe to you my experiences so you can make your decision.

Hate your cellular carrier? Project Fi to the rescue!

I am a loyal Apple user but let’s face it, Apple has not innovated since the death of Steve Jobs. If they are innovating, they are innovating in the wrong areas. Nobody is complaining that the iPhone is too thick, or that the headphone jack is too burdensome. Every iPhone user, however, will tell you how much they despise their carrier. Google decided to innovate and change our relationship with the cellular carriers; Apple has chosen to neglect it.

I was a Verizon customer for many years. My bill has been slowly growing. The complexity of the plan has been getting more and more bloated. The customer service has been getting more and more irritating. The overage charges and international roaming fees have become absurd. What if there was a cellular carrier that treated their customers like adults, didn’t have hidden fees – would you switch? I know I would – and I did!

Project Fi works in partnership with cellular carriers and wifi networks. If you are on wifi, you don’t get charged for LTE data usage, and you can make and receive phone calls. If you are not on wifi, the phone dynamically picks the Fi partner carrier with the strongest signal, and you pay per gigabyte of data down to one megabyte. Unlimited voice and text is $20/month.

I work from home and spend most of my time on Wifi. I am a Xfinity home internet customer, and Xfinity has built a tremendous Wifi network in New Jersey. With the Nexus 5X on Project Fi, I could be driving around town and be on Xfinity Wifi and never even use LTE. As a result, my actual billable data usage is well under one gig and my Project Fi bill is well under $30 every month.

The situation changes when I travel, especially on vacation. I use maps, I post pictures, and my data usage quickly gets out of hand. My monthly usage can grow well over two gigs. Verizon simply does not offer anything for me that won’t result in excessive charges. With Verizon’s cheapest plan I would end up paying almost $60/month for the same service, and I would get harshly penalized if I go over the limit.

And finally, I simply don’t want to think about international roaming. Project Fi data plan is the same domestically and internationally. I don’t have to call anybody. I don’t have to go through the indignity of dealing with my carrier’s customer service. I don’t have to tell anyone where I am going. I don’t have to buy a temporary sim card in Europe.

Android does a few things right by me

Both iOS and Android are mature and well polished operating systems. Having compared iPhone 6 and Nexus 5X side by side, I am happy to say they are very similar. An average user is going to find switching between Android and iOS a seamless experience.

The Nexus phones are premium Android phones that run unmolested pure Android. They get all of the latest software updates from Google first. They look great; they work great, and they feel great in your hand. In my opinion, these phones are the best Android phones out there. Any comparison between iPhone and Android should involve Nexus phones and Pixel tablets.

After spending some time with my Nexus 5X I realized a few things:

  1. I can get to my stuff faster. I don’t know what it is about Android, but I can get to my apps and my data in at least half as many taps and swipes as on the iPhone.
  2. I can bring up the camera up by double-clicking the power button and using the volume rocker to take a photo. The camera apps pop up in split second, much faster than on the iPhone where I would lose photo opportunities because I had to click, swipe, and wait. I’ve been asking Apple for a hardware button shortcut to camera for years, hoping that each new iOS release would let me do that.
  3. I like that the screen takes up the whole front panel and that the fingerprint scanner is on the back where my pointer finger usually rests while I am holding the phone.
  4. Notifications are far more useful and actionable. There is something about the way Android organizes notifications that make them more useful than on the iPhone. The notification LED is something I always missed on the iPhone. The iPhone requires that you regularly pick it up and turn it on to check your messages and notifications. Nexus 5X does not force me to do that. The LED lights up different color depending on the type of information waiting for me. I can tell at a glance that I have messages or calendar notifications waiting for me.
  5. Google Now on tap is useful. By holding down the home button, you can request information relevant to what’s on the screen right now. That means that if you are having a chat with your friends about where to meet for dinner you can summon “Google Now” and it will magically suggest ideas.
  6. “Ok, Google” is more useful than Siri. It feels faster, and it gets what I am asking better.
  7. I want to be able to buy Audible Audiobooks and Amazon Kindle books on the device. I don’t care whose fault it is that you can’t do it on the iOS. I don’t care if it is Amazon or Apple having some beef with the other. I waited for many years for Apple and Amazon to resolve their dispute, and I lost my patience.
  8. Google Drive is far more useful than the iCloud. Nothing more needs to be said on this topic; I think we all agree that Apple has their head in the sand when it comes to cloud services.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

What about tablets?

I want my phone to find the information I need quickly with fewer taps and fewer delays. I want my phone to improve my relationship with my cell carrier. I want my phone to give me useful and actionable notifications.

The tablet experience, however, is different. While I still want notifications to be helpful and taps and swipes minimized, I look for a creative work experience and how productive I am with the device. As of today, I Android tablets are not competitive with the iPad.

I often toy with the idea of switching to a Microsoft Surface tablet for one simple reason: to be able to run full Adobe Lightroom CC. Perhaps it is more Adobe’s fault than Apple’s, but the mobile version of Adobe Lightroom CC is useless, to put it mildly. I am an old school Linux and Mac geek, though, and the very notion of using Windows is anathema to my value system. I may, one day, get frustrated enough with Apple’s lack of innovation and move on too.

The final analysis

In this article, I talked about my experience with Android specifically in combination with Google Project Fi. At the moment, Project Fi only works with Google’s Nexus phones and requires that a loyal iPhone user like myself switch to Android. My decision to change boiled down to answering a simple question: Do my frustrations with Verizon outweigh my loyalty to Apple? The answer was “Yes!”

The beautiful thing about using iPhone with the traditional carriers is that Apple has full control over what’s on the device. Users get timely updates, beautifully designed hardware, and no carrier-installed crapware. The vast majority of Android phones sold by carriers are ugly, beholden to the carriers and come pre-installed with junk apps. I would not buy an Android phone at the Verizon or AT&T store, nor would I want to perpetuate my lopsided relationship with Verizon. Switching to Android only made sense for me in combination with Google Project Fi.

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