Nexus 5 coming soon: Is there value in custom Android experiences?

Nexus 5 coming soon: Is there value in custom Android experiences?

Summary: As I consider a Nexus 5 purchase, I am questioning the value of custom user experiences on Android as compared to the pure Google experience of a Nexus.

Nexus 5 coming soon: Is there more consumer value in custom Android experiences?
(Image: CNET)

Google has done a terrible job keeping the Nexus 5 a secret and all evidence points to an announcement and release for today or tomorrow.

As I hold my fantastic HTC One with Android 4.3 and Sense 5 in hand, I am questioning the value of custom Android user interfaces compared to the pure Google Android experience of the Nexus line.

I own a 2013 Nexus 7 and enjoy using that tablet. However, I find lots of value in HTC Sense, Samsung TouchWiz, and LG's user experience.

HTC Sense offers me an amazing people-focused contacts and phone experience, Zoes, Highlight Videos, excellent Exchange email and calendar experience, HTC BlinkFeed, HTC TV utility with IR port, Evernote integration with Notes, multi-service image gallery support, and more.

Samsung TouchWiz offers enhanced S Pen support (Note devices), smart scroll, amazing feature-packed camera application, Air View, multi-window support, S Health service, Quick Glance lock screen functionality, and a huge number of Quick Controls.

LG's new custom UI is similar to TouchWiz with some additional functionality such as Knock On (turn on your display by tapping on the display), customizable home screen icons, enhanced camera software, IR blaster and software, and more.

There are also aspects of these custom user interfaces that drive me crazy (extensive notification areas, confusing task managers) and that are more gimmicky than useful. We used to experience reduced performance with these custom UIs, but the hardware has gotten powerful enough so that really is not noticeable on most devices today.

In addition to software enhancements, consumers in the US can pick up subsidized devices for much lower cost than paying for unsubsidized Nexus and Google Experience devices. US wireless customers, except for T-Mobile customers, are already paying for the phone in their monthly plan so subsidized devices make sense for those carrier customers.

So will I be purchasing a Nexus 5 today or tomorrow? You bet I will because I am a smartphone enthusiast and enjoy testing out the latest and greatest phones.

Will the Nexus 5 replace the HTC One as my daily driver? That remains to be seen as nothing else over the past seven months has been able to knock the HTC One out of my pocket.

Related reading

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, HTC, Samsung, Smartphones

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  • Your cost analysis is wrong

    You assert that "In addition to software enhancements, consumers in the US can pick up subsidized devices for much lower cost than paying for unsubsidized Nexus and Google Experience devices."

    This is frankly wrong. Over the lifespan of a device (lets say 2 years) it is far cheaper to buy the device and get an accompanying plan than to pay for a so-called subsidized device. You are paying for that device, its just bundled in to your plan. For example, a new iphone 5s will cost approximately $700, but getting the phone on a "subsidized" plan will cost you approximately $1200, if you subtract what you can get that phone plan for not including a phone from the total cost over 2 years ($2600). Buy the phone outright. Far better deal.
    • Important point

      I am constantly disappointed to read online discussion, including from tech journalists who should know better, describing supposedly low subsidised handset prices as if the subsequent contract payments don't bring the overall cost back up again.
      • Most Americans are under contract anyway so it is cheaper

        If you read my blog you know that I am a huge advocate for paying full price for your phone and using T-Mobile or other no-contract service. Yes, it works out to be cheaper, but the majority of Americans are under contract so are paying for the phone subsidy whether they pay full price or not for their phone. Thus, it is cheaper and they might as well use the phone subsidy as long as they are going to be under a contract.
        palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
        • Fair enough

          But I don't see why Americans can't choose NOT to be under such a contract. Are things different in the USA? Here in the UK all the networks offer cheaper service-only contracts that don't get you a "free" phone. Most people still choose a subsidised phone, though, mainly because they can get an iPhone or similar without shelling out the equivalent of $800 upfront. However, I think a lot of people just haven't really thought about how much more expensive it is in the long run.
          • That's right, Americans do NOT have a choice

            If you are on Verizon, Sprint, or AT&T, then you have no option for service-only contracts. All are the same and that is where they make some major profits.

            T-Mobile USA is a carrier most like Europe with no contract and no subsidy fees included with their service plan fees.
            palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
          • Wow

            You have my sympathy. That's a crappy situation.

            I take back what I said about tech journalists, then, it all makes sense now.
          • Not quite

            Sprint offers no contract service through Virgin Mobile. Virgin has an exclusive deal with spring. AT&T can be had through AT&T';s Aon I think it is called, and cricket. Cricket will soon be AT&T anyway

            Walmart/Tracfone's Smarttalk actually will work on AT&T or Sprint or Verizon depending on the phone.

            There are plenty of other third party contracts you can go through Boost Mobile is another one I can think of off the top of my head.

            Personally I have the T-Mobile $30 data plan.
          • Not always true

            I'm not sure what you're basing your figures from but it's no true in all situations. I know because I priced up the options when I bought my S3. The figures then for a 2yr contract v's outright ownership were:

            S3 unlocked = £500 (generously low) + £10 p/mth equivalent talk/text/data package = £740

            S3 with plan = £26 p/mth + £50 upfront = £674

            So tell me why I should have gone unlocked + plan? The same was true of other top tier phones, android and apple. Maybe if you want a lower tier phone it works to buy outright but buying top-tier phones, it's often as cheap if not cheaper to go with carrier contract. This depends on model as well as usage, all I'm saying it's incorrect to state it's always cheaper to buy outright and tag on a call package.
            Little Old Man
        • No....

          I think your word choice is off. Its not cheaper (as in saving you money) to stay on a contract, anyway you slice it. However if your point is that purely, from an immediate, out of pocket perspective, it costs you less to get into a phone that is included in a plan, you are correct.
          • Keep it for the life of the contract

            then dump it. The talk/data plan I mean. It can work to your benefit having a top-tier phone on contract, see above figures for when I last upgraded. Once you've 'paid off the phone', ie. after 24mths or whatever term you choose, then get off the plan or upgrade. If you don't upgrade as soon as possible, that's when you're paying extra money for no reason.
            Little Old Man
  • Can't Pick and Choose

    I prefer the 'pure' Android experience because the OEM customizations cannot be uninstalled or re-installed at will. If they could, I would get rid of the parts that bug me and keep the parts I love.

    Then again, I suppose other people would say they wish they could uninstall those portions of the 'pure' Android experience that bug them.
  • Of course there

    The short answer is, of course there is value in custom experiences. To say otherwise would be to say that Google have achieved perfection with Android, which is of course impossible!

    However, none of the custom experiences that any manufacturer has so far offered have appealed to me personally, and I am currently desperately awaiting the Nexus 5 after losing my iPhone 4 back in the Summer. The daft thing is, if HTC would have sold me a "Play Edition" One I would have bought one months ago, so they have lost a sale by insisting that the One only come with their custom software (the Play Edition isn't available in the UK).

    For the most part - and within reason - I want a simpler OS that I can augment with apps as needed, rather than a more complex one that I cannot take away from, and cannot upgrade until the 3rd party releases an update for.
  • It will be interesting to see how long HTC will update ...

    the custom experience phones they produce. That may be the biggest question of all. For those who purchase a new phone every year (or more frequently for Matt), then that is likely not a big issue as one would hope that 12 months of updates would be the minimum. However, for those of us who buy a device and think that at least 24 months of updates should be expected, the Google Galaxy experience shines through.
    It would seem to me that it is Google's job, along with Samsung, HTC, etc... to design a methodology so that base OS and then add on functionality (extras and apps) can be kept up to date. Nothing wrong with the custom experience as long as it does not significantly delay OS updates. That is the beauty of Android over iOS (and likely to some degree Windows Phone).
    • What do you mean?

      What do you mean by "that is the beauty of Android over iOS"?
  • Remove Carrier Apps w/o Rooting?

    I can deal wit the LG skin on my Optimus G. What I cannot deal with is the inability to remove the AT&T crapware from my phone without rooting it. That is why the N5 ultimately appeals to me. That and the bump in specs over my LGOG (which I really like).

    The biggest bummer about getting a Nexus device is doing so does NOT mean you can expect a lower monthly mobile service bill :(
    • You have to shop around.

      I use the T-Mobile no contract data plan it is 30 bucks a month for 5gigs unlimited data, and unlimted text, only 100 minutes talk though.

      Virgin mobile has similar no contract plans. They have a 300 minute, 2.5gig unlimited data/text for $35 a month on Sprint.

      Smarttalk has $45 per month unlimited (though they whack you hard if you go over 2.5 gigs data in a month)

      Typical full plans are about $55 which is at least $20 less than the full featured plan where they subsidize the phone.

      There are web sites that list all the third party non-contract players and give them reviews. Check them out. You might find something good.
  • They are up on Google Play!

    Just bought one. They have been up since 12 noon PST.

    Last year they ran out in 3 hours, get one while they are hot :-)

    It will leave the warehouse 11/5/2013 and arrive 3 - 5 days later!