Android to iOS: Nexus 5 versus iPhone 6

some thoughts on smartphone hardware

Before I get to meat of the subject, I compare the bread.

That is, my thoughts on the hardware side of my migration are more complete, so I’ll start there. This is not a detailed hardware review of either units, just some things that I’ve noticed.


I put my iPhone 6 in Apple’s red leather case almost straight after opening the box. Whilst this does add to the iPhone’s bulk, it still ends up being slightly more narrow than a naked Nexus 5.

The Nexus 5 has a rubbery-plastic back. This has never, and still does not, feel cheap to me. That said, I do prefer the feel of a metal phone.

These factors, combined with the iPhone’s rounder corners, mean the iPhone is more comfortable and feels better in my hand compared to the Nexus 5.

Winner: iPhone 6.


I thought I’d mention this here even though this is one of those features that is a part hardware and part software.

TouchID works better than I expected, and Apple has done a great job making this as easy and fun to use as possible. This is the best fingerprint security solution any smartphone has ever had.

But there’s still room for improvement. When I’m in a hurry to unlock the phone, I often have to make two or three attempts to make it through. This occurs maybe one out of every three hurried unlockings, and I’m almost never in such a hurry.

When I do have these issues, it feels as though I’m trying to use TouchID at the wrong moment. If Apple, king of hardware-software integration, can’t get this 100% right, then I can see why Google is not in a hurry to try.

Touch ID is generally a good feature, quicker than PIN entry much of the time.

Winner: iPhone 6.

Notification LED

The Nexus 5 has a multi-colour LED near the bottom edge of its screen. If you don’t hear a notification for any reason (e.g. walked away for a minute), then the blinking LED will let you know that you should wake up the phone when next convenient.

Different apps cause the LED to glow different colours. For example, a green LED means that Twitter wants my attention, whilst a blue LED means that Facebook does.

The iPhone 6 will turn on its screen when it receives a notification. If you are not looking at it (or within earshot) when this happens, a side-ways glance is not enough to tell that something needs your attention. If in doubt, you need to wake the iPhone up.

I understand now why iPhone users tend to tell each other that they missed a call whilst absent.

An accessibility setting on the iPhone causes it to blink its camera flash LED. This functionality does not promote glance-ability as on the Nexus 5, as it flashes just twice upon notification receipt and not continuously at intervals.

The placement of the Nexus 5’s LED on the same side as the screen is still superior to flashing the iPhone’s camera LED. Placing the Nexus 5 screen-downwards will cover both the screen and the LED, preventing the light from waking me up at night.

It seems as though the Nexus 5 would rather you know something as soon as possible, whilst the iPhone would rather not interrupt you. This is a difference of philosophy, and I can see that both designs have merit.

The Nexus 5 does have a setting to achieve iPhone-like behaviour in this regard.

Winner: Nexus 5.


Apple’s proprietary Lightning port solves a frustration with USB by being reversible: you can plug the Lightning cable in either orientation without a problem.

Nokia is the first to announce an Android product with reversible Micro USB but the N1 tablet won’t be on shelves until 2015.

The Nexus 5 features the near-universal Micro USB port, the user experience of which is inferior to Lightning and reversible USB on this score alone.

Winner: iPhone 6.

Automatic Screen Brightness

Both the Nexus 5 and the iPhone 6 feature ambient light sensors, and both iOS and Android use this sensor to dynamically control screen brightness to compensate for current conditions.

This is a hardware-software integration point that neither camp has yet perfected. Apple does command the lead, in this respect, as I noted fewer cases where the screen was too dim in sunlight.

The iPhone 6 also feels easier on the eyes in pitch darkness. In my unqualified opinion, the Nexus 5 feels uncomfortably bright in this case.

Winner: iPhone 6.

Home button

Android supports both physically-dedicated and on-screen Home buttons, and the Nexus 5 opts for the latter. Some Android OEMs such as Samsung continue to ship devices with a mechanical Home button, but the direction from Google to date appears to discourage this.

The iPhone 6 has a mechanical Home button. When trying to be silent, I have noticed that the mechanial action seems noisy.

Humans can find such a physically-dedicated and mechanical button by touch alone without needing to look. This has obvious accessibility advantages, which are ideals that Apple continues to exemplify.

Beyond accessibility, I personally prefer dynamic on-screen buttons. Android allows apps (i.e. video players, games) to temporarily gain full control of the entire screen. Physical orientation has little impact on the usability of such devices, as the Home button is always moved to the bottom of the screen (by default), which might be an accessibility and ergonomics win.

I daydream about a device that is entirely reversible: where I can pick it up and software and sensors ensure that active microphones, speakers and on-screen elements are always the correct way around. Maybe pointless, maybe not. /shrug

Winner: Nexus 5.

This has more of an impact on the software experience, but I’ll just note in advance that the iPhone 6 has no standard Back button, physically-dedicated or otherwise.

Android and Windows phone both feature system-standard Back buttons.

Stay tuned for more on this subject in an upcoming post.

Winner: Nexus 5.


Generally, I think the iPhone 6 has better hardware materials and design than the Nexus 5, with just a handful of exceptions. The fit and finish is impecable.

Android to iOS series:

  1. process and initial thoughts
  2. Nexus 5 versus iPhone 6

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Ron -