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How Apple does big phones better than Android

Michael Simon | Dec. 3, 2015
A month with the Nexus 6P showed that perhaps its gorgeous screen is a little too big for its operating system.

Button hole

The major physical difference between the Nexus 6P and the 6 Plus is a distinct lack of a home button. It’s not an entirely uncommon phenomenon among Android flagships (my Nexus 7 tablet doesn’t have one either), but getting acquainted with the Nexus 6P after seven years of daily iPhone usage took some time. Clearly this is the direction all phones are heading, but my experience with virtual buttons was far more awkward than I anticipated.

While having a fixed back button at the bottom of the screen is a nice change of pace, it comes at the expense of gestures or really any kind of navigational shortcuts of any kind. Apple is constantly tweaking iOS to make it easier to get around (and decrease reliance on the home button as a navigational aid), but Android seems very much tied to its navigational buttons—so much so that if an app freezes, I have to wait for its quit dialogue box to appear before I can continue. On iOS, my fingers are generally able to stay in the center of the screen, but on Android I find myself constantly jumping down to the bottom of the screen.

gph 001 32
Adam Patrick Murray Which way is up?

And then there’s that symmetrical design. As I said before, the phone is gorgeous, but picking it up in a usable direction is pretty much a 50–50 proposition. It might not seem like a major problem, but flipping your 5.5-inch phone a half-dozen times a day because you picked it up upside-down does increase the probability of dropping it. It’s a relatively easy problem to solve: Take a page from Alcatel’s OneTouch Idol 3 and make the whole thing reversible. I can pretty much guarantee that the first buttonless iPhone will be orientation agnostic, both for the home screen layout and the phone speaker.

In fact, I’m sure that there are buttonless prototypes of iPhones aplenty in Jony Ive’s laboratory, but there’s a reason the iPhone 6 (and in all likelihood the iPhone 7) still sports a big old home button. iOS 8 has already laid the groundwork for a button-free experience, with smart gestures, 3D Touch, and a smarter, savvier Siri, but Apple isn’t about to pull the plug on the home button until the experience is perfect.

Touch and go

With no buttons on the front of the 6P, the fingerprint sensor is located on the back. While the idea is intriguing, it forces me into a specific and somewhat uncomfortable grip, using my pinkie finger and palm to cradle the phone while I unlock it with my index finger. On my iPhone, I have five fingerprints stored and I can unlock it any number of ways (including when it’s resting on a table, which is impossible to do with the Nexus), but I never added a second one with the 6P. The placement of the sensor is really only conducive to one type of unlocking, and oftentimes it’s just easier to revert the old-fashioned swipe-to-unlock method.

 

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