Why I switched from the Samsung Galaxy S3 to the Galaxy Nexus

(2012-09-29)

In July, I was looking for a new android phone. My HTC Desire Z was feeling pretty slow and after seeing how well Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) performed on my friend’s devices, I decided to upgrade.

I’ve read a few reviews back then and it seemed like the Samsung Galaxy S3 was the best phone at the time: Its hardware is stunning, it’s faster than every other phone and it looks okay. I checked that you can root it, install custom ROMs and that CyanogenMod is available. After using it for a few months, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want to keep it.

Stock Samsung firmware

Samsung ships their devices with their own version of Android, with a GUI on top called TouchWiz. I dislike all vendor-specific versions of Android because they often look bad, perform bad, make apps look bad due to strange theming and because they just destroy the polished and nice feel which android has since version 4. Also, if I ever want to switch to a different device, I need to use a different UI anyways, so investing time and data into the specific version of some vendor doesn’t make any sense to me.

Furthermore, these vendor-specific versions often lag behind the official Android version and I can’t stand that. I want the latest and greatest Android version as soon as it’s available (e.g. Jelly Bean).

CyanogenMod 10 quality

Therefore, the logical conclusion is to use a nice custom ROM. In my experience, CyanogenMod fits the bill. Other ROMs feel very amateurish and I dislike that on a phone.

Of course, since CyanogenMod 10 (CM10) is still experimental, I know what to expect. However, it seems that the Galaxy S3 CM10 developers (codeworkx, xplodwild, …) have a very hard time working on that device because of what Samsung releases: large code drops after each official release, without proper git history. There is a (german) interview with codeworkx where he explains this in a bit more detail, and also an (english) forum post at xda-developers.

In my experience, I had problems with mobile connectivity (you need to enter airplane mode and leave it again sometimes), the camera (wouldn’t work at all), a memory leak (device needed to be restarted once a day) and taking calls (sometimes the other side wouldn’t hear you).

xda-developers and the way you obtain ROMs

The way most developers publish their ROM is quite horrible: In the android forum xda-developers, they start a thread and post their ROM there. In the case of CM10, the first post is not updated regularly, so you have to read all the posts if you want to stay up to date. We are talking about hundreds of pages with 100 posts per page — and those posts are horrible. People don’t read and ask the same questions over and over again. They are unfriendly to each other and spread half knowledge about things which they don’t understand.

After reading lots of low-quality posts you still don’t know what has been changed between each ROM version that is available (nightlies or experimental builds, usually a new one each day). While there is the git changelog, normal users (and even experienced developers) don’t understand what’s going on by reading that. Developers apparently don’t care about producing a small changelog for each build. Neither do they usually track issues publicly in a bug tracker, which makes reporting issues (and fixing them, I suppose) very frustrating for every party involved.

All in all, this is the most horrible way I can imagine to distribute software.

The Galaxy S3 itself

There are many little points which make the Galaxy S3 not as nice to use as other phones:

  • The home button does not feel comfortable to use.
  • The display is pretty big and sometimes it’s hard to reach some areas.
  • It takes a long time for the device to wake up when locked.
    I suppose this is due to some deep sleep mode.

I’m not the only one who thinks that way, see for example codeworkx, who agrees with me ;-).

The Galaxy Nexus

I don’t think I need to lose many words about the Galaxy Nexus. Since it’s a Nexus device, I got it with 4.0 and received the over-the-air upgrade a few minutes later. Every feature I’ve tried so far works just fine. I don’t have to read some strange forum with strange people. I don’t have to flash new software versions all the time and hope that people can still call me and my phone still works.

While the hardware is obviously not as great as the S3’s, I’ve learned that I prefer a polished Android experience (the way it was meant to be used) over bleeding edge hardware by far. For the foreseeable future, I intend to buy only Nexus devices.