01-22-15 - Nexus 5 Usability

The physical design of these phones is so rotten.

First of all, here's a fundamental principle of good device design :

It should not look symmetric unless it actually *is* symmetric.

I frequently pick it up and try to tap the on button, only to discover that I have it upside down. I shouldn't have to spend those seconds staring at the thing to figure out which end is up.

Since it's in fact behaviorally *not* symmetric, they shouldn't have tried so hard to disguise the buttons and make it look symmetric. It should have a strong different-color strip on one end to make it obvious which end is up. This whole "make it look like a single color brick" that came from Apple is fucking retarded design.

Also the side-buttons should not be black and blend in to the device. They should be a contrast color.

My grilling process would be like this : "why are the buttons the same color as the body?" "uhh, because it looks cool?" "you're fired". "which end is up?" "well, it looks cooler all the same color" "you're fired".

A related symmetry complaint is that it doesn't rotate the screen when you turn it upside down. Again if it looks fucking symmetric, then act symmetric. Don't leave me there going "why the fuck are you not rotating the screen? Oh it's fucking upside down". If I turn it upside then fucking rotate the screen the way I'm holding it.

And of course the fucking volume-up-down should be a physical slider so that I can tell the level at a glance and change it even when the thing is off. And tapping it by accident doesn't mute it or send the volume through the roof or any shit like that. Like all fucking knobs and sliders should *always* be physical not fucking digital shuttles OMG. Fucking AC controls and volume knobs in cars that are just digital shuttles make me want to murder everyone.

Maybe the neatest symmetry solution would be to make it slightly tapered. Make the bottom slightly narrower than the top, which would fit the hand better anyway. More curved at the bottom and more square at the top.

There's a huge hardware problem in that if you have a finger on the screen it won't register other taps. I don't understand how this acceptable. If I ham-fist it and accidentally touch the screen with my gripping hand, it just doesn't work. WTF. Perhaps worse, if my baby has her finger on it, then I can no longer operate it to change to a video for her or whatever.

Many of the standard Google Apps have major GUI flaws.

For example in the Camera it's way too hard to change the basic function, such as switching between pictures and video or switching the camera direction, you have to go through some fucking settings menu; they should just be buttons.

In the phone, it's way too easy to call someone when you're just trying to get info on your call history. (I had to add a "call confirm" app because I kept dialing numbers when I scrolled around)

In all the apps, if you have them set to only sync on wifi or only sync on charger, there's no override button to just "fucking sync now anyway". You have to dig into the menus and change the setting then change it back after syncing, very annoying.

In gmail it's nearly fucking impossible to change between threaded & non-threaded view, which would be handy to do frequently. (the threaded view also makes it really hard to find the newest mail)

But there's a worse problem in general with apps.

It's just completely hidden what you can actually do in them. What areas can I click on? What are buttons and what do they do? And then some spots are different actions if I hold a tap there. And some spots are a different action if I drag there. WTF WTF. This is such rotten usabibility GUI design.

One option to fix it would be to obviously color all GUI elements based on how they can be used. Red lines are draggable, blue elements are tappable, green have a tap-and-hold extra action.

Even aside from making it more obvious, there needs to be a way to highlight all GUI actions. Somewhere I can tap that will make them all pop up tool-tips, or animate "this is holdable, this is draggable" etc.

Why do I have to lecture people on fucking 1950's GUI principles. Make fucking buttons looks like buttons! Don't hide them as graphical elements! Function over form please!

The copy-paste interface is horrific. The main way I run into it is if I get something like an address in an email and it fails to auto-link to the maps app, and I want to manually get that address over there. For fucks sake it's impossible. Or like if I find a URL and it doesn't auto-link to the browser, and I have to try to select it and copy it, I want to kill myself. Which I guess is just a general phone problem - as long as the function you want is hard-coded in, it's okay, but god help you actually make apps interact in a nonstandard way. (like take a photo that's on your phone and upload it as an attachment in a web forum post)

Some other random complaints while I'm at it :

There's no fucking missed calls & texts notification on the home page or lock page. Uh, hello. Make it work as a basic fucking phone please. It's like the most basic fucking thing you need in a phone, it should tell you what calls and texts you got. I have to fucking browse around various apps just to find out if I got any calls or texts? WTF. (yes I know I can buy an app to add these features, but seriously WTF).

(addendum : seriously WTF. Recent missed calls and texts need to be on the home page. This is one complaint I actually need to fix because clicking around every time I turn the phone on is ridiculous.)

There seems to be no way to cache my entire local region in maps. For a real world where we have spotty cell coverage in the country, this is pretty awful. In general offline use (as you might want in areas of terrible reception, eg. everywhere) is extremely poor.

There seems to be no way to clear all private data on every boot. I guess nobody in the world but me even tries to have any privacy these days. I'd like to have no saved cookies, no web passwords, and zero app-sign-ins on every boot.

I should be able to get on the internet over the USB cable.

I should be able to remote control the phone from a PC app over a USB cable. I'd like to do all my setup and management from a PC with a fucking mouse and keyboard please, not by poking with my ham-fist. I'd like to have just a big tree-view of all the options so I can clearly see them and not have to poke around to find them.

I fucking hate the way maps is always trying to twist on me. Fucking up is north. Seems to not be a setting to lock north, I have to constantly tap the fucking icon. Very annoying.

There needs to be a global option to turn off all starring of passwords globally. Becaused starred out passwords and ham-fingers don't mix.


Blaine Allen Brown said...

I agree with all of this. Another trend in Android is they continue to obscure iconography by making it more minimalist. The "back" button used to be pretty clear. It was like a looping arrow that pointed left. In Android 5.0 it's a triangle pointing left. Home used to be a pentagon shaped like a house. Like the fucking thing that children draw when they want to make a "home". It made perfect sense! Now it's a fucking circle. Might as well call it the moon screen.

I use an email app called K-9 mail. It threads the emails into a single item, but when you click that item it shows each individual email in a list. It's kind of like an email folder? I like it. Maybe it'll make your experience slightly better?

I would love it if maps locked north, but I think there's a compass in the top right hand corner? I'm not excusing it, but it's there.

There used to be some offline maps apps that would have the entire thing downloaded to your device. They take up a bit of space though; like 4gb? And since you have a nexus I know that you don't have expandable storage (wtf with that?) so depending on the model you got, that may be an issue.

Honestly, I wish phones would bring back text on buttons. When there's text on a button you know exactly whether clicking it will "open" the contact or "call" them.

Sam said...

I'm an iPhone guy and iOS has been going downhill like that too. iOS 7 was this big backlash against skeuomorphism but personally I think they went too far in the opposite direction. I can't tell what is a button and what is just text, or what can be interacted with etc. I hate it!

jsimmons said...

If you use the case they sell with the Nexus 5 the magnet in the lid that triggers the screen on and off wrecks the builtin compass.


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