Smart Shopper’s Guide: iPhone vs. Android

What makes a phone smart?  Now that almost any new phone can browse the Web, manufacturers have come to rely on a dizzying array of features, forms factors, and specifications to try and set their phones apart from the competition.  Phones may have dual-core processors, voice-activated assistants, Near-Field Communications (NFC) chips, front-facing cameras, or a variety of other buzzwords of varying value.

But take a step back.  What is truly important in a phone?  Different people have different priorities, and the two major phone platforms, iPhone and Android, take radically different approaches to phone design.  The path to determining your perfect phone starts with choosing which side of the mobile operating system fence you want to consider, so this article will help explain the key differentiators.

Even someone who uses their phone exclusively for calling will find the two platforms perform differently.  It can be argued that the iPhone has a simpler interface for making and managing calls, large buttons, a great noise-cancelling microphone and a fairly loud headset speaker.

Android, on the other hand, has great integration with Google Voice, which transcribes your voicemails to text so you rarely ever have to spend time listening to them.  Android also has a much more flexible contact list, allowing you to easily pull in contacts from various online sources like Facebook or LinkedIn, filter and group by various settings (try the “only contacts with phone” filter to remove all those extraneous email contacts) and more options for one-click dialing so you can have dedicated icons for “Mom” or “girlfriend” for example.  Because Android phones come in a wide variety of hardware configurations, call and audio quality vary wildly from completely clear to barely acceptable.

Perhaps the most used feature on any phone is texting, and while the software experience of reading messages is mostly uniform across the two platforms, typing text becomes the biggest differentiator.  The iPhone has an on-screen keyboard that is surprisingly smart at auto-correcting errors, but is hindered by its relatively small screen and its lack of customizability.

Android phones by default have an on-screen keyboard that performs almost as well, but due to the generally larger screens, it may be easier to hit the right keys.  More importantly, Android gives you the option to replace the default keyboard with a better one.  I would suggest looking into Swipe (a tool for writing whole words with single gestures) or SwiftKey (a smart keyboard that learns how you type and can often complete words or even sentences automatically).  Unfortunately these keyboards come at an extra cost, but if you are willing to put down the money, they are well worth it.

Of course, to many people the best keyboard is a real keyboard, and there are a variety of Android phones that have real, physical keyboards.  These phones are often referred to a “qwerty sliders,” and some people swear by them.  Then again, many people who insist they need a physical keyboard eventually start using the on-screen keyboard as it is simpler to input quick text without having to slide and rotate the phone.  Because of this, those people often become acclimated to the on-screen keyboard and may find they do not really need the physical keyboard at all.

This discussion of keyboard options highlights another aspect of Android that is both a blessing and a curse: there are a plethora of Android phones in all shapes and sizes from various manufacturers.  This means that you can most likely find exactly the hardware you want, be it cutting-edge, fast, small, or inexpensive.  It also entails that not every Android phone works the same way, not all apps work with any given device, and parts of the system feel unintuitive.

In stark contrast sits the iPhone, where Apple creates uniform hardware, tailors the operating system, and tightly controls the quality of apps.  Things that may be unintuitive on Android just feel right on an iPhone.  It may not have the customization options (both hardware and software), but you may find you do not miss them, as the defaults are generally very sensible.

There are of course other factors that may influence your phone buying decision; perhaps the camera on iPhone is not powerful enough for your needs, or the app marketplace on Android doesn’t contain your favorite application.  Maybe you crave the unmatched Gmail integration on Android, or covet the new Siri virtual assistant on iPhone.  Current generation iPhones also have a clearer, crisper screen, while Android compensates with much larger screens.  Luckily, price is no longer a major differentiator; both iPhones and Android phones range from free on contract to several hundreds of dollars.

The real issue is do you want to be able to do anything using your phone with enough effort, or do you desire a phone that is intuitive and simpler.  Power users and technology enthusiasts flock to Android for its infinite customizability, and for someone who is willing to work a bit to make their phone perfect, Android is a very good fit.  But for people that prefer for their phone to just work, and work well, iPhone is generally a better fit.