Back in March-ish of 2011 I got an Android phone. It was an Optimus V, which means it was cheap (about $150, no carrier subsidy) and limited, but was available with an actual reasonably-priced no-contract plan ($25/month). Since I can’t bring myself to pay the crazy rates you Americans seem to pay your phone carriers, this was a good deal.
In July of this year I got myself an iPhone 4S. Virgin started offering them, but I wound up going with Straight Talk instead, since Virgin only offered the lowest storage capacity and wouldn’t let you activate a phone you didn’t buy from them. I’m paying a little more for the service, but it’s still reasonable ($45/month, unlimited everything).
I feel like talking about the experience of switching. What I liked about Android, what I like about the iPhone. I know some people who are really invested in their phone OS, but I am not one of those. I think I can be relatively unbiased here.
Still, this is all utterly subjective. It’s what I like and didn’t like, and what matters to me.
Hardware, with an asterisk
A big caveat: I had a cheap Android. It had poor performance, low memory, almost no onboard storage space, a so-so screen, a not-overly-large battery, and all in a flimsy plastic case. I’ve not used any of the higher-end Android devices. By all reviews it was fantastic for the price, but still… I’m not going to dwell greatly on the hardware differences.
I do think it’s fair to note that you can’t get that sort of experience with an iPhone. The worst iPhone out there is, at least, that way because it’s 5 years old.
So, up-front, the device quality of the iPhone is a lot higher. Better performance, lots of storage, good battery life, ridiculously good screen, vastly better camera. Also, as a personal-taste matter, I think the iPhone has much nicer industrial design, but your mileage may vary.
Mind you, I sort of liked knowing that my phone was cheap. It might have been flimsy plastic, but I didn’t have to worry about dropping it the same way I do this $800 lump of crackable-glass.
Now, the stuff which I think is fairer to compare: software differences!
I rooted my Android and ran a custom ROM. I like that I could do that. I don’t like that it was the only way I had of getting a sort of up to date version of the OS. At the time I switched, Gingerbread was still the most-recent Android version available for the Optimus V, even with custom ROMs. So I like knowing that, for the next few years, I’m guaranteed to get updates promptly and without having to fiddle around with warranty-voiding matters.
iOS and Android feel about equally flexible to me. Technically this is false, since Android has a lot more flexibility, but for my purposes they’re equivalent. Rooting your android and running a custom ROM feels about the same as jailbreaking your iPhone. It’s true that I can’t easily switch to a different keyboard layout without jailbreaking… but I stuck with the default keyboard on Android anyway, and I like the iOS keyboard.
I liked the account manager on Android. Setting up my iPhone involved entering passwords repeatedly, whereas on Android I just had to enter them up-front and apps would ask permission. This is improving a little with Twitter and Facebook integration, but my Google credentials were the real killer.
I miss the Google integration. GMail and Google Voice are so much better on Android. Google Maps on Android was a vast improvement over the Google Maps app on iPhone. The new Apple Maps app looks promising, and finally picks up parity on the turn-by-turn navigation, but may also have some teething issues to work out.
I like knowing that if an app is mentioned, it’ll be available for me to use. On Android, a lot of apps were restricted and not flagged as available for my device. This is sort of a “cheap Android” issue, but it came up enough that I want to call it out separately.
I like that installing apps on the iPhone reliably works. Fuck “package file invalid” errors. I got those all the time on Android, and as far as I can tell they happened because there was insufficient room on a partition to uncompress a downloaded package file. I would call this another “cheap Android” issue, but Google’s utter failure to write a Market app that could notice the problem and provide a helpful error message or workaround just leaves me bitter. This error, on its own, was a major driver in getting me to upgrade my phone… and in persuading me that moving away from the OS that had this as a persistent issue was worth a shot.
I kind of miss Intents. Being able to set default apps was useful; the iPhone locks you into things like Mail, Maps, Photos, and Safari. They’re perfectly servicable apps, mind you, I’d just like knowing that if I discovered something vastly better I could seamlessly switch.
I like Siri. I find I mostly use her for the “remind me to do X when I get home”, or “add Y to my shopping list” features, rather than the search-related stuff. I could probably get an app to do the same on Android, of course.
My shopping list being shared with my wife over iCloud as a built-in feature is awesome. I had an app for that on Android, but it’s something I had to buy. That said, my having to visit the iCloud website to set up this sharing is ridiculous, and I bet almost no non-technical users have ever noticed it.
I’m a fan of the iPhone’s lock-screen camera mode. You can start taking pictures without having to unlock the device, which I never saw an equivalent of on Android. My 3 year old daughter uses it to take pictures of me sleeping if I didn’t put my phone away the night before. :P
My wife switched as well, and asked her if there was anything she had to add. She says she likes “knowing that things will just work”. I’d say it’s a bit of a cliched point, but then I remember what she went through while trying to make a bluetooth keyboard work reliably on Android. Another example would be plugging into car stereos: the iPhone works easily, since almost everything has support for it, while the Android functioned as an external USB hard drive of MP3s… which is rather more awkward. Syncing music with your iPhone is also far, far easier than syncing music with an Android device, if only because there’s a clear default “this is how you do it” state.
No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
- good: accounts, Google apps, changing default apps, “freedom”
- bad: experience depends vastly on the exact handset you own, long-standing Market bugs, upgrade schedule is atrocious
- good: app availability, Siri, retina screen, iCloud, no bad devices, reliable upgrades, “it just works”
- bad: Maps not up to Google’s standards yet
I’d say that I’m happy with my iPhone. Next time I want to get a new device I’ll still consider an Android. I gather that a Nexus is the way to get iPhone-equivalent upgrade support, so I’ll certainly look at that. Still, unless something on Android looks like more than just a quantum leap ahead, I’d imagine I’ll be sticking with the iPhone.