I don't care that your favorite tech expert says only an idiot would buy an iPhone. Or that your friend in IT swears the other guy is a dolt and her Android phone is the best of the best. That’s not choosing a piece of technology, it’s choosing a tribe. If you want to make a logical choice between an iPhone and an Android phone — based on the technical specs — I have to start by saying there is no one right answer.
The simple truth — tribe allegiance and marketing genius aside — is that iPhones running iOS and smartphones running the Android OS both have good and bad points. And to make matters more complicated, comparing operating systems alone doesn't tell you much.
With iPhones, the operating system and hardware are tied at the hip. With Android phones, it's a different story. There is such an enormous difference between Android smartphone models that comparing the iPhone 13 with, say, an excellent budget Android smartphone, such as 2020's Moto G Power, is like comparing apples (ahem) and oranges. A better current comparison would be the brand new Samsung Galaxy S22 or the Google Pixel 6 line.
So, when I weigh this choice, I consider the operating system while accounting for the differences between phone models. You can't compare these two phone systems without recognizing the hardware differences.
That said, here’s how Apple and Android phones match up on 14 key aspects of the smartphone experience.
1. Ease of use
People love to say Apple products, "just work." It’s certainly true that the iOS interface is easy to use. But so is the Android interface. Frankly, if you can use one, you won’t have trouble using the other.
Sure, ages ago, when the iPhone first appeared and Windows Mobile and Nokia Symbian phones were the competition, the iPhone blew them away. That was then. This is now.
Today, all phone interfaces are better than they were then and easier to use. The key difference, to me, is control. Android smartphones give you much more control over your phone and its applications than Apple phones do. I like control. If you’re happy with what Apple gives you — this is your home screen; add a photo if you want to be an individual — good for you, but I like being allowed to set up my phone just the way I want it. Android phones let me do that.
2. Fit, finish, and price
iPhones are beautiful. Thank you, Jony Ive.
Android phones? Well, they vary. Wildly.
Some — such as the top-of-the-line Samsung S22+ and the Google Pixel 6 Pro — are every bit as attractive as the iPhone 13. By controlling every step of the manufacturing process, Apple makes sure iPhones have great fit and finish. But so do the top Android phone manufacturers. That said, some Android phones out there are just plain ugly.
Part of the reason for this is that Apple makes nothing but luxury phones. There will never be a cheap iPhone. If you don’t want to pay top dollar for an iPhone, your only choice is to get a used one.
But, let me remind you, no matter how pretty a phone's exterior is, you'll probably hide it behind a rather ugly, sturdy case if you want to keep it safe. No one's likely to say an OtterBox case is beautiful. But it protects my expensive phone and that's necessary.
Decent Android phones can go for less than $300. They may not be the most handsome phones, but they look the same inside a case and do the job at a fraction of the price of an iPhone.
3. Closed vs. open systems
The iPhone remains as proprietary as ever. If you don’t want anything in your pocket that you can’t buy from Apple, fine. But keep in mind that you will always and forever be locked into the Apple software ecosystem as long as you own an iPhone. So, when Apple fights with Epic, makers of the popular Fortnite game, over how to pay for the game, your ability to buy or play that game is sharply limited.
Android is open-source software. It's also far more accepting of alternative applications.
Also, Apple doesn't port its applications to Android and likely never will. The biggest, and most annoying of these iPhone-specific apps is iMessage. My friends that use it, swear by it. But it has one big, annoying problem. It is incompatible with other messaging systems. Yes, you can send SMS messages to Android texting apps, but you lose a lot of features that people love in the translation.
Read more on the Android to iPhone texting controversy.
Still, for most users, except when – as with Fortnite – a software company’s fight with Apple directly affects an app they like, most people won't even notice. But if you prefer open systems to closed ones, Android is the only game in town.
4. AI and voice assistants
Google Assistant is more than an excellent voice interface for Google search. If you use Google applications, such as Google Calendar and Google Maps, Google Assistant can make life simpler. Say you’re meeting someone for lunch downtown and traffic is awful. Google Assistant will work out that you need to leave early to make your appointment, and it will notify you beforehand. That is cool.
Siri may have been first to market, but it’s still pretty basic. It’s fine for answering questions, but it’s not really that much of an artificially intelligent assistant.
if you're looking for a clear reason to choose one OS over another, though, Google Assistant isn’t it. Because it’s also available for iPhones.
5. Timely updates
When it comes to software updates, on the other hand, that’s an area where Apple beats Android hollow. When Apple releases a new update or patch, all phones — those that are still supported, anyway — get it. With Android phones…, it’s a matter of praying and hoping for the best.
That’s because, unlike with the iPhone, where every detail is under Apple’s control, Google supplies the base operating system and some bundled programs, and it’s up to the phone manufacturer to deliver the upgrades and patches. With high-end phones, chances are good that you’ll get the patches in a timely fashion. But with many of the other Android smartphones, odds are you’ll never even see a security patch.
According to Skycure, a mobile threat defense vendor, nearly three-quarters of Android devices are running out-of-date security. I’m actually surprised that this figure is so low. I would have guessed 90% of Android devices ran out-of-date software.
Some Android vendors, notably Samsung and Google, do an excellent job of keeping their Android distros and software up to date. Everyone else? Not so much.
This gets really old.
On the other hand, iOS updates can be flaky. Apple needs to do a better job with quality assurance. I can’t remember a single time that a major iOS update didn’t result in a Wi-Fi problem, starting with iOS 6 and going up to the latest and greatest, which had more than its fair share of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 4G/5G problems.
I don't understand why this is so. Apple controls every last bit and piece of its hardware. Why is it so hard for the company to get something as fundamental to a smartphone as wireless connectivity right?
My Android updates, however, "just work." When I can get them.
So, while generally speaking, Apple offers better updates, the best Android phone vendors deliver better patches.
When it comes to security, it’s not so much that Android has problems, it’s that Google is more lax than Apple about what applications it allows into its app store. The best way to keep malware off your Android gadget is to only get apps from the Google Play store. Even so, Google reports that 0.16% of all apps contain malware.
If you’re an iPhone user, don’t get too cocky, though. There is iPhone malware out there just waiting for an overconfident user to download.
Generally speaking, iPhones are inherently more secure. If, that is, you think you can trust Apple with your privacy. While Google gets a lot of grief for not being trustworthy with personal data, not everyone finds Apple trustworthy either. For instance, Apple recently admitted that iOS 15 recorded users' Siri conversations in some cases.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to connect my phones to other gear. Here, Android has the advantage. All Android devices use standard USB ports, so there are many gadgets you can connect to your phone. With iPhones, you need something that will connect with its proprietary Lightning port.
Another Android advantage is that USB cables and devices are cheaper than their Lightning-port cousins. It may be old-fashioned of me, but I also like phones that come with a headphone jack. I find it all too easy to lose expensive AirPods. So I'll take a good, inexpensive, wired headset every time.
8. Battery life and charging
Battery life is hard to judge because Android phone models are so different from one another. In my experience, largely with Samsung, Google, and Motorola phones, Android phones don’t need to be recharged as often as iPhones. Your charging may vary, so let’s call this a draw, depending on the phone in hand and how you use it.
9. Cloud integration
Android, however, is tightly integrated with Google’s applications and services. I use Google apps all the time for work and fun. When it comes to cloud integration, there's no question about it: Android is the one to beat.
Google can’t seem to make up its mind about its voice, video, and IM applications. Currently, its main communications programs are Google Hangouts and Google Meet. I like them a lot and use them almost as much as I do Zoom.
With iPhones, it’s Facetime, period. Facetime is a great videoconferencing program. I wish it ran on more than just Apple platforms. But if your whole family or workgroup is using Apple, you’re good to go. However, if grandma uses an Android phone, she's be out of luck. I am a big believer that a communication program’s first job is to, well, communicate. Anything that gets in the way of that is a non-starter.
While it's true you can jury-rig a hack so iPhone users with iOS 15 can invite Android and PC users into a Facetime call, it's still a pain in the rump. I'll take Hangouts and Meet over Facetime any time.
I'm no camera expert, but I know people who are. My go-to colleague on this, Andrew Hoyle, put all three of today's top smartphones cameras to the test. And he found the Galaxy S22 Ultra Camera beat both the Pixel 6 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro. You simply can't beat Samsung's 10x optical zoom.
12. Software choice
Once upon a time, you could argue that there were better apps in one app store than the other. These days, it's pretty much a tie. Besides, with almost 3.5 million apps on the Google Play store and 2.2 million on the Apple App Store, it's not like you're ever going to run out of apps to play with.
13. 5G and beyond
Until recently, there's been little reason to upgrade to 5G. For all the hype, there wasn't enough 5G around to make it worth getting a 5G-compatible phone. That's changed. Today, there's finally enough 5G available to make buying a 5G phone worth your money.
Which one should you get? Frankly, it's whatever will work with your phone company's 5G. 5G is really a misnomer. There are four different kinds of 5G and they're not at all compatible. Just get the phone, be it an iPhone or Android, that your carrier will guarantee works with the specific 5G varieties they support.
This is an easy one: iPhones are expensive. The bottom-line, third-generation iPhone SE starts at $429. The most expensive iPhone — not counting status symbols such as the Falcon Supernova iPhone 6 Pink Diamond Edition at $48.5 million — is the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which tops out with all the trimmings (including a 1TB drive) at $1,599. That's a wee bit much even without a pink diamond.
On the other hand, the best of the best Google Pixel line, the Pixel 6 Pro goes for $1,099. The highest-end Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra will go for $1,299. But you can pay far less for a perfectly serviceable Android phone.
In theory, people are willing to pay a premium for an iPhone. A recent study found, “87% of teens own an iPhone, and 88% expect an iPhone to be their next phone.” You'll excuse me, though, if I think most of the teens they interviewed were lying. They may want iPhones because they're "cool," but wanting and being able to afford are two very different things.
It’s true, iPhones do appear to be more popular than Android phones in the United States, but that’s only by about a two in three margin, not nine in 10. This is based on the US government's Digital Analytics Program (DAP), which provides us with a running count of the technologies used by visitors in the last 90 days of US government website visits.
So, which one is right for you? I recommend that you pick the smartphone that best fits your budget and needs. There isn’t a simple, one-size-fits-all answer that applies to everyone. As I said at the outset, both phone ecosystems have their advantages and disadvantages. If you're using an Android device and think you’d prefer to move to iPhone, here's our Android-to-iPhone switching guide. If you are using an iPhone and think you want to switch to Android, we have a guide for that, too.
It really comes down to your budget and what matters most to you. For me, the answer is Android, but I’m not going to fight you if you prefer an iPhone. If it works for you, we are all good.