iPhone vs. Android: Which is better for you?

Choosing between the two main players in mobile depends on what features and specs are most important to you. Here's what you need to know to make the right decision.

Want to start an argument? Just say, “There’s no question Android phones are the best,” “iPhones are worth every penny,” “Only a dolt would use an iPhone,” or, “Android sucks,” and then stand back.

Got that out of your system? Good. The truth is both iPhones running iOS and smartphones running Android have their good and bad points.

And make no mistake: The fight is between these two mobile operating systems. All the alternatives are pretty much dead and buried. Microsoft, for example, recently admitted, “We had no material Phone revenue this quarter.” Canonical, Ubuntu Linux’s parent company, has given up on smartphones. BlackBerry exists only as a brand name, and the manufacturer making “BlackBerry” phones is now using Android.

So today, and for as far as I can see into the future, your only real choices are Android smartphones and iPhones.

Here’s how they match up on 12 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 much trouble using the other.

Sure, a decade ago, when the iPhone first appeared and Windows Mobile and Nokia Symbian phones were the competition, the iPhone blew them away. It was just so much easier to use.

But that was 10 years ago. Today, there’s really not a lot that differentiates the two leading phone OSes when it comes to ease of use.

If we put appearance and home-screen setup into this category, though, things tip toward Android. Android smartphones give you more control over your system and its applications. 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 able to set up my phone just the way I want it, and Android phones let me do that. That flexibility has helped Android build brand loyalty.

2) Fit, finish and price

IPhones are beautiful. Thank you, Jony Ive.

Android phones — well, they vary. Wildly.

Some, such as the Samsung S7 and the Google Pixel, are every bit as attractive as the iPhone 7 Plus. True, by controlling every step of the manufacturing process, Apple makes sure iPhones have great fit and finish, but so do the big Android phone manufacturers. That said, some Android phones 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.

Decent Android phones can go for as little as $100. Are they good looking? Not really, but they do the job at a fraction of the price of an iPhone. (If you're wondering how hard it is to ditch the iPhone and move to an Android device here's our switching guide.)

3) Closed vs. open systems

The iPhone remains as proprietary as ever. If you don’t want anything that you can’t get through Apple, fine. On the other hand, if you’re an iPhone user who wants to buy an Amazon e-book from the Kindle app or watch a Google Play movie using Play Movies, you’re out of luck.

Android is both open source and far more open to alternative applications. Keep in mind, Apple hasn’t ported any of its applications to Android and never will. So, if your music library is based on iTunes, then you’re locked into iPhones.

For most users, this is a difference that makes no difference. But if you prefer open systems to closed ones, it’s an important differentiator.

4) A.I. and voice assistants

When it comes to Google Assistant vs. Siri, there’s no question of the winner: Google Assistant by a country mile.

Google Assistant is more than an excellent voice interface to 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. Now, 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 assistant.

If you’re looking for a clear reason to choose one OS over another, though, Google Assistant isn’t it. It’s also available for iPhones.

5) Timely updates

Here, on the other hand, is 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 pray and hope for the best.

Unlike the iPhone, where every detail is under Apple’s control, with Android, Google supplies the base operating system and some programs, and it’s up to the phone manufacturer to deliver upgrades and patches. With high-end phones, chances are you’ll get the patches; with all 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 with out-of-date security. For me, the surprise is that the figure is so low. I would have guessed 90% of Android devices had out-of-date software.

This gets really old, so to speak.

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 newest, iOS 11.

My Android updates, however, just work. When I can get them.

Advantage: Apple.

6) Security

It’s not so much that Android has security problems; it’s that Google is more lax than Apple about what applications it will let into its app store. True, 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. There is iPhone malware out there just waiting for an overconfident user to download a dodgy program.

Still, iPhones are inherently more secure. (If you're using an Android device and think you're ready to move to iPhone, here's our Android-to-iPhone switching guide.)

7) Peripherals

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.

8) Battery life and charging

This one’s hard to judge, because every Android phone is different. In my experience, largely with Samsung and Motorola phones, Android phones don’t need to be as recharged as often as iPhones. Your charging may vary, so let’s call this something of a draw, depending on the phone in hand and how you use it.

9) Cloud integration

iCloud continues to be an enormous pain for me, no matter what platform I run it on. And I’m not the only one who has trouble with iCloud.

Android, however, is tightly integrated with Google’s applications and services. I use Google apps all the time for work and fun. With an Android phone and Google Now home screen, I also get access to all the news I need, from the personal (local traffic) to the global (President Trump’s latest doings[JE2] ).

Google Photos has unlimited storage and includes a decent basic photo editor. True, the iCloud Photo Library is good too, but accessing iCloud across devices continues to be problematic.

All in all, for cloud integration, Android is the one to beat.

10) Videoconferencing

Google can’t seem to make up its mind about its voice, video and IM applications. I think Google Hangouts is now Google’s master communications application, but I could be wrong.

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.

11) Cameras

I'm no camera expert, but I do know that cameras vary wildly on Android phones. That said, the Galaxy S8, which uses essentially the same hardware as the S7, does seem to be a bit behind the top-of-the-line iPhone 7 Plus.

Mind you, both cameras are very, very good. In my amateurish opinion, the iPhone is a bit better at most things. But the Galaxy models, with their wider-angle lens, are a tad better at selfies.

Advantage: The iPhone, in a photo finish.

12) Software choice

Once upon a time, you could argue that there were better apps on one app store than the other. These days, it's pretty much a dead tie. Besides, with 2.8 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.

Pick one that fits your budget and needs

Put it all together, and there isn’t a simple, one-size-fits-all answer for you. As I said at the outset, both phone ecosystems have their advantages and disadvantages.

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 with you if you prefer an iPhone — unlike some people I could name.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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