Real-world testing: iPhone 4 vs. HTC EVO 4G

Our writer spent a few weeks with the Apple iPhone 4 and the HTC EVO 4G. Which came out ahead?

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Multitasking

Android multitasks in the same way that most other computers do. You can run any application in the background while using another.

The iPhone's operating system, iOS 4, keeps third-party app multitasking on a tight leash -- it just lets some apps do some things in the background. For example, GPS apps can continue tracking your location and giving voice directions in the background, while other applications can finish uploading and downloading data.

In theory, the Android approach offers more freedom, but in practice, the multitasking limitations on the iPhone didn't affect my day-to-day use of the phone. Apple says it locks down the iPhone 4 to improve performance and enhance stability, but I did not notice problems with either while multitasking on the EVO.

Winner: Tie

App choice

Both the iPhone and Android have rich ecosystems of third-party applications. With 200,000+ apps available in Apple's App Store versus 70,000+ in Google's Android Market, you'd think the iPhone would have it all over the EVO in app selection. But some types of applications that are available on the EVO are blocked from the iPhone.

For example, Google developed a native version of Google Voice for the iPhone, but Apple blocked it because it duplicates existing phone capabilities. (Surely the fact that Apple and Google are fierce competitors had nothing to do with the decision.)

There were other apps that I found handy that I could get on the EVO, but not on the iPhone. For example, you can download apps to customize text input, changing the default EVO onscreen keyboard.

And the $6.99 DoggCatcher Android app downloads podcasts over Wi-Fi, without having to connect to the desktop to sync. On the iPhone, I have to connect my phone to my desktop computer to download new podcast subscriptions.

I have no philosophical objections to Apple running a closed platform. I just wish they had different rules.

Winner: EVO 4G

Flash

EVO supports Flash, while the iPhone does not. I had mixed results viewing Flash pages on the EVO: Simple Flash animations at corporate Web sites displayed flawlessly, a Flash game rendered extremely slowly and Vimeo videos wouldn't play at all.

Flash support simply doesn't matter to me -- and I think despite all the noise from Apple critics, Flash support isn't going to matter to the overwhelming majority of users. There are plenty of alternatives to sites that require Flash, and some of the most popular Flash sites, like Hulu and YouTube, have non-Flash versions for non-Flash-supporting mobile devices.

But, still, even partial Flash support is better than none.

Winner: EVO 4G

Conclusions

After a couple of weeks putting both phones through their paces, I decided I made the right decision in upgrading to the iPhone 4.

Why? Well, mainly because it's work to switch platforms. You have to learn how to use the new device, and find and download apps to do the same things you did on the old device. To be worth the cost and trouble, the new platform has to do something new and great that the old platform can't do. While there are distinct differences between the iPhone and its Android competition, neither is superior enough to the other that it's worth the inconvenience of switching if you're satisfied with your current platform.

But what if you have neither yet and you're trying to decide between an Android phone and an iPhone?

Well, first you need to consider which carrier you want to go with. The problems people have with AT&T's service are well publicized -- if that is a concern, or if you already have a favorite carrier you want to go with, then choose a phone that works with your service.

If you don't care which carrier you use, then this is the way I'd choose: If photo and video quality are important to you, go with the iPhone, because it's better at those things. Likewise, if style is an issue, go with the iPhone. Otherwise, after working with both the iPhone 4 and the HTC EVO 4G, I would recommend the Android phone as the better choice, for its Google integration, Wi-Fi tethering, open applications and a choice of Android hardware vendors and wireless carriers.

Mitch Wagner is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist. Read more from Mitch at the Computerworld Tool Talk Blog.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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