Last week Cullen Roche of Pragmatic Capitalist wrote a glowing review of the Motorola Atrix 2 running Android.After reading his review, I decided I would take another look at Android. After all, it’s the biggest mobile operating system in the world.
I hadn’t used an Android-based phone in over a year, so I wanted to see if it had truly caught up to iOS.
Luckily, there was an Atrix 2 review unit in the office. I decided to go all-in for a week with the Atrix 2. I’d keep my iPhone in my pocket, because that’s the number people expect to reach me at, but otherwise, all-in. I used Google Voice for texting people.
Not to spoil the ending, but I only lasted five days.
I started off with a bad attitude towards Android. I hated a lot of stuff early on, but after a few days of adjusting, I got more comfortable. Ultimately, I decided it wasn’t for me.
There is no one big thing that separates iOS from Android. It’s a bunch of small things, but add them up and it makes a big difference.
We’ll run down the differences point by point and tabulate a score.
I've been using the iPhone since 2008. I have an iPhone 4 now. Generally I'm very happy with it. I live in New York City, so I might have different usage habits than most people. I really tried my best to be unbiased and approach Android with an open mind. For a little while I thought it was just as good as iOS, but ultimately I changed my mind.
Everyone raves about the tight integration of Gmail with Android. I was underwhelmed. I don't use labels, stars, or any of the bells and whistles with Gmail, so I don't really care.
My biggest beefs: No unified inbox with the Gmail app. I can only see the subject line. On the iPhone I get to see the first few lines of the email. Plus, the overall look is worse.
iOS 1, Android 0
When I open Twitter I get a big stream of new tweets. I prefer to start at the top. On the iPhone I touch the status bar and I zoom to the top. With Android I have to scroll and scroll and scroll*.A small thing? You bet. But, it's the small things that count. Half point to iOS!
iOS 1.5, Android 0
*Update: I've been informed I can just get to the top by hitting one of the buttons on the Twitter app. Nice to know! However, the status bar trick works across the iPhone.
One thing Android has going for it is the widgets. I'm obsessive about protecting the battery on my iPhone, so I constantly switch to 'aeroplane mode' when I'm on the subway. When I walk away from wifi, I turn off wifi. On the iPhone I have to jump into the settings to do this. On Android, i just swipe left and have two fat widgets to adjust. The downside is that the widgets look like crapola. But, I'm not too hung up on stuff like that.
iOS 1.5, Android 1
One of the great, but underrated things Apple does with the iPhone is include headphones that remotely control the music app. I can pause/play songs and adjust the volume. Walking around the city with headphones on, this is really valuable. Pause it when you're in a grocery store. Pause it when the subway comes roaring into the platform and I can't hear my music. The headphones buttons don't work with the Atrix, and our review unit didn't include headphones.
iOS 2.5, Android 1
Android has four soft buttons at the bottom of its phones: A grid, a home, a back button, and search. What those buttons do for each application varies. So, good luck figuring it out!
And the back button is totally inconsistent. If I get a notification that someone direct messaged me on Twitter, I can go straight to the DM through Android's notification centre. But, once I'm looking at the DM, there's no easy way to get to the timeline. (At least, none I can figure out.)
For more on the problems with navigating Android, take a look at this post from Christoffer Du Reitz.
iOS 3.5, Android 1
If I get a buzz from my phone telling me I have a new email or text, I can't quickly see them on the lock screen. I have to unlock the phone, then go to Android's notifications then go to the message. I search Android's settings to adjust the lock screen notifications, but I didn't see any way to change this. With iOS, it's all right there on the home screen.
I'm told I can download modifications to make this happen for Android, but I'm not interested in trying to figure that nonsense out. The fact that it doesn't come with texts on the lock screen out of the box is a joke.
iOS 4.5, Android 1
The iPhone screen is 3.5 inches diagonally. The Atrix is 4 inches. It makes reading Kindle books a slightly better experience, but it doesn't fit as nicely in my hand. We'll call this one a draw. No points awarded.
iOS 4.5, Android 1
Don't want to type on an Android phone? No problem! It has speech to text baked right in. Very useful when you're walking down the street. Just speak your text message. About 70% of the time it was accurate, which got frustrating at times, thus it only gets a half point.
iOS 4.5, Android 1.5
I escaped New York this weekend in a car, and actually used the built in turn by turn directions. It killed the battery, but it was very helpful. Apple needs to get on this, pronto.
iOS 4.5, Android 2.5
This is another one of those things people love about Android. The notification centre you get when you drag down from the top of the screen. Personally, I think the Apple version is much better. It looks nicer, and it's easier to navigate. (Notification centres vary from phone to phone, though. Maybe others are better.)
iOS 5.5, Android 2.5
It's easier to focus. The photos come out better. Editing photos is easier, too.
The photo for this slide was taken with the Atrix. I couldn't get the thing to be bright and it took 2 tries to get it in focus. On the iPhone you can tap where it needs to be focused.
iOS 6.5, Android 2.5
The magnifying lens on the iPhone that helps you put your cursor in the right place is awesome. There is no equivalent for Android. In general highlighting, cutting and pasting, editing text is just better on iPhone.
iOS 7.5, Android 2.5
Cullen Roche loved getting Flash on his phone. I couldn't care less. I can't remember the last time I even ran into a Flash site on my iPhone.
He loved Google Music. I like the music app better on the iPhone, and when iTunes Match comes out in the next month or so, I expect it will be as good as Google Music. I mostly listen to podcasts, and that's better on iPhone. Plus, I use MOG to stream music and it's great on both platforms.
Like I said at the start, it's a lot of small things that make the iPhone better than Android. Is the gap between the two pretty narrow? You bet.
But, it's still wide enough that I would recommend an iPhone over Android to 99% of the people out there. The iPhone is just a smoother and better product right now.
And now, feel free to unload on me in the comments. Try to keep it civil, please. We're just talking about smartphone operating systems here.