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Droid 2 vs iPhone

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imageI recently came out very positive on Google in a comparison of Google’s and Apple’s respective business models and product philosophies, but the post itself was very high-level and theoretical. So, I decided to write another post: this time on how the differences I mentioned before translate when comparing products?

I recently dropped my Blackberry and got Motorola’s new Droid 2 phone (on Verizon). Earlier this month, my company also happened to provide me with Apple’s iPhone 4 (on AT&T). Having played around with the devices and relied on them heavily for over a week, I decided to make a comparison of the two, not only to help myself think through how I’d use the devices, but also to help anyone out there considering a smartphone (warning: this post is LOOOONG):

  1. Neither phone is better, they’re different. In the same way that there is no one “best” car or one “best” significant other for all people, I would have to say the “best” phone for a person is the phone that has the right features/attributes for that person and makes the appropriate tradeoffs. In the case of DROID 2 vs. iPhone 4, each has their share of weaknesses, and each has their share of strengths and they will match different people’s needs and preferences.
  2. There’s still plenty of room for both products to improve. I think the “fanboys” on both sides seem to have missed out on this point – in their desire to tout one as superior to the other, they seem to have forgotten that both devices have more than their fair share of weaknesses. In fact, I’d say my dominant impression of both devices is more around “this needs to improve” rather than “this is awesome”.
  3. I’ve got a lot of more detailed commentary below, but my basic  impression of Android vs iPhone is very much like the comparison I drew in my post on Google vs Apple: the DROID 2 feels like a device where a bunch of engineers decided to cram a ton of “cool features” into a phone whereas the iPhone 4 feels like a device that was architected to support one particular user experience (but not others) as seamlessly as possible. What does that mean in terms of a direct comparison? In order of importance (to how I use the phone):
    1. Typing – Typing is extremely important to me as my main goal for smartphone is to let me write and respond to emails on the go. Given my years with the Blackberry’s famous high-quality keyboard, I was expecting to hate the iPhone 4’s soft keyboard. Much to my (pleasant) surprise, I actually got to be quick enough with it that speed did not become an issue. However, a few things plagued me. First, I absolutely hate the placement of the backspace key – its not where I expect it to be (having been trained by QWERTY computer keyboards) and is just close enough to the “m” that I hit it when I’m typing quickly. Secondly, the iPhone interface doesn’t actually support a landscape interface mode in all applications (i.e. the App Store) – which forces me to use a much more constrained portrait keyboard which slows me down. Finally, as good as the iPhone soft keyboard is, because there’s no good way to position your fingers or to “feel” when keys have been pushed, soft keyboards intrinsically force you to think more about how to type than a hard keyboard than otherwise. Enter the DROID 2. It has a hard keyboard which although not quite as good as a Blackberry’s (the keys seem oddly spaced to me, and they are more stiff than “springy”), still lets me position my fingers and type without thinking so much about how I’m typing.
      imageIn addition to the hard keyboard, the DROID 2 also supports Swype, a very cool (and fast) way to type on a soft keyboard where, instead of typing keys consecutively, you simply drag your fingers to the letters that you’re trying to type. There’s a little bit of a learning curve (in terms of learning how to punctuate and do double-letters), but once you get over that initial hump, I think the average person can get to a faster speed with Swype than they can just pecking at keys. In my mind, the DROID 2 wins hands down on typing.
    2. Exchange support – If you want a smartphone that can function as a work device, you need to support Exchange and you need to support it well. Both the iPhone and Android claim support for Microsoft Exchange with push synchronization. While I have some quibbles with the iPhone’s mail interface, there’s no denying that the iPhone’s Exchange support is seamless and fast. I have never had to think about it. And, on occasion, the iPhone would even notify me of emails before my computer received them! The DROID 2, on the other hand, is a different story. While the Exchange sync works most of the time, there have already been two occasions where the sync was broken and the device would think that a message I had already read was a new message. The sync is also significantly slower – requiring me to wait (sometimes up to 10 minutes) before an email that has already showed up on the iPhone and the desktop shows up through the DROID 2’s sync feature. I don’t know if this is because Motorola/Google introduced some intermediate layer in between the Exchange and the phone, but the iPhone 4 wins hands down on Exchange support.
    3. Google integration – I use a ton of Google services (Gmail, Google Calendar, Picasa, Google Reader, Google Voice, Google Maps, etc.) so integration with Google services is a key criteria when picking a phone. While the iPhone has an excellent interface to Google Maps (which puts the Android’s standard maps interface to shame in terms of smoothness and speed), its inability to do very much beyond basic synchronization with Gmail and Google Calendar and only webapp access to Google Voice makes its integration with Google on par with the Blackberry’s. On the other hand, is it  any surprise that Google services integration works best on a phone which runs a Google operating system? You can make calls using Google Voice as if it weren’t even there. You can easily apply and remove labels on and search through your Gmail seamlessly (without the semi-awkward IMAP interface). You can even access your personal online search history through Google Maps and Google Search. DROID 2 wins this one by a wide margin.
    4. image Attachment file format support – its not enough to be able to access email, a good work device should be able to handle the PDFs, Powerpoints, Word documents, and images that are likely embedded. Motorola had a stroke of genius by preloading the Quick Office application onto each DROID 2. But, while this app does a very good job of opening files, it not being integrated into the DROID 2’s email applications gives it a disadvantage compared to the iPhone’s in-line and integrated attachment viewer. Combine this with the DROID 2’s inexplicable inability to open certain image types in email and there is a distinct, albeit slight, advantage on file format support for the iPhone 4.
    5. Customization – I’m very particular about how I use my devices. As a result, I want to be able to customize the heck out of something. While the iPhone gives you some basic customization options (i.e., do you want to hear a sound when a new email comes in?), it doesn’t give you much beyond that (i.e., what sound do you want to hear when a new email comes in? would you only like to hear a sound if its gmail rather than exchange? would you like to hear a different sound for gmail and exchange?) On the other hand, the DROID 2 provides remarkable customization capability. Granted, some of the choices can be difficult to find, but the ability to customize so many things (including the ability to embed live, functional widgets on your home screen and not just functionless shortcuts) and to install apps like Tasker which let you customize even deeper is a big differentiator for the Android platform.
    6. UI responsiveness/slickness – Smartphones are expensive. They consume a lot of battery power. So when a device feels sluggish, I can get annoyed. The iPhone is, simply put, amazingly slick. No choppiness when you scroll or swipe. Great responsiveness. No odd user interface defects. While Google’s Android has made remarkable strides since its earliest incarnation, it still doesn’t come close to matching Apple’s user interface polish – the most shameful example of which, in my opinion, is the Android Google Maps’ sluggish multitouch support when compared to Apple’s. Come on guys, ITS YOUR OWN APP!
    7. Notifications – I don’t know a single person who likes the iPhone’s primitive notification system. Its overly intrusive. It can only display one particular message at a time. And, there’s no way for someone to get the history of all their recent notifications. And, as a Blackberry user who used to rely on a small LED indicator to unobtrusively inform him when something new happened, the iPhone’s lack of any way of notifying its owner that something has happened without activating the screen just strikes me as stupid. The DROID 2 is FAR ahead of Apple here.
    8. Network – I have mixed feelings here. On the one hand, I would  say that the call quality I’ve experienced on the DROID 2 has lagged what I experienced on the iPhone 4. Furthermore, my DROID 2 seems to have schizophrenic reception – I sometimes amuse myself by watching my signal indicator go from full bars to just one bar, all while sitting on my desk leaving the phone completely alone. The other side to this story, though, is that this experience quality has been primarily driven by an odd pocket of bad Verizon coverage in my girlfriend’s apartment – our calls from almost everywhere else have been very good. Also, despite my DROID 2’s signal indicator fluctuations, I have not yet observed any actual impact on my connection speed or call quality. When you combine this with the fact that my iPhone struggles to get signal where I work and in Napa (where I just came back from a wedding) but my DROID 2 had minimal issues, I have to say that DROID 2/Verizon beats out iPhone 4/AT&T.
      image
    9. Ability to turn off 3G – The two main things that burn out a smartphone’s battery are the display and the wireless connection. While its a pain to reach that particular menu item on the iPhone 4, Apple’s product does make it possible to turn off the 3G connection. Shockingly, despite all the customization, the DROID 2 does not provide this option. The iPhone 4 wins here.
    10. Turn-by-turn navigationThe DROID 2 has it. The iPhone doesn’t. And, believe me when I say this is: it is an AMAZING feature and completely displaces the need for a GPS device. I don’t drive places I’m unfamiliar with often enough for this to be higher in the priority list, but lets just say it saved my butt on my recent trip to Napa. DROID 2 wins here.
    11. Access to Bluetooth – In California, you cannot talk on a cell phone while driving without a Bluetooth headset. So, quick-and-easy access to Bluetooth settings is a feature of considerable importance to me. With the iPhone, the ability to turn Bluetooth on and off and change settings is buried beneath several layers of settings. The DROID 2’s pairing process is not only faster (although this is only by ~10-20 seconds), the ability to customize the home screen means I can embed widgets/links to quickly and easily toggle Bluetooth without diving through settings. DROID 2 wins here.
    12. image Chrome-to-Phone – DROID 2 has it. iPhone 4 doesn’t. This is a very cool browser extension which lets you send links, text messages, and maps to your phone straight from Chrome (or the Firefox clone of it). When I first heard about it, I wasn’t especially impressed, but its become a very useful tool which lets me send things which would be useful while on-the-go (especially directions). DROID 2 wins here.
    13. Absence of pre-loaded bloat – This is something where Apple’s philosophy of getting full control over the user experience pays off. The iPhone 4 does not come with any of the bloatware that we’ve come to see in new PCs. That means that the apps that run on my iPhone 4 are either well-designed Apple utilities or apps I have chosen to install. My DROID 2? Full of crapware which I neither want nor am I able to install. Thankfully, I’m able to remove them from my homescreen, but it annoys me that Verizon and Motorola have decided that preloading phones is a great way to generate additional revenue. The iPhone wins hands down here.
    14. Camera – To be perfectly honest, I hate both the DROID 2 and the iPhone 4’s cameras. With the iPhone 4, I find it pretty awkward to shoot a picture using the soft keyboard to both zoom in and out and take the shot. While the DROID 2 has obvious physical buttons to use for zoom and to take the shot, it has a lackluster flash and I found it more difficult to take steady pictures than I did with the iPhone 4. It also captures video at a lower resolution than the iPhone 4. In the end, though, I’d have to say that awkward use of the camera trumps bad flash photography and poorer video resolution: iPhone wins here.
    15. image Flash support – DROID 2 has it. iPhone doesn’t. This means no more stupid boxes on web pages which haven’t made the plunge into HTML5 video (because Firefox and IE don’t support it yet) or activating another application to watch YouTube videos. Does it burn battery? Yes. But its not like I’m watching it non-stop, and there are definitely some sites which you can’t visit without Flash. DROID 2 wins here.
    16. Voice control – Google recently unveiled its Voice Actions for Android application which allows you to perform all sorts of commands without ever typing a thing. While the Google search app on iPhone and apps like Siri have supported voice-based web searches, they don’t provide access to the wealth and depth of functions like email, text messaging (although, sadly, it does not yet seem to support Google Voice-based-SMS), calling up the map application, or controlling the music player that Google’s does. Granted, Google seems to still have issues understanding my girlfriend’s name is “Sophia” and not “Cynthia”, but the DROID 2’s voice-control functionality is way ahead of the iPhone 4’s and adds a lot of convenience when you are on-the-go.
    17. File management – Apple’s iTunes software works great as an MP3 player. I’m not so sure how I feel about it as the ultimate gateway to my mobile phone for pictures and applications. It also irks me that, because of iTunes, there is no obvious way to access or modify the directory structure on an iPhone 4. The DROID 2, however, looks and acts just like a USB drive when its connected to a computer. It even comes with a file manager app with which you can use to go through its file system innards from within the phone. If you are fine with the inability to specify your own organization structure or to use a phone as portable storage, then this is wash. But, if you value any of those things, then the DROID 2 has Apple’s iPhone 4 beat.
    18. Not proprietary hardware – You cannot remove/upgrade an iPhone’s internal storage. You cannot charge or sync with an iPhone without using its proprietary cable. This is great if you never want to upgrade your device’s storage capabilities, never want to slot its memory into another device, and never lose cables. But, if you ever want to do any of the first two or inadvertently do the last, then you’re better off with DROID 2.
    19. Display – One of the features I was most impressed with during the iPhone 4 announcement was the Retina Display: a screen with a resolution so high it was said to be at/near the limit of human detection. I can honestly say it works as advertised – the resolution on an iPhone screen is incredible. However, as I rarely use applications/websites where that resolution is actually necessary, its value to me is not that high (although the increased contrast is a nice touch). With that said, though, it is a nice (and very noticeable) touch and is definitely something where the iPhone 4 beats out the DROID 2.
    20. Device “feel” – The two devices have comparable screen sizes, but the DROID 2 has significantly greater thickness. The iPhone feels like a crafted piece of art. It feels metallic. Substantial. The DROID 2 feels like a thick piece of plastic. This doesn’t really impact the functioning of the device, but the iPhone 4 is definitely nicer to hold and look at and feels a lot sturdier.

    So where does that leave us? If you’re keeping score, I noted 12 things which (in my opinion) favor DROID 2 and 8 things which favor iPhone 4. As I mentioned before, which device you would prefer strongly depends on how you weight the different things mentioned here. If you value work-horse text entry, customization, and Google integration a lot (like I do), then the DROID 2 is probably the phone that you’ll want. If you value the Exchange/attachment support and UI slickness more, then the iPhone 4 is a better bet. And, there’s definitely room for disagreement here. If you think my assessment of Bluetooth support and notifications are off, then that could be ample reason to pick Apple.

Hopefully this was informative for any reader deciding what phone to get (even if they’re considering something which isn’t even on the list!). I’ll probably follow this post with a few thoughts on where I’d like to see the Apple and Google platforms go next – but until then, happy smartphone-ing!

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Published in Blog

33 Comments

  1. Just FYI, the iPhone can control the music player and phone via Voice Control.

  2. I googled a way of turning of 3G for your Droid 2. It’s not exactly elegant, but I figured you still might want to use it:

    1. From the app launcher, tap Phone.
    2. Dial *#*#INFO#*#*
    3. The phone will then go into Test Mode. Scroll down to the Set preferred network type setting and change it from CDMA auto (PRL) to CDMA only

    (http://www.technipages.com/droid-2-turn-off-3g.html)

  3. Ben Ben

    Cool, I didn’t know about that — the music player control is definitely impressive, but the phone controls pale in comparison to Android’s…

  4. Ben Ben

    It seems pretty shady and I’m worried repeated use of that will screw with my Verizon connection…

  5. I think the points you laid out are all perfect and well thought out, but the list is definitely biased towards Google app users (for obvious reasons). I just thought I’d make note of a couple other things that you didn’t mention which might even out the bias a little bit:

    – iTunes Music Store/App Store vs. Android Marketplace
    – MobileMe integration (in addition to 3. Google integration)
    – Jailbreaking the iPhone (in addition to 5. Customization)
    – Firefox Home iOS app (in addition to 12. Chrome-to-Phone) – http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/mobile/home/
    – Speed comparisons (boot up & shut down time / webpage loading)
    – 3rd party accessories

    *I’m not saying all (or even any) of these will push the iPhone over the Droid 2, but rather just make the comparison more complete.

  6. I’ve played around with some of my first gen iPhone’s “Field Test Mode” settings back in the day (http://www.tuaw.com/2007/07/12/more-secret-ipho…) and it was really pretty harmless. I believe that’s what the “Test Mode” (above) is. But to be honest, I probably wouldn’t try it on your Droid 2 either.

  7. Ben Ben

    Haha, I originally had a point #21 covering a lot of this (and how I don’t think they’re that big a deal), so I’ll just do this point-by-point:

    – app store comparison: Apple’s App Store has more apps and developers of “simple” apps like games/viewer apps (like Netflix or SalesForce) target Apple first — but I think most of the differential is not significant — all the main apps have moved over to Android or will soon move over (think like the post I made before on platform issues: http://www.benjamintseng.com/2010/05/platform-perils/)

    – MobileMe integration — fair, but MobileMe is not that impressive imho
    – Jailbreaking — breaks your warranty and Apple just patented technology which allows them to go after jailbreakers… so its not really that great of an option
    – Firefox Home app is a definite pro-Apple move, and I’m surprised Google hasn’t followed with something similar
    – Speed comparison: I didn’t notice any big difference in boot-up or shut down speed; and I found that webpage loading is more a product of reception/signal than OS/CPU speed (but if you want that benchmark: http://www.engadget.com/2010/07/07/froyo-versus-ios-4-the-browser-showdown-video/)
    – 3rd party accessories are better on the iPhone, no doubt

    In totality, these additional features lean towards Apple, but not by much imho…

  8. […] written a long treatise on how the DROID 2 and iPhone 4 stack up against one another, I thought it would be good to add […]

  9. Zoso75 Zoso75

    Great information here. Thanks for taking the time to compare in such detail. My Droid 2 is on order and will arrive tomorrow!

  10. Ben Ben

    Glad you found it useful. Enjoy your Droid 2!

  11. […] dawned on me recently. I have a great smartphone. I have a long commute and have gotten pretty sick of the repetitive nature of most radio stations. […]

  12. Sarah Sarah

    thank you! I’m trying to figure out if I should get the Droid 2 or wait for Verizon to get the iPhone. Droid it is!

  13. A Kinghorn88 A Kinghorn88

    I have the droid right now!!! Im on the internet typin with it and I looooovvvvveeee this phone its fast has a keyboard and I can put sick things??? ¶€£¢¥√Π÷×{}•|`~°^_=[]><¶©®™™™™™™™™„…®©

  14. Dhm794 Dhm794

    Actually on the Droid 2, when you connect to WiFi, 3G automatically goes off. You can also turn on “Airplane mode” which will turn off 3G (but also all other connections).

  15. Dhm794 Dhm794

    Also thanks for the article, it was really informative.

  16. Another option would be to download a toggle widget to put on your homescreen… Turn on/off 3G with just a tap. A little more elegant.

  17. Finneyf Finneyf

    Great evaluation. Thanks

  18. Sfri53 Sfri53

    Please compare battery life. I just bought the droid 2 and amazed how fast it drops. I have 13 days left to decide. Thoughts?

  19. Ben Ben

    The battery life of the iPhone is definitely better than the DROID2. There’s no doubt about it — but at the cost of multitasking and flexibility. I think if you’re doing a lot of things frequently which drain your battery (you need to use the GPS constantly, you are gaming very frequently), you’ll feel that battery hit more than I do (my smartphone is by my side all day but I only use it when I’m looking for a restaurant, a way home, or reading/playing a game for a few minutes while waiting for something). With that said, just by following a few simple rules (i.e. lowering the brightness, using the power management features, not leaving the GPS on, using WiFi where its available but turning it off where its not, etc), I’m able to get pretty decent battery life — and when I was in Asia and had to rely on my iPhone exclusively, the iPhone’s battery life was definitely longer than my DROID’s, but I think we’re talking like 10-20%, not like 30%+.

    I’m clearly a DROID fan, but I think the iPhone is a good device and there are plenty of reasons to pick one or the other. Hope this helps.

  20. AC AC

    I am currently and have been a verizon customer for years and the the iphone 4 comes out for verizon users in just a few days. I have had a Blackberry storm (the first one) since it came out about two years ago and as time has gone on especially in the last few months I have become extremely frustrated with it. Keep in mind it has been replaced but still has the same problems with lagging and slow loading. I don’t use my phone for a whole lot outside texting, talking and internet but I would like to use it more for other things like music. Your article was extremely helpful to me as I have been considering which phone to get between these two in the next couple days since I’m due for an upgrade. One issue I’m concerned with is the durability of the phones. I have friends who have dropped iphones and the screen shatters leading me to believe they are not as sturdy or durable. I was wondering your take on this. Any suggestions or comments will be very much appreciated.

  21. There are a gazillion types of Android phones, versus one iPhone. It’s a textbook example of “comparing apples to oranges”! by ejhayes76 February 8, …

  22. kd kd

    very helpful review, I’m debating whether I should get the Android 2 or iPhone on Verizon, I’m leaning towards the droid 2 and this helps with my decision

  23. Ben Ben

    Truthfully, I haven’t noticed much of a difference in terms of durability — although given that the Motorola device is thicker, it’s probably a little bit more durable, but probably not by much (and will have different structural vulnerabilities like with the pull-out keyboard or the pull-out battery)

  24. Sunny Sunny

    Very Nice article. I’m an early adopter of Iphone, and I have recently switched to Verizon, for the purpose of better reception on the new iphone. However, having read this article, i’m going to go in to the verizon store tomorrow and have a look at both. I actually think i’m leaning toward the droid 2, but i do have a lot of money invested in iphone apps, which will become useless now. I’ve got quite a dilemna…. sigh.

  25. Afarleylv Afarleylv

    thanks so much for the comparisons. you had me at the star wars graphic, but i am very happy you had really in depth information.

    i’m new to smartphones and have a probably stupid question…can i put my itunes music on the droid 2?

  26. […] someone like me with four separate devices (a personal laptop, a work laptop, a DROID2 smartphone, and a tablet), this becomes a little more interesting as synching between all four can be a pain, […]

  27. Cdpar5in2 Cdpar5in2

    So what did you buy? And how do you like it?

    I have a contract expiring with ATT and have the iphone 3GS. I am sick of dropped calls. However, I do not think it is the network bc prior to getting the iphone I never dropped calls on ATT. Then again, that was right when the iphone popularity zoomed, so maybe it is the network.

    I have been thinking about either trying the Droid on ATT or going to a verizon iphone. What do you think?

  28. Cdpar5in2 Cdpar5in2

    So like my reply to Sunny above—I am not sure what to do.

    I have a contract
    expiring with ATT and have the iphone 3GS. I am sick of dropped calls.
    However, I do not think it is the network because prior to getting the iphone
    I never dropped calls on ATT. Then again, that was right when the
    iphone popularity zoomed, so maybe it is the network.

    I have been thinking about either trying the Droid on ATT, waiting for the iphone 5 and praying they improve the antenaee or going to a verizon iphone. What do you think?

  29. […] Motorola Xoom, became available for sale, I bought the device, partly because of my “Fandroid” love for Android devices but mostly because, as a Tech enthusiast, I felt like I needed to own a tablet just to […]

  30. […] much has changed in the year and a half since I wrote that first epic post comparing my DROID2 with an iPhone 4 – for starters, my iPhone 4 now runs the new iOS 5 operating system and my DROID2 now […]

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