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A “Fandroid” Forced to Use an iPhone 4 for Two Weeks

I recently came back from a great two week trip to China and Japan. Because I needed an international phone plan/data access, I ended up giving up my beloved DROID2 (which lacks international roaming/data) for two weeks and using the iPhone 4 my company had given me.

Because 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 runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread — I thought I would revisit the comparison, having had over a year to use both devices in various capacities.

Long story short: I still prefer my DROID2 (although to a lesser extent than before).

So, what were my big observations after using the iPhone 4 for two weeks and then switching back to my DROID2?

  • Apple continues to blow me away with how good they are at
    • UI slickness: There’s no way around it – with the possible exception of the 4.0 revision of Android Ice Cream Sandwich (which I now have and love on my Motorola Xoom!) – no Android operating system comes close to the iPhone/iPad’s remarkable user interface smoothness. iOS animations are perfectly fluid. Responsiveness is great. Stability is excellent (while rare, my DROID2 does force restart every now and then — my iPhone has only crashed a handful of times). It’s a very well-oiled machine and free of the frustrations I’ve had at times when I. just. wished. that. darn. app. would. scroll. smoothly.
    • Battery life: I was at or near zero battery at the end of every day when I was in Asia – so even the iPhone needs improvement in that category. But, there’s no doubt in my mind that my DROID2 would have given out earlier. I don’t know what it is about iOS which enables them to consistently deliver such impressive battery life, but I did notice a later onset of “battery anxiety” during the day while using the iPhone than I would have on my DROID2.
  • Apple’s soft keyboard is good – very good — but nothing beats a physical keyboard plus SwiftKey. Not having my beloved Android phone meant I had to learn how to use the iPhone soft keyboard to get around – and I have to say, much to my chagrin, I actually got the hang of it. Its amazingly responsive and has a good handle on what words to autocorrect, what to leave alone, and even on learning what words were just strange jargon/names but still legitimate. Even back in the US on my DROID2, I find myself trying to use the soft keyboard a lot more than I used to (and discovering, sadly, that its not as good as the iPhone’s). However:
    • You just can’t type as long as you can on a hard physical keyboard.
    • Every now and then the iPhone makes a stupid autocorrection and it’s a little awkward to override it (having to hit that tiny “x”).
    • The last time I did the iPhone/DROID comparison, I talked about how amazing Swype was. While I still think it’s a great product, I’ve now graduated to SwiftKey(see video below) not only because I have met and love the CEO Jonathan Reynolds but because of its uncanny ability to compose my emails/messages for me. It learns from your typing history and from your blog/Facebook/Gmail/Twitter and inputs it into an amazing text prediction engine which not only predicts what words you are trying to type but also the next word after that! I have literally written emails where half of my words have been predicted by SwiftKey.

       

  • Notifications in iOS are terrible.
    • A huge issue for me: there is no notification light on an iPhone. That means the only way for me to know if something new has happened is if I hear the tone that the phone makes when I get a new notification (which I don’t always because its in my pocket or because – you know – something else in life is happening at that moment) or if I happen to be looking at the screen at the moment the notifications shows up (same problem). This means that I have to repeatedly check the phone throughout the day which can be a little obnoxious when you’re with people/doing something else and just want to know if an email/text message has come in.
    • What was very surprising to me was that despite having the opportunity to learn (and dare I say, copy) from what Android and WebOS  had done, Apple chose quite possibly the weakest approach possible. Not only are the notifications not visible from the home screen – requiring me to swipe downward from the top to see if anything’s there — its impossible to dismiss notifications one at a time, really hard (or maybe I just have fat fingers?) to hit the clear button which dismisses blocks of them at a time, even after I hit clear, I’m not sure why some of the notifications don’t disappear, and it is surprisingly easy to accidentally hit a notification when you don’t intend to (which will force you into a new application — which wouldn’t be a big deal if iOS had a cross-application back button… which it doesn’t). Maybe this is just someone who’s too used to the Android way of doing things, but while this is way better than the old “in your face” iOS notifications, I found myself very frustrated here.
  • selectionCursor positioning feels a more natural on Android. I didn’t realize this would bug me until after using the iPhone for a few days. The setup: until Android’s Gingerbread update, highlighting text and moving the caret (where your next letter comes out when you type) was terrible on Android. It was something I didn’t realize in my initial comparison and something I came to envy about iOS: the magnifying glass that pops up when you want to move your cursor and the simple drag-and-drop highlighting of text. Thankfully with the Gingerbread update, Android completely closes that gap (see image on the right) and improves upon it. Unlike with iOS, I don’t need to long-hold on the screen to enter some eery parallel universe with a magnified view – in Android, you just click once, drag the arrow to where you want the cursor to be, and you’re good to go.
  • No widgets in iOS. There are no widgets in iOS. I can see the iOS fans thinking: “big deal, who cares? they’re ugly and slow down the system!” Fair points — so why do I care? I care because widgets let me quickly turn on or off WiFi/Bluetooth/GPS from the homescreen in Android, but in iOS, I would be forced to go through a bunch of menus. It means, on Android, I can see my next few calendar events, but in iOS, I would need to go into the calendar app. It means, on Android I can quickly create a new Evernote note and see my last few notes from the home screen, but in iOS, I would need to open the app. It means that on Android I can see what the weather will be like from the homescreen, but in iOS, I would need to turn on the weather app to see the weather. It means that on Android, I can quickly glance at a number of homescreens to see what’s going on in Google Voice (my text messages), Google Reader, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, but on iOS, I need to open each of those apps separately. In short, I care about widgets because they are convenient and save me time.
  • Apps play together more nicely with Android. Android and iOS have a fundamentally different philosophy on how apps should behave with one another. Considering most of the main iOS apps are also on Android, what do I mean by this? Well, Android has two features which iOS does not have: a cross-application back button and a cross-application “intent” system. What this means is that apps are meant to push information/content to each other in Android:
    • android-sharing-500x500If I want to “share” something, any app of mine that mediates that sharing – whether its email, Facebook, Twitter, Path, Tumblr, etc – its all fair game (see image on the right). On iOS, I can only share things through services that the app I’m in currently supports. Want to post something to Tumblr or Facebook or over email in an app that only supports Twitter? Tough luck in iOS. Want to edit a photo/document in an app that isn’t supported by the app you’re in? Again, tough luck in iOS. With the exception of things like web links (where Apple has apps meant to handle them), you can only use the apps/services which are sanctioned by the app developer. In Android, apps are supposed to talk with one another, and Google goes the extra mile to make sure all apps that can handle an “action” are available for the user to choose from.
    • In iOS, navigating between different screens/features is usually done by a descriptive back button in the upper-left of the interface. This works exactly like the Android back button does with one exception. These iOS back buttons only work within an application. There’s no way to jump between applications. Granted, there’s less of a need in iOS since there’s less cross-app communication (see previous bullet point), but when you throw in the ability of iOS5’s new notification system to take you into a new application altogether and when you’re in a situation where you want to use another service, the back button becomes quite handy.
  • And, of course,  deluge of the he-said-she-said that I observed:
    • Free turn-by-turn navigation on Android is AWESOME and makes the purchase of the phone worth it on its own (mainly because my driving becomes 100x worse when I’m lost). Not having that in iOS was a pain, although thankfully, because I spent most of my time in Asia on foot, in a cab, or on public transit, it was not as big of a pain.
    • Google integration (Google Voice, Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Maps) is far better on Android — if you make as heavy use of Google services as I do, this becomes a big deal very quickly.
    • Chrome to Phone is awesome – being able to send links/pictures/locations from computer to phone is amazingly useful. I only wish someone made a simple Phone-to-Chrome capability where I could send information from my phone/tablet to a computer just as easily.
    • Adobe Flash performance is, for the record, not great and for many sites its simply a gateway for advertisements. But, its helpful to have to be able to open up terrible websites (especially those of restaurants) — and in Japan, many a restaurant had an annoying Flash website which my iPhone could not open.
    • Because of the growing popularity of Android, app availability between the two platforms is pretty equal for the biggest apps (with just a few noteworthy exceptions like Flipboard). To be fair, many of the Android ports are done haphazardly – leading to a more disappointing experience – but the flip side of this is that the more open nature of Android also means its the only platform where you can use some pretty interesting services like AirDroid (easy-over-Wifi way of syncing and managing your device), Google Listen (Google Reader-linked over-the-air podcast manager), BitTorrent Remote (use your phone to remote login to your computer’s BitTorrent client), etc.
    • I love that I can connect my Android phone to a PC and it will show up like a USB drive. iPhone? Not so much (which forced me to transfer my photos over Dropbox instead).
    • My ability to use the Android Market website to install apps over the air to any of my Android devices has made discovering and installing new apps much more convenient.
    • The iOS mail client (1) doesn’t let you collapse/expand folders and (2) doesn’t let you control which folders to sync to what extents/at what intervals, but the Android Exchange client does. For someone who has as many folders as I do (one of which is a Getting Things Done-esque “TODO” folder), that’s a HUGE plus in terms of ease of use.

To be completely fair – I don’t have the iPhone 4S (so I haven’t played with Siri), I haven’t really used iCloud at all, and the advantages in UI quality and battery life are a big deal. So unlike some of the extremists out there who can’t understand why someone would pick iOS/Android, I can see the appeal of “the other side.” But after using the iPhone 4 for two weeks and after seeing some of the improvements in my Xoom from Ice Cream Sandwich, I can safely say that unless the iPhone 5 (or whatever comes after the 4S) brings with it a huge change, I will be buying another Android device next. If anything, I’ve noticed that with each generation of Android, Android devices further closes the gap on the main advantages that iOS has (smoothness, stability, app selection/quality), while continuing to embrace the philosophy and innovations that keep me hooked.

(Image Credit – Android text selection: Android.com) (Image Credit – Android sharing: talkandroid.com)

Published in Blog

  • David Chu

    Thanks for the write-up, Ben. I was very much torn between the Galaxy Nexus and the iPhone 4S. I ended up going iPhone 4S for five reasons: 

    – UI smoothness. Having coming from older versions of iOS, even ICS felt a little bit clunky when I was playing with Anthony’s phone.
    – Battery life. iPhone 4s battery life is NOT great but web-buzz was that Galaxy’s and android 4G phones’ generally were significantly worse. Wandering around San Francisco w/ Anthony’s Nexus after it couldn’t hold a charge through the day was not fun).
    – Camera. Sounds stupid, but the iPhone’s camera is good enough that I don’t feel the least bit compelled to carry around my crappy point-and-shoot when I go out. I wouldn’t buy another camera unless it was an SLR.- Apps. From a friend of mine who works in tech and has background in mobile games, most cross-platform apps are built for iOS first then ported. There were a lot of Android-only apps that sounded intriguing, but not enough to sway me.- Size. More a direct phone to phone comparison than iOS/android. The screen on the Nexus was gorgeous, but the flipside of that was it was a lot of phone to carry around.I do expect to go Android next time around, just because I think it’s only a matter of time before Android catches up to the UI smoothness of iOS and battery life is bound to improve. Widgets are not a big deal to me, but the superior Google integration was very clear while playing with the Galaxy Nexus. I do wish I had a greater degree of customizability and it is rather annoying having certain elements of the phone that’re pre-installed and unremovable.

    On the topic of Siri, it’s a cool little toy and quite useful for the basic Apple functions (namely calenders and alarms), but I’m a little annoyed it doesn’t communicate with other apps (something you reference above). For example I do have a free app which does give me turn-by-turn navigation, which is awesome, but if I ask for directions through Siri, it’ll only use the iPhone’s default navigation app. And I can find local songs easily, but I can’t tell it to find a particular song through Spotify. I’m hoping Google opens things up for developers when they launch Majel in the near future.

  • Beautifully written and very unbiased.

  • Ben

    Thanks, I appreciate the compliment

  • Muero

    All of your post seems fair, except the part about copying pictures to a computer. With an iPhone, it shows up to the desktop OS as a camera, so any camera-compatible program (like Picasa, iPhoto, or Windows’ built-in photo importing)can import/delete photos just like if a camera were plugged in.

    On Android, it shows everything on the device as removable storage. Everything. Including app data. Which includes lots of images that no one would ever want to import. So to import pictures from my Galaxy S II, I have to figure out which USB mode it wants (debugging? MTP? USB mass storage?), browse around the file system to find my pictures (which can be in various folders depending on which camera app(s) you use), copy them to the correct folder on my computer, and then delete the photos from the device.

    What takes zero knowledge and 1 minute on an iPhone takes 5 minutes and lots of computer/Android knowledge on my Galaxy S II.

  • Ben

    Fair point — and something I was unaware of (I had previously asked an iPhone-using friend if there was any way to get my pictures off of the device — he said only iTunes so I blame him :-D) — when I get a chance I’ll update the post to include your note here

  • Ben

    You already bought your device (and, for the record, I think you bought a good phone and probably made the right choice for you), so I’m not trying to convince you but just to quickly respond

    – UI/battery: completely agree
    – Camera: I have shaky hands and a terrible eye — so I not only care less about the camera comparison, I can’t really tell the difference 🙂
    – Apps: You’d be surprised how this balance is shifting and how the gap between releases/functionality is closing; that and just the three apps alone that I mentioned above make the Android worth it for me
    – Widgets: Once you go widgets, you’ll never go back…
    – Size: fair point 🙂

  • RawrSean

    I think you should look into jailbreaking your iPhone, and read about SBSettings, which you can get after jailbreaking. It’ll solve all of your widget issues.

  • By far, its the best iOS vs android comparisons i have read so far

  • Ben

    Thank you for the kind words!

  • Ben

    Thanks for the recommendation — two reactions:
    1. I think it says something that you have to jailbreak (and hence potentially break the warranty on your device) to access this capability — whereas this is “out of the box” on Android (also I’m not pitching a comparison with a rooted, Cyanogenmod-running, hack-timized Android phone)

    2. The features are mainly simple toggles for settings — that solves a huge pain point, for sure, but it doesn’t hit the features that the social media/Evernote/email/calendar widgets offer

  • Tim Cheng

    Funny, I just got the Galaxy Nexus and the first thing I noticed was that the battery life was WAY better than my old Samsung Captivate. I can definitely get through a day and believe me, I play with this thing a lot in the hospital. 

  • Ben

    Real reason: Anthony’s is downloading porn all the time — hurts the battery life… 🙂

  • RawrSean

    Oh, I understand your point. By the way, jailbreaking iOS devices does not endanger your warranties in any way, a simple restore/update removes any and all traces.

  • Anonymous

    I would agree that SBSettings isn’t a replacement for widgets. Also, Bluetooth on the 4S uses a lot less battery than it does for me on other phones, including a 3GS. Whether that’s due to Bluetooth 4.0 or not I don’t know.

    It does however exemplify Apple’s strategy here; you shouldn’t *have* to be switching toggles for the best battery life. I say this because my friends seem to be turning all sorts on and off. I only use SBSettings to turn off WiFi when my iPhone autoconnects to a broken hotspot at University.

    As for breaking your hardware warranty; it doesn’t. You can *always* restore to stock firmware from a standard jailbreak too.

  • Now I have to get on here an defend myself. Definitely not my fault the battery was drained…spent the afternoon letting Ben play with ICS =P

    @google-ff588b30eedf6f9243c316a50075d381:disqus Now that I’m on a more normal usage cycle I can’t make it pretty much 2 days on a single charge, but I typically charge it at night when I get home. A review on Anandtech also shows that the GSM version of the Nexus has even better battery life. So if one were to stay away from 4G the battery life isn’t an issue at all. The main drain on the Nexus is powering the enormous (but gorgeous) screen.

    I’m really happy with the phone so far, but I’m sure the iPhone 4S is treating you perfectly well too.

  • I think I go for iPhone 4S than Android. Not because I’m an Apple geek, but because to me it’s the best smartphone in the world today. It already has all the features a user needs. Only my opinion.

  • wow your information is cool and informative.

  • David Chu

    I have to admit at times I have a tinge of buyer’s remorse, but I made my choice and I’m generally happy with it. I’m sure I’d feel the same way if I picked up the Galaxy Nexus. I’m hoping by the time I’m next up for a new phone, the slight UI annoyances from Android are essentially moot.

    Also on topic of jailbreaking (below), I think I’ll likely do that and see what happens.

  • I’ve stopped connecting my HTC Hero via USB, it’s far easier to let the Google+ app upload the photos for you automatically, or a similar app, I also use UbuntuOne app to upload my photos too.

    Also as for photos, at least with the camera, the photos are in the same place as most digital cameras, a folder call DCIM, which most photo apps (e.g Gthumb or Picasa) pick up and import from 🙂

  • Can’t you set the iPhone to ‘forget’ the wifi connection like you can in Android’s wireless settings?

  • Please, at least back your opinion, why is it “the best smartphone in the world today”?

  • Anonymous

    You can tell it to forget a connection.

    The hotspots at my university all appear identical to the iPhone. There is one or two rooms where the connection doesn’t work. It’s easier to turn off WiFi when in one of these rooms than to forget the connection and re set it up, proxy and all, later.

    Which reminds me of a major problem with Android and proxies. I have a friend who can’t use the University WiFi because Android doesn’t have proxy settings. To use a proxy a specific browser is needed which doesn’t let any other app use the connection.

    On iOS the proxy configuration is part of the specific connection settings. It’s better than Windows 7 in that regard too, which proxy settings aren’t connection specific

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  • Anonymous

    It isn’t that likely that Android will catch up to Apple’s UI smoothness very soon.

    An Ex-Googler posted on this topic on Google +. I looked it up again, and he made some changes, but still worth a read:
    https://plus.google.com/100838276097451809262/posts/VDkV9XaJRGS

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  • nawzhoon

    dears
    the best way of solving those big problems between iphone and gallaxy [buying both of them ] now Ihave both and my mind is in rest , because both of them are great
    with my big respect .

  • Sunjay140

    Android wins.

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