iPhone 4 vs. Android: Observations

OK, so here’s the deal: a while back, I wrote a non-review on the Motorola Droid. Since that time, the Droid died after allegedly getting into a fight with a washing machine. I was able to get a Droid X to replace it, and while I was going to write a non-review of that one, too, timing struck like lightning, and a miracle occurred: the Verizon iPhone 4 announcement. As luck would have it, I would have an opportunity to trade in my Droid X for an iPhone.

Out of curiosity, I took the plunge.

iPhone 4 vs. Droid X
If you read my Twitter stream over the past few weeks, you’d think I hate the iPhone. While it’s true that there are a lot of things I don’t like, there are actually a lot of things I really, really like. The following is a list of things I like and dislike about the iPhone, when compared to my previous experience with the Droid. If you want a quick synopsis, here it is: both are great. The iPhone has better apps, but Android has more functionality. Anyone asking me for a recommendation would get a long list of questions about needs before I’d make one.

Anyway, so here we go. Note that these aren’t listed in any particular order.

 

Annoyances

  1. No way of modifying the snooze time on the alarm: I woke up this morning multiple times before I realized there was no way of doing this.
  2. No home-screen widgets available: This is especially annoying when it comes to the included weather app, which includes an icon that says it’s 73-degrees outside. It’s annoying because once I thought that was actually the temperature (it’s FL, so 73-degrees in February isn’t exactly odd), so I dressed appropriately. Then I stepped out, and quickly turned around: it was actually 45-degrees. Brrr! A weather widget with the right temperature on the home screen would have prevented that, and would be rather useful. I want it.
  3. Jailbreaking is a necessity: I see now why people feel the need to jailbreak their iPhones. By comparison, I never once felt the need to root my Droid. Ever. People jailbreak to use the phone to what is expected of a device this powerful (like a fraking widget). People root in order to gain access to low level functions that most users would never event think of wanting. That’s the difference.
  4. Cost: The CDMA iPhone is $100 more than the GSM iPhone, and $100 more expensive than comparable Android or WP7 phones.
  5. Safari: I hate it. It wastes screen space and it won’t reformat a page in such a way to make it readable on the phone. Sorry, but the retina display shouldn’t be used to help decrease font sizes. The Android web browser is far, far, far superior. Safari is the Internet Explorer (5 through 8, take your pick) of cell phones.
  6. Speech-to-text: A feature I used all the time, speech-to-text was my savior during long drives when I needed to tweet something out, or when I wanted to call someone and couldn’t look at the screen, or when I just didn’t want to deal with a keyboard. In iOS, this is missing. Sure, I can download a Google app that would allow this type of search, but I’ve yet to find a free solution which allows me to turn speech into text for SMS messages.
  7. Inability to tweet/Facebook pics directly when viewed: In Android, you can open a picture and immediately, while viewing it, upload it to Twitter or Facebook. Not the case in iOS, which allows you only to MMS or email the image. Want to tweet it? Go to your Twitter app, start a message, and from there select the image you want to tweet. Same with Facebook. So much for uploading on the fly. This makes putting pics up in social media sites a rather cumbersome process. (h/t to Kamigoroshi for pointing this out.)
  8. (EDIT 3/14, Pi Day!) Using your own songs as ring tones is a chore: In Android it was easy to make a song into a ring tone. Long-press on the song and select “Make ring tone.” Of course, you could also go into the settings and do the same thing. On the iPhone you have two choices for doing this: you can either buy the ring tone for $.99 or make the ring tone yourself by following some needlessly convoluted procedure. Really, this is utter crap, and the kind of thing that will push me away from a platform, quickly. iOS may be generally more user friendly (and certainly more eye-pleasing) than Android, but Google’s mobile OS is certainly more consumer friendly than Apple’s.
  9. (EDIT 3/14) The war against the long-press: This may just be a me-thing, but I expect that if I hold my finger to something long enough on the screen, a menu should pop up, if it makes sense for a menu to be there. Apple seems to have a hatred of this, so this kind of menu is not available anywhere, making for some rather unintuitive, ways to doing things, like leaving a screen and returning to another screen. A great example is adding songs to playlists: there is no easy way of doing it from the song itself, so you can’t just say, “Oh, this song is great for my ‘writing’ playlist, let me add it,” then click a button and have it added. You have to exit out of the song’s screen, go to the Playlist menu, select the play list, click Edit, click the Add button, find the song, then click the small Add button on the song. Talk about a mood killer.
  10. (EDIT 3/14) Dropped calls: OK, so the “grip of death” doesn’t present on this version of the iPhone as it does on the AT&T version, but reception problems remain, and dropped calls are more frequent.
  11. Full-screen pop-ups: Every time there is some sort of action or message, such as a text, a pop-up takes over the screen. I prefer Android’s method of just having a small info button on the task bar. Much more user friendly.

What I Miss

  1. My huge, honkin’ screen:I had a Motorola Droid. After that I had a Motorola Droid X. Both had larger screens than the iPhone. In fact, the Droid X had a 4.3-inch screen, which made it a dream to watch movies, look at pictures, and play games. The iPhone has a 3.5-inch screen. That doesn’t sound like much until you realize that, when looking at the thing, one feels like a cramped phone while the other feels like a small tablet. In fact, my Droid X had become my favorite web browsing method. That hasn’t quite carried to my iPhone.If Verizon ever gets the Dell Streak I think I may have to grab it. A 5-inch screen? On a phone? It’s more likely than you think. And it looks SPECTACULAR. It also helps if you have big hands, so I realize this isn’t for everyone.Because of this, I joked with my wife that if I got tired of the iPhone, I would grab her Droid and she could have the iPhone. Her words: “From my cold, dead hands.”
  2. The Android web browser: I think it’s actually Chrome, but I’m not sure. In any case, I rather liked that browser. Of course, my preferred browser across my systems is Google’s Chrome. Safari, while having some nice options, feels cramped, with a lot of wasted space. Not much different than using IE, or stock Firefox. I’ll be looking for a new browser.
  3. Moving backgrounds (Live Wallpaper): Minor issue here, but I rather liked being able to select live wallpapers as my background on my Android phones. Someone recently compared to glitter trailers on a pointer in a Geocities page. I contend it’s more like having an extra tool at your disposal, since live wallpapers can be programmed to do things like track the phases of the moon, or change according to the time of day (a rather attractive effect) or, in my case, remind me of the greatest movie of all time (The Matrix, of course).Edit: I found a way to do live wallpaper, but it involves jailbreaking.
  4. Free navigation software: I used Google’s navigation software all the time. Unfortunately, it’s not available on the iPhone. If I want a comparable navigation package, I have to pay, either $.99 plus a subscription fee for some services or $35 for something like Garmin.
  5. No timestamps on texts: There are timestamps on calls. There are timestamps on emails. Why in the name of Woz is there not a timestamp on an SMS?! OK, so there are time stamps marking the beginning of conversations, which is useful, but given the format in which SMS’s are displayed in iOS, timestamps for each message could have been added. To be fair, I can see why they didn’t add them: if you’re looking for a specific conversation, then a timestamp for the conversation is far more useful than a timestamp for every item. Still, I would have liked them there.
  6. (EDIT 3/14) Options in how you do things: Apple has always been known for simplicity, and over the past decade a very strong move has been made toward minimalism. While this is good in a lot of ways, it also means that they provide you exactly one way to do things, imposing a sort of “one way or the highway” feel to their products. Don’t like it? Well, too bad. (Unless, of course, you jailbreak, thereby voiding your warranty and any Apple support.) At least on Android you were usually given three or four ways of doing things. This makes it hard because interfaces aren’t as unified, but makes it better because you work like you feel most comfortable.

What I Like

  1. Apps. Wait, let me say that again. APPS!: From what I’ve seen, pretty much the only reason to own an iPhone is to have access to its app market. Without its superiority in app availability, the iPhone becomes nothing but a piece of pretty, but ultimately boring and borderline annoying tech. Acquiring apps was the first thing I did when I got the phone. Also, with the improvements to the Android market, I’m not sure the Apple market really has that great advantage it once had. I can’t help but wonder how Palm (WebOS) and Microsoft (WP7) will stack up.
  2. More visually appealing:This has always been one of the iPhone’s strongest suits. Too often, Android looks like Windows 3.1 reincarnate. iPhone apps, on the other hand, tend to look like someone sweat over the placement of every pixel. This has a lot to do with the framework upon which the app was built, and Apple’s framework is pretty tight, due to the simple fact that they only really need to support a very limited number of screen sizes.Not everything is great with the framework, though: a lot of apps don’t go horizontal on iOS. On the other hand, I can’t remember an app on Android that DIDN’T do horizontal. This bespeaks of something within the framework itself, something I see as a flaw. If I’m wrong about this, someone please correct me.
  3. Uninstalling apps: In Android, if you want to uninstall an app you have to go to Settings > Applications > Manage Applications, then select the application and click the Delete button from the application’s information screen. In iOS you long-press on an icon, then click on the X that appears above the application to delete it. In Android I used to be afraid to add too many apps because I didn’t want to have to deal with the uninstallation process. In iOS it’s as easy as it gets.
  4. Better touchscreen: The touchscreen sensitivity on the iPhone is better than any I’ve seen on Android. That’s because Apple holds a patent on the hardware-driven touchscreen, meaning Android screens can only be software-based. The problem with this is especially evident in the keyboard and in gaming, but really only when compared side-to-side. Most people wouldn’t, right off the bat, really notice in most cases.
  5. Better software keyboard:My original Droid had a hardware keyboard. Eventually, this became stiff and useless, which is why I switched phones. On my Droid X, I had a software keyboard, something I wasn’t crazy about at first, but which I quickly got used to. Luckily, between then and now the stock Android keyboard improved dramatically. Eighteen months ago it was all but useless, which is why I demanded a hardware keyboard. Now it’s pretty good, if you have enough real estate for your fingers to do their thing. The iPhone’s keyboard, while smaller, has proven far more accurate than Android’s, due in large part to the better touch screen. What really gets me is that iOS auto-correct is also smarter.On a side note, the Droid X had this weird bug where symbols would automatically be tacked to the end of a word. For example, instead of letting me type:
    She said “Hi”. By the way, I’m putting in $10.
    The phone would auto-correct to:
    She said” Hi”. By the way, im putting in$ 10.
    This was the single biggest annoyance about the Droid X for me. The keyboard was one of the main reasons I switched to the iPhone. To be fair, the inclusion of Swype on the Droid X was compelling enough that I almost stayed with that, instead.
  6. Better call quality: Multiple times I’ve been told by people that my voice sounds a lot clearer now than it did before. Seems the iPhone provides better call quality than either the Droid or Droid X. As for receiving, the call quality is the same, although when putting the phone on speakerphone mode, the Droid and Droid X had a slight edge.
  7. Better battery management: This one’s pretty much a universal complaint with Android, but I’ll air it out here, too. With the iPhone’s battery I’m not generally worried about running out of juice half way through my day. Unfortunately, with Android this was a common problem. Maybe, especially in the case of Droid X, it had to do with that huge screen I so dearly loved. (The problem was far more pronounced there.) Or maybe there’s something else, I don’t know. While I tried to curb my battery usage on Android by minimizing things like GPS, wifi, and bluetooth, the fact is that on some days it would run out of battery before the end of the business day. With iPhone I’ve only run out of battery once, during a heavy use day when I was also taking lots of pics.
  8. Camera software: I’m not talking about overall picture quality here, I’m talking about the software itself. The iPhone’s picture software is FAR faster than Android’s. While on Android I might have to wait a second or two for a picture to snap after I had clicked the “Take Picture” button, on Android it’s almost as quick as my digital camera. (By the way, I’m looking for a good, cheap one. Any recommendations?)
  9. Switching between calls: In Android I was almost always hanging up calls if more than one came in. The Droid X included a better interface than the Droid, but I was always hesitant to answer calls. On the iPhone I’ve yet to hang up a call accidentally. To me, this alone is a selling point.

What I’m Still Unsure About

  1. Media: I rather like iTunes, so having access to my library again is pretty awesome. Of course, with the recent improvements to DoubleTwist, this point becomes almost moot, except it serves to remind me that Apple’s overall infrastructure, while sound, attractive, and beautiful in many ways, serves equally well as a pair of golden handcuffs. If I ever switch back to Android, DoubleTwist will be my media savior. (Edit 3/14: Actually I’m pretty sure this one’s about to move to “dislike” territory. I’m not liking the way iTunes works. Seems clunky: too many menus, not enough options.)

Conclusion

So, will I switch back to Android or will I stick with the iPhone when my renewal comes up in a few months? It’s hard to say at this point. Edit 3/14: I’m pretty sure I will switch to Android. Apple’s oppressive thumb is getting to me, and I don’t want to have to break the rules in order to use a product I bought in the way I best see fit. In fact, more than a month after using the iPhone, I’m still feeling like this:

Fracking iPhones... How do they WORK?!
That’s something I definitely don’t like. But that’s just a me-thing, as in “me used to Android” and “me no want to jailbreak to fix Apples mistakes.”
We’ll see if this changes over the next few months, though. End Edit.

I can see why people love their iPhones. I can also appreciate why people love their Android phones. But to be honest, I’ve yet to see anything in the iPhone which would hook me into keeping it. In fact, if anyone asks, here’s my recommendation: Get an Android phone with a hotspot feature and get a iPod Touch. There, now you have the best of both worlds. Of course, if you only want to tote one device around, then either one is fine, although I may have to give the edge to the iPhone just because of the iOS App market. Edit 3/14: Of course, if you value flexibility of any sort, it’s Android all the way.

In all this, one thing’s for sure: using the iPhone has gotten me excited about trying out WP7. It if really is a good balance between the strengths of the iPhone and Android, it may be the perfect phone. Of course, the same can be said for WebOS.

So now, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong.

Edit 3/14: By the way, if anyone’s looking for a Verizon iPhone 4, I’m willing to part with mine if you can offer a good price or trade.