If you’re buying a new smartphone today, chances are very good that it will run one of two operating systems: Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS. Both smartphone operating systems are excellent. They have commonalities, but there are some differences to consider when deciding which phone fits your lifestyle.
Apple devices have always been pricey, but the release of the iPhone X takes things to a whole new level– a $1,000 level. More affordable Apple options exist, with the iPhone XR starting at $750 and the older iPhone 8 at $600. The 2-year-old iPhone 7 at $450 is as cheap as iPhones come without turning to the second-hand market.
Android’s price points vary more than iPhone’s. Google’s Pixel 3 XL and Samsung’s Galaxy Note line almost match Apple’s iPhone pricing. However, there’s a large choice of good, low-cost phones from a wide variety of different manufacturers. The platform has been deliberately optimized to run on low-end hardware. The Galaxy S10 starts at $250, and the Galaxy Note 8 starts at $450.
Android offers about 2.7 million apps, while iOS has about 2.2 million apps But, numbers aren’t the best metric because most of us only use a handful of apps and the most popular ones are available on both platforms. Traditionally, new apps appear on iOS first, but that is changing as Android’s market share continues to grow.
The Google Play Store still has a higher percentage of free apps than the App Store, making it a better choice for the budget-conscious shopper.
Apple’s App Store provides a better browsing experience on your phone and does a better job with curated recommendations. The Play Store is easier to search and you can queue and install apps from the web browser on your PC or laptop.
On iPhones, you can buy apps using your fingerprint via Touch ID, but you can set up the same thing for the Play Store on Android phones with fingerprint sensors. At the Play Store you can refund your purchased apps within two hours of purchase.
Overall, Apple built the App Store to be consumer-friendly and easy to navigate.
As the newer navigation system, Apple Maps did not have a great start, but it has improved significantly. Key features are similar, you can download maps for offline use, get accurate estimates based on current traffic conditions, and find turn-by-turn directions for driving or walking. You’ll also find public transit and ride-booking integration.
One thing that Google Maps offers that Apple Maps doesn’t is cycling directions. Overall, the scale and quality of Google Maps is hard to beat. It has more points of interest and it is generally more detailed than Apple Maps, but the accuracy can vary from place to place. Google Maps is downloadable on iOS, but on Android, it’s the default navigation app.
Battery life and charging
It’s difficult to compare the two platforms because there’s no common hardware.
Both Android and iOS allow you to see your battery usage at a glance, broken down by app, but only Android shows an estimate of how much battery life you have left. They both offer power-saving modes that can extend your battery life by limiting performance, connectivity, screen brightness, and other power-sapping features, but precisely how it works is generally more customizable on Android.
For a long time, Android had an advantage in the charging department, because many Android phones offered fast-charging capabilities and wireless charging. However, Apple’s iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and iPhone X adopted wireless charging and fast charging, and all the newer iPhones support both. It’s worth noting you have to buy the fast-charging adapter separately for your iPhone, whereas it’s usually provided in the box with an Android phone.
Comparing similarly priced Android phones with iPhones, Androids tend to have longer battery life and they always have fast chargers included in the box.
Apple’s iOS offers consistent and timely software updates and security patches. If you want the same experience on Android, then you must buy one of Google’s Pixel phones. Almost 90% of all iOS devices are now running the latest version. By contrast, only around 10% of Android devices are running the latest Android 9.0 Pie. If you want the latest features, bug fixes, and security updates, then you should choose iOS.
This has always been one of Android’s main strengths. It’s very easy to customize your phone — you can set up the layout you want on your home screen, add widgets and shortcuts, and even change your entire user interface with launchers.
You can set backgrounds in iOS and there’s limited support for widgets, but you don’t have anything like the same level of freedom. Android also allows you to set up third-party apps as your default options for many things that are still locked down in iOS. If you enjoy tinkering, or you want a truly unique, personalized look for your home screen, then Android is the platform for you.
Both platforms offer a good range of accessibility features.
If you’re looking for a device for an elderly relative or a technophobe then you’ll find some specialist offerings on Android, but they tend to scale down what’s possible. Manufacturers like Samsung also include options like “Easy mode” which make the interface bigger and simplify the whole experience, or you can opt for a third-party app to do the same. There are lots of good apps aimed at the elderly on Android and iOS.
iOS is simpler and easier to use in some important ways. It’s uniform across all iOS devices, whereas Android is slightly different on devices from different manufacturers. iOS is less cluttered and more streamlined than most Android phones, although Google’s stock Android is every bit as elegant and accessible.
Calls and messaging
Basic calling and messaging functionality is good on both platforms, but it can be confusing on Android. Android Messages, previously called Google Messenger, is the default texting app. To make matters worse, you’ll find many manufacturers like to offer their own alternatives. Many Android phones come with their own messaging and dialer apps in addition to Google’s messaging apps, or they eliminate the Google apps.
FaceTime and iMessage come pre-installed on every iPhone and iPad, so it’s remarkably easy to connect with your friends and family. You’ll find third-party app integration, fun stickers, GIFs, and much more in iMessage.
While iMessage is very easy to use, it works best when communicating with other iPhone users. You usually can’t use iMessage on Android because Apple uses a special end-to-end encryption system in iMessage that secures the messages from the device they’re sent on, through Apple’s servers, to the device receiving them. This makes texts from iMessage received by Androids randomly broken into multiple texts that don’t come it in the right order.
In the past, Apple does the best job capturing lighting, coloring, and other details, but the latest Android smartphones are casting a lot of doubt on that assertion. Google’s Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL boast the best cameras we’ve used so far, but the iPhone XS and XS Max come close.
While most of the current crop of Android flagships sport good, or sometimes great, cameras, there’s a fair bit of variance and the camera quality of many mid-range devices doesn’t come close to the quality of iPhone cameras. As you’d expect, most budget Android phones have lower-quality cameras. The top Android phones, particularly the Google Pixel 3, offer the best smartphone camera experience around.
There’s more variation on Android simply because manufacturers tend to add their own camera apps with lots of features, some good, some a bit gimmicky.
If you use the Photos app in Android, then you can automatically back up all your photos and videos. There’s no doubt that Google Photos is the best option because it offers unlimited free storage, provided you don’t mind the 16-megapixel limit for images and the 1080p resolution limit for video.
You can back up photos and videos at the original resolution with iCloud or Google Photos, but you only get 5GB of free space with iCloud, compared to 15GB with Google. You can also back up unlimited photos and videos in full resolution with Google Photos if you own a Google-branded Pixel phone.
This category is complicated by the fact that the default on iOS is iCloud, but you can also use Google’s Photos on iOS. However, since most people go with the default option, Android gets the win.
Apple is still lacking when it comes to cloud storage and automatic backups. Google offers 15GB for free and has cross-platform support. You only get 5GB with iCloud, and it only works with Windows, Mac, and iOS.
If you need a lot of additional space, Google Drive used to be the cheapest at $2 per month for 100GB ($24 for the year), but Apple dropped its prices to match. Apple charges $1 per month for 50GB or $4 per month for 200GB. Apple’s price for 1TB jumps up to $10 per month, whereas Google will give you 2TB for that price.
Android’s cloud storage is easier to use and more effective than iCloud. You can also use Google Drive on an iPhone, whereas iCloud is iOS only.
You can do many of the same things with Apple’s Siri as you can with Google Assistant, but Siri is more like a straightforward helper for setting calendar appointments, searching the web, or making calls. However, Google Assistant has an extra layer. It can preemptively offer useful suggestions, and it has a more conversational side that offers up entertaining games and contextual information based on what you’re doing. It’s smarter and more versatile than Siri.
The addition of Siri Shortcuts in iOS 12, which allows you to set up voice commands to trigger groups of automated tasks, is a big step in the right direction and Siri is also beginning to make more suggestions based on your iPhone usage. For now, however, Google Assistant can do more and seems to be improving at a much faster rate.
On Android, most people will never encounter a malware problem because they don’t go outside the Play Store for apps. Specific manufacturers like Samsung have taken extra efforts to beef up security for the enterprise market. But the slovenly nature of updates on many Android devices can seriously delay important security patches.
Speedy updates are now more important than ever because security breaches are becoming more serious. Android is behind in the update world, unless you have a stock Android device, so it’s less secure. Because millions of Android phones are still running software that’s years old, they can be vulnerable to serious hacks like Heartbleed and Stagefright.
Apple is already firmly entrenched in corporate America and has also worked on improved security for general consumers, most notably with Touch ID and FaceID in the iPhone X and later. The tight oversight that Apple has on apps and the ability to push updates out to more devices, more quickly, gives it a definitive edge over Android. The company also encrypts data in iMessage and its other apps.
Meanwhile, Android encrypts some data, but your privacy is less protected. Google mines your data for information that it can use to sell better ads and market products to you. Your data is also stored and read to provide you with a better A.I. experience.
Google claims it’s committed to fully protect user privacy and still provides the A.I. services it offers, but some security experts and Apple argue that Google presents a false choice between A.I. and privacy.
Rooting, bootloaders, and jailbreaking
If you want root access and complete control over your device, then rooting is the way to get it. Rooting gives you access to more apps, the latest OS updates without waiting, new software skins to get the aesthetic you want, the chance to get rid of bloatware from carriers and manufacturers, potential tweaks to boost your device’s speed and battery life, and more.
Many Android OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) also offer a way to unlock the bootloader, which determines how the operating system loads up on your device. Apple is completely opposed to this kind of thing. Jailbreaking is an option for iOS, which lets you download and install apps from outside the App Store and bypass some other limitations.
Cases and accessories
Apple has built up a great ecosystem of peripherals for its phones and tablets. There are far more peripherals and cases aimed at the iPhone than any other device, but something like Samsung’s Galaxy S10 would be a close second.
On the other hand, Android devices have adopted the Micro USB or USB-C standard, whereas Apple insists on its proprietary Lightning cable, which means it’s much easier to find a charger if you’re not an iPhone owner. This often means you have to splash out on an overpriced Apple adapter. Peripheral manufacturers may still go after iOS as their main target, but it’s very rare to find something without Micro USB or USB-C support.
Another mark against Apple here relates to its abandonment of the standard 3.5mm audio port, which started with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. You did get an adapter in the box with a new iPhone for a while, but Apple no longer includes it, so you’ll have to buy the dongle separate.. The choice of headphones sporting 3.5mm audio jacks far exceeds those with Lightning connectors. Of course, now some Android phones are axing the headphone jack in favor of USB-C audio, so this may not be such a big difference for much longer.
It’s also important to note that Apple’s ecosystem of products all work together exceedingly well. The iPad, Apple Watch, MacBook, and HomeKit products all work together in perfect harmony. MacOS, WatchOS, and iOS are all well connected, making it easy to have all Apple products on the same page.
Since many different manufacturers produce Androids, product ecosystems vary. Samsung has a great ecosystem, for example, and Android phones have support from Home, Chromecast, and Android Wear. However, it’s not quite as seamless.
By 2020, most networks are switching over to 5G. That means in order to still use your phone when they do so you need one with 5G compatibility. No iPhones are currently 5G compatible, which means in one to two years you’ll need to buy an all-new device. However, some Androids are 5G compatible, including the Pixel 3, Samsung Galaxy S10, and Samsung Galaxy Note10.
There are many more differences to consider, including email, physical size, technical support, and warranties. In the end, Android won 10 categories while Apple won 7.
Apple phones make a good fit for people who are looking for security and good gaming. Androids better fit those who value battery life, communication, and customizability. Different categories are important to different people, so pay attention to the ones that count for you and make your decision based on that.