Culture

Choosing Your Next Phone: Androids and iPhones, Ranked

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Looking for a new phone? Now that Apple has released their latest iPhones, we’re in a good position to compare the options between Android and iPhones. As noted in an earlier column, Androids and iPhones are more alike than ever. That makes it even more difficult to choose. But choose we must, and this follow-up column is intended to help.

We carry our smartphone everywhere. Most of us can’t live without one. They do so much, well beyond making calls. They truly are the ultimate pocket computer. So, making a choice is not easy with so many features to compare and so many options to select from. Still, it’s hard to go wrong because there are many good choices.

Smartphones have become one of our most expensive personal purchases. They’re fragile and expensive to fix. Their batteries deteriorate, losing a third of their capacity over the first two or three years.

So how do you choose between an iPhone and Android? There are strong advocates on both sides, but let’s take an objective look at each platform:

Cost

Android phones offer a wider range of price points from $250 phones from Motorola to the top of the line phones from Samsung, Google, and LG.  With iPhones there’s only one provider.

Yet even the most expensive Android models are cheaper than the new iPhone X by hundreds of dollars. Apple has even raised the price of their iPhone 8 and 8 Plus over their very similar iPhone 7 and 7. And unlike some of the Android phones that come with one size memory and accept add-in memory cards, Apple charges $150 more for models with 256GB memory. An add-in 256GB memory card for an Android phone costs about $30.

Ease of Use

Android phones are more complex to use than iPhones, a result of being more customizable and having more options, from arranging your apps on the display to monitoring battery consumption over time. iPhones are easier to use because they’re designed to work best using their own set of apps, sometimes called “Apple’s walled garden.” Apple provides you with what you need, but offers less customization. For example, you can only use Apple Maps to look up directions from within Apple apps.

But Apple is moving in a direction of added complexity as they eliminate the home button on the X, relying instead on cryptic swipes. That’s where Android’s back button is a benefit, correcting a mistake.

Compatibility

Android phones are more difficult to keep up to date with the latest operating software improvements. You’re dependent on the carrier, and they often take months and sometimes skip some models entirely. Apple does a much better job at giving all of their customers the latest updates quickly and at the same time. One advantage of the Google Pixel cameras is that Google upgrades them directly.

If you use a Windows computer or Android tablet, Android phones offer a slight benefit, just as Apple computer and iPad users have a better experience with an iPhone. The devices are easier to sync and play nice with each other, particularly when you need to exchange and sync data between the different devices.

Privacy

Apple does a better job of protecting privacy. Their new software releases prevent you from being tracked across devices. Their business model is to make a larger profit from the hardware and not to monetize your personal information. Of course, some of that is lost when you use Google apps on an iPhone.

Voice Queries and Search

Android does a better job with voice queries and commands. Google Assistant is much more effective than Siri, which inexplicably has fallen way behind.

Battery Life

Many Android phones offer better battery life because they tend to have larger batteries, often with 50 percent more capacity than their iPhone counterparts. Apple has stubbornly refused to improve this highly requested feature, preferring to shave a millimeter or two of the phone’s thickness.

Support

When it comes to support it’s hard to beat Apple, especially if you’re near one of their stores. Repairs and help are far ahead of the Android phone manufacturers, and there’s often no need to send the phone away. Apple will often swap out a phone on the spot. And their phone support is superb as well. This might be reason enough to choose an iPhone.

Freedom to Switch Carriers

iPhones and most Motorola phones work on all four major cell networks, making it easy to switch carriers using the same phone. (iPhones need to be unlocked by the carrier; Motorola phones come unlocked). Samsung and other phones often are tailored to work primarily on one network, dictated by the carriers to make it more difficult for us to switch.

Hardware Design

iPhones now have some of the fastest processors, although the benefits are not always realized in your day to day experiences. Most of our waiting is due to network connections. As to fragility, the best phones are getting worse in this area. Not only do you need to worry about screen breakage, but the breakage of the glass backs as well. The exception is ironically some of the Motorola phones that have a break resistant screen, and the Samsung Galaxy S8 Active from AT&T.

Cameras

The best Android phones and iPhones have cameras that are all excellent and fairly comparable. Each maker continues to add new features that add icing to the cake, but the differences are minor.

Form Factor

The trend is for phones to fit into one of three basic sizes: normal, large, and narrow-large. Normal is the iPhone 8, large is the iPhone 8 Plus and Samsung Note 8, and narrow-large is the new iPhone X and Samsung S8. The best for most needs is the narrow-large size that provides the largest possible screen that easily fits into one hand. The trend is for the displays to go edge to edge with small bezels top and bottom to provide more screen, making the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus look archaic.

Displays

The displays on all top of the line phones are excellent, but the LED displays on the iPhones 8 and 8 Plus lag behind the OLED displays found on the best Samsung models, iPhone X and LG models. It makes a big difference if you do a lot of reading on your phone.

Audio

Most of the phones provide mediocre audio quality because they play mediocre, low-resolution streaming. The one exception is the LG V30 that incorporates a high-quality audio circuit that makes your stored audio files nearly as good as a stand-alone hi-res audio player.

The iPhones no longer provide an audio jack, a big inconvenience if you use a wired headset. Samsung and LG were smart enough not to follow Apple here. Google and a few others were not as smart.

Making Phone Calls

All models do a good job with call quality, either talking into the phone or using it as a speakerphone. The biggest impact is still your cellular connection.

What are the best phone choices?

Based on scores of reviews and my experience and analysis of a large number of models, here is my ranking. Based on what’s important to you, your choices may vary.

Android Phones

Best
Samsung S8
Samsung Note 8
LG V30
Google Pixel 2

Very Good
Essential
HTC U11
Motorola Z2

iPhones

Best
iPhone X

Very Good
iPhone 8
iPhone 8 Plus
iPhone 7
iPhone 7 Plus