Nov 17, 2012

My Switch From iPhone to Android

I purchased my first smartphone about 4 years ago, it was an Apple iPhone 3GS. I turned into the “there’s an app for that” guy and spent weeks finding the best apps for everything I wanted to accomplish with my phone. Before long I learned about jailbreaking and, of course, had to give it a shot. This opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the iPhone, giving features that would not be supported by Apple until 2-3 generations later, or in some cases never at all. This isn’t a post about jailbreaking, so I won’t go into detail, but multi-tasking, copy & paste, and the notification center were just a few critical features that were available well before Apple rolled them into iOS.

When iPhone 4 was released I refused to buy one until it was possible to jailbreak it. The same thing happened with the release of the 4s. While many Apple fans waited in line, I sat online scouring jailbreak websites waiting for a compatible jailbreak to become available.

I was happy with my jailbroken iPhone 4s, but started seeing more and more phones around with much larger screens. The iPhone 5 was going to be the answer to the small screen problem, but when it was officially announced, I took one look at the new specs and two days later bought myself a Samsung Galaxy S3.

The following are my comparisons between some of the major functions on Android vs. iPhone.

Note: My phone is rooted and I am running the first stable release of CyanogenMod CM10. This ROM is based on Jelly Bean 4.1.2, while the Galaxy S3 is still shipping with a version of Ice Cream Sandwich. None of the features I talk about require rooting your phone, but they may be specific to the version of JB that I am running. Keep that in mind while reading this post.

Installing Apps

Without apps, what good is your brand new phone? One of the biggest annoyances on my iPhone was the fact that the App Store closed each and every time you installed a new app. The jailbreak community addressed this issue with a tweak which allowed it to stay open, but the fact remains that this default behavior makes it tedious to install multiple apps in a row from your phone. The other option was to browse for apps in iTunes on your computer and sync your phone later.

The Play Store on Android is a much nicer experience in my opinion. One of the greatest features is the ability to browse the Play Store on the web, click a button and have the app immediately start downloading and installing to your phone. No need to install any additional software, no need to connect via USB. I cannot tell you how many times I read a review of a great new app for iPhone and had to take my phone out, launch the App Store, search for the app and install. I know it sounds trivial, but the ability to install apps on the fly right from my browser is something that I can no longer live without.

Removing Apps

Here is another area where Android trounces Apple. Have you ever purchased an app and realized within the first 30 seconds that it is something you will never use? If this happened to you on your iPhone you just flushed your precious $0.99 down the drain because you aren’t getting your money back. Google has come up with an ingenious solution to this problem. You will be issued a full refund on any app that is uninstalled within 15 minutes of purchase, no questions asked. No need to request your money back or plead your case, simply uninstall and the refund is issued.

Choosing Default Applications

Freedom of ChoiceOne of the first apps I installed on my G3S was Google Chrome. Later on, while browsing my email, I clicked on a link and was pleasantly surprised by what happened next. Instead of cramming the default browser down your throat like Apple loves to do with Safari, Android gives you a choice from all of the browsers installed on your phone. After making your selection, you must choose whether you want this choice to apply “just once” or “always”. If you choose always and change your mind later, you have the ability to clear your default apps any time you want.

Choosing default apps is not limited to clicking links. You can choose your default for SMS, chat, email, camera, image browser, navigation, etc… The OS can even detect links that are pointing to forums and allow you to open them in an appropriate app such as Tapatalk.

Hardware Buttons


The iPhone has a power button, Volume up/down, Ring/Silent Switch and a Home Button. The Galaxy S3 lacks the Ring/Silent switch, but adds back-lit menu and back buttons flanking the home button. When the backlight turns off, they are virtually invisible.

It is amazing how useful a dedicated back button can be and how quickly I got used to using it. I found myself pushing this area of the screen on a friends iPhone after only owning the Galaxy for a week. While browsing the web it functions just as you expect a back button would, but it can be far more useful than that. If you clicked a link from Facebook or your Email and are now browsing in Chrome, the back button will return you to the application that you were using previously. In contrast, the iPhone home button always returns you to the home screen unless you jailbreak and install Appslide which makes the home button function more like the Android back button.

App Integration

Apple made a huge deal out of the integration of Facebook and Twitter in the most recent iOS releases. On android, most apps have a share menu that allows you to choose from any app installed on your phone with sharing capabilities. If I’m viewing photos in my gallery I can very easily email them, post to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, WordPress, send in a text, etc.

Keyboard Options

Don’t like the default keyboard on Android? Head over to the Play Store and take your pick from dozens of custom keyboards. Swype is my personal favorite, but Swiftkey is great for people who prefer tapping. I can type faster with one thumb in my Galaxy than I could on my iPhone with two fingers, thanks to Swype. I did have a version of Swype running on my jailbroken for for a brief period of time, but it did not work nearly as well as the official Android version.

Customization

When we start to talk about customization is when Android really starts to pull ahead of Apple.

The iPhone home screen or springboard implementation hasn’t changed much at all over the last few years. Each home screen consists of rows and columns of app icons, or folders. You are limited to 4 columns and 4 rows plus the dock which remains stationary as you swipe between pages. The iPhone 5, with its taller screen, added a 5th row. 4 columns has always felt very confining to me and one of my many reasons for jailbreaking was the ability to expand this to 5.

On Android the application that controls your home screens is called the launcher and unlike Apple’s purely icon based experience, the launcher is comprised of home screens and the app drawer. Home screens can be set up to mimic iOS, or you can populate them with widgets. A widgets function can range from a simple clock and weather display to fully scroll-able calendar and to-do lists. There are media control widgets, widgets for quick access to system settings or status display. The possibilities are pretty much endless when it comes to widgets.

There are many third party launches available in the Play Store. The ability to choose the number of rows and columns is built in to all of the good launchers and 6 columns feels just about right to me on the larger screen of the Galaxy. It seems like Android is more about choice. Some people may be happy with the stock launcher, but for those who aren’t there are dozens of alternatives to choose from.

I personally use Nova Launcher Prime and feel that it offers all of the features I could possibly want. First and most importantly, it allows for custom grid size. Next up, it allows re-sizing of all widgets, even those not normally re-sizable. Nova also allows for “infinite scrolling”, which will wrap your last home screen back around to the first with another swipe, scrolling dock, landscape view, your choice of animation style and speed for page and app transitions. The list goes on…

The other half of the launcher is the app drawer. The app drawer is a list of all apps available on your system. Most launchers display this as a simple alphabetical list. Once you begin to amass a large number of apps, this list can become very long and tedious to scroll through. Nova Launcher allows you to add folders, tabs and completely hide apps that you don’t typically launch directly. Good luck hiding the default iOS apps on your iPhone.

Expandable Memory

The 16GB iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S3 both cost $199. Want 32GB in your iPhone and it will cost you an extra $100, for 64GB you will need to shell out another $100 beyond that. The Galaxy has a MicroSD slot and memory is very cheap right now. I picked up a 32GB card for less than $30. 64GB cards can be found for around $60, bringing the total capacity of the S3 up to 80GB for $140 less than the 64GB iPhone model.

Everyone knows that the only reason that Apple will never include a memory slot is to get more money out of their customers, but nobody seems to care. I read somewhere that Apple pays around $0.40 per GB of memory. The prices have obviously come down significantly over the years, but Apple continues to stick with the $100 incremental price increase for each upgraded memory option. This is one thing that always drove me crazy about my iPhone and I refused to buy anything but the lowest capacity model available.

I understand that Apple is not the only company guilty of this practice, but that fact doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

Replaceable Battery

At the rate that new model phones are being released, keeping a device long enough for the battery to begin to fail is not a problem most users will be faced with. But in the event that you do need to change your battery, on the Galaxy it’s just a matter of popping the back cover off and swapping it out. This also opens up the possibility of higher capacity batteries (at the expense of additional size and weight) for those users who need it. Some people also opt for a 2nd battery and external charger.

Standard USB Interface

Say goodbye to spending way too much money on proprietary Apply charging cables. The Galaxy S3 includes a standard Micro USB port. Plug the phone into your computer and it will be recognized as a storage device with no special software required. This allows for easy file transfers to and from the phone.

The other major advantage of the USB port is the availability of cheap ($10) Micro USB to HDMI adapters for people who want to display the contents of their phones on an HDTV. The only currently available HDMI adapter that is compatible with the iPhone 5′s new “lightning” connector will cost you $50. Want an adapter to make your new phone work with the old 30 pin iPhone connectors? That one will run you another $30 and the reviews are pretty terrible, with many people claiming the adapter is too short to plug in with a case on the phone and incompatible with some car audio systems.

This brings me to one of the few downsides I can think of on my Android. I just bought a new car with an iPhone/iPod compatible usb port and it does not function with the S3. My partial solution was to transfer my music to an old USB memory stick and just leave it in the car, but I was really hoping for the ability to use Slacker Radio or Pandora with full controls through my car radio.

The Downsides of Switching

Not everything about the switch to Android was perfect. App selection is improving rapidly on Android, but some of my iPhone favorites were missing and finding equivalents proved challenging for some apps. Then there was the expense of re-purchasing some apps that I had already paid for on iPhone.

The big screen of the Galaxy is amazing, but it’s almost too big. For someone with smaller hands than mine, I could see the screen size as a big usability issue.

Losing iMessage was a little inconvenient since I have a lot of friends with iPhones. Time-stamped read receipts were nice to have, but regular text messaging works almost as well.

Less consistent interface compared to iPhone. Apple scrutinizes every single app that is allowed in the app store and has very strict rules for app submissions. Their goal is to ensure that all apps provide the users with at consistent user experience. Android apps seem to be a bit more varied and you are more likely to run into poorly coded apps resulting in high memory use, crashes and battery drain.

Conclusion & Recommendations

As you can see, I have quite a bit more positive things to say about Android than negative. I am by no means trying to say that the iPhone 5 is not a great phone. The hardware is great and iOS 6 is a solid, stable OS that would make most people happy. But after the initial transition period was over and I got things configured to my liking on my S3, there was just no turning back. For someone who likes to experiment and tweak, Android is the way to go, no questions asked. A stock iOS device will give you the least amount of flexibility. Jailbroken iOS devices are roughly equal to a stock Android device. And finally, a rooted Android device gives the most freedom, but takes the most technical know-how to truly get the most out of and I understand that this type of experience is not for everyone.

If you are considering buying a smartphone and are contemplating either an iPhone or an Android, I have one simple question to help determine which is right for you. What is your primary web browser?

If you answered, “I don’t know, whatever came with my computer”, you are probably going to be happier with an iPhone. If you answered, “Google Chrome on the Developers Channel”, I would steer you towards an Android device.

This was by no means intended to be a comprehensive comparison between iOS and Android, just the observations of a long time iPhone user who recently made the switch to Android. If I missed anything or got anything wrong, feel free to set the record straight in the comments.

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