Is there any Android-based mobile phone that can compete with the iPhone?

Instead of presenting a certain technology or approach, my idea with this post is to get some discussion and feedback about iOS vs. Android.

Let me first start by saying it’s not meant as a pissing contest about which is best, or the ridiculous notion that there can be only one mobile OS to rule them all. I’m rather after your personal experience and perspective.

Me and iOS

The reason I want to talk about this is that I’ve personally gotten tired of iOS and some aspects surrounding it. However, I believe there are many upsides and positives about it too, so I want to hear about your views and takes on it. I’m about to buy a new mobile phone and I want to make the best thought-through decision I can.

Good parts about iPhone and iOS

Let’s take the iPhone first. It’s a beautiful and sleek device that, in my opinion, doesn’t have many shortcomings. Great responsiveness to touch, scrolling momentum, swipes etc. Sure, we can discuss the antenna thing or similar, but all devices have their flaws, bugs and not-so-good parts. With iOS, I’d say the advantages are:

  • Beautiful design.
  • Great UX.
  • Very good consistency between all apps.
  • Easy settings.

Bad parts about iPhone and iOS

There are some things that can drive me crazy about the iOS eco-system, and they are:

  • Apple’s total control over approved apps and what I can install on my device.
  • The completely annoying tie-in to iTunes, and as soon as I need to do anything major, I have to connect (with a cable!) to the computer I want an independent device!
  • I’m not allowed to do certain things, like sharing 3G connection as WiFi hotspot etc. I don’t want to Jailbreak just to get basic functionality.
  • Upgrades to iOS where older versions of the phone lacks new features, not for technical reasons, but just because Apple don’t want to give them to me.
  • Apple’s lack of openness in its processes.

Good parts about Android

Naturally, the upsides of Android are:

  • Open (one can always talk about Google and its strategies, but I’d claim it’s pretty open).
  • I can install any app I want, and also apps with behavior that would generally be banned by Apple for iOS.
  • Developers can create and share apps in any fashion they like to.
  • I can install any web browser I want to!

Bad parts about Android

Ands the bad parts, as far as I know, are:

  • Touch events, frame rates and general user experience not as smooth as on an iPhone.
  • Too much diversity in app user experience (someone called it the new Windows…).
  • All different mobile phone providers offer their own on-top user interface, which makes installs and upgrades different from device to device.

What are your thoughts?

Have I missed anything? Don’t you agree on something of the above? Is there any current, or upcoming, mobile phone based on Android that is, both hardware-wise and software-wise, as good as the iPhone?

Talk to me! :-)

Posted in Apple/Mac,Google,iPhone,Technology |

42 Comments

  • Johan Lasses says:

    I have been using the Google Dev phone 2 for a while. I can only agree with your comments, both good and bad.

    My old Android phone is not working super smoothly with the new Froyo version of Android. I guess you need the latest hardware for that. I really like how easy it is to dev/install/uninstall your own apps.

  • “Good Parts About iPhone And iOS” ? you missed the best part about iPhone and iOS — Mobile Safari. It’s by far the best mobile browser out there. To me, this is reason enough to prefer my iPhone over any other smartphone.

  • Nick Johnson says:

    One thing that is important to me is the network. Verizon owns the market where I live. And from most of my travels in North America I have had great coverage with Verizon where others on AT&T struggle. As of now I am holding out with Verizon, hoping for a Verizon iPhone, if that is the phone I go with ;).

  • Jacob Hamacher says:

    I love my Sony Ericsson X10 mini pro. Not because it is powered by Android, but because of the formfactor and the excellent keyboard.

    But I agree that Android and the apps lack the polish of iPhone. I often curse when I want to send a text message or make a call. It is too slow and unresponsive. When kind, I try to imagine the poor phone working hard. Maybe the network library is blocking a thread, or sqllite is busy trying to swap in pages of data… Something like that. But when my hands are freezing, I want to make the call now, not in five seconds.

    And don’t forget it is less than half the price of an iPhone. I can let my daughter play with it without being afraid of it getting broken.

    If there was a smaller an iOS device with the same formfactor as the X10 mini pro, I would buy that device.

    /jacob

  • Dominykas says:

    I just bought my first Android (Motorola Milestone 2) this week. In general, I agree with your points – and honestly, the worst part is exactly that network operators and OEMs are installing their, excuse the lack of better word, crap onto the phone.

    Another negative point about Android is the huge diversity of actual hardware, and when you combine that with the OS customization diversity you end up with a lot of buggy apps in the market and developers are simply unable to find and fix all the stability issues.
    e.g. Meridian music player crashed twice today. Four times yesterday. And I can’t use the default one, because Motorola replaced it with their garbage which doesn’t support last.fm scrobbling.

    On the other hand, I absolutely love it over Windows Mobile and I can’t use the iPhone because there’s no iTunes on Linux (no, I won’t bother with Wine).

  • Alexander says:

    I just bought a HTC Desire Z android phone last week, some of the pro’s over an iPhone you have not mentioned are:
    – Ability to use it as a wireless access point by default (or to tether the old fashion way)
    – Slide-open qwerty keyboard
    – Ability to add widgets to the different desktops/viewports
    – Full integration of google talk/facebook/twitter (it all ties in into your contacts)
    – More then one button (which is subjective I guess)

  • My girlfriend has an HTC Hero with Android, so my comment will only be about that phone since I hardly know other Android-compatible devices.

    My biggest annoyance with that phone is that upgrades to the firmware are only possible on a Windows machine. And since we don’t have Windows machines in the house, we always have to bring in laptops from outside or take the phone elsewhere to upgrade. Very 1990’s if you ask me.
    Other than that, it’s a pretty decent phone, but I notice that I find 9 out of 10 operations easier to do on my iPhone. Great UX is already on your list, but in my experience I find that point weighing much heavier than the shortcomings iOS has.

    Sure, not everything is possible on an iPhone and it lacks some features Android has, but its everyday use is far superior IMHO, thanks to that great UX. Using my iPhone can make me enthusiastic, whereas the Android feels like just a good phone.

    My 2 cents :)

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  • Rich says:

    Am keen to try an android device after I upgraded the OS on my iphone3 to iOS 4. It’s so freekin slow now, in certain situations completely unusable. If I hadn’t upgraded I’d still be a very happy iPhone owner with no complaints.

  • Good parts about Android:

    – totally independent device (no computer connection, never).
    – bluetooth/wifi tethering on custom & rooted OS.

    Bad parts about Android:

    – far less exciting applications than the Apple Store has;
    – no official firmware support tethering.
    – OS upgrades are almost non existent, or 6-months late if you’re lucky (except for the Nexus One).

    Android releases are first released by Google, then the manufacturer must release a version for their phones, and eventually the phone companies must ask the manufacturer to provide them with an upgrade. This process is too complicated. My HTC Magic for instance, was upgraded from 1.5 to 1.6, but never got updated after that.

    Hopefully most devices are rootable, which allows to install custom Android OS, like CyanogenMod. Except for the Nexus One by google which gets official updates from Google, and doesn’t need to be rooted to install a custom OS.

  • Carl Bergquist says:

    @Harmen Janssen You should be able to upgrade it from the phone itself. Atleast Im able to do so on my Htc Hero.

    Hardwave for iphone4 and htc desire is about the same?

    Andriod: Widgets, openness*, real multi threading, Can sync all my google calenders.
    IOS: appstore and browser.

    *Enrio(swedish app that only works in sweden(?)) have a small app that resolve unknown numbers when i receive calls from unknown numbers. Which I like ;)

  • Good question. I would like to think so but I am starting to seriously doubt it. Having not had personal day to day experience with any of the two I can not really comment on a user experience in terms of the device itself but, from a browser support perspective the iPhone is ahead.

    With that said, the Nexus S is looking promising but we will have to wait and see….

  • Chris says:

    Good part about android:
    – Cheap
    – Range of devices

    If you *love* your iPhone you don’t need to think one more minute about this. You’ll always prefer the iPhone (I’m an android-kind-of-guy).

    Chris

    Some phone fun

  • Marcus Ahnve says:

    I have a Nexus One running the latest Cyanogen ROM, works like a charm. Now, being a Linux guy, I don’t mind messing around a bit to get things to work the way I want it to, but I seriously spend less time doing that with this phone than I did with my iPhone.

    The thing with the Nexus is that you can do whatever you want with it, if you want to unlock the bootloader you can do that.

    My only problem with the N1 is that it became a kaleidoscope after hitting the floor a little too hard, so I am eagerly waiting for the Nexus S.

  • Yoav Weiss says:

    If you’re tired of iTunes, don’t buy a Samsung. Their “Kies” software recreates (poorly) the iTunes experience :) and it’s windows only… and it’s no good. It took me 3 nights and 2 different Windows machines to get it to recognize my device and upgrade it to Froyo.

    Other then that, the Samsung Galaxy S is a great device, but this can be a deal breaker. There’s always HTC.

  • Fredrik W says:

    You may want to check out the MIUI mod which combines the best parts of Android and the best parts of iOS. It’s still under heavy development with a new version released every friday, and major features released once a month.

    It’s currently being maintained by chinese devlopers, but there’s a very active english community over at miui-dev.com.

    It’s also been ported to multiple phones, including the Nexus One, HTC Desire, Motorola Droid (and Milestone) and EVO 4G (so I guess HTC Desire HD will be coming as well).

    The con is that you need to root your phone to install it (boo for locked firmware!). It is, however, a wonderful version of Android that improves the user experience significantly!

    Video of the newest version of MIUI in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XlBgnREyA0

  • Rob Belics says:

    Perhaps the problem is trying to look at the phones from a developer’s perspective. When it comes to phones, I’m probably an average user. I might have gotten an iPhone instead of DroidX but didn’t want to mess with ATT here in the USA.

    Working with Android, though, is like setting up Linux. I suspect iPhones are like working with a Mac. I may regret not waiting for the iPhone on Verizon come December.

    Before anyone comments, I’m a Linux and FreeBSD user and haven’t touched Windows in over 3 years.

  • I agree with your main assessments. But I’ll add a couple of points.

    iPhone is well on the way to “appifying” the Internet. Honestly, do we need a separate app for *everything* when a bookmark is simpler and weapps are so straightforward in HTML5?

    iTunes is the killer app for me – not meaning something I want but do not want! I like the freedom of doing what I need over the air. I’d prefer my phone never touch a cable. Palm did a good job of this as did Android.

    Java is a technology I do not want. WebOS 2 has done away with Java, when will Android realize it would be better without it.

    for all its shortcomings tho, the iPhone combination of sensible ecosystem and well designed hardware continues to be a winner. The ads in the US have most carriers giving away a second Android device if you buy the first. I think that’s one way to double your “sales” with little effort. People will put up with sub-par if it’s free.

  • Gavin says:

    Its hard to compare phones hardware-wise really as they are all released at different times and the way technology moves on these days, phones will always have better hardware than the rivals last device. So there are plenty of phones that compare, and in most cases exceed, the iPhone hardware-wise. The HTC Desire, Samsung Galaxy S for example, have better processors, more available memory, etc.

    Software is where I think Android can fail in some parts compared to iOS. While manufacturers and network operators continue to insist on modifying the UI, Android is going to suffer vs iOS. From disabled features and horrid colour changes to the framework, through to delayed os updates due to all these incompatible overlays. But the rest of Android that make up for that with the greater control and choice it gives you.

    Unfortunately I think the only way to get a true Android “software” experience is to either get a Nexus One, or Root and flash a custom rom. Which like Jailbreaking is something users shouldn’t have to do, but unfortunately until manufacturer’s/operators learn, its going to be the only way to really do it.

    The issues you mentioned with Android, are they your personal experience or things you’ve heard other complain about? Reason I ask is that I’ve been using Android (on a HTC Hero) for about 14 months now, 6 using SenseUI and then the rest using custom roms like VillainRom and I’ve not noticed any issues with touch events, multi-touch, etc… and the only issues I’ve ever had with frame rates are from the new Angry Birds app because it was built for devices with double the processor/memory my Hero has.

  • Both sucks. Windows Phone 7 is da best.

  • dror3go says:

    Don’t know what about you, but I’m patiently waiting for Nokia’s MeeGo based phone.

  • Adam Nybäck says:

    I switched from iPhone 3G to HTC Hero a year ago because Apple didn’t let me install my own apps on my phone (without paying Apple every year). Still think iPhone is superior for ordinary customers, but as a developer I prefer Android.

    I’m pretty sure my next phone will be the Samsung Nexus S. Worth waiting for…

  • There’s definitely good and bad about both iOS and Android and I agree with the other comment that if you want a pure Android experience, then you have to do the equivalent of jailbreaking, so I’m not sure what you gain by switching?

    My advice would be get an iPhone 4, jailbreak it and install Android as well :)

  • Lars Gunther says:

    You know me… I am very happy with my Nokia n900. However, it’s a year old model now, meaning it’s hardware has become a bit dated, so if I’d have to walk into a store today I might not have bought one.

    If Meego keeps improving like it is right now it will most probably power my next phone.

    The main strength being its is a “real” Linux phone, not some abstraction layer on top of a Linux kernel (Android, Bada, Pre) complete with a command line interface. And to me, being a Bash lover, CLI is the killer feature. Heck, I can even SSH into my phone and update it remotely. And it’s real computer, capable of over the air updates for everything, being based on Debian and all.

    As for open, Maemo/Meego is even more open than Android, both in source code and in project management – and the community commits patches upstream, unlike Google that even do not really contribute upstream, not even to Chromium!

    Nokia may not be a sexy brand right now, but they do have great engineers. The fact that they have not delivered any break through experiences since the n95 is a management problem. In their labs they have had basically everything that Android and iPhone has but management has not seen the potential. Kind of like Xerox developers who invented the GUI and OO-programming, only to be disregarded by “pointy haired bosses”.

    However, since Meego is opening up the process this might be an issue that can be alleviated. And Nokia do make excellent hardware. Rumour has it that they will launch phones soon with screen technology far better than AMOLED or the Retina display.

    So the question is, do you need a new phone for Christmas or are you prepared to wait 6 months?

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Thanks everyone for great comments and insights! I really appreciate it!

  • Jon says:

    I have had a bunch of smart phones and similar devices all the way back to early LCD-palms. In short:

    Go for Iphone if you want the best multitouch, hundreds of thousands of apps and you don’t care about technical specs or the cost (or someone else is paying…) and of course, if you’ve “seen the light” in Apple or Steve

    Go for n900 (and probably upcoming MeeGo Nokias) if you want the best *phone* functionality out there, want root access and don’t care to much about the apps (Maemo is far far behind here…)

    Go for WP7 if you want the best integration in windows and can live with the windowsy look and the sometimes strange behavior of windows software (almost always solvable but you need to be prepared to spend time on google, searching and fixing)

    Go for android if you want the best choices of hardware and otherwise want the jack-of-all-trades. Not best at anything. Not worst at anything.

  • Adrian says:

    I have a HTC Desire and love it.

    My wife has an iPhone and everytime I use it I find myself fustrated. So I don’t think the UX on iOS is better in every respect.

    Once of the things I love on Android devices is a hardware back button for example. It’s programmed in such an intelligent way it goes back to what you expect it to 90% of the time. Compare this with the iOS, having to double click the home and select the previous option just to go back one step sometimes is pretty painful.

    Whilst I do love the more slick design of iOS, and there are clearly some much better apps (particularly games, although I see Android catching up in this repect as developers have to build for both), I just feel comfortable using Android over iOS.

  • iPhone = appliance
    Android = not an appliance

    Depending on what your ambitions are, one is better than the other. But, if you try to make one into the other, you’re going to be unhappy.

  • Filip Moerman (Nadesj) says:

    The problem with IOS is Itunes, everything has to go via Itunes and I don’t like that. It is also far to closed.

    Android does not have a good app store, it would be great to be able to buy an Android prepayd card instead of an Itunes card in the supermarket. And indeed, I am still on Android 1.6 and it can take a long time before I get 2.2 on my phone, if ever.

  • “The new Windows” is a very good summary.

    Regarding the “open” manner of Android, I think Jow Hewitt sums it up quite well.

    Meego is the way to go if openness is a mayor concern afaik.

    But anyway, I believe the common great strength in both Android and iOS is the app philosophy – meaning, the apps defines the phone, and its hardware increases the use of the apps.

    I was relieved and very pleased when pay apps became available in Market (me and my fellow swedish Android users waited for this very long). It took my Android phone to the next level.

    The biggest problem with the Android phones is actually their users. They want cheap phones with killer hardware and everlasting batteries, and keep saying “not good enough” every time a new phone is released. Most of them live in a fantasy world.

    That aside, Android will propably win ground since the available devices today make it possible for the consumers to choose battery life, screen size and CPU-power for their own needs.

    But for the business users, iPhone is still the best since no Android device I’ve seen is as well balanced as the iPhone.

  • Andy Baker says:

    Intents and the cross-application integration of the back button into the user experience. These are the most original and useful ideas that Android brings to the table.

  • Trygve Lie says:

    Just got myself a HTC Desire HD with Android 2.2 on it and are pretty pleased so fare.

    > Touch events, frame rates and general user experience not as smooth as on an iPhone.

    I think the touch events and frame rates are very related to the device and not the OS when it comes to Android. I’ve got access to a Samsung Galaxy Tab with Android on it and the Galaxy are sluggish and really bad on the touch events. The Desire HD are really smooth and consistent. Same OS, two completely different user experiences.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Andy,

    Definitely valid points.

    Trygve,

    Good point, I think it’s more about device than OS – I think my comment was based on it being slow on the Android devices I’ve seen, and not any iPhone.

  • Adrian vG says:

    If you go for an Android, buy the one with the most common screen dimensions, since not all Android Market Place apps work on all devices. (The square Motorola one is a big no-no)

    Also choose one where you can decide which Android OS version you want to have without having to wait for the vendor’s “permission”…

    Is it clear which side I’m on? :)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Adrian,

    Pretty clear. :-)

  • collin says:

    The HTC hero has been suppassed by the desire and desire hd, even the wildfire better because the hero is stuck on Android 1.6rendering it useless in 2011

  • Robert Nyman says:

    collin,

    Right, and that’s one of my main gripes with choosing an Android phone.

  • Paul Bradford says:

    I recently purchased a Sony Ericsson Xperia X10a. I’m pretty impressed with it being a past iPhone user. My only complaint being that AT&t has not released the new Android update. It really is a crap deal, you go for this phone because it has impressive specs when you read about it on the OEM site. Then once it’s in your hands you realize these feature you were looking forward to aren’t available until an upgrade that AT&T is withholding from you. Through SE I was able to deduce the reason AT&T is holding it back is, “Because AT&T are fucking idiots.” lol Overall I’m very pleased with the Android OS. Even without the newer firmware it’s still a very nice Operating System.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Paul,

    Thanks for writing!
    And yeah, that’s one of the stoppers for me, not being able to upgrade whenever I want to/an update is released.

  • skdeep says:

    After 2 weeks on my nexus s…. i was a RIM addict for the email approach and the keyboard but really nice user experience ..simple… customizable i manage multiple account on this mobile very good +10

  • Robert Nyman says:

    skdeep,

    Glad to hear that you like the Nexus S!

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