Is Android or iPhone the Better Smartphone?

Factors to consider before you buy an Apple phone over an Android

When it comes to buying one of the best smartphones, the first choice can be the hardest: iPhone or Android. It's not simple; both offer a lot of great features and they may seem basically the same other than brand and price.

However, a closer look shows that there are some key differences. Below is a look at these differences to help you decide whether an iPhone or Android is right for you.

iPhone family 2017
Apple Inc.

Hardware is where the differences between the iPhone and Android first become clear.

Only Apple makes iPhones, so it has extremely tight control over how the software and hardware work together. On the other hand, Google offers its Android software to many phone makers, including Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola, etc. Because of that, Android phones vary widely in size, weight, features, and quality.

Higher-priced Android phones tend to be fairly reliable and high quality, cheaper options may overheat, freeze up, or break. IPhones have also had hardware issues, but they're generally higher quality.

If you're buying an iPhone, you just need to pick your model. Because Androids are made by different companies, you have to pick both a brand and a model, which can be confusing and overwhelming.

Some may prefer the greater choice Android offers, but others appreciate Apple's simplicity and quality.

Winner: Tie More »

iOS 10
Apple Inc.

To make sure you always have the latest and greatest version of your smartphone operating system, you have to get an iPhone.

That's because Android makers are very slow about updating their phones to the latest Android OS version, and sometimes don't update their phones at all.

While it's to be expected that, eventually, older phones will no longer have support for the latest OS, Apple's support for older phones is generally better than Android's.

Take iOS 10 as an example. It includes full support for the iPhone 5, which was released in 2012. Because of that, the latest version of iOS is often installed on around 50 percent of compatible devices within the first week of release.

On the other hand, Android 7, codenamed Nougat, was running on just 7 percent of Android devices almost 12 months after its release. The makers of the phones—not users—control when the OS is released for their phones and, as that stat shows, most companies are very slow to update.

So, if you want the latest and greatest as soon as it's ready (plus quick fixes for crucial bugs), you need an iPhone.

Winner: iPhone More »

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Apps: Selection vs. Control

google play and app store badges
Google Inc. and Apple Inc.

The Apple App Store offers fewer apps than Google Play (around 2,200,000 vs. 2,700,000, as of May 2017), but overall selection isn’t the most important factor.

Apple is famously strict (some would say too strict) about what apps it allows, while Google’s standards for Android are lax.

Many developers have complained about the emphasis on free apps for Android and the difficulty of developing for so many different phones. Fragmentation—the large numbers of devices and OS versions to support—makes developing for Android expensive. For example, the developers of Temple Run reported that early in their Android experience nearly all of their support emails had to do with unsupported devices even though they support over 700 Android phones!

Combine these development costs with an emphasis on free, and it reduces the likelihood that developers can cover their costs. Plus, not all of the best apps make it to Android and those that do don’t necessarily run on all phones. Key apps also almost always debut first on iOS, with Android versions coming later, if they come at all.

Winner: iPhone

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Gaming: A Growing Giant

mobile games on iphone
AleksandarNakic/E+/Getty Images

There was a time when video gaming, especially mobile gaming, was dominated by Nintendo’s 3DS and Sony’s Playstation Vita. The iPhone changed that.

Apple's devices like the iPhone and iPod touch, are perhaps the dominant players in the mobile video game market, with thousands of great games and tens of millions of players. The growth of the iPhone as a gaming platform, in fact, has led some observers to forecast that Apple will eclipse Nintendo and Sony as the leading mobile game platform (in fact, Nintendo has even started releasing games for the iPhone, like Super Mario Run).

The general expectation that Android apps should be free has led game developers interested in making money (i.e., almost all of them, and certainly all the major ones) to develop for iPhone first and Android second. In fact, due to various problems with developing for Android, some game companies have stopped creating games for it all together.

While Android has its share of hit games, the iPhone has the clear advantage.

Winner: iPhone

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Integration with Other Devices: Continuity Guaranteed

Handoff in iOS 8
Apple, Inc.

Most people use a tablet, computer, or wearable in addition to their smartphone. For those people, Apple offers a more consistent and integrated experience.

Because Apple makes computers, tablets, and watches along with the iPhone, it offers things that Android (which mostly runs on smartphones, though there are tablets and wearables that use it) can't.

Apple's Continuity features let you unlock your Mac using an Apple Watch, start writing an email on your iPhone while you're walking and finish it on your Mac at home, or have all of your devices receive any call coming into your iPhone.

Google's services like Gmail, Maps, Google Now, etc., work across all Android devices, but because unless your watch, tablet, phone, and computer are all made by the same company—and there are few Android makers other than Samsung that make products in all of those categories—there's no unified experience.

Winner: iPhone

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Support: Ever Seen an Android Store?

Make Genius Bar Appointment
Artur Debat/Moment Mobile ED/Getty Images

Both smartphone platforms generally work pretty well and, for day-to-day use, don't present too many problems or malfunctions. However, everything breaks once in awhile, and when that happens, how you get support matters.

With Apple, you can simply take your device to your closest Apple Store, where a trained specialist can help solve your problem. (They're busy, though, so it pays to make an appointment ahead of time.)

Have you ever seen an Android Store? Samsung Store? Sure, you can get support for Android devices from the phone company you bought your phone from, the manufacturer, or maybe even the retail store where you bought it, but which should you pick?

Having a single source for expert support easily gives Apple the upper hand in this category.

Winner: iPhone

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Intelligent Assistant: Google Assistant Beats Siri

Artificial Intelligence
PASIEKA/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

The next frontier of smartphone features and functionality will be driven by artificial intelligence and devices controlled by voice, not touch. On this front, Android has a clear lead.

Google Assistant, the most prominent artificial intelligence/intelligent assistant system on Android and the next-generation of Google Now, is extremely powerful. It uses everything Google knows about you and the world to make life easier for you. For instance, if your Google Calendar knows that you're meeting someone at 5:30 and that traffic is terrible, Google Assistant can send you a notification telling you to leave early.

Siri is Apple's answer to Google Assistant for artificial intelligence. It's improving all the time with each new iOS release, and even more so thanks to iOS 10 letting third-party apps access it. That said, it's still limited to fairly simple tasks and doesn't offer the advanced smarts of Google Assistant (Google Assistant is also ​available for the iPhone). 

Winner: Android

plugging in low battery phone

The batteries on early iPhone models required a charge nearly every day, that’s no longer true. With recent models, you can go days at a time without needing a charge.

The battery situation is more complex with Android, due to the large variety of models that run it. Some Android models have 7-inch screens and other features which burn through much more battery life.

But, thanks to the wide variety of Android models, there are also some that offer ultra-high capacity batteries. If you don't mind the extra bulk, and really need a long-lasting battery, Android can deliver a device that works much longer than an iPhone on a single charge.

Winner: Android More »

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User Experience: Elegance vs. Customization

how to unlock iphone
With an unlocked iPhone, you'll feel this free. Cultura RM/Matt Dutile/Getty Images

People who like complete control to customize their phones, and want to fiddle the lowest level functions, will prefer Android thanks to its greater openness.

One downside of this is that each company that makes Android phones can customize them, sometimes replacing default Android apps with inferior tools developed by that company. 

Taken as a comparison of features alone, the platforms seem similar, with Android ahead in some areas.

While that is true, the experience of using a phone doesn't just boil down to checking off features. It's driven by quality and attention to detail, how the device works, and how you feel about it.

There's a reason people feel passionately enough about the iPhone to wait in line for hours when a new model is released. This sometimes happens with Android phones, but less often and with fewer people.

Most people want a phone that works well, runs the apps they want, and is easy to use. On that front, the iPhone wins hands down. Apple’s intense focus on ease of use, quality experience, and reliability makes it the clear choice for most users.

Winner: iPhone

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Pure Experience: Avoid Junk Apps

iPhone in nature
Daniel Grizelj/Stone/Getty Images

The last item touched on the idea that Android's openness means that sometimes manufacturers install their own apps in place of higher quality standard apps.

This gets even worse on Android when you consider that phone companies also install their own—sometimes poor quality—apps. As a result, it can be hard to know what apps will come on your Android device and how good they'll be.

You don't have to worry about anything like that with the iPhone. Apple is the only company that pre-installs apps on the iPhone, so every phone comes with the same, fairly high-quality apps.

Winner: iPhone

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User Maintenance: Storage and Battery

quitting iphone apps doesn't save battery
Michael Haegele/EyeEm/Getty Images

Apple emphasizes elegance and simplicity in the iPhone above all else. That’s a major reason that users can’t upgrade the storage or replace the batteries on their iPhones (it’s possible to get replacement iPhone batteries, but they have to be installed by a skilled repair person).

Android, on the other hand, lets users change the phone's battery and expand its storage capacity.

The trade-off is that Android is a bit more complex and a bit less elegant, but that may be worth it compared to running out of memory or needing to pay for an expensive battery replacement for your iPhone.

Winner: Android

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Peripheral Compatibility: USB Is Everywhere

USB Ports
Sharleen Chao/Moment Open/Getty Images

Owning a smartphone usually means owning some accessories for it, including speakers, battery cases, or simply extra charging cables.

Android phones offer the widest choice of accessories. That's because Android uses USB ports to connect to other devices, and USB ports are available practically everywhere.

Apple, on the other hand, uses its proprietary Lightning port to connect to accessories. There are some advantages to Lightning, like that it gives Apple more control over the quality of the accessories that work with the iPhone, but it's a bit less compatible.

Plus, if you need to charge your phone right now, people are more likely to have a USB cable.

Winner: Android

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Security: No Question About It

smartphone security
Roy Scott/Ikon Images/Getty Images

If you care about the security of your smartphone, there's only one choice: iPhone.

The reasons for this are myriad and too long to completely go into here. For the short version, consider these two facts:

That says it all.

Winner: iPhone

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Screen Size: The Tale of the Tape

Samsung galaxy S8

If you're looking for the biggest screens available on smartphones, Android is your choice, but not by much.

There has been a trend towards super-sized smartphone screens—so much so that a new word, phablet, has been coined to describe a hybrid phone and tablet device.

Android offered the first phablets and continues to offer the most and biggest options. Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 has an 8-inch screen, for instance.

With the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple has its own phablet with a 5.5-inch screen. Still, if it's raw size you're after, Android's the choice.

Winner: Android

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GPS Navigation: Free Wins For Everyone

GPS Navigation
Chris Gould/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

As long as you've got access to the internet and a smartphone, you never have to get lost again thanks to the built-in GPS and maps apps on both the iPhone and Android.

Both platforms support third-party GPS apps that can give drivers turn-by-turn directions. Apple Maps is exclusive to iOS, and while that app had some famous problems when it debuted, it's getting steadily better all the time. It's a strong alternative to Google Maps for many users.

Even if you don't want to try Apple Maps, Google Maps is available on both platforms, so the experience is roughly identical. 

Winner: Tie

wireless charging on iphone
Tim Robberts/Stone/Getty Images

For the fastest wireless internet experience, you need access to 4G LTE networks. When 4G LTE was beginning to roll out across the country, Android phones were the first to offer it.

It's been years since Android was the only place to go for blazing-fast internet, though.

Apple introduced 4G LTE on the iPhone 5 in 2012, and all subsequent models offer it. With the wireless networking hardware roughly equivalent on both platforms, the major factor in determining wireless data speed is now just which network the phone is running on.

Winner: Tie More »

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Carriers: Tied at 4

U.S. Carriers for the iPhone
Paul Taylor/The Image Bank/Getty Images

When it comes to what phone company you use your smartphone with, there's no difference between platforms. Both types of phone work on any of the U.S.’s four major phone carriers: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

For years, the iPhone lagged behind Android's carrier selection (in fact, when it debuted, the iPhone only worked on AT&T). When T-Mobile began offering the iPhone in 2013, though, that difference was erased.

Both types of phone are available through the many small, regional carriers in the U.S., and you'll find basic parity in many other countries, too.

Winner: Tie

Woman removing money from cash register, close-up
Tetra Images/Getty Images

If you’re particularly concerned with what your phone costs, you’ll probably choose Android. That’s because there are many Android phones that can be had for cheap, or even free. Apple's cheapest phone is the iPhone SE, which starts at US$399.

For those on a very tight budget, that may be the end of the discussion. If you’ve got some money to spend on your phone, though, look a little deeper.

Free phones are usually free for a reason: they’re often less capable or dependable than their more-costly counterparts. Getting a free phone may be buying you more trouble than a paid phone.

There are a number of Android and iPhone models under $100. Otherwise, expect to spend from $200 to $900 for the newest and best Android phones or iPhones.

Winner: Tie More »

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Resale Value: iPhone Keeps Its Worth

Making a purchase at the Apple Store
Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

With new smartphones being released so often, people tend to upgrade quickly. When you do that, you want to be sure that you can resell your old model for the most money to put towards the new one.

Apple wins on that front. Old iPhones fetch more money at resale than old Androids.

Here are a few examples, using prices from Gazelle:

  • 32 GB iPhone 5S in good condition, unlocked: US$75
  • 64 GB iPhone 6S Plus in good condition, unlocked: $260
  • 32 GB Samsung Galaxy S5 in good condition, unlocked: $35
  • 32 GB Motorola Nexus 6 in good condition, unlocked: $65

Winner: iPhone

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Bottom Line

iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus
iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in jet black. Apple Inc.

The decision of whether to buy an iPhone or Android phone isn’t as simple as tallying up the winners above and choosing the phone that won more categories (9-5 for the iPhone, plus 5 ties, for those counting).

Different categories count for different amounts to different people. Some people will value hardware or carrier choice more, while others will care more about battery life or mobile gaming.

While it should be no surprise that the guy writing an iPhone website prefers the iPhone, Android phones are good choices for some users. You’ll need to decide what factors are most important to you and then choose the phone that best meets your needs.


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