iPhone vs Android: What is the best phone/carrier for you?

I’ve now had my iPhone 5 for several months after a two year stint with Android (first with 2.3 and later 4.1-4.3). I have reached several basic conclusions about the benefits and drawbacks of each from a purely “user experience perspective.”–I define this as a broad category relevant to the average consumer and tech geeks alike.

The two phones, side by side. Notice the Nexus 4 charging on the Qi inductive charging mat.
The two phones, side by side. Notice the Nexus 4 charging on the Qi inductive charging mat.

In this article I’ll be comparing the iPhone 5 (Verizon CDMA/LTE/GSM, iOS 6) with the Nexus 4 (GSM/HSPA+42, Android 4.3). For all intents and purposes, these phones are approximately equivalent within their own ecosystems.

The Bottom Line — A quick summary

Android is better in the following categories:

  • Better OS in general.
  • Better notifications. Email snippets, swipe to ignore.
  • Quick settings.
  • Faster performance, especially data fetching apps.
  • More intuitive gestures.
  • More control for the power users (I can download a zip file!)
  • Larger screen. Even the iPhone 5 is very narrow for viewing web pages in portrait.
  • AMOLED display.
  • Inductive charging without a clunky case.
  • Micro USB. No farting around with expensive cables (debatable, but stay with me).
  • Time between “You’ve got an email” buzz/wake and that email being readable within the Gmail app (by a factor of 2-3).
  • Phone cost (because Apple is a robber baron)
  • Google account integration (obviously)
  • Camera (HDR actually works, Photo Sphere)
Notice the subtle but much more comfortably large screen on the Nexus. You notice it most on websites, especially non-mobile optimized ones.
Notice the subtle but much more comfortably large screen on the Nexus. You notice it most on websites, especially non-mobile optimized ones.

iPhone is better in:

  • Find My iPhone from icloud.com (make your silenced phone beep loudly from anywhere and get its GPS coordinates)
  • iMessage (only because of its seamless SMS=>Data=>SMS and everyone uses it)
  • Battery Life (iOS appears to sleep the data connection with screen sleep, dropping performance but gaining battery life)

With both phones in my pocket, I’ll reach for the Android 9 times out of 10 because its a much slicker device, until of course it dies at 10PM. While not having an (active) LTE modem in the Nexus does improve battery life, the increased performance comes at a cost of worse battery life. In my mind, battery life is paramount to all other concerns, because I want to be able to call my friend at 2 AM after a night of partying without fear that my phone will have bitten the dust. There is no “emergency call with dead battery” or “standard cell phone fallback” feature of Android, which means if you’re robbed after 10PM with an Android you’re SOL.

I see the Android ecosystem and hardware as needing a year or two to mature fully. This includes Android + LTE “integration,” restraining rogue apps draining your battery, and others. While we’ve seen (vast) improvements since Froyo and Gingerbread, there is still a bit to go towards a fully mature and stable platform with better battery life.

I choose iPhone...for now. But I’ll be keeping the Nexus in my left pocket.

Considerations

Bear these in mind when purchasing.

Coverage

If coverage is your first concern, VZW is king. (We’re talking LTE on the beach in Scarborough, ME.) On VZW, your best choice is the iPhone.

Cost

If cost is your primary issue, get a Nexus 4 with T-Mobile. T-Mobile has very good coverage of metropolitan areas (but often times poor coverage outside of them), and their HSPA+ speeds frequently exceed Verizon LTE on download thanks to a less crowded network. (An aside: You can tell VZW is crowded because their upload speed is higher than their download–while their download is provisioned with more bandwidth, many people using it drop the speed below the upload. Notice the ping times as well, as HSPA’s switched architecture yield worse performance in data latency. These are both made at the same place and same time in an indoor shopping mall with average reception.)

2013-08-26 18.10.10
Android on T-Mobile HSPA+
2013-08-26 14.10.15
Verizon iPhone 5. Notice higher upload speed.

 

In addition, availability of the best plan in US wireless for data hungry smartphoners ($30/month for 100 minutes + unlimited text + 5GB unthrottled data and unlimited throttled) means you can save literally buckets of money (50-75%) over what would be a two year contract. The plan is very well hidden but is available with an online or phone activation of a prepaid sim card (I purchased mine at Walmart, which seems to have a somewhat exclusive deal on the plan).

The well hidden plan rears its tiny head on the prepaid page at T-Mobile.
The well hidden plan rears its tiny head on the prepaid page at T-Mobile.

At $30/month you would spend only $720 over two years plus a $300 phone is about $1000. Compare a similar plan with Verizon ($40/month + $70/month for 4GB of data) gets you about $2,640 + $200 phone w/ contract. That’s a savings of more than 60% when all is said and done. And yes, you could theoretically share that measly quantity of data with a tablet for $10/month. But $60 will buy you 5GB of data/month for each device on T-Mobile. No sharing crap.

The catch on the T-Mobile plan is that you only get 100 minutes of talk per month. But for those who can navigate VoIP and don’t talk a lot, that’s not really an issue.

iOS 7

At some point in the future (weeks, hopefully, as of 8/26/13), Apple will release a new version of iOS which copies a lot of the best features that have been available in Android for a year or three. While that’s great, Android is charging ahead while Apple releases new versions more slowly than ever. With the Nexus 4, you’re guaranteed the latest and greatest version of Android straight out of the Google factory. Apple also really hasn’t shaken the tree much with regards to UI since 2007.

Rogue Phones and Lemons

Several people I know have had terrible problems with their iPhone 5 dying almost immediately. You have a lemon or some other issue that requires that you utilize your service contract and complain the hell out of the genius bar at the Apple store until they fix the rogue infinite loop that’s preventing the processor from sleeping or waking the data modem constantly or whatever random battery short is plaguing you.

Unlockedness

The Verizon iPhone 5 is CDMA + LTE, however it also has a quad band GSM,UMTS,HSPA modem for kicks. Furthermore, this is NOT locked! (This is pretty much the only GSM capable phone which is on a contract and NOT GSM locked.) That means that GSM lock is not a motivator to stay off a contract.

So if you travel to Europe, you can pop in a nano sim from http://three.co.uk and rock out with unlimited UK data for 15£/month.

Beware that T-Mobile uses the 1700 MHz band, which is not supported by the VZW iPhone 5. It works with one of the two banding versions for the US GSM phone. You’ll be stuck on EDGE if you try it.

3 thoughts on “iPhone vs Android: What is the best phone/carrier for you?”

  1. Nexus 4 has an IPS LCD display, similar to iPhone 5, not an AMOLED. IPS is MUCH better than any OLED display I’ve seen. OLED displays tend to have visible pixel patterns even at high resolutions, and the colors always look overly vivid and fake to me.

  2. The information about T-Mobile on 1700mhz is true. But if you put a nano sim from TMobile in a CDMA iPhone 5 depending on the area you will not be stuck on edge! In Tampa, Fl I have 3G coverage and data speeds of up to 13mbps down and 5 Mbps up with about a 70ms ping. No complaints here! Coverage indoors in rural areas can be a problem. And the data on vzw lte sucks in my opinion. I was getting faster speeds on tmobiles 3G than the 4g or lte by Verizon. The coverage is good but I get even better coverage with AT&T. I use a micro sim with AT&T and get 4g with speeds similar to the TMobile 3G speed. About 15mbps down and 5mbps up. I like GSM call quality better too. Making a call even with one bar doesn’t sound like your under water like CDMA does. BTW anyone care to use straighttalk? I’m useing the AT&T straighttalk and have unlimited talk text and web $45. Granted that the data would be throttled after 2gb but I’ve never seen it!

    1. Apple makes an iPhone with the 1700 mHz HSPA+ band for T-Mobile. Without the 1700 mHz band, you will not have as good HSPA+ coverage with T-Mobile.

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