UPDATE: Read my final say on which device is better!
I wanted to elaborate briefly on the “network integration” comment I made when I was justifying the purchase of the iPhone over Android. While I prefer the UI of Android, the “network integration” of the iPhone has impressed me. I will attempt to explain what I mean.
At Tufts this past year, I needed to access a web page as I walked into the dining halls. This was always a disaster. The Galaxy Nexus used the following approach to orchestrating data connections between multiple sources. This was also an issue due to the fact that our campus has practically campus-wide wifi. This is the behavior of the phone when it has the wifi active at the same time as the data connection from the carrier:
- At the first hint of the possibility of a known wireless network, the Nexus immediately drops the data connection.
- The actual acquisition of the wifi signal is slow and laborious, sometimes taking up to a minute. There is absolutely no data during this period. If you are on the fringes of Wifi, god help you because it will try and fail to acquire a wifi network connection…repeatedly.
- If you move between wifi hotspots, it drops connection. Re-acquiring as in step 2. No data available.
- Only when you have “run for the hills” and the phone does not see the possibilty of returning to wifi will it think about firing up the data connection.
- The data connection takes 15 seconds to acquire as well. Again, no data available.
Similarly with regards to GPS:
- The phone knows nearly exactly where you are off the carrier data connection.
- The phone refuses to navigate off of the carrier data connection even though it can be 80%+ as accurate as the GPS with good signal strength.
- Even though the phone knows EXACTLY where you are and therefore EXACTLY which satellites it will be locking onto, it still takes 10 minutes to lock onto GPS.
- Turn off the maps application, and it loses GPS. Re-acquiring as in step 3 above.
Now we compare the above behavior to the iPhone:
- Can lock onto GPS in a few seconds at most. Always has a good location available.
- Seamless handoff between wifi and cellular. Keeps cellular active until wifi is ready. Has the data connection available during sleep and activates wifi on wake.
- No matter what your signal strength is, it receives texts in about 1 second. Android took up to 15 seconds.
To me, it simply looks like the iPhone was a better engineered product. We will see with more use whether it holds the data connection well in different use case scenarios. The radios draw less current and they work better. This is enough to get me to put up with the “resting on its laurels” UI reminiscent of Android 2.3. We’ll see whether iOS 7 is worth it.
UPDATE: (Aside) With regards to GPS, the reason that the lock takes so long with Android is a poor AGPS implementation. Regular GPS takes time to lock onto the satellites not because of the time it takes to download the signal but because of the time it takes to figure out the location of the satellites. (You can know your exact location from four random points and still not know where you are.)
The time taken to download that information (at 50 bit/s) is the time it takes to acquire GPS signals with a traditional GPS. Assisted GPS basically uses a server to cache that information (which is good, per satellite, for only four hours) and then downloads it quickly. Or at least higher than 50 bit/s.
The issue with intermittent coverage (traveling in a vehicle) is that losing a single frame of that data requires that you wait until the cycle repeats. It’s not TCP, after all. This can lead to long delays in signal acquisition if you don’t have AGPS and your coverage is not perfect.