The gap between Android and iPhone has narrowed dramatically in recent years. It used to be an article of faith that iPhones were technically superior, and the only reason someone would choose Android was because they couldn’t afford one of Apple’s devices or because they had a philosophical objection to Apple’s “walled garden.”
Today, whatever technological gaps once existed between the latest iPhones and the top Android devices have essentially vanished. Sure, Apple’s CPUs are little engineering marvels, and the hardware is top-notch. But the competition is close enough to make those differences merely interesting rather than compelling.
For the past year or so, I’ve been switching between a succession of Android devices and a pair of iPhones. (At the moment, I have a Samsung Galaxy S9+, an iPhone XS, and a Google Pixel 3.) Each one is impressive when looked at strictly on its own merits. But day in and day out, I find I’m using those Android devices, and the iPhone tends to stay on its charging dock when I leave the office.
So, what are the factors, big and small, that cause me to prefer Android? Let’s start with the hardware itself.
You have a lot more choices in Android hardware.
When you’re in the market for a new smartphone, Apple offers three hardware choices (unless you’re willing to buy last year’s model for a minuscule discount). The current iPhone lineup comes in two sizes, big and bigger, and two price ranges, expensive and really expensive. And those devices are rarely discounted.
By contrast, your Android choices cover a wide range of sizes, shapes, feature sets, and price points. Some high-end Android devices (I’m looking at you, Samsung) have price tags that are comparable to those of a new iPhone, but the real sweet spot is in the midrange, where devices like the OnePlus 7 Pro ($669) and the Pixel 3 ($799) compete head to head with flagship phones costing up to twice as much.
USB-C is the future, while Lightning represents an increasingly awkward past.
From long experience, I know three things about Apple’s Lightning cables: They have an annoying tendency to break; they cost a small fortune to replace; and they require their own little collection of dongles to be useful. But, if you own an iPhone, those pricey Lightning cables are not optional.
They’re also not useful for anything that isn’t another iPhone or iPad. Meanwhile, the Android universe has moved en masse to the more modern and far more versatile USB-C standard. Pretty much every device I own these days uses USB-C, including laptops from Dell, Microsoft, Lenovo, and even … Apple. When I travel, I can carry a single charger and one cable that works with every non-Apple mobile device.
Someday, Apple will surrender to the inevitable and replace its Lightning connectors with USB-C. Until then, it’s one more cable that iPhone owners have to carry.
You want a headphone jack? No problem…
Raise your hand if you’ve ever prepared to plug a set of headphones into your iPhone and discovered that you left that pesky headphone dongle back on your desk. Thankfully, there are plenty of Android devices (including the new Pixel 3a) that still offer 3.5mm jacks.
From hardware, we move to the code that runs under the glass, and specifically, to the navigation and organization paradigms that define a mobile operating system
Settings is never more than a swipe away.
Android and iOS offer similar shortcuts to get to some common system settings. On an iPhone, you swipe down from the top right to get to Control Center, which has a selection of shortcuts you can use to turn on Airplane Mode, adjust screen brightness and volume, use the calculator, and so on. The shortcuts make excellent use of the Force Touch feature.
But you know what you can’t do from Control Center? You can’t get to the main Settings page. So, you can turn Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off, but if you want to pair a new device or connect to a different access point, you have to exit Control Center, find the Settings icon, and open it.
Swiping down from the top of an Android screen, by contrast, shows a half-dozen common Settings icons above the current notifications. Swipe again to see a bigger assortment of Settings icons (customizable, of course). Tap the label beneath the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth icon to jump straight to the relevant Settings page. Or click the little gear icon to open the full Settings list.
You can replace the launcher.
The single most frustrating aspect of using an iPhone is its inflexible home screen. You get one icon per app, which you can in turn arrange into folders on multiple screens. But you can’t arrange those icons as you like them; you can only rearrange their order, which makes the whole process of organizing the home screen a little like solving one of those 15-square puzzles.
On an Android device, by contrast, the default Android launcher is easy to replace. Device makers regularly do this, with mixed results, but the real benefit is that you can replace the default launcher with one that you prefer. I really like the Microsoft Launcher, which started out as a side project but has turned into a serious effort, with version 5 just around the corner.
Naturally, the Microsoft Launcher is optimized to work with Microsoft apps; fortunately, there’s a pretty good selection of those apps, including all the Office apps and Outlook for email. But even without those apps, it’s worth it just for the improvements in the dock.
Pinned icons are actually useful.
On an iPhone, icons on the home screen are shortcuts for individual apps, period. You want quick access to a particular website, or photo, or document? Sorry, you’ll have to open its app first, then look for it.
By contrast, icons on the Android home screen can represent individual items that aren’t apps. My home screen has shortcuts to Excel workbooks, pages from OneNote notebooks, and even PDF files of boarding passes and other electronic tickets.
Android has widgets! On the home page!
Both Android and iOS offer a special home page, available by swiping right, where you can add widgets for quick(er) access to calendar items, weather forecasts, a news feed, and so on.
On my Android phone, though, I can add widgets directly to the main home screen. The centerpiece of my home screen at the moment, for example, is a widget from the Dark Sky app, which shows the current date and time in a large, easy-to-read format, with a four-day weather forecast beneath it.
You can add widgets for email and calendar apps, music players, cloud services. Google and Microsoft both have a large selection of widgets, and even Apple has an Android widget for its Apple Music player. In my experience, widgets are best used sparingly, but they really can improve productivity.
There’s a Back button.
For its first decade or so, iPhone had one and only one button, which you could tap, double-tap, or press and hold to accomplish tasks. Android, by contrast, historically included a row of three soft buttons along the bottom. The Home and Recents buttons function pretty much the same as the tap and double-tap options on a classic iPhone, but the Back button is unique.
On both platform, the dedicated app buttons are slowly disappearing, replaced by a series of gestures, but the concept of a dedicated Back function in Android remains. App developers try all sorts of tricks to replicate that functionality in iOS apps, with mixed results, but I miss the Back button every time I use an iPhone for any length of time.
You can clear all notifications with a single tap.
There is some sort of algorithm that governs the display of notifications on the iPhone home screen, but I’ll be damned if I can figure it out. Sometimes there’s a big X that you can tap to clear older notifications; other times the only way to get rid of notifications is one at a time.
You can also manage how notifications are grouped and when they’re displayed on iOS, but to do that you have to exit Notification Center and go to Settings > Notifications.
On Android devices, both tasks are much simpler. When you swipe down to display current notifications, there’s a Clear All button at the bottom of the list. There’s also a Manage Notifications link that jumps directly to the associated page in Settings, where you can customize options for each app. Those are small touches, but they reduce friction and make everyday usability much better.
You can change your default browser.
On either mobile platform, browsers use the underlying engine supplied by the operating system. The main reason for using an alternate browser is to save and sync shortcuts, tabs, passwords, and history across devices.
On an iPhone, you can define Open With settings on a per-app basis, so the Gmail app opens links in Chrome or Outlook opens links in Edge. But you can’t define that browser preference systemwide, so if you open a link from another app, it will almost certainly open in Safari.
That’s not a problem in Android, thanks to the Default Apps setting, where you can specify which browser you want to use for links. While there, you can also choose alternate apps to use for phone calls, SMS messages, voice assist, and tap-to-pay functions, too.
The volume control is far more flexible.
No matter who makes your mobile device, it will have Volume Up and Volume Down buttons on the side. It will also have separate, software-based volume controls. But iOS and Android handle those controls in very different ways.
On an iPhone, you can adjust the ringer volume independently of other sounds by going to Settings > Sound and Haptics, and turning the Change With Buttons option off. Choose a volume for the ringer, and you’re done. In that configuration, you can silence the ringer with the switch just above the volume controls, but the Volume Up/Down buttons will affect only system sounds and apps.
Android, by contrast, has the option to allow different volume settings for calls, media, notifications, alarms, and ringtones. That’s especially useful on long road trips, where you can mute notification sounds so that they don’t interrupt the music you’re listening to.
That’s my list. If you’ve got a different set of annoyances or a workaround I missed here, please leave a comment.