Is Android or iPhone the Better Smartphone For You?

Factors to consider before you buy a smartphone

When it comes to buying one of the best smartphones, the first choice can be the hardest: iPhone vs. Android. It's not simple; both offer a lot of great features and they may seem basically the same. However, a closer look reveals some key differences. Read on to learn more about these differences to help you decide whether an iPhone or Android smartphone is best for you.

Hardware: Choice vs. Polish

All 3 iPhone 11 models in the Apple Store

JOHANNES EISELE / Contributor / AFP

 

Hardware is the first place where the differences between the iPhone and Android 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 the Android software to many phone makers, including Samsung, HTC, and Motorola. Because of that, Android phones vary in size, weight, features, and quality.

Premium-priced Android phones are about as good as the iPhone, but cheaper Androids are more prone to problems. Of course iPhones can have hardware issues, too, but they're overall higher quality.

If you're buying an iPhone, you just need to pick a model. Because many companies make Android devices, you have to pick both a brand and a model. Some may prefer the choice Android offers, but others appreciate Apple's greater simplicity and higher quality.

Winner: Tie

OS Compatibility: Android Is A Waiting Game

iOS 11
image credit: 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 some Android makers are slow to update their phones to the latest version of the Android OS, and sometimes don't update their phones at all. The makers of the phones—not users—control when the OS update is released for their phones. As Most Android makers are very slow to update, if they update at all.

While it's to be expected that older phones will eventually lose support for the latest OS, Apple's support for older phones is much better than Android's. 

Take iOS 11, which was released in 2017. It fully supported the iPhone 5S, which was released four years earlier. Thanks to its broad device support, iOS 11 was installed on about 66% of compatible models within 6 weeks of its release.

On the other hand, Android 8 was ​running on just 0.2% of Android devices more than 8 weeks after its release.​ Even its predecessor, Android 7, was only running on about 18% of devices more than a year after its release.

So, if you want the latest and greatest OS as soon as it's ready, you need an iPhone.

Winner: iPhone

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 1.8 million vs. 2.8 million, as of Dec. 2020), but selection isn’t the most important factor.

Apple is strict about what apps it allows, while Google’s standards for Android are lax. While Apple's control may seem too tight, it also prevents situations like the one where a fake version of WhatsApp was downloaded 1 million times from Google Play before it was removed. That's a major potential security threat.

Beyond that, some developers complain about 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 the game 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 development costs with Android's emphasis on free apps, and it reduces the likelihood that developers can cover their costs. Key apps also almost always debut on iOS, with Android versions coming later, if they come at all.

Winner: iPhone

Gaming: A Mobile Powerhouse

mobile games on iphone
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Mobile gaming used to be dominated by Nintendo’s 3DS and Sony’s Playstation Vita. The iPhone changed that.

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

The tight integration of Apple's hardware and software supports powerful gaming technologies using hardware and software that make its phones as fast as, or faster than, some laptops.

The general expectation that Android apps should be free has led game developers interested in making money (i.e., almost all of them) to develop for iPhone first and Android second. In fact, due to 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

Security: No Question About It

An image depicting iPhone security, showing a padlock on the screen of the phone with a separate security key.

 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:

  • In one study, 97% of all malware, viruses, worms, etc., were for Android. In that study, 0% attacked the iPhone.
  • Even the head of Google's Android team admits that "We can not guarantee that Android is designed to be safe... If I had a company dedicated to malware, I should also be addressing my attacks on Android." 

That says it all. However, it's important to note that these stats don't mean iPhone is immune to security threats. It is not. It's just less likely to be targeted than Android-based phones and is better at keeping you secure. 

Winner: iPhone

Privacy: A Stark Divide

iPhone Privacy Settings
image credit Jonathan McHugh/Ikon Images/Getty Images

If you care about the privacy of your personal data, just like with security, Apple is your only viable choice.

Google's primary business model is built around collecting user data and selling that data to advertisers (or letting advertisers use it to target ads to you). As such, Google needs access to your data and the ability to share it with other companies.

Apple doesn't have an advertising business (yes, there's iAd for in-app ads, but it's not the same thing) and doesn't need your personal data to sell you products or make money. In fact, Apple has increasingly moved functionality that uses personal or private data onto your iPhone and other devices, reducing how much of that data ever leaves your device and goes to the cloud.

Winner: Apple

Cost: Is Free Always Best?

Image of a woman pulling money out of her wallet.

 Getty Images

If you’re concerned most about 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 $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.

The highest-priced phones on both platforms can easily cost $1000 or more, but the average cost of an Android device is lower than an iPhone.

Winner: Android

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 the smartphone resale company Gazelle:

  • 64GB iPhone X in good condition, unlocked: $161
  • 128GB iPhone 8 in good condition, unlocked: $118
  • 64GB Samsung Galaxy S9 in good condition, unlocked: $95
  • 128GB Google Pixel 3 XL in good condition, unlocked: $89

Winner: iPhone

Support: The Unmatched Apple Store

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

Both smartphone platforms generally work pretty well and don't usually have problems. However, everything breaks down once in awhile, and when that happens, how you get support matters.

With iPhone, 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.)

There's no equivalent for Android. Sure, you can get support for Android devices from the phone company you bought your phone from, the manufacturer, or maybe even the retailer where you bought it. But which should you pick and can you be sure the people there are well trained?

Having a single source for expert support gives Apple the upper hand.

Winner: iPhone

Intelligent Assistant: Google Assistant Beats Siri

Artificial Intelligence
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The next frontier of smartphone functionality will be driven by artificial intelligence and voice interfaces. Android has a clear lead here.

Google Assistant, the most prominent intelligent assistant on Android, is very powerful. It uses everything Google knows about you and the world to make life easier. 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 with each new iOS release. 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

Wondering whether Siri runs on Android or Google Assistant on iPhone? Check out How to Get Siri for Android or Windows Phones.

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 want the complete control to customize their phones will prefer Android thanks to its greater openness.

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

Apple, on the other hand, limits customization options on the iPhone (though it's recently added homescreen widgets and now lets you change some default apps). What you give up in flexibility with an iPhone is balanced out by quality and attention to detail, a device that just works and is well-integrated with other products.

If you want a phone that works well, delivers a high-quality experience, and is easy to use, pick iPhone. On the other hand, if you value flexibility and choice enough to accept some potential issues, you'll probably prefer Android.

Winner: Tie

Pure Experience: Avoid Junk Apps

iPhone in nature
Daniel Grizelj/Stone/Getty Images

The last item mentioned that Android's openness means that sometimes manufacturers install their own apps in place of higher-quality standard apps.

This is compounded by phone companies also installing their own apps. As a result, it can be hard to know what apps will come on your Android device and whether they'll be any good.

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

Winner: iPhone

Integration with Other Devices: Continuity Guaranteed

Handoff in iOS 8
Apple, Inc.

Many people use a tablet, computer, or wearable in addition to their smartphone. For them, Apple offers a better-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 unless your watch, tablet, phone, and computer are all made by the same company—and there aren't too many companies other than Samsung that make products in all of those categories—Android has no unified cross-device experience.

Winner: iPhone

Battery Life: Consistent Improvement

plugging in low battery phone
iStock

Early iPhones needed to recharge their batteries every da​y. More recent models can go days without a charge, though new versions of the operating system tend to cut battery life until they're optimized in later releases.​

The battery situation is more complex with Android, due to the large variety of hardware options. 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

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 trained 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 avoiding paying for an expensive battery replacement.

Winner: Android

Peripheral Compatibility: USB Is Everywhere

USB Ports
Sharleen Chao/Moment Open/Getty Images

Owning a smartphone usually means owning some accessories for it, such as 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 less widely compatible.

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

Winner: Android

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 (generally pre-loaded on Android), so the experience is roughly identical. 

Winner: Tie

Add Ons: Apple Services Can't Be Beat

Screenshot of the Apple TV app on Mac

Using a smartphone involves more than just the apps that come with it or that you add. Some of these apps are likely to require subscriptions to deliver really valuable content. Think of music or TV streaming apps, for instance.

On that front, the iPhone offers a set of services that Android can't match.

With Apple's Apple One services bundles, you can get Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple News, Apple Arcade, Apple Fitness+, and upgraded iCloud storage for one relatively low price per month. On Android, you can subscribe to competing services in every category, but not for such a good price (and there's no equivalent of Apple News or the made-only-for-Apple Arcade games). Android can't match the combination of great content and smart cross-device integration offered by Apple Fitness+, either.

If you don't want or need these services, then either platform will be fine. But only iPhone can offer such a compelling selection of content at such a good price.

Winner: iPhone

Bottom Line

iPhone X
image credit: 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 (but for those counting, it's 10-5 for the iPhone, plus 3 ties).

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

Both platforms offer are good choices for different people. 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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