After two years of Android, is it time to switch back to iPhone?

David Gewirtz looks at the many factors that go into deciding on a phone and compares the two ecosystems category by category.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
Josh Miller/CNET
A little over two years ago, I switched from an iPhone running iOS 6 to Android. At the time, the Android phone, a Samsung Galaxy S4, had so many capabilities, it made my iPhone feel like it came from the 1990s.

But this is two years later and iOS has updated tremendously, going past iOS 7 and iOS 8, to the upcoming release of iOS 9. The phones have changed a lot, too. I had an iPhone 4s. The expected upcoming iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus are vastly improved over my old, little iPhone 4s.

So, after two years of truly enjoying the Android experience, is it time to switch back? Let's explore the issues.

Quick note: Before I discuss these issues, you should know these are the issues I care about as I consider choosing a phone. Your needs and concerns will be different. Use this as inspiration for the sorts of issues you want to consider, but certainly don't take my list as gospel.


One of my biggest complaints of iOS back in the day was the lack of any sort of customization. The launcher was always the launcher. The baffling always-caps keyboard was the one you were stuck with. Sharing among apps was very limited. There was no tweaking whatsoever for customization.

Groups of apps were stored in a folder with a few tiny icons, rather than a nice picture. I think I hated that most of all, because to see the little icons, you had to take out a magnifying glass.

By contrast, Android phones were infinitely customizable. You could replace the launcher, customize the skin, program almost anything with Tasker. The degree of freedom within the Android ecosystem was breathtaking after years of being trapped in iOS.

But that was then. Since iOS 8, the iPhone has been a lot more open. You can finally choose your own keyboard and even use swipe gestures. Amazingly, when you press shift, you can actually tell whether you're going to type capital letters or lower-case. Can you imagine?

iOS has added share sheets and customization for notifications, making the use of the system far more flexible and less frustrating.

You still can't replace the launcher (and unless it changes in iOS 9), you're still stuck with the tiny icons on folders, but otherwise, iOS is less rigid than previous versions.

Switch winner: It's a draw

Screen size

Here was one of the big wins in the Android world of 2013. The iPhone was still a small 3.5 inch display. Meanwhile, Android screens were growing. My Galaxy S4 had a 5-inch screen, which seemed like a vast football field compared to the little iPhone.

Today, of course, the iPhone 6 Plus (at 5.5 inches) can hold its own with any phablet. It's no longer necessary to go Android if you simply want a bigger screen.

Switch winner: It's a draw

Battery life

Houston, we have a problem. Without a doubt, the replaceable battery in the pre-2015 Samsungs made my Android choice clear. Yes, there are other Android devices with replaceable batteries, but most of the top-tier Android phones are now opting for sealing the battery inside the phone, which is how Apple has always done it.

This means we're now reliant solely on the quality of the built-in battery and none of the Android manufacturers have reached the level of battery technology that Apple packs in its iPhone 6 Plus. This could well be a problem, because now you're entirely reliant on not only how good the battery is at purchase, but how well it stands up to the test of time. Our Samsung S4 batteries didn't make the two years -- but we easily replaced them.

Now, if your battery doesn't last the two years it takes to pay off your phone, you're totin' a boat anchor.

Switch winner: Samsung used to be the winner. Now, the win has to go to Apple.

Inductive Charging

One of the best features of my old S4 seemed to be the inductive charging back I was able to add to the phone. Unfortunately, an overnight sitting on a charging cradle didn't top off the phone's battery, so I went back to plugging the phone into a cable.

Today, Samsung has built inductive charging (and also fast charging via cable) into its new Note 5 and S6 phones. These new charging technologies certainly beat out what's in the iPhone 6, but who knows? Apple might introduce inductive charging into the iPhone 6s, but somehow I doubt it.

Switch winner: Gotta give this to Samsung and Android devices.


How should I put this? Let's quote Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo. We're waiting for Android's inevitable security Armageddon. Ron's premise is that because there are so many phones and so many vendors -- and then so many carriers -- Android updates are taking a much longer time to filter down to actual phone users than they should. He also posits that some of the older devices will never see an update.

We are constantly seeing massive Android security flaws -- Stagefright is only the latest example. This bad boy can p0wn your phone simply by receiving a text message.

There is some good news, in that Samsung and LG claim they will start to issue regular security patches -- and they may be making good on their promise.

My old S4 got a security update just this weekend. It wasn't called that. Verizon called it a "software update that will improve the performance of your phone," but buried deep in the description was the line "Android security patches." As for what was patched, and if that included Stagefright, Verizon certainly isn't going out of its way to clarify.

So then, there's Apple. For all Apple's annoyance (and Apple is annoying -- don't argue, you know it's true), Apple owns the update process. Regardless of carrier, Apple pumps out updates when Apple wants to pump out updates.

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Combine that with the fact that iOS applications are inherently more secure than Android applications due to sandboxing (I gave a long technical lecture on this a while back) and Apple leads the pack. Then add in Apple Pay, which is going to have a strong head start over the individual payment services offered by each carrier and manufacturer, and Apple is the standout.

There is no doubt that in some narrow ways, Android is getting better. But is it enough? Given the complexity of that ecosystem and the lack of centralized control, it's a recipe for disaster.

Switch winner: Apple, without a doubt.

Google ecosystem compatibility

I'm going to break out ecosystem into two sections. This first one focuses on how well Android and Apple work for those entrenched in the Google ecosystem -- those of us who use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Voice, and so forth.

The good news for users on either platform is that Google makes excellent apps for both iOS and Android. For Apple users, Google has gone the extra mile and added in iOS 8 (and probably iOS 9) features to the apps, making the Google ecosystem fit well within the Apple environment.

To a point. Apple is integrating a lot of its own calendaring and mail features into Siri, especially the predictive features coming out in iOS 9, and you can bet Google's apps won't be included. Siri isn't yet open to developers (why?), so if you love Siri, you better love the Apple products.

As for Google Voice, I looked into that in some depth recently. My conclusion was that if you're a voicemail fiend, you'll need to stick with Google Voice. Otherwise, you may want to just port your Google Voice number to your phone -- or just leave it as is. Google Voice works reasonably well with both the dialer on the iPhone and on Android devices, and not well at all on any related software or wearables.

Basically, Google Voice is a second class citizen equally on both Android and iOS.

As for those of you who love the Google Now card interface, that also works on iOS, so if you're an iOS user, you could use Google Now and the new predictive Siri features -- to let your phone tell you what to do with twice as much nagging.

Switch winner: Another draw.

Overall ecosystem

When I'm talking about the overall ecosystem, I'm talking about the world that spins around the phones themselves -- everything from apps to cases to wearables to fitness devices.

Here's the thing: for the most popular Android phones, there are a lot of aftermarket goodies. For anything but the most popular, though, there aren't.

On the other hand, everything -- everything, everything, everything -- is available for the iPhones. They are a huge market and no vendor is dumb enough to ignore iPhone compatibility. So if you want the best choices, you're going to want to go with Apple.

This is still true of apps. While apps are excellent on the Android side of the world, it's still true that iOS apps are often developed first and often fleshed out more. You'll see this more and more with home control and health-related apps, because Apple has released APIs for HomeKit and HealthKit and while there are similar services from Google, you know every single vendor is going to support the iPhone first and possibly more completely.

So here's how it works out. If you buy one of the latest Samsung flagship phones, you'll see aftermarket support that might come close to Apple. If you buy anything else, you'll see a lot less support.

There is, however, one area where Android blows away Apple: choice of wearables. If you go with Apple, you're going Apple Watch. If you're looking for a smartwatch (or even glasses), Android has a wide range of choices.

Switch winner (overall): Apple

Switch winner (wearables): Android


Now that most carriers have separated out their phone service from the cost of the device, more people are becoming aware of just how much these phones cost. Also, you can now much more easily buy unlocked versions and use them with most carriers.

So, let's look at some numbers. An unlocked 32GB Galaxy Note 5 from Best Buy is $699, while an unlocked iPhone 6 Plus straight from Apple isn't available -- but the 16GB version is $749 and the 64GB version is $849. Although Apple doesn't discuss internal specs, the iPhone 6 Plus has only 1GB of RAM, compared to the luxurious 4GB in the Note 5.

So, strictly from a hardware bang-for-your-buck, the Samsung product offers a lot more than Apple. But then there's the low end. You can take Android pretty much as cheap as you want. Take for example the upcoming Moto X Style Pure Edition.

Starting at $399 for the 16GB version, you're looking at a huge price savings over the top tier products. Granted, the odds are the Moto's camera won't be as good (Moto has historically nerfed its cameras), but there's still something to be said for a cheaper option.

It should also be noted that if you buy a cheap phone with a sealed-in battery, you may well be trading spending now for spending later. The battery technology in lower cost phones is almost definitely not going to be up to the highest standards, which means somewhere after a year or so of charging and discharging your phone, you may find you can't make it through a full day.

If you buy a phone via a monthly payment plan through your carrier, you might notice a ten buck a month difference between the lower-end phone and a top-of-the-line phone. But if you're buying a phone outright, there's a huge difference in price. While the feature spec is lower, it's not a lot lower.

Switch winner: Android, for all the choices you have


We've looked at a bunch of categories and Apple wins on overall ecosystem, battery, and security. Android wins on wearable ecosystem, price, and inductive charging. Otherwise, it's a draw.

So there you go. None of these were absolute wins (with the exception of security). It really boils down to your preference and if you're particularly price sensitive. If you're very price sensitive, then Android is your choice (as it has always been). If you're all about security, then you probably want to go Apple. If you're concerned about battery life, you're kind of screwed either way, but you stand a better chance of making through the day with Apple than with Android.

Finally, if you're into specs and nothing but the specs, then the Galaxy Note 5 is the winner.

As for me, I gotta tell you, I'm still not sure. I kind of hate the idea of going back to Apple, but I do favor the security, battery, and ecosystem benefits. It used the be that there were clear wins in customization and openness (particularly in being able to swap backs and batteries), but those benefits of the Android/Samsung side are gone now.

I'm going to wait it out and see how the Moto X Style Pure does in reviews and what Apple has in store in its early-September announcement of it's new round of phones.

Heck, maybe I'll just keep my Galaxy S4 and buy another battery. Stay tuned.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

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