Smartphone survival test: Swapping my iPhone 6s for a $200 Android handset

After swearing off the platform four years ago, are we still sick of Android? We're about to find out.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Four years ago, I called it quits with the Android smartphone platform. I was, shall we say, frustrated with the state of software/hardware stability and application quality relative to what I could get on phones you could buy from Apple at the time.

I saw no reason to spend $600+ on a Android device when I could spend about the same money on an iPhone, and get a better quality experience overall. Two years ago, I re-evaluated my position and came to the same conclusion -- I wanted nothing to do with Google's smartphone platform.

In those four years I've gone through several iPhones -- a 5, a 5S, a 6 and now a 6S. I've enjoyed using all of them, but I've paid a considerable premium for owning Apple products as prices for Android phones over that period of time have decreased significantly.

I've migrated between iPhone models not so much because I have needed to, but because as a technology writer, keeping up with these things is a cost of doing business.

As a private citizen, if I did not have an outlet for writing about these things, I am not sure if I could justify the expense every year of replacing my smartphone at full retail non-contract pricing.

It's still a good chunk of change to lay out every time I do this even if I do get partial trade-in value, which is usually around half of what I paid for it a year earlier. Although the trend seems to be much lower trade-in valuation, year after year.

My last purchase, an unlocked 128GB iPhone 6S, ran me about $900. That's a lot of money. Even a 64GB or 32GB model would have run me about $700 or so.

While I have no desire to replace my 6S with the recently-released iPhone SE -- as from a technology perspective, they have the same innards -- the release of this so-called "lower-cost" device has gotten me thinking about upgrade cycles and whether or not I want to continue on this path of going to the latest and greatest iPhone indefinitely.

The burning question is thus: Does it really makes sense to be spending this kind of money when perfectly viable alternatives exist for significantly less?

Four years is a long time in the technology industry, and it's time I started looking at Android again.

There are a number of reasons why I want to do this. First and foremost is understanding what is happening in the manufacturing space from Chinese companies that are now releasing high-quality products for much less money than what Apple is charging for iPhones.

Some of these products have not landed in a big way on American shores yet as far as retail presence, or have only gotten a small amount of exposure through online sales. But this is only temporary as these firms shore up more and more distribution and carrier relationships.

I also do not want to get caught in the trap of being a technology writer that is permanently stuck in a "well if it was junky and problematic before, it's still crap" mindset and having a stale perspective on Android that would negatively impact my credibility and relevance as an authority on the subject.

Still, one thing is opine and to analyze the state of the industry. Another is to use the products themselves in real-world scenarios.

So I'm going to put my money where my mouth is. I'm leaving my iPhone 6S on the shelf for a month, and will use an inexpensive Android smartphone instead.

For this "Smartphone Survival Test" I've picked out several Android handsets which cost between $200 and $400 and have similar specifications. I'm going to alternate between them so that I get a representative sample and one device does not disproportionately set the tone of my experience.

These phones are:

(Edit: We've pulled the Lenovo ZUK Z1 off the list due to various carrier incompatibilities in the US. The Nexus 5X has been added in its place.)

I am also going to use for the most part the same exact core applications that I use on the iPhone. These are:

  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Skype for Business
  • Gmail
  • Google Maps
  • Yelp
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • RadarScope
  • YouFood
  • Google Chrome
  • Google News
  • Google Voice
  • Plume for Twitter

The only apps that differ between the iOS and Android platforms are my Twitter client (on iOS I use Tweetbot) and my web browser (I normally use Safari).

Tech trends in China that are on their way over here

So what am I hoping to accomplish with this? Well, I think if it ends up that I can use an inexpensive Android device interchangeably with iOS without significant migration pain or loss of functionality, it will have been deemed a success.

I'm also hoping that if certain things do arise as far as usability issues or scenarios that I did not anticipate, I'll be able to document and work around them -- and if I can't, these will be documented as well.

In any case, let us begin the Smartphone Survival Test, week one.

Have you migrated from iOS to an inexpensive Android device recently? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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