After using an iPhone 6 Plus for six months, I've spent the past six months with Android devices. I expected it to be a learning experience. I didn't expect to find an Android device that is so much better than the iPhone for my needs that I can't imagine going back.
But the 6 Plus, at 5.5 inches, was just too big to fit comfortably in a pocket. The only alternative from Apple, the iPhone 6, offers a 4.7-inch screen that's just too small for me to read without getting eyestrain.
So, as part of my "get to know a smartphone OS" campaign, I began looking for a midsize alternative, a device with a screen size of between 5 and 5.2 inches. After trying a few other devices in May and June, I ended up with an LG G4, which I've been using since its release in July. Although it has a 5.5-inch screen, it's considerably more compact than the iPhone 6 Plus and fits comfortably in my pocket.
Yes, it's powered by Android. And you'll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers to get me to give it up.
Best Android smartphones for work and play (October 2015 edition)
But I didn't need benchmarks. Because my wife is now happily using my (not so) old iPhone 6 Plus, we have a steady stream of images to compare. And there's no question that images from the G4 are sharper and better looking than equivalent shots from the iPhone.
Then there's the user interface. I find Apple's "wall of icons" approach irritating in day to day usage, and the inflexibility of that user experience means a lot of pointless tapping for simple tasks in iOS.
I'm a fanatical OneNote user, for example. For travel, I keep confirmations, sightseeing suggestions, maps, and other useful information in a notebook stored on OneDrive. It's easy to pin that notebook (and even individual OneNote pages) to the home screen of my Android device.
With iOS, that's simply not an option. The closest alternative is pinning individual pages to the Recent Pages list in the OneNote app, which still requires extra taps for common tasks.
Android's widgets are a poor substitute for the live tiles of Windows 10 Mobile, but at least they offer options to put more than square app icons and bookmarks on the screen.
I haven't mentioned price yet, have I? Apple charges premium prices for its devices, and discounts are rare. Last year, when I purchased the 64 GB iPhone 6 Plus, the price tag was $850 (the 128 GB version was $100 more). The G4, with 32 GB of internal storage, cost a mere $550, and it includes a Micro SD card slot that I filled with a 128 GB card that cost about $40. That's a savings of about $400 after factoring in taxes.
Speaking of internal expansion, the G4 also includes a removable battery. Call me old school, but I love the option of keeping a fully charged spare battery on hand when I know I have a long travel day ahead. When the remaining charge drops into the danger zone, I can remove the back of the G4, swap in the fresh battery, and be back at 100 percent in less than 90 seconds. You can't do that with an iPhone.
LG G4 image, camera sample, and screenshot gallery
As far as the design of the hardware itself is concerned, I don't feel like I'm settling for second best. The iPhone 6 Plus is thin and light, but it's also so slippery that using it without a case is foolhardy. By contrast, I don't feel any need for a case with the G4, whose interchangeable backs are great looking and offer a reassuringly firm gripping surface.
The design of the G4, with the power button and volume controls on the back, is ingenious. And despite having a 5.5-inch diagonal screen, it's much shorter than the weirdly tall iPhone 6 Plus, which means it fits in my shirt pocket comfortably. The fact that it doesn't require a case makes the advantage even more pronounced. (Compare the sizes for yourself here.)
One of those interchangeable backs, by the way, offers wireless charging using the Qi standard, another option that Apple refuses to embrace.
After spending six months with iOS and nearly as long with Android, I've learned one important lesson: You can be fully productive with either platform, if you're willing to accept it on its own terms. In fact, I learn at least one new productivity-enhancing shortcut every month, just as I did with iOS.
One thing I've learned after using several Android devices this year is that fragmentation and carrier obstinacy is a real thing in the land of Android. Verizon's record with updates, even for its well-supported flagship devices, is abysmal.
Earlier this year, I used a Sony Xperia Z3v, which was a nice enough handset with a better-than-average camera. Sony announced its plans to bring Android 5.0 (Lollipop) to this phone in October 2014 and began rolling out the update in March.
But more than seven months later, Verizon still hasn't released that update for the Sony devices that it sold to its customers.
Meanwhile, LG says it has already released Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) for the G4, with the rollout starting in Poland and going global in the next few weeks and months. Anyone want to take bets on how long it will be before Verizon phones get that update? "Never" is an option, by the way.
Android, of course, is designed with Google services in mind, but most of what I do uses Microsoft services. Surprisingly, that's worked out much better than I thought it would, thanks to Microsoft's willingness to deliver first-rate versions of its apps for Android. That's a topic for a follow-up post.