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Switching from iOS to Android: The complete guide

iPhone die-hards may find flipping to Android a ghastly proposition, but for the less committed — likely with older iPhones — cheaper and larger Android phones with 4G are a tempting option. Here are 13 tips to help make the move.

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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 14 Sarah Tew/CNET

While both Android and iOS users will defend the superiority of their OS to the death, with Android now running on three in four smartphones globally, it's safe to say that a fair number of iPhone users have made the switch to Google's platform.

For some users, switching from iOS to Android is a matter of cost — there are far more budget devices available running Google's OS — for others, it's a just a question of trying something new or getting an upgrade offer they can't refuse from their mobile operator.

If you're in a similar situation and are considering a first move to Android, what are your options and how should you prepare for making a switch?

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1. Should you go for another flagship?

The first hurdle to cross in any move to Android is deciding which handset to buy and what features should be prioritised when weighing up devices based on their respective price, look and feel, brand, screen size, resolution, and performance.

It's a jungle out there for the iPhone owner who's used to a simple choice of handsets. Apple's strategy with its , as with their predecessors, is to offer a couple of variations on a theme — the buyer only needs to choose what size storage they'd like, and what colour shell.

So switchers, be prepared for specs mayhem and read up on the little details that might not be obvious when you're checking out devices in store before buying, such as which handsets will continue getting new Android updates and for how long.

Given the premium nature of iPhones, switchers may well be tempted to consider moving to another flagship. If so, it will be hard to ignore Samsung's 5.1-inch Galaxy S5 which offers a speedy processor, crisp display, and Samsung's own software enhancements. Samsung is also the only major Android vendor that retains the familiar physical iOS home button below the display — one minor way to smooth the change.

The catch? If as an iPhone switcher you're baulking at the off-contract price for newer models, you'll probably have the same reservations about the S5 which, unlike the iPhone, has a plastic back.

If Samsung's flagship is a problem, HTC's full metal HTC One M8 might do the trick. But can you If so, it has comparable specs to the Galaxy S5, and dual front-facing speakers with very good sound quality.

Sony was the first to offer waterproof smartphones, and its  not to be ignored. It's got a 20.7-megapixel camera, a fast processor and 3GB RAM, an improved display compared to the Z1, and comes with about 10GB of usable storage. If the look and feel of a device, plus a larger display is what the switcher wants, the Z2 could be the perfect new device. 

If steel isn't essential to you, there's also LG's flagship, , with its 2,560 x 1,440 pixel QHD display. Despite its whopping 3,000mAh battery, it's a power hungry device, so don't expect it to last much longer than a day between charges. The device also offers a 13-megapixel camera, and 16GB storage expandable to 128GB with a microSD card.

But if you really want a big screen, and are willing to fork out the cash to get it, there's always the phone that defines phablet:  or , which brings 1440 x 2560 pixels to the same size screen.

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2. Should you opt for a lower-price device?

If price kept you back from upgrading to a new iPhone, fortunately there's a growing range of solid Android handsets at the other end of the spectrum, such as for $180.

The Moto G's five-inch display offers a 720 x 1080p HD display, while running on a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor. The handset has a decent eight-megapixel main camera — the same size sensor found on the iPhone 5 — and comes with 16GB of internal storage, but no microSD slot. One of its standout features is that it runs a pure version of Android that has seen it receive faster updates than equivalent Android devices from Motorola's rivals.

Or a would-be iPhone to Android switcher could select from mid-range price devices, costing around the $400 mark and still offering above average hardware. It's a category exemplified by Google's own Nexus 5, available from around £299 in the UK, and Motorola's Moto X, which is and £250 in the UK.

Though the nearly five-inch display Nexus 5 hasn't sold in huge numbers, it consistently, offering specs normally seen in high end devices, such as its 1920 x 1080 pixel display, at a great price. One of the drawbacks though is its eight-megapixel camera, which Google compensates for its multi-shot HDR+ tech. Also, it lacks a microSD slot, but that's perhaps of less importance to those already used to that with the iPhone.

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3. Software updates and availability

While iOS offers a consistent user interface across all devices, Android is — for now — open to customisation by handset vendors.

While some HTC users appreciate the company's Sense overlay, and some Samsung owers like its TouchWiz equivalent, few appreciate 'bloatware' from vendors and carriers that chews up storage space without adding value.

For those after Android in the way Google imagined it, there's Google's Nexus 5 from LG or, if you're in the US, Google Play Edition (GPE) phones, for now limited to the first-gen Moto G GPE and HTC One M8 GPE. There's also Motorola's phones released under Google's ownership, the original Moto X, G and E, which run a more pure Android.

The other factor worth weighing up for the newcomer to Android is the availability of updates.

Four years after its release, the iPhone 4 won't be getting iOS 8, while the best Android owners can expect are OS updates for18 months after the device's release, after which they have little choice but to turn to custom ROMs such as CyanogenMod to upgrade their operating system.

Google however devised a clever solution to the previous problem of apps like Google Maps being tied to a version of Android. Google Play Services (GPS) allows it to update Google apps on any Android above version 2.3. The security feature Verify Apps rolled out as a new feature of Android 4.3, meaning most Android devices didn't get it. Last year, though it moved it from the OS to GPS, effectively expanding it to 99 percent of all Android devices, regardless of their operating system.

However, Android owners generally want to know if their device will get the latest OS update and are often miffed if they find out there's not one forthcoming for their particular handset.

Cases in point are some , despite US owners of the S3 receiving it. 

Shortly after Google released Android KitKat, fidlee.com published a table that clearly shows the plight of Android devices being marooned on old OSes, including the most popular models. While the approach to Android updates varies by vendor, it's something worth weighing up for the would-be iPhone switcher.

So the question now is whether popular devices like the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3 will get Google's next OS, Android L, when it arrives later this year.

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4. Speed of updates

Speed of updates is another quibble that Android users have when Google releases its annual refresh to the OS and all the maintenance and security updates in between.

Devices in some markets get updated before others: US and UK owners of the Galaxy Note 3  while many Australians didn't get the update until July, for example.

For people who care about installing the latest OS as soon after Google releases it as possible, nothing beats its own Nexus devices and Google Play Edition phones.

Motorola, under Google, made a point of rapidly releasing KitKat to its flagship the Moto X, which should get the next Android release, Android L, as soon as it's released.

Meanwhile, HTC has committed to providing Android updates to users of at least its two most recent flagships, the One M7 and One M8, within three months of receiving the final build from Google. Leaked internal HTC documents suggest it's also considering updates for a range of other existing devices too but the company has not publicly commented on that beyond saying "other One family members and select devices" will get the updates after the flagships do. 

Samsung hasn't got the best track record for speedy updates across the board, due in part to its massive portfolio of devices, but also thanks to its heavily customised UI and bundled Samsung apps. As mentioned, the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3 were updated in March, .

Sony got around to updating the Xperia Z2 with KitKat in July, and followed up with its mid-tier smartphones in August

LG updated its flagship, the G2, with KitKat in April but left its lower end devices until July. 

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6 of 14 Liam Tung

5. Where’s find my phone?

So, once you've chosen your handset, now you need to make sure you can get the equivalent features on it. First up: making sure that brand new device doesn't go astray.

Most iPhone users are pretty familiar with using their Find my iPhone app, which is useful when you misplace your device at home or in the office. For a long time, there was no built-in equivalent for Android.

However, Google last year released Android Device Manager; like Find my iPhone, it lets the user locate Android devices associated with their Google account, reset a device's screen lock PIN, and remotely erase data on the phone.

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7 of 14 Liam Tung/ZDNet

6. Settings

App permissions and the lack of control users have over them is a perennial debate around Android, flaring up from time to time. iOS users will probably feel uncomfortable with the fact they cannot control access to features on the device, like an app's access to a GPS to determine a user's location, or that an app can 'directly call phone numbers', 'read your call logs', read SMS stored on your phone, or even prevent your phone from sleeping. A full list of permissions Android apps can ask for is listed here, and there's more detail on how to deal with location settings on the next page.

They sound creepy and there's no way to reject a certain permission if you don't want an app to have it. On the other hand, millions of people live with it without complaining and don't even read them when installing a new app. 

Facebook's recent efforts to nudge its users over to its Messenger app drew attention to the long list of permissions its Android app has, with the company having to rebut claims its app was always using the phone's camera.

"If you want to send a selfie to a friend, the app needs permission to turn on your phone's camera and capture that photo. We don't turn on your camera or microphone when you aren't using the app," Peter Martinazzi from Facebook's Messenger Team wrote.

In other words, there are legitimate functional reasons these permissions are required, but still, the iOS user will likely question why an app can function on iOS without access to highly accurate location data but not have the option to disable it in Android.

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8 of 14 Liam Tung/ZDNet

7. How to deal with Settings, and Google Settings

Next up, you'll probably want to sort out your settings. That's not as easy as it sounds with Android. On the OS, somewhat confusingly, there are both device Settings and Google Settings, with some controls accessible in both views and others not.

Google introduced Google Settings in February 2013. Today, it includes settings for apps connected to a Google account, Play Games notification settings, Location, Search & Now, Ads, Android Device manager, Drive-enabled apps, and Account History.

Location settings displays apps that recently made location requests. It's also where the user can see how little control they have over location services in Android compared with , where users can switch off location functionality for some apps, but leave it available for ones that make sense, such as Maps.

Instead, Google provides three options that will be applied to all installed apps that want to use location services. "High accuracy" enables Location services to use GPS, wi-fi and mobile networks; "Battery Saving" turns of GPS and instead uses wi-fi and mobile networks; while "device only" allows GPS only. Users are told of permissions at the time of install, and to a lesser extent, during app updates. They can also check permisions in Settings, under Apps.

Location also provides access to Location Reporting and Location History, which can be toggled on or off. While the user does have the option to turn off both, doing so would compromise the functionality of services like Google Now and Google Maps. If users are interested in seeing a map of where they've been during the past year, they can see here.

Google Now is the equivalent of Siri, but in place of 'Hey Siri', you say 'OK Google'. iOS users may have already used Now by installing its Search app, but Google Now is more integral to the experience of stock Android. Having arrived in Android 4.4 as the 'launcher' for the Nexus 5, it has a persistent presence on the home screen as a search box while a swipe to the right brings up Google Now in full, offering a window of cards to weather, upcoming travel details, things nearby and so on. The third way of accessing Now is by long-pressing the home button and swiping up.

Google released the Now launcher for all Android devices and versions down to 4.1 this August. You can switch off Now by going to Google Settings, selecting Search & Now and sliding the Google Now toggle from On to Off. As Android Central notes, if you simply want remove Now as the home screen, you can install a third-party launcher, which leaves Now accessible by long-pressing the home button.

Google Setting's Accounts and Privacy displays the Gmail account used to show Now cards, as well as web and app history tied to that Gmail account. If you don't want to send Google statistics about your interactions with the Google Now Launcher, you can disable it under 'Help improve Google'. Otherwise it's on by default.

, users can switch enable 'limit ad tracking', and reset the advertising identifier and learn how Apple uses this data. Android offers similar options under Ads.

Users will probably want to replicate the Find My iPhone feature in iOS to locate a lost device or lock it and erase it if it's stolen. The Google Setting, Android Device Manager, allows the user to enable 'remotely locate this device' and 'allow remote lock and erase'.

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9 of 14 Liam Tung/ZDNet

8. Moving your contacts

You can use Exchange to move your contacts between iOS and Android, or sync contacts through iTunes, but a simpler way was recently outlined by Google's chairman Eric Schmidt: simply download a bulk vCard from iCloud if you're running a Mac.

a) Go to apple.com/icloud, login with your Apple ID, and click on contacts

b) In the lower-left corner, click on the wheel, and "select all" the contacts and "export" the vCard into a vCard file (in Downloads).

c) In a browser, go to gmail.com, click on the Mail button and select 'Contacts'. You should see a list of your Gmail contacts. Import the vCard file into Gmail/contacts using the 'Import contacts' command and it should have manually added your contacts. Delete any duplicates or use the 'More / Find & merge duplicates' function.

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10 of 14 Liam Tung

9. Hello Hangouts, hanging up on iMessage

iMessage was a great way to avoid SMS costs when messaging other iPhone owners and connected to a wi-fi network. Before making the move, the iPhone departee should switch off iMessage. Not doing it may mean SMS sent from other iPhones could still end up being received by the old iPhone rather than the new Android device.

This can be done on an iPhone by accessing Settings, tapping Messages and then using the slider next to iMessage to switch it off. 

Once moving to Android, Google's Hangouts app is the most obvious choice to handle SMS. Google integrated SMS functionality with Hangouts when it released KitKat, but if the user doesn't like that there are dozens of alternatives. Two popular SMS apps are Chomp and Handcent SMS, or for the more privacy-focused, there's TextSecure.

Once a third-party SMS app is installed, users can manage which app is the default SMS app by going to Settings, tapping 'more' under the 'Wireless & Networks' list, and from there click on 'Default SMS app', which displays a list of installed SMS apps.

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10. What’s an apps tray, why the backward arrow?

While most iPhone owners won't find the move to Android difficult at all, they will have to get used to some of the features and descriptions unique to Android, including the 'apps drawer', widgets, and navigation tools, such as back arrow and recents.

Most Android devices besides Samsung's Galaxy family have ditched the physical home button in favour of a soft home button, which generally sits in the middle of the navigation row at the bottom of the screen. 

The home button serves a similar purpose in iOS and Android, but in Android lacks the iOS double-press options to bring up apps in use and move back and forth between apps.

While the back arrow and recents buttons might seem superflous at first, both are useful to navigate your way around apps when taking advantage of Android's wider sharing options between apps. The backward arrow takes you back to the last page in a browser, or to an app you may have left after clicking on a link in another app, as you might in Twitter and moving to a browser; or completing an action across two apps, say like converting a document to PDF. 

See the next page for more on the apps drawer.

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12 of 14 JakedUp/Google Play.

11. Home screen versus apps tray (Placeholder image)

When moving from iOS to Android, you'll learn that Google decided to make a home screen where app icons can be placed and a second place called the apps drawer. Obviously in iOS every new app lands on the home screen, and from there can be organised into folders.

But with the option to install widgets on the home screen, it makes a little more sense to have an apps drawer where less important apps can be kept until or unless they become important enough to grant them real-estate on the home screen.

If you want an app to be on your home screen, you would long press the icon you want and drag to one of the pages on your home screen. You can also uninstall an app from the home screen by dragging it up to the 'uninstall' field. 

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13 of 14 Liam Tung/ZDNet

Widgets

Widgets come as companions to apps that have been installed and could be used to dislay a summary of information, like the weather, or a small window into an app, like email. Or as per Spotify's Android widget, a small control panel.

If there is a widget available for an app, it can be found (on the Nexus 5) by long-pressing the homescreen indicator (the row of circles above the app tray icon). From there, select widgets, which presents a grid of thumbnail images of widgets to select from. Long-press the widget you want in the desired size, and drag it back to the homepage.

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Google Drive

Instead of having Apple encourage you to upload files to its pricey iCloud, you'll be nudged by Google to store photos and other content in Google Drive.

This will first become apparent when using Google Camera, which automatically organises photos in the Google+ linked Google Photo viewer app. Unlike many other Google apps, the Photo app cannot be installed separately and at least on the Nexus 5, comes pre-installed. 

You can automatically backup photos and videos up to a computer or Google Drive. 

The good news, if you're inclined to trust public clouds with your photos (on top of email and documents), is that Google Drive is a bargain compared with iCloud.

Google offers 15GB of cloud storage for free, 100GB for $1.99 a month and 1TB for $9.99 a month. In iCloud, the first 5GB is free, while 20GB costs 99 cents a month, and 200 GB costs $3.99 a month. Apple recently launched new tiers at 500GB at $9.99 a month and 1TB at $19.99 a month.

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