I’ll preface this by saying before this review, I’ve hardly laid hands on an Android device, let alone considered throwing my iPhone aside to completely delve into the OS and see if I could actually survive without my iPhone. In my time with an Android device, the short answer would be that Android would be a perfectly passable everyday phone. But would I make the switch and ditch my iPhone 4? Hit the jump to find out as well as see tons of videos and a gallery chock full of comparison pics!
Coming to the decision to give Android a try was the easy part. Then came the tricky part, picking an actual Android device. With the iPhone it’s simple, the best model is typically the newest model, and with Apple’s current product cycle, there’s only 1 a year to choose from. Along with that, in the US you have one carrier choice, AT&T. (Unless of course you want to unlock and use an iPhone on T-Mobile sans 3G.) I decided the easiest solution would be to stick to AT&T and check out their Android selection. This proved to be an easier decision on AT&T opposed to other carriers such as Verizon, which carries an abundance of Android powered devices. My choices were between the HTC Aria and the Samsung Captivate. Both of which run Android OS version 2.1. I’ve never been a huge fan of HTC hardware, so I went with the Captivate, and I’m glad I did.
The most obvious thing about a phone, and the first thing you notice is the physical design. Both of these phones are built extremely well. When comparing specifically the iPhone 4 and the Captivate, both feel solid in your hand. The back of the Captivate is a brushed metal with glossy bands on the top and the bottom while the iPhone 4 is a solid slab of glass on the back. To me, the back of the iPhone 4 may look better, but in everyday use, I somehow feel more comfortable setting the Captivate down on a bare surface naked and not worrying whether or not it’s going to scratch. One of my only peeves with Apple products are hairline scratches. The plastic backs of the iPhone 3G and 3GS held up well as far as the white version went. The black version was a fingerprint magnet and you could see any tiny imperfection. The iPhone 4 in black holds up better in my experience than the previous models as far as blemishes, but the fingerprints still madden me. As far as feel, the iPhone 4 still feels more solid in my hand than the Captivate.
Both phones sport a 5MP camera. Neither have too many options. I’m making this short because in all honesty, I didn’t see too much of a difference. The iPhone 4 pictures appear to be a tiny bit warmer than the Captivate’s, but besides that and the lack of a flash on the Captivate, they were about even. I find myself not using the flash on the iPhone 4 unless it’s extremely dark and I’m forced to. It seems to make everything look washed out in my opinion, so I avoid it whenever I can.
When you use a smartphone, you really have to choose a phone that suits your needs. What do you do everyday? What are you going to use the device for? For me, I look for a solid e-mail app, an awesome calendar app, social networking support (and more importantly, the choices you have when it comes to networking applications). After that comes entertainment value. And before anything else comes system compatibility.
I remember back before the iPhone when I used Blackberrys and we had to keep a PC laying around solely so I could back up my Berrys and be able to upgrade to the latest leaked OS, as well as sync my content. Eventually 3rd parties picked up the slack for RIM, but it still wasn’t the most ideal solution. Eventually RIM came out with a Mac client, but it was too little too late in my opinion.
I was hoping this wouldn’t be the case with Android. But alas, I could not find an easy way to get my contacts and media on the Captivate. I eventually asked some trusty folks on Twitter. Instead of taking several hard routes, I created a new Gmail address and imported my contacts to that address for wireless sync. Workable but not the most convenient method. For media, several people recommended DoubleTwist. It got the job done, but it was somewhat maddening that I had to go through a few different processes just to get content onto the device. There are also programs like Missing Sync that work well, but a $40 price tag just to have better sync with Mac is somewhat ridiculous. I understand that several years ago Mac users were a niche group and less than 2% market share. This is by no means the case anymore, so software manufacturers need to stop leaving out Mac users. By now, we should have compatibility right out of the gate.
With my iPhone 4, I sync to iTunes and I’m done. I’m also a MobileMe user so I’ve never had to worry about that content being lost when switching from iPhone to iPhone. I also found no easy way to get my iCal events onto my Android device. To me, if I wanted to use the phone in the way I intend, it almost forces you to use not only Gmail but GCal as well. Since I am a Mac user, the iPhone 4 obviously wins hands down as far as compatibility goes.
We all know iPhones don’t have the best battery life in the world, and I’m not sure about other Android devices, but the Captivate battery life was a little disappointing to me. I’m a pretty heavy user and receive a lot of e-mails (Rene is an e-mailing machine) and I found it hard to make it through a whole day. My iPhone 3GS typically stayed on the charger while I was at work just for simplicity’s sake and so I didn’t have to worry about a dead battery, but my iPhone 4 seems to get much better battery life and I don’t worry about it quite as much. With the Captivate, I found myself wishing I invested in a second charger to take to work and ended up carrying the cable back and forth after 2 days of it being dead by the time I left work for the day. I’m sure part of that is thanks to the screen. It’s a sacrifice you’ll have to make if you want 4” of AMOLED goodness I suppose.
This is one area I enjoyed exploring. The Android Marketplace really DOES have tons of apps. No, they don’t have the same ridiculous number Apple has, but I disagree with Apple’s representation of apps. When I look at the number of apps a platform has, I want to know how many “quality” apps that platform has. Leave out all the junk and apps that should have never been approved in the first place, and I’d say the iTunes app store has less than 40,000 quality apps.
I was pleasantly surprised with the selection Android users have. Any type of app I could possibly want, I have at least 3 choices or more, which in most situations are more than sufficient. The only area I saw a pretty poor selection in was Twitter clients. This is probably just me though. I have more Twitter clients on my iPhone than you can shake a stick at. And I switch between them - frequently. I’m flaky when it comes to Twitter clients and I get bored. For any normal person, Android’s growing selection would accommodate most non-mutants just fine.
Now let’s talk native applications. Google put a lot of thought into basic everyday apps like the phone and texting app. I absolutely love how you can swipe left and right in your contacts to call or message someone. That’s ingenious and a really quick way to interact with your contacts. I’m not sure if these features are unique to Android OS 2.1 or not, but they’re pretty frak’n sweet. Clicking on someone’s picture within their contact card also gives you additional ways you can interact with that person. The message app is also very easy to use and overall, I really enjoyed the interface of all the core apps. The only thing I really did not care for was all the trial and bloatware that comes pre-installed on the device. I spent 30 minutes clearing out junk before I actually dug into the marketplace and loaded the phone up with things I actually wanted. This reminds me of the shiver that runs down my spine when you boot up a new PC and see a desktop loaded with nothing but crap. Hey, maybe Best Buy can start offering Android optimization services as another form of highway robbery. (You can thank me later for the idea Best Buy, just know I’ll be expecting my royalty check every month.)
Once all the bloatware was thrown into a fiery hole of despair, you are left with a 4” canvas of AMOLED goodness to tweak and customize until your heart’s content. And that leads me to my main focus of this article.....
The OS is probably the single most important factor when choosing a phone. In my experience, I’ve found things about Android that I really like, and then things that I really don’t like.
The main screen on Android OS is pretty much a blank canvas for you to do what you will with. You can drop icons and reorder them just like you would on the iPhone, but you can also create widgets and customize until your heart’s content. This is one area Apple really has fallen behind. My biggest gripe with iOS is the lack of a decent notification system. In that area, Android wins by a landslide.
The Android OS also gives you a few choices when it comes to keyboards. I was pretty excited to get to try out Swype. While it seems to be pretty quick, it still has its quirks. No matter what keyboard I chose, I found myself lagging behind how quickly I can type on my iPhone. But to be fair, I have been typing on an iPhone keyboard for over 3 years now.
Android offers a lot of cool gestures and shortcuts in general I wish Apple would take a closer look at. But there’s also certain things that seem to be overdone. It seemed I spent a good amount of time figuring out alerts and sounds, as well as configuring general settings. It seemed a little overwhelming that I could pick alerts for every little thing. The option is nice but the settings panel is a little confusing. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t really know what settings I was changing, I had to experiment. It reminded me somewhat of the 80 billion alerts Blackberry users are presented with. To me, it was a little overkill.
All in all, I’m glad I decided to give Android a try. My honest opinion is that it’s a platform that’s got a ridiculous amount of potential. I think the ideas are all there, but the implementation isn’t quite there yet. My iPhone does what I want it to do seamlessly (and I know being a Mac user gives me a leg up on PC users in some cases), but either way - the iPhone is so dead easy to use. I’m basing my conclusions off of iOS 4. If I were comparing previous releases of iOS to Android, that would be a much tougher decision. Even though I’m sticking with my iPhone, Android is definitely a platform to keep a close eye on. And here’s to hoping Apple will step up their game too when it comes to iOS 5 and beyond. Even though I may be staying on the iPhone side of the fence, I now have a new respect for the platform as well as its users. Just as I prefer my platform, I can see why tons of power users would choose Android as well.
Thanks to my boss who took tons of excellent hi-res pics for me since I'm too cheap to break down and finally get a DSLR. And a special thanks to @kasperapd as well for lending us some iPhone 4/Evo4G comparison shots (apparently that phone IS rarer than a unicorn!) And as always, we encourage you guys to chime with your comments and thoughts!
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