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A Comparison

Posted on November 28th, 2011

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been watching the mobile space with eager anticipation; Apple was set to release their next iPhone, and Google was primed to unveil their new benchmark Nexus device. Both were coming with new hardware and new operating systems. With my Nexus S still alive and kicking, there was no actual need to get a new phone, but I am keenly interested in mobile technology and was curious to see what the two big titans (sorry Microsoft and RIM) can do.

Those who know me now know that I am a huge proponent of Google stuff. I use Google products all the time: Gmail, Chrome, Docs, Calendar, Contacts, Talk, Reader, Music, Plus, Voice, Picasa, and so on. It often comes as a surprise when I say that I actually owned an iPhone a couple of years ago, too. (It was a 3G.) With the US release date of the new Google Galaxy Nexus set to be announced this week, I find myself being tempted to get it. But I am also considering the iPhone, to the shock of many. This post serves as a place where I can compare and contrast the devices. It is not meant to pass judgment on anyone who has an Apple or Google phone, so let’s be nice.


Let’s start with the devices themselves. I’ve actually had the opportunity to play with both the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy Nexus, and there are some very considerable differences between them. Personally, I am a big fan of my Nexus S form factor: it’s minimalistic, sleek, and fits great in my hand. The curved glass is a bit of a gimmick but it doesn’t really swing things positively nor negatively.

The iPhone is similar to the Nexus S in size, although it feels a bit better made with the glass and brushed aluminum. (The Nexus S has a plastic case.) That said, we’ve all seen pictures or, worse yet, have experienced the shattered glass of the iPhone too many times. But the iPhone feels nice in my hand. As part of the announcement, a lot of time was spent with the camera and, indeed, it is an incredible component of the phone. I don’t think anything else in the market comes close. Lastly, given the prevalence of the device, there are tons of accessories available for it. I wouldn’t have a problem finding a case that I like (even though I would remain paranoid of cracking that glass).

The Galaxy Nexus is nothing short of a behemoth. Someone had the bright idea that, for a phone, bigger is better. Didn’t we all learn our lesson from Zack Morris? The 4.65″ screen looks incredible but it is simply unwieldy in your hand. You know that there’s a problem when you can’t reach the opposite corner of the screen while holding the phone. Size matters, people, but the same rule doesn’t apply everywhere. The camera, while good, isn’t as great as the 4S camera, and I think that the variety of accessories will be smaller for this device.

Software – Mail

Most iPhone users agree with me when I say that the Android Gmail application is vastly superior to Mail. As a power Gmail user, this is incredibly important as it is one of the most frequently used applications on my phone. Until very recently, this would have been a dealbreaker for me, but Google released a native Gmail application for iOS! While it does expose things that I could not do in Mail (e.g. application of multiple labels), it is still not where the Gmail application is for Android. Hands down, that is king.

Software – Contacts

Going hand in hand with my use of Gmail is my use of Google contacts. Everything is synchronized beautifully because Google manages it all under the hood. Now, Apple has now introduced iCloud, which basically does what Google has been doing since the very beginning. (I remarked how iOS5 is basically Apple ripping Google off and how Apple is introducing nothing new when they announced it.) But getting an iPhone means that I will need to go through roundabout methods to keep them synchronized. But at least it’s possible. It’s more or less the same deal with Calendar as well.

Software – Music

Well, one might expect this to go squarely in Apple’s favour. After all, the iPhone was borne from an iPod and all of its wonderful features, wasn’t it? It’s true. The iPhone is a very powerful portable music device. As an iTunes user, I think that the synchronization of music across all devices is very handy. Little things like the lock screen control and an equalizer are incredibly useful as well.

That said, Google’s Music offering isn’t half bad. They just unveiled their iTunes Store competitor, and I could realistically get everything I want from there too. My entire music collection is already in the Google cloud, and I am able to stream it and/or download it anywhere I want. Their mobile application isn’t nearly as polished as Music in iOS5, but I do see that the lock screen widget and equalizer is on its way as well.

Software – Maps

The last major application that I use on my mobile device is Maps. Again, there is no question that the Android version of Maps is better; the ability to pan, rotate, and change the perspective (even all at the same time) is unmatched. Apple apparently bought a mapping company not too long ago and rumours are that they will replace Maps eventually but, for the time being, this is another example of Google making sure their products are better on Android.

Software – Third Party Applications

For the most part, the applications that I want are available on both iPhone and Android devices. On Android, however, I can install any application I want out of the box; for iOS, I’d have to jailbreak it. Not a big deal but Apple’s being a bit of a control freak. More on that later.

Software – Operating System

On the software side, I’d like to wrap up by comparing the features/quirks of the respective operating systems. The iOS notification system is still horrible. Even though it is a huge step forward from what it was (remember those invasive pop-ups? Good God!), it’s still ugly and poorly implemented. There is no Internet tethering. There are no widgets on your screens. Siri is amazing. The biggest thing with iOS5 is that it is incredibly locked down. I commend Apple for having such control over their supply chain and for their tight integration between hardware and software. This results in a great product when it leaves the store but, when it leaves the store, you’ve made your money — let the customer do what they want with the device. Apple has ironically become the Big Brother that their epic 1984 SuperBowl ad wanted to defeat.

The Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) notification bar is still better than iOS5 and Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) takes it to a whole new level. It is a beautiful implementation of notifications and I am a big fan of it. You can have widgets on your home screen, so it’s easy to see things like the weather, latest tweets, and latest Facebook news feed items at a glance. You can tether your phone. You can truly multitask. And it all works with the Google applications I already use. Nevertheless, I do find that my phone suffers from some inexcusable bugs (like not being able to switch in and out of airplane mode successfully all the time, and not picking up the carrier signal when I know it’s there). Since the Galaxy Nexus will offer a pure Google experience (i.e. no software changes by the manufacturer), you’ll get updates as soon as they’re available and can largely do whatever you want with it. That said, the mere fact that I had to distinguish between Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich speaks to a very well-documented issue with Android: fragmentation. There are so many versions Google has released out there, and each of those versions have other versions that manufacturers and modders have created. It’s a very crowded and uncoordinated ecosystem and that is a lot of chaos from a company that got its roots from organizing chaos (i.e. the Internet) in an intelligent way.

Ultimately, iOS makes it so that stupid users can use an iPhone, but power users are shackled. On the flip side, stupid users often find Android very cumbersome. There are context menus and, my goodness, more than one button to press. Power users – and I consider myself one of them – rejoice at the accessibility offered by this approach. I applaud Apple’s simplicity but, sometimes, it just takes too long to get to something I want to change.


Two more things. I have an iPad, so what I enjoy on an iPad can be enjoyed on an iPhone (for the most part). Things from iTunes and Newsstand (where I have 5 magazine subscriptions now) on many platforms is really compelling. I am also a T-Mobile customer right now, but I have never had a contract with them. In order to get an iPhone and get decent data speeds, I’ll have to switch and face the burden of paying a large sum for a phone or get sucked into a contract. There is still a possibility that T-Mobile will offer the Galaxy Nexus so I may not have to switch. Although, if I’m honest, T-Mobile service is pretty crappy and I’d welcome a switch anyways.


So that’s my brain dump. I don’t think that there is a clear victor here. Do I join the masses and become an iZombie, or do I stick to my current usage and get Google’s latest and greatest?

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