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Both iPhones and Android phones are sophisticated and powerful in very similar ways.

In general terms, you'd probably be happy with either type of phone.  But there are some subtle differences and issues, which we discuss in this article.

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Which is Better - an Apple or Android Phone

Part 3 :  Hardware Considerations

Increasingly there is more superficial commonality than difference between Apple's iPhones and other phones running on Google's Android OS.

This article is part of a series comparing Android based phones with Apple's iPhone and helping you choose which would be the best option for you.

Please read through other parts in the series - see links on the right.



There's actually not a huge degree of difference in terms of underlying hardware as between iPhones and Android phones.

The steady stream of new Android phones, and the annual updates of iPhones, mean that one type of phone or another may briefly become the 'best' phone out there, but with the wonderful advances in technologies, both alternatives generally offer excellent capabilities suitable for all but the most specialized and demanding of needs.

So, what should your next phone be?  Read on to understand more about the issues and choices open to you.

Android vs iOS - Hardware Considerations

Both Android and iOS are 'behind the scenes' operating systems, and - at least in theory - are somewhat hardware independent.  Sure, there are occasionally strengths or weaknesses in one or the other OS in terms of support for things such as high resolution screens, but these are transient limitations and quickly resolved in future updates.

So what impact does hardware have on your choice of OS?

It necessarily has some impact, because the Apple iPhone comes only with iOS as its operating system.  If you must have an iPhone, then you have no choice but to accept iOS.

On the other hand, if you find some of the artificial constraints Apple imposes on its iPhone (for example, the inability to change batteries or the lack of support for USB and micro-SD devices) to be unacceptable, then you're 'forced' into Android (or some other) OS, because for sure, somewhere among the 100+ different makes/models of Android phone, you'll find one much more closely aligned to the features you must have.

It has been consistently true that in some areas, each new iPhone has been a market leader, with the latest example being the super-high resolution of the new iPhone 4 screen.  But other issues, perhaps stemming from the very clear and apparently unalterable vision of Steve Jobs about what phones should and should not have and do, are not nearly as industry-leading.  For example, it seems a terrible waste to have so many pixels on the screen without then allowing the screen to grow a bit in size.

As Jobs himself boasted, the pixels are too small to see, which is the flip side of a coin that says on the opposite side 'the pixels are being wasted and serve no good purpose'.  Surely it would be possible to stretch the screen even a tiny bit further, making it slightly wider and giving it a widescreen aspect ratio (maybe 1.7:1 instead of the current 1.5:1), and allowing it to be perhaps 4" wide rather than the current 3.5"?

In complete contrast, whereas the iPhone seems to be subjected to the personal opinions of one man (albeit a brilliant man), the huge diversity of Android phones allow you and the market as a whole to decide what features are good/necessary and which are unnecessary and could be discarded.

User Experience Issues

The biggest difference in user interface (UI) issues is imposition of Apple's trademark concept of a single button mouse into a single button phone contrasts with the four or so button design on Android phones.

If you prefer a Windows mouse with anywhere from two to four or five buttons (and a wheel) to a single button Mac mouse, you'll probably also prefer the extra shortcuts and consistencies of design/interface that are possible with more buttons in Android programs.

Power users will greatly appreciate the ability to customize the Android 'home screen' to a much greater extent than can be done to the Apple home screen.  Hardware manufacturers have also added their own gentle 'overlays' to slightly adapt and (in their opinion) enhance the raw Android experience.

Overall, with Android you get a choice of several different UIs, and if you wish, you can further tweak and adapt the phone's screen appearance and functionality to suit your own preferences.  With Apple, all you can do is move the order of icons around.

Maybe Apple is the Ford of the smartphone industry.  Henry Ford stole a huge lead over the other companies by introducing the mass produced Model T, but his 'you can have any color you like as long as it is black' unwillingness to be more sensitive to offering options to his customers allowed other motor car manufacturers to spring up and in time to grow larger than Ford.

Is this what will happen to Apple too?  Is Steve Jobs the Henry Ford of our era, and with similar weaknesses?

Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot Support

This is a wonderful feature of Android 2.2.  It allows your Android phone to connect to the internet via its 3G wireless connection, and then to rebroadcast the internet connection as if it were a Wi-Fi router, allowing up to 8 additional devices to connect through the phone and share its connection.

This is invaluable, particularly when you want to access the internet from (eg) your laptop and/or tablet and there is no ethernet or Wi-Fi connection available.  You can connect to your phone's Wi-Fi hotspot and then on through the phone's 3G wireless connection to the internet as a whole.

Apple has chosen not to offer this capability in iOS.

Removable media

The good news is that generally an iPhone has more built in storage than most Android phones.  It is rare to see an Android phone with even 16 GB of built in memory, whereas iPhones typically have either 8GB, 16GB or even 32GB.

But the bad news is that Apple steadfastly refuses to allow the iPhone to accept removable media, whereas Android powered phones will almost always allow you to add/exchange a micro SD card into the unit.  A micro SD card can hold up to 2GB, and newer micro SDHC cards can hold up to 64GB of storage.  An even newer format is expected to soon appear, micro SDXC, which will be capable of holding up to 2TB of data.

This means that an Android phone combines a reasonable amount of built in storage for the things you most commonly want to always have accessible (programs and a limited amount of data) and can then allow access to effectively unlimited additional memory in the form of multiple micro SD cards. These tiny slivers of memory are about the size of a fingernail, and so in less than a matchbox, you could have an extraordinarily huge amount of capacity allowing you to store countless hundreds of movies, thousands of CDs, and millions of pictures.

For sure, juggling a matchbox full of micro SD cards is not as convenient as being able to store more information conveniently on a phone itself. But even with a single 64 GB micro SD card, any android-based phone immediately offers you more online storage than any iOS powered iPhone.

There are other benefits of having a micro SD card slot on your phone. It also provides a convenient way to transfer data to and from your phone, and a great way to backup the information stored on the phone.

For all these reasons, Apple's refusal to add a micro SD card becomes a major weakness of their iPhone design, and provides a strong reason to preferentially choose an android-based phone.

Apple's Wired Wireless Phone

One of the most contradictory aspects of an iPhone is that while it has both 3G and Wi-Fi data connectivity, if you want to synchronize its data with your main computer, you have to either connect it to the computer via an old fashioned cable and the iTunes program that needs to be running on it, or alternatively pay $99 a year to do so via Apple's MobileMe software.

Additionally, any time you wish to update the phone's operating system, you again need to do so through an old fashioned cable and your main computer (and yet again the iTunes program that needs to be running on it).

Additionally, although in theory you can download large programs via Wi-Fi without needing to go through your computer, the Catch-22 there is that your phone will time-out and go to sleep long before the download is completed - it isn't smart enough to stay active while downloading.  So your download gets interrupted and cancelled, and you again find yourself needing to connect your phone to your computer and to wade through an arcane and non-intuitive process to first get the program to your computer and then from there on to your phone.

This is all curious and contradictory for a company that claims to pride itself on providing smooth high quality user experiences.

Most - if not all - of this can be avoided on an Android based phone.

This article is part of a series comparing Android based phones with Apple's iPhone and helping you choose which would be the best option for you.  Please read through other parts in the series - see links at the top right of this article.

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Originally published 5 Nov 2010, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

Related Articles
Should you choose an Android based smartphone or iOS based Apple iPhone
Part 1 :  Introduction, Executive Overview, History
Part 2 :  The unnecessary restrictions imposed on you by Apple if choosing an iPhone
Part 3 :  Hardware issues between Android and iPhones
Part 4 :  Performance and Compatibility issues
Part 5 :  Market shares and trends
Part 6 :  Other OS choices for smartphones
Part 7 :  Pricing and Conclusion

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