Friday, June 03, 2011

Why Should You Buy Android Instead of an iPhone?


COMMENTARY | The iPhone offers the slickest, shiniest, most elegant experience available on a smartphone, sort of like how Macs stand at the head of the PC world. On top of that, there are more and better apps available for iPhones (although Android phones have more free apps).

So why would you even consider an Android phone? Well, here's what Android smartphones have going for them that iPhones lack:

The best Google apps

Since Android is made by Google, the Google apps for Android tend to be a step ahead of where they are on the iPhone. Google Translate got real-time voice translation on Android before it came to the iPhone, while Google Maps for Android has had turn-by-turn navigation for a long time. And the Gmail app for Android lets you do basically everything the Gmail website does.

Choice of wireless carriers

For years, the iPhone was only available on AT&T's wireless network here in the States. It finally arrived on Verizon's network this year, but it's still unavailable on Sprint or T-Mobile, or any of the contract-free wireless carriers like Virgin Mobile or MetroPCS.

If you're choosing your network before you choose your phone, then you probably won't even consider the "iPhone versus Android" struggle. If you're looking at getting an iPhone, though, it's worth noting what you give up; not only do you have to sign a contract, you also pay an extremely high monthly rate for data compared to some contract-free plans.

For $25, Virgin Mobile offers unlimited data and texts plus 300 minutes a month, and it uses Sprint's wireless network. Meanwhile, AT&T's GoPhone plans (which don't work with its iPhones) offer a la carte pricing, letting you put together an absurdly cheap data-only plan if you so desire. I was paying $15 a month earlier, but I found that this offered too little and had to upgrade to its $25 a month plan.

Text reflow

This is one of those little things that you don't realize you want until you miss it.

What is text reflow? Well, if you're reading this paragraph on an iPhone, then when you pinch the screen to zoom in it'll stick out past each edge of the screen. Zoom in far enough, and you have to scroll left and right in order to keep reading. This is not fun, especially if you have poor eyesight.

On an Android smartphone, if you pinch to zoom in on a website, your phone will "reflow" the words to make them fit inside your screen. So, you don't have to squint at your phone's screen and you can just thumb the page up and down without having to scroll back and forth to read stuff. It doesn't work on everything, unfortunately, but it works for nearly all text on the web.

Pull-down notification bar

When an iPhone wants to tell you something, it gives you a pop-up that takes over the screen, and you have to tap to make it go away. This can be annoying sometimes, like when it gives you a pop-up to tell you it noticed a wireless network in range because you walked in a store with free wi-fi.

On an Android smartphone, an icon appears at the top of the screen instead. Then you can pull down the part of the screen with the icons in it to see what each one is and tap them to address them. It's a little hard to describe, but in practice it's very convenient.

So is an Android phone right for you? Good question. Play with both kinds of smartphones, but keep these points in mind as you do so.

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.

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