iPhone vs. Droid: The Authoritative Review

I’ve now had the Droid as my defacto cellphone for two weeks. It’s time for a comparison. Which is better? Why? After all, Google handed me a free $600 phone to do a review like this. I feel honor-bound to present it.

First of all, this is not a post for the ages. 18 months from now, one or even two generations will have passed in the smartphone market. Almost anything available in 2011 will be better than either of the entries we have today.

Screen
Droid +2
The Droid’s screen is precious. At 854×480, it has a greater density than Standard Definition TV and one approaching low end HD TV’s. The Droid’s screen is physically slightly larger than the iPhone’s. If placed side-by-side, the diference is obvious. Further, there is an effective light sensor on the Droid which adjusts the brightness of the screen. No more blinding yourself when turning on the phone in the middle of the night.

On the other hand, this is only a +2 for Droid. While it’s a clear difference, you’ll never pick up an iPhone and say, “Dang! I wish this was the Droid’s screen.” Both phones have adequate screens.

Browser/Web Experience
Droid +3
Really, really fast. Mind you, I’m comparing this to an iPhone 3G, which is an older version. But the speed difference is quite incredible. Further, the Droid’s default web browser uses windows in an effective way, allowing me to comfortably read the Economist. With the iPhone, it’s always a case of load and wait. And wait. And wait.

Call quality
Droid +1
Does anyone use these phones to make calls anymore? I felt very antiquated using the Droid to call Aunt Mary from the gazebo yesterday afternoon. On the other hand, I would not have made the call with the iPhone – the call quality on the iPhone precludes extended conversations. And, yes, we have a strong AT&T signal here – we installed a femtocell in the house just so we could make use of the iPhone. It’s a big, very noticeable difference between the phones but, heck, who uses it anymore?

Network Reliability (AT&T vs. Verizon)
Droid +3
This isn’t big for me, as I only spend four or five days a year outside of urban areas. Here in Southern California, AT&T has an adequate spread. The femtocell we installed means that we have access inside our house. That’s something we wouldn’t need with the Droid, since it works on Verizon. Also, the Droid would work perfectly well in New Glarus, Wisconsin when we make our semi-annual visits there.

eBooks
iPhone +1
I’ve been reading books on cellphones for two years now. iPhone wins for the Kindle app, unavailable at this point for the Droid. Reading a book is marginally easier on the Droid’s bigger, brighter, denser screen, but the iPhone is adequate. I’ve used a series of eReader and eBook apps on each, and in every case the iPhone versions are better supported, cheaper, easier to use. Also, the one that worked best on the Droid did not allow me to increase the font size of the text. This is important as my aging eyes no longer can easily read the smallest print.

Camera
Droid +5
The Droid’s camera is WAY superior to the iPhones. I’ve posted videos and photos taken on the website already. The Droid’s camera is a very workable, always with you picture and video taker. The iPhone is not.

GPS
Droid +2
Really a big difference between the two. The Droid can spot your location in a couple of seconds, with better accuracy and no hiccups. iPhone requires that you wait for one to two minutes for it to determine where you are. Not a big deal for me, but a nice plus for Droid. Note, however, even during the trial phase I used the iPhone for jogging, despite the Droid’s superior GPS. Why? The running app for the iPhone is free and let’s me record and post my jogs. The Droid’s is expensive ($30), without all of the features. Go Runkeeper!

Ease of Use
iPhone +1
Dang, but the iPhone is easy to use. We’ve given ours to toddlers and they can navigate effectively to find games, photos and videos. There is no way that the open software derived Android operating system is going to do this. On the other hand, you get used to the clunky ways of the Droid within a day or two, and then you don’t notice it. In the end, it’s just not a big difference between the two for an actual user.

Email
Driod -8, iPhone -10
Epic failure by both parties. Neither offers a robust, reliable way of receiving and sending email. The Droid tries to do a good job of connecting in real time to Gmail. Often, when I get a new email, the Droid will make a loud tone in less than minute after receipt. The key here is the word “often”. It seems to work about 60% of the time. The other 40%? No tone, no indication that an email has arrived. I have no idea why.

At least the Droid tries. iPhone appears to have purposely hobbled their email system. Arriving emails are indicated within 20 minutes of receipt. The tone produced by the iPhone is so quiet I frequently don’t hear it. And there is no way to change it.

For such an important service, there is simply no excuse for this sloppy work. Let me tell you what I need in a mobile, email client:
-> Loud alerts when receiving emails from clients.
-> Quiet or no alert at all from other emails (I don’t need to see my library notices immediately, guys). This means an editable list of filters for alerts.
-> Ability to set “Reply to” and “From” email addresses. My primary business address is actually an alias on the company server. Neither iPhone nor Droid will support that kind of setup.
-> Reliable, fast notification of arriving emails.

Blackberry does all of these things. Why can’t these other two products from Silicon Valley technology titans? Droid gets slightly higher marks for being more usable and at least trying, as well as opening their system for third party products. Apple has no excuse.

Tethering
Droid +10
Epic failure on the part of Apple. Easy to set up on Droid. For non-techies, tethering is when you use your phone’s internet connection on your laptop. This isn’t something that I need very often (internet failure at home, important project when traveling and no wifi connection is available). When I need it, I need it to work RIGHT NOW. Droid does fine. AT&T and Apple have purposely blocked it on the iPhone. It’s one of the reasons that so many techies jailbreak their iPhones.

Apps Available
iPhone +20
Every app first appears on iPhone, which also has a plethora of inexpensive or free highly useful apps. Apps on Droid are expensive (+$10). I’ve already mentioned Runkeeper, my jogging companion. This is also true of games, utilities and the whole gamut of software for smartphones.

The situation strongly reminds me of the days of when Macintosh computers were built on different chipsets than PC’s. I was always jealous of the availability of games and free downloadable utilities for PC’s, while Mac’s had only expensive, crappy versions. This is one area where I guarantee that each and every Droid user will, once a week, look at his/her phone, sigh, and say, “I wish you were an iPhone.” Guaranteed.

Final Score
iPhone +12 (mostly on apps), Droid +18

Don’t take the final score too seriously. Look at what you will use your smartphone for. Are you going biking across America, like my sister Helen? Droid is the clear answer. Are you chasing the latest videogame and mobile utility? iPhone.

Once my trial period is over with Verizon, I’ll keep the Droid as a wifi only terminal around the house. I’ll be going back to my iPhone at the end of the month. The availability and ubiquity of iPhone apps wins the day at the very end.

9 Responses to “iPhone vs. Droid: The Authoritative Review”

  1. Katie says:

    This was a great review and is timely in my circumstances. I am currently waiting for my Verizon contract to end in May because I have been unable to decide between the Droid and the iPhone. Some of my coworkers have the Droid and are very happy with it, but I have so many friends who have been in love with their iPhones for years. This review is heavily weighing my decision in favor of the Droid. Thank you!

  2. Ed Steussy says:

    Katie, you’ll likely be happy with a Droid. The only downside is when your iPhone friends get that cool little app that lets them share digital kittens that everyone has — you won’t have that. There are some more serious lacks in the Android market, though hopefully that will be fixed in the future.

  3. Katie says:

    Digital kittens? Aww man. They Droid and the iPhone are neck and neck again.

  4. Thanks, Ed.
    After all the agonizing in the phone store you have confirmed I made the right choice with my Droid.
    Top scores –
    Network, network, network. When I get my flat tire in the wilds of eastern Wyoming I am hoping to be connected.
    GPS – I have already needed GPS and the browser to rescue me in the wilds (?) of Ft Myers Beach Florida. Definitely a plus for the Droid.

  5. Katie says:

    Helen, “network” is the main reason I have been so hesitant to NOT renew my contract with Verizon. But I thinking of letting it end in May anyway since I’m not in a hurry to make my decision between the iPhone and the Droid and so that I can potentially be treated to some of the additional savings as a “new customer” if I decide to stick with them.

  6. Tom Edwards says:

    Great review Ed, thanks for making the effort to compare since I doubt I’ll turn on my Droid before I sell it to someone. 🙂 But it sounds like it’s a really solid device – I just wish it was on ATT so I could actually use it (I’m not a fan of Verizon at all, nor T-Mobile…and our ATT coverage here in the Seattle area is actually pretty good).

  7. Ed Steussy says:

    Thanks, Tom. I think my main conclusion was that it’s really a toss-up between the two. The only defining differences are AT&T vs. Verizon, tethering and the Apple App Store. Those are the real differences — everything else is pretty cosmetic.

  8. John says:

    So at this point in time 10/2010 what smart phone out there do you think is a good one to get. My iPhone first generation is dieing and I need to get a new phone. One of the things that I don’t like about the iPhone is the date book. I use to use a treo and loved the old palm soft ware. It was simple and fast to use. Cut and past, putting names in the date book was fast and easy, using reminders in the datebook, using search (which still does not work that well on the iPhone)
    I wish treo had not fallen a sleep with the smart phones. They were at one time really good.
    Because of my ADD I need a strong pda and date book for everything.
    So what do you think would be a good phone for me?

  9. admin says:

    I think that they are all adequate right now. I like Android, but the ease of use of the iPhone, plus the fact it gets every new app first, makes the iPhone the winner. Android simply doesn’t have a killer app for itself yet, though it is a worthy contender.

    My iPhone 3G is also growing old in the tooth, but I haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

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