iOS vs. Android: How Should You Choose Your Next Phone?

iOS vs. Android

It’s hard to figure out who comes out ahead when you pit iOS vs. Android. But here’s how you can make a decision. | Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Apple’s recently-unveiled iPhone 7 is an enticing upgrade, whether you currently have an iPhone or have been thinking about purchasing one. But for plenty of people, the annual circus surrounding Apple’s iPhone event is a reminder that they aren’t really sure where they stand on the iOS versus Android debate. Google always makes a few jabs at iOS or the iPhone when it unveils a new version of the Android or takes the wraps off of a new Nexus phone. And not a single iPhone event goes by without Apple bragging about how iOS is better than Android (like when it not-so-subtly announced that the iOS App Store generated twice the revenue of its “closest competitor” in the most recent quarter).

So should you buy a new iPhone, or a high-end Android smartphone? These days, the answer depends less on concrete factors — like the phone’s features, specifications, and price — and more on abstract factors like how much you like a specific operating system and which smartphone maker feels like the right choice for you. That’s because on paper, flagship phones are looking more and more alike, with similar specs and competitive price points.

But each company that makes smartphones, whether it’s Apple, Samsung, LG, Lenovo, Huawei, Xiaomi, or another company, has its own unique approach to building phones, designing its user interface and apps, and marketing its devices to consumers. So even if two phones offer similar features at similar prices, they can feel like two wildly different devices when you get your hands on them.

An Apple iPhone 7 is seen during a launch event

An Apple iPhone 7 is seen during a launch event | Stephen Lam/Getty Images

The same is true for the two major mobile operating systems, which is an important part of resolving the iOS versus Android debate for yourself. There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about both iOS and Android, so it’s a great idea to make sure that you aren’t operating under false assumptions. It’s true that iOS doesn’t allow easy or extensive customizations like Android (which is why plenty of people find themselves asking whether an iPhone jailbreak is a good idea). Android may be a little more complex than iOS, but its learning curve isn’t any more difficult to negotiate than the one you’d face learning to use iOS from scratch.

Another persistent myth that colors the iOS versus Android debate is that impressive specs are paramount, and that iPhones lose out when they’re compared to high-end Android phones. Of course, there’s more to a phone than its specifications, a principle that you’ll see surface again and again in expert reviews of phones that you’re trying to compare. A great example is how megapixels, which are the easiest specification to compare when you’re looking at two phones with different camera systems, don’t give you the whole story about the camera’s performance.

It’s not until you read the reviews and dive into the other features offered that you’ll find out how the cameras perform in low light, capture moving subjects, or handle tricky backlit situations. You’ll also have to consult reviews to find out how accurate the colors are, how quickly the camera focuses, and how well features like optical image stabilization work in real life.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 2: Justin Denison, senior vice president of product strategy at Samsung, speaks during a launch event for the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 at the Hammerstein Ballroom, August 2, 2016 in New York City. The stylus equipped smartphone will be available starting August 19, with preorders starting August 3.

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Need another example of how specs don’t give you the full picture? Many new Android phones are powered by octa-core processors, which sound much more impressive than the four-core processor in Apple’s latest iPhone. But not all processors, even those with the same number of cores, are created equal. A better indication of a processor’s power is the core architecture, which influences the chip’s power efficiency, heat dissipation, size, and performance.

Nonetheless, if having the best specs and the most advanced features are important, a phone running Google’s operating system may still come out on top in the iOS versus Android debate. The most high-end, expensive Android phones often beat iPhones when it comes to battery life, a feature that Apple has been slow to upgrade. And many Android flagships have wireless charging, a capability that Apple has yet to introduce to the iPhone lineup.

Additionally, Android is a better platform to choose if virtual reality is a smartphone feature you’re really excited about. And while the iPhone 7 has an IP67 rating for water resistance and dust resistance, there are some Android phones that are rated IP68 and can withstand submersion in deeper water.

The point here is that you should do some thinking about which specs and features are most important to you. Then, evaluate phones based on their strengths and weaknesses in those areas, instead of simply choosing the phone with the biggest numbers.

Apple iPhones are displayed during a press preview of the new flagship Apple Store

Apple iPhones are displayed during a press preview of the new flagship Apple Store | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Just about any software feature is available on either an iPhone or an Android smartphone. There are countless great apps to download for each — though the iOS App Store may have an edge in getting exciting new apps first — and you can complete mobile payments, take great photos and videos, control your car’s infotainment system, watch movies, and play games on either an Android phone or an iPhone.

It’s true that malware is easier to come by on an Android phone than on an iPhone. But there’s no excuse for neglecting basic security measures or failing to exercise common sense regardless of your choice of smartphone platform. And plenty of people prefer Android’s openness, even if it brings a few security risks and some update issues along with it, to iOS’s walled garden and the security measures it enables Apple to implement.

Choosing between iOS and Android comes down to determining which one feels right. The best way to figure that out is to go to your carrier’s store or the local electronics store and try out a variety of different phones. Among Android phones, one device can look vastly different from the next. That’s because the only “pure Android” phones are Nexus phones. The rest have user interfaces that are modified by manufacturers, and feature extra apps and add-ons. The questions of iOS versus Android is a pretty personal one. While you’ll find opinionated people on both sides of the debate, it’s not until you think about your priorities and your preferences that you’ll be able to make the decision that’s right for you.