Welcome to part two of our smartphone OS comparison, where we take a look at the current top smartphone operating systems from a consumer perspective, with the view to finding the one which will suit the general user best. In part one, we compared Symbian, BlackBerry OS and Windows Phone 7 software, and it was Microsoft’s new software which came out on top.
Now though, it’s time for the real test. Google Android and Apple iOS both have legions of followers around the world with each proclaiming their chosen OS as the best there is. Can Windows Phone 7, a system very much in its infancy, show them how it’s done, even at this early stage? Let’s find out!
The latest version, 2.3 Gingerbread, was released recently and brought with it a clutch of updates and performance tweaks as well as a few new features. As an standalone incremental update, it wasn’t overly exciting, but when taken in context with 2.1 and 2.2, Gingerbread has seen Android continue its evolution into a mature smartphone platform.
Where It Wins:
- Complete integration with existing Google services from Gmail and Latitude to YouTube and Google Maps. If you’re in the US, Google Voice is a big bonus too.
- A wide range of available hardware to suit all pockets.
- A comprehensive feature set including sharing Wi-Fi hot-spot sharing, widgets, voice search, free turn-by-turn navigation, multi-tasking and plenty more.
- Plenty of customisation opportunities.
- Flash support.
- Android Market.
- It’s open source, for the most part easily rooted, and like many Google products, has the x-factor that makes it ‘cool’.
Where It Loses:
- The frequent updates don’t always find their way to all devices, sometimes due to hardware limitations, other times due to manufacturer or network interference.
- Although it’s getting better, there are still many different phones running different versions of the OS, meaning the market can be confusing to the newcomer.
- UI still not quite as slick as as it could be.
The superb HTC Desire HD
For some people though, an Android phone’s biggest selling point is that it’s not an Apple phone!
When iPhone OS 4 was released, it was re-branded as iOS 4, and it currently sits at version 4.2.1; which for the first time is suitable for all current Apple devices running the operating system. It’s as slick as ever too, and using your finger to interact with a phone has never felt so good!
Where It Wins:
- It’s simple to learn and easy to use.
- Many of the new features address the old complaints leveled at the operating system, including the introduction of a unified email inbox, threaded SMS conversations, fast-app switching, multi-tasking, user-defined SMS tones, folders and notifications.
- The App Store has the most amount of apps available when compared with Android and Windows Phone 7, although some would argue quantity does not guarantee quality.
- Apple’s closed eco-system makes things simple for the user to download compatible apps, while minimizing security concerns.
- Easy access to iTunes for music, movies, books and podcasts.
- A very competent email and calendar app, which if you use a Mac, syncs perfectly with your computer.
Where It Loses:
- The closed eco-system means you get what Apple want to give you, and jailbreaking is the only option if you want to use non-Apple approved software.
- Limited choice of hardware.
- No Flash support.
- The pages of app icons that makes up iOS isn’t very attractive.
The one and only Apple iPhone 4.
Using iOS is a joy. It’s fast, stable and very, very simple. If you want to fill your device with apps, you can do so quickly and easily, plus it can deal with all your music, video and entertainment needs.
Now, substitute the word iOS for Android, and the statement remains true. For the average customer, either operating system will meet their needs, with final choice coming down to hardware preference, price or a desire to support an open environment. If you don’t care about things like the intricacies of how Android performs its multi-tasking in comparison to iOS, or whether you can make video calls over 3G or Wi-Fi without an app, then you won’t feel short-changed with either system.
We already went over Windows Phone 7 in part one, however, we saved a few of the juicier downsides until now, which are presented here to indicate how much further along the development road iOS and Android are. For example, Windows Phone 7 doesn’t have a universal search function, a unified inbox or threaded email/SMS conversations, Flash or HTML5 support, tethering, or on the hardware side, additional storage via a microSD card.
That said, Windows Phone 7 is remarkably easy to use, has excellent Office integration, is attractive to look at and if you’re a keen Xbox gamer, Xbox Live is built right in. Plus, the vast majority of the downsides we just mentioned are only a software update away from being fixed.
This time last year, we proclaimed Android as being the best choice for the consumer, and it was a relatively easy decision. However, this year it’s much harder to choose. What we are going to do though, is suggest you give each one a try.
Android and iOS are much closer in terms of feature sets and usability these days, and it may come down to what type of eco-system you’re more comfortable with — open or closed. Windows Phone 7 probably needs a while longer before we can recommend it in the same way, although if you’re a keen early adopter you may want to give it a try anyway as there’s no doubt it’s showing considerable potential.
Hard though it may be, we realise it’s a bit of a cop out not to choose a winner after going through all this, so if pressed and faced with spending our own hard-earned on an Android or an iOS phone, then right now we’d pick iOS. The addition of app-switching, folders, multi-tasking and all the rest, combined with the excellent range of high quality apps which have entered the App Store in 2010, means it represents a solid, safe and very capable choice, and one we’d have no problem living with everyday.