You know your smartphone is doing well when 4 million people buy it in the first weekend and it temporarily sells out on all three of your carrier partners. (You can order one now from AT&T and Verizon, but Sprint is still catching up.) The overwhelming demand for the iPhone 4S is understandable, given the much-talked-about Siri voice-controlled assistant, as well as the device’s faster dual-core processor and fantastic 8-megapixel camera. But today’s top Android phones—such as the Samsung Galaxy S II—offer plenty of features you won’t find on Apple’s blockbuster sequel. How do you know which side to choose? Here’s my breakdown.
I would never call the row-of-icons interface on the iPhone 4S fresh, but its ease of use means a lot, especially to first-time smartphone owners. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown Android phones to people only for them to ask how to get to the apps. At the same time, iOS 5 catches up to Android with its Notifications area, which is cleanly designed and dynamic (thanks to the addition of weather and stock info).
However, some Android phones let you do more from the notification area. On the Samsung Galaxy S II, for example, you can toggle the wireless radios on and off. And on HTC Sense phones, you can switch between apps from this menu as well as tweak several settings.
The other edge Android has in the interface department is widgets, which allow you to access all sorts of info at a glance. Provided you put in a little effort, Android is more customizable. The problem with Google’s OS is that it’s so customizable for phone makers that the user experience can vary drastically from one phone to the next.
Winner: iPhone 4S. While Android is more flexible, it can also be more confusing. Simplicity wins this round.
Just as with the iPhone 4, it’s easy to switch between apps on the iPhone 4S. You just double-press the home button and swipe to either side. To shut down apps, you press and hold the screen and then tap the X next to an app’s icon. Because most apps are suspended when they’re not open, you don’t really need to worry about them zapping battery life.
Today on Android, you must long-press the home button, but you might only see a subset of all of your running apps—and you can’t close programs from this view. Android Ice Cream Sandwich will offer a better user experience, with a Recent Apps button that displays live thumbnails of your running apps. And you’ll be able to dismiss apps with a swipe.
Winner: iPhone 4S (for now). But it looks like Android 4.0 will put Google’s phones ahead.
One of the chief complaints people have about the iPhone 4S’ screen is that it’s the same size of the original iPhone’s: 3.5 inches. But what many don’t realize is that this LCD’s resolution is higher than the vast majority of Android phones. The display is not only crisper but brighter than most of the Android competition.
On the other hand, bigger screens are just easier on the eyes, and they don’t force you to zoom in as much to read text. And although they’re not as bright, the Super AMOLED displays on phones such as the Galaxy S II and the Droid RAZR offer better contrast and more vibrant colors, making them great for watching movies. The upcoming Samsung Galaxy Nexus will up the ante on with the first HD display (1280 x 720 pixels).
Winner: Draw. The iPhone 4S has the superior display right now in terms of detail and brightness, but some shoppers just prefer a larger screen.