iPhone 6 vs Samsung S6, Android vs. iOS: My Experience

After switching to an Android (Nexus 5) as a primary phone for over a year, I came back to iOS with the launch of the iPhone 6. I felt the new iOS and new Apple phone addressed the key things I went to Android for: bigger screen and 3rd party keyboards were a couple of big things for me. Once back on iOS, I immediately missed Android, and found iOS 8 to be less than I expected: it was buggy (particularly 3rd party keyboard integration, also calendar and others) and inflexible (what if I wanted to open Google Maps instead of Apple when I clicked on an address in my calendar?)

1-6XSrO30RccJOdRNUn6dWTgSo I bought a Samsung S6. For the last six weeks, I have been using the two in parallel and carrying both (a lot of pocket weight!) On the new Samsung I got a SIM and month-to-month plan from Straight Talk Wireless, which I will describe at the end. They are not truly equals: I still use the iPhone for phone and SMS. Like most of you, probably, I rarely use my phone as a phone, but messaging does make the iPhone first among equals.

Herewith, my view of the strengths and weaknesses of the two platforms and devices. I would say there’s no clear winner here, and since most of my friends use iPhones and have never had an Android phone, and are Apple snobs, you will be surprised to realize that the iPhone is not clearly better than an Android phone. I do think Android is a learning curve when you come from iOS, and if you just get a phone to play with or pick up a tablet to “try Android”, it will be hard to appreciate it — I did this first but didn’t actually “get it” until I used Android as my primary phone for a year.

Apple iPhone 6 + iOS 8

Important advantages:

Camera: When I had the Nexus, the camera sucked. I had hoped a top-line Android phone would be nearly as good as an iPhone, but the iPhone is flat-out better.

App Quality: Most of the apps I use every day (other than Google apps) have a better fit and finish, and better UX, on iOS than Android. I would guess the CEO of every one of these companies carries an iPhone.

GPS: The S6 is often looking for satellites when I come out of a garage, am in a building, etc. In all those cases the iPhone is already locked on.

Integration: If, like me, you have other Apple stuff (iPads, Apple TV, Mac laptop), at times the integration is a real bonus, be it in airdropping a photo (like I did to put the images in this post) or controlling your Apple TV, or AirPlaying.

Minor things:

Build Quality: The iPhone feels better built, but the gap is pretty small and not something I think much about day-to-day.

Samsung S6 + Android 5.1.1

Important advantages:

Notifications: This is a big deal. When you swipe down, you get notified of all the important things that have happened since you last used your phone. Android does an excellent job of figuring out what is important and highlighting it. The Apple notification summaries are beyond useless, and I use this screen many times a day to check in.

Cloud Native: Android was built native to the cloud, vs. iOS which was architected to sync to possible the worst piece of software in mass use today, iTunes. While iOS has moved on, the difference is frequently obvious in Android. You feel it in the App Store and how stuff if installed and managed on your device, or in the contacts where your google contacts are automatically and instantly synchronized in web and phone. Your quick dial list on your phone? All the people you click a star next to in your Google contacts.

Keyboards: Having converted to SwiftKey when I moved to Android, I think it is amazing productivity tool. I can type more than twice as fast with it vs. either of the stock keyboards. While iOS has implemented 3rd party keyboard support, it is still very buggy. At least once a day I will open an app and have no keyboard present. Often I can close and reopen the app, and it will now give a keyboard. At least once a week I have to power down and reboot my phone to get a keyboard in, say, email or SMS. This sucks. Furthermore, the SwiftKey app on the iphone flat out doesn’t work as well. I don’t know why but using them side by side, the Android has a significant advantage in accurately reading the word I am swiping. This may seem like a small thing but have a massively better keyboard, your primary interface to the phone, is a huge swing factor in my prefence. I will dig out the Android phone, even if I have the iPhone in hand, if I have to type a message of more than a paragraph.

Google Now: Separate from notifications, Google Now tries to find information from that outside world that will be interesting to you — either public or through reading your email. This is very good an keeps getting better — it knows your next appointment, where you might want to have lunch, the weather or traffic where you will be.

LastPass: Switching to LastPass as a password manager took some getting used to, but I have been converted. Android allows deep access so that you can automatically log into your apps and web pages easily, and using fingerprint verifier to unlock identity. Very easy and much more secure than what I used to do. On iOS LastPass is held at arms length, so I have to switch back and forth between applications several times to copy and paste.

Back Button: I am sure this is a matter of opinion, but having used both systems, I really like having a back button in Android. I use it all the time and frequently long for it when on the iPhone.

Layout/Naming Control: Lots of little things that add up to a much better experience. On iOS, if you have less than a full screen of apps, they will only start at the top and fill down. On Android I can have the following layout:

1-FcAyL9Pqb5PvWM2e5QtQww

Why would I want my icons on the top row, that I can’t reach one handed, when I can have them close on the bottom? Another control example: on Android I can name a bluetooth device whatever I want — so rather than VXi B250-XTv v.24 and MDR-EX31BN, which I have on my iPhone, I had Sony Headset and Beats Headset. Lots of little stuff like this adds up.

Minor Things:

Wireless charging: Kind of nice to just plop it on the charging brick, but no big deal

Bad-Faith Apps: This was a minor thing for me before but seems to be better resolved in current Android. For example: when you click on a phone number in a calendar entry, the flexibility of Android to have multiple dialers has the OS ask you: Do you want to use Phone, Skype, Hangouts, or whatever for this call? And you can choose one and say “This Time only” or “Always”. Well, Skype (intentionally?) resets the parameter every time, so if you have Skype on your phone, every time you click a phone number you have to choose a dialer, which gets to be a pretty big drag because I pretty much never want to dial with Skype, and will open the app myself if that’s what I want. I have noticed much less of that this time around.

Both Fail

Messaging: Neither Messages on iPhone or Hangouts on Android makes me happy. They don’t play well with each other, and if you ever switch from one system to the other you will endure a real period of times where friends think they are messaging you but you don’t get it. If you have an Android phone and iPads at home, you will run into issues where friends with iPhones message you and it comes as an iMessage to you iPad (by your bed) and not to your phone. OS upgrades will reset settings you made to prevent this, putting you back into the problem. If your friends with iPhones do group messaging, be prepared for it to break/fail when you try to be part of it from Android. They both suck. On the margin, it’s better to be on whichever system most of your friends are on.

Battery Life: If I use either one hard, I’ll need to charge midday. I can’t tell which one is better frankly, they seem pretty similar to me

Bloatware: Non-Nexus Android phones are known for it, and the Samsung has more than the iPhone. But, there are a bunch of apps (stocks, University, books, etc) that I don’t use and can’t delete on my iPhone. The Samsung has samsung Mail and productivity apps, and also some third party apps (Peel, ANT+, whatever). Android lets you not display those apps on your screen, Apple forces you to but you can bury them in a folder or on a distant screen. Android is slighty worse but both are just a minor annoyance.

And the Winner Is….

Despite the much longer list of preferences for the S6, if I had to choose only one phone, right now I would take the iPhone, because the superior camera is just too important. Apple has nailed this. All the other things are inconveniences that cost me time or an extra click, but with your phone as your principal camera, for me that manages to nuke a long list of better interface elements on Android.

Bonus Notes: Straight Talk Wireless

To get the S6 I bought an unlocked (international) phone on Amazon for about $500, getting a model with the AT&T frequencies in case I decided to replace the iPhone with it (only AT&T has coverage at my house). I then got a discount carrier, Straight Talk Wireless (I think it’s a Walmart MVNO) for phone and data, which is on the AT&T network.

I tried to configure the phone before I got my SIM, just to use as a handset on Wifi — this was a real pain, as the device really insists on checking in over a cell network to get you started, and won’t do it over Wifi. Ultimately I had to connect to a hotspot of my iPhone rather than my home wifi, but it meant a bunch of downloads of big files on my cellphone data plan. I eventually got around this but can’t remember how.

The big advantage: Straight Talk gives me unlimited domestic calling and texting and 4GB of data for $45 a month. I am paying something like 3x this for AT&T, it’s a huge delta. Since I don’t use the S6 much as a phone, I don’t know what the network experience is like. The data experience does actually seem somewhat lower performance that my AT&T contract. But if you were mostly on WiFi and mostly using it not as a phone, the pricing difference is pretty extraordinary.

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Written by Josh Hannah
Josh Hannah joined Matrix Partners after a career as a serial entrepreneur (Betfair, eHow, wikiHow.) Read more about Josh.

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