On Monday I published the first part of my Galaxy Nexus and iPhone 4S comparison. On the hardware side, the 4S came out on top with a score of 4 points to 3.
It was a close run thing. An improved camera and better build quality would have seen the Ice Cream Sandwich-powered handset come out on top.
Link: iPhone 4S vs. Galaxy Nexus – part 1.
Would the software battle see a sway in balance? Is Apple’s virtually unchanged iOS still the top-dog in software performance? Let’s take a closer look.
Looks are so subjective, as mentioned in the hardware comparison. What looks good to me may look terrible to someone else, but, I’ll go with my instincts on this, as well as throwing in some practical considerations.
Let’s be 100% honest, the iPhone’s UI makes your home screen cluttered, and it’s not customizable. Whether you like it or not, you have to look at an unchangeable grid of square icons. They can’t be removed.
Although it’s not the prettiest looking interface, it certainly makes for simple operation. There are no app drawers to open, no menus, just touch your desired icon and you’re there.
Ice Cream Sandwich is completely different. If you want a sea of icons on your home screens, you can have them. If you’d rather not, you can remove them and access them using the app drawer. You can have widgets on screen, with some now giving the ability to adjust size.
You can create folders – in much the same way you do with iOS – drag an icon on to another, and name it. I wouldn’t say it was difficult to use, but there are definitely more menu and settings options with Android. Apple would see this as too complicated, I see it as having the ability to control your own device.
Looks-wise, Apple’s software has a clean and polished look. There are neat on/off switches dotted here and there, the shapes are all pristine and almost metallic but very grey. It looks professional but plain. After a few years using it, to me it’s boring and sterile. Ice Cream Sandwich is the polar opposite.
White and grey menus are replaced by bright colors, dark greys and modern shapes. It’s bold and brash, but somehow maintains a respectable look. This is personal taste, so for that reason, me finding the Android system more attractive won’t factor in to who wins this part of the battle.
Android of old is all but gone, but its influence lives on. The geeky green and plain black color scheme has been replaced be a grey gradient infused with a sharp white typeface and tints of light blue, giving it a more attractive look than any previous version of Google’s OS.
Two of the highlights for me are the lock screen, and the drop-down notifications bar. The drop down bar has a classic smoked dark glass look, the lock screen is colorful and clean. Another bonus for Android users is the recent updates feature in the contacts app. Access your contact’s info, and swipe across to reveal any recent twitter or Facebook updates.
Here’s where I think this battle is won: if you want Apple-style icons dominating all the home screen spaces you can have it on either device. If you decide you want to change it, only one gives you the choice. Ice Cream Sandwich wins this one. The ability to customize is key, and gives the user a chance to stamp their own label and brand on to a device, instead of being forced in to one which Apple thinks is best.
Not many years ago, the only way to message friends with a mobile phone was by sending an SMS. Now there are a plethora of options. Ice Cream Sandwich gives you Gtalk compatibility, as well as standard messaging.
Scrolling through your contacts, it’s immediately apparent who’s online. A small green dot indicates contacts using Google’s chat service. However, it does need to be incorporated in to one app. Selecting this option takes you to the Gtalk app instead, and should – in my opinion – be blended seamlessly into the native Messaging app.
Messaging on iOS is different. iMessage (Apple’s BBM) is incorporated in to the Messages app, and works automatically, no signing in necessary. If your contact has iOS 5, it detects it and sends an iMessage (indicated by a blue speech bubble).
If not, it sends a normal text. Both operating systems have app stores full of third party chat applications like WhatsApp and Ping Chat. These can be pretty useful, and are a great way to keep in touch with friends on multiple platforms for free. Many of them include Gtalk compatibility, so neither handset has the advantage in that respect.
One vital part of any messaging is the keyboard. I have to say that both perform excellently in landscape mode. I remember picking up and iPhone for the first time and finding the virtual keyboard a joy to use – it still is – despite being no match for a physical QWERTY.
The keyboard in Android 4.0 is by far the best I’ve seen on a Google handset. It’s brilliant. Within seconds of first using it, I was up to normal speed. The keys are well spaced out and give a comforting buzz when pressed. In portrait mode, the Android phone wins by a small margin, only because the size means there’s more space for keys and less room for error.
Auto-correct, in the wrong hands can be disastrous. Turns out, Apple’s hands are the wrong ones. iOS’ automatic spell correction is yet another example of Apple’s opinion that we can’t do anything right for ourselves. Firstly, if you spell something incorrectly, it changes it for you – which is nice.
If you spell a word that’s not in its dictionary, it does the same, you then have to either press a tiny cross to delete the spelling suggestion, or go back to choose the right one. Ice Cream Sandwich is similar, but gives you a running list above the keyboard to give some word options to choose from. Much less frustrating, and more liberating.
One thing that does frustrate me about the Android phone in this case is its responsiveness to turning the handset. There’s quite a delay between turning from portrait to landscape before the layout on-screen recognises your action.
It’s certainly a dampener on an otherwise fantastic messaging experience. Winner in this round? Neither handset. Seamless iMessage integration is a plus on the iPhone, great virtual keyboard is a plus on the Galaxy Nexus. One point each.
Notification Center is a revelation on iOS 5. You can display little red badges on app icons to indicate the number of notifications waiting, you can have them in the drop-down drawer, they’re on your lock screen, and you can have those irritating blue pop-ups if you want.
All this, plus, you get a little bar on top of your screen that turns to alert you of an update during Angry Birds (or whatever else you may be using your phone for at the time.)
Android has one type of notification: the drop down bar. You can’t choose which order your notifications are displayed in either. Rather odd that an Android device doesn’t allow freer expression when it comes to notifications management.
In this case, iOS 5 gives much more freedom. On the plus side for the Nexus, it does have a cute little LED notifier that’s completely hidden in standby mode, but lights up when a notification is received.
One thing I’ve always liked about Android is that you can’t forget about any missed notifications. There’s always a small icon displayed out of the way in the status bar. With iOS 5, and even with all the customizing options, you can still forget.
Notifications that show up in the lock screen disappear once you’ve unlocked the device, even if you haven’t read the message/update. If you have badges switched off, there’s no other way of knowing that you have any notifications needing your attention. The same can be said if the apps awaiting your attention are on a different screen to the one you’re on.
Android’s drop-down bar allows you to cancel all the notifications at once, or gives you the option to slide one off the screen, dismissing it in a very fluid an intuitive way. Or, if you’ve read the update, the notification simply disappears.
iOS works in a similar way. You dismiss notifications from a specific app by pressing the small “x”. If you access the app directly and read the new email, for example, the notification disappears.
Personally, I feel that Android’s small icons are the perfect onscreen reminder of any notifications needing your attention. This plus the useful and good looking LED makes a perfect combination. iOS 5 does have a lot of customization in this department, but none of the options are perfectly effective.
We need icons in the top bar, I don’t want to have to scroll down the notifications drawer just in case I have an update. I want to know there’s an update beforehand. Both are good, but in this instance I think Ice Cream Sandwich wins.
Content and Media management (Books/Music/Movies/Apps/Photos/Cloud)
One area Apple really excels is in the digital media market. All your Apps, Music, Books, Videos and Magazines are all available using one single Apple ID. With “Automatic Downloads” you can ensure that as you purchase an item on one iOS device, it quickly gets installed or downloaded on to another, without any further action. All this can either by synced and backed up in iCloud or through iTunes on your PC or Mac.
Google’s efforts have improved over the past few years. In the Android Market you can now purchase books, rent movies and download apps. Many apps are now of a similar quality to those on iOS, some better, but there are still those which are yet to make their way over to the “Green Robot”.
Fragmentation can be killer in this department too. Devices with different screen sizes, ratios and resolutions means that designing apps isn’t as easy as it is on iOS, and is also not as easy to make money from.
There’s also the issue of so many handsets running older versions of Android, and the vast majority still not having been updated past version 2.2 (Froyo). It’s messy, to say the least.
The music app on the Galacy Nexus is easy enough to use, and gives the option to access the graphical equalizer. Still, I don’t think you can beat the iPod or iOS’ media playing options. Creating custom playlists, Genius playlists, Album Art, and superior sound quality all make listening to music on the iPhone so much better.
On to photos and the iPhone. Photo Stream shows all the most recent pics stored in your iCloud. The 4S also has its own camera roll, and gives you the ability to create some basic edits. iOS 5 allows you to auto-enhance, crop and rotate your photos. ICS gives much more on this front.
You can add a plethora of effects, manually adjust highlights and shadows. It’s a much more in-depth editing tool. Similar to Photo Stream, it has instant upload to update you G+ profile with all your most recent snaps.
Apple clearly has the benefit here overall, and it’s mostly down to the fact that Tim Cook’s company operates in a vertically integrated manner.
Having one company take care of all the hardware and software across its entire range means it can create a network of great products all linked via the App Store and iTunes using one ID to produce a fantastic ecosystem that’s really difficult to leave once you’ve become part of it.
The Nexus would be a tougher competitor in this area if it had been designed to allow it to be mounted on your computer desktop as an external drive. Since it doesn’t, it means you can’t use a third party app like DoubleTwist to sync your iTunes with your Galaxy Nexus.
This in turn means dragging and dropping media files on to your device using Android’s basic file transfer app. It’s clunky, old fashioned and unintuitive. iPhone 4S wins here by a long shot.
Siri vs. Voice Actions
Comparing Siri with Android’s voice recognition system is almost like comparing a standard vacuum cleaner with a Roomba.
One only cleans where you physically push it, the other discovers the context of its surroundings and cleans accordingly. It could be a very poor analogy, but it’s nevertheless true.
Google’s Voice Actions comes with a tutorial that tells you that you need to instruct it with certain commands. That’s if you can get it to work. Quite a few times I’ve used it and after a long wait, it tells me the servers aren’t responding.
The rest of the time it’s so slow I may as well have done everything manually. Even then, it doesn’t always understand whatIve commanded, and comes up with a list of backups just in case it was wrong. Reliability and consistency are not its two strongest traits.
Siri is much more advanced, and not only understands your words, but gets the context and can figure out what you’re trying to do, even if you don’t use specific commands. “Do I need a raincoat today?” gets the same result as “What’s the weather like?” You can use it to set Reminders, alarms, send messages, ask questions and all without leaving the app. It’s quick and very accurate. iPhone 4S wins this one.
Feature-wise, the two browsers are pretty similar. Both allow extra pages to be opened, in two different, but equally effective styles. You can add bookmarks, or add pages to your “reading list” (iOS) or “save for offline reading” (Android 4.0).
Neither can play Adobe Flash – yet – although ICS support is coming in the near future. For me, this battle comes down to one thing: speed. The Nexus’ browser is much quicker than the iPhone’s, even when using EDGE to connect it’s no slouch.
There’s not a lot of difference between the two in terms of Email and Calendars. Both give the option to choose specific calendars (work, home etc.), they’re color coordinated to give a helpful visual aid.
Emails are organized in to conversations. In this respect the iOS UI is probably the most pleasing to the eye. Android still has some work to do on that front. The restriction comes in on Android when you don’t choose to use a Gmail account. Likewise, you get the best experience on iOS when you use your iCloud account.
The thing that strikes me as odd on Android is the lack of a native note taking app. If you want to type up some notes you need to download a third party app. Both have the ability to sync contacts, calendars and mail from various accounts.
iOS edges this one, for a more organized layout and the inbuilt notes and Reminders apps. Both are extremely useful. I know third party apps are available, but with iOS, you don’t need them.
iOS never had multitasking to begin with. It wasn’t until iOS 4 was released that we finally had a simple way to navigate between recently opened apps. If the app was designed to be compatible, when exited it would remember where you were and rejoin you in that exact place should you decide to reopen it.
To access this app-switching you simply double-tap the home key and a single line of apps appears at the bottom of the screen.
App switching within Ice Cream Sandwich is much more intuitive. One of the three virtual buttons on screen is a recent apps tab. If you open it you see a list of all you most recent apps. Your most recently opened app is at the bottom of the screen, the rest pile on top in time order.
It shows a small screen shot of where you last left it near the title of each app, and any can be dismissed with a swipe to the right. It appears to use a similar method to iOS, in that the apps don’t look like they’re running in the background.
Although throwing the recent apps off the screen doesn’t kill of the app, the user experience makes it appear as if it is. If dismissed in this manner, the next time you open the app (in most cases), it opens and loads up from the beginning, it doesn’t remember where you were.
To me, it does look like the app has been successfully stopped. However, the Nexus also successfully multitasks, capable of running multiple apps at once. It can be especially useful at times – particularly with apps like Navigation. Since the Android version of app switching is more intuitive and much easier to access, I’m giving this round to the Nexus.
The iPhone – still – doesn’t have turn-by-turn navigation. You either have to download a specific Sat Nav app, or use Google Maps to navigate to a desired location.
Google Maps isn’t completely useless, but the lack of turn-by-turn directions with a pleasant interface makes this a clunky affair. Personally, I downloaded CoPilot Live to my iPhone, to ensure I got a good interface, and more reliable results.
Although the Nexus still uses Google maps, and still requires a data connection to continuously download maps during Navigation sessions, it’s much more like a bespoke Sat Nav software than the iOS alternative.
Street View, and Satellite Views are available on both handsets using Google’s maps service. Navigation is the one area that differentiates them from each other, and it’s enough to secure a win in this round for the latest Android phone.
Both handsets, if you access the settings menu, have an accessibility option. Within it you can customize your device if you’re hard of hearing, or have poor vision.
The Nexus is a little lacking in this area. There’s a “TalkBack” system installed and the option for large text. The other options are minimal: “Power button ends call” and “auto-rotate screen” are the two most useful.
iOS 5 is a completely different tale. There are six different options for people with vision problems: VoiceOver, Zoom, Large Text, White on Black, Speak Selection and Speak Auto-text. In the hearing department you can create custom vibrations so you know if you’ve received a call, email or text etc.
You can choose to have Mono Audio, and use the camera’s LED flash as an alert. There are also a couple of options for people with physical or motor problems. If you’re someone who struggles in any of these areas, the iPhone is a much better choice.
Hardware (part 1): iPhone 4S wins 4-3
Software (part 2): Ice Cream Sandwich wins 6-5
So in the end, attempting to judge as fairly as I could, the two handsets tie. In the software department, some of the shortcomings of the Android phone can be addressed by downloading third party apps (reminders/to-dos).
Likewise, you can download great navigation apps for iOS. Which handset is best overall? It depends on which features you value the most. I’m leaning towards the Nexus, but for completely personal reasons. I’ve been living and breathing iOS for the past 3 years, and especially with my role on this site, it has the tendency to become a little stale.
The Galaxy’s great display shows off the shiny new operating system perfectly and has brought a new lease of life to my digital world. If you’ve never used Android before there’s never been a better time to try it out.
If you’d rather have a device with a great ecosystem where all your devices are perfectly in tune with one another, you’re going to want an iPhone. To help you decide, go through each of the categories and dismiss those which you don’t really care for, then add up the scores again, and see which is best for you.
Which handset came out on top for you? And why? comment below.