iPhones are inferior to Android phones: the reasons

UPDATE: While these are valid reasons, scoring them suggests I should still switch to the iPhone.

(this post written in December 2020)

I am on day 10 of using an iPhone. I came from the Android world.

The iPhone is deficient. I am leaning towards returning it.

Context

Ten days ago, I switched from a Pixel 4 XL to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. I went with this iPhone model because it’s similarly sized to the Pixel 4 XL, plus I value photography.

Why I switched

I made the switch due to intellectual curiosity, to overcome limitations of the Pixel 4 XL, and to get on board with the rest of my family.

I am questioning this decision. While the iPhone helps me escape two Pixel 4 XL limitations, iOS’s regressions from Android feel like a heavy burden.

I am inside Apple’s return window, so I can return the iPhone for a full refund. It is tempting.

Android only has two worthwhile brands

My analysis relies heavily on my experience with the Pixel 4 XL. Much of what I say about Android applies to to top-tier Android manufacturers. Among the requirements of top-tier manufacturers is they deliver highly vanilla Android. This includes Pixel (Google’s in-house brand), OnePlus, and more.

Samsung is not a top-tier phone manufacturer. Its hardware is decent, but it has bad software. Samsung replaces Android’s best features with poor, fussy substitutes. It also adds annoying, pointless bloat. In other words, just to differentiate its brand, it devalues its brand by trashing up its core software.

The Bixby assistant is the best example of Samsung’s stupidity. It’s awful. Samsung killing Bixby might signal that it’s ready to take Android seriously. Until then, Samsung is simply not a top-tier manufacturer.

The Samsung example is important because Apple is the same: great hardware, bad software.

A note about definitions

The article’s language is sometimes imprecise. Truly, if you’re comparing Android to something in the Apple ecosystem, it would be iOS. But that is not how people talk about their phones, so I am using loose terminology in places.

If you’re a True Nerd™ and find my word use upsetting, just associate my word with its parent ecosystem.

This is how several terms are correctly used:

Word categoryAndroid phone ecosystemApple phone ecosystem
Operating systemAndroidiOS
ManufacturersGoogle, OnePlus, and moreApple
Phone brandPixel (Google), OnePlus, and moreiPhone
Phone model (current generation)For Pixel: Pixel 4A, Pixel 4A 5G, Pixel 5. For OnePlus: OnePlus 8T, OnePlus 8 Pro, OnePlus 8, OnePlus 7T. There are more current model from other manufacturers.iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, iPhone SE, and more

Also, some Android features I enjoy are Pixel-specific. While Google freely distributes Android to other manufactures, it reserves some newer features for its own Pixel phones. Sometimes I may mistakenly generalize a Pixel-specific feature as an Android feature. Since Pixel-specific features often eventually end up on other phones, associating Pixel with Android is probably correct in the long run.

Where Android is better

Android is well thought out. It has a great UX. I really miss its great design.

Call screening: Android wins

Android’s built-in call screener is excellent. It blocks calls it is confident are garbage. If the caller is in a gray area, it will ask the caller first to state the reason for calling, then show that to me on the screen where I can accept the call. And even if does nothing to the call, I can still use a Screen Call button to kick the call to a digital assistant, where the caller is invited to state the reason for the call.

Example call-screen opportunity. (This image shamelessly stolen from XDA Developers.)

NOTE: This may be mostly a Pixel feature right now. Google plans to extend this to more Android brands. Because Samsung uses its own, poor quality dialer, it’s unclear how Samsung will get this feature.

Why iPhone sucks: Apple only has a crude tool: block callers not in your contacts. You can’t report calls or texts as spam.

If you want to be more selective than Apple’s crude tool, and instead block specific spammers, you must add the spammers to your contacts. That’s dumb; it just clutters your contacts!

You can also subscribe to a third party service. That’s grating, because the phone should manage that itself, given that this is a years-old problem.

Browser ad blocking: Android wins

On Android, browser ad-blocking is easy: Switch to the free Mozilla Firefox browser. Inside Firefox, add the free uBlock Origin extension. Then set Firefox as your default browser for happy browsing. Simple! (Android’s Chrome browser does not support extensions.)

Why iPhone sucks: Install the AdGuard app, jump through several fussy hoops in the Settings console’s Safari area, and get nagged about going to paid AdGuard.

Maybe I am fussing too much. The hassle is a one-time step, and AdGuard seems to work decently.

Part of the point of ad-blocking is to make YouTube worthwhile. That leads to my next point…

YouTube ad blocking: Android wins

To block YouTube’s ads on Android, just view all YouTube content in Firefox with the uBlock Origin extension. Easy!

Why iPhone sucks: While Safari + AdGuard = ads blocked on YouTube, it’s still a major regression from Android:

  • Video quality maxes out at 720p.
  • Every YouTube video in Safari starts as low quality (360p). To change it, on every video you watch, you must wade through the settings menu, and it has to be done before you switch to full screen, because of the next bullet’s deficiency.
  • When you’re viewing a video in a browser and switch to full screen, Apple cancels the website’s native video player and forces you to use iOS’s default, bad, native video player. Want to double-tap and skip 10 seconds? Want to access the site’s in-video settings? Want any feature not supported by iOS’s dumbed down video control? Forget it! iOS nukes it in full-screen mode.

Firefox Focus is not a solution. It doesn’t fix iOS’s deficiencies.

Universal back button: Android wins

For at least a decade, Android has had a back button at the bottom of all windows. This means the valuable concept of “take me back” is baked into the Android paradigm. Need to return where you were, in any app? Just tap the back button, on bottom left of the screen. Or use the back gesture (next section).

Why iPhone sucks: The back button is a mess.

In Safari, it’s on bottom left.

In most other apps, top left.

To get to the prior app that sent you to the current app, find a tiny button between the app’s top-left back button and the clock. And good luck on that; too much of the time, iOS lists a wrong or irrelevant prior app, especially if you got to your current app from a system notification.

Even though the mini back button says otherwise, I was not sent to GroupMe by NPR One! I was sent there by a notification I tapped while NPR One was active.

Even worse, because the non-Safari back buttons are on the opposite end of the phone from where you hold it, you’re less precise with finger positioning. Therefore, when you intend to use a “back” feature, you’ll instead make the phone think you’re trying to pull down the notification area.

Gestures: Android wins

Building on its native strengths, Android’s gestures are excellent. They edge out iOS with the back gesture, which I use a lot. No matter what app you’re in, swipe in from the phone’s right to go back. Simple!

Why iPhone sucks: Without a “back” gesture, you’re stuck fumbling with iOS’s haphazard back buttons.

Exiting apps: Android wins

In Android, you can exit apps with the back gesture or swiping up from the bottom. The back gesture is superior, because it can’t be confused with other gestures.

Why iPhone sucks: Your only choice is the swipe-up gesture, which sometimes conflicts with normal swipes one does in apps.

NOTE: I don’t literally mean app-exiting in the computer-science sense. I mean more in a common-parlance sense: you’re out of the app and back to the home screen, or in another app that may have called the current app. One an app is no longer visible, and running in the background, Android and iOS both do fine managing it.

Ambient display: Android wins

The Pixel has a great feature: even when you’re not using the phone, it shows the current time on the screen, along with some other useful information. This takes minimal power: thanks to the OLED screen, the main power use is when it lights up the specific pixels that show the time.

Ambient display. This Pixel 4 XL is not active. It’s basically in sleep mode. It uses minimal power to give me useful information on its OLED screen.

Why iPhone sucks: While the iPhone also has an OLED screen, Apple has no similar feature. You have to tap the phone to see the time, which lights up the whole screen.

Treating me like an adult: Android wins

Android’s UX language is simply clean. It’s intuitive, simple, and it just works.

Why iPhone sucks: iOS’s UX feels like a cartoon spoof of a phone OS. Naturally garish colors, toddler-like corner-rounding, goofy font sizes, etc. It’s like iOS’s design semantics were intended to tussle with our innate senses. Barf!

When a toddler breaks out crayons and designs a phone, this is what you get.

Application organization: Android wins

All newly installed Android apps go into the app drawer. This is an alphabetized list of apps, accessed by swiping up from a home screen (when you’re not inside an app).

Android app drawer. Simple. Organized. Appropriate icon density.

Suppose you have 150 apps. That is 30 rows of five icons each, all in alpha sort. It’s fast to find any application.

Why iPhone sucks: It wasn’t until this year that Apple delivered its poor ripoff of the app drawer. Before then, people were stuck with jumbled messes of icons on multiple home-screen pages.

Apple’s app-drawer ripoff is bad. It’s hard to get to, and it’s hard to navigate.

To get to it, you have to swipe left through every home screen page until you get to the App Library, then you drag down. Only then do you see the app-drawer ripoff.

But it gets worse. Instead of just showing me a grid of labeled application icons, Apple insists on a full-size icon with large text next to it. That is a linear list of icons, so see few icons per screen. This poor design necessitates the navigation letters on the side and search box on top.

Poor design. Took me too many swipes and presses to even get here, and now I have to navigate a long list. This is due to Apple’s sloppy design, forcing me to navigate a long list instead of a grid.

Let’s suppose your iPhone had 150 apps. Remember with the Android, I would be navigating at most 30 rows to find my app. Here, I have to navigate 150 rows! The problem has grown by an order of magnitude.

Further, the App Library, which you were forced to view before getting to the app-drawer knockoff, is just bad. The App Library is simply where Apple locks all app icons into pre-defined buckets. iOS will not permit you to change that in any way. Do you consider the Google Translate app to be in the “Utilities” bucket instead of “Information & Reading”? Do you wish those two buckets showed in a different order? Want to rename a bucket? WELL TOO BAD! You can’t change it!

Text messaging from other devices: Android wins

With Google’s Messages app, you can freely text from any browser. Yup, any browser, on any computer, you can send text messages.

This is so nice. When I am already working on my computer and need to find out something to answer a texted question, it’s usually faster to find the answer on a desktop application and then text from my desktop than to switch paradigm to a mobile device.

Also, Google has gotten on board with the open, RCS standard for interoperability between messaging clients.

Why Apple sucks: Apple’s cynical pattern is to lock you in to its proprietary ecosystem. Already, it forces you into its proprietary iMessage system. Even worse: While Apple lets you access your text messages from other devices, true to form, those other devices must be Apple-branded: iPad or Mac. This locks out 84% of desktop computer users.

Bundled apps: Android wins

Android’s default apps are almost all great: well-known, popular apps like Chrome, Gmail, Contacts, Calendar. Note that I am talking about the Google-supplied apps only here.

Why Apple sucks: Apple’s default apps are like Samsung’s: minimally featured and poor quality. Only recently has Apple started to loosen up and let users switch some defaults to good apps.

Browser flexibility: Android wins

As I said above, I can install Firefox and get the browsing experience I want.

Why Apple sucks: Apple doesn’t let you install other browsers.

Wait, you exclaim, “Look right here: I can install [some other browser] from the Apple Store!” No, you cannot!

Due to a longstanding, predatory rule that Apple still clings to, all browsers on Apple mobile devices are still just Apple Safari with a different skin. Browser choice on iOS is a hoax. You only have browser-skin choice.

Camera activation: Android wins

The Pixel has an easy way to activate the camera: double-click the power button. Easy!

Why Apple sucks: It’s harder to get to the camera with iPhone, so you’re more likely to miss that ultimate shot. Activating the camera requires you find an icon that you wasted screen space on, or drag the notification area all the way down and tap on the camera, or swipe left on the login screen, hoping that Face ID hadn’t activated yet.

Hardware design: Android wins

The Pixel 4 XL’s camera bump extrudes from the back by about 1/16″. The phone’s corners are slightly rounded, making it comfortable in one’s hand.

Why Apple sucks: The phone has two layers of back-camera bumps: a 1/16″ bump like the Pixel, and then each camera individually sticks out from that bump by an additional 1/16″. Huh? Is Apple just inviting camera scratches?

This is just dumb. Two levels of camera bumps on the iPhone?

The phones corners are angles in metal. That is dumb. It digs into my hands when I hold it.

Hard, metal edges that dig into hands.

High-refresh rate screen: Android wins

The Pixel 4 XL offers a 90 Hz screen refresh rate. Some other clean Androids, like the OnePlus 8T, even have a 120 Hz refresh rate.

Why Apple sucks: Screen still stuck at only 60 Hz.

Digital assistant: Android wins

My 10 days of experience Siri is just regressions: compared to the Google Assistant, its transcriptions are less accurate, it does less, and it’s more fidgety.

Why Apple sucks: Siri is inferior. Like Bixby, Siri is a less capable, error-prone imitator of the Google Assistant.

Use of standard cables: Android wins

The Android ecosystem has gotten on board with USB C for charging and data. This is good, because it’s taking over the USB industry.

Why Apple sucks: Come on, Apple. You’re still on those stupid, proprietary Lightning cables? Even your iPads are growing up. Why do your phones cling to Lightning?

Where Android and iPhone are the same

This could be a lengthy list. This section doesn’t deserve a lot of time because it doesn’t help with differentiation. Here’s a few highlights:

  • Processing power. Synthetic benchmarks suggest the iPhone 12’s A14 could be 50% faster than the Pixel 4 XL’s 855 in selected, real-world applications. It hardly matters unless you’re into gaming; like most phone users, I am not. For literally everything else, the iPhone 12 and the Pixel 4 XL have far more processing power than they need.
  • Longevity. Over time, software gets more features, which means more complexity, which means it needs beefier CPUs to not bog down. Therefore, a faster processor will allow a given phone to feel fast for a longer time, allowing you to defer upgrades. But is that a big deal? While I haven’t constructed a mathematical model around this, I suspect that when you reach the point of “it’s too slow”, that committing to purchasing a recent flagship off the used market, and selling one’s current phone back on the market, will have about the same net costs with either system.
  • App selection. Setting the included apps aside (per above, Apple’s generally sucks while Google’s are generally excellent), both Apple and Android have excellent app libraries. Rarely, some apps are Apple-only. An example is Dark Sky, where Apple cynically yanked the Android version, due to Apple’s vendor lock-in ploys.
  • Photo capability. OK, yes, I know, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 130 DXOMARK score and the Pixel 4 (and XL) “only” has a 113, and the Pixel 5 “only” has a 120. The iPhone is not without problems, such as blown out photos. For virtually any use of the camera by the vast majority of owners, any of these cameras will make excellent photos. Yes, I also know that, unlike the iPhone, the Pixel 4 XL has no wide-angle lens. But the Pixel 5 does!

Where iPhone is better, and barely!

Even where the iPhone is better, it comes with caveats:

  • No black crush (weak advantage). The Pixel 4 XL has a black-crush problem: with low screen brightness, shades of dark colors just merge into a black blob. The iPhone doesn’t have this problem. The Pixel 5 also resolved this issue, which is why it’s a weak advantage. This is mainly a problem if you’re using the Pixel 4 XL in dark environments, where it auto-dims the screen to pretty low levels.
  • Screen brightness (slight advantage). The Pixel 4 XL only goes to 444 nits brightness. The iPhone 12 Pro Max tops out at 825 nits. The Pixel 5 tops out at 699 nits and the OnePlus 8T tops out at 815 (note: Pixel 5’s and OnePlus’s review are from a source not as well known as the 4’s and iPhone’s).
  • Battery life (slight advantage). The iPhone 12 Pro Max is undistinguished among flagship phones, not differentiated from the Pixel 5 or OnePlus 8T. That said, almost any phone is an improvement over the abysmal battery life of the Pixel 4 XL, a widely acknowledged design fault of that model.
  • iMessage compatibility. Apple’s proprietary iMessage is wildly popular and only available on iOS. I don’t like that it’s locked in to Apple’s ecosystem, but there is no alternative.

Verdict

Wow, that’s it? The iPhone 12 Pro Max only has three, slight advantages over the Pixel 4 XL? For all that money? I don’t get it.

(This article got a few comments on Hacker News.)

13 thoughts on “iPhones are inferior to Android phones: the reasons”

  1. Browser ad blocking – Did you try Brave Browser or Firefox Focus, which both have built-in adblocking?

    YouTube ad blocking – Install F-Droid and try out Newpipe to play YouTube videos, replacing YouTube. Build-in adblocking and privacy by default. https://newpipe.schabi.org/

    Android messaging is a mess, as you can see from all the various messaging apps they’ve created and destroyed. Apple’s lock-in is seamless if you use Apple, which is both bad and good for Apple users. I agree the lock-in is terrible, but Android is an ongoing, insecure mess.

    Apple supports iOS on older Apple devices longer than Google or Android manufacturers supporting Android on older devices, another hit against Android. 3 years of official support is pathetic.

    Most other points are valid as Android being better. You should try out F-Droid and use open-source apps like NewPipe. There are a ton of great alternatives to Google on F-Droid.

    1. > Browser ad blocking – Did you try Brave Browser or Firefox Focus, which both have built-in adblocking?

      AdGuard works fine. The other browsers don’t solve any problems on iOS. On Android, I’m using Firefox with uBlock Origin.

      > YouTube ad blocking – Install F-Droid and…

      The problem is because of iOS. No other browser on iOS will fix the problem, because they are all Safari behind the scenes, per Apple’s rules. Because they are all Safari, they will all start videos at low quality, max out at 720p, and use iOS’s awful full-screen video controls.

      > Apple supports iOS on older Apple devices longer than Google or Android manufacturers

      No disagreement, but it’s not a big deal for me because it’s a near certainty that I’ll get rid of the phone before then. I suspect this is why Apple’s phones depreciate less than Android. At least on the Android side, I can get hefty discounts if I wait several months after the phone is introduced. Not so much for Apple, but I guess with Apple, you’re making up for that if you sell your (more expensive) used phone when you buy a (more expensive) used phone?

      1. On Apple, iOS YouTube app is all you get. Nothing more to do except a OS-based adblocker, which there are more than just AdGuard but are all paid apps.

        Regarding YouTube on Android, I meant F-Droid being an Android app which is another app-store that hosts open-source apps. You can download a YouTube app replacement called NewPipe. You don’t need to run YouTube through a browser that way.

        1. But there is no problem for me to solve with NewPipe. The browser YouTube experience is fine on Android, as long as I use Firefox with uBlock Origin. NewPipe doesn’t fix the iOS YouTube problem.

  2. I disagree with the Samsung statement. I always preferred the stock pixel experience, but Samsung has jumped leaps and bounds in software since the old days when they had unbelievable amounts of bloatware. They have been doing things that takes 2 versions later to add to native Android like screen recording for instance has been in Samsung for a long time. The recent s21 was a huge leap in going the right direction. Specs, price, and non forced Samsung services.

    1. Even if it is allegedly better than it used to be, you still have bloat, duplicative apps, truly awful Samsung apps like Bixby, and ads. You still can’t override the Bixby button with Google Assistant (in a recent Ars Technica article, the author found that you could reassign any app to that button except Google Assistant!).

      Samsung is only doing this to create brand distinction. There is really no other reason to go to this effort.

      Samsung–I just want your hardware. I could care less about your software. Figure out a way to license the Pixel-branded stuff, and I’ll be happy. I’ll even tolerate a little of those “two versions later” stuff you referenced.

  3. Apple’s “Crude” call blocking setting of sending anyone not in your contacts to voice mail is exactly what I want to do, and I can’t figure out how to do just that in Android. It’s one thing to have more options, it’s another to ignore the most useful method of blocking for many people.

    Mostly I agree, I gave up on Apple back in the day and got an android phone (always Google/naked android, now have a Pixel 5). Broke up with Apple completely when my iMAC bricked on a Catalina upgrade, and use my pixel book and let my iPad collect dust.

  4. Felt like I had to say this because it never gets brought up. Charging speeds. An iphone 12 pro max takes over 2 hours to fully charge with the unprovided 20w charger.

    The one plus 8t can fully charge in 40 minutes. Being able to charge 3-4 times faster is a big deal.

    And good luck using the magsafe charger. That think takes over 3 hours.

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