Time for a new phone, what should I get?
December 14, 2011 9:39 AM   Subscribe

In the market for a new smartphone— Android or iPhone?

I've finally decided to upgrade from my ancient Blackberry Curve 7230.

I require the following features, in order of importance:

1) Cheapest unlimited text plan with at least 2GB data.
2) Map app (e.g. Google Map)
3) Ability to browse the web
4) Good camera

I don't listen to music, watch videos, and rarely play games on phones. I mostly use them for communication, navigation, and photo taking.

So, should I go with apple iPhone or Android phones (which one? Too many out there!)
posted by pakoothefakoo to Technology (39 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a comparison chart with the different iphone plans available from the different providers. The Iphone will definitely give you 2-4 on your list, #1 probably depends on which providers you look at.
posted by ghharr at 9:45 AM on December 14, 2011

The android maps are a bit better because they'll do turn-by-turn, and the iPhone 4S arguably has, by a modest-but-real margin, the best (not highest megapixel count, but actual image quality) of this generation's cameras. Web-browsing you'll get with all of them - I happen to think mobile safari is much nicer than the Android browsers I've used, but that's me - and an unlimited text plan is totally unrelated to your phone; at this point all the major carriers have lots of android options and iPhones (well, not T-mobile)

In short: You may need to get pickier if you want really useful advice from us, or just head over to an Apple store to try the iPhone, and then a carrier store or Best Buy to poke around on an Android. You're going to carry this thing for a couple of years and use it a lot - it behooves you to try your options, and not just go with other people's preferences.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:45 AM on December 14, 2011


I am an Android user. I have a Droid X that I love. But I'll tell you one thing every Android user has said at one point or another that no iPhone use has ever said: "Stupid phone!"
posted by The World Famous at 9:47 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Any of the most-recent Android or any current iPhone will give you all of those features you wish. You could probably do yourself a favor by sharpening or adding more criteria.

Since you are worried about texting costs, you must be in the USA? Last I checked there was no major carrier with a significant difference between 3G data plans, but texting in particular is very much a shop-around and read the fine print business in the US. I use a Pay-As-You-Go ATT card in the USA now, which isn't the best deal but fine for my only-there-sometimes life.

The iPhone 4 and especially new 4S definitely has the best camera I have ever touched in a phone, and it's better than many/most dedicated cameras. If you choose iPhone, get one of those models. You will be surprised at how good it is. I also prefer the 4/4S screen to any Android I have used yet, but see next sentence's caveat.

For Android, I'll let some of the robot-heads here suggest specific models, since I'm six months out of the market now, but I would definitely recommend a recent one, as there are a lot of older Android phones out there, usually on discount sales right now, that are not great at all and don't even run the latest OS.
posted by rokusan at 9:47 AM on December 14, 2011

I have a Droid Charge, which I purchased back in June through Costco.

It shuts down and reboots itself up to 4 times a day, often in the middle of navigation and phone calls.

I'm really wishing I had gone with an iPhone - we had iPhones before this, but were enticed by the 4G Verizon coverage - which also goes in and out, often causing you to drop the call or lose the text message when it does so (even though the phone rep assured us that would not happen).

YMMV, of course - perhaps I simply have a bad phone!
posted by needlegrrl at 9:48 AM on December 14, 2011

You can get turn-by-turn nav apps for the iPhone. The best-reviewed ones aren't free, and cost on the order of $50 one-time or ~$10/year.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:49 AM on December 14, 2011

What kind of phone do your friends have?

My wife and a lot of my friends have iPhones, since iOS 5 came out my texting usage has dropped off a cliff as inter-iPhone texting is handled for free by iMessage.
posted by Oktober at 10:02 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have a HTC Desire HD, and am very pleased with it, and have never said "stupid phone". My husband has a Wildfire, and it's a bit slow, but not a bad phone (and cheap, which the Desire wasn't). I got mine six months ago, and I think there's at least two newer models of HTC Android phones since then.

Then again, all the iphone owners I know are pleased with their phones too. I'm in the UK so texting costs aren't an issue.
posted by altolinguistic at 10:02 AM on December 14, 2011

I've seen my texting charges drop dramatically with iOS5--because Messages (Apple's txt app) will now send txt's through your internet connection to other iPhone users. So if your ecosystem is mostly iPhones, you might not need an unlimited txt plan anymore.

The only thing about the android phones I envy is the turn by turn mapping. But not enough to have ever seriously considered one. I also assume it's a matter of time before we see built-in turn by turn directions, but that won't help you right now.
posted by danny the boy at 10:04 AM on December 14, 2011

In contrast to The World Famous, I was very excited to get an iPhone some years back. After losing 24+ hours of my life fighting with The Apple Way Of Doing Things, I broke my contract to go Android and will never look back. Even now, I can do things on my phone that iOS users wish they could do, but will never be able to do because it's so locked down. And using Safari is a really painful experience.

But it's all individual - it depends on your needs and temperament. I recommended an iPhone to my girlfriend because it was simpler and did all the things she wanted. I've recommended Android to others who need some features that Apple doesn't support well (voice-to-text input, text-to-voice output anyone?). So if I were you, I'd go to some stores and just try them out. Pull up the map / navigation software and give it a try. Send some emails, type a little, visit some websites. Look at the widgets that Android allows - do they seem useful, or could you do without them if you got an iPhone?

Frankly, iPhones are simpler to use and more stable, but they come with a huge catch and the big question is whether you are okay with that catch. With an iPhone you are buying into Apple's way of doing things. Many features are tied to iTunes, which is a monstrosity if you use Windows at home. If you don't like something doing something Apple's way (say, they keyboard) often there is no way to avoid doing the Apple way. So when you play around with the phone and think about how you'll use it, realize that the Android phone can change and the iPhone cannot. If the iPhone still seems superior, then you'll probably be happy with an iPhone. In my case, I wanted more control over my experience, and I love the back and menu buttons instead of hunting for them on the screen, but you may feel differently.
posted by Tehhund at 10:11 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I own both the Galaxy Nexus (Newest Android phone, running Android 4.0, the latest version of the software) and the iPhone 4S.

I could not recommend the Galaxy Nexus to you, or most anyone. It's really great in its own way, and I enjoy using it, but it's a "complicated" device, and the iPhone "just works," as they say. You'll never regret having an iPhone, but it's possible you'll regret buying some Android phone.
posted by Patbon at 10:11 AM on December 14, 2011

The iOS app Waze is a free GPS option that's worth a look if you're disappointed about no free turn-by-turn GPS built into the OS on iOS devices. For me, it works better than the Google Maps app worked on my old Android phone.
posted by emelenjr at 10:13 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

To follow up on Tehhund's comment, Siri (the interactive virtual assistant on the 4s) isn't quite as amazing as the commercials make her out to be, but she's still incredibly useful. I haven't typed a text message in months, and looking up simple things like directions and weather couldn't be easier.
posted by Oktober at 10:20 AM on December 14, 2011

The World Famous: "But I'll tell you one thing every Android user has said at one point or another that no iPhone use has ever said: "Stupid phone!""

What? I've heard this plenty. Just one example is my wife. She has said this a million times about her iPhone. And she has a macbook, a macbook pro for work, and loves her iPhone, except when she wants to make a phone call with it. Dropped calls, shitty voice quality, etc. So I suppose it's true that she's never said: "Stupid data device!" but she's certainly said "Stupid phone!" plenty.

I wholeheartedly agree with this dude:

Tomorrowful: "You're going to carry this thing for a couple of years and use it a lot - it behooves you to try your options, and not just go with other people's preferences."
posted by Grither at 10:24 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think part of the answer depends on the rest of your (and to a lesser extent your friends') computing ecosystem.

Already have a Mac? (And like it?) Big user of iTunes? All your friends have iPhones? - Go iPhone.

Use Google everything? Run your life through your Gmail account? All your friends have Gmail? - Go Android. (You can use Gtalk instead of texting; most of the time the deliverability is more reliable, in my experience.)

What my decision process looked like, about a year ago:

1) We've been TMobile customers for like a zillion years, and their plan is cheapest for our usage.

2) Not super-comfortable being locked into The Apple Way.

3) I've had a Gmail account since when you had to beg for a beta invite. Mr epersonae & I were already using GTalk as our primary chat, too.

So we went Android; bought identical G2s, partially because I insisted on something with a keyboard. Also, because we actually went to the store and played around with everything they had. The phone I thought I'd want I didn't like at all. (Don't remember what it was, but at the time it was the cheap phone with a keyboard.)

The camera is decent if not spectacular; Google Maps navigation still feels like magic, and the web browsing is fine. I find it totally indispensable now, although mr e has had trouble with battery life and some other glitchiness. Actually, I use it much more, and for a wider variety of things, than I would have anticipated before getting it.
posted by epersonae at 10:25 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is what I told my mom when she asked what the difference was.

"iPhones are for people who want a cool phone but don't care about or don't want the ability to play around with settings and stuff. Android is for people who will want to mess with their phone."

Granted, I know plenty of people with jailbroken iPhones and totally stock Android phones. But I still think the metaphor works.

I'm only jealous of 2 things on my wife's iPhone. 1 is a to-do list app that I think is amazing and isn't available for Android. The other is that all of her memory is in one package. She has 16gb and she's good to go. I have phone memory and then SD card memory in my Android. Plenty of SD card memory in fact, but I'm restricted on the apps because of the phone memory.

You're going to be able to find your requirements in either operating system.
posted by theichibun at 10:41 AM on December 14, 2011

I have an Android and my spouse has an iPhone.

The Android battery life is TERRIBLE - but you can buy extra batteries and swap them out. You can't do that with and iPhone.

I REALLY like having a keyboard (and you may too after having a Blackberry) and only Androids will do that for you.

Androids integrate better with Google - GMail, Google calendar, Google maps -- so if you're a big Google user, it might be better for you. (iPhones work with them too, but it isn't as clean.)

I think that an additional thing to consider is apps. I'm not a big app users. My spouse is. It appears that there are more apps being developed for the iPhone. (Not TONS more, but it seems like the iPhone version of things usually comes out first.) We also have a preschooler and there seem to be more kid apps for the iPhone. My spouse also uses an iPad, so his apps all sync to both.
posted by k8t at 10:42 AM on December 14, 2011

Through Virgin mobile, I have 300 talk minutes and unlimited data for $25/month. It recently got bumped up to $35, and I'm grandfathered in, but I've been very happy with it and would have paid the $10 more. You can pay a little bit more for more minutes, if you need it. They offer a number of android phones, of which my wife just purchased one also, she and has been pleased with it. It has a 5MP camera with flash.

Here's a list of all their phones and data plans. I have the Optimus V, and she has the Wildfire.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:46 AM on December 14, 2011

TheIchibun, I don't think there's a better ToDo list app right now than Wunderlist, and it's definitely available for Android, and iOS, and Macs, and PCs, and probably blenders by now.
posted by rokusan at 10:49 AM on December 14, 2011

The Android battery life is TERRIBLE

I had that problem for awhile, too, and I think it's a common problem for many Android phones. I downloaded a free app called Juice Defended that pretty much took care of the problem. Highly recommend it, if you don't already have it.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:51 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I just got the Galaxy S2 by Samsung (droid OS) a few months ago, and I'm loving it. It hasn't crashed yet, it's super customisable (just rooted out all the junk bloatware added by AT&T and installed a new operating system, even though the old one was fine) using an easy online step by step tutorial. Now I can easily get two days usage without charging. If free apps are important to you, I'd go with Droid.

The camera and video recording quality on the Galaxy S2 is outstanding. The sound quality is top notch too, with ear buds - I don't bring my digital camera anywhere usually now. I also use the S2 as my workout "ipod" since there are many free apps for getting music. The design is gorgeous, too - it's so small and fits without any bulk into pockets. Not sure how easy it is to get free apps on the iphone, but 99% of my apps are free through the Droid market or online downloads. Then again, I'm new to all this, so this is just me talking after getting a Galaxy S2 and being wowed at how much better it was than my Blackberry. The Galaxy S2 is probably the nicest phone I've ever had and I'd buy it again in a heartbeat. Don't get the Infuse though. That one actually did hang a few times, probably because the processor isn't as fast.
posted by sunnychef88 at 10:58 AM on December 14, 2011

Sorry, Juice Defender.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:12 AM on December 14, 2011

Another strike against Android, in my opinion, is that you can't guarantee that the phone you will buy will be able to run the very next Android OS release, whether that comes next month or next year. And you'll have to wait for your phone company to push the update to you, instead of choosing to download the update when it becomes available.

Also, there are so many Android phone models out there that it's impossible to keep them all on the same version of the OS. And if you're not on a particular version of an OS, there's no guarantee that the app you want to download will work on your phone. So Android is kind of a crapshoot in that respect. I owned a Droid Eris that was EOLed by Verizon about two months after I got it. (Maybe my fault for picking that phone instead of shopping around, but it's the one Verizon aggressively sold me on.) I hung on to it until iPhones came to Verizon, and then I ditched Android and haven't looked back.
posted by emelenjr at 11:14 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

And you'll have to wait for your phone company to push the update to you, instead of choosing to download the update when it becomes available.

No, you won't.

Android is open source, you can download the latest version and build it yourself anytime you want. And if that's too hardcore for there is likely a choice of several after-market ROMS you can download and install (eg.CyanogenMod).
posted by robertc at 11:22 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would suggest that you take a look at the new Windows phones. If you have bad memories of WinCE, you'll be surprised to see how nice a job Microsoft has done. The Focus S on AT&T and the Nokia 710 (coming Jan 11) on T-Mobile have both gotten great reviews.
The platform's real weakness right now is 3rd party apps which still lags significantly behind the iPhone and Android markets. Prices for Windows Phones seem to be lower than their matching iPhone and Android equivalents, most likely because of the relative lack of popularity.
posted by Eddie Mars at 11:34 AM on December 14, 2011

Yes, you are allowed to do it yourself. You're also allowed to put the phone in the microwave for a spin or two, if that's what you want. I don't want to jump through all those "download and build it yourself" hoops myself, and maybe the OP doesn't either.

The typical Android consumer is going to have to wait for the company that provides their cell service to allow them to install the update from the company that built the OS--but only after it's been tested by the company that built their phone. That's very different from the Apple business model of "Here's the new OS. Come download it when you want, even if your phone is three years old."
posted by emelenjr at 11:37 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Former iPhone user here (4 was stolen skiing). Bought AT&T branded Galaxy S Captivate as a replacement off of ebay.

Nth'ing Patbon. If I needed to recommend a phone to someone who wasn't willing to dick around with it, then iPhone by a mile. If you are (including rooting/custom ROMs/etc.), I personally think high end Android phones are a more capable choice. My Mom? iPhone. My wife (Masters in CS, but complete unwillingness to fiddle)? iPhone. Me and my silicon valley uber-nerd co-workers? Various flavors of Android - mostly in the Galaxy S class.

My plan once my AT&T contract runs out is to pick up a cheap used contract free T-Mobile branded Galaxy S (Vibrant, I think) and go month to month on T-Mobile. I'm never getting another two year contract - I don't care how cool the hardware is. Maybe I'll spring for a contract free Galaxy SII or Nexus Prime.

It really boils down to time or money. Android will be cheaper overall for the same capability if you know what you're doing and can spend the time. If you can't spend the time, don't know what you're doing (or both), go get an iPhone already. For what you're describing as your needs - I'd personally grab a 3gs off of ebay.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:41 AM on December 14, 2011

FWIW I am the least "hip" 20-something when it comes to technology and have no patience for tinkering much. I figured out to install a custom rom in spite of the fact my attention span is so short with techy stuff. The standard interface is perfectly usable, though. Downloading whatever app you need (there's an app for everything you could think of!) takes a few seconds on appworld. If you're not willing to explore the possibilities though than an iPhone seems to be standard. I enjoy not being locked into apple compatible stuff myself.
posted by sunnychef88 at 11:48 AM on December 14, 2011

re: partitioned memory on Androids...

The new Galaxy Nexus doesn't have this issue, so it's not an android limitation but a design choice.
posted by utsutsu at 11:53 AM on December 14, 2011

I have both through work and home.
It's a matter of complexity. Android is just more complicated in a positive way. IPhone is more contained and straight. They are both great fun.

Most of the previous responses say the same. Personally if I needed to keep one, I would consider keeping the IPhone as I already do too much fiddling with PCs and just don't have the time.
posted by Bodrik at 1:05 PM on December 14, 2011

Android. Here's why.

1) Cheapest unlimited text plan with at least 2GB data.

The two best deals in unlimited text + data right now are Virgin Mobile's $35 for 300 minutes plus unlimited texts and data plan, and T-Mobile's $30 for 100 minutes plus unlimited texts and 5GB data plan (only available online). Both Virgin and T-Mobile support an assortment of fully-featured Android phones on those plans - but not the iPhone. The cheapest plans that support iPhones cost over twice that.

Android is, hands down, the cheaper option right now.

2) Map app (e.g. Google Map)

Both Android and the iPhone feature Google Maps. But what Android has that the iPhone doesn't is Google Navigation, which provides full turn-by-turn navigation. On Android, you can say "Navigate to (address)" into the phone, and a full Garmin-like GPS will appear to provide turns and voice commands to get you there. With an iPhone, you'd have to purchase a navigation app, and I'm not aware of any iOS navigation apps that are as feature-rich, accurate and easy to use as the one included with Android.

3) Ability to browse the web

In my opinion, any iOS phone and any Android phone on a decent data plan can do this fairly well. That said, the different sizes and styles of screens available make web browsing easier on some phones than others. The iPhone's retina display is small but super sharp. Many Android phones, however, have much larger displays. This is something that you should do in-person, at the carriers' stores, to test things out.

4) Good camera

The iPhone camera is generally considered to be best in class. Many Android phones have good cameras, but the iPhone's is excellent. If, after thinking this through, you feel that the camera is more important than you specified, it's a big reason to get an iPhone.

But for me, the selling point of Android if you text a lot is Swiftkey X, for which there's no analogue in the iOS world. Swiftkey X looks like a tool to correct spelling when using the on-screen keyboard, but it's much more - it attempts to predict what you might type next based on your previous texting history. If I type "mee" it will suggest meet as one of the words. If I select "meet", it will then suggest "me" and "us" as possible next words. If I select one of those, it will suggest "at". After that, "the". It learns from the other texts you've sent, and you can end up typing something like "meet me at the theater" extremely quickly. It makes typing out texts on an Android phone much, much faster and easier than on an iPhone.

Finally, I've used both iOS and Android extensively, and found that both have deeply annoying quirks and flaws in radically different ways. In terms of the usability discussions that are occurring above, I strongly recommend simply experiencing the interfaces first-hand.
posted by eschatfische at 1:27 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just one other benefit to Android that you might want to think about, at least through Virgin. There's no contract commitment, just a month-to-month payment plan.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:45 PM on December 14, 2011

Sprint offers unlimited data for the iPhone.
I was debating too, and ended up with an iPhone because I just don't like fiddling around with my phone and installing and configuring lots of things. I want it to be clean and simple. I don't want to spend time getting my phone to behave the way I want it and am willing to accept some limitations to avoid that. If you enjoy the fiddling, I think Android phones let you do a lot more customization and you avoid the irritation of dealing with the Apple store and their "geniuses". (I don't say "stupid phone," but every time I have to go to an Apple store, I say, "I @#$# HATE !@#$@#$@ APPLE!!!" In fact, this was the main reason I seriously considered switching.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 2:22 PM on December 14, 2011

I recently switched from an old iPhone 3g to a Samsung Galaxy S2.

I loved my old iPhone, and love the new Android phone. I think for most people you can't go too far wrong with either platform - they are pretty amazing, and also not so wildly different from each other.

I agree with what a few folks have mentioned: There are more apps for the iPhone (though still tons and tons for Android). The iPhone is a little easier, and the Android a little geekier, with a lot more customization options, etc. I love having the super-big screen on the Galaxy S2 - iPhone screens look sort of unusably tiny to me now.

One small downside I'm finding with Android: Finding support online, in forums, etc, is harder in my experience, because there are so many different models and manufacturers of the phone. Not a huge deal, but for me that's actually been the biggest hassle about the switch. On the whole - I'm still glad to be on Android.
posted by ManInSuit at 2:49 PM on December 14, 2011

As someone who uses both iOS (work phone is an iPhone) and Android (personal device), I will say that either one will do what you're asking (except for point 1, which is all about your carrier and your plan).

With the iPhone, you're guaranteed a good experience.

With Android, it really depends on the specific device you choose as well as your carrier (and whether or not they have loaded up a bunch of bloatware).

I personally prefer Android. Unlike a lot of people, I actually find it more intuitive than iOS, but that may just be because I used it first and so it seems more natural because I learned it first. I am kind of lusting after the Galaxy Nexus right now, and would highly recommend any of the Galaxy devices if you're going to go with Android.
posted by asnider at 3:56 PM on December 14, 2011

I'm about to trade in my broken Bberry Curve for a Motorola Droid. I really wanted good GPS, good audio and, of all things, FM radio. I loved having radio 2 phones back, walking and listening to Terry Gross. Why use the data plan to get radio when it's already in the air? I used an iPad for a while, and wasn't in love with it. You're tied to iTunes and the iTunes store, and you're tied to doing it the Apple Way. I decided a more open OS would be worth trying.
posted by theora55 at 5:40 PM on December 14, 2011

With the greatest respect to previous responders, the iphone 4S camera is very poor compared to say a Nokia with Carl Zeiss optics, at least for still images. (The 4S HD video is as good as my Nokia N8, but the damn vids are in quicktime format.) Also the still camera options are limited to flash on/off and HDR on/off. No scene/mode selection, red-eye reduction, macro... Also when I say 'flash' I mean small, dim, white LED, rather than a real useable flash. If the camera is important to you, look away from apple.

Also, the 4S feels nice and 'grown up', until i want to do something that Apple don't want me to do, like switch off the shutter sound on the camera, or put a button on the screen to switch on/off bluetooth (which I have to do because the battery life is too awful to leave it on). Maybe the apple app store is so well populated because lots of people found their iphone couldn't do what they wanted to without it. Also why do I have to pay £40 or so for a professional turn by turn satnav app for the 4S with voice guidance, when Nokia provide that for free on their phones?

Get an Android phone if you want to customise it at all, or use the camera other than for simple snaps.
posted by muckybob at 1:34 AM on December 15, 2011

Also why do I have to pay £40 or so for a professional turn by turn satnav app for the 4S with voice guidance, when Nokia provide that for free on their phones?

Assuming you're okay with the quality of OpenStreetMap then "Nav Free" on the iPhone does turn-by-turn sat nav for free.

I'm only an occasional driver in and around big cities and it works just great for me.
posted by mr_silver at 7:24 AM on December 15, 2011

Thank you all for extremely rich and useful feedback. I'm considering Samsung Galaxy S2 with Tmobile.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 10:52 AM on December 15, 2011

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