Over the years I have been tempted to jump to Android by their larger screens, the promise of more openness and the air of rebellion that Android has generally portrayed.
My Android phones however have almost never lived up to the hype. Sure the screens are bigger – this is important when you get older, sure there is a lot more flexibility there in terms of icon layout, launchers and widgets and there is Google Now, which is pretty cool.
But somehow I feel like I am a beta tester or worse for the majority of my Android experience.
Every single Android phone that I have owned, and the list is extensive, has been missing something compared to not just other Androids, but to iPhone. It seems that choosing Android means that you need to choose carefully because they are so varied.
The iPhone is the standard by which others are judged.
There are several things that are important to me in a phone, beyond the actual telephone part.
The camera is important. I take a lot of photographs and the camera that is in my pocket is generally one that is built into my smart phone. So I expect it to work and work well.
The battery life is important, if it cannot last a day between charges (say 7AM to 7PM), then it is useless.
The user interface is important, I need to be able to find my way around it easily.
Bluetooth is very important to me, music players, in-car connectivity, connection to my heart rate monitor etc.
Finally Accessories are important. This is a difficult one, but I am a large fan of the quadlock system. I have a mount on my bike and another for a mini tripod, so being able to use this is nice.
For the purposes of this post I am going to attempt to compare three phones, which shows how I arrived at my feelings.
- Samsung Galaxy Note III
- OnePlus One
- Apple iPhone 6
All three phones where the flagship device at the time of the iPhone 6 release, so this feels pretty appropriate to me.
Price is important to some, so lets get that out of the way straight off, the iPhone6 and the Note III are about $600, the OnePlus is around half of that ($350 + shipping etc).
If price is the absolute most important thing, then the Oneplus One is the winner and you do not need to read any more.
All three are great on paper. A quick browse at the spec sheet….
- One – The One has a 13MP Sony Exmor BSI image sensor and f/2.0 lens
- Note III – The Note III also has a 13MP sensor, but with a slightly slower f/2.1 lens
- iPhone 6 – The iPhone 6 has an 8MP sensor with an even slower f/2.2 lens.
On paper then the iPhone is the loser.
In reality, the iPhone camera is easily the best of the bunch. It is way faster to use, way faster between shots, handles camera motion amazingly well (Optical image stabilisation) and produces a photograph that is beautifully exposed, nicely in focus and with very, very accurate colours. Every Single Time.
The OnePlus One is in second place, not simply because of the price of the phone either. The camera is better than the Note III in pretty much any situation that you can think of. It is also a slightly wider angle lens than the Note and this is very useful.
The speed of the camera is important too. In each of the shots shown I unlocked, pointed, chose the focus zone and then took the photo while timing it with a stopwatch.
Unlock to Camera focus
- One – 3 seconds
- Note III – 4 seconds
- iPhone – less than two seconds.
Time between shot 1 and shot 2
- One – 1 second
- Note III (processing……..) 4 seconds
- iPhone – zero
Number of shots to get the one that had the lego in focus ?
- One – three
- Note III – three
- iPhone – One
Colour accuracy ?
- One – pretty good
- Note III – pretty good
- iPhone – Close to perfect
For the full version of the images above, just click them.
User Interface ?
- One – The interface is OK, there is a swipe-to-change-modes that is especially annoying, but other than that it is OK.
- Note III (running 5) – At least ten buttons and graphics on the screen overlaying the preview is probably at least six too many. It is a disaster.
- iPhone 6 – super simple. Easy win.
Verdict – The iPhone takes the prize here, it is considerably better in the speed and usability. The One wins on paper, but all those megapixels are not terribly good in low light and the cameras hesitancy to take a photo in a timely manner is not a good experience. The Note III is absolute rubbish.
I’ve used all three on a daily basis.
OnePlus – Amazing battery life. It will last all day, every day with even ‘modest’ amounts of use.
Note III – dreadful. You can watch the battery percentage drop as soon as you take it off charge. Only lasts all day if you forget to go back to work after lunch.
iPhone 6 – right up there with the One. Truly lasts all day.
Verdict – do not get the Note III unless you carry a charger.
First things first, I am aware that you can change the Android interface to look like iOS or like a Commodore 64, I am aware that there are numerous launchers available and that Android has themes.
I feel though that this is only because the stock offerings from the various Android OEM’s are absolutely crap.
Lets start with the Note III, it comes with touchwiz. This is dreadful, it also makes deep UI changes in the settings, adds tons of redundant apps, a second app store, yet another cloud etc. It is an absolutely terrible design. add to that the huge physical home button and the two (backwards) buttons for back and menu and the UX is simply horrible.
The One is way better. Cyanogen are very good at not messing up the UI, was such the interface is close to the Android standard, in 4.4 this is a good thing, if ever the One gets 5, it will be an even better thing. The physical buttons are horrible though, I constantly catch them while typing and end up exiting the application.
The iPhone has ‘trust us, we know best’ levels of customisation (you can change the wallpaper and you can move icons around) and this is a very good thing. It simply works and works really, really well.
Verdict – do not get the Note III unless you are a masochist.
Simply do not get the Samsung if you want to connect to anything beyond car audio or maybe BT headphones.
The One is good, but it forgets connections occasionally (heart rate monitor).
The iPhone ups the ante with bullet-proof connectivity.
Verdict – do not get the Note III
The One is a little bit of a disappointment for me. The range of accessories is limited, which means that there is less choice than I would prefer. The bits and pieces that are available are good though, so perhaps it is a god thing.
The Note III is pretty well supported, but there are issues, even the official flip cover is very, very random when it comes to turning the display on. No Quad-Lock though.
The iPhone 6 wins here. Not only is there a quad-lock case, but pretty much everyone makes and sells iPhone accessories.
Verdict – The One loses.
Apple wins the ecosystem prize. Simply, bluntly, google’s ecosystem feels like a pale imitation of the Apple version. If I take a photo with my iPhone it is in iPhoto instantly. (Yes I can work around that via dropbox), if I download a song on my phone (from iTunes) it is available in iTunes (on my laptop, desktop, iPad).
Secondly, the iPhone just works. Every feature that is released is actually a fully finished, actually working feature. Many Android features feel like they are still being beta tested (BT4.0 is a great example), or worse they look great on paper, but simply do not work in reality (fingerprint scanner on the S5 or the HRM on some samsung devices).
If you want the phone that is at the top of the spec sheet, then the One is an absolute bargain. It is a lovely phone too.
If you want one that promise the earth and you will never understand how to use it, get the Note III (or better then Note 4).
If you want a phone that simply works and has an absolutely amazing camera, then the iPhone 6 (or Plus) is the one.