Help Me, Tom's Guide: Which Is Better — Android or iPhone?

Star Wars versus Star Trek. Marvel versus DC. Creamy peanut butter versus chunky. Some debates will rage on through time. And Paul Stark has just pressed the Resume button on a classic tech back-and-forth in our forums.

I've looked into both platforms for cellphones, and obviously it seems iPhone seems to come out on top as far as popularity, but why is this so? From my understanding, iPhone's OS is just a generic platform that is easy to use, whereas Android can be customized to the user's preference.

Ah, the ol' Android versus iPhone argument, a debate that's been raging since the first device running Google's OS debuted in 2008. Paul's question seems a good opportunity to explore this conundrum from the perspective of someone mulling over a smartphone purchase: What type of phone should you get — an Android device or an iPhone?

Paul notes one of the more compelling reasons to cast your lot with Android, but there are others.

Where Android Wins

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Android is very customizable. Because Google built the Android OS to be open, you can tweak and fine-tune your phone as much or as little as you want. That includes picking out a new launcher that adds new capabilities to your phone, adding a performance booster or making any one of a number of tweaks that are simply out of the question for iPhone owners. Heck, it's easy enough to turn either a Galaxy S8 or an LG G6 into a stock Android device without any rooting. Android is a tinkerer's dream.

Samsung Galaxy S8

Samsung Galaxy S8

There's a wider — and welcome — variety of Android devices. Apple's idea of giving users a choice of phones is to take last year's model and knock $100 off the price. The least expensive iPhone you can get will still set you back $400, and I say that as a satisfied iPhone SE owner.

With Android, variety is the spice of life. If your budget allows it, you can opt for feature-packed flagships like the HTC U11 or the aforementioned Galaxy S8 and G6. Don't want to spend more than $600 on a phone? You can find plenty of lower-priced options that still offer compelling features, whether it's the all-day battery life of the Asus ZenFone 3 Zoom, the dual-lens rear cameras on ZTE's Blade V8 Pro or the budget-friendly features on the Moto G5 Plus.

MORE: 10 Reasons Android Beats the iPhone

Some of Android's built-in features really shine. Apple's Maps app has improved since it limped out of the gate with iOS 6, but Google's Maps has more polish. The arrival of Google Assistant on iOS has given me more hands-on time with that digital assistant. And honestly, the only reason I still use Siri is that I can summon Apple's digital helper without unlocking my iPhone. Android users have a much better built-in assistant.

That's the case in favor of Android, but there are several reasons no one's managed to pry the iPhone out my grasp over the last decade.

Where the iPhone Wins

Apple provides the most seamless experience. Say what you will about the merits of an open OS, but there's something to be said for controlling both the hardware and the software. (I have a feeling owners of the Google Pixel would agree.) By making both the device and the operating system that runs on it, Apple can guarantee a pretty consistent experience to anyone who fires up an iPhone. 

That extends to the Mac (if you have one), as I can move work between devices using Handoff, set up a Universal Clipboard to copy and paste content from my iPhone onto my Mac, or field phone calls from either device. And I've never had to spend a minute of my life removing carrier bloatware from my iPhone. 

MORE: 10 Reasons the iPhone Beats Android

iPhones get more reliable security and software updates. As of this writing, only 9 percent of the many Android phones out there in the world are running Nougat, the latest version of Google's OS. That compares to 86 percent of iPhones and iPads running iOS 10. The reason? Updating your version of iOS is as simple as going into the Software Updates section of the Settings app and downloading the update. Android updates have to go through device makers and carriers, which move on their own schedule. 

This has implications on the security of your phone as it gets older. As my colleague and security editor Paul Wagenseil points out, you can hold onto an old iPhone for up to five years and still have a secure device so long as you keep downloading those software updates. An Android device might stop getting updates in as little as 18 months, and Google stops updating the security on its phones after three years.

iPhone 7

iPhone 7

iPhones still enjoy an app edge. Google Play has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, and it's now larger than Apple's App Store. But the iPhone still enjoys an edge in apps, thanks in large part to the fact that developers make more money building iOS apps. There's a reason why big apps like Super Mario World and Monument Valley 2 launched on iOS before coming to Android.

Sound Off: Now it's your turn

What makes Android versus iOS such a great debate is that even though I just rattled off several reasons in favor of either platform, you can probably offer up several reasons more. I'd love to hear about them in the forums, and I'm sure someone trying to decide what kind of phone to get would enjoy hearing them, too.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.

  • George_218
    guess what? neither is better. owning an apple product is nothing more than a status symbol. it is an outrageously expensive phone, but people buy it because their friends buy it. it works well, and has its flaws. within the android community, people will buy the most high end phone at the time as a status symbol. however, android phones are not outrageously expensive. the prices are relative based on the type of phone you buy. apple doesn't really provide their consumers with choice. it's either buy this stupidly expensive phone or buy this really really expensive phone. aside from that, it all comes down to the interface. some people like ios and some like android. it's just a preference.
  • Kyle Tweil
    George, What you think could be true on your side yet don't take it as a fact as it wouldn't apply to everyone. Somebody actually buy their phone they choose after precise-decent research to determine which phone fits better for them. Did you ever had any phone cheaper than iphone having a better speed? Even Samsung Galaxy S8 isn't faster than iphone at point despite it was released 6months after iphone 7. It is because Apple had built their OS perfectly fits to their device. When you run any app or games - you will see. How much is Galaxy s8 btw? It ain't cheap - more likely same price.
  • TommyLeeBDW
    I own both and Apple iOS is smoother, better software update, better resale value, iphone feel premium, better security, better camera than any up-to-date Android phone. Overall both have it's pros and con but Apple have more pros.
  • Satya narain
    In this modern world everyone wants to connect with the world and with ios device you can connect with ios only .In android you can do many things for free but in ios even for songs you have to download it from itunes and you have to pay for it. It's just useless. If I am spending more than 800$ on and still I have to pay for listening songs . The biggest disadvantage of ios device is that it does not have dual sim, sd card slot,bluetooth and NFC.Apple is not giving many features which buyer of ios devices should get so for that reason I will not prefer iphone at all.
  • Eric_191
    For me, all about choice. With iOS you basically have none which is fine for tons of people. For me, I like trying out different phones knowing there is no learning curve to get over. I have used Samsung, htc, nexus 6p and now Moto Z. Any high end Android will match ip7 in pretty much every category from what u have seen, surpassing it in others (camera, battery life etc.) But to each his own. People talking about build quality haven't used a high end Android, atleast not in the last 3 years. Htc 11, pixel, G6, Moto z are all fantastic with great build quality. The s8 makes the ip7 look a decade old. Even the budget Moto g5+ holds up well to the ip7. I am hoping this will eventually bring the price of the higher end phones down. $700 for a phone is too high at this point in the game, just my two cents.
  • leo_sk
    For all practical purposes, android, unless one was deficient in foresight to have bought a mac
  • madmatt30
    Android vs iPhone ?? It doesn't work as a question & there is no correct answer.
    Its like asking is a PC better than a Mac ??

    Same difference , PC is a globular term not a set configuration , android is an os not a phone.

    An iPhone 7 vs a Samsung j3 , the iPhone easily , an lg g6 vs an iPhone 5 , lg easily.
    Android phones are far far better value & have a far more customisable hardware/price spec ignoring the os completely.
    IPhones are good , they're just not good value.
  • reader134
    There is a big difference between the premium Samsungs and Androids. The title should of been Android vs Samsung vs Iphone.
    Samsung has so many more features than both Android and iphones. Wireless charging, iris scanner, edge/bezel-less displays, real battery power saving modes, AOD, Stylus. Samsung phones are always cutting edge when it comes to technology. Eventually Apple may get the features when the price comes down.
  • Larry_111
    I would never own an iphone for the same reason I don't pay 40% margins when I buy a car (margins on cars are 9%) or furniture, or my house, or my groceries or.... or.... or.... Paying 40% margins for a commodity product is just plain stupid stupid stupid... and it is the reason why apple fanboys don't do it with anything else...
  • thomastagle
    With no disrespect intended, some of the answers to this question are rather amusing and most have partial information, but miss the bigger picture.

    There are a number of things to consider.

    Apple has a world class processor design team. They are considered the best in the world at what they do.
    Apple made the better design decision - because they can. Most existing ARM implementations are very close in design to ARM’s reference designs. They don’t deviate much in terms of performance, etc. By contrast, Apple has designed their own architecture. Their SoCs accommodate larger and more powerful cores. What people fail to recognize is that most workloads are only optimized for single core performance. As an example, web applications that run on Javascript are only leveraging single core. Some algorithms simply cannot be optimized for multiple cores. However, there are some that can. While there is value in having strong multi-core performance, there are few instances outside of benchmarks where this is made evident.
    There have been studies which demonstrate the benefits of having fewer fast cores which perform their work then “race to sleep”.
    What you seldom read about are thermal limitations. 8 core processors are great for benchmark demonstrations, however, you can see from prolonged tests like those on Anandtech that most Android phones need to throttle down after a rather short period of time. Sadly, some Android manufacturers “cheat” on their benchmarks by checking to see if a known benchmark is running, then disabling the thermal based throttling that would normally occur for non-benchmark applications. The OnePlus 5 is a current example of a vendor continuing this practice even after being publicly shamed for doing so.
    Fast Android phones still experience occasional lags. Why? Because Android relies on a method of garbage collection for memory management. There are pros and cons with this approach, but most agree this is a bad choice for a mobile device. The only way to minimize this effect is to ship with significantly more memory than should be needed. That’s why a 2GB iPhone feels perfectly fast and fluid, yet a 6GB Android phone will still get the occasional stutter.
    There have been some suggestions that Android is slower because it’s more complicated or because it does more. That is complete nonsense. iOS has a full UNIX based OS under the hood and does all sorts of multi-tasking and interprocess communications behind the scenes. Some people seem to mistake Apple’s imposed user policies with the abilities and complexities of the OS itself. If anything, iPhones are doing more work as all iPhones are fully encrypted. Whereas most Android phones are not encrypted with the most often cited reason for not encrypting is due to performance issues.
    Finally, yes, Apple does have the ability to build the silicon to be most optimized for their workloads. This happens in a broad sense with the CPU in terms of the general design. However, you are more likely to see this with things like the image signal processor. That’s how iPhones take bursts of 10 pictures per second without breaking a sweat. Apple also optimizes much of the screen drawing, scrolling, animations, etc. for their Metal API. This is much more efficient than OpenGL. The equivalent, Vulkan is just becoming available on Android and it’s not as mature yet. Further, very few Android users are even using the latest OS release. Going forward, we’re going to see Apple leverage more of their advantage with regard to AI processing.
    On a side note, Apple also uses a much higher speed NVMe based storage solution (with a custom controller) than their competitors. This helps makes launching applications much faster for example. There are often videos on YouTube which demonstrate this advantage. Sadly, the people running the tests attribute the speed difference to Apple’s faster CPU… which has nothing to do with storage I/O performance. However, it does contribute to making the iPhone feel faster.