iOS 14 vs Android 11: My Experience Using Both

Last week I wrote about going back to an iPhone from my Google Pixel 3XL. After a week back on iOS I’m definitely noticing some of the differences, both for better and worse. Here’s my view of the two ecosystems as they stand currently.

First, iPhone does do some things really well. The newer Safari is much easier to use than Chrome or Firefox was on Android (the latest Firefox is so bad, in my experience, that I find it almost unusable). The camera is amazing and many of the default apps including Calendar, Mail and Reminders are quite nice, even when hooked up to Nextcloud. That said, the UX of the iOS itself definitely has a lot it could learn from Android. Here are some of the features where iOS lags well behind.

Focus Mode

During my work day Focus Mode on Android was a great way to silence notifications and keep me from getting distracted by my phone. When paired with a nightly do-not-disturb schedule it made the phone functional when I needed it as well as allowed me to pull away from it when I didn’t. While iPhone has the sleep mode and do-not-disturb they are not as useful as Android’s. For example, I still haven’t found a good way to make it work during both work hours and during the evening. In addition, when it is active on iPhone it takes more work to get around should I need the phone for anything.

After a week I feel like the phone is useful for me on my desk but I still feel the pull of more app notification that I would like. This is going to take some adjustment on my part to get used to or figure out how to sufficiently tune.

Notification area

On Android there are visual queues that notifications are present from the home screen. On iPhone you have to pull down the notification from just the right spot on top of the screen to see them. As a result I find the notifications on iPhone mostly useless in comparison. Once I see that an app has a notification I now feel like I need to actually go to the app to do anything about it. On Android I could handle many of them right from the home screen. The loss of the feature from Android isn’t a deal-breaker but it is highly annoying, at best.

App Library

The App Library on iOS is garbage, there’s no other way to put it. On Android I can swipe up to get an alphabetical list if every app on the phone that is easily to scroll through. On iPhone the answer to this is to add the App Library. Now you slide left to get some oddly categorized list of all your apps that may or may not change every time you access it. For the week I’ve had the phone, every time I think I know where to find an app it moves again and I have to search for it all over. It’s so bad that I’ll probably wind up manually organizing all my apps back on the home screen like I did the last time I had an iPhone in 2017. Manual sorting is the only way I’ll be able to quickly and easily get to what I need to.

Gestures

Gestures on both devices for OS functions like seeing running apps or getting to app lists are, at best, wonky. That said, I think iOS has a slight advantage here as gestures feel more consistent between applications and tend to require just a little less effort to activate.

Commercial apps

Commercial apps, such as for Twitter, RSS readers, music and more just feel more polished on iPhone. Android always has similar apps but actually using them can be an inconsistent and frustrating experience. For example, Spotify on Android constantly loses my Sonos speakers and never syncs with it’s widgets well. On iOS it works pretty much flawlessly.

FOSS (free and open sources) apps

Android allows you to replace everything. By the time my Pixel died I was using 3rd-party open source apps for everything from calendars to contacts, messaging, email and more. That isn’t possible on the more tightly-controlled iOS platform. Frankly I’m not sure this is a problem either. The vast majority of Android apps that tried to replace core functionality were just garbage. Apple’s apps, while not always perfect, do what they advertise quite well and what can be replaced is done so with, for the most part, well supported alternatives. This does bring me back a bit from the FOSS world but not in a way that I really feel all that badly about. I still use as many small app developers for the apps I need as possible, now I just feel like the developers I’m finding are turning out more polished products.

Camera

I don’t know if comparing the camera on a Pixel 3XL from 2018 and an iPhone 12 Pro Max is a fair fight but I will say that the iPhone camera is amazing. One of the main reasons I wanted to go iPhone, as opposed to an Android One phone, was the premium camera and I’m not disappointed. In it’s day the Pixel was the king of smartphone cameras but those days seem to be behind it.

Size and weight

The iPhone is HEAVY compared to the Pixel 3XL. It’s not even close. It does, however, do so with a beautiful screen that blows the Pixel out of the water. Besides camera the size of the phone was the biggest reason for going iPhone and why I didn’t move to the smaller Pixel 5 instead. I can live with the weight for the better screen real estate.

Call spam

On Tuesday I had 19 spam calls during the 8 hours I was at work. The lowest I had during the week was 16. On an average with with my Pixel I would see a bunch in missed for spam but I never heard any of them ring. In short, Pixel’s call spam protection was wonderful and I haven’t, yet, found a way to replicate that on iPhone.

Customization

My last iPhone was an 8+ and, at the time, there were no widgets or really much customization at all with iPhones. That area has gotten much better. From weather and time widgets to fonts and other interface items I’ve found the iPhone really doesn’t feel as locked down as it used to. It may not be as open as Android but I don’t notice it like I thought I would and getting away from Google seems like a good trade off in the long run.

Face ID vs Touch

I miss the touch ID on Android. Face ID is OK but the placement of the finger print sensor meant that unlocking it and using it was faster on Android. While I’ve been impressed with the accuracy of the face sensor on the new phone I feel like it’s utility leaves a lot to be desired.

Android vs iOS: Which is better?

In conclusion I think it’s safe to say that both systems do quite well in different ways. Android offers a better user experience out of the box and includes many practical features such as spam protection, touch ID and others that most users today really need. That said, most of these features are available today in iOS, you just need to find an app you trust to provide it for you.

If Android manufactures somehow got their act together and offered a flagship phone that wasn’t filled with bloatware and received regular updates I would gladly try one again. In the meantime, however, I think I’m going to do just fine with this iPhone.