iPhone 4 or Droid?

Elisa writes:

I want a smartphone but I’m torn between the new iPhone 4 and a Droid. My family is on Verizon now so we’d have to switch to AT&T to get the iPhone, right? Also, which one would sync best with my iMac and MacBook? And which one is better overall?

Thanks for the question, Elisa.

This is both a tough and a timely question. It’s timely because the new iPhone just went on sale to the public June 24. It’s tough because there is just one iPhone while there are multiple Droid phones, made by different manufacturers, with more coming out every month or so.

The best way to tackle this answer is with a list of pros and cons for each phone, so here goes:

Droid Pros
Verizon & Sprint
more choices of brands and models
apps can come from anywhere
physical keyboards (some models)
expandable storage (some models)
seamless Google app integration
supports Adobe Flash
true multi-tasking

Droid Cons
50,000 apps**
different brand’s system software is slightly different*
shorter battery life
1 camera

iPhone 4 Pros
200,000 apps in the App Store
best battery life
2 cameras (one front-facing for video chats)
integrates flawlessly with iTunes for syncing music, apps, videos, contacts, bookmarks, calendar
smoother, more refined system software
best looking display

iPhone 4 Cons
apps only available through App Store
virtual keyboard only
no expandable storage
no Adobe Flash support


*This is software based, which could be resolved at any time with a simple software update.
**More Droid apps come out daily and this number will surely grow. But right now, iPhone is king in the app department.

If you hate AT&T (because you’ve had personal experience, not just because you heard hating on AT&T was the cool thing to do), then buy a Droid. I switched from Verizon to AT&T for the iPhone 3G and I’ve had good service and coverage in and around Murfreesboro and Nashville, but your mileage may vary. A word about dropped calls and poor signals: the iPhone 4 is a completely new design and now has its antennas built into the outer frame of the phone. It’s been suggested by several tech pundits that the old iPhone’s internal antennas may have been as much to blame for dropped calls and poor reception as AT&T.

However, early reports say that the external antenna, when covered over 60 percent or so by your hand, is causing the iPhone to drop slowly from five bars of cellular signal to one and in some cases losing signal altogether. Apple has responded with word of an update to iOS4, possibly as early as June 29th, which will deal with the issue. I won’t go into the geeky details but apparently Apple changed, in software, the way in which the iPhone handles the connection to the cell tower, and are thinking of changing it back. So if you’re really concerned, maybe wait a month or two and see if the new iPhone is any better with dropping calls than its predecessor and see how this new, external antenna design works out.

Droid OS
The Droid OS is made by Google and then licensed to Motorola, HTC and other cell phone manufacturers for use on their Droid-branded phones, much in the same way that Windows is licensed to Sony, Dell, Toshiba, etc. So Google makes the core Droid OS but the manufacturers are allowed to put their own software on top of it, and some do. HTC has a UI named Sense that they put on some of their Droid phones. Some people like the Sense UI, others don’t. The point is that the interface can be very different between all the Droid phones.

Some Droid phones come with Droid 2.0, some with 2.1, and still others with the just released 2.2 code-named Froyo. While the Droid OS is getting better all the time, the updates aren’t pushed to the phones all at the same time. It’s up to the individual brands to decide when and if to push the update. Now about those updates: unlike the iPhone, which must be connected to a computer running iTunes in order to be updated with any new OS updates, the Droid phones receive their OS updates over the air. So you won’t have to connect to a computer when a new version of Droid OS comes out.

One iPhone vs. Many Droids
With the iPhone 4 there is just the one phone from one manufacturer, Apple. They come out once a year, usually in June, and the only decision you have to make is white or black and 16GB or 32GB. With iPhone 4 you get the brand new iOS4 software and any future updates come via iTunes. So with iPhone you won’t constantly be wondering if you should have waited to buy because a new version is coming out next month. That may sound like a negative to some of you but believe me, there are many consumers who don’t like having a ton of options. They want to buy one phone and know they’re getting the top of the line of that brand and not have to worry that a better one is coming out next week. With Droid a new one is almost certainly coming out next month!

The iPhone vs. Droid debate is going to rage for years I suspect. And in the next couple of years I’m sure we’ll see the iPhone on other carriers, including Verizon. And I’m sure the Droid will become more refined. But for right now, today, which phone should you buy? I’m going to cop out and just say—it depends. If AT&T doesn’t scare you (and if you live in a fairly populated area it shouldn’t), then you owe it to yourself to at least go to a store that sells the iPhone and play with one. If you’re a Mac user, the iPhone syncs perfectly and easily with all your data and you already know that Apple makes the best system software on the planet. If you’re already on Verizon and want to stay, then the Droid line of phones are certainly fine performers. Right now the Droid Incredible and the Nexus One are the best of the crop.

Oh, and remember how I said that there’s always a newer, better Droid on the way? Well guess what? There’s a new Droid coming out soon. It’s called Droid X and I hear it’s the best one yet!

Decisions, decisions . . .

Thanks for writing in, Elisa, and everyone else is invited to send me their questions and I will do my best to put together a tutorial. All throughout the month, I answer more questions and post other useful Macintosh and iPhone related articles on the website.


About the Author

Patrick Clark, owner of The Boro Mac Shop here in Murfreesboro, has repaired Macintosh computers and Apple devices since 1996 and The Boro Mac Shop is Murfreesboro’s best Macintosh, iPad, and iPhone repair shop. Contact him at (615) 796-6154 or boromac.com/.

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