It’s been a month since I decided to ditch my iPhone and Apple Watch in favour of a Google Pixel 4a and Casio G-Shock.
I’ve already written a fair bit about how I’ve ‘coped’ without an Apple Watch during this time. I may offer further thoughts on that particular device in future articles, but suffice to say it will no longer be such a permanent fixture on my arm.
The iPhone is different, though. Deep down, I knew I’d always return to it after this experiment, regardless of how wonderful that little Pixel is.
But I know what you’re interested in. You want to know what it was, exactly, that I missed about the iPhone during my time with Android.
So, let’s get into it.
I can sum up why iOS feels more polished than Android with one simple example.
I regularly listen to one of my favourite radio stations via their app. As it turns out, I can do this on both iOS and Android.
So, picture the scene: I’m listening to said radio station and decide that it’s time to switch over to YouTube and watch Ali Abdaal’s latest advice on leading a happier, more productive life.
On iOS, switching to the YouTube app and hitting ‘play’ graciously fades out the radio app and enables me to enjoy Ali’s dulcet tones.
Simple, right? Expected functionality, right?
Not on Android. If I undertake the exact same switch between apps, the radio app audio continues to play in the background. This leaves me listening to Chris Moyles and Ali Abdaal at the exact same time. It also means I have to head back into the radio app and press ‘stop’ in order to end the cacophony of clashing audio.
This is pretty much the only tangible example I can offer of Android not feeling quite as polished as iOS. It might seem like a small thing, but it’s actually a huge pain in the backside.
iOS is great at being convenient, which is what we all need from tech. It’s little touches like automated audio switching which are so well implemented in iOS. They make the platform a joy to use.
Yes, the SpringBoard app launcher is dated, and there are indeed plenty of things I like about Android, but iOS just feels like a safer pair of hands. It’s the defender who you know will always pick up the loose ends and never attempt a Cruyff turn on the edge of his box.
By comparison, Android always feels like it’s on the edge of crashing. It never does on the Pixel – in fact, it has been one of the most stable smartphones I’ve used – but it’s the absence of polish that makes me feel a little nervous about Android’s ability to make my life any easier.
I started my Android journey with a couple of much larger phones – the Moto G9 Power (ridiculously long battery life but horribly slow), and the Lenovo Legion (my first experience of a gaming phone – it’s hilarious).
The difference in screen size between those two phones and my iPhone 12 Pro was pretty stark, and on the occasions I had to retrieve the iPhone (hey, it happened – it contained my main SIM card), it felt like I’d accidentally picked up the 12 mini.
Having subsequently switched to the Pixel 4a for the remainder of the test, I slowly began to yearn for a larger screen. And, now that I’ve returned to the iPhone, it feels just right.
The iPhone 12 Pro’s 6.06” screen is actually pretty small by today’s standards, but, for me, it’s the perfect size. The biggest difference between the 12 Pro and the Pixel 4a is the width of the device and screen; it feels satisfyingly chunkier in that regard, and, guess what: the presence of that notch really isn’t an issue.
A little while ago I wrote about my intention to experiment with the iPhone 12 by switching to the iPhone 12 mini after six months of using the 12 Pro. Now, I’m not so sure I need to, because I think I already know which screen size is for me.
As much as I love the Google Pixel 4a, there is one thing I can’t ignore.
For a £350 phone, the build quality is great. It’s to be expected, if not a notch above.
But it isn’t an iPhone.
As much as I believe we’ve reached ‘peak smartphone’ with devices like the iPhone, Apple’s hardware is, as always, so far ahead of the competition. The iPhone 12 Pro doesn’t just look great, it feels great too.
Compared to the Pixel, it feels so premium. And it should. It’s far more expensive and isn’t made from plastic. But I’m personally prepared to pay that premium when it gets me a device that’s as lovingly designed and built as the iPhone.
When you’ve used a budget phone for a time and return to the iPhone, you realise just how far Apple’s smartphone has come in terms of build quality. It’s unbeatable.
I regularly run with my phone in my hand. I know – stupid, and I have zero idea why I haven’t bought one of those arm straps for it.
Alas, that’s what I do, and with the Pixel 4a offering zero quoted water resistance, it’s been a bit of a worry whenever the heavens have opened (that happens a lot in the UK).
As it turns out, the Pixel has coped marvellously with the odd splash of rain, but I can’t trust it in that regard like I can the iPhone.
Water resistance on phones, for me, isn’t about submerging them in water ‘just because you can’, it’s that age-old, wonderful thing that technology should always deliver: convenience.
The iPhone 12 Pro has a water and dust resistance rating of IP68, which means I can take it out in the rain or leave it on the kitchen counter top without any fear of water ingress. As I’ve discovered with the Pixel 4a, that makes a huge difference to how much you actively think about protecting your phone each day, and it’s consequently a significant weight off your mind.
I have two examples of where third-party apps appear to be far more polished on iOS.
The first is Medium – the platform on which you might be reading this blog post. The iOS app appears to be more considerately designed than its Android cousin. A classic example of this is the stats page, which, on iOS, neatly separates the analytics for your posts from those of the comments you’ve left. On Android, they’re all bundled together – a frustrating mess of numbers on which I rely analytically each day.
The second is, bizarrely, the YouTube Studio app. On iOS, it runs faster and displays more detail on the dashboard. Small things, but they make a big difference.
Why the developers behind these apps appear to give more attention to iOS, I have no idea. It’s particularly weird given that YouTube is owned by Google.
Alas, third party apps on iOS just feel far more enjoyable to use and much more polished (there’s that word again). And there’s no Things app on Android, which is now my to-do list platform of choice.
I love Face ID.
There’s nothing wrong with the fingerprint scanner on the Pixel 4a. It’s actually pretty conveniently placed on the back of the device, but you have to remember to use it, and that removes some of the convenience.
Face ID, by comparison, completely abstracts away biometric security. That’s how it should be.
While I’m on this subject, another example of where Android seems needlessly fussy is the fact that it demands a tap of the ‘ok’ button after tapping in your PIN code on the rare occasions it’s requested. That caught me out every single time; I always assume that I’ve typed the PIN in wrong. On iOS, of course, you’re allowed in immediately after tapping the last digit.
Small things, but they make a big difference.
This isn’t a slight on Android at all, and the only reason it makes this list is that I’m so deeply woven into Apple’s ecosystem.
The inability to hand off stuff between my Pixel 4a and the Mac or iPad was frustrating. I realised during this test how much I rely on that feature throughout the day.
Again, it’s another small thing and the gains are pretty small, time-wise, but it all adds up throughout the week.
I’ve used the word ‘convenient’ a lot in this article, and that’s what the Apple ecosystem is all about. Sure, it’s how they loop you in and make you spend more money, but I’m ok with that if it delivers convenience and saved time.
Now that the iPhone is back in my hand, I feel a tiny bit more comfortable about the day ahead. I know that, if a task calls for me to send a photo from my phone to my computer, or quickly capture a note on one device for use on another, I can do it completely unhindered.
I’m going to miss the Pixel, but nowhere near as much as the Casio G-Shock. That’s why the latter will regularly make an appearance on my arm. But it’s also why I can’t see myself switching wholesale to Android any time soon. iOS is more polished and more ingrained into my life than I ever thought it was.
It was an enjoyable experiment, and I should counter the above with the fact that I rarely missed the iPhone to the point where I just had to go and get it. Had I undertaken this test a few years ago, I think that might have been the case, but Android really has come on leaps and bounds in that time.
I understand why people love Android. But for me, the iPhone just makes my life that little bit easier and more enjoyable, which is exactly what technology should do.