iOS vs Android: Should I Buy an Apple, Samsung or Google phone?

In today’s world, you can’t walk down the street without spotting a mobile device, and each of the billions of smartphones and tablets out there runs one of several different mobile operating systems. There are two main operating systems which are used by the vast majority of people: Apple’s proprietary iOS, which is only seen on iPhones, and Google’s open-source Android OS, which you’ll find on most competing phones – Samsung, Google, Huawei and OPPO all use this OS, along with many more brands.

Whilst both might look similar at face value, iOS and Android are actually very different under the skin and both operating systems have unique features (and shortcomings!) which can influence your decision about which phone to buy. Although both operating systems are quite easy to use, you might have preference one over the other. So what are the main advantages and disadvantages of the two? Let’s take a look.

iOS vs Android: A quick guide

It’s commonly viewed that iOS devices are easier to use, whereas Android devices are more difficult to get used to. As android devices are vast and there are lots of them, it’s often difficult to get a baseline as to what you can expect from an Android device, whereas with iOS devices, the operating system is designed specifically for the technology, so you know exactly what to expect. You’ll find more detailed comparisons below.

Devices and Hardware

The big difference between iOS and Android is the fact that Android is open source. Whilst iOS is Apple’s proprietary OS and is used exclusively on Apple devices, Google lets any hardware company utilise Android for free on their hardware, and modify it as they see fit.

This means that Android can appear on anything from the cheapest, most basic smartphones all the way up to flagship models. Thanks to this versatility, Android has become by far the most widespread mobile OS, and you’re more than likely to find it on every big phone on the market competing with Apple.

The logic behind Google’s seemingly generous sharing of technology is that it obliges manufacturers to use Google’s own app marketplace, as well as other services such as Google Search. Nevertheless, many manufacturers customise their version of Android to include their own apps and services, resulting in a fair amount of difference between devices (OPPO, for example, uses a version of Android called ColorOS, whereas Samsung uses a version of Android called One UI). This means it’s still important to shop around for android devices that have features that matter to you.

The disadvantage, however, of being spread to so many pieces of hardware is that Android isn’t always optimised for the phone it’s running on and the technology inside. iOS, on the other hand, is specifically designed to work perfectly with iPhones, which is why Apple phones still tend to be associated with reliability and ease of use.

Customisability

The second big difference, which stems from Android’s open-source nature, is the degree of customisation which each OS allows. On the whole, Android allows for greater customisation than iOS, allowing the installation of more widgets, non-Play Store apps, different fonts and clocks and custom home screens and keyboards to name a few. iOS is more limited in its scope, focusing instead on reliability and ease of use, although you can still customise your background, widgets, and fonts to an extent on iOS.

A phone operating system
An iPhone home screen

Android also has the option to easily ‘root’ your phone (i.e. take control of it at a developer level, with increased privileges), which allows for large-scale changes such as replacing built-in apps or even uninstalling the operating system completely. The flipside of this is that the more power you have over the software, the greater the likelihood of causing accidental damage to your system –especially if you’re unfamiliar with computers. Whilst there is an equivalent process for iOS, known as ‘jailbreaking’, it’s significantly more difficult and violates Apple’s end-user license agreement. It also falls in a legal grey area in many countries depending on DRM and copyright laws.

An OPPO home screen
The home screen of an OPPO, an Android device

Prepaid and postpaid phone plans

If you’re shopping between an iPhone and an Android device, it’s in your best interest to shop for a new SIM card as well. With SIM cards always changing what inclusions they offer it’s important to keep your eye on the market and make sure you’re getting the best deal, especially with every phone upgrade. Below you’ll find some great prepaid and postpaid SIM cards to consider with your phone upgrade.

Here is a selection of postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use Canstar Blue’s phone plan comparison tool to see a wide range of plans on offer from mobile providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

Here is a selection of prepaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see a wide range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

Notifications

The notification system in iOS and Android devices are designed to be streamlined, although there are subtle and large differences.

iOS notifications appear on your lock screen and you can swipe them to the right to open the relevant app; they also appear at the top of your screen when using your phone, where you can reply to messages or updates without leaving the app you’re in.

Android’s notifications are similar, with the ability to double-tap notifications on the lock screen to open the app. Both systems also offer quick access to the camera app from the lock screen for capturing those fleeting moments, and Android also does the same for the phone dialer. You might find slightly different notification experiences from Android phone to Android phone, as some manufacturers might put their own spin on the Android notification system.

Built-in apps and ecosystem

Both iOS and Android come with several built-in apps which cannot be uninstalled. iPhones all come with the same apps as standard, whereas manufacturers using Android often add their own proprietary apps to the standard ones provided by Google. In both cases, all the bases are covered, with apps included such as maps, messaging, email, document editors, health and fitness, photos, notes and more. Some built-in apps can be uninstalled to clear up space, like Apple’s Music app.

App store

In the early years of Android, only a few good applications would make their way over from Apple’s dominant App Store to the Google Play Store, but nowadays you can find almost every major app on both systems. As a general rule, the iOS App Store is slightly smaller but of higher overall quality, as Apple tends to thoroughly scrutinize programs before allowing them to be downloaded. With well over a million apps for both systems, though, you’re unlikely to miss out on either operating system.

Price

While iPhones are more expensive than Android models in most cases, flagship Android phones can often cost around the same amount or be more expensive than iPhones (such as with OPPO’s Find series or Samsung’s Galaxy S series).

2020’s iPhone 12, the standard iPhone of that year, starts at $1,349 from Apple, whereas the iPhone SE, Apple’s budget iPhone, starts at $749. The Samsung Galaxy S21, Samsung’s standard S series phone of 2021 and its answer to the iPhone, starts at $1,249. Samsung’s budget phone line of 2021, the A series, starts at $499 for the A32 (the cheapest model).

Android devices are more difficult to define in terms of price since there are so many different manufacturers and brands using the operating system. It’s better to expect Android prices as wide in price range, covering all the bases of budget, mid-range and luxury phones. You can find Android devices ranging from near $100 all the way up to around $2,000 with prices ranging drastically between brands.

You can compare smartphone brands on our website to gain a better understanding of the different developers, and whether they’re best for you.

Last updated July 2021

Pros: iOS vs Android

We have summarised all of the above information into a single list of pros and cons for each device, which can be seen below.

Android

  • Android is available on a large number of operating systems. A wide range of devices means you are more likely to find an Android that fits your size, specifications and cost needs
  • Android is the more flexible operating system, and can be adapted and configured according to your needs with more choice
  • Android apps are well integrated with Google’s online services, so this is a serious bonus if you use Google services regularly
  • There is a wider range of apps in the Android store than on the iTunes store
  • They can also be cheaper than iOS phones, with phones ranging between and around the $100 and $2000 price points

iOS

  • iOS is generally simpler to use than Android. The interface is easier to navigate and is usually better suited to less experienced technology users, or people craving simplicity
  • It has more stringent guidelines for submitting apps, to improve the usability of these apps and improve the quality and consistency of those in the app store
  • iOS visually looks a lot less cluttered than most Android operating systems

Cons: iOS vs Android

Android

  • Android phones aren’t typically focused on simplicity. The flexibility and configuration capabilities mean it might take some time to get used to for less-experienced tech users
  • The greater number of apps on the app store can come at the cost of quality. There are a greater number of not-so-great apps on the Android store, due to the fact that Android and Google do not have the same stringent guidelines that Apple does

iOS

  • The device range is restricted. iOS is only available on Apple devices, which very much limits customisability
  • iPhones are typically more expensive than the average Android device. New iPhones cost upwards of $1,000 (except for the SE model) so if your budget is of concern, it might be worth steering clear of Apple or picking up the iPhone SE

Is Apple better than Android?

While there is no definitive answer as to what model is best for you, you can use the pros and cons list above to aid you in your decision. If you are already familiar with the Apple brand and are willing to pay extra for a smoother and easier mobile experience, then the iPhone might be the best choice for you.

On the other hand, if you’re more experienced with smartphones and are looking for one that allows you to customise your interface at a cheaper price, then Android phones from the Samsung Galaxy A series, the OPPO A series or from TCL might be worth considering. If you’re after a more premium phone experience from Android, consider the Samsung Galaxy S series or the OPPO Find series.

iPhone 12 Plans

The following table shows a selection of 24-month 64GB Apple iPhone 12 plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool above to see plans from a wide range of telco providers. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.

iPhone 12 Pro Plans

The following table shows a selection of 24-month 128GB Apple iPhone 12 Pro plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool above to see plans from a wide range of telco providers. This is a selection of products with links to referral partners.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Plans

The following table shows selected published 24-month plans for the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our phone comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

Samsung Galaxy S21+ Plans

The following table shows selected published 24-month plans for the Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our phone comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

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