The mobile phone war hasn’t yet ended. People remain confused about whether they should get a Windows, Android or iPhone device. The bad news is there isn’t a clear winner. The good news is that it’s easier than ever before to choose the right platform and phone.
The operating system remains an important part of a smartphone. A few things matter when you’re purchasing a phone. Battery life, screen size, camera, and some other features are often as important as the software.
IDC survey finds "Top 10 Smartphone Purchase Drivers" (Source: IDC's ConsumerScape 360) (by IDC Michael DeHart) pic.twitter.com/AS2VjrEF2x
— Francisco Jeronimo (@fjeronimo) May 12, 2014
Keeping the whole package in mind, here’s what the three top mobile ecosystems offer today. And just to help you further, the best phones you can buy as well.
Apple has only a few smartphone options. You can buy the 4.7-inch iPhone 7, the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus, or the smaller 4-inch iPhone SE.
iOS is easy to use and intuitive, which makes it ideal for first-time smartphone users or those who find Android too complicated. First and foremost, Apple updates iPhones for several years, much longer than most Android devices. It also relies on Apple services, so it’s ideal if you already use a MacBook or an iPad. Like we always say, buy the ecosystem, not the gadget.
On the hardware front, the iPhones are as good as they come. They have arguably the best cameras around — especially the iPhone 7 Plus — and both the seven series phones boast of long battery life. A gorgeous screen finishes the package.
The Disadvantages of the iPhone
But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Apple removed the headphone jack on iPhones, so you now have to use Bluetooth headphones or Lightning earphones. Not everyone likes that.
Plus, the Lightning cable isn’t as ubiquitous as micro-USB or USB-C, a port common to Android and Microsoft devices. There’s also a case to be made to skip the iPhone 7 and wait for iPhone 8.
While iOS is easy for newcomers, it severely limits what you can do. You can’t customize its themes or skins; a mess of widgets and alerts clutters the notification center; the locked operating system doesn’t allow you to tweak it to how you like things.
With all those considerations in place, here’s who should buy an iPhone:
- If you’re looking for a small phone, get the iPhone SE. Nothing on any platform matches up to it.
- If you seek simplicity and reliability, the iPhones are better than their Android counterparts.
- Want a great camera and other smartphone basics? Get an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus.
- If operating system updates are important to you, then iPhones have the best track record among all platforms. It’s best to buy the latest one (i.e. the seven series) since it receives the longest support period.
- iPhones are more future-proof than other smartphones. So if you buy one phone for the next three years or more, this is a safe bet.
Recommended iOS Phones
iPhone SE ($424/£360): And of course, like we said earlier, the iPhone SE is the best small-size phone. It’s missing a few features, like 3D Touch and the fantastic front-facing camera, but it’s still worth it.
Buying Android means choosing between a wide range of products. Even though now Google makes the Pixel series smartphone, there are plenty of other companies with fantastic devices.
Android enjoys an advantage over Apple in its customizability. Over the last few years, Android experienced explosive growth and evolution. The new Material design overhaul is beautiful, it works better on low-end hardware, and it receives love from developers.
The Google Play Store now matches Apple’s App Store. Any major app released on one will find its way to the other, so don’t let that be a factor in your decision.
Android’s biggest selling point now is its artificial intelligence. Google Now towers over voice-controlled smart assistants, outperforming Siri and Cortana comfortably. Couple Google Now and another smart tech, and your Android feel magical.
Finally, since so many companies make Android devices, you’ll get something that fits your exact needs. If you aren’t worried about the camera but care about the phone lasting all day, then you’ll get Androids with long battery life. Google caters to every niche.
The Disadvantages of Android
Fragmentation remains Android’s biggest hurdle. Since so many manufacturers make so many phones and put different skins on Android, the operating system doesn’t look the same on all phones. It leads to confusion, anger, and dissatisfaction.
There’s also an issue with updates. While Samsung might update its flagship Galaxy S7 phone to new versions of Android, the cheaper phones ignore such upgrades. Before you purchase any Android, you’ll need to research if it is likely to get upgrades.
Some people also find Android overwhelming. The amount of customization it offers can overwhelm some users, who just want a simpler phone.
With all those considerations in place, here’s who should buy an Android:
- If you like to be able to control every aspect of your phone, Android is the only operating system to let you do that.
- If you want a specific type of phone, like say a particular screen size along with other hardware must-haves, Android is almost always your only choice. Picking the right equipment is as important as the software it’s running.
- If you’re on a budget, Android offers excellent phones at low prices, where you won’t find anything of that level on Windows Phone or iOS.
Recommended Android Phones
Google Pixel / Pixel XL ($650 and up): The first “Made by Google” phones obviously top the list here. If you want the pure Android experience, and especially if you like to use Google products, it doesn’t get better than this.
OnePlus 3 ($399): The great part about Android is getting a premium phone without paying a premium price. Our current pick for such a combo is OnePlus 3, which offers everything that the best Androids and iPhones have to give. Try it — you’ll wonder why you ever paid so much for phones.
Blu Life One X2 ($200): For $200, you won’t believe what you get: a Full HD screen, Android 6 Marshmallow, a decent processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of onboard storage. In case you’re looking for something cheaper, we have other Blu options among the best smartphones for students this year. (Be aware of the security issues with BLU phones, though).
Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile
It’s difficult to take Windows Phone seriously when Microsoft itself seems ambivalent at best towards it. But if you can’t stand both Android and iOS, this is your only real third choice.
Windows 10 Mobile benefits from the fact that the same apps work on desktop and mobile, so there is slightly better app support than you’d get otherwise. But even then, several popular mobile apps are missing from Windows Mobile. There’s no Snapchat. One of the world’s biggest finance apps, Mint discontinued its Windows Mobile app.
The limited or missing app market is the biggest issue with the new operating system. If you are okay with that, though, then Windows 10 Mobile has a few good things going for it.
Windows Mobile’s simplicity is a big draw for people. It may look and behave differently from Android and iOS, but first-time smartphone users find it intuitive.
Plus, Windows wants Continuum to switch between your phone and PC quickly. The company envisions a future where you will hop from one device to the other seamlessly. Unfortunately, while the idea is good, it isn’t implemented well yet. But there’s potential there.
With all those considerations in place, here’s who should buy a Windows 10 Mobile device:
- If you want an easy interface and just the essential mobile apps that most people rely on, Windows Mobile get the job done.
- If your connection to technology revolves around Microsoft products alone, and you, don’t care much about other services.
- If you want something different from Android and iOS, Windows mobiles are your only real options right now.
Recommended Windows 10 Phones
Microsoft Lumia 950 XL ($499): The Lumia 950 XL is the premier Windows Mobile experience, and it shows. Packing a high-resolution screen, one of the best smartphone cameras in the world, and a large battery, this is the phone to get to experience Continuum, Microsoft’s intelligent assistant Cortana, and all other features.
Microsoft Lumia 950 ($399): The Lumia 950 is a watered down version of the 950 XL, but costs $100 less. The camera and processor, while good in their right, are of a lower quality than the XL. Still, overall, the Lumia 950 is a fine smartphone.
Windows, Android, or iPhone in 2016?
If you had to advise someone to buy a phone in 2016, which of the three major mobile operating systems would you recommend and why? Is there anything that makes one better than the other at the end of this year, going into 2017?