If you’re looking to buy a smartphone, there are really only two choices – iPhone and Android. Of course, there are also Windows and Blackberry phones, but these are really minor players compared to the two big ones. People are passionate in the iPhone versus Android debate – each phone has a strong following that is vocal about why the phone they support is better. However, there are some indisputable differences between the two phones, and it is important to be aware of these when making a choice.

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One of the most important differences is that Android is an open-source operating system, which means that the code is freely available and anyone can modify it. On the other hand, iPhone’s iOS operating system is proprietary and closed – as is the hardware, as anyone knows if they have tried to replace the battery on an iPhone. Because it is open, Android lets developers and phone manufacturers modify the operating system, which leads to lots of innovative features and quick bug fixes. For example, there are a number of alternative versions of the operating system with new, cool features that have been developed by the open source community and which can be installed relatively easily on an Android phone. These include Cyanogenmod, MIUI and Paranoid Android. On the other hand, because Android is open and there are many phone manufacturers, this means there is no such thing as a single “Android” phone. This tends to create an inconsistent experience across different models, and also leads to quality issues.

On the other hand, the iPhone is produced solely by Apple – there may be a number of models, but they are essentially variants on a common theme. Because the operating system is controlled, the iPhone experience is consistent and the quality is good. While there is no real possibility of modifying or tweaking iOS – although you can “jailbreak” it – the truth is that the vast majority of smartphone users just want to be able to call, text, use apps and take photographs. It is only a relatively small – although technically savvy – group of users that want to get into the innards of their smartphone, and Android is obviously better designed for this. However, for someone who just wants a phone that does what it says it will do – and does it well – then Android’s openness is much less important.

Another important difference is cost. Although Apple has recently launched the slightly less expensive iPhone 5C last year, the truth is that Apple is focused on the high end of the smartphone market. iPhones typically cost between $600 and $700, which is a fair amount of money if you are looking for an economical smartphone. To be clear, you get a lot for the money when you buy an iPhone, but there are no really inexpensive models. On the other hand, Android phones range from cheap to high-end – if you buy a Samsung Galaxy S4, for example, you will pay every bit as much as you would for an iPhone, but you can also pick up an Android smartphone for around $200 – or less if you get a Verizon promo code from Valpak.com.

Because the iPhone environment is consistent, it is a favorite with developers – they really only have one platform to test their apps on, whereas they have to cover many different makes and models when they are developing an app for Android. In the past, this meant there were many more apps available for iPhone than for Android, although it appears that Android has caught up recently. However, apps nearly always appear much sooner on the iPhone than they do on Android – for example, Instagram showed up much later on Android.

 

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Another key difference to consider when buying a smartphone is size. If you are looking for a light phone with a decent screen size, then the iPhone is a good choice – for example, the iPhone 5S is 4.87 inches tall and weighs 3.95 ounces. Android phones tend to be heavier, although many also have a larger screen area – for example, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is 5.38 inches tall. There are also larger Android devices – such as the Samsung Galaxy Note – that fall somewhere in between a smartphone and a tablet. These phablets can provide a good compromise for someone looking to buy a single device. On the other hand, if you want a smartphone and a tablet from Apple, then you need to buy both an iPhone and an iPad.