As some of you may have read, I have recently carefully placed a sizable crack on my iPhone 5's screen. After publicly debating my options, I decided to switch providers (from AT&T to T-Mobile) and explore the HTC One. While the two phones have been extensively compared and contrasted, I wanted to offer up an average user’s view of both devices comparatively. I will leave the differences between the service providers out of this post. I will also shy away from an overly technical analysis, as I am in no way qualified to provide one, and will focus only on the phones themselves as well as the non-power user experience. As a needed caveat, I have had an iPhone for the last three generations. The iPhone 5 in this bout, was by my side for nearly seven months before I decided to taste forbidden fruit and try to forage greener pastures.
Round One: Hardware
As I unboxed the cleverly designed HTC packaging, I was delighted to see that more and more companies were adopting the Apple model: Everything matters, even the box. I pulled the beautiful phone out and, as is the case with any new gadget these days, felt as though the smallest drop or nick would shatter this device into a million pieces. It was simply too pretty to be constrained to my linty pocket or the bottom of a gym bag. The novelty was soon forgotten, however, especially once I wrapped the phone in a Incipio case (lesson learned!!) Soon I realized that Apple’s rhetoric about having found the perfect form factor with the iPhone 4 and not wanting to mimic the larger Android phones was not just a publicity gimmick. It was not an excuse for the iPhone 5 disappointing many by boasting a long and narrow screen. It was simply the truth. When held, the iPhone feels like a solid tool. A tool that can unlock cars, turn on lights and maybe even hammer a nail! All buttons are easily reached with one hand and the entire screen can be controlled with the thumb.
This is not the case for the HTC One. Unless you have Dikembe Mutombo's hands you will be hard pressed (no pun) to manipulate the entire screen and hold the phone with the same hand. The power button is in the upper left and is basically unreachable if you are right handed and holding the phone. The capacitive buttons on the bottom are rather moody and I find myself having to hit the home or back button multiple times before it takes, only to realize that I have then hit it one too many times. The volume buttons on the right side of the phone are constant victims of accidental assault. Just passing the phone from hand to hand or turning it to landscape will put your fingers very close to or right on top of the buttons.
Verdict: Apple’s design will still please the average user. The iPhone is light yet sturdy. All buttons are accessible but have to be decisively pressed before they will trigger. The iPhone takes the hardware round.
Round Two: Software
As the astute Hackerspace readers have pointed out to me, the switch from iOS to Android is not to be taken likely. Many functions that I was dependent on when using the iPhone were not immediately available on Android - at least not without customization. Right-swiping messages to delete. Dismissing or launching individual items from the notification shade. The ability to quickly search for apps or contacts. A “smart” keyboard. Those features are available the second you power up the iPhone 5 for the first time. This is not the case, however, on the One which prides itself on HTC Sense, which I quickly found to be largely useless.
However, after many Google searches containing the word “android” and hours spent playing around on the HTC One, I was able to get most of the iOS functionality back that I was used to or find even better alternatives for it. SwiftKey is fantastic, for example, and after watching a few YouTube videos on the customization of the homescreen (download Nova Launcher) I understood the versatility of Android as well as the power and beauty of widgets.
Verdict: Although glitchy at times - understandably so considering the pure customization freedom users have, the experience on the Android can be absolutely mind-blowing. The user has to be willing to spend time customizing and searching for the best solution. Many consumers would have little interest in committing the time and focus it takes to truly benefit from Android’s vast capabilities - a shame, really.
I became very good at answering the following question: “So, uhm... like, which one do you like better?” I ultimately refined my response to the following: “If you like tinkering and customizing all aspects of your everyday life, HTC One. If you want somebody else to optimize your phone to their perceived ultimate settings: iPhone 5.” The shrewd and observant Hackerspace reader will promptly scoff at my response and follow it up by saying: “Big news, genius.” I do believe, however, that unless an average consumer has used both phones and platforms extensively, this difference remains fairly unknown. While one could “get by” with the standard version of HTC’s software and could ignore possible hardware hacks on the phone, there is a world of opportunity that will remain unexplored by many. The iPhone and its iOS allow the average consumer to experience satisfactory results without any required customization. As Guy Kawasaki more eloquently described it, however: real men use Android.
Picture Source: Stuart Barr Flickr