Droid vs. iPhone 3GS: An Update

By  |  Friday, April 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm

As I wrote a few weeks ago, frustration with AT&T coverage in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood led me to put my iPhone 3GS aside and switch to a Verizon Wireless Droid. I found that I liked the reliability of Verizon’s  service, and loved certain things about Android–but that the overall experience was way less polished and predictable than the iPhone.

Here’s an update: Over the last week or so, I’ve been using the iPhone most of the time. It still has severe issues in SOMA (or at least a bunch of places in SOMA where I hang out–it claims perfect signal strength, but the most reliable thing it does is to drop my calls). Otherwise, though, I’ve spent far less time futzing than I do when I’m in Androidland. I’m coming to the uneasy realization that I may want to use both phones, depending on what sort of limitations I can deal with at any given time.

A few other notes:

  • When I charged the Droid back up yesterday, it finally offered to install Android 2.1. The process was quick and painless. But the single thing I want most from an Android update is a more reliable phone, and if Android 2.1 is more robust than 2.0, you couldn’t prove it from my experience so far. Within hours of installing the update, I encountered two instances of the Droid freezing up for extended periods for no apparent reason. And when I shot a brief video of Volkswagen’s autonomous Passat, I had to chop off the first fifteen seconds–which included extreme pixilation and a period during which no motion was captured.
  • When I bought an iPad, I quickly decided to spring for a MiFi pocketable wireless router so I could get online anywhere and everywhere.  Bonus benefit: I can connect my iPhone to the MiFi’s Verizon EVDO, effectively giving me a Verizon iPhone. Works great for data in areas where AT&T is spotty, but doesn’t help with phone calls.
  • Will iPhone OS 4 eliminate some of Android’s edge in certain areas when Apple ships it this Summer? Yup–especially if the managed multitasking is as good as it looks. But there are a number of things I like about Android which OS 4 doesn’t appear to match, including the on-phone support for Google Voice and the neat integration of Facebook contacts.
  • Speaking of multitasking, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber recently published a long and thoughtful piece comparing the approaches on the iPhone and Android (and concluding that they’re more similar than different). He says in it that Android doesn’t really require task-killing utilities. But (as I told him in an e-mail) I found that my Droid on Android 2.0 really needed Advanced Task Killer. Whenever it became bogged down and unresponsive–which was frequently–blowing away all running tasks fixed things instantly.

For all of Apple’s secrecy, it made its plans for iPhone OS 4–at least those aspects of it that don’t involve new hardware–clear at last week’s press event. I’d love to see Google be just as open about Android’s future–maybe at its I|O developer conference, which I’ll be attending next month. And here’s what I’d love to hear: “The primary focus for the next version of Android is improving the user interface and ensuring that it’s as rock-solid as possible–and doing everything in our power to enable developers to build outstanding apps.” I’d love to have a hard time choosing between the iPhone and the Droid because they were both so cool, and so free of serious gotchas…



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12 Comments For This Post

  1. Steven Says:

    The task killing thing is true. You should not use task killers. They usually are what cause the lag to begin with. If you want to increase performance, never install task killers, reboot the phone once a day (good idea for iPhones, my iPod touch always got laggy and ran out of memory), and since you already have the issues, do a factory reset and only install the apps you really use. Be careful when installing apps, and reboot after installing a couple. It really helps keep the system running optimally. Of course, for even more optimization, get root permissions, and then get autokiller, which is not a task killer, but an editor for Android’s built in memory settings. These memory settings kill services when system ram gets low, but doesn’t do it the way task killers do. Change those six settings to aggressive settings, and you won’t have to worry about memory ever again. Android is great at keeping its memory clean (something my iPod never could do), and if you make the last three settings more aggressive, junk processes won’t clog up your ram and you will be flying.

  2. Bill Pytlovany Says:

    Have you played with Google Goggles that came along with 2.1? Works great on books but I haven’t tried it much on buildings or other locations that pair up with the GPS capabilities.

    I am very surprised how often I use the voice search and how it pairs up with GPS info to give me the best search result.


  3. Harry McCracken Says:

    I need to play with Goggles more. I do like the built-in voice input everywhere (altho it works best in rooms with absolutely no background noise)…


  4. vkelman Says:

    Interesting! I never had Verizon Droid, but I used my beloved ADP1 (HTC Dream, G1) + Cyanogen mod on AT&T EDGE for one and half year and finally switched to Nexus One on AT&T 3G.
    Yes, ADP1 was slow and clearly lacked memory and CPU power, but I still loved it and it became better and better with new apps and Cyanogen updates.
    It was necessary to kill some apps periodically and to reboot phone periodically, when it became to freeze or to behave irrationally.

    Since I bought Nexus One I never had a real need in killing apps. It almost never becomes slow or strange due to too many apps running. In rare occasions, I prefer to reboot the phone, as Steven suggested above. Overall, everything is really stable and solid. Because of that, I didn’t want to experiment with installing Cyanogen for Nexus One so far.
    Yes, there are few quirks in this phone too (show me the electronic device which doesn’t have bugs, please.) For example, after taking Nexus One out of a dock it sometimes starts to respond strange. But turning screen off with a top button and then back on and unlocking the screen fixes it immediately. So, it’s quite minor bug, which hopefully they fix soon.

    Otherwise – rock solid. I never had iPhone, so I cannot compare, but to me, Android’s interface of Nexus One is absolutely sleek and intuitive.

  5. Stark Ravin Says:

    @Steven, if ever there was an ad for the iPhone, your post is it. Do you actually think normal human beings using a smartphone (which makes up, oh, you know, about 99.9% of the market) would have any clue understanding your post, much less having the time or the interest to coddle their Android device in the way you describe? What geekworld planet are you from? Consumers want a smartphone that just works, not a craptastic pocket version of a Windows PC that needs constant maintenance. And people wonder why Apple is dominating this market.

  6. Steven Says:

    @Stark Ravin: You are right. My description was more in depth than what I would tell a stupid consumer. Truth is, the whole thing is very simple: Don’t use a task killer and reboot daily. You should reboot any electronic about once a day for best performance. I know lots of normal people who love Android. It does require a little learning, but it also tends to take care of itself. The problem with task killers is that they are deep level maintenance and stupid consumers shouldn’t use them since they don’t understand them. They are horrible for the device. Rooting doesn’t require any more smarts or maintenance than following some basic instructions. A smartphone is a computer. If you want to really get the most out of it, you need to learn more than just how to open an app. You are right, the iPhone is dominating, (except not really, blackberry is still ahead), and it is because it is easy to use. Problem is, you can do a lot less and Apple essentially owns the device. Google doesn’t try to own your phone, and therefore you can do a lot more with it. Android offers powerusers everything the iPhone doesn’t, and offers a nice counterpart for normal customers who dislike the iPhone.

  7. David Says:


    I have six (windows)PCs, a 2nd gen touch and an iPhone 3GS. My wife also has a 3GS. We’ve never rebooted our phones or the touch as part of maintenance. I never saw mem problems on the touch or the phone. Not saying it doesn’t happen, just that I’ve never seen them. I don’t believe that standard usage requires daily or even monthly reboots.

  8. Steven Says:

    @David: Well, I can tell you you would see some improvements especially in your pc’s if you reboot at least every couple days. Ram tends to get messy after a while, and rebooting will clear it up. I have a second gen touch, and if I use Safari and then go play a decent game, then switch to a different game, it will usually give me a memory warning. Also, I have a memory manager from before it got banned. I can use it to see how much memory is available, how much is used by different apps, and have the option to clear it by the program faking a reset. When I still used my touch, I had to do this or reboot a couple times a day. I did use it as my main device, since I didn’t have a computer or a phone at the time. All I’m saying is, for best results, follow those instructions. I first heard these when troubleshooting an old motorola. They actually recommend doing this on dumbphones. Anyways, when a device starts to slow down, reboot. Usually that can do a lot. As for the Droid, don’t use task killers and try to keep things cleaned up. It has fewer memory resources than an iPhone, so it needs a little extra work. Newer Android phones are coming with much more ram and rom, so these issues will probably go away in a year or so. Just be careful of your apps.

  9. vkelman Says:

    @Stark Ravin,
    What Steven said in his first post was quite reasonable and absolutely not overcomplicated. I highly doubt that 99.9% of iPhone users are as dumb as you tried to describe them. Their average “techno” level should be much higher than one of average consumer of a “feature phone”. Still, at least at this moment, an average owner of Android phone is more towards geeky side. That’s because of several reasons: Android is quite young, Android is Open Source, Linux-based system, Android is from Google.

    Having said that, I can assure, that Android quickly becomes a mature OS, it’s already quite stable and it is intuitive. Not as simplistic, as, to my understanding, is iPhone, but still intuitive.

    Finally, don’t tell me that iPhone does not have bugs and that you never need to reboot it. I will not believe you.

  10. vkelman Says:

    P.S. If there is nothing installed on Android phone, no extra apps, or nothing extra installed on iPhone they probably need almost no reboots, … just very rare. The more apps you install and use, the more likely are some conflicts or memory shortages. I guess you guys are right and iPhone is a bit more polished. It just had more time to be polished and it just allows to do much less things than Android do.
    P.P.S. Still, both device looks more healthy that Windows PC. With introduction of Windows 7 Microsoft did big improvements, but still – there are bugs and situations when you need to reboot PC are pretty common. And… it not always helps.

  11. Indee Says:

    I’m sorry the author of this article is too ignorant to utilize a DROID and make the gigantic step forward from an iphone.

    What is it about Androidland that eaves you confused? Why would you say Apple’s secrecy and then follow up with a comment suggesting you wished Google was as open about product information and it’s future…do you even proof read your stuff?

  12. Wow! Says:

    “Indee Says:
    April 20th, 2010 at 11:21 am
    I’m sorry the author of this article is too ignorant to utilize a DROID and make the gigantic step forward from an iphone.

    What is it about Androidland that eaves you confused? Why would you say Apple’s secrecy and then follow up with a comment suggesting you wished Google was as open about product information and it’s future…do you even proof read your stuff?”

    Really Indee? “that eaves you” and “proof read”. Indee, next time you think you can slam an article try some proofreading yourself.

    Harry, thank you for the article. I’m getting ready to switch from my dumbphone to a smartphone and am weighing the pros and cons of the Droid system and the iPhone system. I guess I’ll just wait a bit longer and see who has the coolest toy when my contract is up!

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