Apple’s iOS is usually the best choice for people who want a phone or tablet that just works. iOS isn’t as flexible as Android, in that you can’t customize as much about the way it looks or works, and because of that, you need be willing to live with changes Apple makes to the software (and hardware) every year. But iPhones and iPads get many years of quick software updates; new apps and games often debut on iOS before they come to Android; and Apple’s hardware and software support is generally excellent.
Fast software updates for many years: The biggest advantage iOS has over Android is its software updates: Apple generally supports new iPhones and iPads with iOS updates for five to six years after their release date, and all of those devices get the same updates at the same time. You get new features and apps, support for new image and video formats and security protocols, and patches for both online security threats and flaws that could allow people to get data from your phone. The oldest supported devices may not support every single feature of the latest software, but they continue to get most of the functional improvements and all of the security updates for as long as the hardware will last. Among Android phones, only Google’s Pixel phones and phones in the Android One program are guaranteed prompt updates—and even then, only for two or three years from the device’s release date.
Long-term value: Because Apple supports iOS devices for a relatively long time, you can hand them down to friends and family members without worrying about app compatibility or security risks. Similarly, they generally hold their resale value better than Android devices, so you can sell them for more money, or get more for a trade-in, when it comes time to upgrade.
Reliable support: Another major point in Apple’s favor is its solid customer support. If you’re having a hardware or software problem—or if your device is two or three years old and it’s time to replace its battery with a fresh one—getting help is easy. The company offers a dedicated support app and website with a variety of remote options, or you can reserve an in-person appointment at any Apple Store (though it may take some time if the Genius Bar is busy, and repairs can be expensive if your equipment is out of warranty or you didn’t get an AppleCare+ protection plan).
Better app selection: The selection of apps in Apple’s App Store is also slightly better than the selection in Android’s Google Play Store, though the gap between the two is narrower than it used to be. Apps and games often come to iOS first, because app developers tend to make more money there; and iOS has a larger selection of “pro” apps for creating and editing images, video, and audio. These apps are also usually optimized for both the iPhone and the iPad’s larger screen; many Android tablet apps look like blown-up versions of phone apps.
For more information about the specific iPhones and iPads we recommend, check out our review of the iPhone X, our guide to the rest of the iPhone lineup,
We like a lot about iOS, but it’s not the best option for everyone. Good Android phones are available in many more shapes and sizes than iPhones, and although the best ones cost roughly what an iPhone does, you can buy good ones for under $300. The Android platform has (and has always had) a problem with prompt, consistent software and security updates, but it’s also more versatile and customizable.
More hardware diversity: The biggest advantage for Android is actually in hardware, not software. Though our guide to the best Android phone recommends fast, well-rounded phones, Android is available on a huge variety of hardware, including options for people who want styluses and bigger screens, fantastic battery life, or even a physical keyboard. And if your preferred phone maker removes a feature you rely on—like a headphone jack or fingerprint sensor—from its newest phone, you can find what you need somewhere else. With iOS, Apple’s choices are your only choices.
Phones at every price: You’ve got more flexibility on price, too. A flagship iPhone costs over $1,000, and even the least expensive iPhone that’s still a safe buy in a given year usually costs over $500. A high-end Android phone from Google or Samsung is similarly expensive, but great budget Android phones—including a few that will actually get prompt software updates—are available for less than $300, and you can even get decent ones for less than $200.
More options for customization: If you like having the freedom to customize your computers, tablets, and phones to fit your needs, iOS may not be flexible enough for you. You can change an iPhone’s text size, reorganize your home-screen icons, and add different widgets to the Notification Center and Control Center, but all of Apple’s devices still look and work pretty much the same way. Android offers similar customizations, but also widgets that can sit directly on your home screen and even the option to completely replace that home screen with any number of flexible, customizable application launchers. Android also allows you to choose your own default apps for browsing, checking email, and doing other things, if you prefer not to use the built-in Google apps—iOS offers some workarounds for this, but you still can’t set all apps to open links in Chrome instead of Safari.
More storage options: Although you can’t expand the internal storage of an iPhone—what you buy is what you’re stuck with—many Android phones have a microSD card slot that lets you expand the amount of internal storage available for apps, photos, and movies. Buying more iCloud space from Apple lets you store photos in the cloud, and iOS offers a few other tricks (like deleting rarely used apps and games without losing your saved data) to save space, but in general, it’s more of a pain to gain free space on an iPhone.
For the specific Android models we recommend, check out our guides to the best Android phones, the best budget Android phones, and the best Android tablets.
Should you switch?
If you’re frustrated by aspects of your current phone—or if newer models of your phone don’t include features you want—you may be tempted to switch operating systems. We generally recommend against it, though. By the time you’ve used a phone for a couple of years, you’ve spent a lot of time learning its quirks, and you’ve probably invested a decent amount of money into apps, games, music, or videos that you may have to rebuy if you switch.
That said, switching from Android to iOS is a bit easier than the other way around, because you don’t have to move most of your stuff if you don’t want to. Google makes versions of its most popular apps—including Chrome, Gmail, Photos, Maps, Drive, and Google Play Books, Movies, and Music—for iOS, which helps ease the transition. And Apple’s Move to iOS app can walk you through transferring the rest of your stuff. That’s not the case when switching away from iOS: Apple Music aside, Apple makes it difficult to impossible to use iCloud services or access your media on non-Apple devices.
Those same Google services also help ease the move from iOS to Android, though the process actually involves moving your stuff from your device (and Apple’s cloud) into Google’s. Google recommends using the backup feature of the Google Drive app for iOS to move your contacts, calendar events, and photos from your phone into Google’s apps. In doing so, you’ll lose any non-Apple-Music media, notes, reminders, and other data stored in iCloud. You also won’t be able to communicate with iOS users using iMessage or FaceTime, which can be a big sticking point if you have a lot of iPhone-using friends and family. By now, most popular apps and games are available on both iOS and Android (though you may have to repurchase them when you switch), but specialty apps like audio, video, or image editors are more likely to be iOS-only.
If you have trouble sending or receiving texts on your Android phone after the switch, it may be related to iMessage; remember to factory reset your iPhone to sign out of all Apple services, or use this page to manually deregister your number.