USA TODAY columnist Marc Saltzman breaks down your choices for smartphones.
Just as computer shoppers often decide between a Windows PC, Mac and Chromebook, you’ve got a choice to make when looking for a new smartphone: Apple’s iOS, Android, Windows, and BlackBerry.
While there are many similarities, each operating system has a different look and feel. App selection could vary greatly. And so can the price and form factor.
Choice is good, but it can also be overwhelming. How do you know which phone will best suit your needs?
We can help.
The following is a closer look at the features of each major platform.
Out of all of the phones available, iPhone – which runs Apple’s iOS operating system – is probably the easiest to use. If you’re not very tech savvy, this one is for you.
Simply tap an icon to launch an app (program) and swipe left or right on the screen to see additional apps. Swipe down to search for something or swipe up to access settings, like screen brightness and volume.
Press and hold the circle button to talk to Siri, a voice-activated personal assistant.
That circular Home button on iPhone can also read your unique fingerprint. Called Touch ID, this feature makes it easy to log into your phone, purchase apps and media (such as music), and even use your iPhone to shop at supporting retailers via the Apple Pay mobile payment service.
iPhone also works with iTunes, which you might be using to manage media on your computer, and iCloud, used to back-up your important files and wirelessly synchronize content between multiple devices. Apple’s AirPlay lets you wirelessly stream between supported devices, such as your iPhone sending photos and videos to your Apple TV box, which is connected to your TV.
Apple’s App Store has more than 1.4 million downloads, many of which are free or close to it. Almost everything you download for iPhone will work on iPad and iPod touch, too.
Apple’s iPad Air 2 (9.7 inches) and iPad mini 3 (7.9 inches) are the most popular tablets on the market, with a similar look and feel to iPhone. The larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro is due out soon, as well.
While there are only two new iPhones to choose from, there are literally many dozens of Android-powered devices, which give you a lot of choice.
That is, only Apple makes iPhone and iPad, but Google’s Android platform is an open and freely distributed one, meaning multiple companies create phones and tablets based on the world’s most popular operating system.
Perhaps you want a large-screen Samsung “phablet” (half phone, half tablet) or a compact LG phone? What about a waterproof Sony model? All of these companies make Android phones, as well as HTC, Motorola, Acer, Asus, Huawei, OnePlus, Kyocera, ZTE, Alcatel, Sonim, and Google itself (branded as Nexus phones). Heck, even BlackBerry now makes an Android phone, called Priv.
Amazon’s Kindle devices are built on Android, too.
Because Android is from Google, the mobile operating system has a number of integrated Google services already preloaded, such as Gmail (email), Chrome (web browser), Google Maps (maps, directions and local search), and YouTube (videos), to name a few. Like iTunes, Google also lets you download and/or stream media to your devices, such as music, TV shows, movies, games, ebooks, magazines, and so on.
The clever Google Now feature lets you talk to your phone like a personal assistant, but with your permission it also learns your patterns, such as leaving the home every day at 7:30am for work, and will alert you to traffic on your route and other contextually relevant information.
Android is great for those who like to multitask. For example, you can split your screen into two apps – like a video playing on top and your email open on the bottom – or you might opt for a picture-in-picture option, such as browsing the web but have a TV show playing in a small window (iPad finally added this with iOS 9, but not iPhone). While purely optional, the operating system is also ideal for those who like to tinker with the phone or tablet’s interface, layout and app selection.
Unlike iPhone and iPad, most Android devices let you expand the storage by popping in a microSD memory card (though Samsung recently abandoned this feature).
At more than 1.5 million downloads, the Google Play store has the most apps out of any mobile operating system — but really, it’s splitting hairs, as Apple isn’t far behind.
Android-based tablets come in a range of sizes, prices, and models to choose from.
While they might not have the market share of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android – combined, these two make up nearly 97 percent of all smartphone platforms (IDC, Aug 2015) – Microsoft and BlackBerry are still in the game, as well.
Now called Windows 10 Mobile, Microsoft’s new phone platform will roll out to existing Windows 8.1 devices in December, for free, plus a pair of new Windows 10 Mobile-powered phones — the Lumia 950 and supersized Lumia 950 XL — will debut before that.
Optimized for smaller screens than laptops, desktops and tablets, the free upgrade will boast a similar look and feel to other Windows 10 devices, including a customizable Start screen, familiar apps like a full version of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more), multimedia folders (Photos, Music, Videos), and a Microsoft Edge web browser.
Windows 10 users can benefit from smooth synchronization with all Windows 10 Mobile devices, and documents can also be synched via the OneDrive cloud services between hardware.
Finally, BlackBerry 10-powered devices have a few unique features.
Geared more towards the on-the-go worker bee, BlackBerry devices were built with security in mind – with more IT policies than all other platforms — along with a physical keyboard (on most models) ideal for typing quickly, comfortably and accurately. Many simply prefer a physical QWERTY keyboard over a “soft” (virtual) one on a touchscreen.
BlackBerry devices still offer the best battery out of all four platforms – up to 30 hours on the BlackBerry Passport. It also has the loudest and clearest speakerphone out of all the phones available today, if that matters to you.
The BlackBerry isn’t only for your 9 to 5 life as you can now access many high-quality and fun apps available at the Amazon Appstore, for your 5 to 9 downtime, as well.
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