HTC Desire versus Apple iPhone 4

I have both these phones. The HTC Desire is my personal phone, and runs Android (in this case Froyo, Android 2.2). I’ve been using Android for some time now, and regular readers will know I haven’t been shy about commenting on its problems in the early releases. I also have, and have had for about the last month, an Apple iPhone 4, running iOS 4, for work. I’ve been promising some people a comparison.

Disclosure: I’m not really an Apple fan. From the moment I started to play with some in QUB, I disliked the single button, the cotton wool interface that kept you from “harming yourself”, or doing anything deep. But I know that has changed somewhat, the latest Apple computers, while still having that fluffy exterior now have a decent operating system underneath. So I’m going to try to be as fair as I can be.

First a comment about the build quality. Both phones feel very similar both in the hand and in the pocket, the iPhone feels like it has a better build quality, but then you do expect solid hardware from Apple. Both phones have a button on the top to “wake” the device. Both have volume controls on the side. The iPhone has a nice feature of a slider button that mutes the device at one go; the Desire requires you to put the volume slider to zero (there are other ways, I know). The iPhone has one big button at the bottom, reminiscent of the one button mouse, and this is an area where the Desire wins hands down, with more physical buttons including the search, back button, the menu button, the home button and the optical trackball.

A note on the intuitiveness of the interface. Apple claims that their interface is so intuitive you don’t need any instructions. I must say I find the Android (Desire) interface more intuitive, and when you start that phone for the first time, it walks you through the basics. Very helpful for beginners.

Anyway, time is short and some people are waiting on this review, so here’s a potted comparison.

Feature iPhone Desire
Basic Interface Uncluttered, but uninformative, no widgets, no live wall paper, no active folders. Dull, one size fits all. Switching between tasks and back again is inelegant. Notification of outstanding items is cleaner than standard Android. Very rich, combinations of apps on the desktop, widgets and all the things mentioned by their absence for the iPhone. Much more personalised. Task switching, particularly the back button, is much more elegant. HTC Sense is nicer.
Phone Disastrous. Frequently won’t connect calls when my Desire will. There seems to be something else at play here and I’ve reported it. Both phones are on the same network BTW. It’s more awkward to change numbers on the fly and many other things. But it’s very pretty. Much improved in Android over the last few versions, the ease of dialling, changing numbers is much better. Finding contacts to dial is much easier and faster. Oh, did I mention it works?
Voicemail Fancy. Asks me to set it up every single time I turn on the phone. Recently while travelling, I couldn’t pick up a voicemail because of this for about an hour, by which time I was sitting with the caller. Not Fancy. Works all the time.
Workplace The stock mail client is very pretty, and for example, links to appointments easily (but makes it hard to see if you are free). It has limited threading support which is really nice. The Android exchange support is, in my opinion, superior. It lacks threading, but does have follow up support, which I take to be vastly more important.
Apps Legendary, but there are relatively few free quality apps. For example, I struggled (still haven’t) found a decent calculator (not the built in one) that is free. I find the market app rather clunky. Can’t find any decent external exchange apps that work. Many problems with the Market were fixed in Froyo, the apps available seem to be broader in nature, and many more are free (my perception). Choice of several exchange apps, more fully featured than iOS.
Software Keyboard Simple, elegant, but frustratingly difficult to type complex content, having to change layouts all the time. More cluttered, but actually as easy to use, better word prediction, less switching between layouts.
Battery Life Initially winning hands down, but now hogging battery like no tomorrow, can’t make it through an average day. I don’t know what’s causing the problem and so I’m just deleting apps all over the show. Vastly improved over other phones, still an issue, but actually appreciating it more after the iPhone
Music Very pretty. iTunes integration. This is also the problem. A cheap player I bought for my Daughter allows me to just dump music on it and it works. What I had to go through to get Music onto the iPhone because of my unusual setup, well, it wasn’t easy. Oh, and by the way. iTunes sucks. I mean really… disastrous, but with no alternative. Bulk device, you can just copy the music on and it works. Plays music just as well as the iPhone, in fact better because the former occaisionally and inexplicably stops. Wide variety of music players.
Video Flash.
Web Browser is probably prettier than Android’s and allows more Tabs, seems to be slower though. Native Flash is an advantage here too.
Notifications Really dreadful, and a well known problem in the Apple community. Poorly handled, and when they pop up, and you go to use the phone the notification is just gone. Elegant system that allows multiple notifications each of which take you straight to the issue. Persist, unobtrusively, until dismissed.
Calendaring / Time Automatically setting the time to the wrong time since the clocks changed. Manually fixing this makes calender entries wrong. Setting it back to automatic makes the time wrong again. Google Calendar back end more open than Exchange. Exchange functionality built in too. Minor quibble, cannot change the colour of the Exchange calendar. Date / Time works. Minor quibble, on a non rooted device you can’t use ntp for ultra correct times. Can’t on the iPhone either as far as I know.
Oddities My laptop supplies power out of USB while it’s off. I use this to charge my Desire if need be. The iPhone requires the whole machine to be on for it to charge the phone. The power connector on my Desire seems to be a bit stretched, so if I’m not careful, it’s not being charged. The Desire asks, when plugged in, whether it should charge, act as a disk, do internet tethering etc..

I’m honestly struggling to find an area where the iPhone wins hands down against its competitor. I can’t think of one. I imagine if the iPhone is the only smart phone you are used to, it seems miraculous. It probably seemed that way against Android 1.1. But Android has grown up now, and it makes the iPhone look just stupid by comparison. I couldn’t recommend an iPhone to anyone. Sorry.

By the way, I fully accept that perhaps when I get used to the iPhone I might come to love it more, but I’ll be surprised.