One pharmacist’s opinion: iPhone vs. DROID

I’ve been carrying a Motorola DROID since Verizon made it available back in November 2009. I’ve enjoyed many of its features and consider it a great mobile device. Recently I came into possession of an iPhone. I’ve wanted an iPhone for quite some time, but have been quite outspoken about not switching to AT&T because of poor coverage in our area; Central Valley of California.

Having both devices in my possession has given me the perfect opportunity to test them head-to-head to see which setup I prefer. My original plan was to carry the iPhone exclusively for a month or so to see if I could completely replace my DROID. Unfortunately number forwarding only works with calls. Text messages would continue going to my DROID which would create a problem for me as I receive text messages several fold more than I do direct calls. So I have been carrying both devices for the past few weeks.

One thing I’ve realized during this brief experiment is that these devices are primarily ultra-mobile computers first, and a phone second. Apple and Motorola, willing or not, have extended the reach of desktops far and wide. Some people might cringe at the idea, but I find it exciting to be able to do almost anything I want from the comforts of my couch, the coffee shop or while standing in line to get popcorn at the movie theater. These devices don’t force you to work 24/7, but they give you the option to do it if that’s what you chose. I’m like most people, if something interests me I’m likely to spend time on it regardless of where I am. On the other hand if I find something boring or useless I’m much more likely to work on it from the confines of my office. There are only so many hours in the day and why spend them working on stuff you don’t like when you can spend them working on things that are cool.

Speaking of cool, the iPhone is a very slick device. It’s hard not to like it when you pick it up. Regardless of where you are in your technology maturity, infant or aging pro, you can figure out how to use an iPhone in a mater of minutes. Simple things like having the same row of four icons at the bottom of the device regardless of what screen you’re on, or the switch on the side of the device that can be used to quickly silence it, are nice touches. Apple has done a remarkable job with the simplicity of the iPhone. It reminds me of the original Palm Pilot many years ago. The interface just begs to be touched by the end-user. One thing I’ve found to be both a blessing and a curse is the physical design of the iPhone. Its shape and symmetry make it difficult to pick up and start using in the dark. I can’t tell you the times I’ve reached for the device on my dresser in the middle of the night and had to fumble around a bit to find the top of the device. You certainly won’t have that problem with the DROID, it’s a brick with a large, protruding lip at the bottom.

The iPhone integration with Mac computers in stellar; I expected nothing less. It took only a couple of minutes to configure the phone once I plugged it into our main iMac at home. In short order I had moved all my iTunes music, movies, videos, contacts, calendar appointments, and applications onto the device. I forgot how much I enjoyed my iPod Touch, which has been sitting dormant on my dresser since purchasing the DROID. The iPhone is a great entertainment device for listening to music or watching movies. The gaming on the iPhone blows the DROID out of the water, so there’s really no comparison there. Unfortunately all this comes at the expense of battery life.

The DROID is relatively easy to set-up and start using as well, but not quite as easy as the iPhone. The DROID offers more flexibility for customization giving it a leg up on the iPhone for people that like to add a little “flair” their devices. I miss having widgets available on the iPhone. I use a full screen calendar widget on my DROID to keep track of my families activities, and believe me I need it. The DROID also allows one to place shortcuts to almost anything right on the desktop, such as contact phone numbers. I’ve found this very useful for people that I frequently call. There’s no need for me to go into my contacts to find a number. The DROID offers a “favorites” list similar to the iPhone, but even that can take a second to look through. Putting a phone, or text, number right on the main screen offers quick and easy access.

The DROID integration with Google applications is superb. I use Gmail, Google Docs, Google Voice and Google Calendar, as does the rest of my immediate family. Because the device offers such great integration I have access to everyone’s calendar right from the screen of my DROID. And Google Voice is just plain awesome. I really miss these feature when using the iPhone.

The app store for the iPhone is much better than the app store for Android, although the Android market is getting better. All the important pharmacy applications, like Lexi-Comp, a Twitter client, a Facebook client, etc are available in the Android market so that’s all I really care about. I’ve really come to like the Seesmic Twitter client for the DROID. I never thought I would replace the TweetDeck experience I had on my iPod touch, but I’ve come to prefer Seesmic. The one missing app that I would love to have on my DROID is RxCalc, but I suppose that’s my own fault since the developer is my brother. Maybe I can get him to port it to the Android OS.

One thing to note about the Android market versus the Apple app store is that there are several Android based devices and only one iPhone OS. This does make a difference as my DROID runs Android 2.0 which doesn’t always play nice with an application developed for a device running Android 1.5 or 1.6. Once again Apple’s control over their hardware and software is paying dividends.

The iPhone has turned out to be a good device for accessing the pharmacy system via our hospital’s virtual network. The Citrix client for the iPhone is much better than its counterpart for the DROID. I’ve only used Citrix Receiver on the iPhone twice to access the pharmacy system, but it worked and it was certainly better than firing up my laptop.

The screens on the devices are both very good, although the DROID’s indoor viewing is better. However, the iPhone is easily readable in direct sunlight while the DROID screen is not. I spend a fair amount of time walking from building to building at work and never noticed the DROID’s poor screen viewing in direct sunlight until I started using the iPhone. It’s a small thing, but I’ve found myself reaching for the iPhone over the DROID when I’m outside during the day.

Video playback and sound quality are better on the DROID, no question. This includes the earpiece, which I’ve found to be less than stellar on the iPhone. When I have to make a call I prefer using the DROID. This is especially true when you throw in the number of dropped calls I’ve had on the iPhone since I started carrying it. I’ve been with Verizon since February 2000, I called them to check, and I cannot recall dropping as many calls in that ten year span as I’ve dropped in only four weeks of carrying the iPhone. That’s no joke people. I’ve become so frustrated with the dropped calls that’s I’ve stopped using the iPhone as a phone. It has become a way to check email, read tweets, follow-up on text messages, etc, but when I have a choice of device for making a phone call it’s the DROID. Of course this may vary in your area as coverage is different for everyone, but for me it’s been pretty spotty.

The iPhone’s onscreen keyboard is much better than the DROID. I can type pretty well on it. I don’t have particularly large hands, but they’re certainly not small either. The onscreen keyboard for the DROID feels sluggish to me now that I’ve been using the iPhone. The best onscreen keyboard I’ve used, however, belongs to the BlackBerry Storm 2. I love that keyboard. I wish I could put the Android OS on the Storm 2. One thing I found extremely frustrating on the iPhone is that not all applications allow use of the large horizontal keyboard. I hate the small vertical keyboard on the iPhone. On the DROID the screen turns horizontal as soon as you open the slider, making it much more user friendly.

The physical keyboard on the DROID is much better than the iPhone. Ok, that’s not really fair because the iPhone doesn’t have a physical keyboard. Anyway, the physical keyboard on the DROID is serviceable, but I’ve found other physical keyboards to be much better. My daughter carries an enV Touch and I’ve found that I prefer that physical keyboard on that device over the one on the DROID. The navigation pad on the DROID’s physical keyboard is a nice feature that I wish the iPhone had.

Once I got used to it I found the copy and paste function on the iPhone to be better than that of the DROID. The DROID offers more copy and paste functionality, but the iPhone offers better onscreen precision when selecting text. Placing the cursor at the proper location is much better with the iPhone secondary to the magnifying glass that pops up. The DROID isn’t as user friendly while using the onscreen keyboard, but sliding the physical keyboard out makes cursor placement on the DROID comparable to the iPhone.

I really thought I would like the multi-touch functionality of the iPhone because I’ve complained about its absence on the DROID. However, I’ve found that being able to double tap the DROID screen to zoom in has turned out to be far better for me than the multi-touch on the iPhone. This is especially true when I’m in applications outside the web browser.

The camera on the DROID generates better images than the camera on the iPhone. The GPS functionality on the DROID is also better than that of the iPhone. The DROID’s integration with Google Maps has been very useful to me. I’ve purchased the Multimedia Station and GPS car mount for my DROID which has added significant value to the device. To my disappointment the iPhone is not compatible with some of the docking stations I use with my iPod nano. This was very frustrating for me as I have a lot of clocks, speakers and stereo adapters for my nano.

Battery life on both devices is average. I can’t get more than a day out of either without a charge. With that said, the DROID is head and shoulders about the iPhone in battery life because it has a swappable battery while the iPhone does not. When the DROID battery is dead simply pop a freshly charge one in it and you’re up and running in 30 seconds. If you let the iPhone battery get away from you then you’ll have to find an outlet. I’ve found this to be an issue while traveling. As an extension of my desktop these devices get heavy use and the poor battery life can certainly be an issue. This becomes an even bigger issue if you start using the iPhone for entertainment, which is too bad because the iPhone is particularly good for passing the time during quiet moments. Don’t even try watching a full length movie on the iPhone and expect to use it for anything else.

The voice search feature on the DROID works great and I wish it was available on the iPhone. Tap the button, speak into the DROID and get a list of everything you’re looking for including literature searches. The other thing I really like about the DROID is the “multi-tasking”. Holding down the home button on the DROID brings up a list of the last six applications you had open. This works great for me as I frequently bounce back and forth between emails, text messages and websites. I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s forgotten what they were trying to reference and had to go back for a second look. This lack of functionality on the iPhone cost me a few times during the first week of use because I kept trying to do the same thing with disastrous results.

The DROID offers much better email, twitter and text notification than the iPhone. The notification bar at the top of the DROID and the little light in the upper right hand corner of the device is awesome; blinking blue for @JFahrni mention in Twitter, solid blue for text message, blinking green for email, etc. It’s a small feature, but very useful. Depending on where you have your application icons on the iPhone you may have to move around a little bit to find what you’re looking for.

Final thoughts
I’ve really enjoyed using both these devices over the past four weeks. They both offer incredible flexibility and functionality, but they are not interchangeable. My initial impression was that you could use either device without missing a beat. Not true. I’ve found that I prefer the iPhone for certain things and the DROID for others. The iPhone is certainly more user friendly and polished, while the DROID’s Android 2.0 operating system feels a little immature and clunky next to the iPhone. The DROID offers more customizable options, while the iPhone offers a better gaming experience and far more applications.

The big thing for me has been the poor coverage offered by AT&T in my area and the DROID’s better ear piece quality. I mean, really, when you want to make a call on your mobile smartphone shouldn’t you be able to. In addition, the integration with Google makes the DROID ideal for me and my family.

If the iPhone ever makes its way to the Verizon network I’ll give it another look. For now I’ll stick with the DROID and make due with the iPad that I have on order.

2 thoughts on “One pharmacist’s opinion: iPhone vs. DROID”

  1. This is a very balanced and thorough review. Most helpful that I’ve come across.

    As for myself, I’m waiting for an Android phone for AT&T. I don’t really have any service complaints as I’ve found both AT&T and Verizon to pretty much suck wherever I travel.

    Nice review, and thanks!

  2. Thanks for the stopping by irms, appreciate the comments. I agree about service sucking while traveling. Last summer I was in Philadelphia and couldn’t get jack on my Verizon phone at the time. Interesting how that works. Maybe someone should design a “universal device” that uses the best available coverage in the area you’re in. Oh wait, I guess that’s called a land line. ;-)

    Good luck with the 59 days of code.

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