Kudos to Google for adding a smarter Phone app in Android 4.4. What makes it better than ever is that it can search for the phone numbers of nearby businesses and venues. In other words, you just type the name of a place near you that you need to call – a restaurant, a bank, a store, you name it – and the app will get its number for you, pulled from its vast database. This works the other way around as well, so if a business is calling you, its Caller ID will be filled in by the app. Of course, how well this feature works depends on whether the business you're contacting is in Google's database or not. But we gave it a shot and it worked quite well.
This isn't the only change brought by the Android 4.4 Phone application. Its layout has been altered as well, so the first thing you see upon launching the app is your list of favorites, as well as the person you last contacted. Like it or not, there is no list of frequently called people, but chances are these are going to appear near the top of your call log anyway.
The iOS 7 Phone application is simpler, and not necessarily in a good way. Contacts, for example, don't have a photo displayed next to them, unless they are listed in your favorites. This little drawback aside, the app is intuitive and well laid out, displaying the user's own phone number of top for those times when it is needed.
When it comes to contact management, iOS 7 does have a thing or two to stand out with. It has the neat feature to block specific contacts, thus preventing them from calling, texting, and even initiating a FaceTime conversation with the user. Calls from blocked people appear in red in the log, in case you're wondering. Also, we appreciate Apple adding the option to set not only individual ringtones to specific contacts, but also specific vibration patterns for their texts and/or calls. Both Android and iOS will sync and back-up your contacts with the cloud.
Keyboard and messaging
Typing on a mobile device quickly and efficiently is often a matter of getting used to its on-screen keyboard's size and layout. With iOS 7 and the iPhone, in particular, we can easily type texts using a single thumb because the phone's width is optimal for the purpose. The Google Nexus 5, running Android 4.4, is wider and is therefore more comfortable to use with two thumbs rather than one, and that is usually valid for any Android device with a screen of 4.5-inches and above. Overall, both virtual keyboards are pretty nice. International users can rest assured that both support a wide variety of input languages.
The messaging experience on iOS is augmented by iMessage – Apple's alternative to SMS, routing texts via the web instead of sending or receiving them through your wireless carrier. Texts transferred via iMessage are usually faster, with higher-quality media attachments, no character limit, and display a notification when the message is read. The downside to Apple's service, however, is that it works only on Apple devices. As for the iOS 7 messaging app itself, we have nothing to complain about. It is simple and intuitive, while texts are easy to read.
On Android 4.4 KitKat we see that Hangouts has taken over messaging, thus encouraging users to use Google's IM solution instead of SMS, all the while eliminating the need for a separate texting application. The app itself isn't bad and we love the option to attach our location to the message we're sending.
Whether you're using Android 4.4 or iOS 7, setting up your email account is a straight-forward process, requiring you to input nothing but your address, password, and perhaps your real name. Email settings can be entered manually, in case that is required. Android users may use the stock and plain Email app, or the Gmail app in case they are using Google's email service. We're into the latter, by the way, as there's a lot to like about it. Gmail automatically filters out social network updates and mail from businesses, placing them in their separate tabs. The result is a clean inbox containing mail you are actually interested in reading. What's more, there's the Priority inbox, which automatically highlights only emails from people you communicate with the most. Apple's approach to email is a tad simpler and its iOS app doesn't quite pack as many features. But it still definitely gets the job done. In iOS 7, the email app has the so-called VIP inbox option, where emails from people you mark as important are collected. This marking process, however, has to be done manually.
No mobile OS can be considered complete without its pre-loaded set of productivity features. Thankfully, neither Android 4.4 nor iOS 7 disappoints in that respect. On both operating systems we find minimalist, streamlined Calendar applications for organizing appointments with their help. Nothing in terms of features is missing – new events can be added in just a few steps, and a reminder will alert you prior to that event's beginning. Both Calendar apps can be synchronized with the cloud, which makes them accessible from other devices as well.
At a glance, the calculators on Android 4.4 and iOS 7 look pretty similar, but those who need to access advanced functions often will appreciate Apple's solution a lot more. The advanced panel is accessible with a flip of the phone in landscape mode, while stock Android 4.4 requires the user to bring forth the advanced panel manually.
Android's clock used to be poorly organized, but things have changed with version 4.4. The app is now clean and intuitive. The Clock application on iOS 7 feels just as well made, if not a tad prettier. Both provide easy access to additional timekeeping features.
Notes and reminders in Android 4.4 are organized using Google's Keep application, which is a very simple, yet very handy little tool. The app lets you take down quick notes and to-do lists on the fly, with the option to assign alerts to each of them, activated at a given time or location. Moreover, audio and photos can be attached to the note. And if that's not cool enough, your notes are automatically synchronized with the cloud, which makes them accessible from your PC or tablet. Apple, on the other hand, has chosen to have two separate apps for Notes and Reminders. The former is really basic, allowing us to input text only. The latter is a bit more advanced, allowing us to organize to-do lists and set time- and location-activated reminders to each of them. The user interface of the app, however, can be a bit confusing at first. Both Notes and Reminders on iOS 7 can sync their data with the cloud.
Apple has sprinkled iOS 7 with a number of goodies that many users will appreciate having. Passbook is one of them, used for managing boarding passes, movie tickets, retail coupons, and more. In addition, you get a Stocks app, voice notes, compass with a built-in level, and a gorgeous weather application. Android 4.4, on the other hand, is pre-loaded with Google Earth for exploring in detail every square inch of the planet, as well as Google Drive for storing files in the cloud, and Quickoffice, allowing us to quickly open and edit Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files.
Game Center vs Play Games
Both Android and iOS users play games. In fact, games are one of the most popular app categories on these platforms' markets, which is why it makes sense having an app dedicated to organizing all the games that the user owns. Apple's solution is called Game Center. Introduced with iOS 4, it lists the user's games, as well as all achievements and scores. Game Center is also used to send and receive turn requests and challenges to and from friends. Having the app recommend us games we might be interested in based on others that we've played is a neat, clever feature. Android's Play Games application is very similar when it comes to functionality. Google has also added the option to see what games our Google+ contacts are playing, which is a good way of discovering download-worthy titles. All in all, both Game Center and Play Games will be of great use to those who spend a lot of time playing games on their iOS or Android device.
Mulitasking and multiple users
When it comes to multitasking implementation in iOS and Android, we don't really have anything to complain about. Switching between apps is a smooth and lag-free process – just open up the multitasking menu and pick the app you wish to go back to. Both UIs present us with screenshots of all recent apps in their last state. If you need to close a particular app, just flick it to the side.
Support for multiple users is built into Android 4.4 and available to users of tablets running the stock variant of the operating system. Each person has their own personal workspace, with apps and widgets arranged to their liking, and switching between profiles happens in a snap. That makes Android tablets highly suitable for sharing with classmates or family members. What's more, users can have their personal stuff secured with Android's option to prevent a specific account from launching particular apps. At this time, Apple has yet to implement support for multiple user accounts into iOS.