Android 5.0 Lollipop vs iOS 8.1: the best, compared
Keyboard and messaging
We have no complaints about the virtual keyboard included with Android 5.0. It is fast, accurate, and rich in features, and we don't feel the need to replace it with a third-party one. It goes without saying that Lollipop's keyboard supports tons of input languages, predictive text, voice input, and auto-correct which you can disable if you feel like it. On top of that, you can input words with a swipe, enter digits quickly using a key shortcut, and pick from a lengthy list of emoticons.
As for the iOS 8.1 keyboard, Apple has once again chosen to keep things simple, which is why we don't get quite as many extras as with Lollipop. But at least Apple is giving us the freedom to pick a third-party keyboard, and some great ones are already available on the App Store. Overall, the stock iOS keyboard is pretty decent, with voice input and support for many languages. Its accuracy is undisputed, and the intelligent word prediction is nice to have. But at the same time, some features could have been executed better. For example, inputting a digit or a symbol requires us to toggle between keyboard layouts as there are no shortcuts available.
Now let's shift our focus over to the Messenger application in Android 5.0. Yup, Google's OS has a dedicated SMS app again after it disappeared with KitKat's debut. In other words, we no longer have to use Hangouts for both texts and IMs. Those who want may set Hangouts as their default SMS app, but we'd rather stick with the humble Messenger. The latter is a simple, straightforward texting application with a chat-style conversation layout. Naturally, we're given the usual options to attach photos, videos, or audio to our outgoing texts.
The Messages app in iOS 8.1 is a superior solution, we have to admit, serving as a benchmark as to how integration between SMS and instant messages should be executed. When possible, the text is automatically sent as an iMessage over a data connection. Photos, videos, sounds can be attached to outgoing iMessages using the conveniently placed shortcuts. in addition, we can share our location with the recipient, be it one or over a period of time. One downside to iMessages, however, is that it only works between Apple devices, whereas Hangouts is accessible on Android, iOS, and within a computer's web browser.
Search and voice commands
Android 4.4 KitKat made it possible to initiate hands-free searches and commands with the "OK, Google" voice trigger, which worked from any home screen. Now, the voice command also works from the lock screen or when the phone is on stand-by and plugged in. Similarly, Siri in iOS 8.1 has the ability to listen for voice triggers. "Hey, Siri" is the command she (or he) responds to, but there's a catch – don't expect a response unless your iOS device is connected to a charger or the Siri interface is open already.
But our guess is that most of the time, you'll be typing in whatever it is you're searching for. On Android 5.0, the Google search bar is placed permanently on the top of any home screen, just like before. While it does occupy precious screen space, it lets us search the internet, find a contact, or search for an app installed on the device. At the same time, Google Now provides us with relevant, timely updates on traffic and conditions, sports games, upcoming events, it even reminds us where we parked our car. Spotlight search in iOS 8.1, which is accessible with a swipe down gesture in the middle of any home screen, is no less versatile, if not better in some ways. It can be used to search the internet, the user's inbox, contacts, installed apps list, and will also display results from news outlets, from Wikipedia, and the iTunes store.
To no surprise, Chrome is the browser of choice for Android 5.0 Lollipop. It is fast and functional, packing all kinds of neat features an app of this sort should support, including incognito mode, tabbed browsing, and text size inflation when that's appropriate. Plus, Chrome lets us sync tabs and bookmarks with other devices on which we have Chrome installed, while the built-in data compression, which can be enabled manually, reduces data consumption significantly without that affecting the browsing experience.
Safari on iOS 8.1 is no less awesome of a web browser. Like Chrome, it lets us have multiple tabs open and browse in incognito mode. Having our bookmarks synchronized between Apple devices is also a feature. One neat option that Chrome doesn't offer yet is the built-in reader mode, which clears the page of all unnecessary content, leaving only the text of the article for easy reading.
Camera and photo gallery
Lollipop uses Google Camera as its default camera application. Overall, it is a decent app, although getting used to the UI layout takes a bit of time. The app is meant to be simple, which is why you won't find advanced controls in it, such as the options to control the ISO and shutter speed, or to fine-tune the focus manually. Most folks, however, wouldn't really care about the omission of such settings. In fact, the majority of users should be satisfied with the built-in camera modes, which include Lens Blur, Photo Sphere, HDR, and Panorama. But as good as Google Camera may be, the iOS 8.1 camera application is better in a number of ways. First and foremost, it is easier and more intuitive to use. Also, we're finding it much easier to control the exposure of the image, should that be required. The built-in slow-motion and time-lapse modes can be fun to experiment with.
Photos in Android 5.0 Lollipop are viewed from the Photos application, which is tightly connected to Google's ecosystem and services. One key benefit of this is the option to have full-resolution copies of your images backed up onto Google's servers so that they're never lost. You're also granted the option to have images automatically enhanced. As for the app's interface, images are organized in two separate tabs – one containing all images grouped by date taken and another labeled "Highlights". As the name implies, the latter organizes select images in albums and arranges them by date. In terms of editing tools, there's a lot at our disposal – from basic Crop and Rotate to image filters, frames, collages and effects. Best of all, you don't need any pro-grade image editing skills in order to use the app's tools effectively. Feature-wise, the Photos app in iOS 8.1 has a lot to offer, but probably not quite as much as Lollipop. Images can be easily sorted by time and date taken for easier management and backed up to the cloud for safe storing, which is awesome. But we don't get quite as many image editing options as we do with Android's Photos app. Still, the editing features packs in iOS 8.1 are simple and intuitive to use.
Maps and navigation
Google Maps is one of those apps that need no introduction. For the longest time, it has been one of the best applications of its kind, and for a number of good reasons. It provides accurate and up-to-date data, satellite imagery, and reliable navigation, be it while you're driving, walking, or using public transportation. In addition, you have the options to share and save locations and to roam the streets in Street View. Unfortunately, offline usage is limited for the most part. Even though portions of the map can be saved offline, searching isn't available without a data connection. However, you may still use the Google Maps turn-by-turn navigation feature offline as long as you're online when the route is being calculated.
Is Apple Maps any better? Well, we'd say it is a decent, fully-functional alternative. Since Maps's launch, Apple has done a lot to improve its service's accuracy and reliability, and we don't mind using it on a daily basis for our navigation needs. It may not be as feature-rich as Google Maps, but it has all the essentials covered, including turn-by-turn navigation while driving, walking, or using public transportation, it displays traffic data, and it lets you easily share locations with others. Alas, offline maps aren't supported, but you may still pre-load a route while you're online and then use it without the need for a data connection.
Continuity, Family Sharing, Multi-user support
There are features in iOS 8.1 we wish we could compare to Android 5.0 alternatives, but we can't since Lollipop isn't offering any, at least not at this time. Among them is Apple's innovative Continuity solution, which is integrated into the latest versions of iOS and OS X Yosemite. Long story short, it allows Apple devices to intelligently work with one another. For example, one may start an email or a document on one device, then switch to another and be asked whether they want to pick up their work at the point where they left off. If your iPhone rings while you're on your iPad or Mac, you can pick the call right from your tablet or computer. Sending and responding to text messages works the same way. Android, on the other hand, hasn't reached this state of device interaction, but we're hoping that Google is going to take note as many people now own and switch between several smart and portable devices, such as a smartphone, a tablet, or a laptop.
Family Sharing is another great feature Apple brought to iOS. As the name implies, users may share content they've purchased – games, apps, movies, music, and books – with family members. At the same time, kids may request permissions from parents to purchase specific content. The process is facilitated by the fact that a single credit card can be shared by the members in a family group. Android 5.0, on the other hand, lets us share entire devices, not specific content, with others, all without worrying about our privacy and personal data. That is made possible by the baked-in support for multiple user accounts, which Lollipop brings to smartphones as well. (Multi-user support has been available since Android 4.2, but on tablets only.) Each user's data is stored separately and can't be accessed by others without permission.
It has been a year since we last did an equally thorough comparison between Android and iOS, and even though both platforms have evolved significantly since then, our opinion as to which one is better remains unchanged – we can't rank one OS higher than the other. Doing so just wouldn't be fair as both Android 5.0 Lollipop and iOS 8.1 are polished, reliable, and feature-rich mobile operating systems well worthy of the attention they've been getting. It is different factors that make them so awesome, however, so at the end of the day, picking a favorite depends on one's priorities.
Lollipop, in particular, shines with its visual presentation. Material Design adds the extra flare Android was missing until this point, and the results are worthy of applause. Apple's iOS 8.1, in comparison, is minimalist and with a more subtle approach to visuals. It isn't bad by any means, but it is not quite as fresh and appealing as stock Android 5.0, in our opinion. At the same time, Android remains the most customization-friendly mobile platform you can get your hands on, although as far as customization goes, iOS has come closer to Android than ever.
Functionally, an approach observed in both iOS 8.1 and Android 5.0 is to go a step beyond core functionality, to add more value to each and every bit of software without making it any less intuitive to use. This principle is best experienced with Lollipop's great lock screen, keyboard, and phone app design, as well as with the iOS 8.1's splendid messaging experience, excellent camera app, and a rich array of extras, such as Continuity and Family Sharing. At the same time, we're happy to see that Android has learned a few tricks from iOS, and the way lock screen notifications are handled is a good example of that. Likewise, iOS has assimilated ideas from Android, such as the options for having third-party widgets and on-screen keyboards – nothing wrong with that, if you ask us.
And so continues the race between Android and iOS for dominance across the mobile landscape – a race that's as exciting to comment on as always. To summarize, both platforms have come a long way since last year, and it will be exciting to see how they're going to progress in the time ahead. In the meantime, don't hesitate to go with either as chances are you won't be disappointed.