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7 things your Android phone can do that iPhone owners can only dream of

From custom app icons to better multitasking, Android phones can do a lot that iPhones just can't.

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Android phones can do a lot that iPhones can't. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The debate between Android and iOS fans over which platform is better is one I never see coming to an end. Both sides of the argument have their share of talking points, ranging from security and encryption for iPhone users to customization and Google Assistant prowess on the Android side. And they're almost always valid arguments. 

Right now, I want to highlight some of Android's strengths that iOS just doesn't have yet, from your being able to set default apps and use more than one app at a time to being able to completely customize the look of your phone.

Here are my favorite things Android users can do that people with iPhones can only dream of.

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Use the apps you want, not the apps Google wants you to use

The option to set Gmail as the default email app on an iPhone is something iOS users have been asking Apple to add for years. Even though Apple added the option to delete its own apps from iOS, you still can't set a default app. It's tragic, really.

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Finding the setting for default apps can take a little digging, but at least it's there. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Android, on the other hand, lets you set Firefox or Opera as your default browser instead of Google Chrome, or set Google's Messages app as your text messaging app of choice to take advantage of RCS, Google's recently released chat feature that acts a lot like Apple's iMessage

It isn't hard to see which apps have been labeled as default on your Android device: Open the Settings app and go to Apps & notifications > Default apps. To change the defaults, select the app category, such as Phone app or Browser app, and choose from the options.  

Google Assistant is always ready for you. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Google Assistant for the win

iPhone users have Siri, but Android gives you Google Assistant. Google Assistant is a much more sophisticated tool than Apple's Siri for a slew of reasons, but the most important one is that it makes use of Google's impressive database. 

Google Assistant can understand common requests for businesses and names, and it gets requests right more often than wrong. It also returns high-quality responses, drawing from Google Search, a tool that Siri doesn't have access to.

Google Assistant also tightly integrates with the phone's other functions, to tell you when it's time to leave for your next meeting and warn you that traffic will be heavy on the way home. If you have any Google Home or Nest Home smart speakers or other compatible devices, you can also use Assistant on your phone to control smart devices around your house like lights, outlets or your thermostat -- even from afar.

And it's built right into your Android device. "OK, Google" and "Hey, Google" are the two wake phrases. If you need help knowing what to ask, you can ask Google Assistant for a list of commands: "OK, Google, What can you do?" iPhone owners can also install the Google app to use Assistant, but it's not built in and it's not the default personal assistant. 

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Split Screen is easy to use on an Android phone, and increases the versatility of a phone. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Use two apps at once through split-screen mode

Even though iPadOS 13 supports using multiple apps at the same time, iOS 13 and the iPhone do not. Android users, however, have had split-screen apps since 2016 with the release of Android 7.0 Nougat.

Using two apps is helpful if you're trying to look up a contact's phone number to send to someone on Facebook Messenger, or if you need to reference information in a document when composing an email. It's unclear why Apple hasn't added this feature to the iPhone yet, but perhaps it has something to do with the size of windows on the iPhone's display as compared with the larger iPad ($360 at Walmart)

The easiest way to use split-screen mode is to open the multitasking view and tap on the app's icon at the top of its multitasking card -- it's the same icon you use to launch the app from your homescreen. Select Split screen from the list of options, then select the second app you want to have open at the same time. (These steps might vary depending on which Android phone you use. For example, Samsung phones have their own version of the interface.)

You can adjust the size of each app by dragging the small handle between the two apps to expand or decrease how much space each app takes up.

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Move icons around to arrange them, or delete them and only use the app drawer. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Customize your homescreen just how you like it

Apple's approach to the homescreen is to place all installed apps in a rigid grid across multiple pages. Most Android devices take a two-pronged approach by giving you a homescreen and an app drawer. The homescreen doesn't follow a grid layout, allowing you to place apps anywhere you'd like. Both platforms let you make folders containing groups of apps.

The benefit of Android's approach is that you can customize the homescreen by arranging app icons in any pattern of your choosing, and Android supports widgets of varying sizes. Right now, Apple's Today view is the only place you'll find a widget.

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The way your Android phone's homescreen looks is because of its launcher. But you're not stuck with what comes preinstalled. 

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

You can use launchers to fully customize your phone

Launchers are the epitome of Android customization. These apps let you completely change how you interact with the homescreen, the app drawer and even the app icons on your phone. Using a launcher on your Android phone allows you to customize almost every aspect of how your phone looks and behaves, making your phone even more personal than it already is. 

Launchers like Nova Launcher, Microsoft's Launcher, Apex Launcher and Action Launcher all add their own twists and features to your Android phone. For example, another popular Android launcher, Evie, emphasizes using a search bar to quickly find and open apps, or anything else on your Android phone for that matter. It's minimalism at its finest. 

I recommend taking some time to research the various launchers, trying a couple of them and really customizing the look and feel of your phone. Just be forewarned: The deeper you dive into the world of launchers, the more time and energy you're going to spend on tweaking your setup.

It's hard to imagine a world where Apple ever lets something like this happen for the iPhone.

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The Wallpapers app is a must for any Android user. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Never get bored thanks to automatically changing wallpapers

If taking the time to find and customize a launcher feels like a lot of work, there's another way to make your Android phone constantly feel fresh, and it's yet another thing your iPhone friends can't do -- use Google's Wallpapers app

The Wallpapers app refreshes the wallpaper on your homescreen and lock screen daily, without you having to do a thing. 

There are several different categories of wallpaper styles to choose from. Pick your favorite, and let the app take care of the rest. Personally, I like to use the geometric shapes category. The wallpapers are unique and colorful. 

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Watch a video and browse Twitter at the same time? Go on, I'm listening. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Watch a video and text at the same time 

If you've started navigating in Google Maps lately, only to leave the app to answer a text message, you've probably seen a small Google Maps window remain visible in a corner of the screen. Android gained a systemwide picture-in-picture mode for more than just video apps with the release of Android Oreo in 2017.

In addition to Google Maps and video apps, you can also use picture-in-picture for video calls with supported apps. My favorite use of picture-in-picture is to begin streaming a YouTube video and then leave the app to browse Reddit or reply to a text message or email while the YouTube video keeps playing in a corner of the screen. When I want to go back to watching the video full-screen, I just tap on the thumbnail to maximize it. 

iPhones don't have any sort of picture-in-picture mode. What you see on the screen is what you get.

If you're ready to switch to Android, or are looking to get more from the Android phone you already own, check out our list of the best Android phones of 2020. If you're new to the OS, make sure to change these Android settings right away. Then after that, we have some helpful tips to get you started with Android 10

Originally published earlier this week.