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Phones

iPhone iOS 4 vs Android 2.2 Froyo

iOS 4 has made some tasty improvements to the iPhone's software, but how does it stack up to its most important smart-phone rival, Google's Android 2.2 Froyo?

Apple vs Android may not be a fair fight when it's a fruit taking on a robot, but in the world of phones it's the ultimate battle royale. We've matched up the latest versions of Apple's iPhone operating system, iOS 4, and Google's software, Android 2.2 Froyo.

Both operating systems have more features than you can shake a smart phone at, so since it's iOS 4 launch day, we're putting a laser-like focus on what's new in the Apple operating system. We couldn't include every feature, so we picked the ones we deem iOS 4's biggest and best. Don't think that means we don't love the little green robot -- check out our full Android 2.2 review to peruse its fantastic features, including the big kahuna of Flash Player 10.1 support.

Multitasking

How iOS 4 does multitasking
Apple has introduced multitasking with iOS 4, and Android has had it from the start, but it's not what you'd see on your desktop computer -- apps can only do a limited number of things while they're in the background. This is because neither the battery nor the processor in mobile phones can handle the pressure of too much happening at once.

In iOS 4, app developers can take advantage of a list of background processes we've already come to know and love in Apple's own system apps. You could always listen to music in the iPod app while you used other apps, such as the Web browser. Now developers of other music apps, such as Spotify, can also build their apps so you can listen to them in the background.

Other processes that are allowed to continue behind the scenes are voice over IP -- which opens the door for Skype calls any time -- and location, so sat-nav apps can update your spot as you move around, for example. But we'll have to wait for updates to our favourite apps before they'll actually take advantage of these abilities. 

iOS 4 also lets an app take its time to finish what it's started, after you go off and do something else. In our tests, that meant you could start a Web page loading, hit the Home button to launch another app, and then go back to the browser to find the whole Web page pops up fully loaded.

Twitter and IM fans may be disappointed, however, because multitasking won't let apps update while running in the background. Instead, they'll have to implement Apple's push-notification service, which manages all apps' data queries through one system, so that lots of separate data requests don't drain the batteries.

You open the list of running apps by double-tapping the iPhone's home button -- a menu opens along the bottom of the screen. Because apps are basically frozen, and not using any battery or memory, there's no task manager to close them down and they will pile up as you open more apps. You can manually close apps from the menu, in the same way as you remove apps from the home screen -- but only if you want to quieten their notifications or just tidy up.

How Android 2.2 does multitasking 
Apple is playing catch-up here -- Android users have been basking in multitasking goodness from the beginning. Android still offers more flexibility than Apple. Like iOS 4, apps in the background don't keep running, they're just held in suspended animation. But apps can run a service that allows them to keep certain activities going -- such as playing music, syncing email and updating news feeds.

This gives more power to developers, but there's a downside. Even Larry Page, the founder of Google, blames poor battery life on apps running rampant in the background. And most Android users are familiar with restarting their phones to purge a plethora of crashing apps and start afresh.  

In Android, you open the list of running apps by holding down the home button, and in version 2.2, the list of apps fills the centre of the screen, over a the greyed-out home screen. Because apps can use power when running in the background, Android has a task manager that will kill apps that aren't being used to free up memory. This all happens automatically, and you can't close apps from this menu, although it is possible to kill apps through the phone's settings menu.

The winner
We're glad Apple has found a way to bring multi-tasking to the iPhone in a way that doesn't ruin the phone's biggest strength -- its straightforward usability. If you never press your home button twice, you may never know that it's happening, and you shouldn't see any affect on the speed and battery life.

Both Android and iOS 4 make accessing the apps easy and fast, although as compulsive organisers, we do like how Android automatically bins unused apps, and iOS 4 gives us an easy way to close them ourselves. 

Android's version can lead to a bumpier ride, as apps occasionally trip over and slow things down, and battery life can suffer. But combined with the fact that Android apps can access more of the phone's built-in features, and work across other apps, it gives much more power to developers. 

Apple's caught up on what we think matters most, which is day-to-day multitasking such as pausing in the middle of an email to look something up online, and coming back to your email to find it still in mid-flow. But Android's method means some types of app you can bolt on the little green robot will never come to the iPhone 4. If that's important to you, go for an Android phone such as the HTC Desire or Samsung Galaxy S.

Click 'Continue' to check out how iOS 4's new email features measure up.

How iOS 4 does email
The Palm Pre and the BlackBerry range of smart phones both handle email blazingly well. A strength of both is that you can view your various work and personal email inboxes in one place, or choose to see them separately.

iOS 4 adds that feature too, as well as threaded conversations. The email app now groups conversations together under the latest message, and opening that message displays a list of all the relevant emails. If you don't like this behaviour, you can turn it off in the settings.

The new version adds the ability to add multiple Exchange accounts, and you can now sync your Google calendars and contacts with your phone too. 

How Android 2.2 does email
As Android is a Google product, it handles Gmail and other email in separate apps. Tapping a different icon to see your mail may be no big deal, but it's a real pain when features that you have in one app aren't available in the other.

There are threaded converstations in Gmail, for example, but not in your other accounts. Another missing feature is the ability to move emails into folders in Exchange -- although if you're using a recent Android phone from HTC, such as the Legend or the Desire, they've added that little feature especially. 

The winner

Unsurprisingly, Google seems to have spent more time on the Gmail app than the general email app, so Android 2.2 has the advantage of being developed specifically to handle its unique approach to email. But for some tasks -- such as searching through a huge bundle of emails -- we still prefer the Gmail Web app. That's equally good on both iOS 4 and Android 2.2

If you tend to use Exchange email, or another provider, Apple's new OS has the advantage. That's not to say that it handles Gmail poorly -- it does a good job of archiving instead of deleting, for example -- but it treats all comers equally. It also makes sorting email easier.

Click 'Continue' to check out how Android 2.2 stacks up to iOS 4 on customisation. 

How iOS 4 does home screens
The iPhone has never offered much customisation. Sure, you could slap an image on the lock screen, but besides the order of your apps, your phone looked the same as everyone else's.

So no wonder everyone's so thrilled about seemingly small things such as the ability to add a wallpaper image to your home screen, and sort your icons into folders. It's a welcome change, and it keeps the iPhone simple, but it's not much to write home about.

How Android 2.2 does home screens
Android is the king of customisation, practically offering to pimp your mobile with go-faster stripes and a subwoofer in the boot. In the default version of Android, you can sprinkle up to five home screens with shortcuts to your apps, like the iPhone has, or you can kick it up a notch with widgets.

Widgets are interactive, and can display live updates -- the recent status of your Facebook friends, for example -- or control apps such as the music player. Most manufacturers that are using Android slap a few unique ones on each phone, there are a bunch that come with Android by default, and you can download more from the Android Market.

Even the wallpaper on Android is a little bit special, since a landscape image will shift slightly each time you swipe to the next home screen, revealing more of the image and giving you a better sense of which screen you're on.

And if you're really keen on wallpaper, Android offers live wallpapers that respond to your touch -- like a leaf-strewn pond with water that ripples where you touch the screen, or an equaliser that bounces to the music you're playing. These eat too much battery for our taste, but it's an impressive option.

The winner

iOS 4 goes for simplicity every time, and Apple doesn't want to mess with it by allowing too much customisation. But if you like to pimp your mobile, nothing beats the flexibility and options offered by Android, the grand master of modification.

Click 'Continue' to see iOS 4's camera features go head-to-head with Android.

Update: We said that Android 2.2 has seven home screens, but we were fantasising about HTC's own version of Android 2.1, which has two extra screens. The standard version of Android 2.2 has five home screens.

How iOS 4 does photos
iOS 4 pumps up the camera with a 5x digital zoom and the ability to tap to focus while shooting video as well as stills. But our favourite addition is the ability to view our pictures on a map based on their geotags. All your geotagged images are automatically added when you sync them on to the phone (whether you like it or not), and it's a fun way to browse around your holiday snaps.

How Android 2.2 does photos
Android 2.2 added the ability to peek into your albums by pinching them with your fingers, and on-screen camera controls to make tweaking your photos quicker. 

But even better is the ability to view your online images in the phone's photo gallery. We love having access to all our Picasa Web albums wherever we go, but because the phone downloads only thumbnails until you open a specific photo, it doesn't take heaps of data downloading just to look at your snaps. You can also download the online images to the phone to send them on, share them on social networks and use them as wallpaper.

The winner

The iPhone has never concentrated much on its camera, and the beauty of Android is that manufacturers can choose to include it in all kinds of phones, including those with red-hot cameras like the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10. Combined with the extra features, Android wins this battle.