Smartphone operating systems review

Smartphones are now mini-computers, so you need to consider what operating system (OS) your next mobile will use.
 
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01 .Introduction

CH0911_MobileOS_lead

CHOICE tests five smartphones representing the major operating systems available and looked at how they performed a range of day-to-day tasks.

When looking for a new smartphone, most of us consider factors such as brand, screen size, wireless connectivity and whether it has a keyboard or touchscreen. The operating system (OS) in your mobile phone has become increasingly important in transforming your phone into a music player, camera, personal assistant and GPS navigator.

The smartphone share of sales has grown significantly due to the popularity of Apple’s iPhone iOS 4 and Google’s Android OS available on a range of handsets. Your smartphone’s OS delivers the framework to go beyond simply making a call, allowing it to run productivity and media playing applications as well as operate on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

CHOICE tests the various operating systems available on popular mobile handsets to determine their strengths and weaknesses when used for standard tasks such as making and taking phone calls and keeping contacts as well as how each OS deals with application downloads, multimedia files and social networking.

For more information about smartphones see Mobile phones and Phones and mobile devices.


Models tested

  • Android 2.3 (HTC Incredible S, Samsung Nexus S)
  • Apple iOS 4 (Apple iPhone 4) 
  • Windows Phone 7 (LG Optimus 7)
  • Symbian 3 (Nokia E7)
  • Blackberry OS 6.0 (Bold 9780)

How we test

  • Our testers look at each OS to assess overall design, easy of use and handling. Our testers begin with the out of box experience and initial setup. Next they look at creating a new contact as well as moving contacts over from a previous phone using various cable and wireless based synchronization.
  • Each OS should be able to deal with the latest video and audio content so we also look at the multimedia aspects such as formats supported and loading content to the phone via a removable card or wireless network.
  • Browser quality and the general user interface and menu system are examined for ease of use and intuitiveness. The mobile OS is constantly changing to keep up with the latest technologies so our testers look at how each OS carries out a software update as well as backing up the content on your phone. Our testers also check to see whether you can revert back to a previous OS version if something goes wrong.
  • Finally, they look at the OS’s applications (apps) to see what is available, the quality of the purchasing and download process as well as the quality of the apps themselves.

Jargon buster

GPS Most Smartphones include a global positioning system (GPS) chip allowing you to locate your position without help from the phone network. The Apple iPhone and most Android based smartphones support several GPS apps that can be purchased to provide turn by turn navigation while Nokia smartphones deliver Navteq maps free for download from the Ovi online application store.

Multitouch is the ability to select multiple areas of a phone’s touchscreen to perform complex tasks such as zooming in and out and multiple menu selections. Phones that support this feature include several HTC mobiles as well as the latest Apple iPhone. Capacitive touchscreen allows users to select items on a phone screen by using the finger, compared to a resistive touchscreen which works best when used with a stylus or other hard object such as a fingernail to make a selection.



 

 
 

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The operating system (OS) in your mobile phone has become increasingly important in transforming your phone into a music player, camera, personal assistant and GPS navigator. There is no doubt that Apple helped bring the smartphone to the masses and the latest Android handsets from various companies such as Samsung, HTC and Sony are set to deliver lots of choice for mobile users.

2 CHOICE buys

HTC Incredible S

Scored 73/100 73%

Good points:

• The Android OS comes in various flavours (versions are named after desserts) with each handset maker allowed to incorporate their own variation or ‘skin’.
• Our testers found the HTC phone delivered a better experience with its Sense software allowing easy customization as well as good syncing with the PC.
• The Android OS offers good support for most video and audio formats including Flash video content and is the most customizable of the OS choices.

Bad points:

• While the app marketplace delivers a good choice of apps for work and entertainment, the overall performance of the Android Market place is not as effective as Apple’s App Store.

 

Apple iPhone 4

Scored 70/100 70%

Good points:

• The current iOS4 is easy to use and its slick App Store and iTunes integration makes it a good option if you like using iTunes.
• The closed nature of the OS has been seen as a negative for users wanting to put their own personality to the interface, but some users may actually prefer this type of consistency.

Bad points:

• It is the only OS that requires the user to sync with a PC to register the device and many of the tasks such as app purchases (for apps over 20MB) and updates need to be carried out on a home network connected to a PC or Mac. This is set to change with the release of iOS5 which will allow Apple users to sync with other devices without connecting to a PC.

 
 

Instructions

Comparison table list

  • By default, ALL tested products are listed. You can select up to five items to view in a side by side comparison.
  • Additional columns can be viewed by using the Next/Previous buttons.

Using the filters

  • Use the filters to show only products that meet your specific requirements or which have the specific features you're interested in. Selecting filters automatically updates the Comparison table list.
  • The number shown in brackets represents the number of products displayed if you select that filter.
  • You can view additional filters by selecting the Show more filters button.  

Compare products

 
Table Allowing the user to select a number of products dependant on their filter options.
Items to compare

Select up to 5 items below.
Then click the compare button

Compare
 
PlatformOverall scoreInitial setup and registration score (%)Handling personal information and content score (%)Customising the interface score (%)Ease of use score (%)Application support and ease of use score (%)Upgrading and backup score (%)Market share 2007 (%)Market share 2009 (%)Market share 2011 (%)ContactGood PointsBad PointsBrand
                
Incredible SAndroid 2.3 with Sense73817594617266HTC
iPhone 4IOS 4.3.370607328728283Apple
Nexus SAndroid 2.3.469817174617252Samsung
Optimus 7Windows Phone 762815838617541LG
E7Symbian^362685582567052Nokia
Bold 9780BlackBerry OS 6.050194674505576BlackBerry
Compare

 

USING THE TABLE
Scores The overall score is made up of: First steps 15%; handling personal information and content 30%; Customising the interface: 8%; Ease of use: 17%; Applications: 20%; Backup and OS updating: 10%.

How we test

  • Our testers look at each OS to assess overall design, easy of use and handling. Our testers begin with the out of box experience and initial setup. Next they look at creating a new contact as well as moving contacts over from a previous phone using various cable and wireless based synchronization.
  • Each OS should be able to deal with the latest video and audio content so we also look at the multimedia aspects such as formats supported and loading content to the phone via a removable card or wireless network.
  • Browser quality and the general user interface and menu system are examined for ease of use and intuitiveness. The mobile OS is constantly changing to keep up with the latest technologies so our testers look at how each OS carries out a software update as well as backing up the content on your phone. Our testers also check to see whether you can revert back to a previous OS version if something goes wrong.
  • Finally, they look at the OS’s applications (apps) to see what is available, the quality of the purchasing and download process as well as the quality of the apps themselves. 


 

 

Nokia’s announcement that it is abandoning its Symbian OS in favour of Windows Mobile 7 later this year will make Microsoft’s OS the main alternative to Android and Apple. Look to see Windows Phone 7 on more handsets in 2012 competing with Apples iOS5 and Android 3.0.

4 CHOICE buys

Samsung Nexus S

Scored 69/100 69%

Good points:

• The Android OS comes in various flavours (versions are named after desserts) with constant upgrades offering added features and functionality.
• The Android OS offers good support for most video and audio formats including Flash video content and is the most customizable of the OS choices.

Bad points:

• While the app marketplace delivers a good choice of apps for work and entertainment, the overall performance of the Android Market place is not as effective as Apple’s App Store.

 

LG Optimus 7

Scored 62/100 62%

Good points:

• Windows Phone 7 is showing the most potential among the alternatives to Apple (iOS) and Android, by allowing any mobile phone company to use the OS (like Android) but forcing a strict level of homogeny over the hardware specifications and interface look and feel (like Apple).
• The Windows Phone 7 interface appears the same no matter what hardware you use, which could be seen as a good point if you want an Apple like consistency or a bad point if you like the Android ability to customise the OS.

Bad points:

• MS Office users will see the lack of support for Outlook for mail and contact synchronization as baffling when it’s a Microsoft program and Apple support it more effectively.

 

Nokia E7

Scored 62/100 62%

Good points:

• The OS is very mature, developed over a decade, and is simple and effective to operate for general tasks such as setting up a contact list and customizing the menu structure.

Bad points:

• While Windows Phone 7 is on the way up, the Symbian OS which is most associated with Nokia phones is well and truly on the way out.
• With the announcement by Nokia that there will be no further development in the OS, it would be wise to consider another OS if you want to take advantage of future technologies and features.

 

BlackBerry Bold 9780

Scored 50/100 50%

Good points:

• Emails take much longer to arrive and the initial setup requires a subscription service to be activated and is very convoluted compared to the other OSs. Blackberry may remain the only option if your company issues you with your phone to use. However unless you need bullet proof security for your email, this OS doesn’t really have anything compelling to offer compared to Android or Apple.

Bad points:

• The Blackberry OS has the most secure corporate based email environment and if you have chosen this system (or had your IT department choose it for you) this is the feature you probably need most.

 
 

Market Share

  • While Apple’s iPhone 4 accounts for almost one in six smartphone purchases, Google’s Android OS is the most popular operating system (OS) with one in three smartphones using Android on brands such as Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson and HTC.
  • Nokia’s announcement that it is abandoning its Symbian OS in favour of Windows Mobile 7 later this year will make Microsoft’s OS the main alternative to Android and Apple.
  • As the figures below show, Symbian's fall from great heights is as dramatic as Android's recent rise. The Windows figure shows the slow decay of Windows Mobile 6.5, with most market analysis suggesting that this line should rise once Windows Mobile 7 becomes more available. 

 

 CH0911_mobileOS_graph

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