Editorial: Windows Mobile vs Android: The Faceoff!
Many times I’ve wondered: what is it that drives someone to use one platform or the other? The question was general, whether I asked about Windows 7 powered PCs versus apple iMacs or Windows Mobile powered devices versus those running Android or iOS. Some people put their money on aspect, others prefer to have usability; some like speed, others care for their pockets; some love the support while others need compatibility and so on. Regardless of what the reasons are, the crowds are well delimited but what does it take to switch sides and what makes a “no matter what I’ll stick to my choice” fan? Read on for the first part of our Windows Mobile vs Android faceoff, where we’ll discuss about aspect and speed!
Before questions are raised, we need to clarify that we have used top hardware from both worlds for this series, meaning we have the HTC HD2 running Windows Mobile 6.5 on one side and the HTC Desire running Android 2.2 Froyo on the other side. Both devices run the same Qualcomm 1 GHz processor and have almost similar hardware specs memory, resolution, sensors and generally hardware-wise. Before the release of the HTC Desire back in April 2010, everyone was talking about the Android HD2 because of the similarities. Oh, and both devices are fresh after a factory reset. The HTC HD2 is running stock 1.66.405.2 WWE ROM (stock SPL) and the HTC Desire is on Android 2.2 Froyo (2.09.405.8 unrooted). Both are set up with the same Exchange server I’m using to manage my email, calendar and contacts and both have granted access to social media like Twitter and Facebook. You can see a side by side comparison of the Hardware specs here.
One other thing I’d like to clarify: even though some of the flaws and lacks presented and/or commented below can be fixed with applying certain tweaks or hacks, we will not discuss those since the purpose of this Editorial is to compare stock to stock from the “use it as it is” point of view. Remember, not all the users are willing or knowledgeable to apply tweaks or hacks. While I myself and some of you most certainly always will, for sure my girlfriend, your wife, daughter, sister or the average coworker will not.
II. HardSPL vs Root:
Those of you who follow my posts for a while might know me as a person who does a lot of tweaking but you must also know by now that I’m not a fan of HardSPL. I don’t like it because I feel no need for it and for sure I’m not advising nor preaching it. I am not into custom ROMs since I strongly believe I can get the same out of a stock ROM, performance wise. Since I’m a fresh Android user (just got my Desire a couple of days ago) I can’t tell you that I’m not a fan of custom ROMs. Most probably I never will be because with me, it became a way of life to just leave things stock and get the best out of them while at it. Sure I’ve applied the Froyo update right after first power on, but I’m amongst the first users to apply a fresh (official) ROM update for the HTC HD2 right at release.
There’s a difference between HardSPL on Windows Mobile devices and rooting your Android device. While HardSPL allows you to (safely relative) flash any (and custom) ROM built for the specific device and that’s it (!), root access on your Android device has more to it. You will need root to perform some basic actions like installing applications to the SD Card. Speaking of this, Konrad Hubner from Skycoders said that “Android apps are installed on the internal memory and there is nothing you can do against it. This is part of the security concept”. Well, with the release of Android 2.2, things changed a bit. It’s up to the Software developer to allow the application or not to be moved to the SD Card but with Android 2.2 you can move the apps via Settings > Applications > Manage applications and tapping on the app to be moved from the Downloaded tab. But not everyone is able to run Froyo
One other thing before continuing: you might notice I’m not sharing any of my own screenshots from my HTC Desire. That’s because I haven’t rooted it and taking screenshots on stock (unrooted) devices is not possible (or I didn’t find the way to do it in a few days since I’ve put my hands on Android yes, I know about the SDK method but I simply refuse to install and go through such a process for something basic as taking a screenshot!).
Since both the HTC HD2 and the HTC Desire run HTC’s Sense UI on top of the Operating System, that’s the first thing that greets the user. You can’t help but notice how sluggish the animations are on Android Sense compared to those running on Windows Mobile Sense. Whether we talk about weather animation, flipping through emails or pictures, the framerate on Android Sense seems to be at least half of the one running on Windows Mobile which is rather unexpected and a real drawback considering the eye-candy-ness of Android. One thing in Android’s defense is that I believe that the fault is not with Android itself but rather a poor implementation in Sense by HTC. That aside, without going into details, both Sense interfaces are nice and feature lots of eye-candy (as they should, given that they’re the place to do all the common day by day tasks).
HTC Sense on HTC HD2 and HTC Desire
The thing that truly offers Android a real advantage here is the ability to use widgets. While Windows Mobile’s Sense is made out of “as they are” tabs which you can at best move towards the beginning or the end of the list considering ease of access a total number of 11 tabs plus two fixed, a total of 13 tabs, Android Sense features seven fully customizable tabs. You can easily add widgets, apps, shortcuts or folders, arrange them exactly the way you want to and after customizing, save the Scene so you can apply another one and then switch back easily to it. And it’s not only about dragging the items on a tab that makes Sense really nice but the fact that many widgets have two or more variations to them, different sizes bringing different information. For instance you can have a Calendar widget showing a full month, the agenda or a small version showing only the next appointment same way you can have a full or a mini music player.
Widgets and the ability to customize and save Scenes are the foundation of Android Sense and that makes it not only an aspect and feature winner but also a productivity winner too in this category. And let’s not forget about the Leap feature on Android’s HTC Sense: you can pinch to zoom in any of the Sense tabs to view all your tabs in one place an easily tap on another one where you are instantly taken. For instance, I have my Weather set on tab -3 and my Calendar on tab +3. Instead of swiping like crazy all the way from left to right or shining my optical tracker button, I just leap and that’s it!
HTC Leap (image courtesy of Tracy and Matt’s Blog)
To put things simple, sense aside, Android is candy! It got all the nice icons and colors to get attention and let’s not forget about the animations which are really nice. The font used is sleek and readable, the buttons are finger friendly and the UI looks as it should. Windows Mobile, on the other hand, got a bit old; it’s rough around the edges and certainly lacks finger friendliness in some occasions. Even though HTC has made an excellent job in skinning and implementing HTC Sense as deep as they could inside the Windows Mobile Operating System (menus, messaging, etc.), it’s the basic screens of Windows Mobile and the tabs inside certain windows that need a bit of a facelift. The Start Menu is nice but some icons are not (some look old while some look polished) while Android’s all apps list can be customized to either show a grid of icons or a list.
Disabling HTC Sense on the HTC HD2 also brings back the default Windows Mobile 6.5 Soft Menus. Both these and the ones customized by HTC take up huge portions of the screen so that bringing them up covers the background most of the times. There are two types of menus with Android: those appearing at the bottom of the screen triggered by the Menu button and those appearing on screen triggered by a long tap for instance (these ones pretty much cover a huge part of the screen too).
From the aspect point of view, Android wins this round over Windows Mobile.
Out of the box, Android is fast! How fast? Instant in most cases with navigating between tabs of Sense, launching applications, customizing and doing basic daily operations. It is so because it has that certain memory management policy implemented that does not kill your apps but when there’s need for more memory. I remember the trend a few years back (before even Android was born) where Windows Mobile users were craving for a solution to really close the applications upon tapping the X in the top right corner instead of minimizing it. Well, that was back in the days when memory was a problem. On current devices like the HTC HD2, you are unlikely to run out of memory (for sure I never did) so there’s no need to really close apps (but in special occasions which count as exceptions like when they eat up your CPU and thus battery). Android doesn’t even have an X button to close the app, but as it is nowadays with Windows Mobile, you don’t even need it. You either Back away from the app or hit the Home button. Yes, you can force close the application but that’s not indicated. Android will take care of your memory management needs.
Windows Mobile is also fast. I find it to be almost instant in most of the cases with basic daily operations. Browsing the Internet, writing emails, listening to music, tweeting, navigating, reading news, etc., don’t require more than a blink of the eye for the app to be launched.
From the general speed point of view, I call this a draw.
Android 1 0 Windows Mobile
Android 1 1 Windows Mobile
Overall (aggregate score for Part 2):
Android 2 1 Windows Mobile
That sums up our first Part of the Windows Mobile vs Android Faceoff! Stay tuned for our Part Two where we’ll discuss further more about the two platforms, their differences and similarities from the apps, productivity and business as well as casual users’ point of view.