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AH Primetime: 20 Things That Android Phones Can Do That The iPhone 6 Still Can’t

October 1, 2014 - Written By Phil Bourget

Android. iOS.  What one might have and be stellar at pulling off to other can’t do, and likely won’t be able to soon, or even ever.  But, as Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus caught up with Android circa 2012 in features and screen size, we see the discrepancies that make the two mobile operating systems both popular and despised.  Here, we’re going to list off twenty things that an Android device you could buy right now can do that the top-tier iPhone 6 still can’t.  Ready? Let’s go!

First, there’s the obvious of expandable storage.  That option is key to Android, since you can change devices on deeper levels than just changing your SIM card over.  You can use it to store and share music, hold photos to upload later, or just back up applications in case of system failure or phone damage.  This leads us to the next two directly: a removable back cover and a manually replaceable battery.

Samsung and its notoriously plastic phones are able to do something that many Android devices have abandoned in favor of thinness and ‘premium materials’ like aluminum and titanium or steel.  These two are separate, but fall under the same category so we’ll lump them together.  The back cover of many (except the latest Galaxy Alpha) Samsung Android phones, smart or dumb, could be removed.  You could swap in a different color for a cool effect, or just replace the color you have if it gets worn and you want a fresh clean-looking device again.  They may be plasticy, but they can still be replaced.

The battery, and this is the selling point for a lot of people torn between HTC’s metal and LG and Samsung’s plastic and removable battery.  LG followed Samsung, having a removable and replaceable back cover and removable battery, on their 2014 flagship LG G3.  That sold so many people, given the display as well as the camera and quality that LG had on offer.  With an iPhone, you get what is in the box: the phone and its battery, and a cable to tether you to the wall in times of need.  Sorry, iPhone users.

Now, we come to the next back-related plus to Android: back covers that are actually cases that add functionality.  Yes, Samsung is known as the primary name with its flip cover and S-View folio-style cases that take the place of the stock back cover and add features like quick notification access, no real effort needed.  The G3 did Samsung one better with its circle view case, which allows much more customizability and functionality, in a new circular interface.

Another bonus to Android over iPhones everywhere, if you are looking purely at out of the box functionality, is wireless charging.  Yes, it’s not standard, but some popular phones like last year’s 2012’s Nexus 4 and last year’s Nexus 5, both from LG, which come with Qi wireless charging built into them and their sealed bodies.  Some phones, like Samsung’s flagships, get removable back covers that add the feature, so if it’s not there, you can pick one up and not need any super fancy or third-party charging accessory.

On the topic of charging actually, is cable compatibility.  You can use any cable that is a male MicroUSB cable to charge any Android phone (after the craze of MiniUSB and the Nexus One faded, of course), and even connect some computer accessories to the main unit.  Cool huh?  Well, as you all know Apple’s cable is proprietary, and nothing besides their phones and tablets (and not even all of them; as you remember, they changed it to lightning from the previously-standard 30-pin connector last seen before the iPhone 5).  That’s just convenient, especially if your friend doesn’t have a cable but is in dire need or juice.

Some, though it is fewer than really should be counted, Android phones have an HDMI port for direct wired streaming to televisions via a HDMI cable.  So if you have a movie, you don’t need Chromecast.  The Motorola Droid line of devices are known to include the feature, but it seems to be fading away as the wireless trend takes streaming to Wi-Fi and data networks instead of cables.

Now, for the software bonuses of Android.  And note, some of these are exclusive to certain devices or manufacturers, while some are universal across Android.  First is the hands-free capability of some phones.  The Moto X comes first with the massive list of things you can ask your Moto do to for you, no hands required.  Now, with the update to Google Search and Google Play Services, you can maybe requests and queries of Google if you’re running Kit Kat, Android 4.4, and above, from any screen, and even from the lock screen if the device is plugged into power.  It’s limited, but still super useful, because you can get so much information just by asking Google.

Next is Android power-users’ trump card for why they may hate iOS and Windows Phone: multitasking.  Yes yes, you can have two apps running, but switch between them, but that is just going back and forth.  I mean REAL multitasking, like Samsung’s multi-window feature which works on devices as old as my Galaxy S III without issues, and LG’s Slid-Aside and multi-view split screen mode for multitasking.  That’s not to discount the Q-slide apps that can be opened in windows that float over the background happenings and be fully-functional.  To not go into an exhaustive list and reasoning: if you want two or more apps on your screen at once, then go with Android, seriously.

The next area of interest for our in-depth Android-cans is the realm of infrared sensors and functionality.  Some phones and tablets that run Android have the nifty ability to be used in lieu of your television’s remote control, and some allow voice-activation on top of that.  Many manufacturers, however, limit it to phones and televisions that bare their name and software, so it’s sometimes not ideal if you own a HTC One and want to control your Samsung smart tv.

Next is the thing that most non-Samsung users take for granted, and that’s the access to a set of quick settings in the notification bar, or on its reverse depending on the manufacturer’s choice of software customization.  The access to, on a Nexus 5, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, mobile data, GPS, airplane mode, battery level, access to the full setting menu, and access to the owner (or current user, if on a multi-user device) from just the notification bar is astounding.  Whereas, on iOS, you get fewer options, and therefore must delve into the full settings menu just to turn on location reporting/access.

The old argument returns, folks.  Custom launchers, followed by widgets.  Yes, they may not be for everyone and you could be perfectly happy with your phone or tablet’s default home launcher interface, functionality, and feature set.  But some, like myself, choose to go that little extra distance to pick a launcher from Google’s Play Store.  There are so many, you can definitely find your perfect launcher.  And if you can’t find it, you can make it with some of the most customizable launchers out there, like Lightning Launcher Extreme.  You can have a swipe left go to the next page, or open Google Search to get up-to-date information super easy.

Widgets.  That helps nobody, especially if you know that the word actually just means ‘stuff’ or ‘things’.  Homescreen widgets are the most useful and sometimes unused feature of Android phones and tablets everywhere.  Instead of opening up your email to check the message that just got forwarded from Jeff in accounting, you can glance at the widget that shows your inbox (or spam folder if you want to send Jeff there) so you don’t have to open the app just to say ‘oh, I don’t really care about that chain email’.

Now, to get to something more ephemeral and less physical about Android.  It’s what it can run on.  We all know and probably have a smartphone and/or tablet running Android.  Some of us might have an Android Wear watch, letting you get info on the go with Google Now and notifications.  Android Auto, a car-based interface that extends your phone’s usability to your dashboard while driving (once its released, by the way).  And those are just the current, official projects and extensions of Android besides our pocket and purse pals.

Let’s hop back to physical for just a bit shall we?  Hardware and its repairability is sometimes key to your decision to go with a Galaxy phone over a HTC, LG, or Nokia.  Why, you might ask?  Well, you can fix almost, if not everything, on it yourself.  You can find every part, from the SIM card tray to the whole front display if it’s shattered or faulty if you so choose.  When someone does a teardown of a device, its for those of us like me and maybe you that don’t feel like possibly wasting money for an issue to not be fixed by the manufacturer.  Your volume buttons stop working? Just go buy another flex cable, pop the device open, replace, close up, and continue your life.  With an iPhone your only hope is the ‘geniuses’ that ask if you’ve rebooted or are in warranty/have Apple Care.  A much better alternative, if you ask me.

To hit some people off of this list is rooting.  If you don’t like the idea of voiding your warranty for ‘just a little more freedom and control’ on your device, then thanks for reading.  If you have any things you think are awesome about rooting that make it better than iOS, jalibroken or not, keep on reading.  Rooting itself is one thing.  If you root, which is allowing an app to grant system-level permission to normal apps installed from the Play Store (or other places, so be careful) to allow extended functionality.  If you just want to make a backup, you can do that too.

Now, I don’t mean from Samsung’s KIES software, or Apple’s iTunes backups.  I mean if you have a game that you’ve played for a thousand hours and are going to send your phone in for repairs (or do it yourself, as I mentioned above) then you can use the massive power of backups.  Not the kind where it says which apps were on your device and which songs were favorited in your library.  I mean the power of Titanium Backup, and similar apps, and Nandroid.  Titanium Backup is an app that lets you manage almost everything you could want, including some things you don’t care about, about every app, preinstalled or not.  It lets you back up the data, not just the app, and move that to another device, or even the cloud like Google Drive and Dropbox for lighter storage.

Nandroid backups are often the reason people go with rooting over playing it safe.  Think of a Nandroid backup as a copy of your entire device, down to text messages and Wi-Fi settings, that is saved and frozen in time.  Now, should you accidentally screw up, or get a new device of the same make and model as a replacement from a carrier should you lose yours or borrow a friend’s, you can restore that Nandroid backup to the rooted phone and pick up exactly where you were.  EXACTLY where you were.  They are super useful if you use the next benefit of Android with root, which is custom variations.

The many custom variations of the Android firmware on our devices are often just called ‘custom ROMs’, even though ROM means read-only memory.  What is it?  It’s a custom version, whether it be stock, like a Nexus, or themed, like MIUI, that you install like a software update, and it essentially gives you a different device and its features, while still using and running on your hardware.  This is a great freedom, especially if you have, use, and love a device that isn’t being given official software updates anymore.  If you want to just get a Nexus-like, pure Android experience, then you can use it too.  Or, if you like it factory-stock, you can install, or ‘flash’, a deodexed and slimmed down version of the official software.  Lag in your device can be eradicated with this option and freedom.  It’s also great for those that want choice.

Rooting a device gets you access to the / partition.  That’s no typo, that’s just a slash mark.  That is the base, most low-level partition in a device of any OS.  The /system partition holds all the apps that you normally can’t get to, while the /data partition holds the apps that you have updated or installed using the market installed on the device.  Rooting gets you power to change the /system partition, and manually say ‘you, you lousy stupid carrier bloat, get off my device forever’ and delete it for good to free up storage and keep the app drawer looking pretty and clutter-free.

Let’s get back to the realm of normal usership, but some more specific things this time.  First, there’s the sound-level warning for audio, any audio, on your Android device.  The pop-up message will look different depending on which manufacturer and skin they have plastered on top of it, as well as the level its preset warning level.  The pop-up can be annoying to some that don’t care at all, but there are also those that listen to audiobooks or softer music at the gym or while running, and it’s nice to know when the ‘safe level’ has been reached, or the maximum volume if you’re really adventurous.

Now, this next one is a little odd, but hear me out.  The app drawer is our next topic, and here’s why.  Maybe you like that all your apps are right there to access, but that gets annoying after the fourth or fifth page of apps and folders.  With most versions of Android, excluding some Chinese manufacturer’s software choices, you get a place to put all your apps to scroll through, as well as the homescreen that lets you have only what you want to show and use or show off.

The twentieth and final thing that iOS can’t and likely will never do that Android can, right now, is non-market application installation.  Yes, this may be small, but it’s key for many of us.  If you favorite app gets taken down, and you happen to have the apk (application package) file that it come from, then you have the app at your disposal.  If an app is exclusive to one device, like the famed Nexus and photosphere-capable camera that could be installed on any device running Android.  If you use the famous Xposed Framework and its compatible modules, then you have to install it from the apk file, since it will never get put on the Play Store because of what it does. There you go.  An exhaustive, possible excessive, list of things that still put Android above iOS and the iPhone 6, even with its improvements and redesigns.  Think there’s something that we missed in this trekking through of Android’s overpowering capabilities and freedoms?  Let us know down below.