Android versus Windows Phone 7: Which should you buy?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| December 22, 2010

As Windows Phone 7 makes itself more known, one question often comes to light. "Should I go with Windows Phone 7 or Android?" Like most "this or that" questions, there is no easy answer. Both platforms have their benefits and each have their own little quirks. The answer, as always, lies in how you want to use the device.

I will say that right out of the gate Android has more support and is much more refined. It has been around for quite a while longer and is on version 2.3 versus Windows Phone 7 only being first version software. But that doesn't necessarily mean you should choose Android over it's newer counterpart.

When it comes to hardware, there is little to no difference in Windows Phone 7 and Android devices. Both are made by HTC, Samsung, LG, and Dell right now, and the only difference you will notice is the standard buttons on the face of the device. Android has four (back, home, menu, and search) and Windows Phone 7 has three (back, home, and search). They both come in multiple form factors like wafer-style all touchscreen and slide out physical keyboard, but there are obviously more options if you decide to take the Android path. There have been 30+ Android devices launched in the past year and only 5 Windows Phone 7 devices have been launched.

If you talk to an Android user and ask them the question at hand, one of their first defenses for their platform will be its application support. Android definitely has a respectable Market, but other platforms can grow to be what Android has become in a matter of time, too. I don't expect Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Marketplace to reach 100,000 applications quite a quickly as Android did, but I think it will eventually grow to be just as big in due time.  Marketplace has exploded, growing from nothing to 4,000 applications in two month's time. That's faster initial growth than Android experienced. There are also 18,000 registered Windows Phone 7 developers, which means 4,000 applications is only the beginning.

The biggest drawback to Windows Phone 7 for the time being is the lack of functionality. Right now, Windows Phone 7 lacks some simple features like copy and paste, and even taking screenshots (due to their panorama-style display effect). While it isn't the easiest process to take screenshots on Android either (without rooting), the platform is extremely feature rich and for competitors to really pose a threat, they really have to think of literally everything. For example, if you turn a Windows Phone 7 device to the landscape position in the browser, you can't enter a new address unless you turn the device back to portrait. In Android, it doesn't matter how you hold your device, there is always an address bar in the browser.

While there are definitely some core features and tiny things missing in Windows Phone 7, there are two major updates slated to hit the platform in the next year, one supposedly in February. The first update should bring copy and paste and fix many of the bugs in the software that you will come across every now and then, like the operating system forgetting user settings.

Android's most unique feature is its ability to be customized into whatever the user wants it to be. Whether it be a plethora of widgets that offer real-time information on all 5 or 7 home screens, or even a theme that changes the overall look of your user interface, you can make your phone suited to your wants and needs. It's open source and the possibilities are endless; as you can see above, there are two Android devices that have very different interfaces, but they still function quite the same. Windows Phone 7 is not quite so friendly in terms of customization. You have the option to change the color of the tiles, the background color (either black or white), and the lock screen image. You can also rearrange the order of the tiles, but that is where customization ends for this platform.

Also, if navigation is something that is important to you, and you don't want to have to pay extra for it, Android may be the way to go for you. It's a service offered by Google for no extra charge. On Windows Phone 7, you will have to pay for the service that your carrier offers, which normally runs $9.99 per month.

Another mark for Android comes with setup. When you first power on the device, you are prompted to login to your Gmail account or create a new one. After this, you are able to download all the applications you want, your contacts will be backed up, and your calendar is synced with your Google Calendar. With Windows Phone 7, it should be this easy, but I had quite the experience getting my Live account activated on my first Windows Phone 7 device.

I created a live account on the computer long before I got the HTC Surround. When I tried to login on the the device, it told me there was an error activating my Live account. I was prompted to call the carrier, who didn't seem to know what to do. They transferred me to Microsoft to whom I explained the situation. Microsoft tried to transfer me back to the carrier until I told them that's who had transferred me to them. After about an hour and a half and getting hung up on twice, I was transferred to another representative who pointed me to a Microsoft support webpage. The site told me to call 1-800-MICROSOFT, which was the number I was currently on the phone with. It was over two hours before I had my Live account activated on my phone, and I was pretty heated, but at least I had Twitter on my Surround. The bad part was, after all of that work my Live email wasn't working and I ended up having to wipe the phone to get it to work.

I don't mean to make the Windows Phone 7 setup process sound so bad, but that is exactly what I had to go through. It was extensive and nobody seemed to know what to do. Fortunately, not everyone will have to go through this rigorous process of getting transferred and hung up on. There are only a few cases that you have to phone in your activation.

Finding applications in the Marketplace is terribly difficult at times, too. There are 4,000 applications, so if you know the name you wouldn't want to browse through all of the different categories just to find an app. To find Twitter, you would instinctively search "Twitter." Being an exact match for the application title, you would expect it to be the first item returned by the search. Instead, the results are diluted with songs and albums. The actual Twitter application returns as number 8 in the search and it doesn't display directly after searching. You have to scroll down to find it. Music being included in the same store as applications is definitely a huge drawback. It complicates the the app store and makes it much more difficult to find what you're looking for.

Even though Marketplace may be a little confusing and unintuitive, the UI of Windows Phone 7 is extremely simple and is surprisingly gorgeous. It may not be customizable, but it is definitely a lot easier for first-time smartphone buyers to pick up. There is a much smaller learning curve for Windows Phone 7 compared to Android. However, if you're not fond of how the homepage looks, you will definitely want to steer clear. Many of the applications follow the same theme as the homepage with the sliding panorama view.

The user interface of Windows Phone 7 is a hit or miss with most people. You either like it or you hate it. At first, I hated it, but when  I actually got a Windows Phone 7 device in my hands, the user interface looked much nicer and was much more pleasing that photos made it appear (especially with the display on the Focus).

If you aren't instantly turned off by WP7's user interface and you're okay with putting up with some bugs until all the kinks are ironed out by Microsoft, I would recommend trying it. The operating system is solid and I rarely had any real problems out of it. I ran into a glitch or two every now and then, but nothing that I couldn't deal with for a while. If you try it and don't like it, you always have a return period, and you might as well put it to good use if you're unsure. On the other hand, if you love lots of games and applications, like to customize your device down to how your icons look or the color of your clock display, stick with Android.