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5 things Android does better than iOS

So you're an iPhone user, and you keep finding yourself casting longing glances at the giant screen on your friend's Galaxy Note II? Or maybe you really want a waterproof phone like the Sony Xperia Z. While you may end up giving up some iOS-only apps if you make the switch, there's never been a better time to consider an Android phone. Not only does the platform offer a huge number of options on the hardware side, but there are actually some things it – gasp – does better than iOS. Here are a few you might find useful.

1. Interface Customization
Compared to iOS' static look of icons and folders, Android allows you to customize your homescreens in multiple ways. Not only can you put icons and folders in whatever order you'd like (as opposed to being forced into one app after another like on iOS), but Android also supports dynamic widgets, which can do display anything from continually updated weather forecasts to psychedelic, battery-draining eye candy.

Photo: Cha già José

2. Notifications
On Android, notifications run in the background. You'll hear a sound or feel your phone vibrate when a new email comes in, for instance, but don't expect to be able to interact with the app directly. Instead, notifications are usually relegated to the status bar at the top of your screen.

Photo: Adam Smith

Notifications are grouped by their icons, and are displayed on the left, opposite the phone's status information (battery, WiFi strength, cellular connectivity, etc). While it takes some getting used to, I eventually found this method of notifications to be superior to Apple's implementation. Android's focus on "glanceable" information that allows you see notification types or other data without interacting with the phone is very nice, and something I'd love to see make its way to iOS.

3. Virtual Assistant
Recent iOS users should be familiar with Siri, Apple's sometimes-useful virtual assistant capable of, among other things, making appointments, setting alarms, getting directions, playing songs, and searching the web. Google Now is a bit different. Instead of being an assistant, it's more focused on learning from your habits and automatically aggregating your data. Using your data stored across several of Google's services and settings, it presents you with "cards" that compile the things most important to you in one location.

Photo: Ash Berlin

As you can see in this example, Google Now presents you with location-based cards that are entirely user configurable. As mentioned earlier, this falls in line with the Android's focus on being able to show important information at a glance. The biggest difference between Google Now and Siri is that Google Now learns from your habits. It can be configured to automatically show traffic information for a common route you take (home to work, for example), can automatically search your Gmail for package tracking numbers and display tracking cards, and you can tell it which sports teams you like so it will automatically show scores. It also shares some features with Siri. You can perform web searches, set reminders, and alarms using Google Now's voice recognition.

These are but a few features of Google Now, and anyone making the transition from iOS to Android should find the service to be a really cool feature that's surprisingly helpful.

4. Sharing
iOS' sharing capabilities are extremely limited. You can email stuff, post it to Twitter or Facebook, or text it to someone. There's no system-level support for external sharing. Android's ubiquitous share button allows you to share almost anything to any other app. Want to save that web page for later? Apple makes you use Safari's "Reading List" or email it to yourself. On Android, you can share it to a read-later service like Pocket, or any app that's coded to allow sharing:

This is one of the most widely-requested features for iOS. People want choice, and hopefully Apple understands this and lessens some of their restrictions sooner rather than later.

5. Syncing
For the first few years of iOS, getting media onto your Apple device required a computer and a USB cable. Apps, music, photos, and videos were all managed through iTunes and then synced to your plugged in iDevice. Only recently has Apple enabled WiFi sync support for the iPhone, but this still doesn't come close to Google's entirely wireless approach. Google's media and app store, Google Play, is hosted entirely online, and is accessible through any web browser.

It aggregates music, books, magazines, apps and videos into one easy-to-access place. But, the biggest usability difference is that you don't ever need to plug your Android device into your computer. Once you link your phone to your Google account, you can wirelessly install apps, or download media to your phone, from Google Play using your phone, or by accessing Google Play on your computer (apps chosen on your computer are automatically installed on your phone, and if you have multiple Android devices, you can install apps on all of them from the web).

Many critics believe that Apple is starting to borrow heavily from some of its competitors for many of the new features in iOS 7. Given the wide range of customizability Android offers, I think Apple's efforts are better late than never. iOS has been frequently criticized for being stale, and while the next version is poised to change this, Android still does a number of things better.