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Which is better: Android or Windows Phone?

We compare Windows Phone and Android

One of the questions we are asked most often is which is better: Android or Windows Phone? The good news for smartphone fans who don't fancy being locked into Apple's world or tied to a BlackBerry is that there are now two great alternatives: Google Android and Windows Phone. Here we compare Android and Windows Phone.

It is a subjective question and one that is impossible to definitively answer - ultimately Windows Phone fans claim their platform is the best, and Android lovers will hear of no other OS. They are both, now, polished and feature-filled mobile operating systems. But it is possible to compare some elements of both Android and Windows Phone. Here then, is our guide to which is better: Android or Windows Phone?

Which is better, Android or Windows Phone: handsets

Android has much the greater market share, and this is reflected in the amount of handsets from which you can choose. There are literally dozens of Android smartphones you can buy in the UK, and at the last count only five Windows Phone 8 handsets, with a few more now outdated Windows Phone 7.5 phones kicking around the remainder bins in phone shops. (You can grab a bargain here, but they will never be updated to Windows Phone 8.) See also: Group test: what's the best Windows phone?

This doesn't necessarily mean that Android is best, however - the five major Windows Phone 8 smartphones out now are all high-end, high-quality devices built by Nokia, HTC and Samsung to showcase WP8. Those manufacturers rarely make poor hardware.

But Android also has great high end handsets, such as the hugely popular Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note II from Samsung, and Google's own, LG-made Nexus 4. Indeed, because of Google's price lowering support the Nexus 4 is probably the biggest bargain available to smartphone buyers right now. See also: Group test: what's the best Android phone?

And Google really wins out if you don't want to shell out a fortune. Android handsets range in price from bargain basement up to the top-priced phones mentioned above. You get what you pay for, but for those who simply want an entry-level smartphone on a major platform, Android is where it is at.

Windows Phone is very much a premium product right now. Microsoft will hope that it becomes sufficiently popular for handsets to appear at all price levels, but only time will tell.

VERDICT: The Windows Phone 8 handsets available are nice, but if you want choice Android is where it is at.

HTC Windows Phone 8X

Which is better, Android or Windows Phone: apps

Again, on the face of it, a big win for Android. At the last count there were around 700,000 apps for Android on Google Play, the vast majority of them optimised for smartphones. Two years after launch and Windows Phone is still hovering around the 100,000, most of which were written for Windows 7 (they are forwards compatible with WP8). The bald numbers really don't matter, so long as the key apps are represented, but at the time of writing key big name apps missing from the Windows Phone Apps+Games Store include Spotify, BBC iPlayer, Instagram and games like Bad Piggies and Temple Run.

Not that Android is perfect in this regard. It's fair to say that Google Play is second only to the iTunes App Store in the list of world's great app stores. Pretty much all major apps are there. But there are a couple of major caveats. Because of Android's relatively open nature, rogue apps do make it on to the Android app platform. Because Google Play informs you of the permissions required by each app you can make a solid judgment in most cases, but you do have to tread carefully.

Also, not all apps are available for all Android smartphones. A relatively small number of Android apps are tablet only. More pertinantly, because of the multitude of different versions of Android that abound on smartphones old and new, app makers struggle to keep up with every flavour, and will often target only the most popular. So if you have a handset with Android 2.3 you can choose from a very different list of apps from which those with an Android 4.2 smartphone can choose.

Don't worry if that sounds confusing, Google Play shows you only apps compatible with your phone, so you never know what you are missing.

VERDICT: Microsoft will be hoping that this changes soon, and Google Play is far from perfect, but right now Android is the winner.

Google Play

Which is better, Android or Windows Phone: upgrades & versions

We've hinted at this earlier, but the plethora of Android versions and the chances of each being upgraded is positively Byzantine.

Android is to an extent an open platform so smartphone makers can use it as they please. This means that they sometimes use older versions of Android in order to fit lower specified hardware. They also tweak the operating system to fit their own stylings. And phone makers are under no obligation to upgrade your software when a new Android comes out - which may mean you lose apps as they are updated. Most Android phones never get an update, which increases the bewildering variety of Android OSes on the loose.

The benchmark in this area is Apple (we did well not to mention iOS up to this point, right?) Because Apple is both hardware and software maker for the iPhone, upgrades are rolled out seamlessly to the later generations of handsets. Microsoft's relationship with Windows Phone 8, then, is a hybrid of the Android and iOS situations. It will endeavour to keep phones updated, and wants only a single WP8 OS in the wild. But it is reliant on hardware makers passing on the upgrade to end users. The early signs are good - for Windows Phone 8, at least. The Apollo update for Windows Phone 8 is akin to an 8.1 release, and is coming to all WP8 users.

Windows Phone 7 users will read the above paragraph with a raised eyebrow, however. In launching Windows Phone 8 Microsoft announced that Windows Phone 7 devices would be upgraded to something called 'Windows Phone 7.8', but no further. and to add insult to the injury of pulling up the ladder on early adopters, Microsoft has subsequently failed to release the 7.8 OS, saying now that it will be out in 'early 2013'.

VERDICT: This is one area in which Windows Phone is a winner (for Windows Phone 8, at least).

Which is better, Android or Windows Phone: speed, stability, features

This is another area in which Android's very openness can be both a good and a bad thing. Because of the vast variety in Android handsets from which you can choose, prescribing on the speed and stability of Android is something of a pig in a poke. For every Galaxy Note II or Nexus 4 that nukes our speed tests, there is a bargain basement handset crawling along in the slow lane. And because hardware makers can tweak the software, there is a variety of speed, stability and features in the Android world. Ultimately you are advised to read lots of reviews from publications such as PC Advisor. And, if possible, try before you buy.

Windows Phone 8 is much more of a known quantity. It is zippy and stable, and has a couple of nice extra features such as Rooms and the brilliand Kids Corner (this turns your phone into a child-friendly toy on demand).

VERDICT: A score draw. Android varies from phone to phone. Windows Phone 8 is fast and friendly.

Windows Phone vs Android

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