So, How Does Android Stack Up Against webOS?

As you may already know, I’ve been using a Samsung Epic for a few weeks now. My Sprint Pre is still in use, running in airplane mode on my Wi-Fi network at home. This arrangement has given me ample opportunity to compare the two platforms, and I thought I’d take a few minutes to provide some initial impressions.

Hardware

As far as the phones themselves go, I must say: it’s enlightening to go from the Epic with its 4” SAMOLED screen to the Pre with it’s 3.1” LCD. Android is an ugly beast, overall (or, if not ugly, then it’s certainly not pretty), but that screen sure does help. webOS on such a screen will be sublime, and I can’t wait to see it. The Epic’s keyboard is also roomier, although it might be too big: I still find it easier to type on a portrait keyboard on small devices, although not necessarily the Pre’s.

Perhaps more important, the Epic really does perform much better than my Pre, and it’s never told me that it can’t start a program because it’s low on memory—and that’s running Android 2.1. Once the upgrade to Froyo is available for the Epic, I expect the performance gap to be even wider. Simply put, I no longer enjoy using the Pre with all of its lagginess and “too many cards” errors (and yes, I use an overclocked kernel).

Winner: Epic

Multitasking

The bottom line is that both webOS and Android can run multiple apps at the same time. Of course, webOS makes the process easier to manage and more pleasant, but I can multitask on both platforms. Given the memory issues on my Pre, I’m tempted to give the overall multitasking nod to Android from a pure functional perspective, but I can’t bring myself to do so: when I need to switch from one running app to another quickly, webOS makes things painless and fun. I have to think about what I’m doing with Android, and I’m reminded just how good webOS will be once it’s mated with the right hardware.

Winner: webOS (by a large nose)

Notifications

I didn’t expect to like Android’s notifications very much, but they’re growing on me. They’re not quite as good as with webOS, but they’re usable. And, I have to say that I appreciate how Android’s notifications don’t steal screen real estate as notifications do on my Pre (again, the small screen resolution is a player here), and Android provides some persistent capabilities that webOS could emulate. Overall, though, I think they both have their strengths, and either are vastly better than those on iOS and Windows Phone 7.

Winner: Tie

Synergy

webOS remains the best at pulling information from disparate sources and working with it. In fact, it’s so good it’s kind of freaky—I sometimes think there’s a little gnome in my Pre figuring out that a person who lists herself by two names (say, who puts her maiden name in her Facebook account) is really the same person. Android does a passable job and can be massaged, but it’s nothing close to what webOS accomplishes. And with the upcoming changes in webOS 2.X, Synergy will remain a real webOS strength—one that I hope HP Palm plays to when marketing future devices.

Winner: webOS (by a mile)

Apps

Okay, folks, this one’s a biggie. I want to make an admission here: I was wrong, and I mean dead wrong, if I ever implied that apps don’t matter and that Android (and, of course, iOS) doesn’t have a terribly meaningful and huge lead in this particular category. webOS has some good apps, it’s true, and I don’t want to take anything away from the hardcore webOS developers who’ve stuck with the platform through thick and thin. However, the depth and breadth of apps in the Android Market is breathtaking compared to webOS.

Quantity doesn’t necessarily equate to quality, of course. When you have somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 apps all crammed into one store, there’s bound to be some junk. But there are also so many incredibly useful apps in all of the major categories, and I can now certainly better understand an iPhone user’s allegiance to iOS. You can do pretty much anything you want on the iPhone, and to a somewhat lesser extend on Android. Compared to webOS, it’s like taking a breath of the freshest air when you go into the Android Market and search for an app—and find not only one, but tens or hundreds of them.

I’ll add that many apps on Android are also deeper and provide better integration throughout the system (something that webOS 2.X will hopefully rectify). An example is Evernote, which provides a very nice widget that enables one-button creation of voice memos, notes, and notes with images, along with being included in the sharing options from the default browser. In fact, widgets by themselves are better than I thought they’d be, and depending on the app can provide real value in terms of easy access to information and functionality. Overall, there are some powerful things you can do with apps in Android, and I think webOS will have to provide a great deal more extensibility in the SDK before we’ll see those kinds things on a webOS device.

Nevertheless, if webOS is going to survive as a platform, then HP Palm simply must get more developers writing apps for it. Yesterday.

Winner: Android (by a league)

Conclusion

Overall, I miss using webOS as my primary smartphone. It’s simply more pleasant to use from a fundamental user interface perspective. At the same time, I’m enjoying everything that Android can do, which are all of the things that webOS can’t do and that drove me to make this (temporary) switch in the first place. In summary, I’ll stick with my pickup truck analogy: webOS is better than Android in many ways, but if it can’t tow a  boat then its fundamental superiority is negated for me. This means that although webOS is more fun to use, Android is so much more functional that I can’t imagine returning to webOS until I can use it, e.g., to take voice recordings, edit Office documents, remote manage my PCs, and read my Nookbooks.

I could go on, of course. Android has great Google support, if you’re into that kind of thing. Google Voice, Navigation, Maps, voice input, and everything else is great on the Epic. But that would be piling on at this point. webOS is still in its infancy, really, with a good year’s delay due to the HP acquisition and overall lack of momentum. It should come as no surprise that it’s not as fleshed out as Android.

On the other hand, I remain hopeful that webOS will reach critical mass by the end of 2011 (if not sooner). It won’t have 100,000 apps by then, but it should (again, hopefully) have the major bases covered. And webOS is good enough fundamentally that, once it’s matured, it will be the best thing on the market.

Overall Winner: Android (for now)

Comments

  1. Great write up. I don’t have the luxury of trying out all the latest gadgets so reading well-written comparative articles like this gives me a much better understanding of what else is out there.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. I appreciate the review. I am one of those “Dinosaur” Palm OS users, who has been sitting on the sidelines, looking at WebOS devices. HP/Palm’s latest direction with WebOS 2, has had me frustrated, for much of the same reasons you mention in your comparison. Right now I’ve got too much to loose if I walk away from the Palm OS platform. I’ve simply gotten too dependant on lots of those apps. I’ve been curious about Android, since it seems like they have a strong surge in app development right now. But form & Function of the device enters into it as well. For now I’m still waiting and watching…

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