Google

Though it started the race late, Google’s Android operating system has quickly caught up, offering a range of phones and tablets of all sizes, builds, and price points. Unlike Apple, it’s not all a single design, so you can choose the Android device that looks and feels the best for you.

Benefits of the Google ecosystem

The Android ecosystem is even more tightly integrated than Apple’s. By using a unified Google login, you can automatically download all the apps you’ve downloaded or purchased on one device to all of your devices – all without having to use an intermediary application like iTunes. Though some manufacturers, like Samsung, like to put their own “skin” or operating system layer on top of Android, the basic experience is the same across all devices. Applications and media automatically sync across all Google devices. Once you purchase it, it’s yours.

The Google ecosystem is among the least expensive. Good Android tablets cost about half of what an iPad costs, and the phones are comparable in price with Apple and Microsoft.

Though Google frequently updates Android, it still offers tech support for the earliest versions. Also, app developers are encouraged to be as backward compatible as possible. This chart shows the latest breakdowns of Android users: half of all Android users are still on Gingerbread, which is several versions old.

Drawbacks of the Google ecosystem

Operating system updates are always free for any Android device. However, you’re restricted by your device’s manufacturer. While “pure” Android devices like the Nexus 4 get updates immediately, branded devices like the Samsung Galaxy S3 can take months to update. It took five months for Samsung to get Jelly Bean after it had already been released.

There are relatively few apps that are optimized specifically for larger Android devices, like tablets. Often, you’re stuck using the phone version, but stretched out.

Mobile Phone

The initial line of Android phones had a clunky operating system, a small screen, and poor battery life. These devices didn’t stack up well against an iPhone, but times have changed, and phones like the Galaxy S 3 and HTC One X are as good, if not better, than the iPhone 5. The larger screen, NFC (near-field communication), removable battery, and the ability to add a memory card in some models separate these Android phones from the iPhone pack. The Galaxy S 3 has a superior feature set compared to most any mobile phone.

Tablet

Though initially a weak link in the form of the heavy, expensive Motorola Xoom, the latest Android tablets, like the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire, are inexpensive, light, and fast. Most have a smaller form factor for ease of use (and the iPad Mini is a response to this trend). The Kindle Fire, especially, is a link to Amazon’s own ecosystem, including FreeTime Unlimited, a subscription service that provides a huge range of free apps and games for kids. No other tablet has anything like that. 

Computer

In the absence of any true Google Android PCs, Google has a line of ChromeBooks, which run in the cloud and are based on Google’s Chrome Web browser. Unfortunately, ChromeBooks are useless offline, and are missing applications that only work in Windows. Google’s weakest link is definitely the PC, then, forcing a user to choose between a Windows or a Mac machine. The Chromebook runs an operating system based on Google’s Chrome browser.

Other Devices

Google TV, rather than being a standalone device, is a component of many smart TVs. This Android experience on your TV allows you to access applications, Chrome, and so on, just as you would do on a standalone device.

And how about Microsoft…?