So perhaps you find yourself somewhat curious about Android. Maybe you just have an iPhone and want to explore getting a tablet that’s not an iPad. Or you’ve grown bored of iOS and want to try something new. I am quite experienced with both Android and iOS: I was the editor of an Android site for over three years. I have multiple Android phones and tablets sitting around, and even an Ouya. I currently use an iPhone 6 Plus and iPad Mini 2 as my main phone and tablet, but that’s because I write about iOS for a living. I have zero qualms using Android as my main mobile OS. Android has its drawbacks compared to iOS – if I’m buying my grandma a tablet, she’s getting an iPad – but as an audience of tech-savvy folks, I figure I should fight the good fight and tell you why you should consider buying an Android device.
The game selection is greater than you think, and cheaper too
To be blunt, if you like getting games on release day, then stick with iOS. If you care more about having a number of great games to play, then Android is a worthy platform to check out. Take the case of something like Threes, which hit iOS first, but did eventually hit Android a few months later. At this point, the difference is unimportant. That’s just true of Android in general, though: many of the great games make their way over to the platform eventually. Not all games do, but enough do so to a point that anyone who buys an Android device as their main one is going to have enough ways to entertain themselves.
And in recent years, the number of games making it to Android has only increased. Take a look at the list of Apple’s best games of 2014: of the 27 games, only 4 aren’t on Android right now. Not all the games released simultaneously, but they made their way to Android posthaste. Multiplatform game engines like Unity are really helping out with this.
While mobile has always had cheap games, Android pushes this to a ridiculous extreme. Many games are free on Android because of concerns over piracy or because that’s just what the Android market expects – there’s a lot of folks with cheap phones and tablets out there. But beyond that, Google occasionally runs sales that can get stupidly cheap, like ten or fifty cents cheap during special occasions. The Amazon Appstore, while it’s a third-party store that you need to install separately from Google Play, offers up a free app every day, and there’s the occasional killer app in there like Monument Valley. And they occasionally give away bundles of apps at once that include some killer bargains, like a recent Christmas bundle that had Sonic 2, Age of Zombies, a number of productivity apps, and more.
But the Humble Bundles include some of the best bargains of them all. Humble’s run bundles featuring Android games periodically in the past couple of years, but now they run bundles on a regular basis that are absurd values. Like the recent Noodlecake Humble Bundle includes over a dozen games, including a few 2014 game of the year selections, for $8 minimum. The Crescent Moon bundle from a few weeks ago had an immense money-per-hour-played value as well. The point is, if you keep an eye out, you can load up on games for dirt cheap on Android. While I do encourage paying for games, I’m also not above taking advantage of a great deal myself.
A wide and unique array of hardware options
With the iPhone and iPad, you basically have two choices on what size device you want. Android has a wide array of device sizes. While often smaller phones are still lesser-capable devices, and flagship devices are getting bigger and bigger, there’s still a wide array of device sizes available, including phones that are bigger than the iPhone 6 Plus, if that’s just too small. Heck, you can buy tablets that make phone calls, if you’re going that crazy.
But there’s plenty of options for phones and tablets, however big or small you want them. Want to play your games on TV? There’s console-type devices out there, including the Ouya, Nexus Player, and Fire TV. As well, many Android devices have a native HDMI output. Many tablets have a micro-HDMI output, while some use HDMI outputs through the micro-USB port using MHL, or in rarer cases, SlimPort. Playing Android games on TV is actually a nicer experience since it’s a direct video output, unlike iOS, which has some lag in Lightning devices due to how they handle video output. Later-generation devices are handling that lag much more effectively, sure. But the best TV gaming experience right now is on Android.
And heck, if you like more unconventional devices, there are some that have controllers built into them. Many of these are off-brand Chinese devices where quality and performance isn’t necessarily guaranteed, sure, but they exist. The Nvidia Shield, the original model, is a gamepad with a touchscreen attached, and while playing touchscreen games on it isn’t necessarily ideal, it’s definitely possible.
Gamepads are plentiful and hyperfunctional
Apple really keeps a tight lock on their accessories and who can make them, which means raised prices for official accessories. And right now, MFi gamepads aren’t necessarily cheap for good ones. Android, on the other hand, has a much more robust selection of gamepads that can be had for a fraction of the cost of iOS. This is because Android uses a standard DirectInput protocol for gamepads, and has since 2011 when it was introduced in Ice Cream Sandwich. This means anyone can make a compatible gamepad without any issue, and this means a number of cheaper gamepads are out there, and even premium ones can be had at a fair cost. MOGA was making Android gamepads before they made iOS gamepads, and the original MOGA Pro is a fantastic gamepad if you can find it. The 2013 (14?) model with the rechargeable battery is unnecessarily heavy and the battery charging kinda stinks. But besides a stiff d-pad for fighting games, it’s fantastic.
Otherwise, you can find a number of gamepads in all shapes and sizes, from pocket-sized ones to even ones that could fit massive tablets. Your mileage will vary with the quality of some gamepads, but they do exist, and the nice thing is that you can also control the system interface with them. Xbox 360 controllers will work directly over USB with no hassle, if your device supports USB host through the micro-USB port (it should). And some devices can connect to a DualShock 3. Sony Xperia devices can do so natively, others may require rooting and special trickery to work, but it is possible.
Sadly, gamepad support among games that could use it is far from universal. But there exist tools, that, if you root your device, will allow you to map gamepad buttons to touchscreen presses. And some devices that have native gamepad controls, like the Wikipad and Nvidia Shield, have this functionality built in to the system. But again, if you’re willing to tinker, you have options.
You can play more than just Android-native games
If you’re the sort that enjoys playing classic games on the go, you need to keep Android in mind. It’s always a big deal whenever an emulator sneaks out on iOS devices because Apple tries to lock them down so much. But emulators are normal business on Android. You can get them off of Google Play, generally. Some emulators have been pulled before, but for the most part, Google’s hands-off with them. And even then, because Android doesn’t have any restrictions on outside app installation, there are plenty of sites willing to distribute the emulators anyway. Emulation is stress-free on Android.
As well, if you’re a PC gamer who wants to play your games around the house or even possibly on the go, options exist. Nvidia’s ecosystem offers options for doing so. But there are third-party tools like Kainy and KinoConsole that can stream PC games to your Android device, even over the internet. Performance not guaranteed, of course, but it’s an option.
Android is a very friendly OS for tinkerers
If you’re a jailbreak fan on iOS, you really need to check out Android. While a stock Android device is more capable than a stock iOS device, there’s still plenty that can be done by rooting (essentially the Android equivalent of jailbreaking). The aforementioned gamepad-to-touchscreen mapping is an option. Plus, you can, with Helium, easily backup and restore save game progress to the cloud. You can record and stream gameplay footage directly from your device. Want to upgrade to a later OS that the manufacturer hasn’t put out yet? The XDA-Developers forums often have custom ROMs for those unafraid to play with bootloaders and the like. Depending on how tech-savvy you are, there’s a lot to play around with.
But even if you stay stock, there’s still a lot that can be done with your device. And many features that make their way to iOS were in Android before. This comparison of the iPhone 6 and Nexus 4 isn’t exactly wrong:
In general, I recommend only going Android if you’re a tech-savvy user to begin with, as I think the learning curve with the OS is a bit steeper, but it’s definitely a platform that’s getting better on a regular basis, even as something I’d recommend for my grandma. And that holds true for all of Android. While Apple still probably makes the nicest hardware overall, and the nicest software experience, Android hardware is no slouch, the user experience is greater than ever and even offers some benefits over iOS (custom launchers can provide a less cluttered homescreen experience than iOS), and the gaming selection is great. Don’t be ashamed to pick Android, just know what you’re getting into.
So which devices should you consider?
Moto X: One of the best flagship phones out there. Motorola (formerly owned by Google) doesn’t add too much on to the stock Android experience, but adds useful features like voice searching from anywhere. As well, it’s got flagship phone performance for mid-level price, available for $99 on-contract or even in the $300 range off-contract during regular specials. The Moto G, for $179 unlocked, is shockingly good as an entry-level phone as well.
Nexus 6/9: It’s getting harder to recommend the Nexus devices since they’re no longer the dirt-cheap options they once were, but they’re still devices of good quality, and come with the advantage of being updated by Google directly. Many hardware manufacturers have delays before they release new versions of Android; Nexus devices get them first, and unaltered in any form. Definitely the phones for the cutting-edge user. These are both made by LG (check this), and you’ll hear great things about the LG G3 phone as well.
Nvidia Shield Tablet: While the original handheld Shield is probably best for those who only play gamepad-enabled games, emulators, and PC games with GameStream, the Shield Tablet is a more standard 8-inch tablet, albeit one built around gaming with their powerful Tegra K1 processor, support for a custom gamepad that connects over Wi-Fi Direct, microSD support, micro-HDMI output, and all the gaming features from the Nvidia Shield handheld. There’s also some interesting Tegra-processor-only exclusives that pop up from time to time, and interestingly enough, you can get Portal and Half-Life 2 on the Nvidia Shield systems. $299 for the wi-fi model isn’t a bad price, either. You can even get the original Shield handheld for $199, if not cheaper used.
Samsung Galaxy S/Tab/Note line: Samsung’s TouchWiz interface changes a lot about Android, and not always for the better, but these are great-quality phones and tablets that you can buy, and often are the easiest to find accessories for. As well, many of Samsung’s phones have removable batteries, which is a nice alternative to carrying battery packs around. Plus, it’s generally easy to get your hands on one of these devices if you’re interested, most carrier stores will have Samsung devices to try out and Best Buy has their big Samsung sections in stores. As well, because Samsung devices are so common, they often have the best app and game compatibility.