Apple or Android: Which Type of Smartphone is Best for Penny Hoarders?

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Even if you’re cutting back to pay off student loans or saving to buy a house, a smartphone is a borderline necessity.

And we don’t just mean for Facebook, Tinder and Candy Crush.

As our lives become more and more digitized, smartphones allow us to seamlessly sync and mobilize the online tools we use every day. They can help us be healthier, smarter, more productive and, of course, more connected to one another.

In 2016, carrying a flip phone is a mark of eccentricity. But even if you’re willing to deal with social ostracism, you might be missing out socially and professionally if you aren’t on the same technological level as your peers.

Unfortunately, the world of smartphone technology isn’t as simple — or inexpensive — as a Penny Hoarder might hope.

You could easily spend hundreds of dollars on a device and almost as much on your monthly service plan.

To make matters even more complicated, the market is divided among various brands, whose comparative costs and benefits can be tricky to discern. The greatest dispute exists between two major operating systems: Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

Since we happen to have a diehard fan of each on the TPH team, we asked them to duke it out: Which popular smartphone OS is more cost-effective?

Apple vs. Android

Staff writer Jamie Cattanach has been an Android user since a techie ex-boyfriend scoffed at her Apple products six years ago.

After she learned how much customizability she was missing out on for the perceived user-friendliness of her iPhone, she jumped ship and never looked back.

Staff writer Dana Sitar ignored Apple products for years because of the cost. She had a flip phone until 2011 — not to be eccentric, but to save money.

As she shifted to a nomadic lifestyle and remote work, her need for a smartphone became clear.

In 2011, iOS was on top of the mobile game, so it was an easy choice. A free phone was a standard offer with a service contract, so cost was not a concern.

Five years, three phones, an iPad, an Apple TV and a Macbook later, her loyalty is cinched.

Here are their arguments.

Jamie: Android Phones Offer Cost-Effective Customizability

When I started dating an IT professional whose entire circle of friends sneered at my iDevices, I wasn’t fazed.

Let them say what they want, I thought. Look how pretty my iPhone is!

But just being in close contact with Android users each day made me start drawing my own conclusions.

“How are you responding so quickly?” I remember texting my then-boyfriend early in our relationship, when we had sprawling text-based conversations on the regular. His responses seemed instantaneous.

“I use Swype,” he responded.

Swype, I learned, was an awesome alternative keyboard that lets you type without lifting your finger for each individual button press, saving a ton of time. And my iPhone didn’t support it.

In fact, the app wasn’t available in the App Store for years — not until the release of iOS 8.

As I began poking around on my boyfriend’s phone, I discovered there was a whole world of applications like Swype I couldn’t access, not to mention being able to customize my home screen and overall user experience using widgets.

I could tell all my Android-using friends’ phones apart, even when they were the same model, because of the personalization Android’s OS allows.

Since lots of different cell phone companies build Android-compatible phones, they also tweak the OS per their own design ideas. Not every Android device has the same interface and user experience as with all-in-one Apple.

Some of them had a cool pattern-recognition lock screen; others had a weather widget or news ticker on wake-up. My boyfriend had an entire screen dedicated to a calendar app that synced directly to his Google Calendar, a setup I still use to this day.

Good luck getting your Apple products to sync with competitor Google’s apps, which you know you use.

By the way, you Apple users shrieking about how you have widgets now: OK, but again, they didn’t roll out until iOS 8, and from the sounds of it, they’re pretty limited.

Even if you count the lack of customizability as a plus in the name of “user friendliness,” using Apple products will leave a serious dent in your wallet.

You can get an Android phone with the same — or even better — specifications as an iPhone for just a fraction of the price.

Because with Apple, you’re paying for a status symbol as much as you’re paying for the product itself. It’s just like buying $100 yoga pants at Lululemon.

And it’s not good penny-hoarding.

Android: Get a Better Device, Pay Less

I carry a smartphone I absolutely adore.

It came packed with Google’s suite of apps I already use for everything, like Hangouts, which I use to chat with almost everyone.

Although my awesome Google Fi plan includes unlimited talk and text for just $20 per month, if I had to pay per SMS message, Hangouts would circumvent the charge since it’s a web-based messaging system. Plus, it keeps an automatic transcript of everything.

I’ve never been unable to download an app I heard about and wanted to try.

What’s (way) more, I bought my phone for less than $400 — without a contract.

That’s right: My LG Nexus 5X was only $399. I could’ve gotten a device just as powerful for only $349, but I decided to spring for the extra storage since I take a lot of pictures.

And before you dismiss it as a crappy discount phone, check the specs.

It packs the same 2GB RAM as the iPhone 6s, and its quad-core processor is arguably more powerful. It’s got better pixel density, more connectivity and a slightly greater pixel size on its camera.

And it isn’t even the most premium Android phone on the market right now.

Which, by the way, is already a point in Android’s favor, in my opinion. You can actually choose a device, rather than just keeping up with whatever model Apple releases that year.

Consider the Nexus 6P, the super-premium phone a notch up from mine.

A note: There are lots of other Android phones on the market from different vendors, like the HTC M8 or the Samsung Galaxy. But I’m sticking with Google’s Nexus phones because:

  • I’m a total Google fangirl. (Can you tell?)
  • These phones feature the original, out-of-the-box Android OS as Google intended, unmarred by proprietary OS overlays like Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense.

I skipped the 6P because my small hands hate the phablet trend, but between it and the iPhone 6s Plus, there’s no comparison: The Nexus has a GB more RAM, a screen more than 100 ppi denser, and, again, a more impressive processor.

Also, you can own it — no contract, no lease, no monthly payment, no nothing — for just $499.

What’s the going rate for an unlocked 6s Plus without a contract? Like a thousand dollars, whether you find one on eBay or go with Apple’s payment plan, which adds up to about $978.

And have I mentioned I only pay $30 per month for my plan?

Better, Faster, Stronger

Although the iPhone was the original smartphone, it’s hard not to conclude Apple users may be missing out on a superior product, especially if money is a factor.

The fact Android came later might actually be a point in its favor: It benefited from the trial and error of Apple’s first attempt at this revolutionary product.

Android was able to evolve based on user feedback — without spending the overhead creating an initial model.

And the main thing it evolved… is choice.

Dana: Apple Does It All and Looks Cool

When I bought my first smartphone, Apple’s iOS was kicking Android’s butt, Windows wasn’t part of the conversation and Blackberry was already obsolete.

And I lived in San Francisco, where, I believe, everyone receives an iPhone at birth instead of a blanket.

I’d moved there from Wisconsin, where Compaq still graced many a desk and flip phones were still clipped to belts. I was as enchanted by the community of Apple users as I was by the products.

The iPhone hooked me.

When I started using other Apple products, I loved how seamlessly they interacted. I could decipher the interface on my phone, laptop, tablet, desktop and Apple TV, because they all worked the same way.

Before Google became a contender in hardware, you couldn’t find this across-the-board experience on the Android/PC side of the tracks.

More Doesn’t Always Mean Better

Android devotees love to tout their options.

You can choose from a plethora of models across brands, and customize your experience with widgets and apps from an army of creators.

I don’t want for more options on my iPhone, because it does what it does well.

Using an Apple product is like going to a nice restaurant. It has a limited menu, and you can order anything and know it’ll be good, because you trust the chef.

Using an Android device is like eating at Golden Corral. The buffet is, like, a mile long and appeals to every taste.

But you have to pick green bean casserole out of your mac n’ cheese and serve it up with a spoon you just watched a Jello-covered child handle.

Value > Cost

When it comes to a cost comparison, any idiot can tell you Android beats Apple (and any idiot will).

But you also have to factor in the value you’re getting for your money. If you get less when you pay less, you’re not really winning.

Google’s hardware has caught up, but only recently. Apple’s still ahead of the curve with features like 3D Touch, Live Photos and Reachability.

Apple’s native iMessage and FaceTime apps rival Hangouts. I have no use outside of work for Hangouts, as I don’t have friends who use the app. If I want to save a non-iPhone friend from SMS charges, we take the conversation to Facebook Messenger.

Apple’s also winning at integration of third-party apps. With iOS 6, Apple introduced user-friendly integration with Facebook and Twitter. Instructions to set it up look like this.

Instructions for Facebook integration with Android look like this. Yikes.

Using Apple as a Penny Hoarder

Bottom line? A new Apple product costs more than a new anything else. No debate changes that.

But it doesn’t mean a Penny Hoarder can’t be an Apple user.

I shopped around to find the best deal for my needs to buy the new iPhone. I pay $19.77 per month for it through Sprint.

I bought a refurbished two-year-old iPad 2 for $200 and used it for two years before selling it for $100.

My boyfriend and I just bought a used four-year-old MacBook Pro for $650. Before that, he’d used a new MacBook for eight years. He sold it for parts for $100.

A real Penny Hoarder doesn’t just buy something because it’s cheapest. She knows how to get the best for less.

The Best Smartphone for a Penny Hoarder

So who wins?

A simple cost comparison will likely always put an Android device on top. And the new option for Google Fi makes service insanely affordable.

Android is usually the go-to choice when price is your primary deciding factor.

If you weigh in style, functionality and culture, you might find that the overall value of Apple puts it in the lead against Android’s lower cost.

Bottom line: As Android’s OS continues to improve and carriers find increasingly more affordable ways for you to own an iPhone, no brand clearly wins.

Instead, you have to decide what features matter to you — and use your Penny Hoarder wiles to get them at the best price!

Your Turn: What’s your vote: Apple or Android?

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She also writes other stuff, like wine reviews and poems.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post,, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).