iPhone 4 vs. Droid X: A Head-to-Head Comparison

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Video Capture

The Specs: Both the iPhone 4 and the Droid X boast HD (720p) video recording up to 30 frames per second with audio. The iPhone's tap-to-focus for still photos also works with video. And of course, the iPhone 4 also has a front-facing video camera; switching between the two cameras is as simple as tapping an icon in the upper-right corner. The Droid X's camcorder has three microphones and allows you to choose from four different audio recording modes: Everyday, Outdoors, Narrative, and Subject. You can also use the flash as a light if you're recording at night or in a dark environment. The Droid X has a handful of shooting effects, too, such as a sepia tint, black and white, and negative.

Testing Methodology: We tested the camcorder capabilities of the iPhone 4 and Droid X in the same way we test pocket digital camcorders. Lab Manager Tony Leung records a 1-minute video of a toy train and Ferris wheel to gauge several aspects of the video quality: smoothness of motion, color accuracy, and artifacting. We shoot the same scene twice, with each camera in the same tripod location at its highest video-quality setting--once in bright indoor lighting, and again with the overhead lights turned off and a floor lamp turned on behind the camera. Once we've shot all of the footage, our panel of judges rates each clip for its overall quality. We also play an audio clip through speakers in the scene to determine how well each camera picks up sound.

Winner: iPhone 4

The iPhone 4 walloped the Droid X in our camcorder tests. It scored significantly higher in our video tests shot in regular lighting and our tests shot in low light. The Droid X and iPhone 4 earned identical scores for audio quality, however. Overall, the iPhone 4 received an overall word score of Good while the Droid X posted an overall word score of Fair for video quality.

Display and Resolution

The Specs: The iPhone 4 has a 3.5-inch, 960-by-640-pixel screen with "Retina display" technology. What, you might ask, is a "Retina display"? According to Steve Jobs, it's a display that has a resolution that either meets or exceeds the maximum resolution that the human retina is capable of resolving, assuming perfect vision. But some debate has arisen over whether the iPhone 4's display is a true retina display; read what one expert at DisplayMate had to say about Apple's claims.

The Motorola Droid X sports a 4.3-inch screen--a whole 1.2 inches larger than the iPhone 4's display. But its resolution is lower, at 854 by 480 pixels.

Testing Methodology: I did some side-by-side comparisons. I set both phones to their maximum brightness setting and loaded PCWorld.com on both. I placed the two handsets side by side, and didn't zoom in at all. I asked various PCWorld editors to look at the text and pick which display was more readable. You can judge for yourself with the photo below--the iPhone 4 is the smaller display at top. (Click to enlarge.) Keep in mind, though, that the differences are more marked and easier to see in person.

Winner: iPhone 4

The bigger the better? Not in this head-to-head. The contrast in quality between the iPhone 4's display and the Droid X's was astounding. Text on the iPhone 4 appears sharper, the white background is brighter, and the black text is blacker than on the Droid X. Because the text without zooming is barely legible on the Droid X, we're guessing that the Droid X's browser does not perform subpixel rendering. I do like the Droid X's extra screen real estate, especially when it comes to browsing and video watching, but there's no arguing that the iPhone 4 has a sharper, brighter display.

Operating System: iOS 4 vs. Android 2.1 With Motoblur

The Specs: The iPhone 4 ships with iOS 4, the latest version of the iPhone operating system. Aesthetically, iOS 4 looks similar to iOS 3, but it has a couple of major new features. The biggest update, of course, is the addition of multitasking. We've covered iOS 4 extensively since its announcement, but take a look at our breakdown of its best features.

Unfortunately, the Droid X does not run the latest iteration of Android, version 2.2 (aka Froyo). You're stuck with 2.1 until later this summer, when the 2.2 update arrives for the Droid X (and, we hope, other Android phones on Verizon). The biggest difference between 2.1 and 2.2 is a boost in performance.

The Droid X has Motorola's custom skin, Motoblur, running over Android. Other than making Android a little easier on the eyes, this version of Motoblur features two widgets that can show the latest updates to your social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter. Another new feature is a navigation bar that lets you quickly switch between your various home screens without having to flick through all of them to get to what you want.

Testing Methodology: Opinions about most aspects of phone OSs are extremely subjective. Some Android phone owners find iOS simplistic and limited. Many iPhone owners think Android is messy and unappealing. So trying to deliver a verdict on the OSs as a whole is a fool's errand.

But we did look closely at multitasking, an emerging area where it's easier to compare the two approaches. And the comparison is striking.

Apple's approach is typically, well, Apple-like. Apple has more control over the multitasking experience--only apps that have been designed and approved for multitasking will work. And at the moment, the number of apps that support multitasking is extremely limited.

But the interface is smooth and intuitive. You double-tap on the home button to call up the multitasking bar, which appears at the bottom of the menu screen just up from the home button. The bar shows four icons across the bottom of the screen at a time, with the most recently opened apps starting at the left; you flick your finger left to right to scroll through the other icons (the one farthest right being the app you opened the earliest). If you want to close an app out of memory, you press and hold the app's icon, and then click the red circle with a dash.

The Android approach is more wide open, but harder to navigate. Android keeps other apps actually running in the background, and not just in a suspended state as iOS 4 does. For example, in Android a Web page might continue drawing, even after you have left the browser to do so something else.

To see your open apps, you can press and hold the home button. But wait--you can view only six open apps at a time. Unfortunately, the only way to see all of the apps running at any given time is to dig down, into Settings, Applications, Manage applications. Once there, you must then scroll down to Controls and press Force stop to close the app.

You can, however, download a third-party app, such as Advanced Task Killer, to make viewing and closing open apps easier. For some users, this might be a burden--why can't you view all of your open apps simply by pressing a button, à la iOS 4? On the other hand, some users enjoy having this sort of control and customization over their phone, and the Android platform's openness certainly allows that.

Winner: Draw

It really comes down to personal preference.

Media Playback

The Specs: According to Apple, the iPhone 4 has an audio frequency response of 20Hz to 20,000Hz. It supports AAC, Protected AAC (DRM-protected content from iTunes), HE-AAC, MP3, Audible, Apple Lossless, and WAV. As for video, the iPhone 4 supports H.264 video up to 720p, MPEG-4, and Motion JPEG formats.

The Droid X supports MIDI, MP3, WAV, AAC, AAC+, and eAAC+ audio files. It supports HD playback via its HDMI and DLNA ports, as well as H.263, H.264, MPEG-4, and WMA video formats.

Testing Methodology: I didn't have time to run PCWorld's audio tests to judge the audio quality of the Droid X and iPhone 4, so I did some very casual testing. I loaded the same MP3 on both phones ("Fazer" by Quicksand) and listened with my own V-Moda Remix Remote earbuds. I also played the song back through the external speakers on each phone, and I asked my PCWorld colleagues to give their feedback for the song on each handset.

Video was tougher to test subjectively. I couldn't compare YouTube videos fairly, because the iPhone 4 does not have the HQ feature in YouTube (on the Droid X's YouTube app, the HQ feature enables you to watch better-quality videos if they are available). Even so, I compared the same Despicable Me trailer on YouTube on both phones. I also had a hard time finding one H.264 file that would play back on both phones. I downloaded a few trailers via iTunes and rented a couple of HD movies to play on the iPhone 4. On the Droid X, I downloaded a few H.264-format movie trailers from H264info.com. For whatever reason, I couldn't get the Blockbuster application on the Droid X to work, so I couldn't rent any feature-length movies.

Winner: Droid X for Audio, Draw for Video

It was a close call, but my colleagues and I unanimously picked the Droid X over the iPhone 4 for better sound quality. Bass sounded deeper, while vocals sounded crisper and richer over the Droid X. We noted a slight tinny quality during playback over the iPhone 4, but everyone agreed that its sound quality was still quite good.

Video was harder to judge, since I couldn't play the exact same file on both phones. When HQ is available, video playback via YouTube on the Droid X blows the iPhone 4 out of the water. If you watch a lot of YouTube videos, this is something you might want to consider. Then again, downloading movies onto the iPhone 4 via iTunes, directly on the phone, was incredibly easy; using a third-party Website like H264info.com is risky, not to mention time consuming. Playback on both phones was smooth, with no stuttering, pausing, or pixelation. And though the video quality looked better on the iPhone 4 (see our displays comparison), I really appreciated the larger screen for video on the Droid X. My eyes felt more comfortable watching videos on the larger screen, where faces and objects are larger (though not higher resolution). On the iPhone 4's 3.5-inch display, I had to strain my eyes a bit.

Senior editors Tim Moynihan and Mark Sullivan contributed to this report.

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