Android this week: iOS 5 vs Android; Sprint adds Droids; market improves

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Android owners haven’t seen a major software update since the arrival of Honeycomb in February, but iOS devices are about to see one this fall. Apple has introduced some of the new features that iOS 5 will bring to current and likely new iPhones soon. Why talk about iOS in a weekly column on Android? Apple’s enhancements could sway potential Android owners over to an iOS device, because Apple has addressed some of the key shortcomings of the platform, in my eyes.

The new Notification Center in iOS will look very familiar to Android users: Swiping down from the top of any screen in iOS brings a listing of all current notifications, along with interactive widgets for weather and stocks. Overall, incoming notifications are far less disruptive on iOS 5, appearing on top of the current screen for a few seconds and later disappearing from view. Twitter is integrated directly within iOS 5, making it easier to tweet information such as photos, maps and browser links. Android still excels here in my opinion, because most third-party apps are automatically integrated into the platform’s sharing function.

Apple devices also gain music storage in the cloud, but I personally prefer Amazon’s Cloud Player for Android. Unlike Apple’s solution, music can be streamed on demand to Android smartphones and tablets. Wireless syncing arrives in iOS 5 and will be welcome, as will the new iMessage application. This software sends direct messages to other iMessage users on iOS, complete with read receipts, and is similar to an instant message client. For non-iOS users, iMessage sends a text message. The software may cause a few to reduce their text messaging plan, depending on how many of their contacts use iOS devices.

Before iOS 5 arrives this fall, many will choose a new smartphone, however, and Sprint led the pack with two new smartphone announcements this week. The $199 HTC Evo 3D arrives on June 24 and appears to be a high-end handset based on the hardware, also adding a unique dual-camera sensor that captures 3D images. No glasses are needed to view the 3D images, thanks to a 4.3-inch, stereoscopic 960 x 540 display. The Evo 3D launch will be complemented by a tablet: HTC’s View, a 4G version of the HTC Flyer, arrives the same day for $399 with contract.

Sprint customers will also have more Motorola devices to choose from, as the two companies announced a renewal of their partnership this week. A dozen or so devices will arrive this year as a result, but the flagship phone looks to be the Photon 4G. The WiMAX-capable handset works domestically on Sprint’s network but acts as a GSM world phone outside of the U.S. A dual-core processor, 4.3-inch display, 8 megapixel camera and included kickstand round out the key features. And for those who prefer a modular mobile solution, the Photon 4G will fit into a laptop-like dock, similar to the Motorola Atrix 4G we reviewed in February.

Regardless of the Android phone you carry, the Android Market gained a small but useful enhancement. On the web-based Market site, Google now shows if an application is compatible with your registered devices. This can help eliminate the wasted time of installing software only to find out it doesn’t work well with a particular handset or tablet.

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