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Operating Systems Comparison

You want a brand new smartphone, but you're not sure which one. How do you decide? A good place to start is to choose an operating system, which will have a big impact on how you use your phone. Android vs. iOS vs. Windows Phone - which is best for you?

There are three heavyweight contenders for the smartphone OS crown; each have their positives and their negatives - here we're comparing them so that you can make the choice which suits you.

Android Operating System on OrangeAndroid

The UK's most popular operating system, Android is open source software from Google. The latest version is 4.2 (Jelly Bean) though many phones you'll come across are running the previous versions, 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or 2.3 (Gingerbread). Android phones are made by a variety of manufacturers including HTC, Samsung, Sony, LG and more.

Out of the three, Android gives you the most control over your phone's settings, and is the most flexible in terms of what you are able to get your phone to do.

With full control over your phone, you can customise your homescreens, adding wallpaper, moving apps around, and displaying widgets which give you information at a glance. You can multitask easily and control active processes, and have unparalleled control over the technical aspects of your phone's setup.

Android has a huge variety of apps available from the Android Marketplace and elsewhere. In theory, the fact that Android is open source software means that with a little programming knowledge you can even write your own! Obviously that's not for everyone, but it does mean that the Android Marketplace has a large number of apps - some popular, some incredibly obscure - and many of them are free or cheaper than their counterparts on other app stores. Read our reviews of some of our favourites.

Android's open source nature means that manufacturers can add their own take onto the operating system's look and feel. If you're after a great user experience, HTC's Sense interface makes everything slicker and more intuitive. On the other hand, Sony's Timescape interface brings your media to life, with a fantastic music and video player. Samsung's TouchWiz gives you quick control over settings like WiFi and Bluetooth. Each of these add a new layer to an already impressive user interface.

The drawback to the flexibility of Android is that it can be quite complicated once you go under the hood. Newer versions of Android have improved the experience but it can prove a little technical if you're not used to interacting with what is essentially a slightly simpler version of a PC.

So if you need to have absolute control over your phone, and you want to be able to do almost anything, Android is the operating system for you. With a huge variety of phones available, you're certain to find something you like. Check out our top Android handsets here.

iOS on OrangeiOS

Exclusive to Apple's iPhone and iPad range, the latest version is iOS 6, which can be found on all iPhones from the 3GS onwards (in general, updates to iOS are rolled out across the whole iPhone range, though older phones may have fewer features).

iOS provides a beautifully designed user experience without all the complication and fuss of other operating systems. Every part of the operating system has been meticulously designed to give a consistent user experience and a slick feel that takes advantage of the phone's hardware.

With the largest App Store of the three, there are over 700,000 apps available for iOS and each one has had to pass Apple's vetting process and conform to certain design standards - this means that Apple apps have a tendency to be high quality. The platform is also a favourite for games developers since there is very little hardware fragmentation (i.e. it's available for a small number of phones, which have consistent hardware, making games easier to write).

If you're a Mac user it also integrates fantastically well with your other Apple products - everything from iTunes to Cloud Storage to your calendar and email. By controlling the experience Apple has made sure that you know what to expect, and everything is very intuitive.

iOS's "killer app" is Siri - a voice-controlled personal assistant that can take commands in natural language and even answer back. Tell Siri to remind you to pick up some flowers after work, and Siri will use a timer and your GPS location to tell when you've left the office and give you a reminder, perhaps even with directions to a local florist. It can also answer questions, remember birthdays and events, and take dictation for emails and texts.

iOS's major downside is its expense. Since it's only available on iPhones, it's generally only available at a premium price, as are the apps in the App Store. iOS also may not be suitable for those who want to be able to heavily customise their phone, as Apple's control over the software means that you don't have many options under the hood.

If you want a high quality, intuitive user interface with a large app store and good integration with your Mac, iOS is the operating system for you. The latest iPhones are hugely popular, and for good reason - check out our iPhones here.

Windows Phone OS on OrangeWindows Phone

A fresh entrant into the operating system market from Microsoft, Windows Phone has undergone a massive revamp and upgrade since the early days of smartphones, providing a truly modern phone operating system. The latest version is Windows Phone 8, and is available through a small but growing number of manufacturers, not least industry giants Nokia, HTC, and Samsung.

Windows Phone provides a super-slick user interface that makes key tasks fast and easy. Designed for speed and performance, Windows Phone takes its lead from the other operating systems and tries to go above and beyond.

With a fair measure of customisability, Windows Phone allows you to use Live Tiles which act a little like Android's widgets, so you can have updates and notifications at a glance and more at a touch. Tiles and menus go deeper and show you more information when you delve into them, meaning that lots of content is hidden only a touch or two away.

Windows Phone has a relatively small app store compared to the other two, though the apps that are available are generally quite high quality. As the operating system is relatively new but becoming more popular, we expect this number to grow quickly in the future.

The other particularly useful feature of Windows Phone is its Windows integration - Microsoft products like Office and Live work seamlessly, and you can even link it to your Xbox Live account!

The biggest downside to Windows Phone is the lack of apps, which can affect your experience and feel a little limiting, and few options to delve into the inner workings of the phone. Web browsing can sometimes suffer, as the phone runs Internet Explorer's mobile edition, which lags behind its competitors a little in terms of features and mobile experience.

If you want a great user experience which combines speed and power, and you want to be able to customise certain aspects of your phone but don't care about the details, then the convenience of Windows Phone may be for you. With a range of new Windows Phones freshly released, there's a growing choice of manufacturers and phones. Check out the latest Windows Phones here.