It may not be long before we’re all using foldable smartphones on superfast 5G networks, but we’re not there yet. While we’re waiting for these new technologies, we still have a lot of important decisions to make.
Do we stay with our existing mobile phone carrier or make the switch? Do we upgrade to the latest and greatest smartphone? Is it time to make the big switch from iPhone to Android or Android to iPhone?
When making any of these decisions, you likely poll as many people as you can to get their opinions. Well, we did that for you, reaching out to thousands of PCMag readers to see how satisfied they are with their phones and mobile service providers. Read on to see if it’s time to make a change.
Mobile Operating Systems
For the last several years, PCMag readers have shown a preference for Google’s Android mobile operating system over Apple’s iOS, the operating system that runs on iPhones. And once again, Android wins the PCMag Readers’ Choice Award for mobile operating systems for the sixth year in a row. This reader’s comment echoed the sentiments of many of our respondents: “Android has matured significantly over the last year or so, and pretty much has been trouble free.”
Android rated an 8.7 in overall satisfaction this year on a scale from 0 (extremely dissatisfied) to 10 (extremely satisfied). Apple wasn’t far behind, with an overall satisfaction rating of 8.5. Both ratings are improvements over last year’s, when Android earned an 8.6 and iOS an 8.3. The greatest disparity between the two operating systems was in the all-important Likelihood to Recommend rating in which Android earned a 9.0 compared to iOS’s 8.5.
We asked several more granular questions to better understand each operating system’s strengths. Apple iOS’ highest rating on these drill-down questions was for satisfaction with messaging: it rated a 9.0 compared to Android’s 8.7. That’s probably because iOS supports both industry-standard SMS and MMS messaging, which it uses to communicate with non-Apple smartphones, as well as iMessage, which adds more advanced capabilities in iPhone-to-iPhone communications.
The two operating systems had identical ratings for satisfaction with ease of setup, 8.8, which is a great score.
Apps are a huge part of the smartphone experience and each platform has its strengths. Respondents rated Android ahead of iOS for satisfaction with app selection (8.9 to 8.8) and satisfaction with the selection of free apps (8.8 to 8.5), but iOS came out ahead in app quality (8.6 to 8.4).
As in past years, respondents rated Android slightly better than iOS in productivity-related tasks: managing email (8.7 to 8.5), managing calendar (8.4 to 8.2) and managing contacts (8.4 to 8.3). Android also gets the advantage in satisfaction with use of the phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot (8.5 to 8.2).
Voice assistants such as Android’s Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri let smartphone owners talk to their phones to get information and control their world. Android holds a small advantage over iOS in voice assistants with a satisfaction rating of 7.5 compared to Apple’s 7.2. However, the Android rating includes all Android smartphones including Samsung, whose phones default to using its own virtual assistant, Bixby, instead of Google Assistant.
Bixby has failed to impress PCMag’s reviewers (our smartphone expert, Sascha Segan recently wrote, “I can’t put this more kindly: Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant needs to die.”) and our readers are similarly unimpressed. Samsung phones alone rated only 7.1 for its virtual assistant; Android’s smart-assistant rating jumped up to 7.9 when we removed Samsung phones from the calculation.
Both iOS’ Apple Pay and Android’s Google Pay give users tools to make secure payments from their phone rather than pulling out their credit card to pay in person or type into a web form. Respondents rated iOS ahead of Android for satisfaction with digital payments, 8.4 to 8.1. Again, Samsung offers its own digital wallet, Samsung Pay, which rated an 8.2.
Respondents showed a slight preference for Apple’s iOS when it came to shooting photos with a satisfaction rating of 8.7 compared to Android’s 8.6. Similarly, Apple’s satisfaction rating for taking videos (8.4) edged out Android (8.3).
WINNERS: MOBILE OPERATING SYSTEMS
For six straight years, PCMag readers have shown a preference for Android and this year is no exception. Despite all the ideological battles over which platform is better, the differences in satisfaction ratings between Android and Apple’s iOS tend to be small except in one of the most critical ratings, likelihood to recommend, where Android comes out far ahead.
Wondering why anyone would ever change their phone OS? Read Why Do People Switch Between Mobile Operating Systems?.
How do you impress PCMag readers enough to earn a Readers’ Choice Award? OnePlus, a tiny player in the US smartphone market (when compared to Apple and Samsung) seems to have found a working formula that one reader summed up well: “Excellent, no fluff and bloatware phone, unlocked and cheap compared to [the] flagships.”
This is the second year in a row and the third time in the last five years that OnePlus has won the PCMag Readers’ Choice Award for smartphones. (The other two years, it failed to get enough responses to be included in our analysis.)
OnePlus does have to share the Readers’ Choice award this year. Google, whose phones are the purest vision of the Android operating system, also wins the award, the third time in the last four years.
On every key satisfaction measure, Google and OnePlus topped the four other phone brands that received at least the requisite minimum number of responses to be included in our survey analysis: Apple, LG, Motorola, and Samsung.
On overall satisfaction, OnePlus received a rating of 9.0 and Google an 8.9. OnePlus’ rating is down from last year’s stellar 9.4 but any rating of 9.0 or higher is nothing to shake a stick at. Google’s rating was up a bit from last year’s 8.8. Samsung and Apple, the two most popular brands in our survey in terms of numbers of responses, were the closest competition in overall satisfaction with tied ratings of 8.6. Motorola’s 8.5 and LG’s 8.3 aren’t bad, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.
OnePlus had the highest rating for likelihood to recommend with a 9.3, down from 2018’s 9.5 but that’s still excellent. Google’s likelihood to recommend rating improved to 9.1 from last year’s 9.0. While Samsung and Apple had identical overall satisfaction ratings, Samsung users are more enthusiastic about recommending their brand of phone, giving the company an 8.9 compared to Apple’s 8.6.
Several of our respondents commented about dependability problems with their smartphones but overall the brands all received very high marks for satisfaction with reliability. Google and OnePlus led the way with identical ratings of 9.1 while Apple, Motorola, and Samsung followed with ratings of 8.9. LG brought up the rear with a still respectable 8.7.
Reliability did not correlate with the percentage of phones needing repairs in the last 12 months. While only 3 percent of OnePlus phones needed repairs according to owners, 10 percent of Apple and Google phones and 9 percent of Samsung phones needed work.
Google’s rating of 9.2 for satisfaction with setup was the highest in our survey. (OnePlus didn’t have enough responses to this question.) Interestingly, despite relatively low ratings on other measures, LG had the second-best rating for satisfaction with setup (8.9).
Google’s technical support satisfaction rating improved from 7.4 last year to a category best 8.1. Apple also improved from 2018’s 7.5 to 7.9. Samsung’s 6.9 was the worst among companies receiving enough responses and unchanged from last year. On the other hand, the company’s satisfaction with repair ratings improved from last year’s mediocre 6.7 to a more respectable 7.6, while Apple improved from a 7.6 in 2018 to 7.8.
If you’re wondering how your specific brand model of phone stacks up against the rest—does an iPhone XR out-rate a Galaxy S9, for example—we did ask specifically on brands from Google, Apple, and Samsung just out of curiosity. We aren’t handing out an award here, as we don’t have model-specific info across all vendors, but if you’re using a phone from the above vendors, here’s a list that may give you some insight on the model you should pick. (Note: our survey took place before the announcement and release of the Samsung Galaxy S10 line.)
You may not know the name, but OnePlus has consistently shown that you don’t have to pay top dollar for a great phone. Once again, OnePlus received the highest overall satisfaction rating in our survey and it wins its second straight Readers’ Choice Award–its third such award in the last five years.
Google continues to build phones with innovative features and designs that show off the power of a pure Android implementation. Customers like what they see. For the third time in the last four years, Google wins our Readers’ Choice Award.
Before we tell you which mobile carrier received the PCMag Readers’ Choice Award, repeat to yourself 10 times, “I have options. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless are not my only choices.”
Every year, the top carriers, according to our survey results, are MVNOs or Mobile Virtual Network Operators. These companies use the robust networks of the big four, but typically offer their customers more competitive and flexible packaging and pricing and better customer support. Yet, every year, the vast majority of our survey respondents stay with the big four.
The tides may be starting to change. While 78 percent of respondents use one of the big four carriers, only 57 percent of those who chose a new carrier within the last year chose one of these companies.
This year, the six top-rated carriers in our survey are all MVNOs. Our Readers’ Choice Award winner, Consumer Cellular, is familiar to the top spot having now won the award six years in a row. Consumer Cellular lets customers choose between T-Mobile’s or AT&T’s network. Comments like this one from a Consumer Cellular user were typical: “Fabulous service at excellent prices. Uses AT&T network, but oh so much better to deal with!” While Consumer Cellular’s advertising focuses on seniors and offers discounts to AARP members, anyone can use their service.
Consumer Cellular received an overall satisfaction rating of 9.2 and a likelihood to recommend rating of 9.4. Both ratings are the highest in our survey and the same marks the company received last year. By contrast, the top rated of the big four, T-Mobile, only received an overall satisfaction rating of 8.3. Verizon Wireless was further behind with an 8.0 and AT&T and Sprint brought up the rear with overall satisfaction ratings of 7.4 and 7.0, respectively.
Consumer Cellular had the highest ratings among all companies for satisfaction with fees (9.1) and with customer support (8.9). Support ratings at such a high level are extremely rare in our surveys.
Google Fi shared the Readers’ Choice Award with Consumer Cellular from 2016 to 2018, but this year its ratings slipped. While it doesn’t win the award this time, Google Fi’s overall satisfaction (8.8) and likelihood to recommend (9.0) ratings were the second best among all carriers.
Google Fi uses AT&T, T-Mobile, and US Cellular’s networks in the United States. Unlike other MVNOs, Google Fi can switch between the different networks automatically in order to use the best network available. This intelligent switching only works on certain phones so Google Fi’s choices are limited to a small selection of Android phones. That explains the carrier’s relatively low ratings for satisfaction with phone selection (7.6), but the stable of phones does include Google’s own Readers’ Choice Award-winning smartphones.
Verizon Wireless has been a perennial winner of PCMag’s exhaustive Fastest Mobile Network tests, but our survey respondents are not happy with how much they’re paying. They gave the company the lowest satisfaction rating for fees, an abysmal 5.8. Verizon has been much more selective than AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile in terms of letting MVNOs use its network. If you’re a Comcast Xfinity cable service customer, however, you’re in luck. Its relatively new Xfinity Mobile service uses Verizon’s network for less money than if you went to Verizon directly, and respondents are very happy so far.
In fact, Xfinity Mobile has the third best ratings in our service for overall satisfaction (8.7), satisfaction with fees (8.9, tied with Tracfone) and likelihood to recommend (8.9). It also received the highest ratings among all providers for satisfaction with network reliability (9.2), satisfaction with coverage within the user’s home area (9.2), minimizing dropped calls (9.2) and the speed of the network (9.0, tied with Consumer Cellular). Ironically, these ratings are higher than Verizon Wireless’ own satisfaction ratings, a perfect illustration of how overall satisfaction can affect perceptions of individual aspects of a service.
WINNERS: MOBILE CARRIERS
For the sixth year in a row, Consumer Cellular wins our PCMag Readers’ Choice Award thanks to competitive pricing and great customer service. It’s a formula that works.
Looking for expert testing? Read The Fastest Mobile Networks.
The PCMag Readers’ Choice survey for Smartphones, Carriers, and Mobile Operating Systems was in the field from February 19, 2019 through March 11, 2019. For more information on how the survey is conducted, read the survey methodology .
You can win $350 from Amazon! Sign up for the What’s New Now mailing list to receive invitations for future sweepstakes.