An iPhone 5S and a Lumia 925 fly to America...

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Is the grass greener on the other side? Last week I spent four days in America, and two days travelling there and back again from the UK, and while I did have my Lumia 925 in my bag (it was carrying my British SIM), the Windows Phone was inside a protective cover, with a little bit of security tape over the flap of the case. This trip would be a chance for me to find out how well the iPhone 5S and iOS 7 would compare to the competition.

If you've come here expecting a whitewash because of the name of our site, think again. And if you think this is a 'Road to Damascus' conversion article, you keep thinking that. Not surprisingly, the iPhone 5S had a number of strengths and a fair few weaknesses. Yes, there would be circumstances where I would reach for the iPhone before the Lumia, but the reverse is also true. As in life, there is no definitive answer to the question 'which phone is best?', only what works for an individual.

iPhone 5S and Lumia 925

Let's start with the areas where iOS improves on Windows Phone, and the obvious area is apps.

To be fair, the majority of applications that I installed mirrored my Windows Phone picks - Facebook clients, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Kindle, and Wordpress being the main ones, and I had no trouble finding them or using them in anger. But the second tier apps, such as the NFL news app, the American Airlines client, and, are of a much higher quality on iOS, assuming you can find a Windows Phone version for that service. Now, I could argue that their mobile web pages offer the same functionality, but with so much of the iOS experience built around snackable apps (dip in, do a function, return to the home screen) the app way of doing things feels right.

But functionality wise, I was replicating the same tasks that I do on Windows Phone with many of the first party apps, and a few third party choices as well.

Where iOS wins out in the app comparison is in gaming. While Windows Phone continues to pick up the big names, these invariably arrive a few months after their debut on Android and iOS. The iPhone 5S is bang up to date, and of course the smaller names that simply do not make the jump to other platforms. Titles like Pocket Trains, Dots, Letterpress, Quarrel, Steve Jackson's Sorcery, Super Hexagon, and yes, even Candy Crush. Once you consider the leisure app industry, the workhorse of Windows Phone might hold its own on the 9 to 5 routine, but when tools go down, it's iOS you want to lift up.

Media playback, especially music, is a joy on the iPhone. Finding tracks, navigating play lists, and selecting music is straightforward and easy to use. The music app pushes a lot of information to the screen, and with playback controls on the lock screen it's a simple matter to control the playback, just as on Windows Phone.

Do I prefer iOS over WP for my music? This is a tricky call to make, because the music player for Windows Phone 8 just feels smarter. It is less cluttered, and makes my music attractive to browse through. iOS 7 still feels like navigating a spreadsheet. It has improved, and it's a cute touch that landscape mode brings up a contact sheet of albums to choose from, but it's just that, cute.

iOS wins out (just) because of the iTunes experience on the desktop  computer. Although there are Mac OS tools for Windows Phone, they're not a patch on the drag and drop available in iTunes. And while there are Windows 8 clients (or via MTP), having to fall back to Windows Media Player on my slightly older Windows Vista laptop (stop laughing, it still works!) feels like a fail - and it's a backwards step after the delights of the Zune client for Windows Phone 7.x handsets.

iPhone 5S and Lumia 925

Microsoft are working on a holistic approach where all the parts of the new '8' system integrate with each other, including Windows Phone 8, Windows 8, SkyDrive, Xbox, and more. Which is a great plan, but Apple's ecosystem is already joined up, has been polished over the last few years, and provides an environment that works.

The last of the big positives on the iPhone 5S for me is the physical size of the 5S. This is a highly personal area, but my views on size v. opportunity are well known on the site. It's nice that high end phones all come with large screens and lots of girth, but what happened to the svelte powerhouses? Why can't a Lumia 620 sized device have all the maxed out specs? Well, the smaller size of the iPhone 5S does have that power. Okay, it's 7mm taller, but the other dimensions fit comfortably inside the tub of the Lumia 620. The iPhone 5S is a top of the line phone, with top of the line specs, in a form factor that I love. Straight away I have a lot of love for the handset because of this.

iPhone 5S and Lumia 925

But this size comes at a cost, which is battery power. Let's put aside the fact that if all you use the iPhone for is listening to music then you are only going to get yourself half way round the world (Apple suggest forty hours is achievable), because when I was flying from the UK to California, I got as far as Greenland before the battery decided to flash up dire warnings of death.

It's been a long time since I've had a battery warning in-flight. Even with some game playing, eBook reading, and music to listen to, my Windows Phones  have got me at least to immigration (at which point the Lumia 620 simply gets a battery swap to keep going). That's not possible with the sealed iPhone 5S. It wasn't an isolated case either. The next day I left my  hotel, used Apple Maps to get me to a bus stop, and headed to Candlestick Park for an American Football game:

iPhone 5S at Candlestick Park

Fifteen pictures and two minutes of video later, and the handset was ready to die after five hours of real world use. If there is an Achilles heel to the iPhone 5S, it's the minimal battery life. Even Samsung's Galaxy S4 Mini can manage more than this. Most of the time these are the third party applications causing a drain, or anything that uses external sensors, but if you're not going to be using the smartphone as a smartphone, why bother?

And then there's iOS 7. I'm not going to go on too much about the radical pastel colour scheme, the parallax scrolling, or the jump from a 32 bit architecture to 64 bit. What upsets me is the lack of coherence and attention to detail in this latest version of Apple's mobile OS. When an OS gets 99% of the stuff right, the last percentage point really stands out like a sore thumb, and that's the case here. Why are there three different styles of on-screen keyboard (six, if you count the landscape and portrait orientations differently)? Why can settings for a single app be found in three different places? Why are some buttons surrounded by a line, and others not? Why does the handset pack in information in the app home screen, but show only three alerts in a huge font on the splash screen?

iOS has gathered a lot of additional features through the various iterations, and while the look of iOS7 went through a radical change in September, Apple have skipped the opportunity to clear out the system and rework everything.  Perhaps they ran out of time after removing the skeuomorphism and switching to 64-bit architecture, perhaps they decided it was too much of a jump, but while iOS 7 has a new look, it carries far too many legacy issues for me in the interface to be anything other than a new theme.

This is a decision Microsoft made between Windows Mobile and Windows Phone, to do a complete rework of the UI and code (and then again between WP7.x and WP 8). It hurts in the short term, but in the long term the pain helps the platform.

iPhone 5S and Lumia 925

Crunch time, which of the handsets would I pick up if they were both in front of me and I had an upcoming trip? Will the app catalogue and size of the iPhone 5S outweigh the cleaner UI and battery life of the Lumia 925?

No. It's the Lumia 925. The old adage of 'always be charging when travelling' holds true no matter the device, but the iPhone 5S simply couldn't keep up with the pace I set when out and about. At home or in the office, it would not be an issue, but when I absolutely have to know my phone will work, I'm going to go for the 925. Yes, it loses the large app catalogue, and yes it means I'm back to a larger screened device but those are my compromises so I can get the work done, be functional while on the road, and trust my smartphone.

Your mileage may vary, and I can see why so many people swear by the iPhone paradigm. Right now, it's not the best fit in my lifestyle.