One of the things we’ve heard from readers lately is that they’re ready to make a switch from their iPhones, with many citing the big screens of the Samsung Galaxy Note, Samsung Galaxy S3, and HTC One XL handsets as reasons.

“I want a big screen,” they tell us, “with more room to browse the web and watch movies on the go,” highlighting one of the most noticeable factors that Android handsets are leading with.

But how do you go about doing this? Is it easy to move your contacts, emails, and apps? What do you need to do if you want to jump ship from Apple to any of the number of Android phones out there?

Thinking of switching from Apple to Android? You're not the only one.

Before we start

Phones with Android mostly rely on one thing: access to Google.

If you’re opposed to having a Google account because you don’t like Google, you’re going to need to get over that really quickly, because the fact of the matter is, an Android phone is pretty useless without a Google account.

Google Drive requires it. Buying apps from the Play Store needs it. Google Plus relies on it.

Given that Android is a Google technology, you can expect that you need a Google account in order to make an Android phone a worthy purchase. It’s no different to Apple needing your details for the iTunes Store when you had to buy apps and games there, or connecting to the iCloud.

So if you’re considering heading to Android and don’t have an account yet, head to Google and get one. It’s free, and it will let you connect up to Google’s free mail service, calendar, and document editing services, as well as let you download apps, games, books, and films from Google’s Play store.

A different world, a different ecosystem

It’s probably not hard to figure out that Google and Apple are two very different companies, but did you know that the operating systems running on the iPhone (iOS) and Android handsets are very different?

They’re not even remotely the same, which is why Apple is the only manufacturer with iOS, while Google allows lots of manufacturers to use Android on mobile devices.

So if you’re considering switching, you need to know first and foremost that any apps you’ve purchased on iPhone will not work on an Android phone.

Games and apps purchased between these two marketplaces are completely incompatible.

That means if you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on games and apps on iOS, they won’t work on your new Android phone. If you’re going the opposite way – Android to iPhone – the same thing applies to you, too.

There are, however, Android versions of apps you find on iOS, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TripView, Dropbox, Chrome, Angry Birds, and many others, as well as the countless apps that are now pre-installed to pretty much every handset under the sun.

For instance, you still get a calculator on Android, it’s just not made by Apple. You still get a native web browser, it’s just not Safari. You still have access to mail accounts, Google Maps, and YouTube, they’re just different apps.

But any app you’ve purchased from the Apple AppStore cannot come with you when you jump ship, as the operating systems are completely different.

Widgets, homescreens and live wallpaper explained

If your journey with smartphones started with an iPhone or one of RIM’s BlackBerry devices, you’ve probably never been introduced to the multiple homescreen or a live widget.

Currently specific to Android, a homescreen is a screen that you can place whatever you want on, while widgets are tiny programs that show small bursts of data on a homescreen.

Most Android handsets can take up to seven homescreens, but having between two and five makes it easier to look through your information.

Three homescreens with different widgets.

A homescreen can support lots of things, including shortcuts for applications, or tiny widgets designed to let you control your music, check the weather, see how many downloads you have left for the month, or quickly look at any new emails that may have come in.

Apple’s iPhone doesn’t support this style of tiny program, instead showing you just a simple menu with shortcuts to every app. In Android, you can find these shortcuts to every app by hitting the “applications” icon.

This writer likes to keep a fairly minimalist look with three screens showing a few widgets and shortcuts on each.

One other Android specific thing is “live wallpaper” which can literally be interpreted as animated backgrounds.

It’s technically what happens when a widget meets a wallpaper, providing interactive and flashy backgrounds that can do things such as show you a clock without a widget or change to show the weather in an animated way.

While live wallpapers are pretty cool, they also have the downside of reducing battery life, so that’s something to be aware of.

Keeping the iPhone look

Every manufacturer of Android phones has a different look to it, and while you may want a bigger screen, it’s entirely possible that you may not want to change the way you use your phone.

No worries. There’s a solution for that.

Android supports a form of skinning called “homescreen replacement” which not only changes the way the widgetised homescreens look, but can also make the phone take on the look of a different device altogether.

Like the Apple iPhone.

You can have the iPhone style menu on a Galaxy Note (or any other Android phone), with the search page all the way to the left, one widget screen next to it, and then the regular app menu.

Espier is one such application to make this transformation a reality, changing the homescreen into the layout of the iPhone, complete with a search screen all the way to the left, support for folders, and softened square (they called it a “squircle”) app icons in an easy to read menu.

Espier even supports one widgetised screen right before the search screen, so if you want to use a couple of cool widgets – like a small music player, email reader, and calendar – you can do this and still retain the look of the iPhone.

Contacts, calendars, and messages

Before you throw away your iPhone, you may want to sync it one last time, and tell iTunes to send your contacts to a service, such as Google’s own contacts service.

So plug the iPhone in and load up iTunes. Head to the device information page and select the tab labeled “Info”. On this page, you’ll find a way of syncing your contacts with Google, so check the necessary boxes for “Sync Address Book Contacts” and “Sync Google Contacts”, configure your Google account information, and then re-sync the iPhone.

With the information in Google’s contact system, it will automatically be synchronised with your mobile handset when the same Google login is used on the phone.

Calendars are similarly fairly easy. You don’t need to sync them from iTunes and can instead do this directly on your iPhone before you make the jump to Android.

In the “Mail, Contacts, and Calendars” section of your iPhone’s settings menu, add your Google Mail account and sync the calendar to Gmail.

Sadly, synchronising and backing up SMS is actually not something that can be easily performed between iOS and Android. The easiest solution we’ve found is to selectively forward important messages to a phone or email address from the iPhone.

Apps you need

We’ve already gone through what apps will be provided for you, but there are also some apps you may want to buy on Android, providing some of the services an iPhone may have offered, and others that it didn’t.

DoubleTwist is a highly recommended free music player for every Android phone, serving up a well-designed app with support for wireless syncing with iTunes libraries for an extra $4.99 in AirSync. If you don’t feel like dragging over your music files piece by piece, simply install the desktop version of DoubleTwist to your Mac or PC and create a link between the computer and phone on WiFi.

It’s easy to do and reasonably quick, and it allows you to move music files to an Android device painlessly and without a cable connection.

SMS Backup+ is also one of the must haves, making it possible for your phone to automatically backup text messages to your Google Mail account.

Outside of HTC’s camera application, we haven’t seen many amazing camera apps. Even on the top-tier Galaxy S3, the camera application isn’t very special.

Enter Vignette, a $3.99 app that offers Instagram-like support for retro styles, vintage effects, and multiple framings. It’s evolved quite nicely over the years and supports most handsets, with highly customisable image presets and the ability to save the original images.

Vignette supports different camera settings, film-like colours, and neat borders.

Or you could just grab the totally free Instagram and keep using that, uploading retro-style photos shot on your uber-modern phone to social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Another genius app is for the drivers out there. This one, Bzzy, will automatically send out a message to anyone when you don’t want to be interrupted.

Say you’re driving and you don’t want anyone to contact you. Simply start the app, select the activity you’re doing – driving, in this instance – and any messages will be intervened by the app. At the end of your activity, press stop and the app will tell you how many messages you received.

Air Droid is also quite useful, effectively providing your computer with an easy way to communicate with your browser. Install the app to your Android, start the app, and make sure both your phone and computer are connected to the same WiFi network. If they are, you’ll find a web address to enter in the web browser of your desktop or laptop, allowing this part to see messages, documents, pictures, and other files on your phone.

And finally there’s Chrome, the browser of choice by Google. This one is a fairly new one, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see it replace the stock web browser in Google within the next year.

What Air Droid looks like from a computer, showing the contents of our Samsung Galaxy S3.