If the iPhone ever had a real challenger to its lofty position atop the smartphone throne, it was last year’s impressive Samsung Galaxy S2. With the Galaxy S3 now fully revealed, Apple’s mobile monster has renewed competition.
Both the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S3 have a lot going for them, each with unique bonuses and drawbacks. We compare the key features and specs of both to help you decide which you should be splashing the cash on.
Design and Build Quality
Though it’s a rehashed version of the iPhone 4 (with the dreadful antenna issues all ironed out) it’s hard to fault the iPhone 4S design. Whether you grab it in black or white, the angular unibody design with chrome trim oozes style. It’s arguably hit the sweetspot for mobile-phone size at 115.2 mm x 58.66 mm x 9.3 mm too. It does however lack a HDMI-out port, pretty much a standard with high-end Android handsets these days, and it’s a little delicate, with its glass prone to shattering if dropped from even a modest height.
Thin at just 8.6mm and light at 133g, the Galaxy S3 feels great in the hand, and slips almost invisibly into a pocket. Available in Pebble Blue and Marble White, its curved edges are meant to conjure memories of nature. However, its plasticy “Hyperglaze” finish lacks that premium feel, and some may decide the Galaxy S3 is a little flimsy, albeit unfairly.
The latest iPhone’s Retina Display is pretty much as good as it gets for mobile display technology right now. Measuring 3.5 inches diagonally, it uses LED backlit IPS TFT LCD technology to deliver images at a staggering 326ppi. What the screen lacks in size it more than makes up for in detail, with vibrant colours, lush brightness and deep blacks.
A 4.8 inch Super AMOLED HD display sits on the front of the Galaxy S3 and it’s gorgeous. Though its extra size and resolution mean it “only” hits a 309ppi pixel density, to the naked eye that won’t make a difference. Vibrant and colourful, it dwarfs the iPhone 4S screen, which is a far less comfortable size to view videos on. Bigger, in this case at least, is better.
Winner – Galaxy S3
Apple’s 800Mhz dual-core A5 chip may sound a little dated in this age of quad-core mobile CPUs, but thanks to Apple’s careful marriage of software and hardware, you’ll never find the iPhone 4S being overly taxed. You’ll fly through menu screens, tap away at breathtaking polygonal-3D gaming apps and playback detailed HD video without a stutter.
Samsung have popped a quad-core 1.4Ghz Exynos processor in the Galaxy S3. And despite having to push more pixels than the iPhone 4S (and running off the sometimes temperamental Android OS) there wasn’t a stutter or hang to be seen. This is one powerful phone, best presented by the Pop Up Play feature that offers true picture-in-picture multitasking, offering windowed HD video playback. Impressive is an understatement.
Winner – Galaxy S3
Though Apple’s iPhone 4S doesn’t offer expandable storage, they at least offer three different configurations when it comes to size. 16GB, 32GB and 64GB iPhone 4S models are all available, with pricing rising appropriately. It’s a crafty tactic though, as those opting for more storage space have to pop money directly into Apple’s coffers, rather than picking up cheaper expandable storage elsewhere. With the iCloud back-up feature too you’ve got a little leeway with which to store files remotely too, though extensive cloud storage through Apple doesn’t come cheaply.
Samsung’s generous storage options make Apple look very cheap here. For starters, you’ve got the same 16GB, 32GB and 64GB handset options. Add on to that the option of popping in as much as an extra 64GB from a microSD card. Then pile on top the 50GB of FREE Dropbox cloud storage that comes as standard with every Galaxy S3 purchase. There’s no competition here.
Winner – Galaxy S3
The iPhone 4S is said to have 200 hours worth of battery standby time, 8 hours talk time on 3G, 14 hours talk time on 2G, 6 hours 3G browsing, 9 hours Wi-Fi browsing, 10 hours of video playback or 40 hours of audio playback. In reality however, you’re going to be juggling through all these tasks (at times simultaneously) throughout a day, meaning that you’re going to need to recharge that battery long before the day is done.
Samsung have popped in a whopping 2100mAh battery in the Galaxy S3. It sounds awesome, but remember there’s a massive screen to power, as well as a quad-core processor draining juice all the time. Touches like the Smart Stay tech should keep battery usage as low as possible, but we can’t pass judgement here till we’ve put the phone through its paces for a bit longer. We’ll call it a tie for now.
Winner – Tie
Software and Apps
Apple say there’s an app for everything, and with the iOS App Store, that’s pretty much true. With over 500,000 different apps available in Apple’s store, there’s pretty much an app to cater for every potential need. From fitness to finance, arts to archaeology, you name it, there’s a shed load of apps for every possible niche. Gaming in particular is well served on the iPhone, with it more than a match for handhelds like the Nintendo 3DS or PS Vita these days. Just check out Infinity Blade 2 if you need convincing.
The iPhone 4S also features the much-publicised Siri voice control app. With it, you can search the web, set calendar reminder, dictate emails and much more with just your voice alone. In the US it’s a fully-featured service that has a giant database of details on local businesses and events. In the UK, it’s far less comprehensive in terms of what it can do, making it a bit of a novelty for the time being.
As for the iOS operating system itself, it’s incredibly easy to use and looks beautiful. It pretty much invented the grid-based app layout that everything from the Xbox 360 to Roku entertainment players have ripped off since. It is also however incredibly limited in terms of customisation, and if you’re a tinkerer who likes to get under the hood of his device and tweak every property and potential UI layout, it’s not a patch on Android.
The Galaxy S3 runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich. When it comes to apps, Android just can’t compete with iOS. For starters there are fewer apps available, and they tend to be uniformly less visually appealing than similar ones available on the Apple App Store.
Likewise, Android is a far less user-friendly OS, but what it lacks in dummy-proofing, it excels with customisation options. You can make your Android look and act pretty much however you want it to, freely adding widgets and personal touches throughout the device.
Samsung have also gone a long way to stamping their own touches into the software of the phone too. As well as the aforementioned Pop Up Play feature, there’s superfast data sharing over NFC with S Beam, intelligent facial recognition and photo tagging capabilities, eye-tracking screen dimming tech called Smart Stay and their own Siri rival called S Voice.
Though its megapixel count of 8 isn’t any higher than the majority of top-tier smartphones the iPhone 4S’s imaging systems consistently deliver stunning results. Using a lens with an aperture of f/2.4, and combining that with clever HDR and Macro software, you get excellent still image results almost every time. A super-fast shutter speed that lets you snap multiple images directly after each other sweetens the deal, as do the many superb photography apps on the App Store. However, you can’t tweak sensitivity settings like white balance and exposure, which may irk pro photographers.
1080p video recording with anti-shake functionality likewise returns brilliant results on the iPhone 4S, with the iMovie app letting you make a few simple edits on the go.
Samsung’s top-tier smartphone camera seems every bit as good as the iPhones. Again, it’s an 8MP offering, with impressive start up speeds of 990ms, and the ability to fire off 3.3 photos a second. A 20 in a row, six photos per second, burst mode also features, alongside Best Shot, which takes 8 pictures and picks out the best based on framing, lighting and blur, as well as elements such as open or closed eyes on the subject.
Then there are the facial recognition features. Snap a friend, tag them in one photo, and every subsequent picture you take of them in the future should automatically be tagged accurately by the handset. Groups of people appearing in the same shots can also have group tags associated with them, making organising large photo libraries incredibly easy. Images can quickly be shared via email or social networks using this feature too.
Elsewhere, more standard features like High Dynamic Range (HDR), panorama, Smile Shot and Beauty Modes are onboard too, as well as plenty of manual settings for things like Exposure values.
Though we spent less time with it, 1080p video recording is also onboard. Just like the S2 before it, the results from our early tests looked a real treat, with video stabilisation options working superbly. Up front, a 1.9MP camera for video calling and shooting 720p video is also available.
Winner – Tie
Unlocked, the iPhone 4S in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB sizes cost £499, £599 and £699 respectively.
We’re still waiting for official pricing for the Galaxy S3, but if the Galaxy S2 was anything to go by, expect premium pricing. The S2 started at around £500 SIM-Free too depending on retailer, so we’d imagine things to be similar with the Galaxy S3.
Winner – Tie
Overall Winner – Samsung Galaxy S3
There’s not much in it, and the Apple faithful will likely see nothing that will make them change their ways, but our first impressions of the Galaxy S3 suggest it may be the best smartphone on the market today. A great camera, superb screen and innovative software features show Samsung have really pushed the boat out with the Galaxy S3. If the price proves right, and the battery is up to scratch, we could have a new smartphone king on our hands. Remember though, the iPhone 4S is based on a design (that of the iPhone 4) that is now a couple of years old. With the iPhone 5 launch almost certainly looming, the tables could turn yet again very quickly…
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