Samsung Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5? Following tonight’s big reveal, that’s going to be the question on every budding smartphone buyer’s lips for the next six months or so. The two major smartphone manufacturers have been duking it out for years now, but the latest generation of flagship handsets from both stables is the closest fight we’ve ever seen.
Both the Samsung Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5 have impressive feature and specs lists, but which is best for you? Based on what we’ve learnt tonight, 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
The Samsung Galaxy S4, from an aesthetic perspective at least, looks very similar to the Galaxy S3. Available in “Black Mist” and “White Frost” colours, it measures just 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm and weighs only 130 grams overall. Still rocking a plastic polycarbonate build rather than an aluminium one (likely to keep costs down), the handset plonks a giant 5-inch 1080p display on the front, making it considerably larger than the iPhone 5 and even its S3 predecessor. Though slim enough to fit comfortably in a pocket, it’s a large device that some will likely feel a little silly using for calls on a day-to-day basis, though will have advantages when browsing the web and watching video. 4G download speeds are also included, while there’s also an IR blaster for controlling home cinema kit.
The iPhone 5 was a considerable re-design for the iPhone line. Measuring 7.6mm thick and weighing 112 grams, it’s 20% lighter than the previous iPhone 4S generation, and significantly trimmer than the S4. Available in two colours, either black or white, the rear panels are different on each. The white version has a raw aluminium back plate, while the black version has an anodised black finish on its rear. It’s also the biggest iPhone to date. 4-inches diagonally, it now sits in a taller, widescreen ratio, but that’s still considerable smaller than the Galaxy S4 screen. It’ll still sit more comfortably in one hand though, which may swing the choice for small-handed smartphone fans. Made entirely from aluminium and glass, it has a real premium feel to it, though we’re not personally sold on the whole two-tone look. The 4G download speeds of the S4 are also matched.
Winner – iPhone 5
If you like your phone screens big, but not as gigantic as the Galaxy Note 2 or other “phablets”, there’s quite literally a lot to love with the Galaxy S4. A massive 5-inch display sits up front, with a Retina-beating 441ppi full HD 1080p resolution. The handset uses Samsung’s Super AMOLED display technology, which should also keep images and videos bright and vibrantly colourful on the handset, as well as offering wide viewing angles. It’ll be a great phone for consuming media on or browsing the web with as a result, and even features screen tech that will let you use its touchscreen features whilst wearing gloves. Sturdy Gorilla Glass 3 is also used in its construction.
Apple’s top-notch Retina display with 326ppi features in the iPhone 5. Though it’s in a 4-inch screen of the usual width, it is however taller than previous iPhones. The resolution of the display sits at 1136 x 640. Closer to a 16:9 ratio than before, the iPhone 5 is now better for viewing films on, with 44% better colour saturation, and with touch integrated into the display to reduce glare in sunlight. But despite being the biggest iPhone screen to date, it’s still considerably smaller than that of the Galaxy S4. If you’re looking to comfortably watch videos at length on a handset, it’s arguable that the iPhone 5 screen will be too small. It will however look far more sensible when held up to your face for calling!
Winner – Galaxy S4
Samsung have opted for their 1.6GHz Exynos Octa 8-core processor in the Galaxy S4. Seeing as even quad-core chips clocked considerably lower than the beast of a processor found in the S4 normally see Android apps and software features ticking over nicely, the Galaxy S4 looks to be a real powerhouse of a phone. It’s arguably even overkill – we can’t think of a single Android feature that would truly be able to capitalise on such a chipset.
The iPhone 5 comes equipped with an A6 processor, which is said to be 2x as fast with both CPU and GPU processing as the already-speedy dual-core A5 chip found in the iPhone 4S. Shrinking down the transistor size, it’s smaller and more energy efficient too. Apps will load as much as 2x faster using the new chipset. Though it’s arguably a slower processor than that found in the Galaxy S4, you’ll be hard-pressed to tax it, meaning all apps and operating system functions flow without trouble.
Winner – Tie (Both processors will offer speedy, responsive user experiences)
The Samsung Galaxy S4 will come in three different sizes: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. Each handset can also be expanded with microSD cards, up to an additional 64GB, making storage options far more flexible than with the iPhone 5. It’s not yet certain whether or not the Galaxy S4 also includes the Galaxy S3’s 50GB free Dropbox cloud storage promotion – it’ll be a shame if it’s lost this nifty feature.
Though Apple’s iPhone 5 doesn’t offer expandable storage, they at least offer three different configurations when it comes to size. 16GB, 32GB and 64GB iPhone 5 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 you’ve got a little leeway with which to store files remotely too, though extensive cloud storage through Apple doesn’t come cheaply.
Winner- Galaxy S4
The Samsung Galaxy S4 includes a 2,600mAh battery. That’s over a fifth larger than the battery found in the Galaxy S3, and it’s removable too, meaning you’ll be able to hot-swap batteries on the go if you’re running short on power. However, we’d imagine both that screen and processor churn through power at an incredible rate, so you may not see a dramatic jump in battery life despite the capacity bump.
According to Apple, you’ll get 225 hours of battery life on standby for the iPhone 5, with 8 hours 3G or LTE talk time, and 10 hours Wi-Fi usage. In reality however, you’re going to be juggling through all these tasks (plus video or audio playback) throughout a day, meaning that you’re going to need to recharge that battery long before the day is done.
Winner – Tie (We’re going to withhold judgement until we see how much power the Galaxy’s screen and processor eat up)
Software and Apps
The Galaxy S4 runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, the latest build of Android while we await the launch of Key Lime Pie later this year. When it comes to apps, Android has grown remarkably over the last few years, with virtually every major app present on iOS now available on Android too. Android, unlike iOS, also comes with Google Maps as the default mapping provider, the premier mapping application on the planet. Jelly Bean also offers the Google Now service, which offers at-a-glance information provided by Google’s search engine based on your interests and location. Everything from bus timetables to sports scores to local restaurant reviews are covered. It’s a great feature.
Android is however a far less user-friendly OS, but what it lacks in dummy-proofing, it excels with customisation options. You can make your Android device look and act pretty much however you want it to, freely adding widgets and personal touches throughout the device, and even adding custom ROMs that totally change the way Android looks and feels.
Samsung have included plenty of their own software features through their own TouchWiz UI reskin too.For instance, there’s a feature called S-Translator that can translate languages automatically. You type words out in English and the Galaxy S4 then speaks them in one of nine languages, making it a valuable travel buddy. The camera system can also recognise text in foreign languages and translate it.
Smart Scroll web-page eye-tracking and Smart Pause media pausing are also included, with the front facing camera following your eye movements and angle of the handset in your hand to pan pages automatically, or pause videos if you look away from the screen. The screen’s “Adapt Display” will also kick in automatically, adjusting settings such as brightness depending on the apps you’re using and ambient brightness so that it is comfortable to your eyes.
The S4 also has Group Play, a shared music feature which lets users sync and play music on up to eight devices simultaneously, while video calling has been enhanced so it now works with up to three people – or you can have a video call but show an image.
S-Health is a suite of health and fitness related features. It will tell you how many calories you are burning, gauge your heart rate and sleeping patterns. You can also monitor your blood sugar levels with an add on.
The TouchWiz UI however isn’t as easy on the eye as stock Android, now anywhere near as attractive as Apple’s iOS.
They say there’s an app for everything, and with Apple’s iOS App Store, that’s more or less true. There are well over 700,000 apps available in Apple’s store, with an app to cover almost every potential need. From fitness to finance, arts to archaeology, you name it, there’s a shed load of apps for every possible niche. Gamers are served particularly well with the iPhone, with it more than a match for handhelds like the Nintendo 3DS or PS Vita these days.
The iPhone 5 also features the Siri voice control app, letting you search the web, set calendar reminders, dictate emails and much more with just your voice alone. However, it’s still more useful in the US than the UK, where a giant database of details on local businesses and events integrates directly with the app. In the UK, it’s far less comprehensive in terms of what it can do, meaning it is still a bit of a novelty.
The iPhone also offers FaceTime as the native video calling application, allowing users to call Mac, iPad and iPod touch owners for free, as well as other iPhone users.
As for the design of 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.
What you gain in ease of use you lose in customisation options though, and if you’re a tinkerer who likes to get tweak every property and potential UI layout, it’s not a patch on Android. The latest version of iOS, iOS 6 (which the iPhone 5 ships with) also drops the superb Google Maps app in favour of Apple’s own Maps application. Apple’s take on cartography is pretty but buggy and inaccurate, nowhere near as extensive or precise as Google’s and lacking useful features such as Street View.
Winner – Tie (iOS is slick but closed, Android and TouchWiz open but more complicated)
Camera and Video Recording
The S4 sports a 13 megapixel camera, a significant spec-bump up from the 8 megapixel one found in the S3. 1080p video recording is also onboard.
Plenty of nifty shooting software features accompany the now-standard HDR, panoramic and photo filter shooting options.
For instance, It also includes a “Dual Camera” record feature, letting you shoot videos or photos from both the front and rear cameras at the same time, enabling you to be in the picture if you are taking the image. You can also add voice to an image as it can capture a few seconds of audio simultaneously.
The S4 also has a feature called “Drama Shot” that can snap 100 images in four seconds, and then make a composite of the most interesting moments captured. All these images and videos can then be stored in the “Story Album” gallery, that automatically makes a library of related shots based on date and location data.
Though its megapixel count of 8 isn’t any higher than the majority of top-tier smartphones, and considerably lower than that found in the Galaxy S4, the iPhone 5 sees Apple’s imaging systems again impressing. A dynamic low-light mode for better night time shooting is added to the 5-element lens and f/2.4 aperture. There’s also a panorama shooting mode natively built into the camera app for the first time, with a 360-degree shot resulting in a giant 28 megapixel image. The A6 chip allows for faster photo capture too, as well as a smart filter for better colour matching and reduced noise. Share Photo Streams allow you to share photos with pals, and receive messages on your snaps too.
Combine all that with clever HDR and Macro software, and you’ll 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.
1080p video recording with anti-shake functionality and facial recognition tech will likely impress too, with the iMovie app letting you make a few simple edits on the go.
Winner – We’re going for the Galaxy S4, based on the rich feature list and higher megapixel count
Pricing has yet to be revealed for the Samsung Galaxy S4.
iPhone 5 handsets come in three sizes, 16GB, 32GB and 64GB, with the price scaling with each. Unlocked and direct from Apple, you’re looking at £529, £599 and £699 respectively for each handset. A free 16GB handset on 24 month contracts hover around the £30 a month mark.
Winner – Not sure yet. We’ll update once Galaxy S4 pricing is revealed.
Based on what we’ve learnt about the Samsung Galaxy S4 tonight, it looks as though Apple’s iPhone 5 may have been unseated as the smartphone king. As well as the impressive hardware tech, a slew of interesting software features make the Galaxy S4 look very attractive indeed.
Having said that, the two flagship smartphone lines are now very different indeed, and look to serve two quite different audiences. If you’re after a giant, luscious display, the Galaxy S4 is certainly what you should be looking at. But if you’re after a more subtly-sized smartphone made of superior materials, the iPhone is the one for you. Certainly, both operating systems are mature enough to offer excellent user experiences regardless of which you choose to side with.
It will likely be ultimately a question of pricing, one as-yet-unanswered as we await the Galaxy S4 pricing structure. It’s likely to be considerably cheaper than the iPhone though, adding another string to its bow. All in from what we’ve gathered so far, were calling the Galaxy S4 the winner overall here.
By Gerald Lynch | March 15th, 2013