As usual, with my comparisons, I’m completely avoiding the Android vs. iOS argument. To all intents and purposes, that is about personal preference. Instead, I’m focussing on Samsung vs. Apple, and the latest Galaxy device versus the greatest iPhone. Does the impressive spec sheet make it a better device overall, or is the iPhone still the best phone out there? I split the comparison up in to the same categories as I always do.
Everyone knows what an iPhone 4S looks like by now. It’s been virtually unchanged since two years ago when the iPhone 4 launched. Although I’m not particularly keen on the shape, sharp corners and shiny flat back, I can still appreciate the quality of the design. It’s been manufactured to an incredibly high standard. Apple historically has longer production lines than any other manufacturer to ensure that each device meets its strict and demanding standards.
What – in my mind – makes the design really unique, is the external antenna and metal buttons and features. Whenever I use the iPhone, I have an expectation and reassurance that the lock/power button, volume and mute keys won’t give in. Also, with a metal SIM tray included, I’m happy to remove it and swap SIMs multiply times without feeling I might break something. That said, by now the handset shape and design seem pretty outdated, especially when compared to the latest HTC and Samsung’s handsets.
Unlike Apple, Samsung completely altered the design from the previous generation model. Gone are the right-angled corners, and textured battery door. Replaced by a much more slick, and smooth device with a very thin profile and rounded corners. Although I’m sure the tech company wanted to show some sort of connection with nature, I’m not falling for that marketing ridiculousness. The phone looks and feels nothing like a pebble. That said, it’s very comfortable to hold.
The front of the device is dominated by the huge Super AMOLED display, and has a very thin bezel. At the top is a thin earpiece grill next to a couple of sensors and the front facing camera. There’s also a hidden LED underneath the surface, a nice touch if I do say so. The two capacitive “menu” and “back” buttons are also hidden until activated on either side of the oddly shaped home key. Which brings me on to one of my two only complaints.
Firstly: the home button. It’s poor. Practically, it’s nowhere near as easy to hit as the iPhone’s round, recessed button. Its rectangular thin shape means that it’s not exactly suited for the round end of one’s finger. Also, it’s pretty flimsy and doesn’t give any substantial or reassuring feedback. Secondly: the battery cover. I’m a huge fan of sealed units, and again, the battery cover on this phone is so thin and pliable, and kind of feels a little pointless. While I’m sure many appreciate being able to swap batteries out, I don’t. Also, with the arrival of cloud storage, physical memory cards and sticks are becoming unnecessary. I much prefer Apple and HTC’s method of creating a SIM tray, and keeping the body sealed.
It must be said, that these complaints are pretty minor and nit-picky. The Galaxy SIII is very well put together, you can tell as much from peering behind the battery door. It feels sturdy in hand, and despite being thin, the battery cover is in fact pretty sturdy and resists even the most fierce treatment.
Samsung’s design is much more modern, much easier to hold, and looks great. In my mind, it’s a little better than the iPhone, but not quite up to One X standards.
Apple’s 3.5” Retina display made waves back in 2010, and is still one of the best screens out there in terms of clarity and sharpness. Thanks to an improved graphics processor in the iPhone 4S, it looks even better than it did on the iPhone 4. All it really needs is extra real estate. It’s too small for today’s smartphone user.
Samsung has gone all out with the latest display. Its 720 x 1280, 4.8 inch display is a sight to behold. It is huge. Sadly though, it’s still based on PenTile technology, which means that even though it is generally pretty clear (and sharper than the SII), displays like the Retina and the One X’s SLCD screen still look crisper. Before you get hot under the collar, compare some text-based web pages, and hold all three phones close to your face. To call text fuzzy on the SIII would be harsh, but, it does still lack a little sharpness compared to its two biggest competitors.
Despite the slight underperformance on the crispness scale, thanks to being much larger than the iPhone, you can hold it further from your face, which means in turn that you shouldn’t notice the flaws in day to day use. Viewing angles are great on both phones. I’d say – personally – the Samsung has the slight edge, because of its size. Normally, with a display of this magnitude, I’d struggle to reach the top of the display one-handed without readjusting, but thanks to a thin profile, slim bezel and curved edges, it doesn’t seem too much trouble at all.
As phones get more and more powerful, and packed full of cores, GHz and dilithium conduits, you’d expect that they get noticeably blazing fast, but that’s not the case. Samsung’s flagship clearly has the most impressive spec list, but, in day to day use I can’t say that it’s that much faster than the dual-core iPhone 4S (and I’m running a beta version of iOS 6). Android is much more intensive to run than iOS, and the extra cores just mean that Google can add more to its platform.
Now, that’s not to say the Samsung isn’t quick. It is, very quick. I’d love to see what this handset could do with a “pure” version of Android 4.0 on it. Switching between apps, it is a little faster than the 4S, but, as mentioned earlier, not so much that it would by noticeable by the average consumer. The SIII shines when it comes to mobile browsing. Using the same WiFi connection side-by-side, the Samsung device loaded up the web pages quicker every time. So, if any handset wins this section, it is the Samsung for that reason alone.
I was expecting a lot from Samsung in the camera department. Sadly, it seems I was let down. Although the shutter speed is almost instant, I still struggled to get a blur-free image initially; something I didn’t struggle with at all on the One X, and have never suffered on the 4S. After a few efforts though, I’d managed to adjust my technique. That said, it doesn’t cope with movement particularly well, especially in low light conditions. One other thing I noticed about the Samsung is that shots often look over exposed, over saturated, and don’t offer a lot in terms of depth. Contrast levels are high, but often I found it to show the dark shadows and brightness, without offering a lot in between. Compared to the 4S’ shots, texture was left wanting.
Again, I’m being nit-picky. There are some fantastic options within the GSIII’s camera UI: Panorama, Macro, Burst Shot, HDR, Smile Shot and “Beauty”. I’ll post a more in-depth camera comparison later on (when our weather improves). At first glance I still prefer the iPhone 4S for taking images. Mostly because it’s easier to get the shot I want. There’s not much in it though, and I equally enjoy the extra options on the Galaxy.
Loudspeaker/Call Quality/Sound Quality
The last Samsung device I used – Galaxy Nexus – was really let down by its sound quality on all fronts. Calls were tinny and distorted, the loudspeaker was very quiet, and music wasn’t enjoyable to listen to. The SIII is much better. I don’t dread phone calls as I did with the previous Sammy made phones.
Listening to music is fantastic, whether you use the better-than-average earbuds shipped in the package, or your own headphones/speaker I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how well the GSIII delivers. I compared the two using Sonoro’s stunning CuboDock system as well as a couple of different sets of headphones, and it matches the iPhone in quality and volume. It just goes to show you don’t need to stamp “Beats Audio” on to a device to make it great for music. If I’m honest, I’d choose either of these for music listening of the One X.
The battery performs as well as any other smartphone does these days. You’ll get 1-2 days out of a single charge depending on how often you use it. I can stretch to two days with either handset. Until some great innovation comes along in battery technology, we’re not going to see anything better for a long time.
All-in-all, at least in my mind, the iPhone and Galaxy SIII are pretty evenly matched on the hardware side. There are areas where the Galaxy outshines the Apple device. Equally, the iPhone bests the SIII in others. To make the choice you have to decide which better fits your needs, and of course, consider which platform you prefer. iOS is still my favorite operating system, and that has a huge influence on my device choices.