Apple’s flagship device was released in October last year following much hype and speculation. The resulting handset left a number of Apple fans disappointed with many criticising it for being an update of the iPhone 4 with a few extra features, rather than an entirely new device in its own right.
Samsung experienced even more anticipation ahead of the Galaxy S III’s unveiling in May, with rumours about the new device emerging on an almost daily basis ahead of the launch. We pitched the two handsets against each other to find out which performed better. The three key areas taken into consideration were:
- Design and display
- Processor and performance
- User interface and multimedia
So how do the leading handsets from two of the mobile world’s biggest names compare when tested against each other?
Design and Display
The S III’s form factor is noticeably larger than that of the iPhone 4S. No matter how slim Samsung makes the phone’s casing, the difference between the S III’s 4.8-inch screen and the 3.5-inch one on the 4S is going to stand out.
Based on the iPhone 4, released in 2010, the 4S made few changes to a shape that is now almost two years old. In mobile terms, that’s a long time, but the 4S still flies in the face of other manufacturers by providing a square, sharp-edged design when many rivals prefer to contour their devices.
Apple has also resolutely stuck to the 3.5-inch screen size that was debuted on its very first iPhone iteration – in the time since that device’s release other manufacturers have introduced bigger and bigger screens with displays in excess of 4-inches now not uncommon.
The Jony Ive designed devices are always distinctive and the iPhone 4S is no exception but whether or not the device can compete when its display is over an inch smaller than the likes of the Galaxy S III’s is unclear. What will be interesting to see is whether or not Apple will change its screen size with the iPhone’s next iteration.
Aside from the size itself, the difference in the way each device feels when you’re using it is something that also stands out. Despite the S III being Samsung’s new flagship and one of the most modern and powerful handsets on the market, the polycarbonate casing doesn’t have a particularly high-quality feel to it and so the iPhone comes out on top in this regard.
The S III’s backplate is flimsy to say the least and feels like it could easily break if you’re not careful when removing it. Conversely, many have criticised the iPhone 4S’ glass backing, which can crack when dropped and is costly to replace, however, it is a much more solid design that wouldn’t be damaged by normal use. Despite the S III being the more recent device, the casing doesn’t compare to that on Apple’s latest handset.
On the front of these devices are two of the most impressive screens around. The S III’s Super AMOLED HD display is a bright, high-performance screen that shows off the UI’s graphics brilliantly, while the 4S’ Retina display offers crisp, sharp images and is, overall, the brighter of the two.
Although the size of the S III’s display is undoubtedly impressive it does have one drawback. The 720×1280 pixel resolution is stretched out over quite a large area, leaving a ppi of 306. That’s a still a very good figure and makes for a more than acceptable visual performance, but the iPhone’s smaller screen makes more economic use of its pixels despite the lower resolution of 640×960. Apple’s device has a ppi of 330, amongst the highest available, and this gives it the edge in terms of clarity.
Processor and Performance
The S III has the more impressive spec sheet of the two devices. Samsung made headlines when it opted to use a quad-core processor in its new flagship and although it wasn’t the world’s first manufacturer to do this it could be said to have been the most high profile. That processor, a 1.4 GHz Exynos 4212, is incredibly fast, giving a level of performance above most other phones with online browsing and video-streaming being particularly impressive.
Apple’s device comes in with a much lower spec list, despite looking quite impressive at the time it was released. Nevertheless, the dual-core, 1 GHz chip is still capable of incredible performance, with the processor working efficiently with the phone’s operating system, minimising app load times and streamlining navigation. Any difference in performance between the two handsets is minimal and both are incredibly fast, easily two of the speediest devices around in terms of day-to-day use.
User Interface and Multimedia
The S III runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich with Samsung’s TouchWiz Nature UX laid on top. This new user interface takes its influences from the natural world and this is evident in features such as nature-themed live wallpapers and animations such as the ripple effect which travels across the screen when you swipe to unlock the phone.
Despite the manufacturer’s marketing spin, the UI is an evolution of its predecessors rather than anything radically new but it does include some handy features. Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Siri voice assistant, S-Voice, and Direct Call, which allows users to call a contact by simply lifting the device to an ear whilst a contact’s details are displayed, and Smart Stay, which tracks eye movement and prevents it from entering sleep mode whilst its still being observed. The performance of all of these features is temperamental but it is these capabilities that give the S III an edge over many other leading Android devices.
As the Android operating system has evolved and different mobile manufacturers have customised it, the OS has begun to look like something markedly different to Apple’s mobile platform. The iPhone’s user interface slips into the background and lets the apps do all the talking, aided and abetted by few of its own features whereas Android and any of its manufacturer-built user UIs offer a raft of homescreens, widgets and customisable options.
The iPhone 4S bucks this trend slightly by introducing the Siri voice-assistant and other additions to the latest version of iOS, such as the notifications bar (which appears to have been lifted straight from Android). Despite a few allowances though, iOS is an app-based platform that is defined by what you choose to put on it rather than any intrinsic features.
As has been recently revealed, iOS is also the preferred platform of app developers, with around 70% of mobile apps being developed for Apple’s platform first. This results in many leading apps being available to iPhone users before they are for those with an Android device. And with the iPhone 4S being the most up-to-date handset in the range with the latest operating system it is perfectly positioned to take advantage of new innovations in app development as they arrive.
Both devices feature powerful cameras which are capable of producing excellent results. Whilst the 8 megapixel lenses are standard on many high-end devices nowadays, both the S III and 4S’ raft of shooting options work well to optimise performance.
Repair site iFixt recently revealed that both the S III and 4S feature roughly the same camera hardware, a Sony BSI unit, but beyond the camera itself, both devices have software on top that increases the imaging capabilities. The camera functions follow in much the same vein each user interface, with the S III having several impressive features built-in whereas the 4S provides a basic camera app that can be built on by third-party developers.
This arrangement sees features such Best Photo cropping up on the Galaxy S III, a function that takes a number of pictures at once then chooses the best one in terms of contrast, exposure etc. There is no comparable function built into the basic iOS camera app, but there are an enormous amount of photography apps available from the App Store which can vastly increase the iPhone’s imaging capabilities.
Music functions are handled by native apps in both devices. Although by no means exclusive to the S III, we have found that Android’s functions come into their own here as it’s so much easier to quickly skip a track by clicking on a homescreen widget than going into an app itself. iOS offers easy-to-access music functions by double-tapping the home button and swiping across the screen but they are a little fiddly in comparison to those of Android.
Although there is no doubt that the S III out performs the iPhone 4S in terms of processing speed, choosing between these two devices really would come down to personal preference. Apple fans will continue to love the iPhone and Android fans will be greatly impressed with the Galaxy S III. However, whilst the iPhone 4S is the older of the two, it’s a testament to Apple’s abilities that it can still stand up well to a leading Android handset.
The iPhone 4S has a more distinctive interface which is exclusive to Apple phones and the smaller form factor makes it easier to use in one hand. However, the large screen of the S III coupled with Android’s infinitely more customisable nature means that any choice between these devices would be a choice between two of the best handsets on the market.