Apple iPhone 4S v Samsung Galaxy S3

I know this isn’t a typical subject for my photo blog, but I’m sure there are a lot of people interested in this debate, and I know a lot of you use your mobile phone as a camera simply because it’s always in your pocket and is convenient for those quick snaps where quality isn’t the over-riding factor, and sharing the image online with your friends is all you want to do.

I’m a long-term iPhone user, I’ve had one since the 3G came out, well actually my wife had a 3G “because it looked pretty” and I borrowed it for a week, which made me realise how good it was and resulted in me buying the 3Gs as soon as it was released a couple of weeks afterwards!  I love the iPhone, it completely changed the way I used my mobile phone.  I’d been dreaming of such a device ever since I used to pair my old Sony Ericsson T28i with my iPaq and attempted to use the Internet ‘proper’ over an early data connection in the late 90’s.  I had a variety of devices since then, mostly Windows Mobile, but they always fell by the wayside as slow and too much of a pain to use to be bothered with anything other than the odd text e-mail.  It was only a few years ago, so it’s hard to imagine that before the iPhone there just wasn’t a device that made real full-access mobile Internet not only possible, but actually useable.  The iPhone was a truly revolutionary device.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the most popular smartphones of 2006!

So, I say with a sad heart that I’ve moved away from the iPhone and gone to a Galaxy S3.  Ironically, the iPhone screen just isn’t big enough these days.  I say ironically because pre-iPhone I wouldn’t have cared less about screen size, but because the iPhone changed the way I use my mobile device I find myself wanting a bigger screen.  Apple seem to be stuck with the idea of a smaller device, and it doesn’t look like the iPhone 5 will get significantly bigger – by that I mean a 4.5in-ish bigger screen.  I’m not talking about screen resolution, that’s important, but the ability to actually see more, bigger, on the screen is what I need for mobile browsing.  Apple would say that I should use Apps, but there just isn’t an App for everything and sometimes you just have to use the web browser.  Every time I use it to try to make a booking of some sort – hotel, train etc whilst I’m out, I just end up getting frustrated at how tiny the screen seems.  Sometimes when you’re trying to type into a field, the web browser is reduced to the size of that text field alone because the keyboard has taken over most of the screen, so you’re forever removing the keyboard to find the next field to type into.  Anyway, enough of complaining that’s not what this is about, I’ll just get on with comparing the two devices.

I’m not going to go over every little detail, just the main things that I, and probably most people, use daily.

The screen

The S3’s 4.8in screen looks very nice, if a little too saturated, which is typical of an AMOLED screen – I’ve put mine into the ‘Natural’ setting, and it looks better that way.  The extra screen size makes web browsing far easier, you can still have a fair amount of the page in-view whilst still inputting text so you avoid the problems I was having on the iPhone of constantly having to hide and show the keyboard whilst filling in web forms.

The S3 certainly makes it easier to use the web browser.  Different Apps make different use of the extra screen size and resolution.  Some don’t really use it to any advantage, Facebook and Twitter both look about the same, and you don’t really notice the difference between the iPhone and the S3 other than the text is bigger and easier to read from a distance, others, such as WordPress make really good use of it and it’s a big improvement over the iPhone App.

The iPhone screen is by far the better quality of the two though.  Load up something like the BBC News website and you can often (just about) read an article summary even with the page zoomed fully out on the iPhone 4S, where despite the extra screen size, the S3 is a bit blurry and you have to zoom in to read it.  That is something I didn’t expect, and made me worry I’d made the wrong choice to go with screen size over quality – there is definitely something to be said about the super high quality screen in the iPhone despite it being small my modern smartphone standards.  On other pages though the S3’s larger higher-resolution screen comes into its own and in general makes the web browsing experience much easier.

There is a big problem with the S3 screen in bright sunlight though, it has some weird blue ‘rainbow’ reflection that can make it almost impossible to see what’s on the screen under certain circumstances.  You have to wriggle and twist the screen about to get it to the right position to see it.  This has never been an issue with any iPhone for me previously.

Apps

This was the biggest surprise to me.  Not only are there pretty much all the Apps I used on my iPhone available, but a lot of them are actually better on Android than on the iPhone.  Wordpress, which runs this blog, is limited to HTML input on the iPhone/iPad, but on Android it is a full-featured App, I can edit posts in rich text, check the site stats, and even perform upgrades.

Some are about the same, and many are obviously just wrapped around the browser in the guise of an App where they are a native App on the iPhone, but that doesn’t bother me too much as long as they work – although it does tend to mean they are a bit slower than ‘proper’ Apps.

Widgets are a different type of App on Android that run on the home screens.  They are good, and can be useful for quickly glancing at what’s going on without loading up an App, but I’ve yet to find any Widget that I can’t live without on the home screens and I’m concerned about what effect they have on battery life.  Initially I filled the screens up with these fun widgets, but after a little while I realise that all they were doing was filling up the pages and I really never used them, so I’ve subsequently taken them all off!

Settings

iPhone wins pretty much every time in this respect for me.  The S3 settings are not easy to get to grips with, they are definitely set up for the fiddle-with-everything geek type rather than the average user.  Many settings are buried under a menu option – for example, at first glance the WiFi option looks like an On/Off button, but when you press on the WiFi menu option another second level of options appear, but there is no way to indicate to you that these extra options are there unless you (for the first time) accidentally press on the menu item rather than the On/Off switch.  A simple indicator showing you whether there was a second level of options beneath a particular menu item would improve the experience hugely – at the moment you’re just randomly pressing on things to see if there are more menus below!  Another example is after setting up a VPN.  I entered the wrong settings initially, but once set up, the only option you are presented with is to change the username and password.  I actually ended up creating a second VPN because I couldn’t figure out how to edit the first! It took me a while to realise that if you long-press on the VPN, you get an edit and delete option – there is more than enough screen space available to have these on the list of VPN’s menu showing all the time, but again, it is a ‘hidden’ option that you have to figure out for yourself.  Normally you would press on the left hand side soft button to bring up the settings menu that would bring up an edit or delete option, but typical of Google software, a different person has designed each part and nobody has drawn the whole thing together to make it consistent.  Also, for some reason, when you set up a VPN, you MUST have a security screen lock – why?  It’s very annoying!  I thought Android was about choice!

Things just aren’t made to be obvious as they are within iOS.  You can get used to it, but I don’t want to have to spend time fiddling with things to figure them out, which is just wrong.  For me, if it isn’t obvious, then it hasn’t been thought about enough and done properly.

There are more options on Android (at least on the S3) but I’ve yet to find something that is a necessity rather than just something else to adjust, although I know there are people who want the ability to fiddle with anything and everything!  For those people Android wins.

Generally though, once you’ve set up the phone (S3 or iPhone) you don’t normally spend much time in the settings, so as long as you can get it to do what you want then you’ll be ok.  The one advantage that can be found on Android is that you can download Widgets to put on the homescreens to change certain settings directly rather than have to go into the settings menu, which can make changing often used setting quicker.

The camera

The iPhone camera is way ahead of the camera on the S3.  The iPhone 4S camera can almost be used as a replacement for a cheap point-and-shoot, the S3 is definitely a mobile phone camera!  See all my comparison photos at the bottom of this.  In ideal conditions they are not too dissimilar, but once indoors the differences become huge.  The S3 also looks like someone has covered the lens in Vaseline compared to the iPhone 4S, and because the lens protrudes so much it picks up every bit of dirt, so requires constant wiping.

Both camera Apps are good to use, and the S3’s camera app speed is impressive, but side-by-side they are almost impossible to tell apart in terms of speed.

Battery life

I can finally see why Android users complain that the iPhone doesn’t have a removable battery.  Quite frankly, battery life on the S3 is appalling.  I spent a typical day out with both and used them both pretty much equally, the iPhone was still at 74% when the S3 was at 1%!  For the first time I can ever remember in 20 years of using mobile phones, I’ve ordered a second battery.  I used to think people who wanted to change the battery in their phone were talking crazy, but now I understand that with Android, it’s a necessity!

In three years, I’ve only ever once run my iPhone down to a few-percent left at the very end of the day, but the S3 seems to be getting to that point by the end of the afternoon pretty much every day!  If I don’t leave it on charge, the battery life is down to about 75% in the morning after being fully charged before going to bed.  The iPhone usually shows about 97% doing the same thing.

That’s quite an important consideration.  It makes me more reluctant to just pull the S3 out of my pocket to check something quickly, I’m not being flippant, I’m seriously worried to use it too much because the battery life is that awful.

E-Mail/Contacts/Calendars

This was a huge surprise to me.  I thought g-mail would be fully integrated into Android.  It isn’t, and quite frankly the e-mail App, both the Mail and downloadable G-Mail Apps are awful.  G-Mail sync doesn’t work anywhere near as good as it does on the iPhone, with new mail notifications still showing up hours after I’ve long since read the e-mails on my laptop.  I’ve tried setting it up in all sorts of different ways and just can’t get it to work anywhere near as slickly as I can on the iPhone. Weird!

All my contacts and calendar information is stored in iCloud.  I transferred it all over to Google in anticipation of iCloud not being supported on Android, but to my huge relief I found two apps for Android that allow your iCloud calendar and contacts to be synched up (two-way) to your Android calendar and contacts.  That was a huge relief as Google calendar was always a problem on the Mac when I was using it, and setting up iCloud on the iPad and Macs is just easy and I didn’t want to have to change it all over!

Text Input

Awkward. Nowhere near as slick as the iPhone, even after a month of using the phone daily I still struggle.  Auto-correct is unbelievably annoyingly intrusive, just don’t get me started!  I can type on the iPhone at least twice as fast as on the S3, not because the keyboard is less responsive, but because when you do make a mistake the S3 just gets in the way rather than lets you get on and correct your mistake as the iPhone does.

I’ve also yet to figure out how to cut-and-paste on the S3.  I’ve done it once when the option suddenly appeared in a bar at the top, but never seen it before or since that one time!

iPhone wins hands down.

Conclusion

When I’ve got both phones with me and I want to do something quickly, I automatically reach for the iPhone – it’s just quicker and easier, simple as that.  There are no two ways about it.  I thought it was just because I was familiar with the iPhone, but even after using the S3 for a while now, I still do it.  Sometimes I even start on the S3 and then swap to the iPhone to get the job done!

When I want to do some web browsing, the S3 is the better device, and some of the Apps are better on the S3.

I thought the S3 would blow the iPhone out of the water with the [nearly] latest version of Android and the larger screen, but it seems Apple still don’t have that much to worry about and perhaps screen size isn’t the be-all-and-end-all!

For the moment I’m sticking with the S3 to see if I can get past some of the annoyances, but I’ve had it for about a month now and I’m finding myself getting more rather than less frustrated with it.  I’m seriously considering paying full whack for the iPhone 5 when it comes out and dumping the S3 if I can’t work my way around things, especially that battery life.

Sample photos

These are just a series of random photos I took in and around the house.  They were all taken with the standard camera App that comes with the phone, both in full automatic mode with flash off.  No favouritism – I picked up the phone, pointed it and shot in the same way that 99% of people do with their phone!  The only thing I did manually to ensure fairness was to make sure the focus point was the same on both.  No fiddling done with any of them, they are all straight off the phones.

I won’t make any comments on these,  I’ll let you decide which you think are better.

The phone they were taken with is noted at the bottom of each photo.

s3-2
S3

ip4s-2

iPhone 4S

 

s3-3
S3

ip4s-3
iPhone 4S

s3-1
S3

ip4s-1
iPhone 4S

s3-4
S3

ip4s-4
iPhone 4S

s4-5
S3

ip4s-5
iPhone 4S

s3-7
S3

ip4s-7
iPhone 4S

s3-6
S3

ip4s-6
iPhone 4S

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