Every time Samsung announces yet another plastic smartphone, throngs of fans scratch their heads and wonder why the company can't make something a bit more premium-feeling. With the new Galaxy Alpha, Samsung finally delivered ... sort of. Let's pit the partially metal Galaxy Alpha against the aluminum iPhone 5s, to see how their features and specs compare.
The Galaxy Alpha is noticeably smaller than the Galaxy S5, but it's still quite a bit larger than the iPhone. Samsung's phone is 7 percent longer and 12 percent wider than Apple's flagship.
The Galaxy Alpha is one incredibly thin phone. The iPhone is already a flag-bearer for svelte design, but the Alpha measures 12 percent thinner.
The Alpha is also extremely light. Despite having a (roughly) 15 percent greater surface area, the Alpha is only 3 percent heavier than the already feathery iPhone.
Samsung has finally delivered a metallic phone, but it's only slightly metallic. The band that wraps around the Galaxy Alpha's edge is indeed made of metal, but its back is made of a soft-touch (dimpled) plastic, similar to what you'd find on the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Tab S.
I suppose we can't simultaneously praise the Alpha's light weight, while criticizing its use of plastic: that plastic is likely the biggest reason that it's so feathery. Still, it would be nice to see Samsung go all in on a premium build. I guess the company needs to save something for the Galaxy S6.
We have five color options for the Galaxy Alpha and three for the iPhone.
The Galaxy Alpha's screen is fairly small compared to Android flagships, but it's still 38 percent bigger than the iPhone's 4-in display. 4.7 inches also happens to be the rumored screen size of the iPhone 6 (well, at least one of them).
Neither of these phones' display resolutions is in the same echelon as recent 1080p or Quad HD flagships, like the Galaxy S5, HTC One (M8) or LG G3. Both, however, should still look pretty sharp for most eyes.
On paper, this looks like a wash, but Apple's Touch ID sensor is in a league of its own. You can simply rest your finger on it for a moment to register. With Samsung's sensors, you have to swipe your finger – and only from one direction. It doesn't sound like much of a difference (and Samsung's is still nice to have), but Apple's is faster and more convenient.
Heart rate sensor
Like the GS5, the Galaxy Alpha also has a heart rate monitor on its backside. It's a nice bonus if you're a workout junkie, but we also wouldn't base your decision on this. There are solid heart rate apps for iOS (and other Android phones) that can measure your pulse using a combination of the camera and flash.
The Galaxy Alpha borrows several features from the Galaxy S5, but this isn't one of them. Neither of these phones includes water resistance.
Only one storage option for the Alpha. Another interesting item to note is that, unlike just about every other Samsung device from the last few years, it doesn't have a microSD card slot.
You can only glean so much from looking at cores and clock speeds on paper – especially with a chip like the iPhone's A7, which outperforms its specs. In other words, consider performance an unknown until we put the Galaxy Alpha through the paces.
The Alpha does have a fairly standard 2 GB of RAM. This is an area where iOS devices could use an upgrade, as current iPhones and iPads are all stuck in a dated 1 GB of RAM.
Megapixels are as good a metric to include here as any, but they don't necessarily tell us much about actual camera quality. This is another area where the Galaxy Alpha is still a question mark.
The Alpha holds 19 percent more juice, but we'll also have to wait to see how that plays out with actual uptimes.
Ultra Power Saving Mode
No matter what the Alpha's battery life looks like, Samsung threw in a cool feature that can keep you on the grid in a pinch. If your battery is almost dead, Ultra Power Saving Mode desaturates the Alpha's screen, while limiting available apps and running processes, to make a little bit of juice go a long way (approximately 24 hours on just 10 percent battery).
The Galaxy Alpha ships with Android 4.4.4 KitKat, with Samsung's TouchWiz UI (and all the wacky features that accompany it) pasted on top. The iPhone runs iOS 7, and will be upgraded next month to iOS 8.
Unless you're getting a great deal, right now is a terrible time to buy the iPhone 5s. In a little over a month, you'll be able to buy at least one new iPhone – possibly two. Unless the rumor mill is horrifically off-target, we'll be seeing a 4.7-in iPhone and a 5.5-in Apple phablet hitting store shelves before long.
Starting price (off-contract)
Samsung has yet to announce pricing for the Galaxy Alpha, but, considering that its components are a notch or two below the Galaxy S5's, we'd hope it would ring up for cheaper. Time will tell.