Mobile Technology

iPhone 5 vs. Galaxy S III

iPhone 5 vs. Galaxy S III
Who's the grand poo-bah of the smartphone market?
Who's the grand poo-bah of the smartphone market?
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There's nothing like a good rivalry. Whether it's Ali vs. Frazier, FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, or Magic vs. Bird, gritty duels have a way of getting people pumped. In this Digital Age, consumer tech has its own sets of sworn opponents: in the 80s it was Apple vs. IBM, later we saw Windows vs. OS X, and gamers even have Playstation vs. Xbox.

In 2012, however, the biggest tech rivalry is the match between the two biggest players in mobile: Apple and Samsung. This one has gotten nasty, extending into international courts. Things only get more interesting with the release of Apple's iPhone 5 this week.

A great product is much more than the sum of its parts, but – even in this post-PC era – specs can matter. If one phone has a quad-core chip with 2GB of RAM, and another a single-core CPU with 128MB of RAM, the first one will be much faster. Likewise, a display with 320 pixels per inch (ppi) will look much sharper than one with 163ppi. You'd be foolish to worship at the altar of specs, but technical details can still shed some light on the subject.

So, with many grains of salt in hand, let's see how Apple's newest iPhone stacks up against the current cream of Android's crop, the Samsung Galaxy S III:

Dimensions

Say what you will about Samsung's originality, but its devices are beloved by millions. The Galaxy S III has an expansive surface, but measures thinner than the previous two iPhones.

The iPhone 5, meanwhile, is Apple's first redesigned handset in over two years. It's longer than the iPhone 4/4S (by 8.6mm), but maintains the same width. At 7.6mm thick, the iPhone 5 is also one of the thinnest smartphones around (the Droid Razr measures at 7.1mm, but it has a protruding hump).

Weight

The iPhone 5 is light. Though the iPhone 4/4S was far from a hulking monstrosity, the new model is 28 grams lighter. Part of this is due to its thinner design (and internal components), but its aluminum backing is the biggest reason. The past two iPhones had glass backs, which naturally added some heft.

Though it may feel heavy next to the iPhone 5, you can do much worse than the Galaxy S III. Despite sporting a monstrous display and a wider build than Apple's latest, it's still a relatively light smartphone.

Display

The iPhone 5 offers the first change in screen size since Apple entered the industry in 2007, boosting the iPhone display from 3.5 to 4 inches. Rather than adding a huge screen with the same 3:2 aspect ratio, though, Tim Cook & company lengthened it. It shifts to a narrower 16:9 aspect ratio: larger, but you can still reach your thumb across the screen.

The Galaxy S III, meanwhile, has a display that is both longer and wider than the iPhone's. If you aren't concerned with thumb reach, the S3 offers significantly more screen real estate.

Size isn't everything though. Apple is promising 44 percent greater color saturation over the iPhone 4/4S. The touch-sensing electrodes are also nearer to the display's surface, moving one step closer to the illusion of ink on paper.

CPU

Remember when I said specs weren't everything? These chips are great examples. On paper, the processors in both versions (North America and international) of the Galaxy S III are superior - faster clock speed and an equal or greater number of cores. But early tests reveal that Apple's custom A6 SoC is a beast, breaking records in Geekbench and Sunspider benchmarks.

Unsurprisingly, the A6's closest rival in those tests has been the Galaxy S III. Both editions of the handset deliver some of the best smartphone performance you'll see in 2012 ... but they may not match the wicked speed of the iPhone 5.

RAM

Another big factor in performance, RAM is evenly matched at 1GB in the iPhone 5 and the global Galaxy S III. The US/Canada S3, meanwhile, doubles the memory with a whopping 2GB.

Storage

Here's another closely-matched category. The 64GB version of Samsung's flagship launches soon, and the only other difference is the microSD card slot that it (and most Android phones) offer.

As always, more flash memory means you're spending more money.

Wireless Connectivity

After over 18 months worth of LTE-equipped Android phones, Apple has now given us an iPhone with "true 4G." Those who live in an area with available coverage will see cellular data speeds that are faster than many home broadband connections.

The Galaxy S III also supports LTE, like most high-end Android phones from the last year or so.

Battery

The biggest reason for Apple taking its sweet time delivering LTE? It took a while to get battery life up to snuff. Early LTE phones like the HTC Thunderbolt and Motorola Droid Bionic sometimes struggled to last a few hours. We finally saw an LTE phone with great battery life in the Droid Razr Maxx, and the Galaxy S III is no slouch either. It should last a full day for most users.

We've yet to put an iPhone 5 through the paces, but Apple promises better battery life than the iPhone 4S, even while on LTE. Early reviews suggest that it lives up to this promise, but we'll update after getting our hands on one.

Camera

You can't go wrong with either camera. At least before the iPhone 5, many valued the S3's shooter as the best on the market. Despite many similarities to the 4S' camera, Apple is promising key improvements over its predecessor - including better low-light shooting.

Apple is highlighting a new panorama shooting feature in iOS 6 (exclusive to the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5). Though it offers Apple's customary polish and attention to detail, there are already several quality third-party panorama apps on both iOS and Android, and a similar stock panorama feature on the S3.

Intangibles

Though Apple design guru Jony Ive isn't part of the iPhone 5, he does represent those elements of Apple's appeal that can't be drawn from tech specs alone. While rival manufacturers focus more on specs, marketable features, and pricing, Apple's main focus is on the customer's experience. That includes the feeling one gets from holding, viewing, and using the product. With its combination of lightness, unprecedented thinness, and beautiful design, the iPhone 5 may epitomize this philosophy more than any prior Apple product.

The Galaxy S III, on the other hand, is today's Android flagship. In a crowded field of high-end smartphones, that's no small feat. In other words, if a friend asked for advice on the one Android phone to buy, you'd be wise to recommend the Galaxy S III.

The Galaxy S III isn't quite on the software cutting edge, sporting the nearly year-old Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (skinned with Samsung's Touchwiz UI). Samsung did, however, cook up several unique features: S Beam (which utilizes its Near Field Communication chip to enable peer-to-peer sharing), a variety of social sharing features, and its (less intelligent) Siri rival, S Voice.

The iPhone 5 ships with iOS 6, which heralds the arrival of a new Apple Maps app - including Siri-powered turn-by-turn navigation - and system-wide Facebook sharing. It also brings incremental improvements to Safari, Mail, iCloud, and Siri.

Long-term Apple customers will notice another big difference this year: Apple has redesigned its bundled earbuds. Now known as Earpods, the tiny headphones promise a more secure and comfortable fit, as well as improved acoustics. As a standalone $30 product, these aren't high-end models for audiophiles, but they do look to drastically improve on the old earbuds.

One last iPhone update to keep in mind: Apple added a new connector to the iPhone 5. Dubbed Lightning, it's smaller, promises faster speeds, and is reversible. Unfortunately, it also requires you to buy a $30 adapter to keep using all of your old docks, speakers, and other accessories. It was time for the old 30-pin connector to go, but it would have been nice to see a cheaper (or bundled) adapter for those old accessories.

Summing Up

So which phone is better? Who's the grand poo-bah of the smartphone market? Much of that will come down to your preferences. If you've already dug your heels into either the Android or iOS camp, then your mind was likely made up long ago. But if you haven't yet chosen a side, we recommend you head to a retail store to get some hands-on time with both phones. It's hard to go wrong with either one.

As the iPhone 5 begins to arrive on people's doorsteps (and in the hands of weary Apple Store campers), we'd love to hear your thoughts about it. Does it live up to expectations, or feel like another incremental update? Feel free to let us know in the comments.

36 comments
John Shackleford
Well honestly speaking it would be very tough for the Iphone 5 to match up to the galaxy in most aspects. For chances are that the Galaxy s3 with its new Exynos processor would trump it as it is currently the best processor on a mobile device (including tablets). Also the iphone 5 may have a good camera but the question is will apple throw in the features like panorama, zero shutter lag, burst shot...etc. Even if we compare screen with screen the resolution on the S3 still looks better and your comparison between the superLCD displays and the AMOLED display is also not fair. Fistly you forgot to mention that amo"LED" uses LED technology which is far superior in terms of contrast to LCD technology. It also is significantly healthier to read off an LED display than an LCD display and after hours of reading LED does not cause eye irritations like LCD displays. Sure there might be slightly "less natural colours" but the beauty of android is that it allows you to change the contrast on your S3. The last thing i would like to talk about is the design. Now i highly doubt that the Iphone will be slimmer than the S3 and if it is slimmer than that would be a disadvantage to apple as the phone already feels like a brick in my hand (ergonomic design is good on the iphone but ergonomic feel is terrible) and if a brick was thin it would be easy to drop. The S3 feels natural in the hand and seamless in the pocket (maybe too seamless). The cheap and materials used to make the S3 honestly is a letdown and in terms of build quality samsung has a lot to learn from HTC but the design on the other hand is simple and like i mentioned, feels seemless and natural in the hand( perfect for videos)
Ross Jenkins
This article came at a good time, I'm about to swap my Galaxy S3 for an Iphone 5. I have to say that over all I was dissatisfied with the S3 in comparison to the Iphone 4. My main issue with the S3 is it's size.
Scott Bailey
New Samsung S IV is due out in September 2012, so why are all the peoples in my local area rushing to the phone stores to get a new iPhone5? I have no IDEA! Their bad luck as they will be locked into a 24 month contract, I bet!
Paulo Guerreiro
Vou esperar pelo IPhone 6 ou o 7 ou o 8 ou o 9 ou o 10, e porque não o 11, vou pensar, começei hoje a minha reflexão, disse.
Tommo
I've had my iPhone 5 for a few hours now and the best way to judge both of them, as the author mentioned, is to get both of them in your hands and see them in person. I did this and the iPhone was waay better in my opinion. The S3 is a truly fantastic device but just felt too cheap in the hand. The thing that really did it for me though was the screen, I just thought the S3 was a little too big for my liking. The only downside for me for the iPhone was the loss of Google street view but I'm banking on Google bringing out an app to compensate for that.
Ziad Dibsi
The Galaxy S3 is a super phone and will not change it unless for Galaxy S4.
Stefan Padureanu
Review is biased towards Apple ...
Frank Pinkney
Strange that NFC, which isn't available on the iPhone, was only mentioned as an aside at the end of the article and the micro-sd slot on the S3 was mentioned but not really identified as an advantage for the S3.
Anthony Ballmann
I dunno, my mom got the s3 through t mobile, and so far she is dissappointed. the battery got hot in less than 10 minutes of it running, and i already heard of a report that one persons phone caught on fire! and this came from the guy working at the tmobile store! at the store, 3 other people came in with battery related issues. if they dont fix the battery problem, were gonna get rid of this phone (thank god we actually own the damn thing, and are not on a contract)
Tacky-on
Interestingly, the most important element is utterly missing in terms of what makes the phone a better buy. The issue is, how much of the phone's ability has been crippled deliberately by the maker or the carrier to make its functionality limited. If one of the phones was equal to a supercomputer with AI but Apple (for example) had crippled it to the point where it couldn't work as a calculator even, then any other phone is the better buy unless you 'jailbreak' it and then you have to treat it as any other computer. When the iphone 3 came out, it was capable of shooting video as hardware but Apple made sure that it would not have software that allowed that function. So a $50.00 flip phone was better for that purpose. Both Apple and Samsung have continued to do that. So its a matter of researching what functions have been disabled to know which phone will work for you. Also, the camera specs on the Galaxy III are the same as on the Galaxy II but the video and stills on the III are much better. In fact, the video is nearly as good as on my $1200.00 Panasonic prosumer video camera. I was shocked. Lens quality and other variables count as well as MPs etc. The Galaxy phones often have to be 'rooted' in order to get the actual performance of the hardware you buy and own when you get one of these things. I find that dishonest in terms of having to disable dishonest functions to limit the functionality of something you bought. But what can you do. These are big companies.