Mobile Technology

Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. iPhone 5

We compare the specs – and other features – of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5
We compare the specs – and other features – of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5
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The Galaxy S4's battery holds significantly more juice than the iPhone's
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The Galaxy S4's battery holds significantly more juice than the iPhone's
The S4's camera is 13 MP, next to the iPhone's 8 MP
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The S4's camera is 13 MP, next to the iPhone's 8 MP
There are two different models of the Galaxy S4 – maxing out at eight cores
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There are two different models of the Galaxy S4 – maxing out at eight cores
Pick your cliche: bigger is better, or less is more?
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Pick your cliche: bigger is better, or less is more?
The GS4's display is both larger and sharper
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The GS4's display is both larger and sharper
We compare the specs – and other features – of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5
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We compare the specs – and other features – of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5
Android hiding under a layer of Samsung, or Zen-like simplicity? (disguise image: Shutterstock, stones image: Shutterstock)
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Android hiding under a layer of Samsung, or Zen-like simplicity? (disguise image: Shutterstock, stones image: Shutterstock)
The Galaxy S4 doubles the iPhone's 1 GB of RAM
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The Galaxy S4 doubles the iPhone's 1 GB of RAM
Apart from the S4's microSD support, storage options are even
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Apart from the S4's microSD support, storage options are even
The iPhone 5 is significantly lighter than the Galaxy S4
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The iPhone 5 is significantly lighter than the Galaxy S4
Where available, both phones support speedy LTE data
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Where available, both phones support speedy LTE data
The Galaxy S4 is made primarily of plastic, while the iPhone 5 rocks anodized aluminum
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The Galaxy S4 is made primarily of plastic, while the iPhone 5 rocks anodized aluminum

In a market swarming with competitors, it’s remarkable that Apple and Samsung are the only two smartphone makers seeing significant profits. In some parallel universe, perhaps the two could comfortably coexist, content with their virtual duopoly ... but there’s way too much bad blood for that. Will Samsung’s new Galaxy S4 help it to pull away? Or will the iPhone 5 stand strong after six months on the market? Let’s see how their specs – and other features – compare.

Size

Pick your cliche: bigger is better, or less is more?
Pick your cliche: bigger is better, or less is more?

Android flagship phones keep growing bigger, while Apple is more discerning about changing the iPhone’s size.

Do you subscribe to a “bigger is better” mentality? Or do you prefer simplicity and “less is more?” If you lean towards the former, then your decision is easy. The Galaxy S4 is larger than the iPhone 5 in every dimension.

The flip side is the argument that Android phones have grown too big, and the iPhone hits a more comfortable sweet spot. Before making a decision, you might want to get your hands on both devices to find out which size you prefer.

Build materials

The Galaxy S4 is made primarily of plastic, while the iPhone 5 rocks anodized aluminum
The Galaxy S4 is made primarily of plastic, while the iPhone 5 rocks anodized aluminum

For all of the Galaxy S4's outstanding components (as you'll see below), its composition isn't exactly premium. It's primarily made of the same plastic that composed the Galaxy S3. The iPhone 5 is made primarily of anodized aluminum.

The Galaxy S3 showed that millions of customers can still fall in love with a smartphone that's both high-end and made of plastic. But if you're looking for a premium-feeling build, the iPhone 5 and HTC One both stand head-and-shoulders above the somewhat cheap-feeling Galaxy S4.

Weight

The iPhone 5 is significantly lighter than the Galaxy S4
The iPhone 5 is significantly lighter than the Galaxy S4

If you’re looking for a light phone, the iPhone 5 is still King. Though the Galaxy S4 is a smidge lighter than the Galaxy S3, it’s still 16 percent heavier than Apple’s flagship.

The flip side to that is that an extra 18 g (0.63 oz.) of heft in the GS4 nets you significantly more screen real estate ...

Display

The GS4's display is both larger and sharper
The GS4's display is both larger and sharper

In addition to an extra (diagonal) inch of display real estate, the Galaxy S4 also gives you over a million extra pixels.

Will your eye notice a huge difference between 441 pixels per inch (PPI) and 326 PPI? Probably not. But, as hardware vendors run out of obvious selling features, pixel counts will continue to rise – whether your eyes can discern much of a difference or not.

Pixel count aside, the S4’s bigger display inches closer towards “phablet” territory, potentially voiding any need for a seven or 8-inch tablet. It’s harder to argue that the iPhone’s 4-inch display could substitute for an iPad mini’s 7.9-inch screen.

Processor

There are two different models of the Galaxy S4 – maxing out at eight cores
There are two different models of the Galaxy S4 – maxing out at eight cores

On paper – and likely in benchmarks – both versions of the Galaxy S4 beat the iPhone hands-down in a CPU showdown.

In terms of experience, though, it’s harder to see this making a dramatic difference. How many iOS apps push the iPhone 4S’ A5 chip to its limits – much less the iPhone 5’s A6? Apple’s vertically-integrated model (creating both the hardware and software) may deem more cores and faster clock speeds somewhat less relevant than on Android phones like the Galaxy S4.

RAM

The Galaxy S4 doubles the iPhone's 1 GB of RAM
The Galaxy S4 doubles the iPhone's 1 GB of RAM

Another encouraging sign for the Galaxy S4, as its 2 GB of random-access memory (RAM) double the iPhone’s 1 GB.

Storage

Apart from the S4's microSD support, storage options are even
Apart from the S4's microSD support, storage options are even

Apart from the Galaxy S4’s microSD card (expandable to 64 GB), storage options are even.

Wireless

Where available, both phones support speedy LTE data
Where available, both phones support speedy LTE data

In regions where 4G LTE is available, both phones should support it.

Samsung will sell a separate GS4 model that maxes out at HSPA+ speeds (relatively fast, but not LTE fast) in select regions. The iPhone 5 will also default to HSPA+ if LTE isn’t available.

Battery

The Galaxy S4's battery holds significantly more juice than the iPhone's
The Galaxy S4's battery holds significantly more juice than the iPhone's

Here’s another category where the Galaxy S4 looks great on paper. But you can’t take battery capacity as an absolute indicator of actual uptime – especially when the S4’s battery is powering a display with more than one million extra pixels.

Apple estimates eight hours of talk or internet uptime for the iPhone 5. We’ll have to wait for some hands-on time with GS4 before drawing conclusions about its battery life.

Cameras

The S4's camera is 13 MP, next to the iPhone's 8 MP
The S4's camera is 13 MP, next to the iPhone's 8 MP

In high-end smartphones, 2013 is shaping up to be the year of the 13-megapixel camera. It’s possible Apple will join that club with the iPhone 5S, but, in the meantime, the iPhone 5’s rear shooter represents 2012’s defining benchmark of 8 megapixels.

Samsung is heavily pushing its software-based camera features in Galaxy S4. These include Dual Camera (it simultaneously snaps shots and videos with both cameras and lets you imprint one inside the other), Drama Shot (a burst mode that combines the images into a collage), and Sound & Shot (records an audio clip along with still shots).

Intangibles

Android hiding under a layer of Samsung, or Zen-like simplicity? (disguise image: Shutterstock, stones image: Shutterstock)
Android hiding under a layer of Samsung, or Zen-like simplicity? (disguise image: Shutterstock, stones image: Shutterstock)

The Galaxy S4 runs Android 4.2.2 Jellybean – and includes Google’s apps like the Play Store, Gmail, and Google Maps – but this green robot is hiding under a big honkin’ layer of Samsung. The company is trying to differentiate its software from its fellow Android handsets (and perhaps paving the road for a shift to Tizen or an Amazon-esque forked version of Android).

Some of the S4’s new software features sound promising. S Translate could help you to communicate in foreign tongues on the fly (though there are third party apps that already do this). If S Voice (Samsung's answer to Siri) is improved, it could prove valuable – particularly in its new S Voice Drive car mode.

The value of other features, however, is more questionable. Adding audio clips to your still photos? Scrolling through web pages and emails via facial recognition? Browsing through photos with mid-air gestures? There’s a fine line between inventing something that’s truly game-changing, and simply cramming in as many “new features” as possible. Is Samsung toeing that line a bit too closely?

... which brings us to those zen-like balancing stones (pictured above). Apple treats simplicity like a religion, and the company has followed it to a T with iOS and the iPhone. While Android and Samsung try to evolve as quickly as possible, iOS has only changed incrementally since the first iPhone in 2007.

Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. The Samsung angle may mean beating Apple to the punch on some important features, but it might also mean growing bloated with confusing, extraneous crap. Apple’s angle, on the other hand, might be too minimalistic for some customers: primitive, childlike, and unchanging.

Maybe one approach isn’t more “right” than the other, and it’s up to you to decide which better suits you. After all, with just two companies standing atop the smartphone mountain, there should be plenty of room for more than one approach.

To see how these two compare to other top handsets, check out our 2013 Smartphone Comparison Guide.

32 comments
Fahrenheit 451
Well, I'm ready to purchase the Galaxy S4. Being that our son works handling the premier accounts for a major phone provider I get to test out many a mobile phone. His personal favorite and the one he uses for business is the Note 2. Apple has a lot of catching up to do if they want to be more than just trendy. He told me yesterday that even before the S4 was announced that his customers were calling him incessantly to see if they could get one. Surprisingly, he also said that there is interest in the new Blackberry. Now, before you say he's biased, I can tell you he's sick of talking about mobile phones and dreads me calling him to talk about them.
VoiceofReason
I'd take the S4 over the Iphone 5 for the bigger screen. Not JUST because it's bigger but because I am a guy with large hands. Trying to type on a touchscreen is murder on smaller phones. The fact it's a Droid is icing on the cake. On a side note, I got to play with the new Blackberry Z10 for about 2 hours today. It has a nice mix of features and while I'm not in love with it, I don't hate any one thing, other than a lack of a home button. If you are a Blackberry user, and have been holding out. Wait no longer. You're upgrade is here.
Nirmal Dhandapani
I'd wait for the iPhone 5S especially since it might be coming earlier than expected. It is rumored to have a lot of interesting new features such as fingerprint scanner, iOS 7 which is rumored to be completely new and finally NFC. And by the way these are features that count and are useful. The S4 was somewhat of a disappointment for me what with it's new useless software features such as Smart Scroll. It's not revolutionary but just an evolutionary update with the camera and processor updates. And proof that Samsung disappointed is that Apple's stock prices shot up after Samsung's announcement of the Galaxy S4.
evgonzz
The GS4 is made out of polycarbonate; a type of plastic. Calling it plastic sounds off putting. It'd be like saying the iphone5 is made out of soda cans.
01000111
Total Apple fanboy comparison. He left out NFC again like he did and was called on in the S3 comparison. The SD card is a huge advantage with high def video capture yet that's glazed over as well. Apple makes a good product, but it can't compete on features.
BleedingEdge
One BIG aspect of battery life that wasn't mentioned is how ridiculously easy it is to pop-open the S4's rear cover and insert a fully charged replacement.
Adrien
it's odd that Samsung gets picked on for choosing a plastic case. You have to buy an after-market plastic case for the iPhone so it won't shatter as soon as you drop it. That makes it thicker than any other smart phone. Aluminium case might feel nice, but it's no cushion, and it transmits too much force to the screen when you drop it. Yes... when not if. There are plenty of side-by-side drop tests of Galaxy x vs iPhone y. these reviews should be done with the bump case attached, to get a real-world experience comparison.
Daishi
@Nirmal Your post said you are waiting for iPhone 5S because NFC counts and is useful. Samsung has had NFC since S3 and iPhone 5 doesn't have it. The hardware is updated but some of the software updates look cool too. S Health used the acceleromiter to work as a pedometer kind of like fitbit and fuelband. Knox lets you create separate sandboxes/profiles for personal and work. It lets you separate your work/personal contacts easily, stick your work mail in the work sandbox, and if your IT department needs access to remote wipe your phone they can wipe just that portion. It is useful for people who were previously carrying around 2 phones. This is something BB10 was going to support and now it's available on S4. It will come with SwiftKey built in which is probably the best Android input app. The iPhone 5S won't be out for a while so the Samsung will have the dominant product for 5-6 months or longer if the iPhone 5S doesn't deliver. It is evolutionary over the S3 sure but most S3 owners are still locked into contracts anyway. If you compare it to the SII generation phones it's pretty significant.
Yasser Almalky
About the mass... The Samsung Galaxy S4 is relatively lighter: S4: density = g/mm^3 = 130/(70*137*7.9) = 0.00172 iPhone 5: density = g/mm^3 = 112/(59*124*7.6) = 0.00202 So, the S4 is less dense, and if it had the same dimensions as the iPhone 5 it would weigh about 95.4g, about 15% lighter than the iPhone 5. Relative mass matters, not the mass itself!
Dean Ashby
everyone states that the S4 is 'Plastic', Asthough it is some cheap household plastic which degrades the phone somehow... It is polycarb plastic. Extremely durable, Scratch resistant. It doesn't dent or mark like aluminum. You can bend the back cover in half so the top and the bottom touch each other. It'll ping back to its original form without causing any issues, stretching or tears. It's an expensive plastic too!! Least I add, It doesn't get really cold and uncomfortable to hold in cold weather like the I phone!! i wish people would get educated on the subject before dismissing something due to ignorance. The next Iphone should be polycarb, it'd make it a half decent phone just for that alone.