Samsung has officially announced the Galaxy S III, the latest flagship smartphone to come from the world’s largest phone manufacturer as of last month. The commercials for the device are beyond farfetched, but it boasts some of the biggest improvements to smartphones seen since the HTC One series. How does it stand up against today’s top-selling smartphone, the iPhone 4S? Let’s find out.

Size

The iPhone 4S is now the smallest smartphone on the market, and the Galaxy S III will be the largest. There is going to be a stark difference between the two in size, one that can’t easily be resolved. The HTC One X was a tad smaller, but first reports say that the GS3 is still well sized and fits the hand well. My opinion on the matter is that the iPhone is already a great size, but that people want and like bigger phones.

The reason? Because phones are become all-purpose devices. Most owners don’t have a tablet, laptop, desktop, media player, etc. They want it all in one phone, and that means a bigger phone is better. There can be too much phone to handle, of course, but all reports state that the GS3 is just fine to hold, to use, and to carry in the pocket.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which is bigger but not uncomfortable or overwhelming according to first reports.

Appearance

Compared to the Galaxy S II, the newer Galaxy S III looks plasticy and somewhat poorly built. The back panel is a single bendable plastic glossy slab, and the front is all display. Compare that with the iPhone, or any recent high-end smartphone, and the GS3 looks like a kids toy from the back. I don’t even know what could have been going through Samsung’s head, except perhaps to make the GS3 look like the original Galaxy S or Galaxy Players, which are all good devices but ugly when compared to the iPhone, the One X, the Lumia 900, and a handful of other phones.

Winner: iPhone 4S, which doesn’t look like a phone from two years ago.

Display

The iPhone 4S has one of the best displays on the market today, but that’s slowly changed with great screens like on the Nokia Lumia 900 and HTC One X. No longer is Apple’s Retina Display top-dog, and it hasn’t been the densest display for a long time. Then again, screen density stops mattering at a certain point, and anything over 275PPI is good enough to replace a physical object, like a book or magazine.

The real difference here is the screen technology (LCD IPS vs SuperAMOLED+) and size. IPS displays are historically great for color accuracy and brightness, while SuperAMOLED+ provides amazing picture quality. I think the best media tablet in the world is Samsung’s own Galaxy Tab 7.7, with that exact screen tech. Video on it looks stunning, and with a 4.8″ display, I have no doubt that video, pictures, and games will look just as stunning on the GS3.

Then again, the GS3 has a Pentile display. In the past, such screens have been poorly rated because the individual pixels were visible. That likely won’t be the case with the GS3 because it’s so dense; it’s a 720p display. So the question becomes the following: better color accuracy and brightness on a smaller screen, or better video quality thanks to more color contrast and a larger screen?

As we’ve seen in the past, larger screens tend to win out, and I’m obliged to follow suit here, but only because of the color accuracy isn’t as important on a smartphone as, say, a computer monitor or even a tablet. Increased color contrast and larger screen size is more pertinent to users.

Winner: Galaxy S III, with a larger, higher resolution display with better color contrast that’ll make video and pictures shine.

Operating System

Whether you’re an Android fanboy or an iOS diehard, the battle between the two OS’s rages on. My opinion is that iOS is still the stronger operating system; it’s simpler, easier to manage, and anyone switching between the two OS’s will be better off with iOS in any case.

Samsung has included some great additions using their user interface, but it isn’t likely going to make the overall OS better than iOS. I’ve played with a handful of Android 4.0 handsets, and while Ice Cream Sandwich is a serious improvement over 2.3, it still doesn’t beat iOS.

Winner: iPhone 4S, because Android 4.0 still isn’t quite as good as iOS 5. But it’s getting close.

Processor

This is a tough call. The iPhone 4S has a lower-clocked ARM A9 processor compared to nearly every smartphone, but it still manages to outperform nearly every smartphone that runs through our hideous benchmark testing. The few that perform better only do so when it’s just straight up CPU vs CPU. That’s fine, but every smartphone is an SoC, or a system on a chip. That includes the CPU and GPU, which is standard and graphics processing.

Then again, the GS3 has a brand new 1.4GHz Exynos 4, which if the Galaxy S II was any indication, will be remarkably fast. Only one review is available today, on The Verge, it scores the GS3 as slower than the iPhone with graphics processing.

When I compared the iPhone 4S to the One X, the iPhone won because it slightly outperformed the One X in general processing, which is most important, and greatly exceeded the X in graphics processing. The GS3 is almost the opposite: it’s faster for general purpose processing but is slower at graphics processing. And general use is most important.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which has an excellent quad-core 1.4GHz processor that’s not necessarily as fast for graphics processing, but is superb at running everything else, including 1080p video.

Storage

The Galaxy S III hasn’t been officially announced for the US with particular sizes, but it’s safe to assume that it’ll have different variants. If not, the the GS3 also has a MicroSD card slot available for users, so memory is upgradeable.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which offers expandable memory.

Wireless Connectivity

In the US, there’s no doubt that the Galaxy S III will work over LTE networks, at least for AT&T. It’s still unclear whether there will be a Sprint model, even though Sprint has no LTE network available. There’s no doubt that there will be models for both T-Mobile and AT&T, both with HSPA+ high-speed 4G. I’d also venture a guess that there will be a Sprint variant that will support LTE, and it’ll be an Epic 4G model, following Sprint’s historical nomenclature for the Galaxy S line.

Meanwhile, the iPhone is stuck on HSPA+ on AT&T and 3G on Verizon and Sprint. So it’s very close. The iPhone is available to more users in the US, but the GS3 has better networks available to it that are far faster. And if anyone currently with a Galaxy S model phone is looking to upgrade, then they aren’t on Verizon anyways, so it’s not a hard choice to make.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which will ship with LTE and HSPA+ on at least AT&T and T-Mobile.

Camera

The iPhone 4S has, in my opinion, the best camera on the smartphone market. There are some very close phones, like the Lumia 900. But from the shots I’ve seen on the Galaxy S III, there may be a new champ.

The problem is, spec-wise, the two are very similar. I’ve checked out samples from the GS3, and the stills and video taken are excellent, on par if not better than the iPhone 4S. However, until I have it in for my own testing, saying one is better than the other without actual comparison shots is almost impossible when they are so similar on paper.

Winner: Tie, until we get a Galaxy S III for in-house testing because they’re practically identical on paper.

Battery Life

The beauty of the iPhone 4S is that it manages to stay alive for so long with such a relatively small battery. The Galaxy S III phones had relatively poor battery life because the Exynos 3 processor was so power hungry that it would drain the phone quickly, generally before a full-day’s use.

That’s no longer true with the Galaxy S III, thanks to better software from Android 4.0, a more refined processor, and a larger battery. At 2100mAh, the GS3 has the 3rd largest battery of any phone, behind the much larger Galaxy Note (2500mAh) and Droid Razr Maxx (3300mAh).

The HTC One X was only slightly behind the iPhone when it came to battery life and daily use, and the One X had an excellent battery. With an additional 300mAh available to it, I have no doubt that the GS3 will last longer than the iPhone 4S in identical conditions and use. I also have no doubt that because of it’s capabilities people will think that it won’t last as long because they’re playing more 1080p video, stressing out the network harder, etc. But based on my experience with Android 4.0 and Samsung’s phones, as well as the iPhone, I have no doubt that the GS3 will have better battery life than the iPhone 4S.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which has a much larger battery, better power conservation thanks to Android 4.0, and is far more powerful so it can last longer doing smaller tasks.

Carriers

The Galaxy S III will definitely release for AT&T and T-Mobile, and probably for Sprint. Verizon hasn’t received a Galaxy S phone yet, because they specialize in Droid phones with Motorola. Meanwhile, the iPhone is available for Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint, the 3 largest carriers. The iPhone therefore has a much larger user base, and will work in more areas because of it.

Winner: iPhone, which is available on more carriers.

Price

The iPhone ships in 3 models: $200, $300, and $400, depending on the size. There may be some variation between the models for different carriers, but it’s likely that the Galaxy S III will ship for $300 plus a two-year contract, which is fairly reasonable. If the carriers want to make it competitive, then it may be down at $200, but I doubt that it’ll sell for so little. As one of the most popular phone series in the world, people will want to buy it. That keeps the price higher.

The difference then is what users get for the same money. The Galaxy S III will ship with 16GB of onboard memory plus a MicroSD card slot, so even if it sells for $300, it’ll be a better deal than the equivalent and more expensive iPhone.

Winner: Galaxy S III, which will in all likelihood be a better deal overall.

Overall Winner

It’s surprising, and in many ways a relief. The iPhone 4S has won every single comparison we’ve conducted here at Gadget Review, because it’s been a better phone overall compared to any competition we could throw its way. The closest was the HTC One X, which lost by a mere point. So it was really only a matter of time.

Who knew that time would come so soon. Not even a week after we reviewed the One X, the iPhone 4S is taken down by the upcoming Galaxy S III, which will no doubt be one of the most prominent and powerful phones in the world.

That’s not to say the Galaxy S III is a better phone. I reserve that claim until we’ve fully reviewed the Galaxy S III, with our own benchmarking, our own camera tests, and our own use for an extended period. But even if it is a better handset, it shouldn’t come as a surprise; Android phones have been improving faster than the yearly iPhone release, and as I predicted several years ago Android would eventually overtake the iPhone in quality.

Whether that day has come or not still remains unclear, but again, even if it has come, the next iPhone model is due out later this year. Apple has in the past worked on a two-year plan, completely reshaping or redoing their devices every two years. If the company does so again, then come this fall the industry may once again find themselves chasing Cupertino. Until then, the Galaxy S III reigns king of all phones…until the next phone comes along to knock it off this most prestigious throne.










James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.