Apple’s newest premium phone, the iPhone 5S is available for preorder, and that might make some Samsung/Android users take notice of the features (primarily the A7 64-bit processor that Apple claims will revolutionize mobile computing). When given a side-by-side comparison, however, it appears that while Apple is about to release a typically solid smartphone into the marketplace. The feature set of is also typical in that Apple has offered incremental advancements rather than a complete redesign of the iPhone… an overhaul which, to some tech analysts, could have given the 5S a leading edge over Samsung’s flagship smarthphone, the Galaxy S4.
Here I must note that Samsung has confusing variants in their S4 line, including the S4 Zoom, a device that tries to be a mid-range digital camera AND a smartphone, and winds up looking like a terrible hybrid, a Frankenstein’s monster of smartphone and camera marketed specifically so that the user can zoom closer to their subject optically (rather than digitally) for a snapshot. It’s the very kind of thing that used to make Steve Jobs shake his head and scoff; the type of gadget garbage that the iPhone was intended to replace and sweep into the dustbin of tech history.
There’s also the Google Play edition, but the only review of Apples and Samsungs one can truly make is with the Samsung Galaxy S4 base model, though I do mention the Galaxy S4 Active to underscore one design idea that Apple should seriously get incorporate immediately into its mobile device.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the specifications…
SIZE & WEIGHT
The iPhone 5S maintains the same overall dimensions as the iPhone 5 (see our Gadget Review comparison on the iPhone 5 vs. iPhone 5S), for a 4″ screen phone, it still manages to fit very comfortably in the hand and allows for easy navigation of the touchscreen by thumb. It’s rather light for an aluminum/glass design and is barely noticeable when stored in a pocket or purse.
The Galaxy S4 is a larger phone, but not by much. It offers a comfortable fit for the hand, but may feel a little larger and heavier than the iPhone. For most folks it would hardly be an issue, and there is no clear winner here unless you have small hands like your friendly blogger.
[box_light]WINNER: Tie… Not much difference here, though those who absolute crave a larger screen can go with the Samsung and its slightly larger dimensions.[/box_light]
Though the iPhone 5S has that premium cachet in its solid manufacture, the anodized aluminum and glass design is still prone to everyday wear and tear so that a case should be considered to keep the iPhone’s exterior from scratches. Aside from the new gold look, an alternative to the “Space Grey” [er, blackish] and silver options, the iPhone’s design and material composition remains largely unchanged from the iPhone 5.
Samsung’s polycarbonite manufacture is rather tough, but it really isn’t worth a second look compared to Apple’s device. It’s really a decision of taste and aesthetics, and Apple wins easily on that point. Apple maintains its design superiority as the Bang & Olufsen of smartphones by keeping to a minimalist design that, although classic by now, does not seem the least bit dated.
However, it’s worth noting that the Samsung Galaxy 4S Active has a design feature that would make any Apple enthusiast jealous: pure ruggedness. This is not to say that if you drop the S4 Active the Gorilla Glass won’t spiderweb or shatter, but liquids and common dirt are simply not a problem for the Galaxy S4 Active.
Rather than having to go to a third-party vendor to make a device dust- and waterproof, or buying a bulky case or water-tight bag to keep out liquid, the bane of all electronic devices, Samsung has smartly built a phone for the real world. According to Samsung, the S4 Active is completely dust-proof (I’m assuming this includes nasty playa dust) and water-proof, with the caveat that you only dunk it in 3 feet of water for no longer than 30 minutes. This enables underwater photography and video recording (using the volume control buttons on the side).
Heck, why wouldn’t you want to have protection from dust, dirt and sand… not to mention those stray dunks in toilets and sinks. This is something Apple needs to include on the iPhone, like, yesterday.
[box_light]WINNER: Samsung S4 Active should win here.
However, if you don’t chose that variant, then it’s really a decision of taste and aesthetics, and Apple wins easily on that point. Apple maintains its design superiority as the Bang & Olufsen of smartphones by keeping to a minimalist design that, although classic by now, does not seem the least bit dated.[/box_light]
The iPhone has had Retina Display since the release of the iPhone 4 in 2011. There hasn’t been much need improvement from Apple’s perspective, and the iPhone 5S screen, except for an extra .36 in vertical length, maintains the same brilliant, sharp Retina Display. Nothing new here, but honestly, there doesn’t need to be. Pixel density is what matters most, as well as brilliance in various lighting situations, and the Retina Display performs flawlessly on each iPhone released since the 4. There’s no reason to believe that will change with the 5S.
The Galaxy 4S has a Super AMOLED display (that’s an active-matrix organic light-emitting diode to you!) that’s been one of the hot selling points of the Samsung smartphone line. A big, bright display is possible through the use of organic materials interacting with electricity (creating electroluminescence). The touchscreen layer is integrated directly into the organic display, unlike other LCD TFT screens (such as Retina Display) that put the capacitive touchscreen on top of the LCD layer. Battery life is better with AMOLED, as LCD screens tend to consume more juice especially when brightness is turned up.
Supposedly the AMOLED screen requires far less battery usage than the LCD TFT display Apple uses, and while the Galaxy S4 screen can be very bright, contrasty and colorful, the Retina Display creates a more consistent look in terms of smooth, rounded text. The Retina Display is not as vibrant as the AMOLED, but it also doesn’t tend to wash out in bright sunlight situations. The AMOLED does not seem as crisp, but not for lack of trying. Retina is based on older LCD technology, and typical of Apple, only seeks to improve that technology. AMOLED is a big step forward in many ways, but still has a way to go before having that nearly perfect look of the Apple display. While colors are vibrant, the Galaxy S4 has some color inaccuracies that, while barely noticeable to most, seem to be a problem of oversaturation in order to maintain the vibrancy of the display.
In terms of pixels per square inch (ppi), both smartphones outperform the human eye to the point where, like the old digital camera megapixel wars, such a specification is superfluous due to overkill.
[box_light]WINNER: Apple wins, but only because they aim for perfection of an existing technology.
AMOLED is being perfected with each iteration of Samsung’s line, but still has some tweaking to do. If your concern is battery life, AMOLED is the overall better performer, but Apple has found a balance between power consumption and screen brightness that almost makes the claim of AMOLEDs insignificant.[/box_light]
Apple, as is well know, locks up their smartphones and tablets tightly… the aluminum case isn’t made to be pried open, nor is the battery to be removed by the average user (unless you’re one of those who insists on taking things apart, then it’s a real chore with the possibility of breaking the device and voiding the warranty). Apple’s lithium-ion battery isn’t meant to be removed, period.
Samsung, like other handset makers, gives you freedom of choice to remove the battery and replace it. But why? Over the life of a smartphone, you’ll probably only need one battery. The life-cycle of today’s lithium-ion batteries means that you can charge, recharge and partially charge your phone for all of the 2-3 years most of us tend to keep them. It’s unlikely with today’s small, light power tech, that you’ll ever need to change your battery… unless you’re one of those who either a) keeps their display bright and on 24/7/365, or b) keeps their phone for longer than 3 or 4 years.
In fact, more and more, handset makers are considering making the battery a permanent fixture in the phone, rather than making it replaceable. Battery failure still happens, and for that an iPhone user can just visit an Apple store to see about a replacement, or visit any third-party vendor for a battery install, but the cost can be high. Luckily, with iPhones, this happens rarely at best (at least it’s never happened to me). For those that don’t have the Apple Store to run to when bad things happen to smartphones, simple battery replacement is still a pretty big deal. Lastly, I’ll grant it’s nice to be able to swap out a battery, but third-party accessory manufacturers have long provided Apple iDevice users with additional power supplies to plug in and reenergize their phones and tablets.
Both Apple and Samsung provide excellent batteries, but Samsung’s is user replaceable and for that it gets the edge.
[box_light]WINNER: Samsung has the power.[/box_light]
Apple’s new iPhone 5S boast something that no other smartphone can… at the moment, anyway. That’s 64-bit processor technology, and it’s what you get with the iPhone 5S’s A7 dual-core chipset, which also includes an M7 co-processor dedicated to motion-based fitness apps (But, wait!! What’s that? The guys at iFixit have already torn down an iPhone 5S and say it isn’t so*. Rather, they think it’s not a single chip per se, but instead a combination of motion-oriented components that will enable Apple to move into the wearable tech market). Apple is using this technology as a major selling-point of the iPhone 5S, and it’s already made waves among other handset manufacturers including Samsung, who said they’ll be working on getting 64-bit processor tech into their 2014 line of smartphones.
The A7 processor should make for better rendering of graphics and perhaps better speed performance in terms of gameplay and other aspects of app usage, but it may not be noticeable to someone who isn’t going to dive into Infinity Blade 3. Instead, the average user might notice minor speed improvements overall, and serious speed improvements where it counts (the camera’s ability to auto-focus quickly, snap and capture image data, etc.). The backside RAM is 1GB, which what the previous A6 ran on, so hopefully that amount of onboard memory can be just as effective in running the A7 chip.
Samsung offers up a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor that has already gotten raves for speed in both the dual-core and quad-core configurations, and it’s safe to say that the processor is one of the best things about the Samsung Galaxy line. However, while the specs appear better than Apple’s A7 chip, the reverse is true in benchmarking tests now taking place as the iPhone 5S falls into the hands of tech testing pros.
Benchmarking for CPU and GPU performance, the A7 chip is already outperforming all others due to the optimization of the dual-core architecture. It seems the quad-core processors gaining popularity in the Android handset marketplace still don’t perform nearly as well as their dual-core counterparts (and let’s not even get started on octa-core chips… yet another arms race in the smartphone world that will confuse the heck out of consumers). Once again, Apple, by not joining the mad rush to include every new fangled technology in their devices, hones the tried and true to perfection, but goes just a step further with 64-bit processing performance.
[box_light]Winner: Apple has the speed and performance to beat.[/box_light]
OPERATING SYSTEM (OS)
iOS 7 was released this week to the Apple faithful for download. By all accounts, the upgrade is easy and the new OS is a nice change from Apple’s prior design that hinged on a more skeuomorphic look where faux felt and leather seemed to dominate, making Apple look a bit behind the design curve when it came to the core system. Jonathan Ive, Apple’s chief designer, has opted for a flat look already popularized by Android and, importantly, Windows 8.
Many say that iOS 7 simply trades in on a look and feel that Google’s Android OS already perfected. I’d be the first to admit that the Apple’s new OS does have some of the design quality that makes Android a hit with users, but Apple being Apple, you still can’t personalize every little bit of the OS to your liking.
Android 4.2.2. (Jelly Bean) is a big improvement on prior releases of Google’s open-source OS (it’s a stronger iteration of the major overhaul that was Ice Cream Sandwich), but it’s still not as sleek and elegant as Apple’s OS. However, you want a lock screen control center similar to Android’s terrific interface, well, you know have it with iOS 7.
It really comes down to what you want out of your OS… If you want NFC (near field communication) to make shopping purchases easier, then you might consider Android. If you want AirDrop sharing for your other Apple devices, then iOS 7 is the only way to go.
Suffice to say, choosing an OS means essentially choosing a phone. You won’t get iOS 7 on a Samsung device (or HTC, or LG, etc.), only on an Apple iPhone. Conversely, you can’t use Android on an iPhone, so it makes little sense to compare the OS of each in this manner.
Android has always offered more versatility, but also happens to include functions that are little more than half-baked attempts at trying to be everything to everyone. Apple has largely stayed the course, and includes what it considers essential functions that won’t be here today, gone tomorrow. For instance, NFC has not been as widely adopted as hoped, and Apple has refused to include it in favor of having app developers like Square and PayPal create easy pay functionality on their devices. Apple has continued to offer its solid Safari browser, while Android’s browser experience depends largely on if the handset maker decided to use Google’s Chrome or another Android-based browser. With the open source OS you never know what you might get. On the Galaxy S4, Samsung offers their own browser in addition to Chrome and the results can be a little different (zooming on text for instance).
There’s too much to go into regarding iOS vs. Android
[box_light]Winner: Tie. If you buy an iPhone you won’t be the least bit disappointed with iOS 7. Android is still very fragmented (depending on handset maker), but with Samsung’s Galaxy S4 you get the most current version, Jelly Bean, which is solid in its own right. It’s easy to point a finger at Apple and mock the fact that they took a cue from Android’s look and functionality, but iOS 7 is more Apple trying to innovate, not merely imitate.[/box_light]
[box_light]Let’s cut to the chase and declare this one a TIE. There’s nothing new in connectivity and both phones perform exceptionally well (depending on carrier/service provider). [/box_light]
Both smartphones offer 16/32/64 GB configurations for onboard flash memory to be used as storage. If 64GB isn’t enough for you, Samsung like most other handset makers other than Apple, offers additional storage space using removable microSD cards.
Apple’s iCloud, and other cloud services, are largely replacing the need for removable storage… but they’re still not entirely ready for prime-time. iTunes Match is a real winner in my opinion (especially with the addition of iTunes Radio which will give Pandora competition for listeners), and movies purchased through Apple’s iTunes Store are now streamable in HD (720p) via iOS 7 and iCloud. However, if a cloud service should go down or your service provider decide you’re a data hog for streaming music and movies and then throttle your broadband allowance, then you’re as good a screwed.
Nevertheless, apps, ebooks, music, movies… all the things that once required massive amounts of onboard storage or removable storage options are accessible from the cloud, and as cloud storage services gain more acceptance, you’ll probably see other handset makers move away from removable storage. There’s no need to trade data using removable storage with cloud-based service like DropBox, and Google’s own Drive, able to handle that function more efficiently. Apple has put their own business apps (iWork) in the cloud, and most of the cloud-based services require no fee within certain limits. The future is clearly cloud-based.
[box_light]Winner: It’s easy to declare the Samsung Galaxy 4S the winner due to the option for additional storage space on a microSD card (up to 64 GB). I’ve never found myself bemoaning the fact that Apple does not offer such an option, especially since they’re hitching their digital wagons to the future of cloud-based services, but many people seem to think this is still a key handset feature they cannot live without. Again, if the cloud fails, removable storage is still there for you, and that is something important to consider when purchasing a smartphone. [/box_light]
There’s no need to delve into winners in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth since both use the same industry standards. It should be noted that Samsung’s Galaxy phones use the newest “ac” designation (an emerging Wi-Fi category that is not yet standard), but again, this has not been widely adopted for home and business use. If you’re using Wi-Fi g/n standards you’ll be fine.
As for the smartphone’s all important camera, both the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S4 offer advanced optics/lenses, controls and features to make the hobbyist drool and the prosumer photographer depend more and more on their phone than a dedicated digital camera.
In terms of megapixels, the Galaxy S4 offers more pixels than the iPhone, but the Samsung is packed with more onboard features that don’t require a third-party app to do the job. However, Apple claims they have increased the pixel size to capture greater image detail, and they’ve added more onboard features once the domain of third-party apps such as stability, continuous burst mode, square photo mode for social site sharing, and an assortment of photo filters.
Apple has added a second, amber LED to the main flash LED, in order to produce truer skin tones. Apple claims the dual-flash will find the best shooting ratio between flash intensity/contrast and white balance/color separation. They’ve also improved the video features, adding live zoom and the ability to slow down the motion of recorded video (but only in 720p resolution, shooting at 120fps… you can then slow that down to quarter-speed to get the effect).
The Galaxy S4 offers much of what is new to the iPhone 5S along with Sound & Shot (the ability to add sound to your still pictures), Drama Shot (which allows for burst mode shooting to be combined into one picture for an amazing effect), Dual Shot (allowing you to take a picture from both sides of the phone to capture all the action in one shot), and other features that make shooting with the Samsung a lot of fun.
Still, if color accuracy and skin tone is important, then the iPhone pulls far ahead of the Samsung, but not by much. The iPhone 4S and 5 were both known for excellent cameras, and Apple has only made it better (and removed the issues of purple lens flare from the lens cover). Both the iPhone 5S and Galaxy S4 offer excellent cameras, though to really shoot like a pro, there’s no getting around a dedicated prosumer model rather than a smartphone.
[box_light]Winner: Very close, but Apple’s iPhone 5s has the edge with better image quality overall. As much fun as special effect features are, good photos really come down to image quality, and the iPhone 5S with improved technology (and the faster 64-bit processor) allows for truly excellent point-and-shoot photos.[/box_light]
||Samsung Galaxy S4
|Size||4.87(H) x 2.31(W) x 0.30(D) inches||5.38(H) x 2.75(W) x 0.31(D) inches|
|Body Composition||Aluminum / Glass||Polycarbonate / Glass|
|Display||4-inch (diagonal) Retina display; 1136 x 640 resolution; 326 ppi||5-inch (diagonal) TFT – Super AMOLED display; 1920 x 1080 resolution; 441 ppi|
|Battery||Built-in rechargeable 1,570mAh (not confirmed) lithium-ion battery / Charging via USB to computer system or power adapter / Talk time: Up to 10 hours on 3G / Standby time: Up to 250 hours / Internet use: Up to 8 hours on 3G, up to 10 hours on LTE, up to 10 hours on Wi-Fi / Video playback: Up to 10 hours / Audio playback: Up to 40 hours||Removable, rechargeable 2,600 mAh lithium-ion battery (wireless charging in some markets) / Charging via Micro USB to computer system or power adapterTalk time: Up to 15 hours on 3G / Standby time: Up to 290 hours / Internet Use: Up to 8 hours (3G/4G/LTE); Up to 10 hours on Wi-Fi / Video playback: Up to 10 hours / Audio Playback: Up to 83 hours|
|Processor||Apple A7 with 64-bit architecture; 1.3 GHz; 1GB RAM; M7 Motion Co-Processor*||Qualcomm Snapdragon 600; 1.9 GHz;
|OS||iOS 7||Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean)|
|Connectivity||GSM / CDMA / LTE / GPS and GLONASS||GSM / EDGE / CDMA / LTE / NFC / GPS and GLONASS|
|Storage||Flash Memory: 16GB / 32GB / 64GB||Flash Memory: 16GB / 32GB / 64GB;Up to 64GB additional via removable microSD card|
|Camera||8 MP iSight Camera (rear); Video recording: HD (1080p) up to 30 frames per second with audio; 1.2MP FaceTime HD camera (front); Video Recording HD (720p) up to 30 frames per second||13 MP camera (rear); Video recording: HD (1080p) up to 30 frames per second with audio; 2 MP camera (front); Video Recording: HD (1080p) up to 30 frames per second with audio|
|WiFi||802.11 a/b/g/n||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac|
|Price||16GB $199 / 32GB $299 / 64GB $399 with contract;16GB ** $649 / 32GB $749 / 64GB $849 without contract||Varies greatly from carrier to carrier with service contract: $99 – $300 depending on provider ** Purchased without service contract “unlocked”: $300 – $700|
Christian Hokenson is a writer based in Burbank, CA. He's interested in technology, movies, and home entertainment. If you're nice to him, he might buy you ice cream.