The biggest feud in the smartphone industry comes to a head with the release of the Samsung Galaxy S4, but should the latest Android powerhouse have Apple shaking in their boots? We got down and dirty and crossed platform lines to see whether the now 6-month-old iPhone 5 could still give the brand-new Galaxy S4 a run for its money.
For more in depth analysis, don’t forget to check out our full Galaxy S4 review. If you’re on the fence about another Android flagship, check out our Galaxy S4 vs. HTC One comparison. But now let’s jump right into our point-to-point comparison of some of the main features of the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4.
Design and Build Quality
In the past, it was no secret that Samsung looked to Apple’s design language for a little bit of inspiration, but, after a few lawsuits, the look and feel of the latest Galaxy S and iPhone handsets couldn’t be more different. For starters, the iPhone 5 looks like a little baby next to the sizable Galaxy S4.
In pure measurements, the GS4 sits at 5.38 x 2.75 x 0.31 inches. The iPhone 5 measures 4.87 x 2.31 x 0.30 inches. Because the 5-inch versus 4-inch display size causes a large variation in height and width, the easiest comparison is in thickness. Both phones come in at just a hair apart, with the Galaxy S4 0.01 inches thicker than the iPhone 5.
In terms of build quality, Apple has crafted the iPhone to be as much a work of art as a useful machine. While we’re sure Samsung’s staff had the same intentions, there is no denying the craftsmanship of the iPhone. Its solid aluminum and glass design tends to make the Galaxy S4 feel cheap by comparison. Still, the Galaxy S4 gains some benefits from a removable back cover.
When Apple introduced their Retina Display, they ignited a new trend in mobile. For the first time, pixel density became as important a factor in marketing smartphones as did HD resolutions. This leads us to the 4-inch Retina Display found in the iPhone 5. It’s a full inch smaller than Samsung’s Super AMOLED screen. This equates to a pixel density of 326 ppi for the iPhone 5 (1136 x 640 resolution) and 441 ppi for the Galaxy S4 (1920 x 1080).
Technically the Galaxy S4 features a crisper image, and it definitely looks amazing stacked next to the iPhone 5. It’s arguable how much a difference the greater pixel density makes, but what there is no debate about is the size difference. The Galaxy S4 is like a spacious penthouse suite while the iPhone 5 is a totally accommodating, yet cramped, room at a 5-star hotel. Navigating the web and interacting with apps is definitely roomier on the GS4. Going back and forth, the GS4 was the clear choice for such activities.
The iPhone 5′s display offered a color profile that could be considered a bit truer to life, while the Galaxy S4 opts for a saturated image with great reproduction of darker tones. Both look great, but we’re naturally drawn to the richer image quality and greater screen real estate of Samsung’s offering.
Processing Power & Performance
When matching the iPhone 5 against the Galaxy S4 on the basis of hardware, there is no argument that Samsung’s phone features the superior component compliment. The Galaxy S4 features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor clocked at 1.9GHz (an Exynos 5 Octa in some regions) coupled with 2GB RAM. The iPhone 5 sports Apple’s dual-core A6 chip clocked at 1.3GHz and 1GB RAM.
While a large portion of performance is directly tied to pure power, optimizations make up the remainder. The iPhone is tailored to its iOS interface and operates as smoothly as any smartphone out there, but we suspect a benchmark would show the Galaxy S4 blowing it out of the water. We can attribute the gap in hardware to the fact that the iPhone 5 was released over half a year ago, but we still have to give the Galaxy S4 the edge based on its upside.
iOS vs. Samsung TouchWiz
It’s almost impossible to begin making software comparisons between the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4. As much as iOS and Android set out to achieve many of the same tasks, they are accomplished in much different ways. The most basic difference comes in a lack of an app drawer in iOS, putting all app icons directly on the homescreen. This also means you can forget about widgets in iOS.
But aside from surface level differences such as the notification shades found in both iOS and Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, there are also plenty of software enhancements that set each device apart. Samsung has built in plenty of hands-free and touch-free input methods to the Galaxy S4, including AirView and Smart Scroll. Don’t expect anything so experimental from the iPhone 5 (other than Siri voice commands, something Google Now does equally well).
Perhaps the best way to compare the two is this: if you are looking for a simple, clean, and intuitive interface, iOS might be a good place to start. For those seeking a deeper level of control and customization, as well as some more advanced interface options, TouchWiz and the Galaxy S4 provide the answer.
The iPhone’s roots in the iPod have made media a big part of the handset’s success, and while the focus in recent years may have started shifting away from iTunes and earbuds, syncing, sorting, and playing your favorite music is still a real strong suit of the phone. The Galaxy S4, and Android in general, isn’t so blessed, but things are a lot better off than they were in year’s past.
iTunes offers a complete solution for organizing tunes and moving them between smartphone and computer. It’s a super refined experience, as is the separate Music app found on the iPhone. Samsung’s default music player isn’t as slick, nor is it backed by such tried-and-true desktop software. Samsung Hub does offer a one-stop shop for content, including videos and music, but it’s not quite where iTunes is.
Of course, there is Google Play, which is a bit more evolved in terms of available content. And there is Play Music, as well, which provides one clear edge over the iPhone. Cloud storage and streaming of your tracks is 100 percent free for Android users. iTunes Match, a service providing the same function on the iPhone, costs $24.99 per year. No official Google Music app exists for iPhone.
Despite that final caveat, it’s still hard not to give the edge to a device that was born from the iPod, the undisputed portable media king of the past decade.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 features a 13MP camera with LED flash capable of capturing 1080p video. Likewise, the iPhone 5 features an 8MP camera with LED flash and 1080p video capture. Both handsets squeeze every last ounce of picture quality out of the hardware they are equipped with.
The Galaxy S4 performed a bit better in lowlight situations, giving a better representation of color in a dimly-lit indoor environment. Outdoors, the Galaxy S4 once again provided a brighter image with more vibrant colors, but in terms of clarity it was a wash. Both cameras can produce some stunning images in the right lighting and with a bit of planning. Also, notice the Galaxy S4 is capable of capturing a much wider image (16:9) than the iPhone 5.
For video, the iPhone seemed to do a better job of capturing a richer image, but there were some odd stabilization effects. The Galaxy S4 was a bit grainy in low light. In our quick sample, neither produced a particularly impressive result, but, again, with proper planning and execution both are capable of more.
In terms of software, Apple’s camera is pretty barren of features. It can shoot panorama or regular shots, but that’s all. The GS4 offers a much more robust experience with 13 shooting modes and plenty of options to customize and tweak the final results of your photo escapades.
Apple offers the iPhone in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB capacities. Likewise, so does Samsung for the Galaxy S4. Where to two differ is expandable storage. The iPhone features none, while the GS4 can add up to 64GB of additional storage via a microSD slot located under the battery cover.
Pricing is a consideration here. Both the 16GB Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5 start at $199 when purchased from most US carriers. Since the GS4′s storage can be expanded, consumers can spend less up front and add more memory later. On the other hand, an iPhone buyer will have to spend more up front to secure a larger storage volume.
Looking at the numbers, you can predict which phone is expected to come out on top in terms of battery performance. Though Apple doesn’t advertise the fact very loudly, the iPhone 5 contains a meager 1,440 mAh hour non-removable battery. It’s touted as providing up to 8 hours of 3G talk time and 225 hours of standby. In contrast, the Samsung Galaxy S4 features a 2,600 mAh removable power cell.
Samsung doesn’t provide battery life estimates, but the Galaxy S4 was clearly dominant in this area. However, the gap wasn’t as huge as the milliAmp hours suggest. Credit this to the larger display and its AMOLED technology, a well-known battery hog, as well as the Snapdragon 600 CPU clocked up to 1.9GHz.
Head-to-head, it’s pretty clear that the Samsung Galaxy S4 outdoes the iPhone 5 in the majority of our categories. But in the few categories that the iPhone did win, it was an obvious and decisive victory. Here’s the breakdown:
Design & Build Quality: iPhone 5
Display: Samsung Galaxy S4
Multimedia: iPhone 5
Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4
Storage: Samsung Galaxy S4
Battery Life: Samsung Galaxy S4
Which Phone Should I Buy?
The answer to this question isn’t so simple. Looking at our rankings, it would seem like the Galaxy S4 is the obvious choice, and for many it will be. Perhaps it’s even an unfair comparison considering the age of the iPhone 5 and the promise of a new Apple phone around the corner. The decision will ultimately come down to software, design, and brand preferences. If you want to earn some cool points and value beautiful design alongside a simple, intuitive, clean interface, go for this iPhone, the next iPhone, any iPhone. If you want power, a big display and battery, and a deeper software experience, the Galaxy S4 is the way to go.
So, I’m almost afraid to ask this, but which phone is your choice? Sound off in the poll below!