Friday 25 November 2011

iPhone 4S vs Galaxy S2 vs Galaxy Nexus - a Comparison

Galaxy S2
After nearly 2 happy years with an iPhone 4 I'm approaching contract renewal, so I've been checking out the options for my next phone. After a quick look at the offerings from HTC, Blackberry and Nokia, I've narrowed my search down to the Apple iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

I've conducted a "survey of surveys" of these three phones and found that most comparisons focus on performance data charts - screen resolution, battery specs, camera resolution, processor speed etc. My aim is to clarify the decision based on some simple questions about how the phone fits in with the rest of life. If your phone decision depends on some of these considerations, you might reach the same conclusion as me.

Beautiful design and reliable performance

Over the last 4 years I've migrated from PC to Mac and now own a Mac Mini desktop, a Macbook Air laptop and an iPhone 4. My music is in iTunes and my photos are in iPhoto. I've become an Apple prisoner, captured by the seamless integration of their products and services. I've enjoyed their great design and reliable performance, and I'm a big fan of Apple as a company.

However, I've had two concerns about my reliance on Apple - the price premium and the limited (and pricey) integration of their services in the Cloud. Even with the introduction of iCloud, this aspect of Apple's offering seems to be behind the services provided by others - notably Google.

Security and redundancy

Even as I've moved from PC to Mac, I've also moved from Microsoft Office to a host of cloud-based software platforms for both work and leisure. Google is the lynchpin of my online life, providing Gmail, Google Apps, Blogger, Youtube and Picasa. All of these are free and more importantly from my perspective, they are hosted in the cloud, so if any of my devices are lost, stolen or broken, my data and content are secure, backed up in redundant systems which I can reach through a range of devices.

What is a smartphone for? Data or Voice? Entertainment or Business?

While the ability to make voice calls is still a qualifying requirement for a telephone, none of these three smartphones is marketed on the basis of call quality (which is anyway largely dependent on the quality of the service provided by the network operator rather than the handset manufacturer). For me the reality is that I make fewer voice calls than I used to, and use my phone much more as a data device - for capturing and viewing images, for finding information about places, contacts and opportunities. I'm not a gamer, and I don't rely on my phone to bring my personal music library around in my pocket.

As a result, certain features stand out. The Galaxy Nexus has a lower resolution camera (5 Megapixels, compared to the 8 Megapixels of the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy S2), but it does have an immediate shutter response, eliminating the delay associated with most phone cameras. The larger and higher resolution screen of the Nexus may appeal to gamers and video downloaders, who will also like the faster processors of the two Samsung phones (1.2GHz rather than 1.0GHz for the iPhone). For those of us with lower performance requirements, the lighter weight and longer battery life of the Samsung phones may be more appealing.

The importance of freedom

But for me the decisive factor is that after years in thrall to Apple, the Samsung phones offer the opportunity to break free into the more open world of Android. While Apple's strict control is central to their quality, Android offers a degree of freedom I'm finding irresistible. With better integration with Google's cloud services and the freedom to use my phone as a base station for my laptop, Android now fits much better with my needs.

As a keen photographer I'm drawn to the 8 Megapixel camera of the Galaxy S2, so when my contract renewal comes around, that is what I will be collecting.

And finally, just mentioning that I'm planning to switch from iOS5 to Android seems to be earning me credibility with my technically minded friends!


  1. Ben

    Each to his own, as a happy iOS user I'm not ready to switch to Android but must pull you up on the errors at the end otherwise you will make the decision on a false premise.

    The iPhone 4s has an 8mp camera and you can also use the phone as a base station. The camera i think better than the GIIS.

    That said the GIIS does have a great screen.


  2. Thanks Ian. I've heard good things about the iPhone 4S's 8mp phone and the software that comes with it, but since for me the greater consideration is the freedom of Android, the camera is really only the decider between the Nexus and the Galaxy S2.

    While Apple does now allow tethering, there is usually a cost associated (though I think the Three network includes tethering data in overall packages).


  3. I'll follow this with interest Ben. I just picked up a 4S (replacing my 3GS) and the difference is quite big - especially the camera, which is pretty amazing and takes photos instantly. I use a macbook pro but I've been careful all along to manage all of my media independently of the software - I use iTunes but manually manage the music, and I don't use iPhoto at all.

    The main reason I've opted for another iPhone is because I still honestly believe that Apple are a few years ahead of the competition when it comes to software and interface design - my wife had a samsung / android phone and it drove her to distraction.

    Also, an unexpected bonus is something that I thought was a bit of a gimmick is actually extremely impressive - Siri! It really is quite amazing - I've been instructing my phone to do all sorts of things (send messages/emails, set up calendar reminders, search google etc) by just talking to it and I've had very little misunderstanding from the device so far.

    Anyway, I hope you follow this post with another in a few weeks to give us another appraisal from the other side :)

  4. Thanks Paul. I knew that the Nexus camera has an instant shutter response, and that is certainly a major plus for me since I use the camera a great deal and most of my subjects don't stay still for very long! I've tested the Galaxy S2 in-store and there is a long delay between button press and shutter click! It's good to learn that the iPhone puts an instant response 8mp camera in the competition.

    Like you, I'm going to be wife-testing one phone - probably the iPhone 4S, so depending on how that goes I may still revert to Apple...