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iPhone 4S versus Galaxy S II: Apple may still win

updated 05:15 pm EDT, Tue October 4, 2011

iPhone 4S claims minor edges over Galaxy S II

Apple with the iPhone 4S launch finally put out its answer to the Galaxy S II. Some might say it's catching up: both have dual-core processors, eight-megapixel cameras, and 1080p video. But Apple isn't necessarily just bringing itself up to par; we'll see in a quick breakdown where the 4S might be pulling ahead as well as where it has room to grow.

On paper, Samsung looks like it may still have an edge. Apple hasn't said what changes it's made to the A5 on the iPhone, but the 1.2GHz Exynos isn't necessarily faster. Any design changes and the OS itself can make a difference. We know that Apple is using a dynamic clock speed to ramp up performance when needed, but it also has a much faster graphics chip. The iPad 2's dual-core PowerVR SGX543MP2 is known to be twice as fast as the Galaxy S II's Mali-400; even if Apple has to scale down the A5 to fit, it will still be noticeably better.

Photography and videography could also be different. While the cameras are numerically very similar, Apple has software advantages: faster shooting, grid lines in still shots, and multi-face detection. Video is image stabilized and has live noise reduction, too. More importantly, the iPhone is simply faster at getting to the camera: users can get to the camera right from the lock screen. Until Ice Cream Sandwich reaches the Galaxy S II, users have to unlock the phone and find the camera app like anyone else.

Screen quality is more subjective. We were very spoiled by the 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus on the Galaxy S II we reviewed -- it's one of the best-looking displays ever on a phone -- but it's not perfect. While very acceptably sharp, at 480x800 it's a noticeably lower pixel density. The iPhone 4S is now considered small in an era where four-inch screens are common, but at 640x960, it's higher density even than the Korea-only Galaxy S II HD LTE and LG Optimus LTE.

Moreover, some just like smaller phones. Ask those with smaller hands or who just prefer a tight grip which phone they would prefer. Larger screens help with readability from a distance, but they don't help every instance and do take up bulk. Not many phones can claim to have a dual-mode radio (for CDMA and GSM) as well as 64GB of storage in such a size, either.

We won't get into the merits of iOS 5 versus Android 2.3. Siri does have an unambiguous edge over Samsung's choice of Vlingo, however. Both are useful. Only Apple's, however, promises natural, multi-app guidance. We'll have to test both to make sure, but we're hearing that Siri works as well as promised and is almost Star Trek-like in what it supports.

Where does Apple fall short? By far the most important gap is in design. Apple will still have the higher build quality, but Apple has for once knowingly conceded in the thickness wars. Depending on which version you get, the Galaxy S II is as thin as just over 0.33 inches. That's only slightly thinner, but it's symbolic and helps mitigate some of that larger screen area.

Apple also clearly doesn't value the front camera. It's still VGA, just 0.3 megapixels, where Samsung has as much as a two-megapixel sensor. The difference won't always matter, but it's the difference between strictly functional and having some room for creativity.

Depending on your carrier, the Galaxy S II can be faster online. AT&T and T-Mobile owners get 21Mbps and even 42Mbps data. Sprint is the only one that might be caught behind with WiMAX. Still, performance will depend on real-world speeds. As some AT&T users will attest, some areas don't get much from the peak speeds, and T-Mobile owners don't always have as much coverage. LTE? It's unambiguously faster, but with limited coverage and battery life as short as four to five hours on some of Verizon's LTE Android phones, it's not ready to match up with Apple's battery expectations.

If there's a real danger, it's just that the iPhone is a by-the-numbers upgrade. We knew what to expect, and even Siri wasn't entirely unanticipated. An iPhone 4 owner perfectly happy with the performance just won't have a reason to upgrade, as will those who just bought an Android phone in the past year. But to say Apple's just breaking even or even lagging is as much of a stretch. It's potentially faster, it's more pocketable, and it may stay on top for software. Sometimes, it's what's you see in practice that matters more.

by MacNN Staff



  1. facebook_Robert

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Oct 2011


    Speed yes, Screen size - no way

    Apple's iOS is ahead of Android, and the optimization on web apps is stellar - so you'll likely find its no contest, the iPhone 4S will win, hands down.

    The problem is, most people won't be on an iPhone 4S, because Apple didn't give most iPhone 4 users any compelling reason to upgrade. Apps will be targeted for iPhone 4, and everyday use - your iPhone 4 is going to run the same apps as your iPhone 4S - and run them exactly the same way.

    You won't be jealous of iPhone 4S users - not for a while, if ever, might as well skip the upgrade and wait for iPhone 5, I know I am.

    Apple really dropped the ball. As far as comparison goes to Galaxy S II - no doubt the Apple machine is faster, heck I would have bet you, thanks to iOS optimizations the earlier iPhone 4, the single core version, was still faster than a Galaxy S II.

    Heck I have a dual core HTC Sensation, and its not very fast on web apps - no doubt about it.

    But the problem here is, Apple isn't necessarily going to win over Android fans with this meager upgrade.
    The more they 'blew them out of the water' - the better it would have been for convincing people to convert.

    They didn't do that.

    The same dynamics are in play today, that were in play yesterday, before the iPhone 4S announcement.

    If you are an Apple fan, and you happen to be in the market for a phone, you'll pick up the iPhone 4S.

    If you aren Android fan, you'll pick up an Android phone. You won't be concerned that Apple has a larger screen - it doesn't. That its faster - it is, but your phone is fast too.

    Nothing is going to change....and I think a lot of people expect the next iteration to be a game changer, at least for a few months, and thats why I'm scratching my head at what happened...jeez.

  1. Jeronimo2000

    Joined: Dec 1969


    It's not about the hardware

    People don't use hardware, people use software. I've seen technically-minded people get frustrated over Android, and I've seen total noobs work their iPhones like magic.

  1. darkelf

    Joined: Dec 1969


    not jealous?

    not jealous? bollocks. between the faster CPU, graphics, and better camera, the 4S can handle a whole new set of capabilities. give the devs a month.

  1. c4rlob

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Verizon + Sprint

    I think there's a stampede of Verizon customers who held off on buying the iPhone 4 thinking a new phone was coming soon enough and they will now jump on. Add to that all the new Sprint buyers and I think iPhone 4S ends up with a launch as impressive as the iPhone 4

  1. TigerN28763

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Even you don't get it. since 1984 it's been all about "the experience" I can ramble about the 7X speed increase in Video and other point by point bits. Since the dawn of the Mac (and other Apple systems) it isn't raw speed, but the total experience. In 2 weeks there will be dozens of sites on the web that will have their stop watches out declaring the winner on 1 or 2 seconds. But while I'm considering a positioning paper or doing a on-the-road quote, a few seconds are not the issue. Ease and reliability. Hours on line (100% of my Android counterparts are reaching for their chargers hours before I do). I don't have to worry about viruses, nor faulty software.

    Get the point.......

    It just works...... and now FASTER AND BETTER!

    Comment buried. Show
  1. Arne_Saknussemm

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Apple may still win -!!??!!

    Is this a sorry phrase or what?
    Electronista staff feel as loosers already?

    Are the readers here as surprised/sad as everyone else there's no iPhone 5?
    No new device to push the envelope further?

    "Only Apple's, however, promises natural, multi-app guidance"????

    This has to be one of the Biggest let-down ever from Apple

    Well at least they fixed the antenna...

  1. jdonahoe

    Joined: Dec 1969


    I'm pumped!!

    Better camera, Siri, and dual processor are great in themselves, but as a Verizon customer, having access to a "world" smart phone for the first time ever is icing on the cake. I'll be in line at 10AM next Friday (I'm not about to get up early)

  1. facebook_Alexander

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Oct 2011



    Why''d you show two pics of an iphone? :)

    This phone isn't for iphone 4 holders. It's for everyone else. Besides, who's going to replace a 1+ year old phone with a full purchase price iphone 4s? I, for one, will be happy to get rid of my Crapdroid device for this phone.

  1. facebook_Alexander

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Oct 2011



    Why''d you show two pics of an iphone? :)

    This phone isn't for iphone 4 holders. It's for everyone else. Besides, who's going to replace a 1+ year old phone with a full purchase price iphone 4s? I, for one, will be happy to get rid of my Crapdroid device for this phone.

  1. igroucho

    Joined: Dec 1969


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