The iPhone 5 is always getting compared to something, isn't it? That's what happens when a single phone model captures so much of the market and has become a part of the collective unconscious. Today we're pitting the iPhone 5 against the Samsung Galaxy S4, and both companies are fighting hard to win you over. Yes, they both have touch screens, offer quick 4G data connections and can make calls, but Apple's philosophy and that of flagship Android phone makers has diverged so much in the past two years, that these two smartphones seem worlds apart.
The iPhone is all about keeping it small and pocket friendly. Features are carefully chosen and the UI has been largely the same since the original iPhone came out. Of course, Apple got so much right with iOS, you could easily argue that they only need to polish the apple. Among Android phone makers, Samsung takes features and UI customization to their farthest limits. If I were to outline all the features of the new Samsung Galaxy S4, this post and our review, would be 15 pages long. Though you may not find every single feature useful (or even find all those features before your 2 year contract expires), no doubt some will be hard to live without once you've tried them. And they reek of the future: gesture control, proximity control and voice controls for common tasks like answering a call or snapping a photo. The phone even watches you in order to keep the display on when you're using it, and to scroll a page down when you've reached the end of a page. The iPhone 5 is pure polished simplicity and any adult can comfortably use it with one hand. The 5" Samsung is living large (though not as large as the 5.5" Samsung Galaxy Note II phablet) and pushes technology and features to the bleeding edge. The question is: do you want it simple, fast and pocket friendly or do you want a more complex phone with some truly neat features and a learning curve? This isn't a true-false test and there's no right answer: it's up to you.
Never Underestimate the OS
As I point out in our video comparison below, we could spend an hour comparing hardware specs. But for many folks, it's not about feeds and speeds; rather it's what OS and ecosystem they prefer. One of our iOS accessory and game reviewers has been using an iPhone and iPad for years. He was satisfied with the OS and iTunes, but lusted for the big 1080p screens on today's Android flagships. He's an open-minded guy, and decided to make the switch to an HTC One. That lasted a week: he adored the hardware but it didn't work for him the way iOS did. If you're in the same situation, wanting that hardware but still enjoying iOS, the same might happen to you. In contrast, I primarily use Android phones and have for years. I do own an iPhone 5, but my main phone is Android. It makes me happy: it's hugely customizable, the hardware comes in many sizes and shapes and there are always new features that keep me entertained. I like to tinker with my phone and customize it. If that sounds like you, then Android is a good fit. If you're tired of iOS, then Android could be a good fit. And little of this has to do with CPUs, RAM or graphics benchmarks.
Winner: This one is up to you.
Design and Materials
Here's where the fanboi wars always begin: anodized aluminum and one of the most stunning industrials designs on the market vs. Samsung's famous (or infamous, depending on your opinion) polycarbonate plastics with a slick feel. The HTC One actually makes a more even competitor to the iPhone 5 since it too uses anodized aluminum and has a stunning and unique design. If an expensive and sexy design is important to you, then the iPhone 5 wins. Personal consumer electronics are just that: personal. They make a statement about us, and that's why gorgeous designs are popular (and they're simply pleasing to look at).
The Samsung Galaxy S4 has been picked on endlessly: it looks too much like the Galaxy S III, it's cheap plastic, it's shiny and slippery. I won't go there. Why not? Because I think it's a darned good looking phone, especially from the front and sides. It's modern and curvy and comfy despite its relatively large size. It allows for easy repairs and access to a microSD card slot and the battery. It's crazy thin considering it has a removable battery. But it is slippery, and even I have those moments when I think my flagship phone shouldn't scream plastic. And according to Square Trade's drop tests, the iPhone 5 is much more durable despite its delicate and designer appearance.
Winner: iPhone 5 for appearance, durability and materials. Samsung Galaxy S4 for greater reparability and removable back cover that grants access to the battery and microSD card slot. Which features are more important to you?
I'm American, so bigger is better. Given the popularity of large smartphones in other countries, this philosophy isn't unique to my continent. The iPhone 5 has a simply gorgeous display that looks painted on, and it's bright enough to be easily legible outdoors. It's color accurate with realistic hues. It started this insane trend toward ever higher pixel densities (ppi). The iPhone 5 has a 326ppi, 4" IPS display with an 1136 x 640 resolution. The Samsung Galaxy S4 laughs at that with its 5", full HD 1920 x 1080 display with 441 ppi. Of course, as displays grow larger, they must have a higher resolution to maintain a high pixel density, so larger displays will have higher resolutions. And the human eyes can't see the dots or pixels once you pass 320 to 350 ppi, so 441 ppi is overkill unless you have bionic eyes.
The Samsung uses a Super AMOLED display with the much maligned PenTile matrix. That's an uneven grid of subpixels and it has fewer subpixels than IPS and LCD displays (that's why it's sometimes maligned). That said, Samsung keeps evolving Super AMOLED and the GS4's subpixels are more evenly sized. Combine that with the supremely high pixel density, and you won't see any jaggies or halos on text. Super AMOLED displays have a wide color gamut that exceeds what the human eye can see, and the result is hyper-exaggerated color, though Samsung has dialed back color saturation a bit, and thus the Galaxy S4 looks less cartoony than previous Galaxy phones. Keep in mind that some folks love those better than life colors, and find anything else dull. If that's you, then your decision is made. Samsung's display has rich blacks that are unrivaled by LCD displays, though the whites aren't as bright since brightness is dialed back to save power and reduce heat.
In the end, the simply cinematic 5" full HD Samsung Galaxy S4 is hard to pass up, and Samsung managed to fit this larger panel in a phone that's a wee bit smaller than the Galaxy S III. But the price you'll pay is pocketability and hand friendliness if you have smaller hands.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S4
There are many more points, and we cover them in our video below. Both phones offer excellent voice quality, fast 4G LTE data speeds, modern web browsers and a wide selection of downloadable apps. Watch our Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. iPhone 5 Comparison Smackdown to see the rest: