To help put some construct to my deliberations I thought I’d gather all the relevant information in order to make the decision making as evidence based as possible. Here goes my comparison between the two units, the Galaxy S3 and the currently theoretical iPhone 5. I know I am not alone in contemplating the move from iOS to Android, so I hope you enjoy the following show of deliberations!
- Availability: The S3 is available here and now; the iPhone is rumored to be released during September. Winner: Samsung.
- Price: Kogan is currently selling the S3 for $590, delivered. The iPhone would take a while before it makes itself available outside of telcos’ plans, and then it would take a while till its price drops to sane levels. I suspect I would be able to buy it, under my terms of conditions for what constitutes a decent price by my book either during the pre Christmas sales or come February 2013. It would still be more expensive than any of its Android competitors, that’s the Apple guarantee! Winner: Samsung.
- Migration cost: Moving from iOS to Android would require me to repurchase some of the apps I’ve invested in. The GPS apps I got for my iPhone, for example, are worth around $100 on their own. On the other hand, the iPhone 5 will feature a new connector, which means existing docks and cables will not do; the S3 simply uses the same micro USB connector every other device manufacturer out there is using. Winner: Apple.
- Specs: Both phones sport / will sport a quad core CPU. The S3 has 2GB of RAM while the iPhone is rumored to have just 1GB. Between them, though, I suspect things are going to be pretty equal in the specs department. Winner: draw.
- Screen: At first I thought the 4.8” screen on the S3 would be too big. It didn’t feel too big when I actually got to hold it (and take the above photo of me holding it); it felt excellent. That is mostly because of the narrow margins at the top and the bottom of the phone, at least when compared to current crop iPhones, making the ratio of screen size to overall phone size quite good. The screen’s quite flashy, too; it might distort videos, but I think it would do my reading much good. The iPhone? Current iPhones feel totally pathetic in comparison to the S3 screen. However, the iPhone 5 is rumoured to do better, with either a 3.8” or 4” retina screen (sizes vary by the rumor). Alas, both sizes wouldn’t and couldn’t compete with the marvellous S3. Winner: Samsung.
- Storage: Rumors say the iPhone 5 will feature a 128GB model. Me, I’m totally indifferent; I go with the smaller storage capacities for their affordability. It is there that the Samsung clearly beats the iPhone by offering a Micro SD expansion slot, where the 32GB card I already own will gladly store tons of offline Spotify content for me to listen to! Winner: Samsung.
- Battery: Apple doesn’t want you to tinker with its devices and, goddess forbid, service them yourself. The S3, on the other hand, features a user replaceable battery. Given batteries are easily and cheaply available on eBay, and given that a quad core smartphone's battery will probably not make it through a day, that is a major advantage. Winner: Samsung.
- 4G: At the moment 4G is an advertising gimmick, available in limited areas to Telstra users and potentially made available later to Optus users (for the record, I am an Amaysim user; Amaysim uses Optus bandwidth). However, things will probably change and 4G will become more important than it is now. When considering the lifespan of my future smartphone, 2-3 years, 4G becomes something to reckon with. Currently, the S3 does not feature 4G, although I suspect it is only a matter of time before 4G models become available. The iPhone 5, on the other hand, is rumored to support 4G; however, it is not clear whether 4G support would extend to the 4G networks erected in Australia or whether it would be limited to American 4G networks, as is the case with the iPad 3. Winner: Apple.
- Operating system: In the past I have criticized Apple’s closed architecture quite a lot here, while often praising Android’s open architecture. However, by now I think we have a much more equal playing field: Apple have relaxed things, and with the aid of the cloud I no longer feel enclosed; on the other hand, Android is clearly not the Linux like public property it was touted to be. What we end up with are fairly similar operating systems, but there is some fine detail worth discussing.
As it currently is, I consider the iPhone’s iOS 5 superior to the S3’s Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4); the functionality is the same, but the Ice Cream is significantly clunkier. On the other hand, Jelly Bean (the next Android release) is already available (but not on the S3 yet), seeming to offer much smoother operation and some improved functionality. This improved functionality leads me to argue that I consider the Android platform much more flexible when it comes to potential future innovation than Apple’s. iOS’ other advantage, iCloud, is generally equaled through various cloud measures provided by Google and Dropbox.When the dust is settled, I prefer iOS for one simple reason: it is a much better "fire and forget" system than Android. There is no real need to root/jailbreak the phone, no need to spend much thought, everything just works from the minute you switch it on. It may come with a price tag of reduced flexibility but it means a lot to me: it means much less frustration; it means I don’t need to spend time mastering my phone; I can just use it as the tool that it is. Winner: Apple.
- App ecosystem: There can be no denying Apple’s superiority in the app department. Not only is its iTunes app store much more crowded than Google’s Play, it is also superior on quality. I know Android fans would hate me for saying it, but the quality advantage seems clear to me; I would say it’s the result of having to ensure apps work on a wide plethora of phone models made by a wide plethora of manufacturers, as opposed to Apple only having to take care of a few models under its direct control. It’s probably for unrelated reasons, but I find simple Internet browsing much easier on the iPhone’s Safari browser than anything Android has to offer. Winner: Apple.
- Longevity: The S3’s screen features Corning Gorilla glass, meant to last tougher shocks, but the iPhone’s rumored to equal it there (unlike the current crop of iPhones). On the other hand, iPhones feel much better built than the flimsier crop from Samsung. I would put my money on the iPhone lasting better in the confines of my pocket. Aside of physical longevity there is also the matter of software longevity. By virtue of not having too many models out, Apple is still supporting my three year old iPhone 3GS (albeit through iOS iterations that greatly reduced its effective battery power). Android models, on the other hand, seem to be forgotten a year or so after their initial release, fading amongst the wide ranks of models out there. Software upgrades are still possible through rooting and going for the likes of CyanogenMod’s offerings, but that’s the kind of warranty defacing tinkering one is politely and eloquently deprived of with the iPhone. Winner: Apple.
- SIM card: The iPhone 4 was the first mobile to require a micro SIM card. It was a pain but we adapted: my current Amaysim SIM card is modular, able to function as both a normal SIM as well as a micro one. The iPhone 5, however, seems set to stir things up yet again through the utilization of a new standard, the nano SIM card! Yet another headache from Apple as it tries to maximize profits and telco tie-ins at the expense of the consumer. Personally, this means I will need to wait till I can put my hands on a nano SIM, then wait till my number is migrated from my current SIM to the new one… Why do I need to bring this headache upon my head? The S3, by the way, uses the “I can live with that by now” micro SIM. Winner: Samsung.
You may ask why I am limiting the Android side of the comparison to the Galaxy S3 alone when there are several other flagship contenders. The answer, in short, is that it would take a lot for me to put money on an HTC smartphone (even if they already have 4G models around) given my experience with two of their models in the past, especially my experience with HTC's their post-sale warranty support. I can break my phones up myself without resorting to their help, thank you very much.
Another viable competitor is the Google Nexus smartphone, now available at ridiculously good value for money levels ($360). The Nexus already sports plain vanilla Jelly Bean support and does not have all the crapware manufacturers like Samsung add on top of the basic Android layer. Sounds good, but… Personally, I don’t like the device’s look and feel, mostly in the sense that it feels too flimsy/plasticky. John Scalzi’s Google Nexus broke down (here) after just a few months of service (refer to its acquisition date here), providing supportive anecdotal evidence to my premonitions. Mostly, though, it comes down to the hardware: the S3 is much better equipped (e.g., quad core vs. dual core), which means that in this field where models are made obsolete by the minute the S3 stands a better chance of feeling viable a few months longer.
I am afraid to say there are no clear winners in this comparison. Make your own minds up based on your requirements and your priorities!
Personally, I love the Samsung Galaxy S3’s hardware side of things, but I will sorely miss that fine edge of quality iOS has over Android (yes, even if iOS may lose in overall functionality). At the moment I am still contemplating: should I go for the sexy device that’s already here and is reasonably priced, or should I wait for a more expensive device from a company that poses a much reduced risk to my privacy? Then again, I can always keep on using my iPhone 3GS a few months longer till either it dies or some game changing fact enters the scene.
It is interesting to note that my personal dilemma comes just as Apple’s latest revenue announcements are found to disappoint financial markets (see here). The disappointment is directly related to the iPhone 4S lagging behind its competition. It does appear as if for too many of us, the iPhone 5 is going to arrive to the scene much too late.
Further, added on 27/7/12:
Here’s an attempt to reprise on my personal choices. I will do so by citing a couple of personal facts which I avoided mentioning before because, well, they’re personal and therefore non universal:
- I am a Mac/Linux user who hardly ever touches a Windows PC outside the office. There can be no denying iTunes offers a much smoother experience on the Mac than it does on Windows.
- I use Apple’s AirPlay quite a lot. In fact, it is my primary source of music, streaming Spotify from my iPad and my iPhone. Sure, there are ways of using AirPlay from an Android phone, but again – it’s much easier on the iPhone.
- Even if I get an Android phone I will still be present in the iOS arena through my iPad. This means extra costs will be an ongoing affair as I maintain both environments up to date.
And who knows, maybe the iPhone 5 will sport a decent screen size after all.