In this corner, we have the iPhone 5, “the world’s thinnest” smartphone that rung up 5 million units over its first weekend on sale. And in this corner, we have Samsung’s “next big thing,” the big-screen Galaxy S III, which crossed the 20 million mark in 100 days. Clearly, these two devices are the smartphone heavyweights of the year.
Although they’re both incredibly popular, in many ways, the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III couldn’t be more different. Apple’s lean and clean device is all about cramming as much performance as possible into the most portable package, while Samsung’s myriad software innovations literally redefine what a smartphone can do. So which fighter is the champ?
Apple iPhone 5 vs. Samsung Galaxy S III: Smartphone Shootout
Samsung’s designers deserve credit for managing to make a phone with a large 4.8-inch display so light and thin. Yes, the S III is considerably taller and wider than the iPhone 5 (5.4 x 2.8 inches vs 4.9 x 2.3 inches), but the 4.7-ounce design is certainly manageable. Heck, it’s lighter than the iPhone 4S (4.8 ounces). Nevertheless, those will smaller paws may find the S III too much to handle with one hand.
Our biggest beef with the S III is its plastic chassis; it’s fairly solid, but feels cheaper and more slippery than the iPhone. We’re also not fans of mixing and matching a physical home button beneath the screen with two capacitive buttons that literally disappear after a few seconds. (Peek-a-bad!) However, it is nice that the S III’s back is removableThe iPhone 5′s design is practically perfect. It’s not only the thinnest smartphone you can get in the U.S. (0.3 inches vs. 0.34 inches for the S III), it’s nearly an ounce lighter than the iPhone 4S at 3.95 ounces. The aluminum-and-glass design looks better and feels more like a flagship product.
Though we didn’t experience it on our unit, there have been some complaints about scuffing on the iPhone 5′s backside.
Winner: iPhone 5Apple knows industrial design better than anyone else, and it shows. The iPhone 5′s combination of premium materials and light weight puts this smartphone in a class by itself.
2. Expansion and Accessories
There is something refreshing about the Lightning connector on the iPhone 5, which is 80 percent smaller than the 30-pin dock connector on the iPhone 4S. Unlike micro USB, this connector is reversible, so there’s no wrong way to insert the charger. Unfortunately, Lightning doesn’t accommodate older iPhone accessories, so you’ll have to either purchase a $30 adapter or upgrade those add-ons.
Because the Galaxy S III uses the much more widely adopted micro USB connector, you’re much more likely to have an extra cable laying around your home or office, making it easier to charge or sync in a pinch. Plus, Samsung includes a microSD Card slot, which gives users the option of upgrading their storage.
Although a lot of third parties are making Galaxy S III cases and other add-ons, we expect the number of iPhone 5 accessories to soon far surpass that number.
Winner: DrawThe Samsung Galaxy S III makes life easier with a micro USB connector and microSD card slot for expansion, but the universe of iPhone 5 accessories is already starting to explode.
3. DisplayThe 4.8-inch size of the Galaxy S III’s Super AMOLED screen is a key selling point of the device versus the 4-inch iPhone 5. Samsung’s display also has a 1280 x 720-pixel resolution, which fits considerably more content on the screen at once. When looking at the New York Times home page on both phones, we saw several more headlines on the S III, and we didn’t feel the need to zoom in as much to make out text.
The iPhone 5′s 1136 x 640 screen is taller than the iPhone 4S, providing enough room for another row of icons on the home screen. Apple also updated all of its own apps to take advantage of the extra real estate, and now developers are updating their own wares.
When watching the “Skyfall” trailer, a close-up of Daniel Craig looked brighter and more detailed on the iPhone 5. We could also make out details in darker scenes. The gray on James Bond’s jacket also looked green. On the other hand, we prefer the larger screen of the S III or watching movies because of its size, even if the colors were oversaturated.
Overall, the iPhone 5′s display is far brighter than the S III’s — more than double. On our light meter, the iPhone 5 registered 525 lux, compared with a measly 213 lux for the S III. This delta is especially noticeable outdoors; the S III just looked dimmer.
Winner: DrawSamsung wins on size and resolution — this is the phone we’d rather watch video and surf the Web on — but the iPhone 5’s screen is significantly brighter and has more natural-looking colors.
4. AudioThe back-mounted speaker on the Galaxy S III gets fairly loud without sounding harsh, although we noticed that the sound wasn’t as pronounced when we put the phone on a table. When we played the Nicki Minaj “Superbass” video at maximum volume on both devices, the iPhone 5′s speaker offered louder and richer audio.
We also played the same Coldplay “Clocks” track on both phones using the same earphones. At least to our ears, the audio quality was equally good on each device: loud, crisp and with plenty of warmth in Chris Martin’s voice.
Winner: iPhone 5Despite having a smaller body, the iPhone 5 has a better set of pipes.
5. Interface and SoftwarePowered by Android Ice Cream Sandwich (a Jelly Bean update is coming), Samsung Galaxy S III scores serious points in this round for the enhancements it has made to Google’s OS. This starts with a lock screen that includes shortcuts to four applications, including the camera. The iPhone 5 only includes a camera shortcut.
Here’s something else the iPhone 5 doesn’t do: let you access settings right from the notification area. Pull down from the top of the screen on the S III and you’ll be able to toggle everything from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to GPS and Airplane Mode. Plus, you can dive deeper into the settings by pressing the settings button in this menu.
To evoke a nature theme, Samsung includes a ripple water effect animation on the home screen when unlocking the device (which is fun) but makes you listen to a “bloop” sound effect when making on-screen selections (which is annoying). You can turn off the latter.
Like other Android phones, the S III features seven home screens you can populate with app shortcuts and widgets, while the iPhone 5 is limited to static icons. The main home screen features a weather widget that shows the current conditions, date and time.
While there’s a handy Google search bar on the home screen, the S III no longer supports universal search like the iPhone 5 does. You can only search the Web from this bar, while Apple’s Spotlight search feature searches everything from email to apps.
The iPhone 5′s iOS 6 interface continues to be easier to use than any Android phone, but it’s largely unchanged from previous models. The one major difference is that Notification Center now includes two separate shortcuts for posting to Twitter and Facebook.
Multitasking is also the same as before. You double tap the home button to see your open apps, then press and hold icons before you can close them. The S III makes this much easier with its Recent Apps menu. Just press and hold the home button and then select the thumbnail for the app or swipe it off the screen to close it. It’s a more straightforward approach, but we noticed lag getting to this menu.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S IIISamsung easily wins this round because its interface does a better overall job of saving users time.
6. FeaturesThe S III has so many more abilities than the iPhone 5 — and your standard Android phone — that Samsung includes several pop-up hints to help you learn everything this device can do. Some of our favorite features include the plethora of motion-activated gestures.
For instance, Direct Call lets you dial a contact on your screen just by holding the S III up to your face. You can also scroll to the top of a list by tapping the top of the phone twice and mute calls by flipping the phone upside down on a table. Want to watch a movie while you check your email? There’s Pop Up Play for that, which is like picture in picture on a phone.
One of the S III’s coolest gestures involves barely any movement at all. Smart Stay keeps the screen from dimming by enabling the front-facing camera to look for your eyes.
An even bigger area of focus for the S III is sharing, and the phone has several variations on this theme. Leveraging the phone’s NFC chip and Wi-Fi Direct technology, S Beam lets you share large files between two S III phones by tapping them together.
Another clever feature is Share Shot, which lets you broadcast images to other nearby S III phones (and soon the Galaxy Note II), which is a fun way to share photos while at a party or concert.
However, the iPhone 5′s Shared Photo Streams feature goes one step further. You can share photos over the Web — not just a local Wi-Fi connection — and it’s easy to add images to a Photo Stream later. Plus, you can like or comment on photos, similar to Facebook.
Other iPhone 5 features are hit or miss. For now, Maps is more of a miss, despite the fact that you get free turn-by-turn directions and 3D Flyovers for certain cities. The amount of out-of-date information, out-of-place landmarks and other errors caused Apple to apologize and even recommend Apple Map alternatives.
We do like the Facebook integration that iOS 6 enables, which includes contacts and the ability to share photos, articles and more with a tap — just as you could before via Twitter. Nevertheless, the Samsung Galaxy S III (and all Android phones) offer more sharing options.
Passbook is a work in progress on the iPhone 5, providing access to loyalty cards, boarding passes, tickets and more from a single interface. The S III doesn’t have this capability, but its NFC chip should enable mobile payments (assuming the carriers get their acts together). At least the Sprint version of Samsung’s phone supports Google Wallet.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S IIIBetween the multitude of sharing options, clever gestures and NFC support, the Samsung Galaxy S III is simply more feature rich than the iPhone 5.
7. S Voice vs. SiriSamsung has been accused — and found guilty of — copying Apple, and S Voice does not help the company’s cause. Although it’s powered by a third party (Vlingo), S Voice is a shameless rip-off of Apple’s voice-powered assistant. Both tools have a microphone at the bottom of the screen and present results on a black background inside little boxes. As it turns out, though, S Voice isn’t a bad copycat.
With the S III, you can use S Voice to navigate to an address (and not worry your phone will send you off a cliff), schedule appointments, post Twitter updates, open apps, get the weather and find restaurants. We had to repeat many of our queries, but S Voice is certainly competent. Siri is just a lot smarter.
Ask Siri what the weather is going to be tomorrow and she’ll tell you. Then say “How about Thursday,” and she’ll still know you’re talking about the weather. Ask the S III the same series of questions and it will ask you perform a Web search about Thursday. Using Apple’s assistant is more like a conversation.
Plus, with the iPhone 5 and iOS 6, you can do a lot more with Siri now, such as look up sports scores, movie times and reviews, and even book a restaurant reservation via OpenTable.
We also found Siri’s voice recognition to be more accurate, which may be due to its three microphones and noise-canceling feature. When we asked Siri to set up an appointment with Mike, she asked which one, and S Voice didn’t even get the name.