Apple announced the iPhone 5 on Wednesday, and that means it's time to compare it against the competition. First up is the Samsung Galaxy S III (S3 hereafter). It's not the newest Android phone on the market, but it's the most popular Android device to date and it's the device that Samsung has positioned most strongly against Apple's iPhone.
Direct and To the Point
Both of these devices are fantastic. Our bias is with Apple's ecosystem and we think the iPhone 5 gets the quality nod, but if you're looking for either of these devices to be declared the winner, go look somewhere else. They're both powerful, have gorgeous displays, have access to lots of apps, and each has some individual advantages over the other...
...but buying either is much more about which ecosystem you prefer—iOS or Android—than it is about the specs. We recommend iOS, but if you prefer Android, you'll most likely enjoy the Galaxy S3.
All that said, you'll find our thoughts on several aspects of these devices below the spec chart.
Note: Images are close to scale as we could get them.
Android 4.0 (I.C.S.)
|User storage (GB)|
|Subsidized Price (US$)|
AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Regionals
AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, Regionals
GSM, CDMA, 4G LTE
GSM, HSDPA, 4G LTE
A6 (most likely dual core or two dual core)
Cortex A9 quad core
|CPU speed (GHz)|
1.2 GHz (Apple hasn’t specified)
1024 or 2048 (conflicting sources)
Retina Display - IPS LCD
|Display res. (pix)|
1136 x 640
1280 x 720
|Display (diag, in)|
√ (up to 64GB External Storage)
|Rear camera (MP)|
8, 1080p video
8, 1080p video
|Rear Camera Aperture|
|Video image stab.|
|Front camera (MP)|
1.2 720p video
|1.9, 720p video|
Supports up to 1080p
|Supports up to 1080p|
AirPlay (720p or 1080p)
|Video Out||HDMI via Adapter|
|Wi-Fi||8.2.11 a/b/g/n||8.2.11 a/b/g/n|
|Wi-Fi Hotspot||Carrier Dependent||Carrier Dependent|
|Sensors||proximity, ambient light||proximity, ambient light|
|Size (in)||4.87 x 2.31 x 0.3||5.26 x 2.78 x 0.34|
|Talk time (min)||480 (3G)||700 (3G)|
|Standby time (hr)||225||790|
|Available colors||Black & Slate, White & Silver||Sapphire Black, Marble White, Amber Brown, Garnet Red, Pebble Blue, Titanium Grey|
|Announced||Sep 12, 2012||May 1, 2012|
This is the biggee, so let's start here. iOS 6 versus Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (I.C.S.). We're pretty meh about I.C.S., especially when compared to iOS 6. With I.C.S., which was released in 2011, Google was very much in catch-up mode. Throw on Samsung's TouchWiz custom interface on top of that, and...well...meh.
TouchWiz is Samsung's proprietary interface that sits on top of the company's Android devices as well as its own Bada OS devices. It includes new functionality like S-Voice (Samsung's voice control technology), S Beam (an NFC-based feature), Smart stay, and other features.
But man, oh man, is it ugly! It looks like what would happen if Android and Windows XP met, fell in love, and had an ugly, ugly baby. If you like TouchWiz, more power to you. This is clearly a subjective thing, but it just looks butt-ugly, hamfisted, cluttered, and busy to us.
We should also note that TouchWiz was where Samsung added in features like the overscroll bounce the company was recently convicted for copying from Apple. Samsung will very likely have to pull out those infringing features—or design around them—in order to keep Apple from getting an injunction against them in the U.S. If so, the S3 will be just a tiny bit more clumsy to use than an iPhone.
Ah, but this whole thing is not so simple. Sometime Soon™, Samsung will be releasing a Jelly Bean update for the Galaxy S3. That's Google's marketing name for Android 4.1, and we think it looks great. With Jelly Bean, Google has gotten Android to the point where it's shifted from a game of catchup to a game of one-upmanship
One of Google's problems with Android is that most Android devices can't be readily or easily upgraded, but Samsung has committed to releasing Jelly Bean for the Galaxy S3. That's good news for Android fans who own this device, but—and this is important—Jelly Bean is superior to TouchWiz when it comes to user interface, and some users will be faced with a choice when they have the option of upgrading to Jelly Bean.
In the meanwhile, iOS 6 is a strong update for Apple's mobile platform. It builds on the strengths of past versions of iOS, and makes significant improvements to Notifications (not coincidentally, we think notifications are one area where Google's Android has and maintains the lead), Reminders, and other iOS features.
iOS is the bellwether for the rest of the mobile industry, and for good reason. The interface is clean, well-designed, attractive, and it makes sense. While some see Apple's walled garden as a prison, others see it as a system that just works. That's why surveys and other research consistently find that iPhone owners use more data, download more apps, pay for more of the apps they do download, and even do more browsing.
iOS works, it works well, and is our clear choice, even though we absolutely recognize that Android 4.x (which still ships on the Galaxy S3) is a big improvement for Android, and Jelly Bean is better still.
At this point both Apple's App Store and Google Play have more than 400,000 smartphone apps. That's plenty, and to spare, for the total number to no longer matter. Apple has a few thousand more, and will probably continue to maintain that lead for the foreseeable future even though Android has more market share.
But, really, who cares? Both platforms have a ton of apps—far more than you could download and try in your lifetime.
One factor we think important is the paid versus ad-supported balance of the two platforms. Free and free, ad-supported apps dominate both, but Android owners won't pay for apps, and thus there's far more paid, advertising-free apps available on the App Store.
If you like ad-supported apps, we'll again say more power to you. Clearly that's the case for Android owners as a whole, but it's also true for many iPhone owners. At TMO, we'd rather pay for our apps and not have ads getting in the way. We feel strongly about this, and we think that the proliferation of high-quality apps whose developers are proud enough of their work to charge you for it directly on the App Store offers an overall superior app experience.
Then there's the walled garden approach to Apple's curated App Store compared to Google's come-one, come-all approach for Google Play.
Google's open policy of app development means that you can get just about anything on Google Play. At the same time, this also means there are viruses, trojans, and plain poor quality apps scattered throughout the Android ecosystem. They get removed when caught, but they often don't get caught until after they get downloaded and used.
With Apple's curated approach, you have to put up with apps getting rejected for little or no reason, and no porn—but come on, Safari can get you all the porn you want on your smartphone. If you just have to have porn on your smartphone...
In any event, Apple's curated approach means that the apps you shop for work, are virus free, and are free of malware.
We think that tradeoff is just fine. If you don't, choose the Galaxy S3.
The iPhone 5's new display is gorgeous, or so TMO's Dave Hamilton said after the hands-on session at Apple's iPhone 5 media event. At 1136 x 640 and 326 pixels per inch (PPI), it's a stunning display, probably the best-looking display on the market.
But hey, the 1280 x 720 display on the Galaxy S3 is amazing, too! Its Super AMOLED screen produces blacker blacks, and all that screen real estate is just awesome. At 306 PPI, few people will be able to tell that it has a lower pixel density than Apple's Retina Display.
It's just too darned big, though. Some like the size. Indeed, some think that the Galaxy Note II's even-larger 5.5-inch display (with the same resolution as its "smaller" S3 cousin) is just perfect and obviously superior to Apple's paltry 4-inch iPhone 5.
Really, this is utterly subjective. If you want an enormous screen, you'll love the Galaxy S3. If you want a large screen that fits more comfortably in your hand, pocket, or purse, the iPhone 5 will be the better fit.
With screens this good, you can't make a bad choice no matter which you prefer.
Near-field communications is a newer technology just beginning to make its way onto smartphones. Samsung supports it in the Galaxy S3, whereas Apple does not in the iPhone 5.
With NFC, devices can interact with other nearby devices. NFC-equipped smartphones can also be used for mobile payments where you can pay for stuff by waving your phone at a receiving device by the cash register.
Samsung, for instance, has introduced S Beam. Put your Galaxy S3 back to back with another Galaxy S3 and you can transfer files. Sounds awesome, but we can only imagine how seldom it ever gets used.
For one thing, until Samsung releases more S Beam-equipped devices, you can only do this with another Galaxy S3 device. For another, how often do you really need to share files between smartphones?
To play devil's advocate, maybe the ability to easily do so is all that's been holding us back, and now that Samsung has shown us the way, we'll all eventually be smartphone file sharing sons of guns.
Mobile payments, on the other hand, will be awesome when the world settles on a platform. The world hasn't yet, however, and that makes the NFC feature in the S3 something that's likely to see little use for most users.
The irony is that one reason the world hasn't settled on an NFC mobile payment solution is likely because Apple hasn't implemented it yet.
Still, if NFC matters to you, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is the only winner.
S Voice is Samsung's attempt to match Apple's Siri. It fails to do so—we couldn't find a single review that give S Voice high marks, let alone higher marks than Siri—but it does offer more voice controls for the phone than it would otherwise have.
Siri is the hands-down winner, and we expect the gap to widen over time, not shrink.
We don't know a lot about the A6 processor in the iPhone 5, but Apple claims it's twice as fast as the still-speedy A5. The Cortex A9 processor in the Galaxy S3 also gets great marks. We don't think the processor is a differentiator at this point in the smartphone race.
Some will differ with that opinion. They will be wrong.
Size matters. Seriously. The problem is that it matters differently for different people. As we noted above, some people love the massive 4.8-inch display of the Galaxy S3, while others don't want to carry around a phone that big.
We like the way the iPhone 5 fits in our hands. Apple pays a lot of attention—more so than any other tech company on the planet—to these things, and in our opinion the iPhone 5 hits the sweet spot. It's thin, it's light, it's wide enough to use while still fitting comfortable in our hands, and the added screen real estate will be noticeable to iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S users.
This is one of those completely subjective things, and you'll just have to decide which you prefer.
We will own up to being biased. We believe Apple makes a higher quality product than the rest of the computing, smartphone, and tablet market. We found complaints about the S3 "feeling cheap" in your hand on Google, but try and find someone who says the same thing about an iPhone.
Part of it is the lack of plastic on the iPhone. It's all metal and glass. Part of it is the lack of a removable battery on the iPhone (a deal-killer for some folks). The iPhone feels solid because it is solid.
Still, the Galaxy S3 isn't a piece of junk. Hardly. Samsung has a very good device with the S3, but we give the nod to Apple.
As we noted at the top of this comparison, we prefer the iPhone 5. Both devices have great specs, both have some advantages over the other, and both have different approaches that will appeal to different people differently.
Most people reading this will likely already have their own minds made up before ever clicking through to our comparison. They're here not to make up their minds, but rather to see if our opinions match theirs so that they can then judge us as either idiots or fair minded reviewers with great insight (even though this isn't a review, but a spec comparison).
If, however, you are one of the few who is really looking for buying advice based on specs, we encourage you to think differently. Pick between Apple's iPhone 5 or Samsung's Galaxy S3 based not on specs, but rather on ecosystem and approach.
The Android ecosystem is more open, not centrally organized or controlled, and it doesn't try to lock you into a system owned and controlled by one company.
Apple's iOS ecosystem is much more integrated, curated, and refined. The company's products work well in a way that no other company can boast because Apple controls the hardware, the software, and the ecosystem itself. That combines to offer what we think is the best experience.
Note: Please let us know if you find a mistake in the specs. We work very hard on these things, but we aren't infallible and want to get it right.