NOTE: this test is based on older firmware versions. The new versions give a complete different result, so please also check out my test update.
For my last long time comparisons, it has been iOS vs. Symbian S60 5th Edition, but Symbian looks like a dead horse now. Loosing support from major vendors, namely Sony and Samsung it is mostly Nokia to continue to build Symbian phones and even Nokia made a new approach with Meego for the high level smartphones. As in most of my tests, I take a new smartphone with me during the summer holidays as my only device to see how good it fits my needs. On the iPhone side, Apple released iOS 4.x, which brought significant improvements like multitasking and USB-transfer mode, so even my one and a half year old iPhone became much more competitve again.
This is the longest comparison I have ever made. Starting in August, I was very enthusiastic about the SGS. But after installing a bunch of applications, the SGS became mostly unusable. So I waited for two system updates, one based on Android 2.1 and now the latest based on Android 2.2 for Samsung to fix this.
This is not a fair comparison, as I compare one of the latest Android device with the one year old iPhone 3GS, though it’s successor has just been released in Europe. The reason is, that I won’t buy a new iPhone at this time, for several reasons like the iPhone 4 antenna problems, it’s sensivity to glass brake and most important that it does not give me that much additional value over the iPhone 3GS to judge it’s high price.
So this is an unfair comparison, but it makes sense anyway. For existing iPhone customers, who bought their iPhone when Android has not been an option, it may be the question to decide whether to stay with the iOS platform or to switch to the Android. And for those who did not have either platform before, maybe former Symbian or Windows mobile users who don’t see any future for their platform, might consider iOS or Android as an option.
For my rating, I usually give a maximum of 10 points, but as some aspects are not as important as others (like ringtones), for some aspects I give a maximum of 5 points.
DisplayThe new 4’’ SuperAMOLED with 480*800 pixel is surely one of the major selling points for the Galaxy S. The first time I started the SGS, I just thought WOW. Extreme brilliant colors on a perfect dark black. The iPhone’s Display has been a big deal 3 years ago, but the competition evolved fast and now it is only average. But it is still the only touch phone with a transreflective display, which has been the only technology usable in bright sunlight for years. And this is where Samsung’s SuperAMOLED technology catches up. In every light condition except for bright sunlight, the AMOLED technology beats the LCD, offering much higher contrast and more brightness. Now by leaving out a reflecting layer, SuperAMOLED gives better readability in sunlight than conventional OLED technology.
After using the SGS a few hours, I got adopted to it’s 4’’ screen size and the iPhone’s screen looked small to me. The extra size and resolution really gives value, especially when browsing or using Google Maps. The 4’’ display size looks like the sweet spot for me, something even the iPhone 4 won’t offer.
So in summary, the display comparison between the iPhone 4 and the SGS will probably be a draw. But compared to the 3GS, the SGS wins hands down.
3GS: 7 - SGS: 10 (of 10)
SpeakerNew is not always better. The SGS comes with a just average speaker, which sound a little cheap. The 3GS, though not as good as the Nokia 5800, has a much better sounding speaker. The position of the speakers are not ideal on both. The speaker of the SGS on the back is covered by the phone when laying at the desk. The iPhones speaker at the bottom is easily covered by the hand when playing a game in landscape mode. In comparison, the 5800’s speakers had the ideal position at the right side, which are on top when gaming in landscape.
3GS: 7 - SGS: 5 (of 10)
CameraAgain, the oldie can beat the youngster. Though only equipped with a 3 megapixel camera, the iPhone makes good pictures (for a phone), only beaten by phones with specialized cameras like the Nokia N86, but these are much thicker. Apart from megapixels, the iPhone’s pictures are well exposed and offer good white balance and contrast.
The SGS’ camera has a higher spec with 5 megapixel, but it’s results are not as good as the ones from the 3GS. Under good lightning conditions, it makes average photos. If ligthning gets worse, the images are getting very noisy. And the look of the photos is the same overprocessed look known from Samsung digital cameras.
The camera application on the SGS is way better than on the iPhone with many usefull settings and a really good working panorama mode.
But at least it can record 720p HD videos, whereas the 3GS only takes movies in VGA resolution.
But overall, the iPhone’s camera is good for taking snapshots when no real camera is at hand. When looked on TV, you won’t notice immediately that these shots are made by a phone. The SGS’s are taken by a phone on first sight.
3GS: 5 - SGS: 7 (of 10)
RadiosThe 3GS handles HSDPA up to 3600 Mbps, Wifi b/g and Bluetooth 2.1, the SGS up to 7200 Mbps on HSDPA/HSUPA, Wifi b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0. This is the difference, a year makes. The iPhone 4 catches up on Wifi n and HSUPA with 7200 Mbps, but the SGS will still have an advantage on Bluetooth 3.0. The 802.11n WLAN is less usefull as I expected. As long as one device with 802.11g or less is connected to a WLAN-router, it will WLAN will fall back to this standard, so the 802.11n devices cannot use their potential. So it makes sense to have a dual band WLAN router and set it up eg. with 802.11g in the 2,4 GHz band and with 802.11n in the 5 GHz band, to have both standards in parallel. But the SGS does not use the 5GHz band, so it always falls back to 802.11g and the potential speed advantage is gone, in my network it has not been faster then a convential 802.11g device.
And despite the good paper form, the SGS’s WLAN connection is very weak, compared to other devices, which give it minus two points. On GSM/EDGE performance, both seem quite comparable, on 3G the SGS offers me a connection a little more often than the 3GS did.
3GS: 7 - SGS: 8 (of 10)
Battery lifeThe SGS has a larger battery with 1500 mAh, but also a larger screen and a faster CPU, which over compensates the additional battery capacity. Under even moderate usage, it won’t make it through a business day and has to be charged not only over night, but also through the day. And there must be something wrong with the SGS. Even on airplane mode and screen switched off, it uses much battery.
The iPhone, on the other hand, will last a whole business day and only needs a power supply on very long days, typically when travelling. But on 99%, it get’s me through the day, on moderate usage 2 days are possible. And opposed to the SGS, the 3GS’s battery lasts for days when switched to airplane mode. On my normal drive to the office, the iPhone’s battery fully charges when it is in my car mount. The SGS takes significant longer to charge, about 2-3 hours. So when I arrive at the office, the SGS is only about half charged.
But at least, the SGS’s battery is exchageable and Samsung offers spare batteries and a charger. To enhance the iPhone’s battery capacity, an external battery like the Mophie Juice Pack is needed, but it nearly doubles the iPhones weight and thickness and is quite expensive, around € 100,-.
3GS: 5 - SGS: 2 (of 10)
Interfaces and MemoryBoth phones offer a 3,5’’ audio jack, and for both a TV out cable is available as an option. The iPhone has a proprietary connector on the bottom (-1 point), the SGS has a standard micro USB, which is good, but it is at the top, which is bad (-1 point) for car mount usage. The SGS also has a micro SD slot, which is good because the built in memory can easily expanded. For longer trips one could take all his favorite movies with him just by using a handfull of micro-SD cards.
The iPhone offers nothing to expand the memory (-4 points) but offers huge 32 GB (+1) internal memory. The SGS only has 8GB internal memory, with only 6 GB available to the user. With a 32 GB card, the SGS offers 38 GB memory in summary, which is more than the iPhone, but 32 GB cards are comparably expensive, around € 80,- which will give a penalty in the price chapter.
3GS: 6 - SGS: 9 (of 10)
Hardware ButtonsThe iPhone is known for its minimalistic design with just one central hardware button and secondary buttons for volume including a mute button and of course a power switch. Thats it. And this is too limited, as even Apple might have disovered. But instead of adding new buttons, they invented a kind of morse code with single press, double press and even triple press as well as long press. This is far from beeing intuitive. Apple sacrifices functionality for design, which makes the iPhone look good, but smartphones like these from Nokia with at least some extra buttons are more usable.
The SGS looks similar in design, but has two additional buttons for options and go back left and right of the main menu button. The touch sensitive area of the SGS does not end with the screen, but the whole front panel is touch sensitive, using it for the extra buttons which will be lighted when used. The SGS does not have a 4th button for search, which is standard for Android (but the US-model Vibrant does), but a long press of the menu button starts the search. This is also not intuitive, and I only found it by accident, but at least better than this iPhones multiple usage of a single button. The SGS does not have a mute switch (-1 point) like the iPhone but on the other hand the iPhone’s button is more a proposal than a hard cut of the speakers wires (like on my old Palm Treo), so the iPhone sometimes makes sound in a meeting though it’s mute button is active. There dozens of mute widgets for Android and with a long press of the power button, the SGS can also be muted or putted into airplane mode but there is still an advantage for the iPhone here, because I can mute my iPhone while it is in my pocket. The SGS has always to be switched on to check or change the status of the mute button.
There is another drawback for the iPhones lack of hardware buttons. All functions have to be moved to the screen. And the screen of the iPhone is significantly smaller than the SGS’s, in size and also resolution. The iPhone 4 offers an even higher resolution than the SGS, but the screen is still the size of the 3GS’s. So iOS devices need more space of their smaller screen for placing buttons which are hardware buttons on the SGS. Eg. the ‘back’ button is mostly on the top left corner of the iOS apps. The same app could use this space for content on the SGS because of the hardware button for ‘back’, same is for search. But most iPhone apps which need screen space just fade out the buttons when they are not needed.
The Android back-button does even more than on the iPhone. If you walked back all screens in your actual application and press it again, it brings you back to the former application. So if you eg. write an email, then launch the browser to search for something, then you can use the back button to get back to your email and continue writing after you got the information you where looking for. This might be a point where one could see that Android has been build up as a multi-tasking OS, whereas iOS delivered limited multi-tasking as an add-on with version 4.0. But on the other hand, with iOS’s double click on the button bringing up the task manager, it is also very easy to navigate back to the last used applications.
Anyway, on both phones I would like to see a hardware button for the camera.
3GS: 5 - SGS: 6 (of 10)
Build QualityThough they look very similar, the build quality is completely different. The iPhone is a rock solid block where I could not find the slightest complaints about build quality, 10 out of 10 here. The SGS looks good, but feels cheap with it’s complete plastic case. To change SIM-, SD-card or battery, you have to pull the cheap back cover from the phone and I alway feared that it will break. Pressing the SGS or just using it gives creaking sounds, this is absolutely not what I would expect from a phone which is priced between €400,- and 500,- and not only the iPhone is better here, but also popular Android phones from HTC which offer aluminum unibodies here. And though I took good care of it, the SGS rapidly got a large scratch on the soft plastic back cover.
3GS: 10 - SGS: 5 (of 10)
Hardware EcosystemThe iPhones are probably the devices with the best support by hardware manufacturers. There is a bunch of sound systems, car mounts, cases and all kinds of funny accessories. For the SGS, there are at least some basic accessories like a desktop stand and also a few cases, as well as car mounts eg. from Brodit. So it is not bad, exept you want some of these crazy iPhone accessories. Personally, I never need other accessories than a car mount, a display protector and maybe a leather case, which are all available for the SGS. But in general, the iPhones hardware ecosystem is by far larger than SGS’s
3GS: 10 - SGS: 5 (of 10)
MultitaskingAndroid offers full preemtive multitasking, iOS has a more limited multitasking model. The Android is more flexible, but this also means that it is easier to trash the system by overloading it. It happened often, that my foreground application became sluggish, because some background app took too much CPU cycles, so I had to kill it manually.
So though the Androids multitasking is more capable in theory, in practical usage, the iPhones multitasking is better, because it does everything you would it expect to do without messing up your systems performance. And you won't need a task manager for iOS.
3GS: 10 - SGS: 8 (of 10)
Storage Support and BackupThe iPhone allows Apps only to store data in their own application space, thus making it nearly impossible to exchange data between applications except for cut, copy & paste. The best way to exchange documents is via the internet. This is resulting in the absurd situation, that almost any document application implements it’s own networking stack, mostly with mobileMe and WebDAV support. But this simple system has one advantage: it is nearly impossible to do something stupid, even for complete tech idiots. But the price is too high, it is really quirky to configure file network file services on every application.
The Android file system is mostly accessible, only system parts are hidden from the user. But even the remaining file structure is to probably too much for beginners and the user has to take care of his file system himself. But all kinds of media could be brought to the SGS just by copying, and are available for all applications on the system. So the Android user needs only one network file transfer application to set up to make use of his files on the network.
Ideally, the file system should be mostly organized by the operating system, like in iOS, but with some space for free user access to a user space and SD-cards like in Android.
At least with iOS 4 came a major enhancement, the USB transfer mode. Unfortunately, this has still to be done via iTunes. I would prefer a direct USB drive connection. But at least, any PC or Mac is fine for this and it does not require syncing. And many apps already support this new transfer mechanism.
With this new mode it is possible to write direkt from iTunes to the private storage of an app, eg. a PDF can be dropped directly from a Finder window to GoodReader on an USB connected iPhone. Though this is a step into the right direction, it is still a bit too short. It is still the private storage of a single application. A single document could not be shared between to apps.
The SGS supports MicroSD-cards as written in the interfaces section, so the easiest way to get all your movies, music, photos and other files from your desktop onto your SGS is just copying it on a micro SD-card and insert this into the SGS. And the SGS, as every Android phone, could optionally be mounted as an external USB drive, which is a big advantage.
In summary, these are different philosophies, both with pro’s and con’s. Apples concept is idiot proof, but a little limited for power users. The Android concept gives everything to the power user, but he needs to become a system administrator on his phone. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. Ideally like iOS’s private app storage with and additonal user accessible space where every app could have access to.
And there is one important point too: iTunes automatically backups all your content on the device. For Android, a separate backup solution is needed, or it can be backed up with desktop backup software when mounted as USB drive. The Windows Desktop software Kies from Samsung does at least some backup, but it is incomplete and Kies is a very messy piece of software which even many Samsung fanboys hate. A complete Backup on the SGS could only be done if you would hack your phone to get a root account and buy the right 3rd party software.
So if you don’t hack your phone, and maybe even don’t know what a root account is, and then install a firmware upgrade (which I did twice), you get a clean phone because all data that is not on the SD-card has been deleted, eg. all installed apps and their settings. With some 3rd party backup software you can automate some of backup & restore, but your phone won’t be comletely restored without hacking your phone.
On the iPhone, when you install a new firmware everything is as it was before, exept for the new firmware features. And this works without any human interaction, it just works.
So for the different storage handling philosophies, I see a draw. The iPhone is more limited, but idiot proof, the SGS is more capable but you will have to become an administrator. So I would give 7 points to both of them. But for the lack of a proper backup solution I draw 3 points from the SGS.
3GS: 7 - SGS: 4 (of 10)
User InterfaceThe iPhone interface is mainly a program launcher, and that’s it. For everything one would want to do, an App has to be launched. This is easy enough for anyone, but it is too simple making all day tasks a little too complicated. Android, like eg. Symbian, has two views to switch between, and with Samsungs enhanced TouchWiz UI, it is even more comfortable than with plain Android. One view is nearly the same application launcher view like in iOS. The other is the home screen, which is completely customizable. Nearly anything can be put on one of the home screens like Apps, contacts or Widgets. And as this is standard on Android, many Apps come with a widget, eg. a podcast client could offer a small widget to play/pause and skip track (and many do). Android is by far better not only compared to iOS, but also in comparison to Symbian^3. So a user can easily configure his home screen so that his most used every day tasks are on his main views, which really saves time. One set up for the own need, you would spend most of your time in the home screen, switching to the application launcher only for seldom used Apps.
Both devices show some status icons on the top, but only on Android these are functional. On the iPhone I often touched the status bar, hoping that I could change something shown there. On Android devices, the status bar transforms into a drawer where some settings could be done, eg. WLAN on/off.
At least, the 3GS gets folders with iOS 4, so there is at least some functionality to structure your apps.
Notifications on iOS are just little popup boxes. When these are closed, they are gone. Often, I got a notification on iOS, but need to put my attention so something else, thus closing the notification. Later, there is no way to get it back. On Android, all notifications are collected in the drawer under the notification bar, which is by far more usable. This is a clear win for Android.
But there is an annoyance with the SGS UI. The SGS easily turns into landscape mode, but when rotated back it won't rotate back that easily. It occurs, that when the SGS is rotated a bit by accident, it immediately turns into landscape mode, but when it is rotated back, it still stays in landscape mode. So I often had to shake the SGS until it returns to portrait mode. I found this behavior really annoying, costing the SGS 1 point.
3GS: 4 - SGS: 9 (of 10)
ResponsivenessThe iPhone is, at least from the 3GS on, known for its very responsive UI. I never had any noticeable lags in a year of using. The iOS must be very well designed and programmed, eg. even smartphones with faster CPU’s running Windows Mobile 6.x could not match iOS’s performance. Symbian^1 (formerly known as S60 5th Ed.) is also very responsive, even on CPU’s half as fast as iOS, but Symbian^1 and even the latest Symbian^3 is just a whole generation older.
Android is a modern OS just as iOS, but it is not that responsive as iOS, even on the faster CPU of the SGS compared to the 3GS. OK, the 3GS has a higher display resolution, which costs performance. But the SGS has a problem with lags. With the first firmware FJ3, the SGS was that laggy, that I could not give more than 0 points. In between, Samsung published a firmware update JM1 which fixed some problems, but the lags remain. And in November they have been one of the last manufacturers to release Android 2.2 (Froyo), which I used for my final tests.
For example when you swype left or right in the application launcher. On the old 3GS, this happens immediately, so whatever is on screen follows your finger just as you would move a physical object. On the SGS, it may take a second until the animation starts which is confusing. So you move your finger to swype the screen and after a short pause when your finger has passed half of the way the animation starts. What would you think, if you push an object over your table but it won't move. Then, when your hand has moved on the object will start to move. Strange, wouldn't it be?
But worse than these lags are complete system hangs. These get longer, the more apps are installed (not running) on the SGS. Then the SGS sometimes hangs between some seconds and some minutes. The screen freezes and you look at the last screen you saw, or sometimes it just became black. The reason why most ‘professional’ test do not come to this is, that they mostly do not install a bunch of apps. On a clean SGS, this nearly does not happen. But this is a difference between most synthetical tests and the way I test a device. It is a difference, if you do some standard tests or if you try to use a device as your single computing device for some weeks.
Additional to that, while downloading an app, the whole system is slowed down noticeable. And when this comes together with one of these hangers, the SGS sometimes crashes and reboots. In 1,5 years of iPhone usage, I only had one single crash, and this has been on an older OS version. iOS 4 never crashed here. The SGS crashed several times a week. The overall speed has become better with Froyo, but with that capable hardware it is a shame that Samsung produced such a laggy device.
Just to be fair: when the SGS is not lagging, it is fast. My first thoughts when scrolling Google Maps were: “Wow, this is fast”. But these lags, hangs and crashes just happen way to often.
3GS: 10 - SGS: 1 (of 10)
RingtonesI can still use my text from the iPone vs. Nokia 5800 comparison: the iPhone comes with some built-in ringtones. Music titles can be bought as ringtones in the iTunes music store for an absurd price. On a Mac, Garage Band can be used to build own ringtones, which could be in fact just titles from the music library cropped. I have never heard of another phone with such arbitrarily limitation. But at least, with iOS 4 and USB transfer mode, it became a little easier. There are apps, taking any soundfile from iTunes and convert them to a ringtone. But to use this ringtone, you need a PC or Mac with iTunes, copy the newly created ringtone from the ringtone apps private storage to the desktops iTunes and sync it back. This is completely nuts, but at least it is possible.
On the SGS, any audio file can be used as a ringtone by using the software RingDroid from the Android market.
3GS: 2 - SGS: 5 (of 5)
Phone ApplicationIn general, there is not much to distinguish between both phone apps. The SGS has some nice little tricks. When the phone rings, I have the option to take or to reject the call on both phones, but only on the SGS I have to option to reject with message, eg. “I’m in a meeting” which will be sent via SMS to the caller.
In the dialer app, the letters on the on screen dialer pad are also used to find a contact. Just by touching these, all matching combinations are shown in a drop down list on the top, similar to what is known from old candy bar phones with mechanical keys. This way of dialing is extremely fast and efficient, only available on the SGS. But the SGS drove me nuts when I got a new number, which I dialed and tried to get it into the address book. This is easy on the 3GS. In general, both phone apps are more than enough to almost anybody.
3GS: 5 - SGS: 5 (of 5)
On Screen KeyboardThe iPhone set the new standard for on screen keyboards when it came out. But it is not perfect, and it has not evolved much over the years. Especially when entering special characters it is unnecessary complicated. The SGS comes optionally with the new Swype keyboard, which offers all the iOS keyboard does and also has special characters on long keypresses and the swiping method which gave it its name. With Swype it is possible to enter text without taking the finger off the keyboard, just swipe from one letter to the next. Optionally, Swype would give tactile feedback via the vibration function.
3GS: 7 - SGS: 9 (of 10)
PIMBoth, Android and iOS come with a useable calendar app and a note taking app. Neither offers a tasks app out-of-the-box, but both app stores are full of 3rd party tasks apps. Both sync with Outlook on the desktop, but I haven’t used this on the iPhone for nearly a year and never with the SGS, because I stopped using Outlook and I am confident, that the decade of direct desktop sync is gone. Now it is important to sync online. And this is where the iPhone is a little better. Both phones connected our corporate Oracle Collaboration Suite with NotifyLink, an ActiveSync server without problems, the SGS at least after the Android 2.2 update. But the SGS cannot sync via CalDAV.
In general, PIM functionality of both, Android and iOS is very limited. But both app stores are full of more capable replacements.
For GTD, there are apps with Mac desktop sync available like Things or OmniFocus or with platform independent sync like Thinking Rock. As a heavy GTD user, this is very important for me.
For Android are also some promising GTD apps available, but none with desktop sync. But at least, my favorite Windows GTD application, My Life Organized, is announced for Android with full desktop sync for the future.
So iOS is a more mature here, but Android will probably close up.
3GS: 6 - SGS: 5 (of 10)
Audio PlayerBoth Audio Players are more than enough for most people. Apples iPod app is very mature, but most 3rd party replacements are more capable. The SGS’s audio app looks like a copy of the iPod app in many aspects. The coverflow view looks a bit nicer on the 3GS, but in fact this is IMHO only an eye catcher which I never used. The SGS offers an equalizer and some effect settings like concert hall etc. which I also never used. Up to now it is a draw.
The main difference is how to get music onto the device. If you use iTunes on your desktop, getting your music onto the 3GS is a no brainer. On the SGS, you could just copy your music files onto it via USB mount and you are done.
The problem is, that even on a SGS with a 32 GB SD-card, my whole music collection won’t fit onto the device, so I need to sync with dynamic playlists. And this is something, iTunes is good at, so for me it is natural to sync my smartphone with iTunes. As iTunes only supports iOS devices, a 3rd party software is needed like iSyncr. But you have to find the right 3rd party software and figure out how it works. The iPhone with iTunes just works.
If you are not using iTunes, but something else like Windows Media Player or Songbird it is vice versa. Both will sync easily with the SGS, but not with the 3GS. So depending on what is your favorite music library application on your desktop, one of both phones will sync easily and the other one requires more work. But both are very capable audio players, it is a draw until here.
One main thing that is different is, that the only way to sync music onto your iPhone is via a single instance of iTunes. On the SGS, just mount it as an external device and drop the audio files onto it. The SGS’s media scanner will recognize them and the files will be available in the audio player with full cover art and metadata. So when you are at the office or on a trip, got some new music from a different source than iTunes and you don’t have your primary syncing Mac or PC not with you, you don’t have any chance to get it onto your iPhone. This is a problem with Apple’s iDevices for years, back since the days of the first iPod. The new iOS 4 USB transfer mode helps a little, because you now can use a 3rd party media player like OPlayer or YXPlayer and drop your music onto it from any computer with an iTunes. And back home the new music can be moved to the iTunes library. Though this is clumsy, at least with iOS 4 there is now a way do this. On former iOS versions this had been impossible. But this still costs the iOS 1 Point.
But the SGS also has an annoyance here. Though it is easy to drop your media files onto it from any computer, it need to run a background process called Media Scanner to find out if the files have changed. This process generates high load on the system, makes using the phone while it is running a nightmare. And it always runs when you want it least. Directly after starting the phone for example. The SGS takes much longer to start up than the 3GS, and after it is up it starts it’s media scanning process, making the phone unusable for another minute or two. Why on earth couldn’t they run it when the phone is idle? The iPhone also updates it’s media library, but only after syncing and you will only notice if you switch to iPod immediately after syncing. This annoying behaviour is -1 for the SGS
If you are listening to Audible audio books, this is different on both devices. On the iPhone, the iPod app just plays all your synced Audible books. For Android, there is a dedicated Audible app playing all your books. And it has one advantage: it can access your Audible library online and additional books can be downloaded which scores one extra point for the Android.
So in summary, Apple’s iDevice universe is still the easiest way of a portable music library, but Android is slightly more capable.
3GS: 8 - SGS: 9 (of 10)
Video PlayerAs for the audio player, the video player apps of both systems are everything most users need. The iPhone supports only a very limited number of video formats, all other files have to be converted, at least up to iOS 3. Fortunately, this has also changed with the USB media transfer of iOS 4, so with an app like OPlayer or YXPlayer, most video files can be played on the iPhone.
On the SGS, you can - again - just drop your video files on the SGS when mounted as external drive. The SGS will play most video files from the last few years without any conversion.
But when playing HD videos, the SGS’s more capable hardware comes into play. It play 720p videos without a flaw, whereas the 3GS has dropouts. It only plays seamlessly up to VGA resolution. There a two possible solutions for HD video on iOS: convert your files to a lower resolution or get an iPhone 4.
Overall, the SGS is the better video players of both. It has a bigger screen with superb SuperAMOLED colors, enough power to play 720p video and plays nearly every video format, it even is DivX certified.
For watching your movies on the big screen TV, which I did in my holidays there are video out cables available for both devices.
3GS: 6 - SGS: 10 (of 10)
Web BrowserAs with many software categories, both web browsers are that good, both using the same rendering engine WebKit, that it is hard to rate which one is better. But apart from HTML5, Android supports Adobe Flash, but iOS does not. In general, I do not think that flash is a perfect technology for a mobile device, it makes high CPU load and drains the battery fast. So all my desktop PC’s are equipped with Flash blockers. But there are many pages out there which require Flash, e.g. many sites with learning games for the kids, which cannot be accessed on iOS devices.
And in general, I do not want the device manufacturer to decide, which technologies I am allowed to use, -3 points for Apple here.
3GS: 7- SGS: 10(of 10)
Email ClientThe iPhone comes with a very good email client, the Androids with two. One for IMAP, POP and MS-Exchange, the other one with support for Gmail using some proprietary protocol. Though the general email client is also capable of connecting to Gmail via IMAP, the Gmail app better supports Gmails tag-based way of organizing and has some advantages when handling large attachments. But why on earth did Google not merge both into a single client app? This is irritating, especially for less technical users.
On the other hand, the android market offers free email clients like K-9 with superior functionality.
3GS: 8- SGS: 8(of 10)
Software EcosystemApart from what is considered as the basic software of a smartphone, there is little additional software on the 3GS. OK, the iPhone has access to the worlds largest App Store, so nearly everything one might need - except those things not wanted by Apple - could be found as an app. But not all of these are free. It has a simple weather and stocks application and the bookreader iBooks is done really well, especially as you will get the nicely done free eBook Winnie the Puh. But with the large AppStore you can go shopping immediate and will find a bunch of usefull apps in a minute
On the other hand, when I first heard of Samsungs extensions and additional software I feared to get a phone like a PC full of bloatware. These bloated PC’s from big makers like Sony are that messed up with useless software, that it is often more efficient to format the drive and start with a fresh Windows install. I had the same fear about the TouchWiz UI, but to my surprise TouchWiz is a really nice extension to the Android UI. And the additional software bundled by Samsung is mostly usefull, someone at Samsung must have really thought about what would make sense. And to not bloat the phone, they took a dual approach. Only a little number of apps are preinstalled on the phone, the others are free to download via the Samsung Apps application. So eg. there is Asphalt 5, a good racing game by GameLoft also available on the iPhone for additional € 3,99. Or you’ll get Layar, a good augmented reality app which is available for free on both platforms. But to make really use of Layar, you’ll have to pay for the layers with POI’s. And Samsung already did this for you and you’ll get some bundled layers like a restaurant guide, nightlife guide or tourist attractions.
So while Apple relies on their AppStore, Samsung equips the users with a quite usefull starter set without bloating the phone.
But after the first few hours with a new Smartphone, it is more important which apps are available for the platform and not what comes with the phone. And this is where the iPhone wins hands down. It is not the fact, that Apple’s AppStore counts more than 300.000 titles vs. over 100.000 titles in the Android Market. I don’t mind how many hundreds of thousand apps are available, as long as the few dozen that I need are there. But overall, the quality of the iOS apps is significant higher than the Android apps. Maybe this will change when the Android platform matures. But many Android apps today look like they are from a single programmer who does all the coding and UI, which results in sometimes crappy UI’s. Maybe it is that the tooling and the styleguides are better on iOS. But for now, the app availability on iOS is superior to the Androids, in quantity and also in quality.
On the other hand, without jailbreak it is only possible to get apps onto the iPhone via Apple’s AppStore. And Apple won’t allow any app you would like to have. Personally, I miss emulators for classic gaming consoles. And in general, when I buy a piece of hardware, I want to do with it whatever I like. It is like the Flash thing: I bought the device and want to put whatever software I like onto it. This is -3 points for the iPhone, otherwise it would score 10 out of ten.
In summary, the software offering for the iPhone is better than for Android, even though there is this annoying AppStore restriction.
3GS: 7 - SGS: 6 (of 10)
Desktop SoftwareThe iPhone comes with iTunes, which is also my primary music library. Though there are critics, it does the job. All media, calendar, contacts and bookmarks syncing is handled by iTunes, as well as backup and update tasks.
The SGS comes with Samsung KIES, which is only available for Windows and does a lousy job. It is an expert job to get it just connected to the SGS, for even the most basic tasks you should plan to spend an evening reading through forums and try to get it running. It looks like this did become better with the latest version, but KIES still needs much development.
3GS: 10 - SGS: 4 (of 10)
CostsThe iPhone is the most expensive smartphone available. A 3GS with 32 GB like mine costs about € 780,-, but no one would buy it since the unlocked iPhone 4 32 GB is available at 739,- at the Apple Store. If you don't need the memory, you could go for an iPhone 3GS with 8 GB for € 519,-.
The SGS comes at 467,- right now, also with 8 GB. So this is close enough to the 3GS, that the decision should not be made by the price. It becomes different when more memory is needed. A SDHC 32 GB micro SD card costs € 73,-, so for under € 600,- you would get a SGS with 40 GB in summary. The closest iOS alternative would be the iPhone 4 with 32 GB at 739,-, which is about 20% more the price for 20% less memory.
Neither of them are cheap, but the SGS gives the better value for the money.
3GS: 4 - SGS: 7 (of 10)
ConclusionI started using the SGS very enthusiastic and thought it would win hands down. But in the end, though it has some extraordinary features like it’s great SuperAMOLED display, fast CPU and GPU, huge memory and battery, Samsung did not managed to create a well balanced system out of these features. The main issue is, that is often really fast, but it has these hangs and laggs, so the overall speed of the 3GS is higher. The cheap, creaky body of the SGS is not on par with most other phones in this price range. The battery life of the SGS is not good enough for a high end smartphone, especially as AMOLED screens are said to be less power consuming.
And please remind, that this is a comparison of Samsung’s latest and greatest phone versus the last generation iPhone. The iPhone 4 would score even higher with about the same CPU power as the SGS, a longer lasting battery and a better screen then the 3GS.
So which one would I buy? If you already have an 3GS, just keep it and wait for the next generation of Android and iOS devices. If you don’t have one, get an iPhone 4. If you don’t want an Apple device, don’t get the SGS, but look for an Android device from HTC. The build quality of HTC’s devices is much higher, they come with better desktop software and most important, they do not seem to have these extreme laggs and hangers. Would anyone be happy with the SGS? Well, if you do plan to use only the built in software and do not want to install many apps and maybe video is important, then maybe the SGS would be OK. But for most other cases, there are better alternatives out there.