iPhone 4 vs Samsung Galaxy S 2: Which to buy?

The two smartphone goliaths go head to head...

The iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S2 are two of the most exciting and premium smartphones available to man. Find out which one them is worthy of your cash...

The smartphone market is reaching a point where it’s hard to determine a clear winner. Now built with a much brawnier and brainier architecture than ever before – and with better design and more premium build - the current breed is hard to separate.

Here we have two prime examples: the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S 2 - both already prime candidates for T3's 2011 Phone of the Year. But which one should you buy? We’ve pulled them together for a head-to-head. Reading time? About 10 minutes. Deliberating time saved in the phone shop? Limitless. Read on, smartphone pioneer…

iPhone 4 vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Build

Samsung Galaxy S 2 | Samsung Galaxy S 2 Review

Pick up the phone and the first thing you notice is how light it is – it’s just 116g. Measuring 8.49mm, it’s incredibly slim in comparison to 9.9mm for the original Galaxy S; 9.3mm for the Apple iPhone 4 and 8.7mm for the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc. While the Galaxy S2 will certainly fit into the tightest jeans pocket, the compromise is build quality - the body just feels cheap and uninspiring.

Things don't improve when you remove the wafer thin back to insert a sim - we’d be seriously worried about snapping it. Controls are limited to volume on one side, power on the other, MHL port, which serves a dual purpose of charging via USB and outputting to HDMI, and a 3.5mm jack on the top, Samsung includes a range of streaming options including DLNA.

iPhone 4 | iPhone 4 Review

Antennagate, anyone? Our findings are that when you hold the iPhone 4 with your hand covering the bottom left corner, there is a loss of signal. However, we have not found that this has caused us to drop calls or lose data connections when out and about actually using the handset. Whether this is because we’re subconsciously moving our hands to avoid the issue developing is hard to say. That aside, there is no denying that the iPhone 4 is a stunning piece of tech. It’s 24 per cent slimmer than the 3GS at just 9.3mm thick, beautifully compact and elegantly designed with a stainless steel band separating the handset’s scratch-resistant glass covered front and back.

It’s this steel band, which is also the aerial, which seems to be causing the problems. Presumably it’s something to do with contact between the metal band and human skin causing conductivity issues as putting a casing on the iPhone seems to alleviate the problem. Bizarre reception flaws aside, the iPhone 4 is a great showcase for Apple’s technological and design prowess.

iPhone 4 vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Screen

Samsung Galaxy S2 I Samsung Galaxy S2 Review

The highlight of S2 is the 4.3-inch 800x480 screen, which incorporates Super AMOLED Plus technology. Colours are eye popping and blues and greens literally jump out of the screen at you. Off-angle viewing is excellent too - the first phone we’ve seen to match the iPhone 4.

A larger screen sizes means that the phone is bulky, but it’s a joy for movies. When playing back our test HD movie clips, detail is sharp and action smooth. We found that whites aren’t as pure or bright as those on the iPhone 4, although blacks seem darker and colours are bolder and warmer. It handles action smoothly too.

iPhone 4 | iPhone 4 Review

The new 3.5-inch Retina Display is another big improvement over the 3GS – and all other mobile devices for that matter. With an 800:1 contrast ratio and 960x640p resolution – according to Apple, that’s more than the human eye can process at that size of screen – the Retina Display sets a new benchmark for mobile screens.

The Retina Display is a joy to use indoors and at most outdoor light levels, although it becomes reflective and difficult to admire when in direct, bright sunlight such as we’re having recently. Although adding a gratifying pop to images and videos, older applications and their icons can also appear dated and grainy on the new high-res screen – app developers will have to improve their wares for the iPhone 4.

iPhone 4 vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Processor

Samsung Galaxy S 2 | Samsung Galaxy S 2 Review

The Galaxy S2 has a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor. In use the phone feels incredibly quick – one of the fastest smartphones we’ve used. Indeed, whether you’re browsing a web page or swapping between applications it never feels slow and seems to manage all your tasks with gusto. During our tests it loads web pages over WiFi quicker than the iPhone 4 - loading a content-rich website like T3.com - replete with Adobe Flash banners and carousels - in just 15 seconds. This isn’t an Nvidia Tegra 2 chip, so we couldn't download games designed specifically for this (such as Samurai II: Vengence THD), but there are a decent selection of games to play on Android as is, and it won't sturggle to run any of them.

iPhone 4 | iPhone 4 Review

Bringing the iPhone 4 to life is the same sprightly Apple A4 processor found in the original iPad. You’d think that packing this hefty workhorse under the bonnet would drain the battery, but the new iPhone’s battery life is not noticeably diminished from the 3GS, and Apple claims it actually lasts longer. When playing back HD content, motion is fast, without judder and free of lag or distortion when rotating the screen. It’s a slicker, quicker experience than the iPod Touch.

iPhone 4 vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Camera

Samsung Galaxy S 2 | Samsung Galaxy S 2 Review

Samsung has boosted the camera resolution from 5-megapixels to 8-megapixels, instead of a dedicated shutter; you tap the virtual shutter, which is fairly quick if not quite as nippy as the offering on the iPhone 4. Stills results are pleasing; the S2 is pretty good at controlling noise and colours are very natural. The S2 shoots HD video at 720p and 1080p at 30fps and results are good; it’s smooth, with natural colours, although perhaps lacking a little definition.

iPhone 4 | iPhone 4 Review

Following repeated cries from consumers, the iPhone 4 now offers flash. No, not the Adobe version for viewing web video – that’s just not gonna happen, so get used to it – but a scorchingly bright LED flash to accompany the improved camera. Stills are not suddenly of compact camera quality, but they are undeniably better, and bigger at five megapixels. Video is much improved, with 720p HD video offers pristine and sharp detail on the Retina Display, though some detail seems to be lost when compressing for direct uploading to YouTube. In-camera editing is also straightforward, and you can add the iMovie app (£2.99) if you want more sophisticated editing of your clips.

In addition to the main, rear camera there’s a second, front-facing one. This offers decent picture quality, but it’s there for more than just vanity’s sake. Apple, you see, is attempting to transform video calling from its current status as the forgotten starlet of the tech world into a must-have feature. To this end, it’s included the Skype-style Face Time app. Given that this works only over Wi-Fi and only between one iPhone 4 and another, we can’t see it reviving video calling’s fortunes, somehow, but it does work nicely enough, with much better video quality than on earlier mobile systems.

iPhone 4 vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Hands-on videos

iPhone 4 video

Samsung Galaxy S 2 video

iPhone 4 vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Verdict

As you may have gathered, specs-wise both these phones offer very similar thrills; both the iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy S 2 are at the top of their game. The Samsung is a bold beauty with top multimedia credentials - thanks to a larger screen and a lightning fast dual-core processor edging out the iPhone. The iPhone, despite controversy with the antenna, is a beautifully designed piece of kit that – as Apple is keen to hammer home – ‘just works’ in a way that your Nan could easily understand. Both handsets have hundreds of thousands of apps at their disposal, but it could be argues that Apple’s app store is more matured and stocked with a larger share of premium titles. That said, Android’s Market is pretty well stocked with top apps as well. The user interface on Android is vastly improved from when it first turned up and still offers some extra features that the iPhone doesn’t – such as proper multitasking. It does slightly lag behind Apple’s iOS in terms of swishness, though.

The main thing to consider at this stage is that the iPhone 4 looks set to be replaced in the very near future, as Apple is rumoured to launch the iPhone 5 in September. Whether you hang on for that or not is more a matter of how much you prefer Apple… but then we think that’s the crux of the whole battle. You can’t go wrong with either handset, so your decision should really be made or broken on whether you prefer the experience offered up by Android or iOS, as well as if you think you’d benefit from the larger screen real estate on the Galaxy S 2. Our advice would be that if you're after a mobile phone right now, the Samsung probably takes it by virtue of being quicker, larger and more recent. The iPhone 5 will be an entirely different story, but in this particular test the iPhone 4's datedness is to its detriment - making the Samsung our current winner. Made a decision? Let us know on the T3 Twitter feed.