Samsung Galaxy S3 vs iPhone 4S: Smartphone showdown

Two bitter tech rivals go head to head

The Samsung Galaxy S3 takes on the Apple iPhone 4S in a bid to dethrone the current smartphone king. Who comes out on top in this epic clash of the titans?

The iPhone 4S is indisputably the people's smartphone champion. Thanks to it's looks, functionality, and features, it's remained firmly on top of the smartphone world since it's release on October 14th last year. Despite a plethora of commendable challengers, such as the Samsung Galaxy S2, the Nokia Lumia 900 and the HTC One X, the 4S remains the choice of many a discerning punter, and with good reason - it is still, arguably, the best phone on the market.

The Apple iPhone 4S is still the smartphone king, but there's always a pretender to the throne. With its all-powerful quad-core processor, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and a gigantic 4.8-inch screen, the Samsung Galaxy S3 represents the biggest challenge to the iPhone 4S' dominance so far.

Samsung Galaxy S3 vs Apple iPhone 4S: Build

Apple iPhone 4S

Antennagate rocked Apple's world for the wrong reasons after the launch of the iPhone 4, so we were keen to see how the new design 'improves call quality' and 'reduces risk of dropout'. Both the 4S's antennas, which run around the top of the phone, can transmit and receive data, allowing for faster 3G connections. Apple claims that maximum download speed over HSDPA is 14.4Mbps – twice as fast as the iPhone 4.

In the few days we've been testing, we haven't noticed an improvement in call quality and didn't experience any dropouts. But we have definitely seen faster download speeds over 3G and quicker web page loading. We ran the SpeedTest app (on O2-UK network) and got an average of 3.34Mbps download and 1.45Mbps upload. On the older iPhone 4, on the same network in the same location, we achieved average results of 2.32Mbps download and 1.31Mbps upload.

The shape and weight is the same as the iPhone 4, sitting comfortably in the hand and looking superb. Apple's infamous build quality is on show here, the iPhone 4S looks and feels like a premium handset.

Samsung Galaxy S3

Available in 'Marble White' and 'Pebble Blue' (pebble... blue?!), the Galaxy S3 is sporting a curvier look than the iPhone 4S and sits in the hand nicely. It actually looks far less like it's older brother, and actually more resembles of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, both in size and contours, although the plastic finish on the back feels more premium than its predecessor.

With a 4.8-inch screen on board, the S3 isn't exactly small. Measuring 136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6mm, the S3 is slightly longer, wider and fatter than the S2 (125.3 x 66.1 x 8.49mm), which may prove to bit a little on the large side for some although the extra thickness may actually make the S3 slightly easier to hold and less likely to slip from your hand, particularly when taking a photo.

At 133g, the S3 is very slightly heavier than the S2, although only by 3 grams, so it's barely noticeable.

T3 Verdict: Apple iPhone 4S

Samsung Galaxy S3 vs Apple iPhone 4S: Screen

Apple iPhone 4S

The 3.5-inch Retina Display is unchanged over the iPhone 4. 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.

The version we used didn't have Infinity Blade 2 installed, we tried Real Racing 2 which, to us, looked smoother than our iPhone 4 version. The keynote demo of Infinity Blade 2 was mind-blowing considering it was running on a bloomin' phone. It wowed the room. A room full of cynical hacks. Sony PSP Vita, eat your heart out.

Samsung Galaxy S3

The S3 one-ups the iPhone 4S and HTC One X on screen size, with an enormous 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED screen, which displays at a maximum resolution of 720 x 1280.

At 306 pixels per inch, the screen is slightly below the quality of the HTC One X and the iPhone 4S but frankly, 306ppi is still eye-searing stuff. Everything that we said about the HTC looking great because of it's size is even more true of the Samsung Galaxy S3. Once again the screen uses Super AMOLED technology, to keep the viewing angle as wide as possible.

Even under the artificial lights of the demo room, we could see that the screen was of excellent quality, but we've to try out in bright sunshine.

T3 Verdict: Samsung Galaxy S3

Samsung Galaxy S3 vs Apple iPhone 4S: Camera

Apple iPhone 4S

The camera's had a major overhaul, now capable of taking eight-megapixel stills and recording 1080p video. Apple claims upgrades to the optics allow for more light, better colours and improved white-balancing. We didn't dismantle the 4S to find out, but did take a range of shots in a variety of conditions to test the assertion.

Photos are crisper, no question, but it can't compete with traditional cameras with bigger lenses in low light. You can now choose to have a grid on the screen when taking shots, perform basic image-editing within the Camera Roll and jump straight to the camera function via a shortcut.

iOS 5 brings with it the option to use the '+' button as shutter when taking landscape shots. Face detection is also an upgrade and works well.

The 1080p, 30fps camera is impressive. Clarity and detail are excellent and the A5 processor allows for image stabilisation of the go. Shaky hand, be gone. We played back footage on our 47-inch TV and, even in full screen, video quality was great. We can hear the home camcorder industry wincing from here.

Samsung Galaxy S3

The rumoured 12MP camera sadly does not make an appearance. Instead the Galaxy S3 arrives with a perfectly reasonable 8MP/1080p camera, exactly the same as that on the HTC One X.

In burst mode, the camera takes contiunous shots at a rate of 6fps, then picks the best shot based on smile detection, blink detection, contrast and blurring. According to Samsung, the camera also has zero shutter lag along with an improved shot-to-shot time.

You'll be able to set up rules for photos to be automatically placed in groups based on faces, contacts or location. There's also Face Zoom which means that you can tap on a face when lining up a crowd shot and the camera will zoom in automatically. The lack of optical zoom means that this is going to be fairly limited, but we look forward to trying it out in the wild.

It also has a 1.9MP camera on the front, which suffices for profile pictures, video calls and the like. Curiously, that's actually smaller than the Galaxy S2's 2MP front camera sensor, but still a major improvement on the 4S' 0.3MP front-facing camera.

T3 Verdict: Samsung Galaxy S3

Samsung Galaxy S3 vs Apple iPhone 4S: Power

Apple iPhone 4S

The iPhone 4S is fired by a dual core A5 chip, which also has dual core graphics capabilities – that's a x2 times faster CPU than the original iPhone 4 chip, according to Apple, and a whopping 7x faster graphics.

The faster A5 processor makes operating the device noticeably quicker when launching and re-launching apps and when using power-draining applications such as iMovie. Getting hands on with Notifications, Newsstand, iMessage and Reminders demonstrated to us just how much of a step up from iOS 4 it is.

The dual-core A5 is more than powerful enough to handle the components inside the iPhone 4S, but it doesn't stand up to the quad-core monsters being packed into Samsung and HTC's latest phones.

Samsung Galaxy S3

Samsung has put their own quad-core 1.4GHz Exynos processor into the Galaxy S3, and bolstered it with 1GB RAM. The quad-core processor certainly seemed to do the trick in the limited time that we had with the phone. There was barely any lag when switching between home screens and firing up apps.

Flash memory is available in 16, 32 and 64 GB versions, improving on the S2's 16GB offering, while there's also a micro SD card slot should you wish to expand the memory. There's also 50GB of free storage for your content on Dropbox for the next years, which is double what HTC is offering on its HTC One X.

T3 Verdict: Samsung Galaxy S3

Samsung Galaxy S3 vs Apple iPhone 4S: Operating System

Apple iPhone 4S

iOS 5 includes the new iCloud service allows you to back up and recover your data. We've had a few phones end up in pints of lager or in pieces on the pavement, so we'll definitely be making full use of this. The generous 5GB of space will take a while to fill up.

Simply flick the top edge of the display and the shiny new menu appears, compiling your mail, messages and reminders into one handy list. It's a perfect way to stay organised if your schedule's as ridiculous as ours. It's customisable too, so you can choose exactly what you want to appear.

You also get integrated Twitter support in your phonebook, so you can tweet a message to a friend by scrolling to their entry. We love the way you can tweet a photo as soon as you take it, without messing around on the website. And if your photography skills are as useless as ours, you'll appreciate the option to crop and perform basic editing on your shots before saving them or posting them online.

With months of usage and updates behind it, iOS 5 is about as smooth a mobile OS as you're going to find on any handset.

Samsung Galaxy S3

The Galaxy S3 comes with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich as standard - anything less would be enormously disappointing. Like HTC, Samsung has taken Android 4.0 and overlayed their Touch Wiz UI - an interface that we already loved from it's Galaxy S2 days. It's been streamlined a little - the wealth of features remains, but things feel a little less cluttered.

S Voice is essentially voice-activated control that will give you direct access to functions such as the camera, calls, text, the alarms, weather, calendar and music and it'll even work when music is playing. What it won't do is answer you back with pithy retorts, like Apple's Siri.

Also present are new functions galore. Smart Stay uses eye detection to ensure that the screen doesn't dim as long as you're looking at it. Smart Alert makes the phone vibrate when you pick it up to let you know that you have a notification. Smart Call automatically dials the number you're looking at as soon as you lift the phone to your ear when you're in contacts, messages or call log.

All of these functions are more than welcome, and involve all kinds of impressive technical wizardry... but did we used to have problems seeing that we had a notification, or calling people on our contacts list? We're not sure we did, and how useful these additions are will be down to personal preference.

T3 Verdict: Draw

Samsung Galaxy S3 vs Apple iPhone 4S: Battery

Apple iPhone 4S

Apple claims 8 hours of 3G talk time, up to 9 hours of Wi-Fi use, 10 hours video playback and 40 hours of musical pleasure. In our experience, we can say that when compared to the iPhone 4, all of these activities had less of a drain on battery. Whether this will still be the case in six months time, we'll have to see. We did notice the battery draining a little quicker when in standby, however.

Samsung Galaxy S3

The Galaxy S3's 2100mah battery is a big improvement on that of the S2, and ought to be hefty enough to handle all the tech that has been packed into the S3. A bigger battery doesn't mean longer battery life, but we'll give the S3 the benefit of the doubt for the moment.

The battery in the Galaxy S2 was pretty good, and the extra power in the Galaxy S3 probably cancels out the bigger battery. The S2 outperformed the iPhone 4S in this category, so we'd expect the S3 to do the same.

T3 Verdict: Samsung Galaxy S3

Samsung Galaxy S3 vs Apple iPhone 4S: Verdict

First of all, let us say this: the Apple iPhone 4S is still a phenomenal phone, and a worthy choice even now if you're looking for something new. Smartphone technology is one of the fastest moving sectors in the technology market, and for the 4S to have maintained itself as a viable option 9 months after it's release, it's quite an achievement in itself.

BUT. On paper, the iPhone 4S is clearly dated when put up against the newer, more powerful Samsung Galaxy S3. The size and general build-quality of the 4S will still be preferable to most people, but if you're looking for the handset that puts the most power in your hands, it has to be the Galaxy S3.

Maybe it won't be long before we can put the Samsung Galaxy S3 up against an Apple iPhone 5 of some description. Keep your fingers crossed.

Either way, these are still two of the best phones money can buy, and you'll be more than happy with either.

T3 Verdict: Samsung Galaxy S3

Still not decided? You can read our Samsung Galaxy S3 and Apple iPhone 4S reviews to get to know the Android smartphones a little better.

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