iPhone 4S vs. Samsung Galaxy S III: Which Smartphone Wins?

NEWS ANALYSIS: The Apple iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S III are both fast, savvy, feature-rich, can follow instructions and access hundreds of thousands of apps. A few features, though, set each apart.

The Samsung Galaxy S III will be available from Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular by mid-summer, and an Apple iPhone 5 is a candidate for all five carriers by the fall. T-Mobile has dropped lots of hints that it will be able to support an LTE-enabled iPhone and US Cellular, in December, turned down the iPhone 4S, saying it was waiting for a Long Term Evolution version. Without the hassle of switching carriers or the need to wait out a contract, then, a number of people could find themselves debating between the next iPhone (whatever Apple decides to call it) and the fast-selling Samsung Galaxy S III.

While the next iPhone is expected to feature a larger display€”at least 4 inches on the diagonal€”and LTE connectivity€”there€™s really no telling what Apple is preparing as its response to the number of strong Android offerings that have come out in recent weeks, including the HTC Evo 4G LTE, HTC One X and Sony Xperia ion.

If you€™re considering a jump from an older iPhone to the Galaxy S III, or from an Android phone to an iPhone, here€™s where, in the most straightforward terms, things currently stand:

Apple iPhone 4S

Dimensions: 4.5 by 2.31 by 0.37 inches

Weight: 4.9 ounces

Display: 3.5-inch (on the diagonal) widescreen multi-touch display with a 960 by 640 pixel resolution.

Camera: 8 megapixels, HD video recording, LED flash, autofocus, VGA-quality front-facing camera, photo and video geotagging.

Operating System: iOS 5

Pricing and Capacity: 16GB for $199, 32GB for $299, 64GB for $399 (with two-year contract)

4G: No


Samsung Galaxy S III

Dimensions: 5.38 by 2.78 by 0.34 inches

Weight: 4.69 ounces

Display: 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED with a resolution of 1280 by 720

Camera: 8 megapixels, HD video recording, auto focus with flash and zero shutter lag, 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera with HD recording, zero shutter lag

Operating System: Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)

Pricing and Capacity: 16GB and 32GB versions are available; pricing varies by carrier, but most are selling the 16GB version for $199 with a two-year contract. Pricing varies more for the 32GB model. Sprint sells it for $249.99, T-Mobile for $329.99.

4G: Yes

NFC: Yes

Apple also has the largest ecosystem around, now with 650,000 apps in the App Store compared to 500,000 Android apps in the Google Play market. Clearly, neither store is going to leave a person wanting€”those are incredible figures€”but there is something to be said for developer€™s support of Apple. It seems we more often hear of popular iOS apps finally being created for Android€”Instagram and, more recently, Flipboard come to mind€”than the reverse.

Another consideration is enterprise approval. With companies increasingly supporting bring your own device (BYOD) policies, the iPhone is an incredibly common business device these days and considered more secure than many Android handsets€”though that thinking is changing. SAP, for example, has said it€™s working on a solution that will enable it to include Android devices among its sanctioned iPhones and BlackBerry handsets.

Samsung has taken this matter into its own hands and created a distinction called Samsung Approved for the Enterprise, or SAFE, that endows a device with not only enterprise-ready features but enough security options to make SAFE phones appropriate, according to Samsung, for even regulated industries such as government and health care.

In an enterprise-friendly head-to-head, the SAFE-branded Galaxy S III would come out ahead of the iPhone 4S. Also in the Samsung€™s favor are its NFC-based capabilities€”it can do cool things like pass a photo to another Galaxy S III handset when the two are tapped, use Google Wallet (depending on the carrier) and program Samsung€™s TecTile stickers to do your bidding. While mobile payments have been the focus of near field communication in the United States, there€™s a lot more it€™s capable of, as Galaxy S III users (and others) are already figuring out.

Both phones can be controlled by voice. The Galaxy S III€™s S Voice can be made to control some apps€”turning on or off WiFi, setting the alarm and creating and posting a Tweet, for example. S Voice can also find answers to your questions€”though it won€™t tell you them aloud, as Apple€™s Siri will. That is, when Siri hears or understands correctly. Still, even with Siri€™s foibles, and before the Siri upgrades Apple will launch with iOS 6 in its next phone€”she€™ll be better tied to information about restaurants and sports, among other improvements€”the iPhone bests the Galaxy on this front.

Each phone has a lot more features than are listed here, as well as details that detract from or recommend it. But smartphones are far more than their lists of specifications. We love or regret them based on details like the placement of buttons and whether we find them convenient, how warm the phone gets during a long call, how quickly it responds, how intuitive the layout is to navigate and really the degree to which the phone€™s a pleasure to use€”which is personal.

The most dramatic difference between these phones, in my opinion, is their size. A 4.8-inch display isn€™t for everyone, though no doubt some users will be thrilled with the GS III as a gaming interface or a screen for an in-flight movie.

If you can, get to a store, have a look, hold them€”a lot of camera features are great, but more important, to me, is not inadvertently hitting the volume button each time I turn on the phone€”and consider how and what you€™d use them for each day. Which phone is the best phone is personal.

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