Samsung Galaxy S4 vs iPhone 5S

Vs Paul Briden 15:39, 30 Oct 2013

What are the key differences between Apple's iPhone 5S and the Samsung Galaxy S4?

It’s somewhat typical of Apple to have announced its new iPhone 5S and then selectively revealed only certain details about the specs and capabilities.

What we have is a bunch of slightly ethereal information which is very difficult to put alongside rival devices – we know, for instance, that it has a new Apple A7 processor and we know that this is based on 64-bit architecture. We also know it is twice as fast as its predecessor, but in all cases we only have Apple’s word to go on and in reality none of this stuff means anything in isolation.

The irritating truth is that we likely won’t know a more detailed spec list until one of those ‘let’s take it apart and see what’s inside’ sites such as AnandTech or ArsTechnica get their mitts on the iPhone 5S and tear it to pieces, in a controlled and precise fashion of course.

So with that in mind, I am going to attempt to make a preliminary comparison of the iPhone 5S, pitting it against what is arguably its chief rival in the smartphone space – the Samsung Galaxy S4. But, this isn’t going to be your typical spec versus spec duel, instead it’s going to be more of a back-and-forth discussion of the design and known capabilities of each handset.

Design and build

It’s fair to say that both Samsung and Apple are, to varying extents, a bit guilty of recycling the same design repeatedly.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is virtually the same size as its predecessor, the Galaxy S3, and while the larger display real-estate crammed in has narrowed the bezel and given the phone a slightly ‘broader’ face, it’s still got the softened edges, rounded corners and glossy plastic chassis.

Meanwhile other stylistic elements, such as the Home button design, silver trim and capacitive controls have also remained unchanged.

Likewise the iPhone 5S is largely the spitting image of its predecessor with the same 4-inch Retina display.

The colour choices have been revamped but you still get your black and silver/white options in one form or another, as well as the new bling bling champagne gold, but looking at the handset the only other significantly visible difference for the sharp-eyed is the metallic ring around the Home button – a slight giveaway that it now possesses that new fangled Touch ID fingerprint scanner, but more on that later.

Both devices are quite attractive and really well put together. As I’ve come to expect from each manufacturer, there’s no flex or creak to the bodywork. But Samsung’s choice of glossy, tacky plastic is less than impressive in the hand. Meanwhile, Apple is still very much trading on the ‘premium’ image with an aluminium build which is reassuring to get to grips with, if a bit more susceptible to scuffs and dings.

Hardware

With the Samsung Galaxy S4 you get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor clocked at 1.9GHz with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 320 graphics processing unit (GPU). We know how well this performs and Samsung has become more adept at optimising Android Jelly Bean alongside its TouchWiz UI software to Qualcomm’s architecture, so generally you can expect some fairly fast speeds.

However, it’s not all flowers and sunshine, when KYM’s Richard Goodwin reviewed the Galaxy S4 he noted “the occasional stutter when flicking between homescreens and there was a hint of lag when scrolling through longer menu lists.”

The iPhone 5S is a bit of a mystery. Its A7 chip uses 64-bit architecture, just like a desktop computer, and according to Apple it’s the first 64-bit smartphone in existence. The ramifications for the end user are unclear and tricky to fathom at this point though. The potential is for much faster and more advanced applications, while enhanced graphical capabilities via Open GL ES 3.0 means gaming can become much flashier (although Android 4.3 supports this standard too.)

But, fast and clever apps on iOS have never really been a problem anyway, and overall performance has always been high thanks to Apple’s optimisations, so really it should mean business as usual. The gaming element seems more significant here, but then only if you’re into gaming, of course.

On the storage front Apple’s offering the usual selection of 16GB, 32GB and 64GB onboard with no microSD support while in the UK the only Samsung Galaxy S4 model to be released has 16GB onboard, but with only about 9GB available to the user, although you do get microSD support for cards up to 64GB.

Then of course there’s Apple’s party trick with the Touch ID fingerprint scanner built into the Home button. Personally I can’t get excited about this, I really don’t see the point as it’s only tied into unlocking the phone and making purchases from iTunes. Had it been incorporated more widely into eWallet services and real-world shopping I might have a different view, but as it stands, to me it seems like a gimmick.

Battery

Apple also claims the battery life on the iPhone 5S has received a significant boost with up to 10 hours of web browsing or video playback and 40 hours of music playback.

For Samsung’s battery life I will defer once again to Rich’s review:

“With its 2600mAh battery you get plenty of usage from the handset before it kicks the bucket. From a single charge with heavy usage – lots of browsing, calls, push email on, downloading large data files, and streaming movies – you’re looking at a full day providing you have auto-brightness activated. 

“With moderate, casual, usage you’re looking at a day and half at an absolute push. Compared to the Xperia Z and Nexus 4, the Galaxy S4 is a heavy hitter in the battery stakes and that’s an important win for Samsung. Even more so when you consider the Galaxy S4’s 5-inch 1080p display and the oodles of bloatware – sorry, software – it ships with.”

Display

Apple has left the display on the iPhone 5S well alone as a 4-inch Retina IPS LCD at 1126x640 pixels. We already know the reasoning behind this, the company line is that it’s an optimised size for use with one-hand and yet is still suitable for multimedia consumption, while the pixel density at 326 pixels-per-inch is at the limit of what the human eye can perceive.

While the iPhone 5S’s display is certainly sharp enough, bright enough and colourful enough I do find that larger displays do provide a more enjoyable multimedia experience and these days bigger screens can achieve much higher pixel densities (pixels-per-inch or ppi) so there’s no loss of clarity. They’re also not that difficult to manage with one hand as long as they’re around the 4.7-inch mark or less.

Samsung’s Galaxy S4 hits a number of these points with its 5-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen, which features a full HD 1920x1080 pixel resolution at 440ppi. It’s sharp, bright, colourful and generally much more rewarding to use in my view.

Camera

Both camera setups are certainly improvements over their predecessors, but it’s important to recognise that camera capabilities are not exactly a speciality of either device and if you’re looking for something which truly excels at imaging there are now plenty of other options on the market.

Bearing that in mind, Apple has decided to stick with its 8-megapixel iSight camera but has tweaked things a bit. We’re now told it has a more advanced back-illuminated sensor (BSI), uses a larger pixel size to capture more light, a larger f/2.2 aperture and some other clever jiggery-pokery.

Chief amongst these smart changes is the fact that, like many rival devices, the camera will now start doing stuff even before you take a shot, apparently adjusting for focus, lighting and stabilisation dynamically. Apple says it has a Hybrid IR filter and the dual-LED flash, which uses one amber LED and one white LED, is designed to produce more natural colour by dynamically adapting to lighting conditions.

Samsung has upped the megapixel count to 13-megapixels (it’s still a BSI sensor) with an LED flash and it still has digital image stabilisation. However, the majority of Samsung’s changes are concerned with how it takes a picture. That means you get things like Dual Shot, which lets you capture images and footage with both front and back cameras and merge it all together. In other words, you’ve got a selection of new modes. Another included mode is the ability to capture multiple shots and create a time-lapse motion image, or pick the best snap.

Picture quality has improved though, as Rich writes in his review,“Images captured using the 13-megapixel backside-illuminated sensor are superb and a huge bump up from what we saw on last year’s Galaxy S3. Colours are crisp and highly detailed, even when zoomed in for closer inspection.”

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