iPhone 5S vs Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Vs Paul Briden 18:49, 25 Sep 2013

Can Apple's modestly sized iPhone 5S stand up to the colossal Samsung Galaxy Note 3?

Will this be a case of David defeating Goliath or will the giant squish the tiny? Read on to find out how the Apple iPhone 5S compares to Samsung's Galaxy Note 3.

iPhone 5S: Key specs and features

At first glance, the most immediate change to the iPhone 5S from its predecessor is the colour options.

The standard black has now been replaced with “space grey” with black accents, the white model is usurped by a silver variant with white trim and there’s the wildcard third option with “champagne gold”, which also features white trim.

The only other notable stylistic change is the metallic bezel around the Home key and this is a subtle detail which is easy to miss, but one which certainly works quite well.

In other areas the iPhone 5S appears identical to the iPhone 5 – it’s the same shape with the same size, proportions and weight and just like the last iPhone the build quality is pretty top notch with an aluminium rear panel and glass fascia. You won’t find any creaking or flex here and it all feels solid to get to grips with while offering a premium finish.

The more significant alterations are inside the chassis where the processor has been boosted. It’s Apple’s latest A7 chip, a 64-bit dual-core processor clocked at 1.3GHz and based on ARM v8 architecture. Onboard RAM is still 1GB but is refreshed with the use of faster LDDR3 RAM and the chipset features a quad-core PowerVR G6430 graphics processing unit (GPU).

In the short term the improved hardware, combined with Apple’s optimisations on the updated iOS 7, will offer similarly slick performance to what we’ve seen before on Apple devices.

New content going forward should be optimised for the 64-bit architecture though, which should produce quicker app load speeds while fancy graphics for apps and gaming should also improve with the new GPU, DirectX and Open GL capabilities – in other words, there’s a reason why Infinity Blade 3 looks a good deal jazzier than its predecessors.

The iSight camera has also been enhanced – it’s still rated at 8-megapixels as Apple says it sees no reason to pile extra megapixels into the equation. Instead, the back-illuminated sensor has been improved and expanded to 1/3-inch, along with an enlarged pixel size and a bigger f/2.2 aperture - all changes which should let in more light (allegedly as much as 33 per cent) and bump up the detail.

Apple’s digital image stabilisation has made a return and the phone now features a dual-LED “True Tone” flash with both amber and white LEDs. The iPhone 5S now begins adjusting its settings dynamically to get the best picture quality before you even take the shot and part of this involves the flash, which adapts to lighting conditions and tries to offer natural colour.

Apple’s storage offerings remain the same with a choice of either 16GB, 32GB or 64GB and no microSD support. Likewise the display is the same as the iPhone 5’s – it’s a 4-inch IPS LCD Retina with an 1136x640 pixel resolution at 326 pixels-per-inch. As with the iPhone 5 this is a bright, colourful and clear panel that is very rewarding to look at.

Another new feature is the TouchID fingerprint scanner built into the Home key. This allows you to unlock the phone with a press. You can also use it to buy iTunes content.

The iPhone 5S has Apple’s Lightning connector port, full Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G and 3G connectivity and a 1,560mAh battery pack which Apple says will support up to 10 hours of video playback or web browsing, or 40 hours of music playback.

Then there’s iOS 7 – a massive visual overhaul which completely changes the look of Apple’s software. As well as an aesthetic tweaking, iOS 7 adds some much needed functionality in the form of true multitasking via a carousel, an improved notifications screen and a quick settings menu. There are other improvements but these are amongst the most noteworthy and do much to make iOS 7 a more modern and well-rounded platform.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3: Key specs and features

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is markedly different from its predecessors and other Galaxy devices on the exterior as, by default, it comes with a new back panel design. It’s still plastic, but rather than Samsung’s conventional shiny gloss it now has a soft-touch textured leather effect and imitation stitching.

While some may not enjoy Samsung’s skeumorphic tangent it’s fair to say that the new material style works well with the ridges embedded in the silver surround to offer good grip for a device of this size – Samsung said these were intended to simulate the pages of a notebook but their practical use seems like a bigger thing to shout about.

Fit and finish is to a typically high standard and there’s no bending or warping in the bodywork when handling the Galaxy Note 3. It’s also lightweight, thin and relatively well balanced, making it quite manageable in the hand despite its scale. Visually the handset looks tidy with evenly proportioned bodywork around the display and a super-thin bezel.

The display is an obvious focal point – it’s a huge 5.7-inch non-Pentile Super AMOLED panel which dominates the front fascia. Historically making a display that is both large and with good picture quality was something of a problem, but these days it’s less of an issue and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 certainly benefits from these advancements.

As well as being a sizable slab of glass for enjoyable multimedia viewing the picture is sharp and has robust colour, together with the excellent contrast typically associated with AMOLED and excellent brightness which makes even outdoor use in bright sunshine a breeze.

The processor is Qualcomm’s reputable Snapdragon 800 quad-core chip clocked at 2.3GHz with an Adreno 330 GPU and 3GB of RAM, making it quick and speedy for doing pretty much anything on Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface. It’ll easily handle intensive apps, games and multimedia.

And there’s plenty of room for such content too, storage is 32GB with microSD support for cards up to 64GB. There’s also a 64GB internal storage variant from Samsung but the company hasn’t announced any plans to introduce this model in the UK.

A massive 3,200mAh removable battery pack keeps things ticking over for longer periods and can be swapped out with spares when away from a charger. MHL TV-Out, micro USB, NFC, full Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G and 4G round off your connectivity options.

Then of course there’s the S-Pen. Samsung has added an absolute boatload of new capabilities linked to the little pointy stick.

Multitasking just got a whole lot better because as well as having an improved implementation of the Multiscreen function – which allows you to share the screen between two apps – the S-Pen’s Air Command pop-up radial menu introduces Pen Window, which lets you draw a space over any screen in which you can also run a wide range of useful apps.

A quick memo (Action Memo) and screen capture with annotation mode (Screen Write) are also nice additions.

Lastly, there’s the 13-megapixel camera, which is a highly capable bit of kit and can snap some lovely crisp, clear and colourful photos at a 1080p HD resolution.

Points to consider: Practical use

There’s a pretty obvious contrast between these two handsets, one of them is massive and the other a dinky compact. Of course there are arguments both for and against each approach.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 offers a more satisfying experience for watching films and playing games (or even web browsing) over extended periods with its enormous, high-quality display and large battery pack. The iPhone 5S provides excellent visual quality but it is a bit pokey for more involved multimedia consumption.

While Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 is a more manageable phablet, as they go, it is a good deal more unwieldy than the iPhone 5S, which is a highly compact device that’s entirely at home with one-handed use. Plus you can guarantee it will fit in most pockets and there’s always something significant to be said about Apple’s aluminium and glass build which just screams premium.

In terms of general processor performance and operation both devices offer an unparalleled smartphone experience with incredibly slick and fluid navigation, media playback and intensive tasks like gaming or multitasking. Apple’s iPhone 5S is arguably a bit more future proof though, between the fact that it uses 64-bit architecture for progressive app development (while still supporting legacy 32-bit content) and the way in which Apple’s ecosystem is carefully curated to offer maximum compatibility and performance over long periods of time.

Android’s ecosystem is a bit more of a wild and untamed land, though often in a beneficial way, admittedly. Although you can be sure the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 aboard the Galaxy Note 3 will remain relevant for many years to come it may be usurped slightly quicker – there’s already talk of 64-bit chips on forthcoming Samsung devices in 2014, for example.

Still, in the meantime it’s an equally capable powerhouse and each device has plenty to offer in this area.

Samsung has managed to progress its S-Pen stylus and multitasking functionality to an impressive extent and the Galaxy Note 3 offers one of the most compelling multitasking environments I’ve seen on mobile to date. You can share the screen between multiple apps and it operates smoothly – it’s like a mini desktop and I really think Samsung is offering something unique here.

Both cameras are top notch with plenty of high-end functionality, gorgeous still and great quality video. Most users should be more than happy with either option when it comes to imaging, although as footnote it’s worth pointing out that the Galaxy Note 3 enables you to scribble all over your snaps from the get-go.


My personal preference here would be the Galaxy Note 3, but then I am an Android fan through-and-through. It’s not perfect by any means – I would prefer higher-end plastics, the size can cause some practical problems (though I think they’re an acceptable trade-off) and I am not in love with Samsung’s UI style even if some of the built-in features such as the S-Pen’s functionality and multitasking tools are truly excellent.

Even so, taking all this onboard it’s a tremendously rewarding phone to pick up and use, it is great for the things I like to do with my phones and the big, brilliant display is a substantial part of this, as is the stunning performance which simply won’t let you down. There’s also a lot to like about the extensive battery life and ample storage options, plus the more-than-capable imaging.

I can see plenty of positives in the iPhone 5S too, however. iOS 7 looks pretty damn good in terms of functionality and there’s no arguing with Apple’s optimised performance being pretty much perfect. Likewise the build quality and aesthetic design never fails to please.

For my two pence I am simply not onboard with a 4-inch display, however impressive in quality it is, while at the same time I can’t come to terms with Apple’s “walled garden”.

But, for many people these are not going to be issues at all, and if you’re after a nicely compact phone with a fantastic screen, excellent performance and some top-notch build quality, plus a great camera and stacks of storage space there’s plenty to like here.

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