Apple iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S III: Which is best for you?

When it comes to upgrading your phone, there's one very big question that most people have: iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S III? Answering it is not easy.

Choosing between the flagship Android and Apple phones is a tough decision and one you're going to have to live with for the next two years of your life. So, for the past month some of us at Pocket-lint have been using either the iPhone 5, the SGS III, or both, as our main phone and comparing notes so we can delve deeper than any normal review. After all, it should all be about the long-term experience, shouldn't it?

Let's get one thing out of the way first - the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III are both excellent smartphones. Both are top of their class, both very impressive in the experience they deliver, and of that there is no doubt. But which is best for you and you alone, is what this is all about.

A look that fits

How big are your pockets? How big are your hands? Which one are you going to be most happy being seen with? These are just some of the questions you need to ask yourself.

Forget the operating system for a moment, the ability to make calls, or even what apps you can get. What you think of the design of the phone and whether it is something you find attractive or sexy even, is a huge consideration.

Your phone is always with you. It's the last thing you see at night and the first you'll see in the morning. So, if you don't like the look of the monolithic slab that is the iPhone 5 then it's not for you and, if you think the Samsung Galaxy S III looks cheap and flimsy, then you'll have already answered this question.

Most obviously, there's a significant difference in size. The Galaxy S III is 136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6mm and weighs 131g. The iPhone 5 is both lighter, thinner and smaller all over at 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm and 112g. You pay a physical price for wanting the bigger, wider 4.8-inch screen of the Samsung Galaxy S III instead of settling for a 4-inch iPhone. If you’ve got small hands, then you might want to consider the Apple mobile.

At the most basic level Apple's aesthetic is about clean lines. It's all metal and glass, and, if you go for the black version, you'll discover how easily it scratches with wear. As a piece of industrial design, it's hard to beat, but if you are a perfectionist who constantly polishes your phone's screen, unless you opt for the white model you'll be disappointed by how it ends up looking once it's been knocking around your pocket for a month or two.

READ: Apple iPhone 5 review

The Samsung Galaxy S III isn't perfect either and it struggles to look any different from other Samsung phones. It won't show up the wear and tear so clearly, but it's still fragile. Fortunately, you can remove the back cover and jazz up your mobile with something custom there instead.

In the pocket, the smaller iPhone 5 is a bit less noticeable, especially if you wear tight jeans, but for the most part, you aren't going to notice between the two. What is interesting though, was that we found the iPhone 5 slipped out of our suit trouser pockets a lot more easily. So, getting insurance that covers loss might be an idea.

Neither phone offers you quite the same visual pizazz as a Nokia Lumia but, at least the Samsung Galaxy S III comes in a wider palette of colours, depending on operator, so there's more choice on that front than the monochrome from Apple. At the end of the day, both of these handsets will get you enough respect when you pull them out at the pub.

Which has the better display?

The Galaxy S III’s 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED Plus 1280 x 720 screen offers rich and vibrant colours as well as lots of detail. Apple’s is much more subtle and at 4-inches in size, noticeably smaller, but it does have an incredible pixel density with a 1139 x 640 resolution crammed into the smaller space. That's a 326ppi, compared to 305ppi on the Galaxy S III.

Initially, you might be dazzled by the Galaxy S III’s screen. It is so bright and vibrant that it is hard to ignore. The issue comes when playing back video or looking at photos - or anything red, for that matter. The screen is inaccurate with that classic Samsung blue tint on everything. Pull your photos on to a normal computer screen and you can find them a very different experience. That's not a problem that you get with the iPhone 5.

One thing the Galaxy S III does do better with its screen is take advantage of the added size. The iPhone, despite having a bigger display than previous generations, does little really to put it to use.

Notifications, for example, still pop up and block the top section of the iPhone 5 screen, which is annoying. The Galaxy S III, however, has Android's vastly improved notification system with a black bar at the top showing if you have received emails or text messages, as well as lots of other apps that integrate with Android's notifications. There's plenty of information but it stays out of the way until you need it.

At the same time, the Samsung's bigger screen makes for bigger web browsing and that's a big help but it also makes the phone more difficult to operate with just one hand. You'll never get your thumb to stretch all the way to the other corner of the display and that might be a genuine issue if you spend a lot of time on a packed commuter train.

Gamers may prefer the more immersive screen size on the Samsung Galaxy SIII over the richness of colour detail on the iPhone. You can see more Angry Birds on the Galaxy SIII, but it looks nicer on the iPhone. Take them outside, though, and it's a different story. You'll see almost no Angry Birds on the Samsung Galaxy S III or anything else for that matter. Even on maximum brightness, the AMOLED technology struggles to show in direct sunlight where the LCD behind the iPhone 5 copes much better. If you live in a hot country or spend lots of time outdoors, it's enough of a reason to choose Apple's smartphone.

Making a phone call

As far as making calls goes, on the performance front, the iPhone 5 will sound noticeably better. It has more microphones to pick up your voice making for better call clarity. Conversely, the Samsung Galaxy SIII speakerphone is a lot louder than Apple’s, which if you are a hands-free kind of person is great. Both offer support for the wideband audio codec, or HD Voice if you are on the EE network in the UK.

Accessing your contacts on both is a very similar experience, but Android does offer a more connected approach including some neat tricks.

On the iPhone you get a decent resolution image of each contact, pulled from the likes of Facebook or Twitter. On the Galaxy S III, Google's contact images are very low res, which makes for an irritatingly grainy contact pic whenever someone calls. As for the actual contact cards, Samsung gives you a lot more at a glance, including social networks (except for Twitter) and Google details.

The Samsung Galaxy SIII lets you call someone in your phonebook by simply raising the phone to your ear - handy, but you'll probably turn it off straight away as it eats battery like nobody's business. Ex-BlackBerry lovers will enjoy the ability to begin typing someone's name into the dialler to bring up their contact card straight away. The iPhone doesn't have this time-saving measure, making you go into the contacts app to get hold of the person you're after.

The iPhone sounds better, but making and finding someone and calling them is quicker on the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Sending an email, keyboard

For the most part, both the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III do a good job when it comes to email. It is subtle software differences that separate the two.

Set-up for example, is done when you first boot up the Galaxy S III and enter your Google Account details. It's straightforward and easy. The iPhone sets up email from within the app and works most of the time, provided you aren’t trying to use a mail service outside of the ones Apple suggest. If this is the case, expect a painful and complex process with plenty of searching on the web for DNS addresses and other settings. Not fun.

Once you are up and running, you will immediately realise the Galaxy SIII’s bundled email app is a clunky mess. Using Gmail rectifies this, with a great search function and a clean and easy to understand UI. Gmail also manages things like sending images and attachments better than the iPhone.

The iPhone’s mail app, while better than the Galaxy S III’s more generic "Email" option, lacks the same quality search. It does, however, reformat text for the iPhone’s screen, making messages easier to read. This is a major gripe of Gmail, that it doesn't (currently) support resizing.

You can get Gmail for the iPhone, complete with notifications, but you won't be able to make it your default Mail client. 

Typing an email is different on both phones. The iPhone has just one keyboard, but it's good. It's fast and responsive, but that smaller screen size can cause issues for those of fatter finger. Android allows for custom keyboards, SwiftKey and Swype for example, should you not like the standard Galaxy SIII experience. Most Android users agree that this ability to change the stock keyboard is a very good thing and can seriously speed up typing.

READ: Samsung Galaxy S III review

For the nimble fingered, and those who don’t want too much from an email app, go with the iPhone. For those who feel email is a crucial part of their smartphone day, the Samsung Galaxy S III is the better choice here.

Using office apps and working

The Galaxy SIII has Google’s cloud-based office infrastructure straight out of the box. Download the free Google Drive app and you can produce everything from spreadsheets to simple word docs. These all sync with the cloud and can be read and edited on several devices, including desktop computers and even the iPhone with the Google Drive app installed.

If you're after Apple’s own applications, or are a user of iCloud which can share docs in a similar way to Google Drive, then you are going to have to pay. Pages, Numbers and Keynote each do one element of what Google Drive can and all cost £6.99.

The Apple apps are arguably better designed once up and running; iCloud integration especially between Mac and phone or Phone and iPad, is very good. Notes, for example, will sync anything you jot down on your phone to your desktop app. 

Cut and paste is supported on both phones, but the iPhone's system just seems to work more reliably than that of Android, which, for example, doesn't let you copy text from a Twitter direct message. Again, that added screen size is a real bonus when it comes to office work on the Samsung Galaxy S III. In landscape mode on the iPhone 5, you can’t really see what you're typing, whereas on the Galaxy S III you can. However the simplicity of Pages and the clever iCloud syncing of Notes is hard to ignore.

So then, the iPhone is for those who use other Mac products and don’t mind paying the Apple premium. The Samsung Galaxy S III is if you want something that works with anything, but doesn’t necessarily offer as slick an experience. 

How is it taking photos?

Just because both the Galaxy S III and iPhone 5 have 8-megapixel cameras, it doesn’t mean that you are going to get a very similar shooting experience or image quality.

As always, Apple keeps it very simple, perhaps overly so. Apart from panorama mode and the ability to use AE/AF lock on the iPhone 5, there isn’t much else the camera lets you do. The added photo functionality on the iPhone comes from its access to a wider range of apps.

The Galaxy S III’s actual camera app is more flexible. You can adjust resolution, ISO and white balance as well as change shooting modes. Beyond that there are a number of functions such as the smile shot that will grab the image with a smile from a sequence of shots.

The iPhone counters this with facial recognition, however once you include applications like Snapseed (which admittedly should be headed to Android), then the iPhone camera is easily as flexible as that of the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Apps aside, what you'll generally find is that the iPhone 5 takes better photos than the Samsung Galaxy S III. The image quality is superior. The only thing you're really missing out on is having all of the options and setting to play with in one place.

Watching video

There's a big case of swings and roundabouts for the off here. The Samsung's screen is bigger, but the iPhone's screen is better and, when you take it all in, the actually quality of the watch is about the same. What really seems to separate the two is where that content comes from.

iTunes and Google Play both offer the same big blockbusters, but Apple easily wins in the rare movie department. iTunes also offers an easier syncing experience than Samsung Kies, the latter being positively rotten.

Netflix, Sky Go and the likes of BBC iPlayer work well on the phones, so you have access to lots of good on demand video, and, as for your own content, the Galaxy S III supports more formats, so if you are the type who already has a big digital movie library, the Samsung is the better choice.

As for sharing video elsewhere, again, sticking to Apple’s infrastructure has its benefits and its disadvantages, namely that Apple TV can work with any television set and pushing video or photos to your TV screen via AirPlay is very easy to do.

For the Samsung Galaxy S III though, there is DLNA, but you will need a DLNA-capable TV set and the UI isn’t as slick as Apple's. The Galaxy S III will natively let you access servers to stream content you might already have on your network. Samsung also offers its clever pop-out video feature, allowing you to watch a video while accessing and using another on-screen app - Twitter, for example.

The best way to look at video, then is that the iPhone is for those who like to play nice within Apple’s content platform and not really anywhere else. The microSD card on the Galaxy S III and greater format support means if you are bringing your own content to the phone you'll do better with the Samsung. 

Surfing the web

The iPhone 5 can work on the EE 4G network, but not Vodafone's and O2's 4G network when it goes live in 2013. To get 4G speeds on the Samsung Galaxy S III you will need to make sure that you buy the Samsung Galaxy S III LTE model. That's different from the one sold on Vodafone, O2, and other networks and is currently only available on Orange or the EE network. Chances are that you will be surfing on 3G most of the time for the next 6-12 months anyway.

Browser choice is wide and varied. The default browser for iPhone 5 is Safari and the default browser for the Galaxy S III is from Samsung, although most will opt for Chrome. All three have pinch to zoom and double tap functionality. Chrome and Safari have the ability to sync web browsing history with other devices or the desktop if you use the same browser.  

Safari comes with an Offline Reading feature built in and Reader Mode that removes all the clutter from a website so you can just read the copy. Chrome doesn't offer Offline Reading, however the Samsung browser does. 

Flash is still supported to a degree in the Samsung browser, but Android is quickly moving away from it and the experience isn't great. The iPhone does not support Flash, but in most cases, websites have found ways around or risked suffering a big loss in traffic,

As for browser speed, there's really very little in it. So, which is better for looking at the internet? Neither. It's a dead heat here.

Social networking and sharing

Android is definitely an operating system geared towards those who like to share. At the tap of a button, within most apps, you can share anything from a picture to a line of text to one of any social network or third-party services installed on the Galaxy S III.

The iPhone keeps it much more simple and exclusive. There is a share button, but you are only really looking at Facebook and Twitter to post to. The notifications menu also has the same option. Again here, Apple is about keeping it simple, the Galaxy S III lets you customise things to your own liking.

Both phones also benefit from some great social media camera applications, including Instagram and Facebook’s own. Snap a pic and you will have it uploaded in no time. If you are a Google+ user, then experience will be better on the Galaxy S III. 

For those who like to let every single social network under the sun know what they are doing, we can see the Samsung Galaxy S III being a phone that will keep you very happy.

On the go

There is nothing more irritating than taking your phone out of your pocket and staring at a black screen and a flat battery. The good news is that both iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S III will last all day on one charge.

There is a slight caveat to the above though, in that it all depends on how you use them. You will drain the 2,100mAh battery on the Galaxy S III quickly if you have all of Android’s notifications switched on, for example. The bigger screen can also pose a problem, as can the quad-core chip, but be sensible with it and you'll last the day. At least the Samsung gives you the option to switch out the battery, if you need to.

The same applies to the iPhone, although here it is push email which is the major battery drain culprit. Switch that off and you will get a day from the phone very easily.

Apps

Google Play and iTunes now sit neck a neck in the app department for most things, making both the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III great when it comes to apps.

If you are the type who enjoys ease of use and compatibility, then the iPhone is for you, as every app on the app store, apart from those built for iPad, will run with perfect optimisation.

The Galaxy S III is subjected to the fact that not every app on Android is supported on every phone, and there are some obvious omissions. Unless you are on O2 in the UK you don't get Nike+ for example, unless you side-load it. You won't get TomTom for Android either, as it isn't compatible. Even still, not every app works as well on every phone even if you can download it.

App developers are also prone to choosing iOS first. Sky, the BBC, and others all pick iOS over Android for first launch. You might find yourself waiting on Android and sometimes even ending up with something that just hasn't been as carefully or beautifully designed.

When it comes to managing apps, Android is better in many ways. Multitasking, for example, is done with one simple menu, rather than the double tap of the home button on iOS. Then there is the ability to stop apps from running, which requires another long press on the iPhone screen’s multitasking menu.

Sorting apps on Android is easier, with the option to list them alphabetically in grid format, or in a list, and many come with widgets to add extra functionality from the Samsung Galaxy S III home screens. 

Ultimately you need to work out which apps are you want and whether they are supported on Android or iOS. It is worth double checking that even if they are, that theyalso  provide the functionality you need as it might differ across platforms.

App probably aren't a deal-breaker but, if you're super-fussy in this department, you should probably go for the iPhone 5.

Verdict

Neither the iPhone 5 nor the Galaxy S III sells you short on the complete smartphone experience. Objectively, each is as good as the other, so what it really comes down to is the defining differences for your life and how you intend to use your mobile.

First is design. Metal or plastic? That really is the question. If you want sleek lines and understated looks, then the iPhone 5 will do it for you.

Then comes the operating system: iOS 6 is simple, quick and easy to use, but lacks flexibility. Android is something you can customise and make your own and you shouldn't underestimated how good it feels to have a unique version of your Samsung Galaxy S III in your hand.

Next is the behemoth that is iTunes and, for every ounce of hate you will hear about it, it's still a lot easier to have all the content you need in a one-stop, purpose built shop than mixing and matching your suppliers and methods of transfer. You pay the price but you get a good service.

Cost is also a governing factor. The iPhone might bring premium materials with it, but it also comes with a bigger price tag. The 64GB iPhone 5 for example is going to cost you £699, whereas a 16GB Galaxy S III with a 64GB microSD card will total around £450. That's one hell of a saving. You can smooth out that difference to something more like £200 over a 24-month contract but that's still a huge consideration.

The iPhone 5 combines great design with a higher price tag and an out of the box experience that you barely need to consider. It is the phone for those who want something clean and simple and easy to use and have a bit of extra cash to spare. The Samsung Galaxy S III, on the other hand, is very much a mobile you can make your own. It can be yours in a way that the iPhone 5 never quite is. There is a reason it is the Android flagship device and you are unlikely to be disappointed.

Your opinion

Got something you feel helps one win over the other? Let us know in the comments below. 



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