Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Samsung Galaxy SII or iPhone 4S?

I have a difficult choice to make: should I get the new iPhone 4S or the Samsung Galaxy SII.  My contract expired a few months ago and had Apple followed their usual release cycle and announced the phone in the summer, I would have gotten the new iPhone for sure - as there was really no worthy competitor around at the time.  So I waited.

A few days ago, AT&T finally released the Samsung Galaxy SII, a device that had been available internationally since May and which had garnered rave reviews everywhere it was released.  Although I was psyched by the new phone's specs, I figured I'd wait a few days more - after all, the iPhone 5 was just about to be announced.  Rumors suggested it would have a larger 4" display, new body (possibly aluminium like the Mac Book Pro), faster processor, better camera, and some voice input.  Boy was I let down when the 4S was announced today: no new body, no bigger screen.  Sure, it will come with a much faster processor, voice input, and a better camera....but most Android devices out there had these features for awhile now, so nothing new.

So the decision on which way to go is much tougher now.  Below, I'm going to list a few advantages of the Galaxy SII over the iPhone 4S and then do the reverse.

Samsung Galaxy SII Advantages:

  1. Storage is expandable (using micro SDHC cards)
  2. Battery is replacable
  3. DLNA compatible - i.e. you can stream media files to any DLNA-compatible TV (even wirelessly, if the TV is wireless.  I have a Samsung TV connected to a Wifi router, so theoretically, I can send my videos to the TV from the couch).
  4. HDMI output.  The AT&T Galaxy SII supposedly comes with a mUSB->HDMI cable that will let you hook up your cellphone directly to any TV with that input (e.g. if you want to output your Netflix or Hulu streaming on your big-screen TV)
  5. Flash support.  Not much to say: Android phones can view web pages with Flash content, while iPhones cannot.
  6. Speed on AT&T Network.  The SII's theoretical top speed is 21Mbit/sec while the 4S's is 14Mbit/sec.  Not sure where those top speeds are available, however.
  7. Screen size.  At 4.3", the Galaxy has a 0.8" larger screen than the iPhone.  That may not sound like much, but when you're doing serious surfing or reading, that extra real estate helps the eye-balls quite a bit.
  8. Turn-by-turn voice navigation?  The SII has it, I'm not sure, but I think the iPhone still does not.
  9. NFC.  The Galaxy SII has the electronics for it, but according to an Engadget review I've read, AT&T has it disabled for now.  This function, when enabled, might allow for easier credit-card payments at some stores....not sure if that's a big deal.  The iPhone 4S doesn't even have the hardware for it, so you'll definitely not have that feature.
Apple iPhone 4S Advantages:
  1. Design.  Although I have not yet touched a Galaxy SII, it looks plastic in pictures.  By contrast, the iPhone 4 (and 4S) with its aluminium band and glass front/back "feel" more expensive/luxurious.  Also, I've played briefly with other Android-powered phones and the UI on these devices didn't seem as cohesive/consistent/polished as iOS.  But this may not be an issue with the Galaxy - I won't know until I try it.
  2. Screen resolution.  At 960x640, it definitely has the edge over the Galaxy SII's 800x480.  But it's benefits are arguably lost on such a small screen.
  3. Voice.  The iPhone 4S has "Siris" - a voice assistant that supposedly lets you do all sorts of things by voice that were previously done by touch.  I don't think Android devices have an analoguous technology.  However, Android does have voice input where I'd expect it to be most useful: when taking notes or sending e-mail.
  4. Integration with other iOS devices.  My wife has an iPhone and iPad.  My daughter has an iPod Touch and will probably inherit my old iPhone 3GS.  If I get the Galaxy, I'll be the "odd man out": I won't be able to "FaceTime" with them or use the new iOS-specific IM feature.
  5. Update cycle.  Apple releases updates to its iPhones fairly regularly.  Android phones seem to get updates whenever the carriers feel like it.  AT&T, specifically, has been fairly bad at providing updates to Samsung phones in the past.  Samsung would provide an update and AT&T wouldn't release it until 1/2 year later.
I'm sure I missed a bunch of things, but these are the ones that are most important to me.  The Galaxy SII, on paper, seems a better choice.  But I'm a sucker for good design - and would like bug fixes to appear on my phone fairly rapidly.

Update: I ended up buying the Samsung Galaxy SII.

Update 2: I've decided to return the Samsung :-(  Although most everything about the device is great, its battery capacity most definitely is not!  For the past 5 days, it hasn't lasted through the day a single time - and I don't even use the phone that much :-(  The other thing I could not get used to is the on-screen keyboard (yes, I've tried all three built-in ones as well as a downloaded one).  I don't know what it is about the geometry of the keys, but I constantly find myself mistyping things.  It might be the placement of the period next to the space...I constantly hit it, instead of the letter 'n'.

Final Update: I stuck with the Samsung.  I found a good keyboard in the App store - the "GO" keyboard - that helps me with the typing issues.  The battery issue was resolved by cutting back on the frequency with which I had mail checking for updates and by removing the "Engadget" app - which seemed to be updating quite frequently also - causing the GSM o Wifi radios to be used quite a bit.

I recently wrote a post on my experiences after one month of usage.


Ivo said...

Hi congrats on your new phone.
When I read the iphone pros I tought I should mention a couple of things

A closer competitor to the iphone 4S is the Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE

It actually has 1280x720 screen, which beats the iphone.

As far as IMs go, yes you wont have the iphone-exclusive FaceTime, but you can use Skype from your Galaxy and do the same thing. As for loading music onto it - it is as simple as drag and dropping the music files from your computer into a folder on your phone.

As for interface structure and cohesiveness - the next big edition of Android is coming out before the end of this year - it is called Ice-Cream Sandwich. A major point of this edition is to make the interface smooth and consistent. The main developer behind Palm's WebOS was hired to work on this from the ground up.

I agree that carriers don't update Android phone software right when a new version is available, but here is where the beauty of Android's open system shines - you can root your phone in 5 minutes, then download and install the new Android version by yourself. Or install any custom version of it made by the large Android community. Even if you have never done anything like this, it is easy as pie. The first time it might take you longer, but after you know what to do it takes about 15-20 minutes from backing up your programs to starting up the phone with the updated software installed.

Just in case you are not familiar with it - a great community support site for Android is http://www.xda-developers.com/

Maybe you already knew all this, but then maybe not.

In any case - congrats on the new phone once again. I hope your experience with Android will be a good one, and I think the openness of the system and the changes coming to it will make you love it even more.

Alfred lee said...

I just got the Galaxy S2 in Canada last Friday through BestBuy Mobility store for $0 on a three year contract with Virgin Mobility (owned by Bell Canada). Phone would have cost $149 if ordered through Bell or Virgin stores. Rogers Canada offering Galaxy 2 LTE for $199 on 3 yr contract.
I am not a heavy cellphone user but these smartphones are close to being small handheld tablets so I am enjoying my new S2 despite it's heavy battery drain. I installed Sygic GPS on phone and navigated for 40 minutes and it consumed 50% of battery. I guess that is why car chargers are handy!. Just ordered a 16 gig microSD card for $25 so this is a big plus factor over Iphone 4.