UPDATED: Apple vs Android. It’s the biggest platform war since PC vs Mac, Blu-Ray vs HD DVD and VHS vs Betamax. Ok, so we don't have the figures to back that up (what's the yardstick for fandom anyhow?) but it's certainly the fiercest we've seen on mobiles and one that seems to have no sign of abating any time soon.
In the white corner there's Apple. A manufacturer of just five handsets and two tablets, all at the top-end of the price bracket, with the older iPhone 3Gs starting at £319.
In the green corner we have Android, an open operating system from Google running on over a hundred different phones, made by a who's who of consumer technology: Motorola, HTC, LG, Samsung, Asus, Sony Ericsson, ZTE and Huawei (to name a few) starting at around £50.
In the last few weeks the war has taken a new turn, Google released Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, bestowing the Samsung Galaxy Nexus with a new lease of life.
For Apple the iPhone 4S, which looks exactly the same as the iPhone 4, but comes with a more powerful camera and features Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant is still running iOS 5.1.1, whilst iOS 6, which it will no doubt receive isn’t scheduled to arrive in any finished form until later in the year.
We’ve been using both these high-end smartphones, but which is best now that Jelly Bean aims to change the stakes? Or are they too different to compare? Let’s take a closer look, bearing in mind the segments below will be updated from our impressions of the Ice Cream Sandwich to the Jelly Bean endowed Nexus over time. In the meantime, we’ve made a video looking at the key differences between the two new devices, along with our other comparisons, made with the likes of the new Samsung Galaxy S3.
Apple iPhone 4S Vs Samsung Galaxy Nexus: Design and Build
Apple and Samsung have taken totally different approaches to the design.
The Apple iPhone is composed of glass and steel and at (a not inconsiderate) 140g it feels like a solid piece of kit, which has been carefully designed, from the proprietary charger, to external controls include: volume, lock and hold/power.
Despite being the bigger phone, the Galaxy Nexus’s high-grade plastic construction ensures it is a surprisingly light 135g. Although we love the curved glass screen and edge to edge glass, it certainly doesn’t feel as premium.
A textured back means the Galaxy Nexus is easier to grip - the iPhone 4’s smooth back can be a bit slippery to hold, although not everyone may like the bigger size.
The Apple iPhone 4S has a single control button, one tap and you return to the homescreen and with a double-tap you view open applications. With the Galaxy Nexus you get a trio of touch-sensitive back, home and recent applications controls, not having a physical button takes some getting used to, so you may want to try it before buying.
Neither phone has a slot for an external card, instead relying on internal memory. The Nexus is available in 16GB, whereas the iPhone 4S comes in 16GB,32GB and 64Gb.
Both offer WiFi, 3G and HSDPA. For wireless streaming the Galaxy Nexus has countless apps on the Android Market supporting DLNA, to the iPhone 4S’s Airplay, and the Nexus does have an MHL port, which can be used for playing back movies on an HD TV using a compatible cable. The Galaxy Nexus also offers NFC, which isn’t immediately useful now, but will be in 2012 when Google tests UK wallet here in London.
Apple iPhone 4S Vs Samsung Galaxy Nexus: User interface
With it’s perfectly aligned grid design, at first glance the iPhone 4S’s user interface doesn’t seem to have changed much since the first version.
Drag apps, web shortcuts and widgets on top of each other to create folders, but there are no live widgets.
iOS 5 brought some lock-screen action to the iPhone 4S, where you can skip directly to the camera or change a music track. Pull-down notifications are new, but they don’t include connectivity shortcuts and aren’t accessible from the lock screen.
One criticism levelled at the Android mobile phone systems in the past has been its lack of polish next to iOS. The ICS update rectifies this, with refined icons crafted for the HD display and Honeycomb roots, it is much improved.
Customise the homescreens with apps as normal, but unlike iOS, you can also deploy active widgets, including Facebook and You Tube. Some widgets are resizeable too: tap and pull out the indicator bars to enlarge them. Now, it’s far easier to organise apps into folders - or bundles as they are called - simply by dragging them on top of each other.
From the lock screen the Galaxy Nexus lets you either unlock the phone or launch the camera, but you can also swipe down to view notifications, without unlocking the phone.
Apple iPhone 4S Vs Samsung Galaxy Nexus: Screen
The Galaxy Nexus has a huge 4.65-inch screen, with a HD resolution of 1280x720p,
the iPhone 4S is slightly smaller at 3.5-inches with a 960x640 resolution. When it comes to pixel density the Nexus is 315 ppi, in comparison to the iPhone 4S with 326ppi.
For browsing the iPhone 4S is superior, the display is far brighter, with purer and crisper whites. Zoom in closely and text is sharp on both phones.
Play back video on the two phones and the Galaxy Nexus has much bolder colours and skin tones too have more nuances, although in some lighter scenes there is a slight green tint (like other AMOLED screens) which can verge on the artificial. That said, the experience really benefits from the additional size.
The iPhone 4S is very sharp, with more natural colours. The Galaxy Nexus, however has better blacks - in fact it’s so deep it almost seems almost blend into the edges of the phone.
Off-angle viewing is excellent on both phones, although - like the Galaxy S2 - there’s a green tint on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus as associated with Super AMOLED screens.
Apple iPhone 4S Vs Samsung Galaxy Nexus: Browser
The Apple iPhone 4S runs Safari Mobile, which was significantly updated by iOS 5, letting you open eight screens at once. Save interesting stories in your Reading List and with some websites you can strip the text away to read a multimedia free version. Add links to your homescreen and share pages either via email or by sending a link directly through Twitter, although Facebook integration isn’t included.
The dual-core processor ensures browsing never feels slow: pinch to zoom is quick although text doesn’t wrap automatically to fit the space. Adobe Flash support isn’t included and although some websites have iPhone optimised versions, many don’t.
The Galaxy Nexus includes a stock Android browser, which feels exceptionally quick, while the large screen makes reading pages easy. Touch commands work well and as an alternative to pinch to zoom, double tap the screen to zoom in and out. You can’t zoom in as closely as with the iPhone though.
Tap the icon at the top to view open windows. These are displayed vertically which we didn’t find as user-friendly to use. We’d suggest activating the Labs command (which is hidden in the menu) this means when you slide your finger in from either edge, the quick-control bar appears, it leaves more space for browsing and an intuitive way of getting around the web.
With the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, you can also save pages for offline reading and share options are fantastic, with Facebook, Gmail, Bluetooth and Twitter on offer.
Adobe Flash isn’t on board, but this will change with a forthcoming software update.
Apple iPhone 4S Vs Samsung Galaxy Nexus: Camera
Apple has totally revamped the camera with the iPhone 4S and included a new sensor and lens, it now shoots 8-megapixel stills and full HD 1080p videos.
Tap the screen to focus and take photos by pressing the volume up key or virtual camera shutter, whichever you choose it’s very quick.
Apple’s camera features are limited. Yes, you can now activate a rule of thirds grid to help with composition, and HDR mode combines a series of pictures are slightly different exposures to create a final pictures, but there is no exposure or metering control. Once a picture has been taken, you can crop, remove red-eye and auto-enhance.
Samsung has included a 5-megapixel camera on the Galaxy Nexus, no, it’s not 8-megapixels, but it’s more than enough for most people. There’s no dedicated shutter button, instead tap the screen to take a shot. The shutter is exceptionally quick and if you don’t set the focus first, it sometimes can’t keep up, resulting shots being out of focus.
There are a good selection of features, including White Balance, Exposure Compensation and five scene modes designed for taking pictures in different shooting conditions. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S2, you don’t get ISO settings or Blink detection though we love the Panorama mode though, which effortlessly combines your shots in-camera.
We’d argue to get the best from both these phones you need an app with extra features.
For more detailed analyses check out our Galaxy Nexus review.
In our test shots we found that the iPhone 4S produces photos with far bolder, warmer colours. On the whole pictures are sharper, in landscape and close-up. Photographs taken using the Galaxy Nexus just aren’t as bright or colourful, but are perhaps more natural. None of the camera’s are great in flashless low-light, though the iPhone 4S definitely fared considerably better than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Looking at the sunset shots, we prefer the moody and atmospheric colours the Galaxy Nexus(right) produces (with it’s centre-weighted metering), but the iPhone 4S has a better dynamic range and it’s pattern metering exposes the entire scene more effectively so you can see more of the foreground.
At full resolution the iPhone 4S seems to shoot video with more warmer colours - sometimes a little too warm, although it’s better at dealing with high-contrast areas
There’s more noise visible too, and in our test shot, we had issues with the white balance, although it’s a lot smoother - 29fps to 23fps for the Galaxy Nexus.
Apple iPhone 4S Vs Samsung Galaxy Nexus: Performance
We ran a series of non-scientific tests, first clearing history and cookies and then launching a series of websites. We found there is very little difference in speed between the two phones. On some pages the Nexus is quicker to load, on some it’s the iPhone 4S. Both are exceptionally quick
Looking at battery performance, neither handset is great, although we did find the Nexus slightly worse. With WiFi on, moderate browsing, but push email on, low-battery warnings appeared around 2pm, the iPhone 4S lasts slightly longer.
Apple iPhone 4S Vs Samsung Galaxy Nexus: Music
The iPhone 4S doesn’t allow offer an EQ or any customisation effects. On the Galaxy Nexus you get an equaliser you can tweak using a slider to increase or decrease 3D or the Bass boost. We used both headphones with our Sennheiser CX281, and prefer the Galaxy Nexus with it’s bass flexibility.
Apple iPhone 4S Vs Samsung Galaxy Nexus: Verdict
The Apple iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Nexus are very different phones, both are quick with great user interface and access to well-stocked app stores.
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus has one of the best screens on the market. It’s big and beautiful, with eye-popping colours and among the blackest blacks we’ve seen. The iPhone 4S has a fantastic screen too, colours are more natural and while the smaller size will certainly appeal to many people it will also turn some people off.
Despite welcome improvements brought by Ice Cream Sandwich, the iPhone 4S is still easier to use; from the single touch control to the user interface and menu system.
Our main complaint about the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is that thanks to the hardware, it just doesn’t feel like a premium phone. This might not bother some people, but we’d love to see the same features in an HTC handset.
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is undoubtedly the best Android phone available at the moment, even surpassing the Apple iPhone in some areas. But will it still be number one when HTC and other manufacturers release ICS handsets next year.