The Samsung Galaxy S3 was one of the most significant handsets to arrive in the first half of 2012 and arguably, the most significant of the entire year, but the Google Nexus 4 (or LG Nexus 4) also made the headlines when it touched down just over two months ago. We’re now putting the most successful smartphone of 2012 up against Google’s first quad-core Nexus device to see which one has the edge going into 2013.

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Google Nexus 4: Design

The now well-established Galaxy S3 has already been photographed from every angle and heavily dissected visually. The look and feel of the S3 is instantly recognisable with it’s all-plastic design, Hyperglaze finish and thin profile. On the front sits a vast 4.8-inch screen, a physical home button and capacitive keys as well as a 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera. The removable back panel lets users swap out the battery and throw in anything up to a 64GB microSD card - a rarity in a market where most phones draw the line at 32GB.

By comparison, the Google Nexus 4’s design is minimalist and feels more solidly built, primarily due to the unibody design it employs. The display is fractionally smaller at 4.7 inches but with the buttonless facia, the entire front of the phone looks like a single piece of glass with a taper either side of the display that makes it particularly nice to use. The back is a secondary piece of complete flat glass with a holographic design underneath which will divide users with its look. The unibody design feels great but does prevent the option of removing the battery or offering up expandable memory as with the S3, although the overall fit and finish feel better.

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Google Nexus 4: Screen

The Galaxy S3 utilises a 4.8-inch 720p (720x1280) HD Super AMOLED display whilst the Nexus 4 makes use of LCD technology in the form of a 4.7-inch True HD IPS+ display with a slightly higher WXGA (768x1280) resolution. As expected the Nexus 4’s strength lies in its accurate reproduction of whites, whilst naturally the AMOLED technology employed by the Galaxy S3 produces perfect blacks.

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Google Nexus 4
Great examples of top notch HD AMOLED (S3) and LCD (Nexus 4) panels

Unfortunately, despite the on-paper advantages of the Nexus 4’s LCD panel, elements usually associated as strengths with the technology - like its impressive maximum brightness  -are lost and thus images appear lacklustre side by side with the Galaxy S3. Contrast is better overall, but the S3 is able to produce more visually appealing colours, albeit with a blue hue as a result of the technology.

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Google Nexus 4: Performance

On paper the Galaxy S3 brings to the table a 1.4GHz Samsung-made Exynos 4 Quad quad-core processor along with 1GB RAM. Samsung has subsequently produced an LTE version with an additional 1GB of RAM (doubling the memory to 2GB).

The Nexus 4’s 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor makes use of 2GB RAM. Despite the 0.1 GHz faster clock speed and the additional 1GB of RAM, the gap in performance between these two handsets isn’t as significant as you might expect. Running even the most demanding apps, like N.O.V.A. 3 with its heavy 3D graphics is a doddle for either device and the differences lie more in a shaving of seconds off loading times on web pages, games and more intensive processes.

Battery life is also pretty even and although the degradation of the S3’s battery might turn out to be faster in the long run, its replaceable nature adds longevity that the Nexus can’t match.

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Google Nexus 4: OS

The biggest difference is felt in general UI navigation. The S3’s TouchWiz Nature UX interface, running atop Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, is exceptionally deep with an unprecedented level of customisation in addition to a wealth of apps and widgets supplied by Samsung to offer up a comprehensive smartphone experience out the box with elements like social integration and a dedicated Samsung app store. There’s also an overwhelming amount of UI tweaks and shortcuts and the phone’s camera UI features all manner of tweaks and capabilities.

Galaxy S3 homescreenGalaxy S3 apps drawerNexus 4 homescreenNexus 4 apps drawer

Meanwhile, the Google’s stock Android experience is better than ever on the Nexus 4, but offers something rather different to the S3’s approach. For starters the UI has evolved from Jelly Bean 4.1 which the Nexus 4 arrived on. 4.2.1 Jelly Bean maintains some of the traditions of its predecessor; like Project Butter making for an unbelievably smooth UI experience but there are a host of options in the stock experience, that finally bring the gap between stock and manufacturer-modified versions of the OS a lot closer together.

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Google Nexus 4: Camera

Both cameras utilise 8-megapixel sensors with Full HD video support at 30fps. Results look pretty similar, with the Galaxy S3 leaning towards high-contrast, sometimes over-sharpened images, whilst the Nexus 4 creates flatter images that although perhaps are more accurate, lose some of the visual punch doled out from the S3’s shots.

S3 Nexus 4 cam 1S3 Nexus 4 cam 2

S3 Nexus 4 cam 3S3 Nexus 4 cam 4

Despite the fact that neither phone features a hardware shutter key, the S3’s autofocus is lightning sharp, making it easier to snap a shot at short notice, but the resultant images typically turn out better on the more considered camera employed by the Nexus 4. As mentioned earlier, the camera UI on the S3 far outguns the Nexus in terms of features and functions, but the stock Android camera interface is also greatly improved and far easier to pick up and shoot without having to study the control layout. Jelly Bean 4.2.1 also bestows the Nexus with Photosphere 360, an evolution of panoramas that lets users snap shots in a full 360 degree sphere which they can then navigate using the phones accelerometer.

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Google Nexus 4: Price

As the S3 has been out for sometime, the 16GB model can now be had SIM free for around £380-£400, whilst the LTE version has some specs tweaks and 4G for an extra £100. Meanwhile the Nexus 4 is available in 8GB or 16GB versions direct from Google for £239 and £279 respectively, however stock seems to disappear almost immediately when it becomes available. More realistically the 16GB model has appeared elsewhere for around £489 making it the pricier option, when the versatility remains with the S3.

S3 Nexus 4 backs

Samsung Galaxy S3 VS Google Nexus 4: Verdict

Both phones are equipped to handle pretty much anything you can throw at them and the hardware at work should be more than enough to see existing users through 2013 without feeling that they’ve been left in the dark ages. Jelly Bean should help keep things tight for the time being and the key decision if you’re thinking of buying either of these handsets is if you want Samsung’s highly customised Android experience, or Google’s stock one.  You’ll get more functionality out-the-box with the S3, but more control over content that runs on the Nexus 4 - if you can live with 16GB memory.