The smartphone market is a battleground at the moment, with Nokia, Google/Samsung and HTC all releasing powerful, headline grabbing phones. Apple is no exception, having recently launched the iPhone 4S, to pre-orders of 4 million. But since the original iPhone 4 was released in June 2010 a couple of new Android challengers have come onto the smartphone scene and leading the race is the Samsung Galaxy S2 selling 10 million units and actually overtaking the iPhone 4 as the UK’s most popular smartphone in June. But which is the best – the Apple iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy S2? Or are they just too different to compare? We’ll take a closer look.
Apple iPhone 4S vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Design and build
The Apple iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S2 are as far removed from each other in terms of build. Both are slim. The iPhone 4S at 9.3mm and the Galaxy S2 at 8.49mm. In terms of weight the 4S is 140g and the S2 is noticeably lighter at 116g.
While the S2 is primarily made from plastic, the iPhone 4S follows the same glass and stainless steel construction as its predecessor. Aesthetically, we prefer the iPhone 4S, with it’s glass front and stainless steel trim that conceals the repositioned antenna, it’s a stunning piece of kit, in contrast to the square almost anonymous smartphone-by-numbers of the S2.
The iPhone 4S has a premium feel, which the S2 doesn’t come close to. In fact, remove the battery cover from the S2 and it feels positively flimsy and cheap, not what you expect from a phone at this price.
However looks can be deceptive. Which of these phones is tough enough to survive knocks and jolts? In our experience the answer is the Galaxy S2. We’ve dropped an iPhone 4 and the result was a large chip on the front, a friend dropped hers and the entire screen cracked making it unusable. We’ve dropped our Galaxy S2 before and it survived crack and chip free.
Apple iPhone 4S vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Connectivity
The iPhone 4S comes in 16, 32 and 64GB versions, which can’t be expanded. The Galaxy S2 includes 16GB internal memory, which can be expanded using a microSD card. The 4S includes AirPlay, which means you can stream movies or to a compatible dock or TV via Apple TV. We prefer the S2, which lets you stream with less dependence on Apple products with DLNA compatibility so you can stream to any compatible TV, along the bottom the MHL port can be used to transfer HD data to a TV.
Apple iPhone 4S vs Samsung Galaxy S2: User interface
The Samsung Galaxy S2 currently runs Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread, whereas the iPhone runs iOS 5.
There no getting away from the fact the interfaces are very similar; along the bottom are four icons and each has multiple homescreens you can customise with apps and folders. Folders are easier to create on the iPhone 4S simply by dragging one item on top of another.
The S2 is infinitely more customisable with a selection of widgets including weather, Google search and Facebook, which update automatically and shortcuts for individual contacts. In Android you can position every icon, app or shortcut anywhere (as long as there is space), however in iOS you are restricted to a positioning icons in rigid rows left to right.
Both offer swipe down notifications – something that appeared on Android first, but only recently on iPhone with the iOS 5 update.
On the Samsung Galaxy S2, as well as message notifications there’s also information on app updates and calendar information. But by far the most useful feature are icons for quickly toggling the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Sound on and off. The iPhone 4S also provides message notifications, including Twitter, calendar and the weather and we like the way you can read the first sentences of all messages.
In use the iPhone 4S feels deceptively simple: nothing is buried in menus, with everything a few swipes away, this makes it more user-friendly. We’re not saying the Galaxy S2 is tricky to use, it isn’t at all, it’s just iOS has a simplicity to it. Android also loses points for the inconsistency of its updates, which vary depending on country, operator and network.
We can’t mention Android without talking about jailbreaking. Although this is not something we’d recommend, for many people the ability to root is a key appeal of Android handsets, especially the more tech-savvy mobile phone user.
Apple iPhone 4S vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Email
The iPhone 4S lets you add multiple email accounts including Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and corporate email you can view these individually or in a synchronised inbox. You can’t actually add attachments within email you have to locate the document/picture first.
The native email app on the Galaxy S2 is of course Gmail, which is very easy to use. Unfortunately it only works for Google and Samsung accounts, so if you have a Hotmail, Yahoo or a corporate email account you need to use the native Email account as well, which isn’t very good. We like the way you can add attachments not just from a range of sources though.
Apple iPhone 4S Vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Camera
Previously we’ve included the Apple iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S2 in a cameraphone group test. Here the iPhone triumphed over the S2, but now the 4S has an improved sensor and lens. When taking photographs, using the screen as a viewfinder, the iPhone makes the scene brighter than reality.
Both cameras have resolutions of 8-megapixel. We’ve included a test shot below, the bottom shot is a segment of the picture enlarged to 100 per cent the iPhone 4S is on the left in both. The iPhone 4S just edges the Galaxy S2, with sharper pictures, punchier colours and better rendition of shadow detail (photos have been scaled to fit the page).
The Galaxy S2 and iPhone 4S both shoot HD movies at full resolution of 1920×1080, underneath you can see the same scene shot using both phones (both were shot using automatic settings).
Colours seem to be a little richer with the S2, there’s more colours in the trees and more shades of green, but the 4S is much sharper and better at retaining detail in high and low contrast situations. We also noticed that a couple of times the S2 refocuses for a split second.
Audio from the iPhone 4S is clearer, the Galaxy S2 exhibits what can only be described as a slight chugging noise, although we hope that’s just our sample.
Ultimately we prefer the iPhone 4S’s camera, primarily for the sharpness, although the S2 trounces the iPhone 4S for features, with adjustable ISO, white balance and metering, along with a selection of scene modes, you can use to tweak your photos.
Apple iPhone 4S vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Performance
Both phones have dual-core processors. Apple has never revealed the exact details of the iPhone 4S’s chip, but it’s suspected to have 512MB RAM. The Samsung Galaxy S2 includes a 1.2GHz dual-core Samsung Exynos 4210 chip with 1GB RAM.
We ran a series of (non-scientific) tests by loading the same web pages (some text heavy, some media heavy) on each device simultaneously, over Wi-Fi after clearing the cache and deleting our history. In each test the iPhone 4S was one to two seconds faster at fully loading pages, but neither phone was slow.
One advantage of a dual-core chip is superior performance. At the moment there aren’t very many dual-core games available for the iPhone 4S. We fired N.O.V.A 2 up on both phones and both play smoothly with no juddering, in fact during gameplay there’s very little difference between the two phones. Graphically we prefer the iPhone 4S though, more pixels and a smaller screen means it’s sharper.
If you’re interested in some detailed testing, we’d suggest checking out Anandtech which has a series of benchmarks comparing the two phones and others here.
Although we found the iPhone 4S slighty faster, in day to day use there’s very little difference between the two. We should point out that unless you are doing lots of video streaming and gaming you might not even need/use the full power of a dual-core phone.
The speaker on the iPhone 4S is superior, producing a warm, full sound, in contrast the Galaxy S2 is tinnier, with less bass.
Turning to battery life. Neither of these phones is particularly good. With push email on, moderate browsing, calls and texting and the odd off-line Spotify session, we had to charge both phones at the end of the day, sometimes earlier with the S2, thanks to the larger screen. But we had iCloud email turned off, activate this and the battery will need charging even more.
Apple iPhone 4S vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Social Networking
Samsung has its Social Hub which pulls together all messages from Facebook, Twitter and Linked In along with your email, into a stream. It works pretty well, although we prefer HTC’s FriendStream and for us, the Android Twitter and Facebook widgets were acceptable, unfortunately the iPhone 4S doesn’t have any widgets.
Twitter integration was touted as an amazing new feature of iOS, however it’s nothing revolutionary. You can Tweet your location, photo or web page but that’s about it. In contrast on the Galaxy S2 you can send pictures, documents, favourite web pages to a range of sources including Facebook, Dropbox, Twitter, Google+ and Gmail.
We should mention iMessage, which lets you send messages between iOS 5 devices, such as the iPad and iPhone 4S, using your data allowance, rather than as a text. It’s a great idea, but of at the moment it doesn’t quite work as it should and it only works across Apple devices, in contrast to a cross-platform application such as What’s App Messenger. Overall, if you’re a social networking fan, the Samsung Galaxy S2 is the better choice.
Apple iPhone 4S vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Contacts
Now, many people have multiple methods of contact: email, work phone, home phone, Facebook and Twitter. The Android-running Samsung Galaxy S2 does a fantastic job of integrating them. As well as a phone number and email, you can also view their Twitter feed, Facebook profile and IM details (including Skype) through Contacts. In contrast the iPhone 4S offers far less integration with social networking, focusing on more traditional media, with phone numbers and email.
Apple iPhone 4S vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Screen
The iPhone 4S has exactly the same screen as the iPhone 4, at 3.5-inches with a resolution of 326 PPI compared to the 4.3-inch Samsung Galaxy S2 and 218 PPI.
For contrast the Samsung Galaxy S2 is easily the best screen on the market, with deep rich blacks, but the iPhone 4S has an excellent screen too, with much bolder whites.
In the picture below, the brightness is at maximum on both screens, but the iPhone 4S is much brighter and text is sharper thanks to the combination of more pixels 960×640 to 800×480, but a smaller screen.
Off-angle viewing is good on both phones, although on the S2 the white has a slightly green tint, unlike the more pure white iPhone 4S.
For N.O.V.A 2 we prefer the bold colours of the Galaxy S2, although it’s not as sharp as the iPhone 4S, with the odd jaggie edge. In the You Tube clip above from Avatar, the iPhone 4S seems sharper, with more detail, but the S2 is more colourful. Overall we prefer the Apple iPhone 4S for browsing, but for movies the larger screen of the Samsung Galaxy S2 is the winner.
Apple iPhone 4S vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Apps
Much has been written comparing the Android Market and Apple App Store and in terms of choice and quantity Apple still trounces Android.
However the Android Market has been redesigned and is far easier to use, now offering Apps, Games, Books and Films from the same place. To get movies or music on to the iPhone 4S you need to go via the iTunes app.
S2 user can of course buy apps from the Samsung App store, which has some good deals with mobile games developers, although it’s frustrating having to buy apps from two places.
Apple iPhone 4S vs Samsung Galaxy S2: Verdict
Before summing up, we need to say that the Apple iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S2 are both excellent phones, they are powerful and quick, with fantastic screens and great cameras. It really comes down to the type of user you are.
The iPhone has a superior camera and app selection, it’s also marginally quicker and the screen is sharper and brighter, but it’s smaller and less colourful and the battery isn’t great. Ultimately the iPhone 4S’s operating system is much more rigid, with less integration to third-parties. We also need to mention Apple’s walled-garden approach which won’t appeal to many people, yes iCloud and iMessage is a great idea, but it relies on owning multiple Apple products. The Samsung Galaxy S2 is the better choice for movies and games with superior social networking, the interface is far more flexible and customisable and although it lacks the almost paint by numbers simplicity of iOS, improvements should come with the Ice Cream Sandwich update.
We also need to consider cost. To get the iPhone 4S free on contract it costs around £43-£46 a month. By virtue of being a bit older, the S2 costs £30 a month, that equates to a huge saving over 24 months.
updated to add connectivity options