November: it’s going to be an absolutely bonkers month for smartphones. Even after the “disappointment” of the iPhone 4S last month, it still became the best selling iPhone to date, and November is the month that Android is striking back. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Motorola RAZR will be making their debut, one the banner for the pure Android experience, and the other raising an iconic brand from the dead. Nokia made a big splash at Nokia World as well, unveiling the Lumia 800, the “first real Windows Phone”. Will their all in with Microsoft pay off as planned?
The question you need to ask yourself now is, which smartphone is the one for you? Let’s find the answer together.
Design and Build
We haven’t been thrilled with Samsung’s build quality on phones like the Galaxy S and S2 in the past, and while the Galaxy Nexus isn’t quite as bad, it still feels cheaper than it really should. The plastic construction combined with the lightweight feel doesn’t exactly scream premium. Otherwise the handset is big – perhaps too big – but feels good in the hand compared to the S2.
The Motorola RAZR, on the other hand, has the sturdy construction and materials that we’re looking for. The phone is built on a stainless steel core, with aluminium surrounds. The Kevlar weave on the back feels great, much nicer than the typical plastic you see on other smartphones. Most importantly, it doesn’t feel flimsy or weak despite the light weight of 127g – that’s lighter than the Galaxy Nexus. What you get is a solidly constructed phone that looks like it will stand up to some punishment.
The phone that won’t stand up to punishment though is the iPhone 4S. It’s the exact same design as the iPhone 4 (save for a few antenna tweaks), which means if you drop it, you’ll be lucky to escape without a shattered front or back. We shouldn’t dwell to much on that though, since it is a stunningly designed phone, still looking great 18 months on. The glass and metal sandwich does give it that premium feel we oh so desire, but we can’t help but feel it’s not actually that comfortable in the hand.
Nokia have mixed things up a bit in this regard on the Lumia 800, opting instead for a unibody polycarbonate construction. It’s not the thinnest or lightest phone in this standoff, but it feels fantastic to hold. It’s a simple, yet elegant design, and we especially love the mechanisms that hide the microSIM and micro USB ports. Sure, it’s recycled from the N9, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The Galaxy Nexus and Motorola RAZR are both rocking a TI OMAP 1.2Ghz dual-core processor, while the iPhone 4S uses it’s custom dual-core A5 chip, supposedly clocked at 800Mhz. Practically though you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. All three run buttery smooth zipping around menus and loading webpages.
Meanwhile the Nokia Lumia 800 is running a 1.4Ghz single-core processor. Sorry guys, no dual-core action. Microsoft haven’t opened up support for dual-core processors yet. It’s possible that the Lumia 800 might end up not being as fast as the equivalent dual-core device, but from what we saw everything was smooth and lag free.
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus goes hand in hand with the latest version of Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s not an iterative update so much as it’s a redefinition of what Android is supposed to represent. Almost all the core apps have been updated to fit this new philosophy, graphically and practically. There’s a new font, Roboto, specifically designed for high resolution screens; physical hardware buttons for Home and Back are a thing of the past, joined with a Recent Apps button as constantly on-screen icons; and notifications can now be swiped away.
Ice Cream Sandwich also brings Android Beam, allowing two NFC equipped Android devices to share information such as contacts or websites with a simple tap together. There’s also a Face Unlock feature, and improved camera with a panorama mode.
The Motorola RAZR is running Android 2.3.5, although Motorola were quick to point out that the RAZR will see an update to Ice Cream Sandwich during the first half of 2012. Their modifications to Android are relatively minor and unobtrusive, and you can remove them and use a custom launcher if they’re not to your liking.
The Nokia Lumia 800 delves into the world of Windows Phone, running the latest version of the OS, Mango. It’s a very simple OS, possibly even simpler than iOS, and Mango brings welcome improvements to the fold. Multitasking is implemented in a way similar to webOS, the browser has gotten an overhaul with HTML5 support and hardware acceleration, and there’s visual voicemail and internet tethering too. App support still isn’t where it needs to be, but the Windows Marketplace is growing rapidly every day.
iOS 5 is what you’ll find on the iPhone 4S, bringing with it iCloud, WiFi syncing, an improved notification system, iMessage, Twitter integration, improved camera controls, and Siri (exclusive to the iPhone 4S).
In terms of raw numbers, the Galaxy Nexus falls short, offering up a 5 megapixel camera compared to the 8 megapixels found on the other three phones. Numbers aren’t everything though; sensors come heavily into play too. It could turn out that the Galaxy Nexus takes great photos depending on the sensor used and software tweaks to the photos. The Galaxy Nexus also benefits from near zero shutter lag, and the panaroma mode.
When it comes to video recording, all phones record 1080p except for the Lumia 800 which only captures 720p.
All of these phones feature very impressive displays, but in different ways. Take the Galaxy Nexus, coming with a Super AMOLED panel at a whopping 1280×720, a world first. Take it from us, the display is simply gorgeous, with great detail. And it’s not just the resolution either, with bright, vibrant colours, and wide viewing angles. If you’ve seen a Super AMOLED display in the past, imagine that, but with the resolution cranked up to 11.
Next up is the Motorola RAZR, again featuring a Super AMOLED display but at a slightly lower resolution of 960×540, another world first. Not quite as mesmerising as the Galaxy Nexus, but still impressive nonetheless.
Nokia hopped on the AMOLED bangwagon too, with the Lumia 800 featuring a ClearBlack 800×480. We can only deliver the same praise as above, with deep, inky blacks and strong colours. The resolution might seem low compared to the latest and greatest, but we can’t blame Nokia on this one: Microsoft requires all Windows Phone to stick to 800×480. No more, no less.
The iPhone 4S carries across the 960×640 IPS Retina display found on the iPhone 4. Colours don’t “pop” like they do on the Super AMOLED panels, but we feel they’re more accurate in general, especially in the whites. Where traditional LCD panels fall down is of course the black levels, and the same is true here, so if you need blacks to be black then you should take a look at the other three phones on offer. The iPhone 4S can’t be beat on pixel density though; with such a high resolution packed across only 3.5”, it still bests the Galaxy Nexus.
The iPhone 4S comes in three sizes: 16, 32, and 64GB. There’s no upgradeable storage, so you need to choose wisely when purchasing the phone.
Like the iPhone 4S, the Lumia 800 will also be locked in to the size you buy from day one, which is just 16GB. No other options are available, although you’ll also be getting 25GB of free cloud storage from SkyDrive.
The Motorola RAZR will come with 16GB built-in and support microSD cards up to 32GB.
Have Samsung and Google missed a trick with the Galaxy Nexus? The phone will come with 16GB of storage, but there’s no microSD card slot for upgrades. We still don’t know whether or not the 32GB model is coming to the UK either, which would be problematic for those with serious content and storage needs.
An unlocked iPhone 4S starts at £499 for the 16GB model, £599 for the 32GB, and £699 for the 64GB. In terms of a contract, Three seem to have the cheapest deal for picking up a 16GB for free, although you’ll have to cough up £43 a month.
Phones4u have some Galaxy Nexus pricing up, but Orange are the only carrier listed so far. The phone is available for free at £41 a month, or £36 a month if you pay £39 for the phone upfront.
Clove.co.uk are listing unlocked Motorola RAZRs for £455. Contract pricing isn’t available yet, although we imagine it will be similar to the Galaxy Nexus.
As for the Nokia Lumia 800, it seems to be the cheapest handset of the four. Three will have them available on PAYG for £399, and you can pick one up for free on Vodafone for £26 a month, provided you can live with the low amount of minutes, text, and data.
So, what phone takes your fancy? The sales dominating offering from Cupertino? The combined new hotness from Samsung and Google? The Rocky-esque comeback from Motorola? Or the unassuming yet beautiful entry from Finland?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.