Two of our favourite dual-core 4.3-inch screened handsets are the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the Sony Ericsson Xperia S. Despite being over a year old, the Samsung Galaxy S2 is still a very competitive device and retails for not much less than Sony’s latest flagship. Pitting them against each other and comparing key features should therefore help you decide whether the 12-megapixel Sony or the Svelte Samsung is the right device for you.
Physically, the two phones adopt very different styles. On the one hand you’ve got the slim Samsung with its rounded corners and wider screen, and on the other is the more angular Sony with rigid corners and long, HD display. The Sony Xperia S also has a transparent bar at the base and looks a bit different to what we’ve come to expect from candy bar touch-screens.
While both are constructed out of plastic, the Samsung Galaxy S2, being thinner feels noticeably less robust. The back cover flexes a lot more than we would like it to, although the lightness isn’t a bad thing per se, offsetting the large 4.3-inch screen somewhat when in the hand and pocket.
The more confident, angular Sony Xperia S is something of a novelty in all the right ways. With its transparent banding that houses its antenna and capacitive button icons, it doesn’t look like an iPhone variant, which distances it from many touch devices released of late. It also sits well in the hand and houses all its side-loaded ports under flaps, delivering smooth, flat lines both to look at and touch.
The Super AMOLED Plus display on the Samsung Galaxy S2 is still holding strong after almost a year on the market. Despite a lower resolution (WVGA), vibrancy and saturation is incredible and it still impresses us today.
In contrast the Sony Xperia S uses LCD technology with Sony’s Mobile Bravia Engine. The screen looks great, is extremely bright and colours are strong – albeit not as strong as on the Samsung Galaxy S2. That said, what really helps the Sony Xperia S is the screen resolution. At 4.3-inches and with a resolution of 720p, the Xperia S is the sharpest display on the market. It looks immense and when watching HD video content really comes into its own. The aspect ratio also means black bars atop and below video are markedly smaller, if present at all.
Touchwiz UI is Samsung’s skin on top of the Samsung Galaxy S2 as well as the plethora of other Samsung handsets released this past year. While it has felt functional since its release and adds some really nice user friendly elements to Android, a year on and it’s started to look very samey across devices. On the one hand, this is good as it gives a unified aesthetic, but lacks the refined look and feel of the Sony Xperia S and doesn’t endow high-end handsets with a markedly different experience to lower-end devices like the Ace 2.
Despite appearing to be critical, we have to bear in mind, despite having had an update to ICS and looking identical, the Samsung Galaxy S2 is still a last gen handset. We will likely see a UI update in the Samsung Galaxy S3 expected later this year.
In contrast, the Sony Xperia S has a new UI which looks every bit as up to date as the handset itself. With a smokey live wallpaper, an array of themes and some intuitive widgets that really do make life easier, Sony have delivered in terms of both hardware and software. Despite not having Ice Cream Sandwich, the Sony Xperia S has a number of UI elements found in ICS such as creating folders by stacking apps.
Camera performance on both devices is top-notch, however with the inclusion of a physical camera button, the Sony Xperia S is at an advantage from the start. The Xperia S also has a 12-megapixel sensor in contrast to the Samsung Galaxy S2’s 8-megapixel unit.
The Sony Xperia S edges ahead in terms of image detail. Ergonomically, it also feels more like a camera with its flatter sides and slightly beefier form-factor. The fast capture demonstrated in our comparison video is also incredible, taking an in-focus picture from the lock-screen in a second.
The one area the Samsung Galaxy S2 does trump the Sony Xperia S in terms of camera performance however is with its flash. Brighter and better, it illuminates a dark scene more evenly and the results are noticeably less grainy. For a more in depth look at the camera performance of both, have a look at our in-depth camera comparison.
Both devices shoot video at full HD with very comparable results. Naturally with its HD display and aspect ratio, the Sony Xperia S is better suited to playing back video content, though the S2 still does an admirable job.
On-board memory on the Samsung Galaxy S2 is 16GB with a microSD card slot expandable by up to an additional 32GB. The Sony Xperia S however comes with 32GB, though unfortunately isn’t expandable.
Both phones have 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and support DLNA natively. The Sony Xperia S has a micro HDMI port which makes exporting video to a TV a piece of cake. That said, the Samsung Galaxy S2 micro USB port is MHL compatible, meaning that it also outputs video content to full-sized HDMI if you have the right cable.
A great addition to the Sony Xperia S is the inclusion of a micro HDMI cable in the box, perfect for anyone with an HD TV.
In-call performance is similar across devices in terms of clarity with the Sony Xperia S edging slightly ahead. That said, when it comes to volume the Samsung Galaxy S2 is noticeably louder when maxed out.
When looking at these two handsets, we really are talking about two of the most premium handsets on the market in terms of sheer horse-power. It should come as no surprise therefore that both demonstrate exemplary performance. While playing 3D game neither device shows any sign of slowdown or stutter and flash video plays back seamlessly.
In terms of battery, the Samsung Galaxy S2 sports a removable one while the Sony Xperia S’s battery is firmly fixed. Both are about the same in terms of real-world use, with conservative usage giving you a day and a half of juice. Power users with sync settings and brightness ramped up however will probably see a low battery warning before the days up.
With both devices available on contract for around £27 / month with no up-front cost, the decision really will come down to personal preference. With our penchant for picture taking and watching on-demand content on the go, we’d go for the Sony Xperia S if given the choice. That said, with its slimmer, lighter body, wider screen and expandable memory, the Samsung Galaxy S2 is still one of the best smartphones on the market.