iPhone 4 vs Galaxy S, i.e. choosing my first smartphone

Aug 22, 2010

I have never owned a smartphone, but now I may be finally taking the plunge. I have narrowed down the choice to two top contenders, the Samsung Galaxy S and the Apple iPhone 4. I am now going to compare these two phones with the goal of eventually selecting one for my personal use. Also, I should note that I live in Estonia and thus not all points I bring up in this article will be the same in some other regions.

iPhone 4 vs Galaxy S

Lets take a look at the big and obvious first, the displays. The Galaxy S has a 4" Super AMOLED display (manufactured by Samsung), which is an evolution of the AMOLED display you can find on devices such as the Google Nexus One. An AMOLED display requires no backlight, so for black pixels there is no need to use power at all and this results in efficient power usage and excellent contrast ratios. Because every pixel emits its own light the viewing angles are exceptionally good, with no color change even at 90 degrees. AMOLED also offers very fast response times, potentially even less than 0.01 ms, compared to 1 - 5 ms for most LCDs. One of the weaknesses of AMOLED is the inability to use it in direct sunlight. Super AMOLED addresses this issue directly, with Samsung claiming that compared to a regular AMOLED display the Super AMOLED has 80% less sunlight reflection, 20% brighter screen and consumes 20% less power.

The iPhone 4 has a 3.5" IPS LCD (manufactured by LG). It's an old and refined technology that can be produced easily in big numbers. It has a contrast ratio of 1:800, which is laughable compared to the Galaxy S Super AMOLED. The viewing angles are better than on older iPhone screens, but not at Super AMOLED levels. The IPS LCD does not function too well outside either. There are no iPhone 4 demo videos available at the time I'm writing this, but the iPad also has a IPS LCD and there are some demo videos available that showcase its inability to properly function in direct sunlight. There is also a LCD (Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10) vs AMOLED (HTC Desire) vs Super AMOLED (Samsung Galaxy S) sunlight test video available. My theory here is that Apple chose the IPS LCD screen either because of it's low price or more likely because Samsung was unable or unwilling to provide such a huge amount of Super AMOLED displays that Apple requested. Luckily Apple didn't give up so easily and made the best of the bad situation by greatly increasing the resolution. The iPhone 4 3.5" screen has a whopping 960x640 resolution, which results in 326 dpi. Apple is marketing this as the Retina display, claiming that the human eye won't be able to see the individual pixels from 30cm away from the screen. This has already been disuputed by numerous people. However, regardless if I can see the pixels, it's a big step towards a better image quality.

What about the Galaxy S Super AMOLED? It has a resolution of 800x480. Or has it? Actually 653x392 would be a more appropriate number, because the Galaxy S Super AMOLED display utilizes the PenTile technology, like the Nexus One.

The iPhone 4 screen has 4 layers: Glass, touch sensetive panel, TFT, backlight. The Galaxy S screen has 2 layers: Glass, Super AMOLED. Having a thinner screen gives an interesting effect, with the pixels almost poping out of the phone.

But wait, does that mean the Galaxy S does not have a touch screen? No, actually it's built in to the Super AMOLED. And not just any touch panel, but the Atmel maXTouch mxt224 sensors. These same sensors can also be found on the HTC Incredible and the HTC EVO 4G. There is a video of these superior sensors in action, featuring the Galaxy S vs the HTC Desire. The iPhone 4 has also upgraded its touch screen technology from the 3GS, now using a TI 343S0499 controller. I have no comparsion information between the iPhone 4 and Galaxy S touch sensetivity but I guess they are not too far a part.

At the end of the day, the Galaxy S Super AMOLED display is better for images, video and gaming while the iPhone 4 IPS LCD is better for text.

3G Radios. Both phones support 900MHz and 2100MHz bands for my europe based consumption. HSDPA 7.2Mbit/s, HSUPA 5.76 Mbit/s for both phones. The iPhone 4 uses its main frame as the antenna, which in theory should give a significant advantage over the Galaxy S. Real life results however have resulted in a huge outcry. Many iPhone 4 owners are saying that they drop calls when they touch certain parts of the frame. I don't think this is as huge of an issue as the press is making it out to be.

Other connecitivy. Both phones have a FM radio receiver, but only the Galaxy S has software that actually implements this. Apple most likely skipped using this feature in order to drive more sales towards its iTunes music store. For bluetooth, the iPhone 4 has Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, while the Galaxy S has Bluetooth 3.0. I couldn't care less either way, might as well omit the feature. For WiFi, 802.11 b/g/n for both the iPhone 4 and Galaxy S, although the iPhone 4 does not support the 5GHz band for 802.11n. The Galaxy S supports tethering over WiFi, meaning you can share your 3G data connection over WiFi to your other devices. 3.5 mm TRS audio socket for both. For the Galaxy S the socket also doubles for RCA to provide SD composite video out. On the iPhone 4 there is the need to buy special apple docks & cables but it is possible to get SD video out to work. The Galaxy S also supports DLNA, which is basically a standard for sharing media wirelessly with other DLNA supporting devices (e.g. Sony PS3, Windows 7 PC). The Galaxy S also has a micro-USB 2.0 socket that can be used to connect to a PC and use the phone as a storage device. The iPhone 4 does not have a micro-USB socket, but an adapter to USB is available. The iPhone 4 can be used as a storage device only with special drivers and this functionality is not supported by Apple.

Gadgets. Both phones have an accelerometer, a proximity sensor, an ambient light sensor, a vibrator, a compass and an A-GPS. The iPhone 4 comes ahead by also having a gyroscope.

Performance. The iPhone 4 has the Apple A4 chip (which is ironically manufactured by Samsung), while the Galaxy S has the Hummingbird chip (also manufactured by Samsung). It turns out however that both of these chips have an identical Intrinsity's FastCore modification of the ARM Cortex A8 1GHz CPU. This is the fastest mobile CPU available at the time of this writing, beating even the mighty Qualcomm Snapdragon that is used in phones like the Google Nexus One and HTC Incredible. Where the A4 differs from the Hummingbird is the GPU. The A4 has a PowerVR SGX 535, while the Hummingbird has the PowerVR SGX 540, which Samsung claims is three times faster. In terms of RAM, both phones have 512MB.

Storage. The iPhone 4 comes in two flavors, 16GB and 32GB. The Galaxy S similarly offers two options, 8GB and 16GB, although it also supports a microSD card up to 32GB.

Power. The iPhone 4 has a built-in 1420mAh Li-Pol battery that provides 14 hours of 2G talk time, 7 hours of 3G, 10 hours of WiFi, 10 hours of video playback, 40 hours of audio playback, 300 hours of standby. The Galaxy S has a changable 1500mAh Li-Pol battery that provides 13 hours of 2G talk time, 7 hours of 3G, 7 hours of video playback, 680 hours of standby.

Camera. Both phones have a 5 megapixel camera on the back that can also record 720p video at 30 fps. Only the iPhone 4 has a LED flash though, which is a shame. I don't really care for the flash as a photography tool, as the sensor is weak anyway, but I'm used to using my phone as a flashlight. Then again, the Super AMOLED display with a blank white screen at full brightness might do the work just as well if not even better. Sample videos are available for the Galaxy S and the iPhone 4. It seems to me that the iPhone 4 achieves better results. Aditionally both phones also have a front facing VGA (640x480) camera.

Construction. The Galaxy S at 64.2 mm x 122.4 mm x 9.9 mm, the iPhone 4 at 58.6 mm x 115.2 mm x 9.3 mm. So the iPhone 4 is smaller in every dimension, but it weighs 137 g, while the Galaxy S weighs only 119 g. In terms of build quality the iPhone 4 seems to be way ahead with it's steel frame and strong glass back and front. The Galaxy S is basic plastic that bends in every direction.

It is important to keep in mind that the hardware is only part of the story, we also need to look at the software. The iPhone 4 comes with iOS 4 and based on Apples current track record, I predict it will be updated up to a stripped down version of iOS 7. The Galaxy S comes with Android 2.1 (with its proprietary TouchWiz skin on top of it) and it will most likely see a 2.2 update in 2010. Based on Samsungs history however, it's not looking good after that. If the phone is successful then it might also see a Gingerbread update but I wouldn't bet on it. Now before any of you start commenting that I can "root it", yes I know it's possible to do custom updates on both phones via hacks, but as they are not supported or even allowed by the manufacturers, I'm not going to put those options down as features.

Now I'm not going to compare iOS and Android, as I don't have first hand experience with either of them and there are plenty of comparisons out there already.

However, lets talk media support. First up, audio. The iPhone 4 can play the following formats: MP3, WAV, AAC, HE-AAC, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF. The Galaxy S can play: MP3, WAV, AAC, HE-AAC, HE-AAC v2, FLAC, OGG, WMA, AC3, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, MID, IMY, XMF. Now some people might be jumping up and screaming "OGG!", but I don't really care for it myself. The interesting formats in the Galaxy S list to myself are FLAC and AC3. Next, video. The iPhone 4 supports H.264 (up to 720p@30fps, Main Profile 3.1) with AAC-LC (up to 160 kbps, 48KHz, stereo) packeged into .m4v, .mp4 or .mov. The Galaxy S supports DivX, Xvid, VC-1, Sorenson, H.263, H.264 (up to 720p@30fps, High Profile 5.1), in the following containers: MP4, MKV, AVI, WMV, 3GP, FLV. So technically the Galaxy S is definitely a much better media player.

One of the real big features of the iPhone 4 that I like is the App Store. I can purchase a lot of different applications and currently it has by far the biggest developer base. On the other hand the Galaxy S unfortunately doesn't have anything like this. It does have the Android Market but that is limited to very specific countries like the USA, so it's quite useless to me. I can't buy any applications from there nor can I sell any. There are also some other application stores for android but they are extremely limited in their reach, effectively making them useless aswell. So in terms of 3rd party applications for the phone there really is no comparsion. The iPhone 4 has the App Store and the Galaxy S doesn't have anything.

To wrap it all up, if I should indeed decide to buy a smartphone it will definetly be the iPhone 4. Even when it might not be the best hardware-wise, it's the software that counts and the Galaxy S doesn't have any to speak of.

Comments (2)

Shay Walter Feb 20, 2014 10:21:35 UTC

I am reading this on my samsung galaxy s. I prefer this because it can bounce down stairs and not break lol that happened two days ago. It does actually have an app store that is pretty similar but called the play store. This was a pretty interesting read because I barely knew any thing about my phone THANKS XD XD XD

Shay Walter Feb 20, 2014 10:23:25 UTC

Btw iPhone also beats s1 cause it has an emoji keyboard but on samsung we cant see or recieve them :( :( :(