The Samsung Galaxy S4 was unveiled last week to great fanfare in New York. It may only be March, but it’s safe to say the successor to the 40 million selling Samsung Galaxy S3 will be one of 2013’s most popular mobile phones, boosting the number of users on Google’s Android operating system even further.
But how does it compare to the flagship smartphones from the other major operating systems: BlackBerry 10, iOS and Windows Phone? Let’s compare the Samsung Galaxy S4 to the BlackBerry Z10, Apple iPhone 5 and Nokia Lumia 920 to see how the numbers stack up.
Styling and build
Despite having the biggest screen, the Samsung Galaxy’s plastic chassis means it’s the second lightest (130g) phone here and the same curved back as the Galaxy S3 means it should be incredibly comfortable to hold, if a little too big for some. Available in black and white, the styling hasn’t evolved much, but if it ain’t broke....
The Apple iPhone 5 is the smallest and lightest phone here (112g) ensuring it is not only portable but the easiest to operate with one hand, although the diamond-cut bevelled edges mean it’s not overly comfortable to hold. Combining glass and aluminium, it’s an extremely well-built and attractive phone, although the back is scratch prone.
The Z10 marks a design departure for BlackBerry, but the black version is arguably the most conservative phone here. Build quality is excellent, weighing 136g it’s not too heavy and can easily be used with one hand.
Available in eye-popping red and yellow, as well as white and black, the Nokia Lumia 920 really stands out from the crowd. It’s made from a single piece of polycarbonate, which looks and feels exceptionally premium, weighing 185g, it is the heaviest phone here and may prove too weighty for some.
All the flagships here support 4G, but the iPhone 5 will only work on EE’s 4G network, not forthcoming ones from O2 or Vodafone set to launch in June this year.
With a 5-inch Full HD screen the Samsung Galaxy S4 offers the most real estate for movie viewing, with the highest resolution and pixels per inch. The Nokia Lumia 920 has a 4.5-inch HD screen and the BlackBerry Z10 a 4.2-inch HD screen. The Apple iPhone 5 has the smallest screen at 4-inches and is the only one without a HD resolution but you’d be hard pressed to tell with its 326ppi.
Numbers aside what really differentiates the screens is the technology used. The S4 is the only one with a Super AMOLED screen, which means it will have deeper blacks and vibrant, more saturated colours, making it a good choice for movies. The other three phones use LCD technology, resulting in purer whites and more natural colours, which is typically a good choice for browsing.
Apple, BlackBerry and Nokia use their own technology and side by side results are very different. Nokia’s PureView Motion+ has a 60Hz refresh rate reducing blur, visibility is good outdoors and the touchscreen even works with gloves. Apple’s iPhone 5 Retina display is a good all-rounder with higher saturation and contrast than previous iPhones. Finally the BlackBerry Z10’s LCD screen is very sharp, but brightness and contrast aren’t as good as the iPhone 5.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 and Apple iPhone 5 come in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions. The Galaxy offers the option of expansion using a microSD card. The BlackBerry Z10 also offers a card slot, but has just 16GB storage and the Nokia Lumia 920 offers double the storage, but no card slot. For the majority of people 16GB of storage will be enough, but if you download lots of games, record HD movies and have a vast music library, you’ll need more storage or at least a memory card.
The Galaxy S4 launches with Android Jelly Bean 4.2 overlayed with Samsung’s own skin called TouchWiz, offering a wealth of customisation options that some may find a little complex. Samsung’s added some outstanding features such as Picture In Picture, Air Gestures and Group Play, and the Google Play Store offers over 800,000 apps.
In iOS on the iPhone 5 apps and features are in regimented rows, it’s intuitive to use and the most user-friendly, but feels a little dated, lacking features like live widgets, although iCloud provides simple cloud backups and there’s the voice-assistant Siri. The iOS App Store offers a huge choice of over 800,000 apps too.
BlackBerry 10 is the newest operating system and uses BlackBerry Flow navigation. Instead of a homescreen or buttons, move around the phone using gestures. Such a new system takes time to become familiar with and it’s not as flexible as Android or Windows Phone, but with BlackBerry Hub to keep an eye on messages and the best native keyboard, it’s a great choice for business and communication.
Windows Phone 8 on the Lumia 920 has tiles that snake down the screen vertically, some of which update live. Customisation options can’t match Android, but it’s the wealth of extra features that really stand out. SmartGlass is for controlling an XBox, Here Maps is a fully functioning sat nav and SkyDrive provides cloud backups.
With a 13-megapixel camera the Galaxy S4 offers the highest megapixel rating of the flagships and Samsung has equipped it with interesting new features like Dual Shot, which takes pictures using the front and rear cameras simultaneously. We’ve not had a chance to try out the Galaxy S4’s camera, but more pixels doesn’t necessarily mean better photos, it’s the sensor, lens and in-camera technology that determine the quality of the photo, so it will be interesting to see how it compares.
Due to a combination of PureView technology and Carl Zeiss optics the Lumia 920 performs very well in low light without a flash and comes with some useful Nokia ‘lenses’ adding extra features.
The iPhone 5’s 8-megapixel camera is a good all-rounder, consistently scoring well in cameraphone shoot-outs, but very basic features mean to get the best from it, you’ll need to download an app like Camera FX.
BlackBerry isn’t known for its camera prowess and the Z10’s 8-megapixel camera is good rather than outstanding, but the cool Time Shift mode lets you select an individual frame to pose your subjects just how you’d want.
Android, iOS, BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone 8 all offer very different user experiences - typically if you’ve invested in one by buying apps, you may not want to spend money on another. If you’re buying your first smartphone it’s definitely worth trying them out to see what you prefer.
On paper the Galaxy S4 is certainly appealing - it has a powerful processor, generous screen and some interesting new features, some useful and some gimmicky. Some will wish Samsung had tweaked the design, but (like Apple with the iPhone 4 and 4S), the company decided to stick to its guns. We’re expecting new flagship phones from Apple and Nokia later this year, so it will be really interesting if they try and match the S4’s hardware, or instead decide to focus on camera and interface improvements.