Despite being somewhat of an Apple fanboy myself, I took exception to Rob Walch from Today in iOS mocking the Super Bowl ad for the Samsung Galaxy Note that referred to it as the next big thing. I presumed that the faster CPU of the Note and its use of LTE for the data network would mean that it would blow the iPhone 4S out of the water. Since the Note was not yet available last week but their Galaxy S II LTE is here now and has the same specs except for the screen size and S-Pen, I wanted to do a comparison. I really appreciate the help from my public and health sector dealers for Rogers, Cellcom Wireless, in securing a handset for this thorough comparison with my iPhone 4S. Special thanks to Alex de Muink and Scott Vanderlee for their assistance. More details to be appended once I get the Samsung Galaxy Note LTE within the next week.
Despite better specs on Samsung SII, iPhone much faster if ignore HSPA+ vs LTE factor
For starters, Rob from Tii was indeed bang on when he told me that you can’t base your decision just by comparing specs between the devices. Despite the much faster CPU speed of the Samsung S II LTE at 1.5GHz dual core compared with 800MHz A5 chip in the iPhone 4S, everything on the iPhone was faster including the browser on WiFi. Yes, Apple has a far better optimized OS than now long in the tooth Android 2.3 that comes with the brand new Samsung device. (We can hope that when Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwhich is finally available that it will play catch up with iOS and jump ahead; but again, have to see it to believe it as Samsung will still have its TouchWiz layer which could bog things down.)
Getting past the speed race though, what else can I say about comparing these two devices? Well, everything that is on the iPhone works well and does so out of the box. That box though imposes some limits as to how you do things but for many that is fine. However, if you are a tech geek like I am, then there are some very compelling reasons to think of switching to an android device like the Samsung SII or Note. There is much more in the way of customization options possible on the SII compared with the iPhone and many of the things that have frustrated me on the iPhone are handled much better on the SII. I’ll explore some of these issues one at a time.
Battery draining and re-charging: pros and cons
Although Apple has been given a hard time about battery life on the iPhone, even with LTE turned off on the Samsung S II LTE it eats through the battery quicker than the iPhone 4S. However, even a fully drained iPhone can be plugged in and be almost fully charged within the hour whereas the Samsung takes much much longer to charge. Of course, with the Samsung, you can buy a couple of spare batteries and keep them charged then just pop them in throughout the day. The iPhone can usually get me pretty much through the whole day on a single charge; the Samsung SII LTE - forget about getting much past noon on a single charge. When I really need the iPhone to get through a full day on Bluetooth and GPS, the Mophie Juice Pack does the trick and the fact that I can quickly charge it if I'm near AC is a big help. For those who are happier having a couple of spare batteries with them at all times, then the Samsung is a better choice since the iPhone does not have a replaceable battery.
Connectability: iPhone way ahead of android devices
When it comes to connectability, iPhone blows the Samsung SII LTE out of the water. We really live in an iPhone world right now when it comes to boom boxes, bedside docks, car head decks, and Apple AirPlay devices. I love that with my iPhone, I can connect with my car stereo and have the head deck display my iTunes or Spotify tracks as well as my Audible.com and PocketCasts (podcast player) information and allow me to play and pause what I'm listening to. You would think that with android being allegedly open source that this would mean an infinite number of connectivity options. Howerver, aside from the rare bedside dock that can connect with the microUSB port on android devices, there is no way to take that digital information form the usb port to connect to a car stereo. For now, we are limited to using the usb for charging and the headphone jack for audio output and have to fumble (illegal in our province) with the Samsung SII itself for any playback control or to see the track information. Even if I get an Android device like the Note, it will not be usable in my car at all and I will be keeping my iPhone 4S as a must-have for the car.
Sharing photos Samsung SII vs iPhone 4S
On a computer, you can start to type an email message, then decide that you want to add an attachment like a vCard and a photo. You can actually do that on the SII but you can’t on an iPhone. For 3 years now, I’ve had to get used to deciding if I want to send someone a photo or a vCard that I have to do that from the Photo roll and Contacts respectively, and it is NOT possible from within email. Apple better get that fixed next time as this reverse polish notation entry has gone on too long. Similarly, on an iPhone, your sharing options for a photo are: Email, Message, Assign to Contact, Use as Wallpaper, Tweet or Print. On the SII, the Share via options for photos are AllShare, Bluetooth, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google+, Picassa, Foursquare, Skype, Twitter, WiFi, Reduce photo size….ie the more apps you have installed, the more options get added for sharing from within the photo gallery.
What’s more seamless, iCloud or Google?
Seamless but hermetically sealed and limited is Apple’s iCloud compared with having everything backed up and available from any computer with the Samsung SII.
Apple likes the idea of you not knowing what is going on behind the scenes but that your photos and documents are availalbe on all your devices, that is, your Apple devices. Take a photo on your iPhone, and it goes to iCloud to sync with any other iOS devices or Mac computers when you open iPhoto. Same goes for any documents as long as they are created with their suite of apps, Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. Until the NEXT version of their iCloud service likely landing in the Summer of 2012 with OS X 10.8, you can only access your photos and Apple specific docs from within those apps on Mac devices. Also of note, the latest update to the Google+ app on the iPhone actually has the option to enable ‘instant upload’ of all your iPhone photos to your Google+ Photos from your phone gallery. To upload previously taken photos from the iPhone to Google+, you need to go to the settings within the Google+ app and click the bottom choice to upload the full camera roll now otherwise only future photos get uploaded instantly. Win-win with extra points for Google to enable this on the iPhone rather than keeping it locked to android devices.
The google cloud approach is seamless and is not tied in to just being able to access them with special software and hardware. All photos and documents go straight to google. Your photos go to a private Google+ gallery and you can get to them from any computer with your browser. Your apps purchases and other account settings are also all saved with your google account so that if you get a new android device you can just retrieve everything. Yes, Apple’s iCloud will restore to a new device from the Cloud too so app purchase restoration works for both Apple and Samsung devices. However, I do like being able to get to my phots from any computer compared to Apple’s lock you in approach.
Connect with ANY computer with the Samsung device vs ONE computer for the iPhone
Speaking of the locked in approach for Apple, is anyone else tired of the fact that you can only sync your iPhone to one computer? Maybe you don’t know what you’ve been deprived of after all these years. I’ve been able to just plug this Samsung SII into my home desktop, my laptop and my work desktop without getting the Apple iPhone warning that connecting with a different computer will wipe out all the data on my iPhone. Come on Apple, really? Control, control, control more important that access, access, access.
Cosmetics and handling
The AMOLED screen on the Samsung S II is bigger and better than that of the iPhone. That of the Note is even bigger and higher resolution. No contest here with the Samsung devices way ahead of iPhone. The screen layout too is better for the android devices as you can add not just app icons but functional widgets to your phone’s desktop. Facebook, Audible, Associated Press, Weather, Google search and more all available on the desktop. Even though Samsung is a clear winner for the display and android for the widget options, Apple still wins in beauty of design and feel. The iPhone 4S feels like a high quality device whereas the Samsung S II feels more like a junky toy. It is probably the Gorilla glass on the front and back that make the iPhone more sturdy feeling but the iPhone is also easier to hold. The Samsung has a bump on the back side which gets in the way of getting a good grip for typing.
Internal storage vs microSD card: iPhone still wins
Despite the dream of removal SD cards for storage, there is still less overall storage space on the Samsung SII compared with my 64Gb iPhone 4S. 16Gb internal plus a microSD card for 32Gb more and that maxes things out. With just 54 apps added to the Samsung SII, I have 497Mb of available internal storage and that is with keeping all my media on the microSD card. The iPhone has more media stored on it, 414 apps, and still has 15.2Gb available. Also, Google Music is still not available in Canada so I cannot play my entire collection from the cloud on the Samsung device but I can stream over 12,000 songs from iCloud on my iPhone.
HSPA+ on the iPhone vs LTE on the Samsung SII LTE
OK, here the Samsung is the clear winner but Apple will probably have LTE on their next iPhone in 6 or more months. Taking their time as always to do things right, the rumour is that they will improve the battery life enough so it won’t suck like it does on most android devices, especially if set for LTE and forever searching for LTE. I have found in Vancouver download speeds of 24-54Mbps and upload of 15Mbps for the Samsung and 1.5-7Mbps down and at most 1.5Mbps up with the iPhone 4S. With speeds up to 54Mbps of a rated 100 for LTE and 7Mbps for a rated 21 for HSPA+, LTE is pretty amazing and so far not on the iPhone. With internet connection speeds faster than the vast majority of homes for download and much faster than all homes for upload speeds, the Samsung SII LTE is absolutely incredible. In canada at least, our cell phone providers are not charging more for LTE than for HSPA+ but from what I understand this is not true in all countries. You have to be careful though as this blazingly fast speed may lead to more data usage.
Bottom line: worth moving to android for the Galaxy Note but a tie if it is just for the SII; have to keep an iOS device though for the car as Android lacks car stereo integration
For most people, the iPhone is still the better overall experience since more things work out of the box and LTE data is not available everywhere. iOS is a snappier operating system that makes everything respond more quickly despite a much slower processor. We live in an iPhone world when it comes to docking options with in-car viewing and controlling of what is playing until Ford Sync and other imrpoved connectivity options become more widely adopted. So, specs alone are meaningless as the iPhone is faster in real life than the Samsung SII LTE when not looking at internet connection speed over your cell phone network.
For the tech savy, the Samsung SII has a lot more room for tinkering, more intuitive and flexible sharing of documents from within email, a bigger and better display, and access of your documents everywhere. What the Galaxy Note brings when you jump up in screen size and resolution and the Wacom developed S-Pen that adds a new level of creativity with touch sensitive drawing, writing and image cropping is compelling. I only had the Samsung SII to compare with the iPhone 4S and it was a close call. The added screen real estate and the S-Pen nudge the Note ahead of the iPhone 4S. The Samsung Note really is the next big thing and it is here now…Apple, you have some work to do for your next iPhone and iCloud integration.
The tech geek in me wants the Samsung Galaxy Note but has to keep the iPhone 4S as well for the connectivity features sorely lacking in the so-called open source android device. The S-Pen made by Wacom in the Samsung Note and its incredible display make this a geek must have device. If you don't need that and have no interest in connecting with your car stereo then the Samsung S II LTE is a great choice.
See this article posted on Redmond Pie sums up the comparison between the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy Note the best and includes a hysterical Joy Of Tech cartoon by Nitrozac & Snoogy.