Wednesday, September 18

Showdown: Apple iPhone 5S vs Samsung Galaxy S4

Apple's 64-bit superphone takes on Samsung's best-seller – but which should you buy?

The heavyweights of the smartphone world are set to duke it out once again, with Apple pitting its latest iPhone 5S against the well-established Samsung Galaxy S4.
But which of the two deserves your hard-earned pennies? We've pored over the two superphones and cogitated long and hard to see which wins out in terms of specs, camera and sheer desirability. 

DESIGN – More of the same
At this point, both Samsung and Apple are refining rather than innovating in terms of design – both companies have their design philosophies, and they're sticking to them.
Apple iPhone 5SFor Samsung, that means the Galaxy S4 features the same plastic – sorry, polycarbonate – build as its predecessor – and although it still feels a bit lightweight and flimsy, it does mean that you can easily swap out the battery and add flip covers, should you so desire. At 130g, it's heavier than the iPhone – no surprise, as it's a considerably larger 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm versus the iPhone's 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm.
Apple, meanwhile, has stuck with the tried-and-tested aluminium and glass build of the iPhone 5, adding a new gold-and-white finish to the existing grey/black and silver/white editions. Look closely and you'll spot the new Touch ID fingerprint sensor in place of the familiar Home button – of which more below. The iPhone certainly feels more substantial in the hand, despite its 112g weight – though that's balanced out by the advantages of having a micro USB port as opposed to a Lightning connector, as well as the S4's replaceable battery and 64GB of expandable microSD storage.
As far as we're concerned, the iPhone 5S wins out here – it's a sleek and stylish pair of Jimmy Choos to the S4's dull but practical wellington boots.
SCREEN – Bigger is better
The Samsung Galaxy S4 packs an impressive 5in 1080p Super AMOLED screen, delivering 441ppi pixel density and tucked behind Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for safety.
Samsung Galaxy S4The iPhone 5S' screen is the same 4in, 1136x640px Retina Display found on both the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 5C. At 326ppi, it's impressive – but it's hopelessly outclassed by the S4's bigger, higher-resolution effort. Of course, gadgeteers with smaller hands may find that the iPhone's screen makes for more comfortable surfing than the S4's big display.
However, we have to hand it to the Galaxy S4 here – a 5in 1080p screen is pretty much standard issue on high-end phones. If you're buying on contract, you'll likely be hanging on to your next phone for two years – by which time the iPhone 5S screen is going to look very dated indeed.
SPECS – Apple goes 64-bit
Apple doesn't publish detailed hardware specs, but the 5S reportedly packs 2GB RAM along with its new A7 processor – the first 64-bit smartphone processor. Don't expect a massive increase in speed as a result, though – the A5's ARM v8 chip architecture is likely more about future-proofing the iPhone and powering hardware like the Touch ID sensor than delivering an immediate performance boost.
The iPhone 5S also features a new M7 motion co-processor, which makes for more efficient power management while enabling constant motion tracking. So, expect a boost in battery life along with an array of new motion-sensing tricks – including health apps and contextual awareness. If you're in a moving vehicle, the iPhone won't try and connect to Wi-Fi networks, for example.
The iPhone's standout new feature is the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. You can unlock your phone by either clicking and holding the sensor, or tapping the power button and then the sensor. It'll store up to five fingerprints; at present it's only used as a security measure, but when (if?) Apple lets developers at it, it has a whole host of potential uses.
The Australian Galaxy S4 packs a quad-core 1.9GHz Snapdragon 600 processor, rather than Samsung's own 1.6GHz octa-core processor – you also get 2GB RAM, a replaceable 2600mAh battery and 16, 32 and 64GB storage options (with support for an additional 64GB via microSD). Other features include NFC, an IR blaster and support for Air Gestures and Smart Scroll.
Once again, Apple's refused to integrate smartphone features that are regarded as industry standards – like NFC and microSD – into the iPhone, in favour of gambling on a potentially revolutionary technology. Like Siri, Touch ID could have a whole host of applications – but only if Apple lets developers use it, and only if it's properly integrated with apps. It's too early to tell at this point – so if you're buying a phone based on how you'll use its features right now, we have to hand this round to the S4.
The iPhone 5S' camera has had a slight spec boost over that of its predecessor. Like the iPhone 5, the 5S features an 8MP snapper – but it features 1.5µ pixels instead of the 1.4µ pixels found on the iPhone 5. The aperture has been boosted from f2.4 to f2.2, as well. In theory, that should make for better low-light images, with reduced noise. The iSight camera will also shoot 1080p video at 30fps and 720p video at 120fps.
Samsung Galaxy S4
Apple's kitted out the iPhone 5S camera with what it's calling a "true tone" flash – it reads whether you're taking a photo under tungsten (yellow) lighting or daylight (blue) lighting conditions. When you take a snap, it'll then flash its twin amber and white LED flashes in varying intensities, effectively colour balancing the scene. Apple claims the iPhone 5S can create up to 1000 different colour temperatures with its flash – we'll be checking this feature in detail in our full review.
Software-wise, you get a new burst shooting feature that'll snap up to 10fps, picking out and suggesting the best images from the sequence for you. Round the front, you get a 1.2MP Facetime camera that'll shoot 720p video.
The Samsung Galaxy S4, meanwhile, packs a 13MP, f2.2 main camera. That means you'll get higher-resolution images than the iPhone, but with its 1.12μ pixels, its low light performance will likely struggle against the iPhone 5S camera. It'll also shoot 1080p video at 30fps – as will its 2MP front snapper.
The S4's camera features include Eraser, which lets you paint out moving objects from the frame, Drama Shot, which captures 100 frames at 25fps and creates a composite image, Animated Photo, which lets you create eight-second GIF clips – and animate specific areas of a picture, and Best Photo and Best Face modes that pick out the best image from a burst shot for you.
A conclusive verdict will have to wait on our full review of the iPhone 5S; the S4's camera wins out on a raw megapixel count and its array of (somewhat gimmicky) features, while Apple appears to have focused on real-world applications for its camera. Most smartphone images are shot in low-light environments, and its larger camera pixels and True Tone flash will likely give the iPhone 5S the edge in these situations.
The iPhone hardware isn't the only thing that Apple's overhauled – its iOS software has been given a ground-up redesign for iOS 7, with bright, blocky colours replacing skeuomorphic icons and interfaces, and a pull-down settings menu that finally brings it up to speed with Android's multitasking. Airdrop file sharing and an overhauled Siri round out the major upgrades – check out our 7 things you need to know about iOS 7 for full details.
Samsung Galaxy S4Samsung's stuck with its tried and tested TouchWiz interface over Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean for the Galaxy S4. Android provides obvious advantages over iOS in terms of customisation – as Android fans will rush to remind us in the comments – while TouchWiz is, as ever, a little overstuffed. The touchless Air Gestures and Air View features are the sort of things you'll show off down the pub once and never use again, but some features are genuinely useful. S Health, a suite of health widgets that let you input exercise and calorie intake, is "neat and addictive," while the WatchOn EPG makes good use of the phone's IR blaster.
The iPhone 5S may well be a more exciting phone than the Galaxy S4, but as ever, Apple's made some curious decisions – it's the only flagship smartphone without a 1080p display or NFC tech, and its 8MP snapper looks somewhat feeble on paper next to the S4's 13MP camera. But Apple has packed some genuinely exciting – if as yet untested – technology into the iPhone 5S, in the form of its 64-bit processor and Touch ID sensor.
If you're prepared to gamble on whether those features are actually useful, the iPhone is undoubtedly the more exciting option – plus it looks a hell of a lot better than the S4.
The Galaxy S4, though, has the virtue of tried and tested technology – plus its removable battery and expandable storage make it by far the better option for day-to-day use.