To iPhone or to Android? That is the question. That’s been the question for the last couple of years, and with webOS out and BlackBerry taking a way backseat in the smartphone race, it appears that this will remain the question for new smartphone buyers in the near future. I’ve been wrestling with which platform I like better over the last couple of years, and the decision is becoming harder than it ever has been with the recent batch of phones out now.
My current daily driver phone is an iPhone 4S, but I also have a Samsung Galaxy S for testing and reviewing Android apps. I’ve used both devices extensively, as well as the original Droid, which was my first smartphone. While the 4S blows both devices I’ve owned out of the water, the Galaxy Nexus is the new Android phone hotness, and if there is anything that makes me want to switch away from iPhone land back to Android, this is it. Between the 720p screen, 4G, and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the Nexus is very, very tempting. But is it a better phone than the 4S? Do the raw specs and cutting-edge features of the Nexus overshadow the ease of use and overall simplicity of the 4S? Let’s take a look at the two devices and see how they compare to each other.
The 4S contains Apple’s state of the art dual-core A5 processor, a “retina display” screen with a 3.5″ screen and 960×640 resolution (326 ppi), and 512 MB of RAM. It has an 8 MP camera on the back with 1080p video support and a VGA-resolution camera on the front. On the other hand, the Galaxy Nexus has a dual-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A9 processor, 1 GB of RAM, and an absolutely huge 4.65″ screen with a 720p resolution (316 ppi). The camera on the Nexus is 5 MP, and it also shoots 1080p video.
The specs of these two phones mostly even out, with the Nexus getting a slight edge in the raw power and screen department. With the increased RAM and processor speed, you would expect the Nexus to be faster and snappier than the 4S, but that isn’t always the case. While the Nexus is the speediest Android phone yet, the fact that iOS is running native code while everything in Android runs inside a Java virtual machine mostly makes the devices perform fairly similarly. The screen debate is ongoing, but it comes down mostly to the size of your hands and your pockets. The Galaxy Nexus is a huge phone, and if you have small hands, you might have problems using it with one hand. Both screens look incredible, and you will be hard pressed to see a difference between the iPhone’s 326ppi and the Nexus’ 316.
As someone who hasn’t spent a ton of time with Ice Cream Sandwich, I cannot totally vouch for the Galaxy Nexus in the usability department. Let’s take a look around the Web at some other reviewers who gave their opinion on Ice Cream Sandwich and its usability.
In his post comparing the two devices, GigaOm’s Darrell Etherington has this to say:
In the end, though, Android still has the same problems it always did: it’s harder for new and inexperienced users to get into and navigate, and apps either may or may not work with the device depending on what version of Android they’re coded for and/or what devices they support… The Galaxy Nexus is the best Android device yet, and ICS is the best version of Android to date, and they do a lot to narrow the gap between Google and Apple’s mobile efforts, but they don’t close it, at least not completely.
On the other hand, Josh Smith from GottaBeMobile says that Homescreen Widgets give Android a leg up:
Android still has a leg up on the iPhone when it comes to widgets, and the Galaxy Nexus takes advantage of new Ice Cream Sandwich features to make widgets even better. In addition to smarter built-in Gmail and Calendar widgets, you can customize the layout of most widgets with a drag and drop to fit the way you want your home screen to look. This is much nicer than looking for the right 4×1 widget in settings. Widgets provide fast access to information like weather, traffic, your inbox, and much more.
Over all, while widgets on Android are totally awesome and iOS could definitely use something similar, the experience of using iOS is simply easier. Ice Cream Sandwich is furthering the Android fragmentation problem, as as of now the Galaxy Nexus is the only device with the OS. Apps won’t all work with the new version, and who knows how long it will take for developers to fix all of the issues? In addition, while Ice Cream Sandwich has come a long way in the ease-of-use department, iOS is still a much easier OS for a computer novice to pick up and use.
Edge: iPhone 4S
Here is perhaps the biggest difference between the 4S and the Galaxy Nexus. The Verizon version of the Galaxy Nexus supports its new 4G LTE network, which is blazing fast. Pages load over 4G in no time at all, streaming music and movies is easier, and, once you’re used to 4G speeds, it is definitely hard to go back to 3G. The iPhone 4S remains with the same 3G network that ran the iPhone 4. If you are someone who spends most of their time on their phone with Wi-Fi, this isn’t a huge deal. But if you commute daily and are using your phone on the go a lot, the 4G is going to make a big difference.
The only caveat to the 4G is that it uses more battery than 3G, but it can also be turned off and on when you need it. Since we are just talking about the network and not the battery life here, the Nexus gets the edge in this category.
Here’s a video comparing the speeds of the 4S (3G) vs. the Droid Bionic (4G). You can expect similar speeds from the Nexus.
Edge: Galaxy Nexus
At the end of the day, we are looking at two incredibly capable phones, each with unique pros and cons that make deciding between them very hard. To be honest with you, there isn’t really a winner in this battle of the phones, but my money is that the iPhone 4S will end up being the winner of the real battle: the device that sells more. The iPhone 4S is cheaper ($200 vs $300 for the Nexus), has better brand recognition, and is easier for the average person to use. While the Galaxy Nexus might be a great device for a tech-savvy person, the iPhone 4S is going to be the device that your mom, grandma, and uncle buy, and that’s where most of the money is. The Galaxy Nexus is a great phone, probably the best Android phone of all time, but it’s not an iPhone killer.