Samsung Galaxy S II vs iPhone 4S: Fight To The Death!

You asked for it, so I've done it. The iPhone 4S vs the Samsung Galaxy S II. Which phone reigns supreme?

I've got to be upfront here; writing this particular feature scares the heck out of me. Not because I'm worried by the technical challenge, but simply because so many folks are so passionate about their smartphone choices. I'm all about gadget passion -- I'd not have taken up the job of editor at Gizmodo if I wasn't -- but sometimes, passion can be, to put it kindly, a little misguided.

Rather like that significant person you lusted after in high school to the exclusion of all else; the passion was real but the end result of that passion blinds you to external realities or differing viewpoints. In most teenage cases, that ends with bad poetry and an obsession with the colour black; in the case of smartphones it all too often ends in petty name calling, assertions that something's better "just because it is" and pointless squabbling. I hate that stuff.

That stuff I'd rather avoid, but in the case of the iPhone 4S, there's a rather obvious case to answer. The moment it came out there was a torrent of criticism aimed at it based on the fact that the surface specifications do look rather similar to those of plenty of Android phones. Dual core processor. Eight megapixel camera. All of this sounds rather familiar.

But how to compare? Android and iOS are quite different smartphone operating systems, and there's only so many ways that it's possible to compare. I did ponder for a while doing a straight up photo shooting test, and shot some test shots of my lunch. Which in this case, without wanting to be accused of bias, happened to be a piece of fruit. Yeah, that one.

Here's the shot taken by the Galaxy S II

And here's the shot taken with the iPhone 4S

Those shots are ever so slightly cropped, but otherwise untouched; the iPhone 4S' sensor did a better job with light and detail, as it did when placed up against a Canon 5D Mk II for video shooting. I'm not entirely sure that puts the Galaxy S II out of the running, though; while nobody sane would buy a smartphone these days without a camera, in most cases, it's happy snap material, not pro photography. It's nice to always have a camera on you, but it's also entirely possible to take bland photos with the best possible camera equipment. In other words, be happy with what you've got and get the best possible results out of it under the circumstances.

That still left me without a reasonable comparison metric. I did ponder using any of a number of universal browser benchmarks. Let's take a look at Peacekeeper, shall we?

Here's the score achieved by the Samsung Galaxy S II.

And the score the iPhone 4S reported back.

Pretty level pegging, although it's worth noting that both browsers had tests within that they couldn't run and were automatically skipped. What then, about Browsermark?

Here's the score the Galaxy S II achieved.

And the iPhone 4S got this.

That's with the stock Android browser on the Galaxy S II, by the way, but switching up to, say, Opera Mobile didn't make a huge difference. There's clearly a result there in the iPhone 4S' favour, which ties in with my musings last week on Apple's ability to rather more precisely optimise the code in iOS for the silicon it'll be running on.

So that's better camera, better browser, the iPhone 4S cuts the head off the Galaxy S II and parades around the field with it, right?

No. Not so fast. I'd certainly give the iPhone 4S the camera crown over the Galaxy S II, although that's still a pretty capable little camera all things considered. But browser benchmarks are only a tiny part of the equation, and given one benchmark has them level pegging while the other favours one massively over the other, I'd say the crown is still up for grabs.

But then again, I'd throw the crown in the bin anyway, because it's redundant. In terms of benchmarks, the entirely less scientific "feel" result is one that I've seen bandied around a lot, so I thought I'd give it a run. Sadly, there aren't any international standards for this kind of thing, so I had to make some up. I feel as though both phones do what they do well.

I just know I'm going to catch flack from somebody for this, but… there you go. There's the verdict. The iPhone 4S is a fine smartphone, and a definite step up from the iPhone 4, although I'm still not quite convinced that it's enough to make it worth breaking a contract for. The Galaxy S II is, likewise, an excellent handset and one of the best available for Android enthusiasts.

I'm calling it a draw. Call me a chicken, tell me I've copped out all you like, but honestly, I'd rather have a smartphone that does the stuff I like and does it well, and honestly both the iPhone 4S and Galaxy S II fill those roles nicely.

The differences between Android and iOS will appeal to some and not to others. If you're mulling one over the other, the differences between the two operating systems are really what you should concentrate on; Android has open architecture that makes it easy to hack and customise while iOS has a controlled environment with a slightly richer app offering at this point in time. The specifications of both are still quite high end compared to the rest of the market, but the specifications don't tell the whole story.

Just to stop this happening in the comments: The tl;dr version: They're both good phones. Buy one.

Image: incredibleguy


    Hi Alex,

    PC World did a rather comprehensive comparison and the results look a little different then yours. GS2 gets the crown. have a Look, there are sample images on the next page of site.

    And the Stress Test :)

      Thanks Ashish for providing the links. GS2 gets the crown for the camera test, it wasn't a all round review thou. =)

    haha you should have just taken a photo where they looked the same and just ran with the first browser score and told people to just pick ether IOS or Android

    So you're only comparing camera and browser? What about the rest? Form factor (ie. usability of the two different sizes), screens, signal, etc?

    Still, with rampart fanboyism on both sides over here, I don't blame you for chickening out :-P

    I will wait until the next galaxy release because I want a phone with comparable camera performance to iphone 4S. Sick of the iPhone OS and want a change now. bigger screen is nice too.

    I understand your tactic of chickening out before all hell breaks lose with Apple fanboys vs Android fanboys.

    But still. Why even do this then? You compare the two phones on 1 picture and 2 benchmark tests... (where 4S wins 2 and ties in the last one)... It just seems like it was barely worth the effort.

    You could've just written one line: "Pick Android or iOS. I don't care."

    ... I was actually hoping for a proper full on comparison on everything between the two phones :P

      Hey, don't be mean. It's betteer than nothing. The more tests like there are out there, the better. But I do agree that it barely went into any depth though.

      If anyone has found any particularly good comparison articles, please list thx.

    stop the press, i just ran peacekeeper on my iPhone 4s and got 305 and html5 capabilities 2/6 (up from 272 and 1/6 reported here) - ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

      Woah hold on, I just ran peacekeeper on my S II and got 400 and html5 capabilities 6/6.

        Hang on now, I just ran peacekeeper on my scouter and it was OVER NINE THOUSAND!!!

    Not much of a comparison, i say wait till tomorrow and compare Nexus Prime against 4s, after all sgs2 is 12 months old now. so compare new for new and see how it goes.

      It's only about 5 months old, actually.

        It was announced in Feb and released in April in South Korea

    But can either play Crysis?

      HAHAHA I agree, until there is a device that plays crysis2 with max settings there is really no point comparing these phones. It's a phone after all, it makes calls, all these added features and functions are just a bonus.

    I really appreciate the balanced view! This is what makes the Aussie Gizmodo so much better than the US version.
    That said, the iphone4s is quite a lot newer so I'd be shocked if it didn't do better in most tests than an older device. That's how things are in the tech world.

    As for the photos- I don't think one is actually better than the other. I'd say the iphone's processing is just set to make the pics look more contrasty and saturated by default,- that's not natural and looks a bit too vivid, but it also looks good. It's a good trick and good on them for doing it. You can usually change settings to get that on Android devices too, but it's not the default, which is a failing.

    SOOOO TRUE! I hate it when a customer wants me to sell them one or the other.
    People just need to decide what the specific needs are and how much they can afford to spend.
    Just go with the one you feel comfortable with!

      Agreed, ppl should be doing their homework before making the purchase. It's like xbox v ps3 or holden v ford. I'm sure a 'normal' person would do their homework first when deciding to buy a car, so whats different with buying a phone? (besides the obvious)

        I dunno, there's a _lot_ of crap cars on the roads these days *cough*ToyotaRukus*cough* :P

          Haha, yeah. I saw one a few days ago that was some kind of baby vomit greeny-brown. I guess the mentality would be if you're going shit, better go full shit.

    I have a iPhone 4s (haven't been able to get to a Telstra shop to activate it so I am not going to comment on it) but I think that non-iOS devices pretty well leveled with Apple in the last generation and since Apple have only realy done what I would call a 'half-release' by the time there 4S product cycle is up they could easily be mile behind its competitors.

    If you want to compare current generation phones, wait til the nexus prime comes out and watch it wash the floor with a iPhone 4S.

    lol, chicken :P

    You do make a good point tho. Yes both devices do what they say on the tin very well, and it really comes down to personal preference.

    It's pointless to compare apples and delicious sugary treats...

    Nice work! What will be REALLY great to see is a comparison between the Galaxy Nexus and the iP4S :D can't wait for tomorrow!
    I've got a 4S/SGSII/4 here, I'll be putting up some comparison pics too. It'll be more of a scientific test than what I've seen so far too, fixed position for the phones, consistent lighting, subject that hasn't been moved. I'll also decide which looks best, and see if I can tweak settings on other phones to get closer to it.

    Iphone doesnt have widgets!

      I didn't use the widgets on my android. That's a personal preference.

    My SGS runs Browsermark measurable better on Dolphin (54903) and the performance meter tells me, it runs it single threaded, so lots of CPU/batteries saved. How about the iPhone4S? And everyone is looking forward to Chrome on Android.

    After all it is plusses and minussed, for the iPhone4S being brand new, for me this is less, than I hoped for. It will sell anyway.

    Watch this video:

    Shows the REAL differences.

    Sorry, to be that insisting 79493 on Firefox on SGSII. Not bad for such an old device. Still waiting for Chrome to beat them all :-)

    As everyone has stated, it really comes down to what ecosystem you want to live in. I won't go back to iOS after getting my SGS2, but I still recommend iPhones to my not tech savvy mates.

    Basically, if you can handle having iTunes on your computer (or, god forbid, you use it to purchase music), get an iPhone. If you can't, look at the alternatives. I love how customisable / hackable Android is, but I appreciate that the vast majority of consumers just want to pick stuff up and use it without having to think. Not everyone likes getting their hands dirty - and that's cool.

    I'll keep my osx86 laptop, overclocked PC, rooted custom rom SGS2 and JB'n iPhone (or glorified lounge room remote control) though :)

    I scored slightly better on my SGSII

    Yes it's CyanogenMod, and it's the latest firmware, but isn't that what it's all about? Latest phones/OSs going head to head in a decently fair battle?

      Fair battle the 4s is a week old and the SGS II is 6 months old... the SGS II will win everytime.

      I had this great flash benchmark i used to pit my SGS II against the iPhone 4 but the joke got old :P

      Also is CM 7.1 stable yet? want to get rid of touchwiz soon just so bad!!! feels to much like a iPhone

    Poor guy. You can smell the fear as he was writing this piece :))

    So how well do these phones work as *phones*? What do the OSes do if you're doing something, like browsing, and a call comes in? How quickly can you answer the phone? If you see something interesting happening, and you want to take a picture, how long does it take from whipping the phone out and actually snapping the pic or vid? Does it take ten taps and swipes to get there, or just one?
    What about handling two calls at once and swapping between them?
    Or how about navigating with GPS, then a call comes in? What does the OS do?
    Pointers to reviews that check this would be great. Thanks.

    That apple looks better to me on the 1st one. The iphone shot looks like they upped the brightness too far.

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