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.