Operating system features
Yes, both have app lists, app stores, unlock screens, and Settings menus, but once you dig in, there are a lot of technical differences between Android and iOS, the two operating systems that run the S3 and iPhone 5. On the whole, iOS is a more airtight and stable OS, but Android offers more features. Because it runs Android, the Galaxy S3 can support NFC and has more robust support for apps and syncing than the iPhone. On the Galaxy, apps can run in the background as you permit. Say you want to download podcasts or email every three hours without opening up the app again… you can do that, and the phone has a built-in task manager so you can kill running processes that bother you. Basically, the S3 is able to do a lot more things when your screen is off and your phone is idle than the iPhone. This makes the S3 a phone with more real-time qualities to it. Apps can be open without being on the screen. This is a double-edged sword, as it also makes it easier for people to ruin their S3′s battery life by installing and letting too many apps run in the background at once. iOS doesn’t usually have rogue processes and apps running in the background, and does have a rough task manager (double press the Home button). But this is one example where Android allows more control and features. The ability to install apps outside the Google Play store is another benefit of Android.
Winner: Galaxy S3
There are still differences between the Android and iOS app stores, but both stores are so massive that it almost doesn’t matter. iOS still has more quality-priced apps and games (especially games), but Android has cheaper apps and more free titles with ad-based revenue models. We do like that Android apps have made big strides in auto updating, but both app stores are guilty of promoting a new dynamic where iPhone and Galaxy S3 owners have to download constant app updates to the point of annoyance. Still, both phones have great app stores. Just don’t buy anything from Samsung’s custom app store on the Galaxy S3. Stick to Google Play.
There are two levels to personalization: tweaks to the outside like cases and accessories, and options inside of your phone to manipulate the look of what appears on screen.
The iPhone 5 makes no significant leaps forward in the area of software. You can change ringtones, your home screen and lockscreen backgrounds, and move your icons around or put them in folders. That’s about it. However, when it comes to cases and custom stickers and whatnot, the iPhone 5 already outshines the Galaxy S3 and that won’t change anytime soon. If you love quirky cases, you should opt for the iPhone.
The Galaxy S3, like other Android phones, does not have a robust case and accessory ecosystem, but it does better in the area of software. It comes with seven blank home screens you can customize with widgets — some already on the phone, some you can download — and app icons. You can also run entirely new skins on Android with tools like the CyanogenMod (“like” being the operative word since CyanogenMod doesn’t work on the GS3). Android also lets you customize ringtones, change backgrounds, add animated backgrounds, and all that jazz.
At the moment, this isn’t a contest. With the release of iOS 6, Apple has deleted Google Maps from the iPhone and replaced it with Apple Maps, a new free service that attempts to mimic and outshine Google Maps. The only problem is that it doesn’t, in any way, do that currently, except for its pretty 3D city view mode. There are no transit directions yet and, as we found out, a lot of people are getting bogus directions from Apple Maps. It has placed cities in the ocean and guided people to the middle of nowhere. It’s a buggy, new product. Currently, Android is the best option for those wanting GPS turn-by-turn navigation and a stable mapping solution. Hopefully Google Maps will be on iOS soon, but so far, Google hasn’t yet submitted it to the App Store.
Winner: Galaxy S3
Audio & Video
Enjoy music, video, and radio podcasts? The iPhone, which was born of the iPod, is still your best option. Though we don’t like the way Apple locks purchased content into its own device ecosystem, it still has the best ecosystem out there. iTunes is the most robust digital music store and comes with PC or Mac software to manage your entire collection, something Android has never had. Through the App Store you can access Pandora, Spotify, and countless other apps. Podcasts are also handled by a first-party app by Apple. The only downside is that if you purchase music or content in apps outside of Apple’s content, you’ll likely have to do it on the Web. Companies like Amazon, which sells, books, video, and music, do not allow you to purchase content on your iPhone or iPad because Apple demands a 30-percent cut of the sale. Still, it may be locked down, but getting content on the iPhone 5 is elegant and it works.
The Galaxy S3 is more of a patchwork, and will require some research to find the apps you need. Google has dropped support for Listen, its once-great podcasting app, leaving Android users to fend for themselves when it comes to radio. Meanwhile, its Google Play store does support video, but its music service doesn’t have the freedom of Amazon’s MP3 store. Samsung has its own music offering that seems very cool, combining aspects of iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora, but it has made a stupid deal with AT&T and U.S. Cellular that prevents anyone not on these carriers from using it. Dumb.
(Small extra note: The iPhone 5 comes with a nicer set of “EarPod” headphones, again making it a good choice for music lovers. The audio jack is also now on the bottom, which improves how easy it is to pull the iPhone 5 in and out of your pocket while listening to audio.)
Winner: iPhone 5
The Galaxy S3 has a decent camera. It works better than most Android phones and you won’t be hitting yourself for choosing an S3. But if I told you it was better than the iPhone 5′s camera, I’d be lying. Apple’s camera user interface is incredibly simple, and the phone just consistently takes pictures that look better than what you get from any other phone. The new Panorama mode is also fun to play with and works intuitively. Samsung has packed in a lot of social features into its camera, but most are only usable if you and all of your friends own Galaxy S3s. Video on both devices still comes out a bit dark, though they’re both capable of 1080p recording.
In these comparison shots, the left half of the photo is taken with the iPhone 5 camera while the right side is taken with the Samsung Galaxy S3 camera.
When it comes to front-facing cameras, the iPhone 5 catches up to the Galaxy, but neither phone has a great webcam — or FaceTime camera, if you’re on the iPhone.
Winner: iPhone 5
The chart above shows an overall view of the specs of both phones. We have (or will) discuss most of these specs separately in different sections. Both phones are pretty evenly matched, but we’re giving the hardware power edge to the iPhone 5 based on benchmarking tests by AnandTech and other sites. However, the Galaxy S3 wins out on smaller features with its inclusion of NFC, microSD, a removable battery, 2GB of RAM (double the iPhone’s), a higher resolution front-facing camera, and the size of its screen. Both phones are powerful and in standard use, we haven’t been able to notice much difference.