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Apple iPhone 5 vs. Samsung Galaxy S3: In-depth comparison

Voice assistants

With the iPhone 4S, Apple introduced us to Siri, its voice assistant. You talk to Siri and ask it a question and it attempts to answer. To compete, Samsung came out with its own “S-Voice” app, which attempts to do its best Siri possible. To be honest, neither Siri nor S-Voice are very good yet, but we have to hand this category to Apple for continuing to add new functionality to its service. I especially like that Siri automatically turns on whenever I lift my iPhone to my ear. I don’t usually have much to say to the personal assistant, but you never know. It’s nice to be asked.

Winner: iPhone 5

Voice & LTE data service

Both the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 will supposedly support HD Voice, but where and on which carriers, we don’t know yet. Currently, voice service on both devices is just as crappy as it’s always been. Reception and LTE performance of both on Verizon Wireless here in Manhattan, NYC has been similar. It doesn’t appear that either phone has a distinct advantage against one another in voice or data. However, we highly recommend you get a phone like these that has 4G LTE support.

Winner: Tie

Charging / Connecting Accessories

Normally, this wouldn’t be an actual category and Apple would win hands down. It’s 30-pin iPod and iPhone connector is so widely supported that some cars come with support for it. There are more than a decade’s worth of speakers, docks, and other peripherals designed specifically for the iPod and iPhone, while there are virtually none built for the Galaxy S3. However, with the iPhone 5, Apple has set the score back to zero by creating an entirely new 8-pin connector that isn’t compatible with any of its old accessories or devices. Worse, Apple is making an adapter so you can connect to older devices, but it won’t be out until sometime in October and it’s going to cost $30. Can somebody say “rip-off?” Apple should have included the adapter with the phone as a thank you for putting up with the transition.

By being a little arrogant with its charging port, Apple gives Samsung the advantage in this area. Though there aren’t a ton of Galaxy S3 accessories, the phone charges on Micro USB, which means you can use a commonly available cable to give it some extra juice. If you lose your single iPhone 5 cable, you’re screwed.

Winner: Galaxy S3

Battery life

Oh, battery life. The Razr Maxx may be your only true friend. Neither the Galaxy S3 or iPhone 5 make huge leaps in battery life, but if you play your cards right, both phones will last you through a day. In my experience, using the Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 5 Verizon models, the S3 has lasted consistently longer than Apple’s phone. All I do all day is check email, send texts, browse the Web, and spend 60 minutes listening to pre-downloaded music or podcasts. If I use either device more than this, I’m pushing my luck, so if you’re going on a trip, I recommend you find a battery case or portable charger for your iPhone and some extra batteries for your Galaxy S3.

Laptop magazine performed some benchmark tests which indicate that the iPhone 5 may have a slight battery life advantage (20 minutes) while continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, but it definitely depends on what apps you have running on your S3. Other tests seem to be mixed. The Galaxy S3 appears to get around 9 to 11 hours of talk time and Apple claims the iPhone 5 will get around 8 hours.

Winner: Galaxy S3

Future updates

If you want to make sure your phone is supported and you get updates in the future, the iPhone 5 is currently the most reliable bet. Apple reliably updates its operating system every year and delivers updates on its own schedule whenever it pleases. With the upgrade to iOS 6, Apple brought every iPhone from the 3GS upward to the new version. Though Samsung has recently committed to taking updating seriously, it has no track record yet. It recently released a “schedule” of devices to get Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), but failed to give any dates. In addition, Galaxy S3 updates are run by whatever carrier you happen to be on, or by Samsung itself if you have an unlocked version of the phone. Even if Samsung begins updating its phones constantly, chances are, you will still be four months to a year (or forever) behind Google’s official Android upgrades, which happen twice a year.

Winner: iPhone 5

Overall Winner: iPhone 5

Apple’s flagship phone has some downsides, depending on how highly you value things like screen size, background multitasking, and maps, but it makes up for them by being the best built phone on the market, yet again. If there’s one thing Apple is good at, it’s attention to detail. The iPhone’s design flourishes help it overcome some of its technical limitations. Frankly, to many of you, and sometimes to us too, a phone that works smoothly and simply is better than the one with the most bells and whistles.

Winners by category:

  • Design and construction: iPhone 5
  • Feel: Galaxy S3
  • Screen quality: iPhone 5
  • User interface: iPhone 5
  • Operating system features: Galaxy S3
  • App stores: Tie
  • Personalization: Tie
  • Maps: Galaxy S3
  • Audio and video: iPhone 5
  • Cameras: iPhone 5
  • Hardware specifications: Tie
  • Voice assistants: iPhone 5
  • Voice and LTE data service: Tie
  • Charging and connecting accessories: Galaxy S3
  • Battery life: Galaxy S3
  • Future updates: iPhone 5

Here’s how the math worked out: The iPhone 5 had 7 wins, the Galaxy S3 had 5 wins, and a tie was awarded in 4 categories. What should this tell you? These phones are practically an even match. Figure out which categories are most important to you and do your own math. You can’t make a bad decision here. And if you still want to know more, please read our full Samsung Galaxy S3 review or our new Apple iPhone 5 review.

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