The iPhone 5 is out, but for the first time, Apple’s once-unstoppable smartphone has some serious competition. Samsung’s Galaxy S3 is the first smartphone outside the iPhone to break the control of wireless carriers and be released simultaneously on all four major U.S. carriers, and U.S. Cellular. It has even sold more than 20 million units in its first 100 days of availability, an unheard of number outside of the iPhone. It’s one of the best examples of what Google’s Android operating system has to offer.
So which phone is right for you if you’re struggling to make up your mind?
To help you make a decision you’ll live with for the next two years, we’ve distilled our extensive hands-on time with both devices down into the ultimate iPhone 5 vs. Galaxy S3 comparison. We’ve declared winners and losers in 16 categories that make or break a phone, but don’t think finding the right phone is as easy as keeping score. Which phone belongs in your pocket will ultimately depend on which factors are most important to you. Read on to see how Apple and Samsung’s finest stack up in this battle of the titans.
Make sure to check out our full Apple iPhone 5 review and Samsung Galaxy S III review for more information on each phone. Note that the review scores do not reflect their positions relative to each other, due to timing. The S3 came out months before the iPhone 5, when its primary competition was more dated Android devices and the iPhone 4S. The iPhone 5 must be compared to legacy iPhones and newer Android phones, like the S3.
Design and construction
Crafting a beautiful, pocketable, durable phone isn’t easy, and Apple still knows how to do it better than anyone. The iPhone 5 doesn’t change much from the iPhone 4, but it remains the best-looking phone on the market today, and the best built. Apple has improved the scratch and shatter resistance of its glass, and used more aluminum in the frame, making the iPhone 5 much more durable than its predecessors and Samsung’s polycarbonate (a durable type of plastic) Galaxy S3.
The iPhone 5 is also suspiciously lightweight for the materials it uses, weighing only 112 grams, less than the S3’s 133 gram weight. This could be due to the thinness of Apple’s phone, which matches the Droid Razr’s impressive 7.6mm depth, but without any camera bump. The S3 is also an impressive 8.6mm thick. For reference, the iPhone 4 and 4S were about 9.3mm thick, which set a benchmark for its time.
Drop and shatter tests (like this one) seem to be unanimously coming out in favor of the iPhone 5. Even after painful five- or six-foot drops, most iPhone 5 units have only minor dings in the aluminum frame. They somehow escape screen shattering far longer than the S3, despite Samsung’s inclusion of Gorilla Glass, which is known for its durability.
Winner: iPhone 5
Though it’s difficult to argue that Apple’s phone is built better than Samsung’s, when it comes to comfort, the Galaxy S3 puts up a strong fight. Samsung has been tweaking the size, shape, and button layouts of its phones several times a year for several years now. The Galaxy S3 is a result of consumer migration toward phones with larger screens. Despite being significantly wider and longer than the iPhone 5, the S3 is more comfortable to hold and use due to its button placement. By placing the power and volume buttons on the sides toward the middle of the phone, users can more naturally press both buttons, interact with the screen, and reach the Home, Back, and Menu buttons on the device. The iPhone 5 is still a comfortable device, but Apple has not adjusted the placement of its power button to match the fact that it is now a longer (not wider) phone.
Of course, those with Andre the Giant hands will undoubtedly lean toward the S3 and those with more petite digits will gravitate toward the iPhone 5. Still, we’re going to give this one to Samsung for somehow making a phone with a 4.8-inch screen completely usable and comfortable to hold. Perhaps more comfortable than the world’s leading smartphone when it comes to two-handed typing and other select activities.
Winner: Galaxy S3
The iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 light up an age-old (that’s two years in tech time) debate over which screen technologies offer the best picture quality. Since the introduction of the ‘Retina’ (high resolution) display in the iPhone 4, other smartphone manufacturers have been scrambling to create screens that can match Apple’s impressive 326 pixel-per-inch phone screens, which are based on high-end IPS LCD screen technology. To counter Apple, Samsung has gone with AMOLED, a variation on OLED technology. We’ve already compared the difference between LCD and AMOLED screens. The S3 might be the best implementation of AMOLED we’ve seen yet, retaining the deep blacks possible with OLED (each pixel is lit up separately, so black pixels have no backlight behind them at all).
Though we really love AMOLED’s strengths, those of you with the sharpest eyes might prefer the iPhone 5. According to in-depth tests performed by DisplayMate, it’s better calibrated and gets brighter. We can’t argue. Though OLED may be the future of displays, Apple’s good old LCD takes the crown today.
Winner: iPhone 5
Despite ongoing lawsuits over the similarities between Apple and Samsung products, the differences between the Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5 user interfaces are quite stark.
Visually, it’s hard to argue against Apple. iOS is simple, easy to use, and full of fun animations. No other touch operating system is so pleasant and enthralling (at least, at first) to learn and operate. With the Galaxy S3, Samsung is trying really hard to make Android a more consistent and beautiful experience, but its attempts feel contrived and, at times, misguided. In many ways, the Galaxy S3 might be a better phone if Samsung had left Android alone. Google’s recent Android interfaces may not be as bright as iOS, but they do have some personality. Samsung’s phone does not.
Winner: iPhone 5