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iPhone vs Samsung Galaxy Note

  • Comparing the iPhone against a unique Samsung handset
  • Samsung currently the only real competition
  • Court battles continue
Written by Adam Wajnberg
27/07/2012

Despite the re-emergence of HTC with their One X, Samsung is not going anywhere in their quest to become the benchmark for Android-run smartphones. Their 3rd quarter results (US Business Calendar) showed a $4.5bn profit for the whole firm, driven almost entirely by the success of their smartphone business. Meanwhile, HTC, RIM, Nokia and Sony are all scrambling to break even.

iphone samsung galaxy note comparison

Not coincidentally, Samsung is barely breaking even on their legal troubles with Apple. Samsung can sell their Galaxy Tab tablets in Europe; but over in the US they're losing the battle in their patent war with Apple. Evidence brought forth by Apple's legal team point to Google advising Samsung as early as 2008 to tone down their copying of Apple designs, bolstering Apple's claim that Samsung is wilfully riding on the coattails of their own hard work. Apple have recently put a price tag on the issue, of $2.5bn to settle the matter. Samsung might just pay it, in a bid to move on.

Meanwhile, Samsung is continuing to act as the only counterbalance to Apple's dominance, selling 50 million smartphones to Apple's 26 million iPhones this last quarter. That may make Samsung look stronger, but a very big part of that 50 million is for budget phones with little or negative margins, and Samsung makes far smaller margins on even their top of the line models. Still, the Galaxy S3 flagship has sold nearly 7 million units in just weeks, making it the most successful single Android handset in a sea of indistinguishable black rectangles.And this is with Apple's own flagship, the iPhone 4S, nearly a year old.

Nevertheless, the numbers say something - Samsung is the only competitor keeping Apple on their toes, and creating an interesting vicious circle. If you believe, as Apple does, that Samsung's success stems from their ability to copy the iPhone's design-

Samsung copies Apple

Samsung makes sales

Apple responds by innovating even further

Samsung responds by copying those innovations

Other manufacturers follow suit to some extent

And so on. In this model, the consumers win, Apple wins, Samsung wins, but then languishes in the courts while Apple continues to tarnish their reputation by looking like a buncha crybabies. I dunno - it's not a fair model, but it seems to be largely what we're working with.

For the end user, the real battle is over which phone you want to use. And in that, whatever else Samsung is doing, at least they seem to be coming through. People love their Samsungs in a way they don't love Motorola and most HTC phones. People know they have a Samsung. The phones are doing the business of phones for general most electronics firms these days - they're putting the overall brand name into the intimate pocket space, and giving the overall brand a sheen that air conditioners, medical imaging equipment and refrigerators can't quite pull off.

The Road to Damascus

Anyway, I decided to take advantage of a recent offer to get me a free Android phone, to see if I could be converted. I have been an Apple acolyte for a few years, following a typical conversion path from iPod, to iPhone, to Mac to iPad. Prior to that, I was strictly a PC guy, and for handheld devices I was a devotee of Sony. When Sony started making the VAIO Windows laptop, I jumped on board despite the inflated price tag. I like my electronics to be well designed and to 'just work' - I could care less about its hackability, or any perceived notion of 'freedom'. It needs to do what it's advertised as being able to do, and it needs to withstand mild abuse.

How I got a free phone

I needed to arrange an internet connection and mobile connection for my mother, who had just moved back after a spell in the US. My first thought was to go with Dodo or TPG for a $50 broadband bundle, and then Amaysim for their $39.90 Unlimited SIM-only plan. Mum uses an iPhone 3GS that does more than enough for her. So I knew it would cost her, overall about $90 a month to keep connected.

I also knew about Optus' very odd free broadband bundles, which I previously suspected only benefited a small percentage of customers. For $89 on a 2 year contract, you got a comprehensive phone plan (a little less value than Amaysim's offer, but otherwise solid), with a free handset, and a free 50GB fixed broadband connection (ADSL or Cable depending on availability). I'm not a big fan of contracts, and 50GB is barely enough for a day of what I use - but for Mum, it was more than enough. It also came with a free connection and free Wi-Fi modem. Despite the two year contract, it was too good an offer to pass up.

I had my choice of Android handsets at $0 a month. Mum would use the Optus SIM in her iPhone 3GS, and I could do whatever I please with what basically came to a free handset (note for anyone who is 'the tech person' in their family - this is absolutely the best way to get free toys. Wait until less savvy family members are out of contract, and go nuts). I use Amaysim myself, which uses the Optus Open network, so didn't have to worry about the phone being locked. For the handset, I was torn between:

The Motorola Droid RAZR - I like Motorola, and I like good materials. The RAZR is made with Kevlar and is water resistant.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus - Runs an unmodified version of Android 4.0 Jelly Bean, big screen and big specs.

HTC One X - considered the absolute best Android phone available right now. Huge specs, great screen, great camera.

Samsung Galaxy S3 - The best Samsung has to offer, supposedly. I tested one out and didn't like. Pales next to the One X for me - equivalent insides, but the screen isn't as nice, and the body is more plastic-y.

Samsung Galaxy Note - A very good Android phone, with near top-of-the-line insides and a ridiculous, 5.3 inch screen.

I went with the Note. I wanted to try a phone that did a little more than just duplicate the overall smartphone experience that an iPhone offers. The Note is significantly different enough, and comes with the option of adding more space with microSD cards.

How I use my iPhone

I've been rocking the iPhone for 4 years and currently use the iPhone 4 32GB model, running iOS 5.1.1. After the initial spell of downloading anything and everything, I now use the following apps regularly:

Safari

iPod

Mail

Camera

Weather

Maps

Messages

Phone + Contacts

Calendar

Clock

Note

Facebook

Skype

iBooks

Mobile Mouse (Wi-Fi control of your computer mouse)

Wikipanion (Wikipedia client)

Tram Tracker

eBay

MLB.com At Bat (to follow Major League Baseball. Includes the ability to audio stream every game, for which I pay $16 a year).

And that's about it. Everything else, including Evernote and Dropbox, I use from time to time.

Impressions

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Duplicating my app experience - No Problem At All. The native apps all have their equivalents on Android, and they're all synced to my Google account anyway on both phones. The only issue was with MLB.com - my subscription is linked to my iTunes account, so I'd have to pay again to use it the way I like on the Note. But that's not Samsung or Android's fault.

For navigation, the Note had a big edge. Samsung give you a free copy of Navigon GPS through Samsung Apps, and Google Maps can do turn-by-turn directions as well - all without a SIM card in the phone. The iPhone uses Assisted GPS (aGPS), which requires a data connection to work- the Note has a full GPS chip on board. And a Tom Tom or Navigon app on iOS would set you back between $60 and $100 bucks.

For messages, I'm a bit locked in with Apple. Despite the fact it often doesn't work well, iMessage is beautifully simple to use - it works within the normal SMS service, and takes out most of the hassle of configuration. If the other person has an iPhone, it'll use iMessage. if they don't, it'll use SMS. To duplicate something like that on Android, I used WhatsApp - and it wasn't quite as good. Advantage iPhone.

For everything else - It's more or less equal. I'm really torn in regards to Apps, simply because both Navigation and Messaging are important, regularly used features - and I'm split on those. It comes down to personal preference and what apps you need. I haven't yet found an essential app that I can get on iOS that I can't get on Android.

Verdict: Tie

Screen - Well, this is the big one, right? Look, the Galaxy Note's ridiculous screen is great. It's nice to have the space. Movies look fantastic. The colours are sharp. The pixel density is a little lower than the iPhone 'Retina' display, but on a bigger screen the outcome is almost the same.

Almost. The iPhone screen was just a little nicer on the eye. There's something slightly 'darker' about every screen I've ever seen running Android, regardless of the underlying technology, and the Note is no different. It feels...indoors. The iPhone display is just a tad sunnier. But it makes a difference over time.

Verdict: iPhone

Connectivity - Both phones use 3G, no problems with dropped calls or anything like that. Speeds on both for data usually topped out at 3Mbps, and that's more about Amaysim.

BUT...the Antennagate scandal that rocked the iPhone 4 had it all wrong. The issue isn't the 3G drop outs, at least not for me. I like using Bluetooth, and the iPhone 4 and 4S both seem to have awful Bluetooth audio support. Besides being quiet, the feed drops out even when, like me, you've stopped moving and are standing in the middle of the road, iPhone flat in hand, trying to stop your podcast from breaking up. I've tried it across a few different iPhones, and they all have this issue. It's maddening.

Meanwhile, the Bluetooth module on the Note was a dream. No dropouts, even when I jumped up and down and had the phone in my pocket. Same Plantronics bluetooth stereo headset.

Verdict: Note

General usability - well, this all depends on what you use it for. But I found both to be pretty equivalent. iTunes has never been great, but it has gotten better - and even though it's frustrating being so locked into a desktop app, the overall ease of use helps equal the Note's (and Android's) more familiar drag-and-drop USB interface. But arranging playlists quickly was easier with iTunes, and dropping in podcasts was far easier.

Verdict: iPhone

Hackability - I jailbreak my iPhone. For the uninitiated, this means I have installed a modified version of iOS, developed by a hacking community, that duplicates all the functions but with some of the 'permissions' changed. So you cna install apps that are otherwise not sanctioned by Apple, and these apps take advantage of the hardware in a way sanctioned apps cannot. It also opens up the option of pirating apps, which I don't condone. It also voids your warranty!

On Android phones, the process is known as Rooting, or gaining 'root' access to your phone's internal filesystem. The conventional wisdom is that Apple's meticulously crafted, fascist iPhone resists attempts at hacking, while Samsung, HTC and others don't really care, and invite you to easily hack the hardware and go nuts - and that the Android hacking community is far more active in providing a solution.

NOT EVEN CLOSE. I gave up trying to root the Note, which I mainly wanted to do to upgrade it to a stock version of Android 4.0 (and to get rid of all the bloated software that Optus bake into the phone, that you can't get rid of). After scrounging around forums, checking and rechecking every aspect of my firmware and concluding that I could maybe root my Note with a buncha hard work, and that would probably  void my warranty, I threw in the towel. Optus handles the upgrades, and their own upgrade for unmodified Notes is now set for early August.

The iPhone is easier for hobbyists like myself to jailbreak, simply because the community doing it is smaller and more focused. And of course, the iPhone is far less fragmented - there are dozens of Android handsets running the same software, on vastly different hardware. Locking down a solution for your exact handset (and distinguishing your handset from international models) is an utter nightmare.

Verdict: iPhone

Overall

The Note is a great piece of kit. I dig it. But it's going to become my permanent in-car audio and navigation unit, and that's it. The iPhone will stay my pocket device. I'm locked into several bits of Apple's ecosystem, but it's hard to be annoyed about that, given that it mostly works like a dream.

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