If you're new to the smartphone world, you may not know which way to go. Do you want Apple's iPhone 4S, which seems to be the "it" device that everyone wants, or do you want "the" high-end Android smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S II?
AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint all offer almost identical versions of the iPhone 4S. The situation is abit more complicated with the Android device -- the Galaxy S II series includes the Galaxy S II and the Galaxy S II Skyrocket from from AT&T, the Epic 4G Touch from Sprint, and T-Mobile's version of the Galaxy S II. These are all basically the same device, with minor differences between the carrier-specific versions, except that the Skyrocket is equipped with 4G LTE.
Build & Design
When it comes to design, I say the iPhone 4S takes the prize. It's small, it's sexy, and everyone knows exactly what kind of phone you have when you pull it out. The Galaxy S II devices aren't exactly ugly, but they aren't exactly head-turners either, suffering from a "me too" design sensibility of all-black devices without any real flair.
Both the Apple and the Samsung handsets are dominated by large displays that cover the front of the device. They also have the same basic button and port layout, though the buttons on the iPhone 4S are slightly larger and easier to operate.
Display and Keyboard
The iPhone 4S is equipped with a 3.5-inch IPS display that has a resolution of 960 x 640 at 326 ppi. It has also been treated with an oleophobic coating designed to repel fingerprints, but you'll still be cleaning off the display pretty frequently.
The various Galaxy S II devices have larger displays than the iPhone 4S, measuring 4.3-inches to 4.5-inches, with a resolution of 800 x 480 (WVGA). They look very good, and being larger than the iPhone they offer more immersive entertainment, but they don't have that same high resolution, razor-sharp clarity.
The Galaxy S II devices do have an edge when it comes to outdoor viewing, because they are equipped with Super AMOLED Plus screens that are capable of amazing brightness. They almost cause your eyes to bleed at the highest settings. The iPhone 4S is also viewable outside, but isn't able to compete on sheer brightness.
When it comes to text entry, you'll be using a virtual keyboard on either of these smartphones, as none of them have a physical keyboard. They're pretty comparable across the board, though the Galaxy S II models have larger screens and therefore slightly larger virtual keyboards.
This is pretty much a dead heat, with the iPhone 4S being slightly smaller than most versions of the Galaxy S II series, but also slightly thicker. The Apple handset is more pocketable since it's smaller overall, measuring 4.5-inches tall, 2.31-inches wide, and 0.37-inches thick, but it is slightly heavier than the Galaxy S II phones since it weighs in at 4.9 ounces.
The Galaxy S II versions vary slightly in their exact measurements, but they are generally larger overall than the iPhone 4S. Sprint's Epic 4G Touch, for example, measures 5.1-inches tall, 2.7-inches wide, and 0.38-inches thick. For those looking for a smaller option, AT&T's Galaxy S II is 4.96-inches tall, 2.60-inches wide, and 0.35-inches thick.
Features and Capabilities
The iPhone 4S is based on the Apple A5 chip, which is a dual-core processor, though the actual processor speed has not been released by Apple. Most reports peg it at 1GHz. It is super fast and responsive, though there's no way to directly compare it to the Galaxy S II phones since the same benchmark apps aren't available for the iOS and Android OS.
The Galaxy S II phones from AT&T and Sprint have dual core 1.2 GHz processors, while the AT&T Skyrocket and the T-Mobile Galaxy S II Titanium have 1.5 GHz dual core processors. They all perform well and also have an edge when it comes to true multitasking, while the iPhone 4S has fast app switching and very limited multitasking (allowing apps to complete only certain tasks in the background when you switch).
When it comes to memory and storage, the iPhone 4S has advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the model you choose, it has more internal memory than any of the Galaxy S II devices, because it's available in sizes ranging from 16GB to 32GB. It does not, however, have any sort of memory card slot to add additional memory.
The Galaxy S II devices have 16GB of internal storage memory and also have a microSD slot that supports memory cards of up to 32GB in capacity. That means a top storage capacity of 48GB, less than the largest (and most expensive) iPhone 4S version, unless you want to deal with switching out the card on a regular basis. That would be quite a hassle, however, since the card slot is generally located in the battery compartment, and sometimes under the battery. For that reason, the iPhone wins when it comes to memory, assuming that the 64GB model is chosen.
This is Part 1 of a multi-part article. Part 2 continues the comparison of these two smartphones in the areas of voice quality, productivity, entertainment, price, and more.
Communication and Call Quality
Despite a name that can potentially confuse some consumers, the Apple iPhone 4S is not a 4G phone. While it performs quite capably, it simply can't download apps, email attachments, songs, videos, etc. as fast as the Galaxy S II devices, which are equipped with 4G network support. That's especially true of AT&T's Skyrocket, which is a 4G LTE device that is capable of incredible speed.
When it comes to call quality, this is another dead heat because performance here is based as much on network coverage and location as much as on the actual device. The AT&T iPhone is of course famous for missed and dropped calls, but then again I had just as much trouble with the Skyrocket when I was Christmas shopping at the mall last month. Your choice here should be based on the strength of your preferred carrier's network in your area.
Productivity and Entertainment
Apple's iOS 5 recently caught up to Android with the introduction of several key new features, such as iCloud and the improved notification system. With the improvements, the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy S II devices are on a relatively level playing field when it comes to PIM apps such as calendar and contacts. The iPhone has a slight advantage when it comes to location-based reminders and notes, since those aren't always included with Android smartphones.
The Galaxy S II devices win when it comes to Office apps, because they almost always come with a Microsoft Office compatible suite such as Quickoffice. The iPhone includes viewers for Word and Excel, so that you can open email attachments, but you can't edit them directly. You'll have to purchase apps such as Pages and Numbers from Apple or Documents to Go from a third party vendor; since they aren't included so you'll spend at least $15 to $20 for full Microsoft Office editing capabilities.
When it comes to voice functionality, the iPhone 4S blows away the competition thanks to the Siri personal assistant. It isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and can often mangle names when you're trying to address an email, but it is better than anything the Galaxy S II phones have to offer at this time.
For entertainment purposes, the iPhone 4S has the best music player built in, though the Galaxy S II devices can become much better music players than they are out of the box by downloading apps such as Google Music from the Android Market. The same major eBook apps are available for both platforms, as well as quite a few games, with developers porting them to both iOS and Android devices. Games that support the retina display on the iPhone 4S have the edge graphically, but the larger screen on the Galaxy S II devices can make it a little easier to play, since your fingers are less likely to block the onscreen action.
Both the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy S II devices have 8 megapixel cameras, and they are generally similar in picture quality and features, including LED flash capabilities. The same is true of video capture, as both the Apple and Samsung phones offer full HD video capture as 1080p and thirty frames per second. The Galaxy S II models have an advantage on the front-facing camera though, as they include a 2 megapixel front-facing camera, and on the iPhone that same front-facing camera only takes photos at VGA quality.
The iPhone 4S is rated for up to 8 hours of talk time on 3G and up to 14 hours on a GSM network, with a standby time of up to 200 hours. It fares better when it comes to entertainment purposes, such as ten hours of video playback or 40 hours of music. AT&T's Galaxy S II has a comparable talk time, but twice as much time in standby mode. In real life I haven't been able to get that same level of performance from either an iPhone 4S or any of the Galaxy S II devices that I've reviewed, but neither one is notably worse than the other.
The iPhone 4S ranges in price from $200 to $400, depending on the memory capacity you choose. That gives the edge to the Galaxy S II devices, that are typically $150 to $230 as long as you sign a new two-year service contract.
While there are advantages and disadvantages to each device, there isn't a clear cut winner for this comparison. The iPhone 4S wins when it comes to design appeal, portability, screen resolution, and maximum memory capacity, but the screen is smaller than the Galaxy S II devices, and it doesn't support memory expansion cards.
The Galaxy S II devices have larger screens and a larger footprint, but they include Microsoft Office document editor software, have better forward-facing cameras, and are less expensive when it comes to the initial outlay for a new device.
None of these differences are particularly important when it comes to upgrading from an older smartphone to a new one, because you've probably already chosen a favorite operating system (iOS5 or Android). The problem is more difficult for new users; though I believe that the iPhone 4S is friendlier and more accessible than Android, the Galaxy S II series of phones (especially the AT&T Skyrocket) is very impressive and available for a lower initial cost.
Your best bet is to try them both in a local store or by asking your friends and relatives to let you take their smartphones for a test drive of sorts. Either way you go, you'll be getting an extremely powerful device that will make your mobile life more productive and entertaining than it was before.