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Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Apple iPhone 5S: What's the difference?

MWC 2014
by Russell Holly, 25 Feb 2014
Samsung Galaxy S5 vs Apple iPhone 5S: What's the difference?

Apple and Samsung are the big names in mobile right now, and their flagship phones are the standards by which everything else is compared today. With Samsung introducing the new Galaxy S5 on stage in Barcelona yesterday, it seems only fair to compare it to the other big name in the crowd.

With the Galaxy S5, Samsung has focused hard on creating new experiences inside a similar design. The phone has seen a lot of internal changes in the way it accomplishes tasks, with a new focus on day-to-day usage and a huge effort towards simplistic user interfaces. Sound familiar? It should, because we’ve recently seen Apple go through the same transformation with iOS 7. There are a significant number of parallels that can be drawn between these two ecosystems, despite the fact that they’re represented by hardware that couldn’t look more different. Which is the better phone, inside the better ecosystem, with the best overall experience? Let’s take an in-depth look.

Design

Samsung keeps pushing the S line bigger and bigger, and this year is no exception. The 5.1in beast is only a slight twist on Samsung design on the outside. The plastic casing and bright colours are exactly what you expect from Samsung, with the same oval button in the middle. The rear casing of the S5 sports a new texture to help avoid accidental slips, but otherwise it’s the Samsung design that you already dislike, or you currently have in your pocket.

Apple is another company which is repetitive in terms of its external aesthetics, but the svelte textured aluminium design of the iPhone 5S makes the phone feel like it should be an expensive piece of equipment. The 4in display is what Samsung is currently calling Mini in some of the firm’s other products, and it’s hard to disagree anymore. There’s not many people out there who would complain about a larger iPhone anymore, which creates an amusing pair of extremes when comparing the S5 and 5S to one another.

There’s no clear winner when it comes to how big the phone is, but it can’t be argued that the iPhone 5S looks and feels like a premium device compared to the Samsung Galaxy S5.

Specs

This is a touchy subject for a couple of reasons, most notably because Samsung is guilty of both feeling slower than similarly equipped Android phones, and cheating on performance benchmarks. We’ve been assured and shown that the Galaxy S5 features a slimmer and trimmer TouchWiz, so there’s a good chance that Samsung is going to be more than enough competition for Apple.

The 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor with 2GB of RAM driving a 432ppi 1080p display sounds eerily similar to the Google Nexus 5 – speaking of which, we have a Galaxy S5 versus Nexus 5 spec comparison here – and it makes the phone a powerhouse that is more than capable of delivering on whatever needs you may have. On top of raw power, Samsung has included an impressive new heartbeat sensor and a new system for optimising the display colour and gamut for whatever environment you’re in. Despite looking the same on the outside, this is an impressive Galaxy on the inside.

Apple has a well-documented history with its mobile devices and the performance levels they are capable of. Despite being underpowered on paper, Cupertino’s devices have repeatedly outclassed their Android counterparts in both completing basic tasks and complex things like games. The iPhone 5S is packing a 64-bit processor that didn’t do much to make it more powerful, but makes it a unique force to compete with. Unfortunately, Apple’s infamous 326ppi Retina display is dramatically less capable than Samsung’s latest, with no optimisations outside of brightness for different environments.

Samsung clearly has the leg up on Apple when it comes to what is written on paper, but the Galaxy S5 is facing a long history of being disappointing despite packing a superior punch. The Galaxy S5 takes this category, but only time will tell if the handset actually deserves it.

Camera

Apple has long been king of the mountain of inferior smartphone cameras, but last year Samsung and HTC both offered up competition that was impressive to say the least. This year’s offerings are evidence that Samsung has gone back to the drawing board and paid close attention to what users want in a great smartphone camera. Is that enough to challenge Apple?

The Galaxy S5 will be sold with a camera capable of taking photos twice the size of those the iPhone 5S snaps, but that’s really all it means when you see that one phone has a 16-megapixel shooter and the other has an 8-megapixel snapper. Apple’s sapphire glass-covered camera takes photos that look great and occupy less space on internal storage than Samsung’s phone, but when it comes down to it the Galaxy S5 offers some impressive new features that Apple can’t hope to match.

Live Preview, for example, allows the user to see hipster filters, HDR, and other improvements in real time before the photo is taken. It empowers the user to take as much or as little time taking the shot as they want, with an insanely fast 0.3-second autofocus. It’s a powerful camera, capable of operating in many different environments, but it’s lacking something Apple added to the 5S to make it truly shine.

Apple’s iPhone 5S camera is coupled with a special two-stage flash that works together to create the best light temperature for the photo you are taking. It’s this special flash that keeps iPhone 5S photos from seeming blown out by white light or too dark because you’ve given up and turned off the flash entirely. Samsung is not going to be able to offer this same experience in low lighting situations, which will cause problems for some users.

Ultimately, the best camera is going to be the one that is the most user-friendly, and that delivers the best point-and-shoot capabilities. Samsung is going to take the cake on this one, with Live Preview being something that just can’t be found anywhere else, combined with a fun new UI and a crazy fast autofocus speed.

Operating system and ecosystem

This may seem like the classic iOS versus Android argument, but the truth is Samsung phones are in their own category nowadays. They are one of the only Android OEMs still using physical buttons, and their user interface is often so far from what everyone else running Android is doing that it is worth comparing the Samsung Experience in its own right.

Android 4.4.2 is the underlying OS for the Samsung Galaxy S5, with the visual overlay and feature package Samsung calls TouchWiz. In the past there has been a measurable decrease in performance when comparing TouchWiz-based phones to stock Android. Last year, the Galaxy S4 did away with that when it demonstrated it was just as capable as its “pure” counterparts. Samsung has continued to optimise its code, and included security features and fitness features baked into a fingerprint scanner and heartbeat monitor. The Galaxy S5 also benefits from the Google Play Store, which allows it to access just about every app ever.

Samsung’s OS enhancements break the UI down into a kids mode, and also an easy mode to allow people who aren’t you to have access to some basic features without giving them your whole phone. These modes can be easily activated and secured, and do not in any way affect your normal phone operation.

The iPhone 5S is packing iOS 7, which has software designed for security and fitness around a motion coprocessor and Touch ID fingerprint system. The App Store for iOS 7 is larger than the Google Play Store, but the two services have been considered equals for some time now (more or less). One user is essentially all iOS can handle, and while the OS is snappy and beautiful, it’s designed to offer a streamlined experience with access to all of your individual experiences as they live in their own sandboxes.

Samsung’s vision for Android trumps iOS for little other reason than the OS has been modified to support how users actually use their phones. Parents give phones to kids to play games, users spend time creating experiences that are uniquely theirs, and at the end of the day there’s no real way to accomplish that on iOS without jailbreaking.

Battery

Android phones are notorious for having poor battery life, compared to iOS devices which seem to be almost exactly what Apple says they will be. The Galaxy S5 is packing a 2800mAh battery, nearly twice the size of the 1570mAh battery in the iPhone 5S, but it’s going to consume a great deal more juice due to the larger screen, and because it is running Android.

When it comes to what Samsung claims the battery can do, the numbers add up to an incredible experience. Unfortunately, history has taught us that those numbers are rarely accurate. The Galaxy S5 boasts 21 hours of talk time, but even if you cut that in half you’d get an hour longer than what Apple claims the iPhone 5S is capable of. On top of this, the Galaxy S5 offers an Ultra Power Save Mode that strips the phone down to its bare features when the battery drops below 35 per cent, so the phone lasts even longer if you need it to.

Apple’s hardware routinely does exactly what Cupertino claims, and for most people, that means the iPhone 5S lasts almost exactly 10 hours every day. That’s not always a full day out and about for a lot of folks, but it’s consistent and something users can rely on. Unfortunately, there are more than a few phones out there that can beat that under the same conditions. Without a doubt, Samsung offers superior battery life with the Galaxy S5.

And the winner is…

Samsung may not have completely redesigned its phone or completely overhauled the user interface, but it can’t be argued that the Galaxy S5 is a welcome departure from the chaotic and confusing experience offered by previous iterations. The iPhone 5S is an incredibly impressive device, which is why it is so shocking to see that there’s more than a good chance that Samsung’s new Galaxy is likely to outclass it at every turn.

For more on the freshly unveiled Galaxy S5, check out our Galaxy S5 versus Galaxy S4 spec comparison, and the Galaxy S5 versus Nexus 5 battle.

You might also want to see our closer look at the Samsung Galaxy S5, which notes that it's gimmicky, but still the best smartphone in the world, and we've got a full hands-on preview of the S5, too.

And for all the latest news, photos and analysis from MWC 2014, check out our live coverage of the event.

  Apple iPhone 5S Samsung Galaxy S5

Display

   
Screen size 4in  5.1in
Resolution 1,136 x 640 pixels  1,920 x 1,080 pixels
Pixel density 326ppi  441ppi
Type IPS LCD  AMOLED

Processor and battery

   
Family Apple A7  Exynos 6 / Snapdragon 801
CPU ARMv8  Krait 400
Cores Dual-core  Quad-core
Clock speed 1.3GHz  2.5GHz
GPU PowerVR G6430  Adreno 330
Battery 1,560mAh  2,800mAh
Claimed 3G talk time Up to 10h  Up to 21h

Storage and memory

   
RAM 1GB  2GB
Internal storage 16GB /32GB/64GB  32GB / 64GB
microSD No  Yes

Camera

   
Rear 8-megapixel  16-megapixel
Video 1080p @ 30fps  1080p
Front 1.2-megapixel  2.1-megapixel

Wireless

   
Standard 4G LTE  4G LTE
Wi-Fi 802.11 a / b / g / n  WiFi 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac
NFC No  Yes
Bluetooth v4.0  v4.0
Integrated wireless charging No  Yes

Dimensions

   
Size 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6mm 142 x 72.5 x 8.1mm
Weight 112g  145g
Operating System iOS 7 Android 4.4 KitKat
Price (SIM-free) £549 (16GB) / £629 (32GB) / £709 (64GB) TBC
Availability On sale  11 April 2014
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