During the launch event for the iPhone 5s, Apple CEO Tim Cook told the crowd that “we don’t pack in feature after feature.” That was obviously a dig at Samsung, whose Galaxy S4 will be compete head to head starting Sept. 20. Not sure which smartphone to buy? We’re here to help.
The iPhone 5s is all about enhancing an already great phone, from a faster A7 processor and beefed-up camera to a new fingerprint sensor. On the other hand, the Galaxy S4 pushes the envelope with a cornucopia of features and some impressive specs of its own. Here’s how the two flagship smartphones stack up in multiple categories.
Editors’ Note: This comparison is based on features, specifications, our initial hands-on with the iPhone 5s and Galaxy S4 review. We will update our face-off once we conduct a full review of the iPhone 5s.
Apple knows how to make more beautiful and solidly built smartphones than Samsung, and that doesn’t change with the iPhone 5s. Now available in three color options: space gray, gold and silver, the 5s is just as light (3.9 ounces) and thin (.3 inches) as before while packing a lot more power. The gold version looks classy without being ostentatious. The chamfered edges still look great and have a premium vibe.
Meanwhile, the Galaxy S4 is an uninspired plastic slab. Yes, it’s light for having a larger 5-inch display, but the S4 doesn’t have a top-tier look or feel like the iPhone 5s. What we do like about the S4 is that the back is removable, allowing you to access the memory card slot and replace the battery. Samsung mixes a physical home button with capacitive keys beneath the screen, which works but doesn’t feel unified.
Early Winner: iPhone 5s. The iPhone 5 had a better design, and now you get more color options with the 5s.
There’s something that feels dated about the iPhone 5s’ 4-inch screen. At 1136 x 640 pixels, Apple’s device has a much lower resolution than the S4’s 1920 x 1080 pixels.
The S4 also has a full inch on the iPhone at 5 versus 4 inches. That’s a lot more room for watching videos, surfing the Web and playing games.
On the plus side for iPhone fans, assuming Apple choose the same panel for the 5s, it should be brighter than the S4. Just like the iPhone 5, we expect this screen to be much easier to read outdoors.
Early Winner: Galaxy S4. A bigger and sharper screen in the Samsung outweighs the iPhone 5’s brighter LCD.
Interface and Software
The iPhone 5s gets a whole new look with iOS 7, which brings some much-needed enhancements to the table. Our favorite new features include improved multitasking (just double tap the home button to see a new thumbnail view of recent apps) and Control Center for tweaking settings on the fly such as Wi-Fi, Airplane Mode and Screen brightness. A new Notification Center gives you a Today view for info you need to know now, and separate tabs for All and Missed alerts.
While iOS 7 looks more polished, it’s also less familiar than previous versions of Apple’s iPhone software. In an effort to make the design flat and modern, some of the app icons look downright strange, such as Game Center and Safari. Take the descriptions away and many folks wouldn’t know what apps these were.
While busier, the Galaxy S4’s TouchWiz UI gives you notifications and quick settings in a single view. You can also customize the order of these settings. Multitasking is accomplished via Android’s standard recent apps menu.
Where the S4 pulls ahead is its lock screen customizations and split-screen multitasking. We really appreciate that Samsung’s TouchWiz lets you unlock to any app that you want. And with the Multi-Window feature, you can run two apps on the screen at the same time. Add in widget support a keyboard with next-word prediction and swipe typing and the S4 takes this round.
Early Winner: Samsung Galaxy S4. The iPhone 5s catches up to the S4 in some ways with iOS 7, but Samsung’s device still has an edge in terms of personalization.
Specs and Performance
The iPhone 5s sports an all-new A7 chip and 64-bit architecture that promises double the performance and graphics might. And the iPhone 5 was already one of the fastest phones on the market.
Apple showed off these performance gains at its launch event with the upcoming Infinity Blade 3, which promises to blow away every Android game when it comes to eye candy. Assuming developers embrace the A7 chip quickly, a new wave of high-performance apps could sway some users from the S4 to the iPhone 5s.
The Galaxy S4 is no slouch in the performance department, rocking a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU. In many head-to-head benchmarks, the S4 beat the iPhone 5, but it lost out in terms of real-world performance. The S4 simply exhibited more lag. And now that the iPhone 5s is seeing a major upgrade, it should easily be one of the fastest phones on the planet.
Early Winner: iPhone 5s. From gaming and navigating the interface to crunching video, it looks like the 5s will be the zippier than the S4.
The standout feature on the iPhone 5s is its fingerprint sensor. Touch ID lets you unlock your device or make iTunes purchases just by touching your finger on a sensor built into the phone’s home button. This feature could be a huge time-saver, especially since many of us glance at our phones more than 100 times per day.
The iPhone 5s also packs a M7 motion coprocessor, which is designed to be used with fitness apps. Nike is one of the first partners on board. The idea of the M7 coprocessor is to capture motion data while using less power. The iPhone 5s is smart enough to know if you’re driving or walking, so it can transition to walking directions automatically after you park.
With iOS 7, Siri gets an upgrade with improved performance and better Twitter integration. You can also issue commands for the assistant to perform tasks, such as returning calls.
The Galaxy S4 is all about special features. But which ones live up to the hype? Although the eye scrolling is hit or miss, we appreciate Air Gestures for answering the phone or skipping music tracks with a wave of your hand. Air View can come in handy for previewing content (like emails) just by hovering your finger above the screen— but it can also be too sensitive.
The S4 can also double as a remote control, letting you see what’s on and change the channel from across the room. Other features include S Health for keeping track of your fitness and S Translate for translating multiple languages (speech and text).
Early Winner: Samsung Galaxy S4. This round isn’t as much of a blow-out as you might think, but the S4 still wins when it comes to extra features.
Apple didn’t bump up the resolution on its 8-MP iSight camera, but the iPhone 5s still represents a significant imaging upgrade. The sensor is 15 percent larger, and there’s bigger pixels and a f/2.2 aperture. So users should expect brighter and crisper image. Other highlights include a continuous burst mode (the iPhone 5s presents what it thinks is the best photo) and a dual True Tone flash for more natural-looking photos.
The iPhone 5s doesn’t stop there. You can record video in slow-motion, and the handset offers auto image stabilization to cut down on shaky photos and footage.
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 has a higher megapixel count of 13-MP, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. In fact, in our head to head with the iPhone 5, Apple’s earlier phone took better looking photos most of the time.
However, the S4 trounces the iPhone 5s when it comes to camera features. From a dual camera mode that lets you shoot yourself and your subject at the same time to an Eraser mode that gets rid of would-be photobombers, the S4 can just do a lot more. Other cool features include a Drama Shot mode (sequence shots) and Animated Photo mode (GIFs).
Early Winner: iPhone 5s. Although the Galaxy S4 wins in terms of features, the iPhone 5s should deliver even better images than the iPhone 5 and Samsung’s flagship.
Apple doesn’t list the capacity of its battery on the iPhone 5s, but it promises two extra hours of runtime versus the iPhone 5. For example, whereas Apple rated the iPhone 5 for up to 8 hours of Internet use on LTE, that number is now 10 hours for the iPhone 5s.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 offered decent battery life on our testing across most of the major carriers. The Sprint version’s 2,600 mAh battery lasted 5 hours and 49 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE on 40 percent brightness. That’s below the 6:06 smartphone category average, but the S4 lasted a better 6:05 with its power saving mode turned on.
The AT&T version lasted 5:13 and 5:54, respectively in regular and power saving mode, while the Verizon model lasted 5:25 in standard mode. Fortunately, the S4′s battery is removable, so you can swap in a new pack or buy and extra-capacity battery.
Early Winner: iPhone 5s. Although we need to test the latest iPhone to see if its higher capacity battery delivers better endurance, it looks as though Apple’s sequel will last longer than the S4′s below-average battery life.
The iPhone 5s extends Apple’s lead in areas where it already had the Galaxy S4 beat. You get more speed and a better camera in a design that’s just as sleek. The new color options help, too, especially for those looking to upgrade to a device that won’t look the same. Having extra battery life is yet another plus, though we still need to test Apple’s claims. For now, Touch ID seems like a very nice convenience but not a must-have feature, at least until Apple lets third-party apps tap into the 5s’ fingerprint sensor.
On the other hand, the Galaxy S4 still remains a great choice because of its bigger and sharper 5-inch display and its more customizable interface. iOS 7 has caught up in terms of switching apps and adjusting settings quickly, but we prefer how the S4 combines notifications with quick settings. And only the S4 lets you unlock to any app you want. The S4 also beats the iPhone 5 in terms of special features, such as its TV remote control, gesture support and multiple camera modes. Want a removable battery? Get the S4.
So which is the better phone? The iPhone 5s is the better choice for those who demand faster performance and a superior camera in a design that’s easier to use with one hand. But if bigger is better for you — both in terms of screen size and features — the S4 is the way to go.