This is the second and closing part of our comparison/ review featuring Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Apple iPhone 4S and Nokia Lumia 800. In the first part, we had a closer look at the hardware and performance of the three flagships. Today we’ll compare and highlight differences in the software platforms and overall user experience on each device.
We also reveal which phone we believe comes on top in this test, and draw some other interesting conclusions at the very end. One thing is for sure: all three are well rounded high-end smartphones that are interesting and unique in their own right.
Read on to find out more.
With Galaxy Nexus, iPhone 4S and Lumia 800 on hand, we’ve got all three major smartphone operating systems present in this test – Android 4.0, iOS5 and Windows Phone 7 respectively. It’s safe to say that the operating system is where the most striking differences will come out that will have big – if not the biggest – impact on your day-to-day experience using the smartphone.
Android 4.0, also codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) by Google, has seen a number of notable changes in the UI in an effort to make the OS more user friendly, and also to unify the mobile and tablet versions of this OS. The underlying structure of Android, including its greatest qualities, remained unchanged. In comparison to the other two players in this test, Android provides user with the richest customization options, most notably with the 5 homescreens that can be populated with useful widgets as well as application shortcuts.
Unlike Android, iOS visually changed very little since 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone and revolutionized the touchscreen user interface on mobiles. There’s the horizontally scrollable grid of apps and folder, while an omnipresent bar with 4 shortcuts sits near the bottom of the screen.
It’s clear that Apple is still reluctant to wander even half-step away from the winning formula that has simplicity as one of its main draws. With iOS5, however, Apple managed to nab some successful ideas from competitors, most notably the ‘new’ notification center that combines all system and app events into a pull-down window that is extremely reminiscent to that on Android. The change is nevertheless very welcome in iOS5 and iPhone 4S, especially because it fits so organically with the rest of the OS, enriching the already solid user experience.
Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 follows closely iOS philosophy in simplicity but with its very own tiles inspired user interface. Nokia Lumia 800 ships with Windows Phone 7.5 update, codenamed ‘Mango’. The main idea of this mobile operating system revolves around having everything easily accessible in a vertical grid of live tiles that Microsoft calls Metro UI.
The tiles can be re-organized on the homescreen, and new ones can be quickly added from the application list. In terms of customization, however, WP7 is still quite basic and in a similar league with iOS5. However, if you especially look for a phone with a fresh approach to user interface, and large, easy to read fonts, then Windows Phone 7 is probably the way to go.
While Android remains clearly unbeaten in terms of offering the most freedom in tweaking the look & feel of the system, it also has the steepest learning curve among all three platforms. On the other hand, Windows Phone 7 with Metro UI is not only interesting to look at, but also provides the most intuitive user experience on a mobile phone so far.
Pre-installed apps & services
Android takes the most liberal approach from the three platforms as it allows a more or less traditional method of mass file storage. Just like using a flash memory stick, the user can easily move any kind of content to and from Galaxy Nexus mass memory without the need of dedicated desktop software (provided, you use a Windows PC). The disappointing part is that Galaxy Nexus memory is non-expandable since the phone lacks an SD card slot. The good news – in comparison to previous versions of Android on phones, ICS allows the use of all built-in storage space for app install purposes.
Aside from core Android apps, Galaxy Nexus also unsurprisingly comes pre-loaded with a range of different Google specific apps that most are already familiar with, like GMaps, Google+ or Google Books. There’s nothing else beyond that – after all, Galaxy Nexus is a ‘Google phone’ that is meant to provide a stock Android experience – the user is set free to mold the phone in accordance to his or hers liking.
The iPhone 4S is closely tied to iTunes ecosystem, and the desktop app is the central hub for syncing content wirelessly or via USB. Among pre-installed regulars like Google Maps, Safari web browser or music player, there’re also some new services from Apple including iCloud, iMessage and Siri.
As the name already implies, iCloud is cloud-based content management service that comes with free 5GB of virtual space for every iSO5 user. The service automatically backs-up and restores user content like contacts, photos, documents and apps, and thus is extremely useful if you own other iDevices with the same Apple ID. Another useful service is iMessage as it enables free instant messaging between iOS5 devices using Wi-Fi or 3G connection. Siri is the more novel feature that is sort of a personal digital assistant that can provide information (like current time, weather or maps directions), set up reminders, record notes (there’s a dictation feature) or play your favorite song on request. But whether Siri will become a serious asset to your mobile experience or ultimately end up as a gimmick – that will depend entirely on you. The built-in social networking integration in iOS5 is limited to Twitter only, so you’ll have to look into some 3rd party solutions for the complete set.
On Windows Phone, content is synced via USB or Wi-Fi connection using Microsoft’s Zune desktop software. Quite annoyingly, there’s no traditional mass storage mode, so transferring local files, such as photos or music, is a no-go without Zune. From notable pre-installed apps, there’s Nokia Maps & Nokia Drive to fill in your digital navigation needs, and XBox Live, that serves as the central hub for gaming on WP7 and syncs with your 360’s Avatar and Achievements.
Document viewing and editing is already built-in and handled by the free Office app. Thanks to SkyDrive integration, documents are also stored in the cloud (user gets 25GB of space for free) where they can be easily shared between the phone and computer. The email app is extremely straightforward to setup, and allows managing several inboxes from a single place. Built-on social networking features are also well covered, and you can setup Twitter, Facebook and Windows Live accounts that will automatically consolidate with your phonebook. While it might sound rather complicated, the execution as it turns out is pretty slick, but you do need to have use for social networks to really appreciate all those extra features.
From the perspective of built-in features, Nokia Lumia 800 with WP7 shows the strongest performance in this test – there’s barely any need for 3rd party apps to hit the ground running.
However, a developed ecosystem is important above and beyond, and this is where iOS5 on iPhone 4S shines with its cloud support that provides a truly engrossing experience.
A place where you can browse, buy and download third-party apps for your phone, the app store is an indispensable part of any working smartphone ecosystem. While the ecosystem is designed to keep you engrossed, it’s the constant supply of new apps that keeps the experience fresh and interesting.
Both the Android Market and Apple App Store excel with their incredibly rich libraries, and there’s very little sense in trying to highlight which one is the largest. Android Market has considerably more free apps to offer, while the App Store remains unbeaten in the number of quality gaming tittles, but even there Android is catching up fast.
Comparatively speaking, the most struggling here is Windows Marketplace. Apps and games are usually a great deal more expensive than on other platforms, and the selection, although improving at a steady pace, is nowhere near the app stores from Google or Apple. The importance of this might depend entirely on the user: if you plan on using just a select few 3rd party apps with your Nokia Lumia 800, then Windows Marketplace might even satisfy you completely.
A good idea would be to check the Marketplace website beforehand, to see what is actually there and what is missing. It could very well be that the particular app you know and love on another platform is also present on WP7. Or, at the very least, there’s a decent enough alternative available.
If you love exploring and trying new apps, then Android should be on top of your list. The redesigned Android Market provides a comprehensive overview of apps – new and old alike – and the background installs and updates on Galaxy Nexus happen so effortlessly it’s hard not to recommend Android over other platforms in this section.
When deciding smartphone to pick as your communications device for the next two years, the price is no minor consideration. , whether you get it for free with 24 monthly payments commitment, or shell out a hefty sum up-front. To help you decide – we checked the prices at which Nokia Lumia 800, Galaxy Nexus and iPhone 4S are available in U.K.
Operator prices in the table are in British Pounds, for the cheapest monthly plan on which you can get your smartphone for free, on 24 month contract. Unlocked prices are from Amazon UK.
As we mentioned early on, all three phones have something unique and worthwhile to offer. That, of course, only makes the final decision harder to make. But, if we absolutely had to pick an overall winner in this test, then it would be the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
The Google phone smashed its competition with a brilliant quality HD screen, impressed with the OS customization options and the vast amount of free apps in the Android Market. It was also the only phone that struck us with that old-school smartphone vibe that seems to be missing on other major platforms. At the same time, Apple iPhone 4S drew us in with its versatile 8 Mpix camera and very tight integration with other iDevices. And, finally, Nokia Lumia 800 won us over with its intuitive user interface, rich built-in features and attractive monoblock design.
It should be obvious by now that none of the phones are universally flawless, and careful deliberation of each platform’s weakness and strengths in the light of user’s priorities is required. Because it’s not just about the hardware that you buy – now the emphasis should be on the software and services that comes along with the phone.
If you already own a Mac, an iPad and watch your movies via Apple TV – the choice is obvious – the iPhone 4S. The new Apple phone will also be the best choice for those who like to explore an incredibly rich app ecosystem available for iOS devices, and who do not mind paying additional £100+ for the privilege.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the best choice if you like to tinker with your mobile device. Various launcher apps, third party firmware and tons of other customization options in an unfettered Google Experience device makes this phone a geek’s dream. It’s also for those who rely a lot on various Google cloud services. You simply won’t get a better integration of those features anywhere else. If you think that the bigger the display the better the device – Galaxy Nexus is also the best choice. But be warned – the screen real estate comes at a price. The Google flagship is huge, and one hand operation can be a challenge even for the biggest hands.
Nokia Lumia 800 is the best device if you are just moving into smartphones after dumping your good old feature phone, and wouldn’t mind saving £100 while still getting a first class smartphone experience. Windows Phone 7 OS is super simple to set up and use even if you are a complete newbie. It also has the best Facebook integration around. So, if you have a lot of FB friends, you won’t go wrong with new Lumia. The same for Microsoft Office and XBox integration.
Choosing which platform you will invest in – Android, iOS or Windows Phone – can have an enormous influence over what phones you will continue buying in the future. So it goes without saying – choose wisely – and, on top of all, enjoy!