Samsung Galaxy Nexus vs Nokia Lumia 800 vs iPhone 4S Comparison/Review. Part 1 – Hardware & Performance
Choosing a smartphone to carry for the next year or two is a difficult task these days. There are tens of devices running on 7 operating systems/platforms, at prices ranging from 100 to 600 Euro. To make that choice a little bit easier we took a closer look at the flagships representing 3 smartphone platforms, to see how will they fare against each other.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus represented Google’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, iPhone 4S stood for Apple’s iOS 5 and Nokia Lumia 800 for Windows Phone 7.5 Mango.
In the first part of this comparison/review we look we checked out the device hardware and performance. In the second part tomorrow we will look at software and features.
Design & Ergonomics
The Galaxy Nexus remains true to its Samsung roots as it is mainly based on different kinds of plastic. The build materials aren’t necessarily cheap but rather very uninspiring, especially for a high-end device. The design is also kept very simple, where the only diversity comes from the textured battery cover, while the front of the device is completely bare and button-less. The phone sits quite nicely in palms thanks to the slight hump at the back, but due to the enormous size of the screen – 4.65 inches – the overall usability takes a hit.
Clearly ambitious in its undertaking, Apple iPhone 4S takes the design to extreme heights. The phone consists of two glass panels separated by a stainless steel frame (thankfully the antenna problems have been resolved with 4S), which makes the phone pretty to look at, but also quite impractical. The glossy glass surface can easily get smeared with fingerprints, and getting it scratched isn’t too hard either if you’re not careful. On top of all that, the phone is extremely slippery, and we’ve already seen some vivid examples of what happens when the glass structure of iPhone 4 meets its worst enemy: the gravity. These undoubtedly premium materials also contribute towards making 4S the heaviest phone in this test.
Nokia 800 Lumia seems to take the golden middle ground both in terms of built materials and usability. It’s made from a solid block of polycarbonate plastic that is not only eye-catching but also quite practical as it barely leaves any fingerprints. The smooth surface and curved sides of the shell also provide some extra grip in comparison to the other two phones in this test. The screen is also decently sized – 3.7 inches – which makes 800 Lumia neither too small nor too big, so the phone fits nicely in hands and pockets alike.
All three are standard candybar touchscreen phones, and as a result, the quality of the display has an immense impact on their look, feel and usability. Unsurprisingly, the first phone to separate from the rest is the Galaxy Nexus with its sheer size of the screen that literally dwarfs the tiny in comparison screen on the iPhone 4S.
(In this and other display pics: top – Lumia 800, middle – Galaxy Nexus, bottom – iPhone 4S)
But there’s far more to Galaxy Nexus than just the physical dimensions of the screen. Samsung has also equipped Galaxy Nexus with an HD quality screen of 1280 x 720 pixels that can easily rival and surpass Apple’s retina display (960 x 640 pixels). Due to smaller physical size, the 3.5 inch screen on iPhone 4S offers a slightly higher pixel density than Galaxy Nexus (316 vs 330 ppi), but both screens look incredibly sharp and detailed. On the other hand, the WVGA resolution of 480 x 800 pixels doesn’t look quite as impressive on Nokia’s 3.7 inch screen.
In terms of picture quality, Samsung Galaxy Nexus with its AMOLED display (in the middle) also comes first, followed closely by Nokia’s own AMOLED display (top), and Apple, unsurprisingly, taking up the rear with its LED-backlit IPS TFT screen. All phones have exceptional viewing angles and great sunlight legibility, but Nokia’s screen comes off as noticeably darker for some reason.
While the physical size could be an issue for some users, it’s easy to recommend Galaxy Nexus HD screen that puts its rivals to shame with the combination of vibrant colors, great contracts and just the sheer amount detail. This especially applies to users who find themselves frequently surfing the web or watching movies on a phone – those particular kind of experiences are head and shoulders above the competition.
All 3 phones are considered high-end smartphones and are equipped accordingly to run their environments. There are, of course, some notable differences in the hardware amongst the three.
Android has proven to be the more resource heavy OS, and the speedy 1.2 GHz dual-core processor and a whopping 1 GB of RAM really comes into play on Galaxy Nexus to ensure a very fluid and responsive user experience. Unlike most other Android phones with their custom skins or launchers that sip away extra processing power, the Galaxy Nexus additionally benefits from running a clean, unaltered version of the OS.
Apple, and, more recently, Microsoft, has taken a different kind of approach by strictly tailoring hardware to their OS. As a result, Windows Phone 7 runs nicely with the single core 1.4 GHz Scorpion CPU on board the Lumia 800, and no noticeable hiccups were encountered while performing tasks.
The dual-core 1 GHz Cortex-A9 processor on the iPhone 4S, on the other hand, feels more like a response to the market’s shift to dual-core smartphones. The most dramatic improvement over the older generation iPhones is the increased performance in graphically demanding 3D games, and as such, the 4S is well catered towards people who are passionate about this form of digital entertainment.
As mentioned earlier, all phones in this test showed admirable performance on their respective platforms, and opening & switching between apps happened with no interruptions in most cases. If, however, we had to nominate the winner solely judging by its raw computing power, then Galaxy Nexus would take this round.
By looking at the specs sheet, it appears like Samsung Galaxy Nexus will be not on equal footing in this part of the test. While its hardware in many ways derives from Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S2, the camera has been reduced from 8 to 5 Mpix, which is exactly the same amount as the last Google phone, the Nexus S. On the opposite side of the ring, the other two contestants share a similarity for once as they both are keen to show off their cameras in the same 8Mpix league.
Despite the inferior megapixel count, the underlying improvements in Galaxy Nexus camera in comparison to its predecessor were enough to make the end result look good. Even more so, the quality of the still shots is fairly acceptable in comparison to the other 2 phones in this test.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Apple iPhone 4S
Nokia 800 Lumia
The biggest disappointment, and surprise, comes from Nokia Lumia 800 – the Finns usually put a lot more effort in their smartphone cameras. On the surface, the photos taken with Lumia 800 appear to be OK, but closer inspection reveals that some finer detail is washed away. Could that perhaps be noticeably improved with subsequent software updates? Only time will tell.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Apple iPhone 4S
Nokia 800 Lumia
The camera interface is pretty straightforward and easy to use on all 3 phones, but Nokia does earn a few points back with its more expansive settings that allow tweaking things like white balance, contract, saturation and ISO. In comparison, the Galaxy Nexus and especially iPhone 4S camera settings are very bland, but nothing some 3rd party apps couldn’t fix.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Due to the very limiting dimensions of phones, the built-in cameras have always been about having the right compromises. In that respect, the iPhone 4S camera, even though far from showing flawless performance, did manage to deliver the most consistent results throughout the tests. More often than not, this 8Mpix shooter from Apple impressed me with its rich colors and sharp detail, and the ability to take HDR pics right from the start proved to be the icing on the cake.
Depending on the user, the results here can vary drastically. The 1430 mAh Li-Po battery took iPhone 4S to the top position in our tests, giving almost 2 full days of moderate usage. That feat was followed with solid 1.5 days from Nokia Lumia 800 with its 1450 mAh battery. Despite having the beefiest battery – 1750 mAh – Galaxy Nexus came in last with an up-time of slightly above one day. It didn’t do too bad – in fact, with its massive screen, the Android could have fared much worse than it actually did.
Also worth noting, Galaxy Nexus is the only phone in this test with a replaceable battery. So, if you’re used to prolonging your phone’s life with an extra battery pack or two, you should take that into a serious consideration.
That’s about it for the hardware bit of our Galaxy Nexus vs Lumia 800 vs iPhone 4S review. Check back tomorrow for the second part, where we take a closer look into what makes these devices tick – the software and features inside.