Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant vs. Apple iPhone 4: A touchy comparison


Samsung's Galaxy S Vibrant (left) and Apple's iPhone 4 (right). Click for larger image.

Samsung's Galaxy S Vibrant (left) and Apple's iPhone 4 (right). Click for larger image.

Though it shocks a lot of people when they find out, the truth is I have never spent much time with an iPhone. Sure I’ve used one on an occasional basis as friends and colleagues have let me play with theirs, but my primary device has always been a BlackBerry.

But my good ol’ BlackBerry Curve is beginning to show its age in a big way and I’m gearing up for my next mobile device. The question is, do I stay with the King of the Keyboard or do I throw caution to the wind and join the legions of people who have ditched physical buttons for touch screens? As luck would have it, both Samsung and Apple were kind enough to lend me their flagship smartphones to perform a head-to-head comparison. I’ve now had the Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant for a month and the iPhone 4 for two weeks. And though we don’t have room here to discuss every aspect of these two high-tech marvels, here are my thoughts on how they stack up in a few key areas.

Screen

The first thing you notice about the Galaxy S Vibrant is how it lives up to its name. The Super AMOLED touch screen which measures 4” and has a 480×800 resolution is truly stunning. The blacks are deep; the colours are rich and jewel-like. I’ve always preferred OLED to LCD when it comes to HDTV displays (though sadly this use of the technology has yet to catch on at the manufacturing stage) and the same is true when it comes to the mobile arena. The iPhone 4 uses an LED-backlit IPS-LCD screen at 3.5” with an astounding 640×960 resolution which they refer to as a “Retina Display”. Though the specs are impressive, in comparing the iPhone 4 to the Galaxy S, I didn’t find that text was any easier to read on the iPhone or that images were any sharper. Both phones have excellent screens, but the Galaxy S’s larger and brighter display makes for a better viewing experience.

Text Input

The obvious benefit to touch screen phones over their physical-keyboard brethren is the larger display area and easy, gesture-based interaction. But when it comes to typing, many people find that real buttons can’t be replaced with soft ones. I’ve always been one of those people and it’s been the biggest reason for sticking with my BlackBerry. As I had suspected, typing on the iPhone 4 – even in landscape orientation with a wider keyboard layout – was difficult and required a lot of backspacing. Over the years, my thumbs have developed such familiarity with the location of letters on my BlackBerry Curve that I can often watch the screen and not the keys while maintaining a very good level of accuracy. I recognize that I might get there with the iPhone given enough practice and there are plenty of iPhone users who demonstrate superb typing skills. But the thought of having to go through the inevitable months of pain while I condition myself to a totally different system depresses me.

And then I discovered Swype. And the world changed just a little. Swype is software that ships with the Galaxy S Vibrant and it gives users a completely new way to interact with the soft keyboard on their phone. Instead of trying to accurately hit those little keys, Swype only asks that you trace a path on the keyboard from one letter to the other. You don’t even have to be all that accurate. At the end of the word, remove your finger from the screen and voila – the word you were typing, er, swyping, automatically appears.

It sounds like magic and most of the people who I show Swype to have the same reaction: “No way!” It’s that good. So good in fact that when I switch from the Galaxy S back to the iPhone, I’m even more irritated by the iPhone’s keyboard. Every touch screen phone should come with Swype.

Form Factor

The two phones are fairly similar in outward appearance: Black slabs that are all-screen with a few physical buttons on their front and sides. The Galaxy S is slightly larger in width and height but is lighter in the hand than the iPhone. To some this will feel good – especially if you plan to carry it in your pocket, while others will prefer the iPhone’s heft and its solid feel. The iPhone claims to be the thinnest smartphone on the planet, and while that might be true, you’d need a magnifying glass to be aware of the difference between these devices.

The Galaxy S keeps its power/wake-up button on the side near the top of the phone while the iPhone maintains its traditional top-mount location. While I prefer the iPhone layout, it’s not a big deal. More impactful are the Galaxy S’s three navigation buttons at the bottom of the phone. Nowhere else does the Android vs. iOS experience become so similar to the PC vs. Mac debate. Apple has always maintained that a one-button mouse should suffice when using a computer while PC mice typically feature two or more buttons. And so it goes with the iPhone – a single “home” button that performs several tasks, while the Galaxy S offers the same physical button, but flanked by two dedicated soft-touch keys: “menu” on the left and “back” on the right.

I’m going to take a guess that if you agree with Apple on the whole mouse design issue, you will have no problem with their single home button – instead relying on the operating system to provide you with all the navigation options you need. I’m not in that camp. I like my computer to have a two button mouse (with a scroll wheel!) and coincidentally, I really like having a menu button and back button available to me whenever I want them on a smartphone. Can you get by without them? Sure – the iPhone works just fine without them. But they sure are handy.

Call Quality

Despite the entire furor over “Antennagate”, I didn’t experience any issues with dropped calls on either the iPhone or the Galaxy S. But there was a noticeable difference in the quality of the sound itself. On the iPhone, voices sounded rich and natural – at times it was hard to tell I was talking on a mobile phone. The Galaxy S on the other hand, sounded tinny and distant. This wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me as voice calls are something I do only rarely, but if you’re a big talker, the iPhone wins hands-down.

Email

This is one area where I wish I could combine the strengths of each phone into one device. The Galaxy S gives you great control over your inbox, letting you perform bulk actions like multiple-delete, something the iPhone lacks. [Update: the iPhone 4 can do this too, but you need to jump into an edit mode to do it – Thanks Robert for the clarification in the comments section]. Whereas the iPhone does a better job of rendering HTML emails to preserve their original format. The Galaxy S lets you access all of your mailbox subfolders (inbox, sent items etc) from any screen, but the iPhone lets you see message threads as a single item, so you can more easily see how a conversation has progressed over a series of replies.

Photos & Video Recording

Both devices have 5 megapixel cameras capable of capturing 720p high-def video at 30 frames per second. Both have software zoom capability. But the iPhone takes a slight lead in this category, based solely on improvements to the iOS. The iPhone 4 can capture HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos which significantly improve the look of images that would otherwise have washed-out areas or poor detail. In video mode, you can trim the video clips you just shot and immediately upload them to YouTube via Wi-Fi.

iTunes Vs. Samsung Kies

Though most smartphone buyers are going to judge their next device based on what it can do when you’re out and about, some consideration should be given to how easy it is to transfer content to and from the device using your PC or Mac. When using an iPhone, iTunes is the de facto standard for device management. Though there are certain weaknesses (e.g. you can’t import or export photos and videos via iTunes on a PC) iTunes is a very polished piece of software with two undeniable strengths: 1) The built-in store gives you super easy access to a wealth of first-rate content including music, movies, TV shows and Apps. 2) You can back up every app, video and song you have bought from the App Store so that if your iPhone dies you haven’t lost your investments in content.
The Galaxy S line of phones has an equivalent to iTunes known as “Kies”. What’s odd is that this very useful piece of software is largely unpromoted by Samsung. There’s no mention of it in any of the product manuals that accompany the phone, and I only happened to stumble upon it by accident when googling an unrelated search. Kies is essentially a virtual desktop program. When launched on a PC, the program simulates a desktop complete with a “My Computer” icon in the top left corner and a dock area that contains icons for the program’s various functions such as “media player” and “photo viewer”. Anyone who has worked on a Mac will immediately see the similarity to MacOS. When you connect your Galaxy S device via USB, it shows up as a mounted icon in the upper right corner. The reason for the desktop interface is that Samsung is trying to provide an all-in-one environment for duplicating the functions of the smartphone. Instead of jumping from one app environment to the other the way you would on the actual phone, these functions appear as windows on the Kies desktop. It’s a system that works surprisingly well. The ability to fully back up your phone is absent as is any connection to an e-commerce platform to buy content, but I expect that Samsung will be adding this soon, given their recent announcement of their iPad competitor, the Galaxy Tab and its associated storefront known simply as the “Media Hub”. While Kies may still lack the sophistication of iTunes, given that it is still early in its development cycle compared to the more mature iTunes (now in version 10), there’s plenty of reason to think it will get better as long as Samsung doesn’t abandon it.

Battery Life

If you’re a BlackBerry user, battery life is one of the big differences when it comes to using other smartphones. My Curve has been known to go for three days without a charge and I have never had the battery die on me during regular use. I’d already heard the complaints about the iPhone 3G and 3GS batteries so when I got the iPhone 4 I was prepared for regular charging. Much to my surprise, I was able to get two days out of the iPhone before needing to charge, and that was with fairly liberal use of Wi-Fi, 3G and calling. No massive hour-long conversations or anything, but neither did I hold back. The Galaxy S on the other hand was never able to go more than 24 hours on a full charge, and even then, I wasn’t able to use it as hard as the iPhone. A few people in the office were quick to blame things like the Samsung’s larger AMOLED screen, but I don’t think the difference is a result of power-hungry components. I suspect the reality is that Apple put a much higher capacity battery in the iPhone 4 than in previous models. Apple has made enormous strides in battery life since the first iPod models hit store shelves and I think they have finally achieved a balance between weight, cost and longevity. Not being able to replace the battery on the iPhone is no longer a reason to avoid it, if ever it was.

Conclusion

The Galaxy S Vibrant and the iPhone 4 are both incredibly sophisticated and powerful smartphones that are ideal companions for people who want complete control of their digital lives while on the go. Which one you choose will likely boil down to how you answer the following questions:

  • Are you already hooked into the Apple ecosystem because you own devices like the iPad or iPod Touch? If so, you may as well get the iPhone 4 as it will allow you to maximize your existing investments.
  • Are you frustrated by the inaccuracy of touch screen keyboards? Samsung’s embedded Swype application largely takes the pain out of this experience and 2 minutes of playing with it will make anyone feel speedy.
  • Are you swayed by fashion and trends? Get the iPhone 4. You’ll get tons of admiring glances and you’ll have a virtually unlimited choice when it comes to accessories for dressing up your phone.
  • Do you prefer to exert more control over your technology instead of going with the default settings? The combination of Samsung’s TouchWiz 3.0 interface and the Android 2.1 OS gives you lots of choice in how you interact with the Galaxy S.

As for me? Well, I’m waiting to try out RIM’s BlackBerry Torch before making my final decision. But if I had to choose right now, I’d probably go with the iPhone. While I preferred the overall user experience of the Galaxy S, having an iPad at home has made me an App Store junky and I’m reluctant to give up on our collection of apps even if it means a few more typos.

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139 comments

  1. Pingback: Samsung Galaxy Tab vs. Apple iPad: Battle of the Tablets | Sync Blog
  2. Manlaju

    Iphone don’t let user see flash content on it browser, but galaxy s can. also you can’t download mp3 using iphone (can live streaming only)

    Like

  3. K77

    I have the iPhone 3GS and the Samsung Galaxy S: the sgs is a great phone – excellent screen, lots of apps – many of them work faster than on the iPhone. The bigger screen makes the typing easier and you can switch from vertical to horizontal keyboard in almost all applications. The widgets are nice, there are definitely enough apps in the Market, but here are the cons, and they absolutely kill the sgs for me and make me want to go back to the iPhone:

    1) android 2.1 was clunky and slow – I had to flash the phone with 2.2 and then install the voodoo lag fix to be able to switch between apps and screens without ridiculous delays

    2) stock email app on the android is easy to set up BUT….. What idiot though that it would be a great idea to have a black background in the app with off-white bleak text????!!! Do you think it’s easy to read the contents of the inbox with this setup? Who also thought that it would be a great idea to not allow you to reconfigure this color scheme? and I can’t setup k-9 mail from the market to work with my exchange server (this app got it right – white background and dark text).

    3) the battery is absolutely horrible, the worst I have ever seen – as bad as the Motorola RAZR (if anyone remembers what that is :) And this is with 2.2 Android, which is supposed to improve the
    battery. I have carried the iPhone and the sgs with me with the same mail sync settings and made it a point to use both phones equally – I even used the iPhone more because I made calls with it, and guess what – at the end of the day iPhone battery: 67%. Sgs battery: 26%

    4) screen: the sgs screen is beautiful, and large and is much better than the 3GS…. Until you take it out into the sun – if there’s any sunlight near this phone – you no longer have a phone – you can’t see anything on it….. Great Google maps, great navigation app and all for nothing because you can’t see them.

    I really want to love this phone, and would like to use it for my texts, emails, facebook, twitter, browsing – all these great and fast capabilities….. But no battery and no screen when you need it.
    Unfortunately, I now have to go back to the iPhone 3GS as my everyday phone because I can see what I’m typing and what I’m browsing. It may be slow, and controlled, and not as pretty, but it works. The last thing you want to wind up with is a dead phone when you are out in the city because you did not have time to charge it in the middle of the day.

    So, if you hate apple because they like to control what you can and can’t put on your phone and how you get your music on there, and because you have to wait for all the smart people to crack the next software update so that you can get it and not lose you unlock, you may be right, but at least you can see the screen in sunlight and still have 50% of your battery left when you get home at the end of the day.

    PS. the reason I did not get the iPhone 4 is because I don’t like 2 year contracts and a one year contract makes the phone cost $500. And I also really wanted to see what is so great about the Android platform – the platform is great, but Samsung can’t get their hardware right. I’m keeping the phone, but for calls and occasional web surfing, when I need flash – otherwise, the wifi stays off as this would be the only way I can still use this phone for more than 10 hours without a recharge.

    Like

  4. chazman74

    Hello all. Something not mentioned at all is the processing power. Both “S” and “4” are powered by Intrinsitys Cortex 1ghz Soc chipset. Samsungs is labeled as hummingbird and apples as A4. The iphone4 combines its processor with the SGX535 and the Galaxy S sports the faster SGX540 Gpu. For anyone that doesnt know the what the Soc/gpu is… its how fast your phone renders graphics(gpu-graphics processing unit). With the wave of powerful games launching on both platforms, the gpu will be a crucial aspect of gaming. Though the apple market has more 3d titles available at the moment, Android has been steamrolling with a huge near future ahead. If you own a galaxys and your curious as to what power it pushes, try gamelofts hd titles. You will be blown away. As of now the galaxy s line up is top of the line in mobile gaming power. Again apple has more games available but its not as powerful as the galaxy s. One last awsome spec of the galaxy s hummingbird… it renders up to 90,000,000 polys per second. A sony psp renders up to 33,000,000 polys per sec and a ps2 @66,000,000 polys per sec. If thats not impressive on a phone then….i dont know what to tell you. Both phones are great but this mixed with many of the above comments pushed me to my favorite smartphone ive ever purchased. Im a 3d designer/gamer and again ive been more than impressed with the vibrant s:-) Gl.. you cant go wrong either way:-)

    Like

  5. chuckles

    I have the samsung s vibrant and it is amazing. As i was going to buy the ipnone 4 the employee at virgin mobile pointed my view to the samsung galaxy s vibrant. i checked out the iphone and the samsung and i chose the samsung even though i could of got the iphone the reason why i wanted that phone instead isa that 95% of the apps are free other than the iphone the screen quality was way better i found and it was faster then the iphone. i bought it for 20 dollars less then the iphone and the only thing that you are paying for the iphone is the name thats it. Bigger screen, faster web browser, swyp text, super amloid display, and other things that made me chose the samsung galaxy s vibrant i recommend this phone over the iphone. Because it is smaller, slower, not as bright screen, and the cost of most the apps. You can get more with the samsung galaxy s then the iphone.
    Samsung galaxy s vibrant is priced around $149
    Iphone4 is arounf $159

    Like

  6. Dylan

    the iphone is old technology the iphone 5 will basiclly be the vibrant but in like 3 years. since apple doesn’t work with Google and doesn’t compress as well it will still be 2nd best unless apple smartens up.

    Like

    • iPhone 4

      Hello,

      Iphone has been around and is not going anywhere. Just like a good car, maxima, acura,lexus the brand will continue on. We have yet to see if the Samsung line will have this success.

      Something that makes me question the fuctionality is the zoom feature on the galaxy. This is a small detail but represents the smoothness and fuidity of the phone. When on the iPhone looking at an image that you have photographed, you can zoom in and the zoom is smooth and instant. With the samsung its a choppy process. The image has lag and its not even close to the smooth transition of the iPhone. As far as apps, this should not be taken into consideration when reviewing a phone. Apps have nothing to do with the functionality of the actual hardware. look at speed, build quality, camera quality and phone features like voice control, ease of the OS and so on…

      the fact is the majority of people on here commenting are galaxy users defending their purchase. iPhone is the better phone and will continue to be. just like the Mac/PC battles…. Mac’s are clearly stronger and superior.PC’s are data entry machines.

      anyway, when thinking of which phone to buy, just thing that Apple is on there 4th model and has had a lot of time to master the technology and give the people what they want.

      Like

      • Paul

        You are entitled to your opinion on the phone, but I had a iphone 3GS and did not like the Apple ecosystem at all. You are right about one thing…the apple is on their fourth design. That means approx 4 years to work out the kinks. Considering how far the android ecosystem has come in a much shorter period of time the hardware and software are pretty much on par and gaining ground every single day. The restricted ecosystem to one company will hurt apple in the long term as they will be one player amongst many.

        Also there is a big difference between defending a decision and explaining why you made it. They have nothing to defend.
        Enjoy your iphone.

        Like

  7. Chuckles

    Hey Simon i was just wondering if you know of any apps for the samsung or virgin mobile packages that you can watch live nhl games right from the phone i have nhl game center but it doesnt show live games or any games at all.
    Thank you!!!

    Tyler

    Like

  8. Chuckles

    Hey simon you said that there is a $5 package from bell that has sports but i was just wondering even if i have virgin mobile would i still be able to get it or not

    Like

  9. Dennis Whitaker

    I’m in the process of comparing both phones now. I am hoping Verizon comes out with the Iphone (5?). AT&T is just not an option where I live and hang out, so I’ll be returning the Iphone within the 3 day period.
    One big weakness I’ve found with the Iphone, in addition to not offering a Swype keyboard is I can’t figure out how to go from speech to text on the Iphone. Sure, you can use an app but you can’t go back and forth from email to the app. I suppose you could dictate everything you want to say into the speech to text app and then copy it to the email. The Vibrant has that little microphone symbol right on every application that uses the keypad and you can use speech to fill everything out one sentence or word at a time and then use the keyboard for any corrections if needed. I like this even better than swype.

    Like

  10. smart phone newbie

    ihave just purchased a samsung galaxy s but have’nt recieved it yet, but i was wondering if i can download podcasts straight to my phone. pls forgive my ignorance as i have not experienced smart phone technology before but would appreciate any help

    Like

  11. Manny m

    Hi I just got my vibrant a month back and I also have xfinity at home, tryed watching my xfinity on the vibrant and it said I needed to download adobe flash player but when I tried to download it, it told me my phone wouldnt accept it. Im stuck, someome plz give me some feedback on how to download a adobe flash player or how to fix this problem to stream tv on my vibrant

    Like

  12. Loob

    – “Not being able to replace the battery on the iPhone is no longer a reason to avoid it, if ever it was.” – Not an issue with the 4. The battery on the 4 can be replaced much easier than with previous models. There are screws on the bottom. (No soldering)

    Like

  13. kent

    anytime you tried to send out email with attachment on an iphone? It just not allow you do it easily.
    But you can do it without pain with your galaxy.

    Like

  14. Christina

    For me, Galaxy’s like waaay better…
    too much people have iphones and its kind of un-special.
    everywhere I go there are iphones and ipads and itouches..

    Like

  15. t-man

    one big difference between both that wasnt hit upon is the amount of headache you go thru to get your Iphone warranty replaced or repaired. Att sends you to Apple for any problems, and good luck getting speedy service at Apple appoinments are required, where as T-Mobile will be able to do both in store and not a 3rd party. Also the Vibrant is insurable thru your provider’s insurance program whereas the Iphone you’re SOL.

    Like

  16. Ayana

    I have the Vibrant n I <3 it. But was wondering the difference between the too. Thanx guys. But how do I get to kies???? Is that something I find n the market or what??????

    Like

  17. BadZ

    I too was undecided between an IPhone 4 and the Samsung. Sales associates convinced me that the Vibrant had some better features. But I bought the Iphone. Felt the same as when I rode bikes – I had some great Hondas, but they were never Harleys. A whole lot of reason to buy a Honda, but again, neither of they gave the feeling of owning a Harley. Pull out an IPhone, wow!, pull out a Samsung, big deal. You can’t chance that.

    Like

  18. mcny74

    I like my Vibrant but if T Mobile had the iPhone Id probably own that phone. However, the screen size is an issue with me because I do alot with my phone both business, research and entertainment and that extra .07 inches makes a big difference to me. By the time Im able to upgrade my phone, Im positive T Mobile will have the iPhone as well as Apple will have the new iPhone 5 and will display the 4″ + screen. God, can you imagine? For now, Im happy with my Vibrant.

    Like

  19. GroundZero

    When I check this blog, I could say that it helps me a lot in choosing the right phone for me. But if we will consider the performance, apps, messaging, cam, and browsing. What would you prefer?

    Because I am planning to buy a phone this summer.

    I hope that you could help me guys. Thanks!

    Like

  20. Kevin

    In the new update to the android OS firmware, you CAN directly upload videos onto youtube AND you can take a video to upload it.

    Like

  21. Melissa Anderson

    Hey I have a question I do have the sanding vibrant and I liked it very much till fri morning when I went to shut off my alarm and it brought up a message saying sorry The application TwLauncher (process com.sec.android.appTwlauncher) has stopped unexpectedly. Pleas try again the only option it says is to force close so I choose yes and I can see have messages I can’t enter I cannot enter my application or anything it’s as though my android isn’t working I tried bell tech support they told me to down load Kies Any Advice is welcome I miss my phone

    Like

  22. Melissa Anderson

    Hey I have a question I do have the samsung vibrant and I liked it very much till fri morning when I went to shut off my alarm and it brought up a message saying sorry The application TwLauncher (process com.sec.android.appTwlauncher) has stopped unexpectedly. Pleas try again the only option it says is to force close so I choose yes and I can see have messages I can’t enter I cannot enter my application or anything it’s as though my android isn’t working I tried bell tech support they told me to down load Kies Any Advice is welcome I miss my phone

    Like

  23. LuLu

    I have the Galaxy S and a great feature it has that the i-phone does not have is the “talk to text feature”….I am not a fan of touchscreens for typing but this feature is the icing on the cake. It works when texting, on facebook or any app that requires typing…..Just press the microphone button on the keyboard and speak into your phone and when you are done it types out what you said. You do have to speak clearly or it might type different words than what you said, but for the most part it is accurate and it is faster and easier than trying to type on a touchscreen.

    The downside to the Galaxy is if you are an avid skype user that they don’t have the video chat feature where as the I-phone 4 does have this feature. Hopefully in time Skype will add this feature for andriod.

    There is an app however available to both the i-phone and the android phones called “Tango” you can download that enables video calling from any phone, even from the Galaxy to the i-phone.

    Like

  24. G6

    Great Article!

    Also someone mentioned Samsungs Google Maps with Street View like iPhone doesn’t have it. It does. ;P No need to purchase any GPS software for that function.

    Like

  25. Pingback: Samsung Nexus 'S' Google phone coming to Canada in April | Sync™ Blog
  26. Lady T

    I have been with TMobile for 6 years and I my husband has the iphone. I just went to look at the GalaxyS yesterday and I like it, but I wanted to know the difference between that and iphone. Thanks for your review. I was told that in order to get the aps for GalaxyS I would not have to buy them like I would with the iphone. The main thing that is going to sway my decision is that I am already with TMobile and they are not going to charge me a deposit, like AT&T probably will. Come to think of it, his phone is in my name, so I actually have both. I wonder if they would cut me a deal for having two iphone accounts in my name?

    Like

  27. Queefy

    Ok look yall, hands down Galaxy takes the cake… Why?? I can’t say it all or I would b here all day. Even my brother who is a Certified MAC technician in all the levels needed has come to the conclusion that Galaxy over IPhone 4 rains supream. For the fact that the Galaxy runs off Linex says it all… IPhone is limited to MAC for the most part. If ur an app junky, sure get the IPhone 4, this only conclude u r just trying to make ur phone look col to ur friends???!!! But here I say for the real techy’s, u all know whats up!! Seek and yee shal find!!

    Like

  28. Pingback: Samsung Galaxy Nexus gets official in Canada and you could win one! | Sync™ Blog