Buying a new smartphone today? Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III are only two serious contenders

Buying a new smartphone today? Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III are only two serious contenders

Summary: While there are some attractive Windows Phone 8 options coming from HTC and Nokia, there are two super smartphones available today across all major US carriers that I recommend you consider.


There look to be some excellent Windows Phone 8 devices coming from Nokia and HTC in the coming months, but if you are looking for a smartphone right now there are really only two serious options to consider; the Apple iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III. You can find a number of other Android devices, some old Windows Phone and BlackBerry units, but for the person who wants the latest and greatest these two are ones to consider. It is actually a nice time to buy since choosing between just two is easier than looking through all of the options we have had in the past when it was tough to find real standout candidates. I am blessed to be able to own a Galaxy S III on T-Mobile and an Apple iPhone 5 on Verizon and have to say there are pros and cons to both devices, but you cannot go wrong with either one.

Apple iPhone 5


The new iPhone 5 is an amazing piece of technology and everyone that has held or used mine over the last few days has said how well built it is and how fast it is. If you are already part of the Apple ecosystem then it is a no-brainer that you pick one up as soon as you can. Apple already passed the 5 million sold level in just three days, which is an amazing statistic unmatched by any other smartphone. As I said in my first impressions article it feels more like an iPhone nano than an upgraded iPhone. While it has a 4 inch display, it is narrow and quite small. You need to have good eyesight to enjoy the small display, but at least the resolution is crisp and you can zoom in to text in many applications.

Siri is working brilliantly for me and saving me time entering reminders, looking up sports scores, and interacting with the device and my finger. I love the quality of iOS apps and it is very refreshing going back to an iPhone. Verizon LTE has been unbelievable and after traveling over 100 miles up and down the Puget Sound area I was rarely out of LTE coverage with speeds beating my home cable connection! I took over 75 photos this weekend as we were dropping off my oldest at college and the cameras, back and front, capture excellent still images and video. The size is so convenient for placing in my pocket and the iPhone 5 almost disappears in my jeans and shorts pockets. I forgot my new Apple charger, but the iPhone 5 still went all day Saturday and Sunday without a recharge and this was with LTE on for 2/3 of that time.

The iPhone 5 is not perfect and even though iOS Maps worked perfectly for me all weekend, there have been many who have had unsatisfactory experiences with the new mapping service. I still cannot get any Passbook service to show up in the new utility even though I downloaded and signed in to a couple associated apps. I also cannot find a car charger and even though I was able to go two days with the iPhone 5, I want the ability to charge it up in my car.

Samsung Galaxy S III


Samsung has sold over 20 million Galaxy S III smartphones and it is doing extremely well on a number of carriers in the US and around the world. If you are a T-Mobile customer then you don't get a choice between these two and the Galaxy S III is the one to buy right now. I LOVE the large display that still has a very pocketable form factor. Google Maps is excellent and the HSPA+ I experience flies. The GSIII also supports LTE on other carriers too. If you are a Google ecosystem user, then you will like the GSIII better as the iPhone 5 severely limits the Google experience even going so far as to remove the YouTube and Google Maps apps. I have a few screens of widgets and like the ability to quickly glance and see status updates. The GSIII is extremely fast, even with the default TouchWiz UI.

The Siri copy on the GSIII, S Voice, is pretty much a miserable experience and I can rarely get it to work accurately. I cannot wait to get Jelly Bean on the GSIII with the Google Now service that I find MUCH more accurate and functional on my Galaxy Nexus.

Do I prefer one over the other?

If I was on a single carrier that offered both of these devices, it would be extremely difficult for me to choose between the two. I know the iPhone 5 is new in my hand and thus probably getting a lot more attention from me, but if I really did have to pick just one I would likely go with the Samsung Galaxy S III. While the iPhone 5 is a much better built product, the larger display, widget support, expandable memory card slot, removable battery, and fantastic Google experience make the GSIII more useful to ME. Thankfully, I have the opportunity as a mobile phone blogger to own both devices on two different carriers so I do not have to choose just one and can enjoy the best of both. Do you have a choice between the two on your carrier and if so, which one did you choose?

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Topics: Mobility, Android, Apple, iOS, iPhone, Samsung

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  • I wouldn't recommend the iPhone 5 to someone looking for an iPhone

    The iPhone 4 offers far more bang for buck. None of the "improvements" that Apple has made in the last 2 years are worth the money you have to pay for them. At $0, the iPhone 4 is quite literally a "steal".
    • I disagree with you hypothesis, Todd. But I can't debate your points

      because your definition of improvement is far different from mine. And, because of that, we won't find common ground. However:

      I agree with your underlying premises .. The iPhone 4 model is a very good smartphone that belies it's two year old design and it is being offered as a free addition to a two year service contract. That's an incredible bargin. Free is great!

      But this is where we get into a problem putting a dollar value over improvements to the iPhone 5 vs the iPhone 4.

      There are two scenarios to consider - those individuals already bound to a two year contract and those that are not. ZDNet Bloggers Matt Miller and Jason Perlow opted for the higher purchase cost needed to break a two year contract purchase. Depending on the carrier, this initial purchase cost might be near $850 US dollars. Then there is the two year contract subsidized cost to consider. I actually fall into that category. (BTW, Apple informed me that my very first every smartphone will arrive around Sept 27th). For me, my cost for a Verizon 64 GB iPhone 5 was $399.00. I opted for the $99 dollar Apple Care three year "insurance" policy which brought my total purchase hardware cost to roughly $500 dollars.

      Here comes the point where I disagree with your definition of improvement. Is 500 dollars a fair price to pay for a device that is AT LEAST twice as good as the iPhone 4 model? Is 500 dollars worth the ability to use 4G or LTE networks? Is 500 dollars worth the camera and video improvements (significant, IMO) offered by the iPhone 5? Is 500 dollars worth the ergonomic and video display screen improvements? (BTW, I had a chance to actually hold the new iPhone 5 in my hand yesterday at my local Apple store. Oh yes, the ergonomic feel improvements of holding a lighter and thinner model was quite noticeable. But that, in and of itself, would not be worth 500 dollars.)

      And finally, is 500 dollars extra cost worth owning the "state of the art" design of the iPhone 5 hardware. (To all those Fans of competing products, Geekbench results don't lie.)

      My answer is yes. Those are significant improvements over a two year old iPhone design and definitely worth the extra 500 dollars initial cost. (To put that in a personal perspective because I'm an avid amateur golfer with a 6 handicap, that 500 dollars is the cost of one club (a Driver) and one round of golf at a upscale resort course. Yup, it is definitely worth the cost.)

      It should be noted that this 500 dollar figure is for a high end iPhone 5 model and with the additional Apple care insurance policy. That figure will be less, of course, for other iPhone 5 options.

      However, is the improvements mentioned above worth the extra $850 dollars purchase cost for an "out of contract" unlocked iPhone 5?

      Strictly on a financial argument basis, the answer might be an obvious no. But we have to consider how certain consumers place a value on quality and performance.

      For example, many pundits considered the current Apple MacBook Air models that might cost double what a competing "traditional" (and non-Ultrabook PC model) as a non-value added purchase. That is to say, the "bang for the buck" value was better for a traditional laptop model versus the MBA costing twice as much. History has pointed out that many many consumers felt the added benefits of Apple's lightweight and solid state design of the MBA was worth the extra initial cost. (Even considering that both computer designs are capable of performing most of the same tasks in the same amount of time required despite the differences in the initial purchase price.)

      Still, in a mobile device, lightness, performance speed and durability often trump initial purchase cost advantages and make the "more bang for the buck" argument much more complicated and much more an opinion rather than a statement of fact.
      • Wow

        "A device that is AT LEAST twice as good as the iPhone 4 model?" Really? The iPhone 5 is 'twice' as good as the iPhone 4S?
        • Yup and that is not a subjective opinion, either

          That is not to say the iPhone 4 is bad - unless you believe Consumer Reports. If you Do believe CS than the iPhone 5 DEFINATELY is twice as good. Grin.
          • Unless...

            "That is not to say the iPhone 4 is bad - unless you believe Consumer Reports."

            Yeah, those Consumer Reports guys... they are SO biased!
          • Actually, they are quite biased

            and have been called on it multiple times in the past. On many different products.
          • Yes, it most certainly is a subjective opinion.

            I'm not disputing whether its twice as good for you - only you can judge that. But since you don't have the slightest clue what I want to do with a phone, then you can't possibly know if its twice as good for me....or anyone else. So by their very nature your comments are subjective personal opinions. They can't be anything else.

            That's why these discussions inevitably devolve into pointless flame wars. Too many people just can't get through their heads that what's best for them, isn't necessarily best for everyone.....must be Democrats.
          • Performance measurements are not subjective. However ..

            Geekbench results are not subjective. (And, for what those measurements test for, the iPhone 5 is twice as good as the iPhone 4)

            But, here is the kicker and this is where "subjective opinions" come into play. If it takes 2 seconds to process a photo on the iPhone 4 (just an example. I don't know the true spec) and it takes only 1 sec to do the same task, is that, subjectively, enough of a difference to matter to the consumer?

            When stated on those terms, I agree with your opinion about subjectivity, Cornpie. For me, I don't like "lags" in my electronic devices. The faster, the better.
          • Lagging is a great example

            "For me, I don't like "lags" in my electronic devices. The faster, the better."

            But we always heard that even the iPhone 1 was Fast and Fluid (tm) and never lags. So that must mean that the iPhone 5 is hundreds of times less laggy than no lag, which makes no sense.

            "The faster, the better" is a GREAT example of something that sounds true but isn't. If the iPhone 1 was fast enough to give the user a lag free experience, faster is not better, it provides no benefit to the end user.

            You also have to think about how frequently the event happens. For example, is a computer that boots up twice as quickly as another actually twice as good? Of course not. If I use a device for a total of 100 hours a month and your photo example is something that only saves me 1 minute a month, that isn't twice as fast.

            So no, the iPhone 5 is not twice as fast as the iPhone 4. There is no way that you could ever hope to accomplish the same general set of tasks over the course of a month in half the time as an iPhone 4 user could. The best you can say is that the processor has twice the megaflops but that is beginning to sound like a geek spec sheet.
          • Much better...

            The processor is twice as fast, the camera is twice as sharp, the damn thing is larger yet lighter, battery life is better and has LTE... Unless you are stoned or incredibly dumb, the iPhone 5 IS twice as good and worth the extra money...
          • Lumia 920 is a superior camera

            from everything I have read and actual example pictures I have seen (aside from forgetting the disclamer in a comerical).
          • LMAO

            may have a better camera but has a 10x junkier os running on it.
          • and i guess that $5 Starbacks coffee

            is also twice as good as the one you can make yourself.
            Isn't it good to have disposable income!
          • None of those things you list are completely accurate

            The processor is twice as fast only in very specific conditions. In fact, people are reporting that SIRI is slower now even though it can do more. The camera is not twice as sharp. It's marginally better in lower light conditions. The screen is larger, but it's not twice as good. For one, the PPI is exactly the same as before. Battery life is the same as before. Yes, it's a bigger battery but has to be to deal with the bigger screen, but the battery LIFE is not better.

            On the other hand, it has worse Maps now. As I said, SIRI seems slower, and yet another proprietary connector that will cost money to make it backward compatible. Also, no increase in storage capacity either.
          • Camera is twice as sharp?

            What do you mean by "twice as sharp"? Are you talking about contrast? Resolution? What? Hopefully (at least for Apple's sake) the iphone is built with more precision than your comment...
          • Number crunching vs. latency

            The iPhone 5, by Apple's proclamation, will do "heavy lifting", like number crunching and 3D gaming, twice as fast as the iPhone 4S. That's very respectable... Android devices have only just passed the 4S in 3D performance earlier this year.

            But that's very different than what seems fast in the user interface. Most of that is not specifically driven by CPU performance, but by algorithm. And I suspect Apple's pretty well tuned iOS, so you may see some improvements in UI on the "5", but nowhere near twice.

            A good example of this in practice is Google's jump from Android 4.0 to 4.1. Android has had plenty of user interface power, but the performance was never very well tuned compared to iOS, even though most Android phones have been faster than iOS phones at the same technology node (in fact, the iPhone 5 is the first time since the 3GS that, on iPhone Day, the new model was actually faster in CPU than most of those on the Android market). With 4.1, they've dramatically improved many aspects of the OS's response, in ways that 2x or even 4x more CPU would not have accomplished.
          • Or

            could it be that people are mainly arguing about intangibles. Things that cannot be objectively compared.

            i.e. the pleasure that someone gets from conforming to the the product marketing, being apart of the 'imagined' group that owns such items ... living the dream ... and by the cognitive dissonance that all purchasers undergo ...

            Don't know about you but I've always found that politicians of every persuasion spend all their time telling others what's best for them. It's in their job description.
          • kenosha77a's opinion is useless

            I'm sorry, but I find it flat out ignorant and arrogant for an ADMITTED first time smart phone user to even have an opinion on this. Basically you know nothing except the fact you read someone else's opinion on consumer reports and you bought a shiny new toy. I'll be honest with you, I use the Galaxy SIII. So I don't personally have a dog in this fight, but it would be foolish for ANYONE to take advice from some blow hard that has never used a smart phone and still doesn't have 1 because it hasn't come in yet.
          • Did you read the article?

            The author is saying that if one buys a new smartphone the only choices IHHO are either the Apple iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy SIII - which you said you own. So you've already lied about not having a dog in this fight. And then you go on with the insults which show me that you do not have a leg to stand on. In summary I find YOUR post to be flat out ignorant and arrogant.
        • BTW, I stated, as did Todd, a comparison between an iPhone 4 vs iPhone 5

          We NEVER mentioned anything about the iPhone 4S model.