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The ultimate Canadian smartphone showdown: Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant vs. iPhone 4

August 24, 2010

The tale of the box: Sleek packages for sleek phones.

If you’ve frequented this blog, then you probably saw my review of the Samsung Omnia II, perhaps the worst phone I’ve ever used and a great example of the failings of Windows Mobile 6.5.

Luckily for Samsung, they’ve jumped on the Android bandwagon, a superior mobile OS offering from Google that is serious competition for the iPhone. The Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant (Bell, $149 on a three-year contract) is a perfect marriage of Google’s OS with some very good hardware.

On the other side of this Canadian smartphone battle is the iPhone 4 (Rogers, Fido, Bell, Virgin Mobile, & Telus, $159 for 16GB and 269 for $32GB on a three-year contract). Avoiding the iPhone isn’t easy in Canada, thanks to the fact that it’s available on all of our major carriers, and none of them suck as much as AT&T in the U.S. The iPhone’s penetration in the Canadian market, both carrier and consumer-wise, make it hard to argue against.

Is the Galaxy better than an iPhone? Over two weeks, I tried to find out.

Hardware

The iPhone 4 feels like luxury. Made of glass and metal, it’s got some heft to it and feels awesome. The Galaxy is plastic. It’s lighter, so that may be an advantage for some, but it really does feel like comparing an aluminum MacBook Pro to a Dell laptop. There are a few key features on the Galaxy that make the phone particularly drool-worthy. First off, this is an Android phone that actually comes with some built-in memory, 16GB that can also be supplemented with a microSD card if you want additional storage. One of my biggest pet peeves of Android phones has been that they traditionally come with a paltry amount of storage compared to the iPhone’s 16 or 32 GB built-in options. WiFi, GPS, 3G, all the fixings you’d expect in a smartphone also come standard.

Display

I got my Galaxy four days before my iPhone 4. So when I turned it on for the first time, I was in awe of the huge 4″ super AMOLED display. The resolution is 800×480, much better than Apple’s two previous phones, the 3G and 3GS. It is very bright, although not the best in direct sunlight, and you can definitely appreciate the extra screen real estate. Even though I was enamoured with the Galaxy’s screen, looking at the iPhone 4’s Retina Display (That’s a marketing gimmick, it’s a 940×640 3.5″ display) made the Galaxy pale in comparison. The iPhone’s superior resolution and slightly smaller screen make it impossible to see any pixels from a normal distance. You can read the tiniest of tiny text on the iPhone 4, and its LCD screen fares better in bright conditions.

The Samsung Galaxy's super AMOLED 800x480 screen.

The iPhone 4's eye-popping "Retina Display" has a 960x640 resolution. The "Rogers Cup" app hasn't been optimized for the higher resolution.

Notifications

If there’s anything that makes the iPhone look outdated, it’s the popups iOS uses to alert you of text messages or any other app communications. They stop what you’re doing, are a hassle to navigate, and are pretty much useless when you get several of them at once. Google’s Android’s implementation is sleek and a pleasure to deal with. For those with productivity in mind, that alone makes the Galaxy even more attractive.

OS

This will come down to personal preference, but as I’ve said in the past, the best part of Android is knowing that you can do anything you want on it, unlike the iPhone, where sometimes it feels like you can only do things that Steve Jobs wants you to. Yes, jailbreaking fixes that major problem with the iPhone, but the process turns updating your phone, one of the iPhone’s huge advantages, from a simple affair to a painful process. Aside from the aforementioned notifications disaster on the iPhone, iOS delivers a smooth & consistent user experience that is still the easiest to use. The Galaxy, with a Samsung-flavoured Android OS, is fun to use, but there are still a ton of inconsistencies between apps, something that makes you scratch your head. Most Android fans will tell you the best version of the OS is the one with no add-ons. Motorola, HTC, and Samsung all have this awful tendency to take Google’s terrific operating system and then tack on extra apps and tweaks that make the phone less pleasurable to use. I completely agree. Everything Samsung and Bell tack on to the device make it a less enjoyable experience.

Multi-tasking

When Apple announced they would finally bring multi-tasking into the iPhone fold, they said it took them so long because they wanted to get it right. Many people wondered what was taking Cupertino so long, since Android’s implementation of the productivity must-have was pretty good. Jailbroken iPhones have had multi-tasking as well thanks to the Backgrounder app, making the delay even more frustrating. With iOS 4, Apple has successfully delivered multi-tasking without creating a task manager. For the most part it works extremely well. On the Android side, geeks like me appreciate the open applications widget on the Galaxy’s homepage,  allowing you to see just how much RAM and CPU each app is using. Others will prefer the iPhone’s almost-too-dumb simplicity.

Multi-media support

If you love iTunes, then the iPhone is your dream phone. It’s integration with the desktop software is one of the reasons the phone can be updated so easily.  Synching media with the Galaxy out of the box is a more tedious task, but can be made really simple with programs like doubleTwist. As with my Motorola Milestone, doubleTwist made syncing my Galaxy to my Mac a cinch.

The Bell-only Galaxy also connects to Bell’s mobile TV service, allowing you to watch CBC News Network or MuchMusic programming on your phone. Unlike the same Bell service on Windows Mobile devices, it’s actually useable!

Camera

The Galaxy omits an LED flash, but nonetheless delivers pretty good pictures for a smartphone. It is simply outmatched however by the iPhone 4, whose stunning photos and HD video make small point-and-shoot cameras seem obsolete. The iPhone 4 has a front-facing camera as well, giving it the edge in videoconferencing over Apple’s own FaceTime or Fring, a third-party app available on both iOS and Android devices.

Shot at Rogers Cup with Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant.

Shot at Rogers Cup with iPhone 4.

Battery life

The Galaxy’s battery is depressing. The battery drained fast even in standby, I had to make sure I left it plugged in when I didn’t use it for a day. This was extremely disappointing since The iPhone 4 sips battery when on standby, and the only thing that really can drain the battery quickly is prolonged use of the GPS. 3G data and calls don’t seem to suck the battery dry like it did on the 3G and 3GS.

Apps

I’m a big baseball fan, and the MLB At Bat app is to me the gold standard when trying to judge whether or not an app is great or not. When comparing Android to the iPhone, this app is also a good example of some of the little things still lacking on the Android side. On the iPhone, the MLB App includes live streaming video of every baseball game. On Android, live streaming stops at audio. Pretty annoying, considering the fact that Major League Baseball sells both apps for the same $15.

There is no doubt that the Galaxy’s great hardware now has an ever-expanding and Android app marketplace that is getting better by the day. But too much of the Android store is filled with crap. If you’ve been to Apple’s App Store you know it has its share of bad apps as well, but at least you when you click on new releases, you’ll most likely find something worth your time.

Games are also an underwhelming experience on the Galaxy, as Android just hasn’t become a platform for most of the killer titles that are on the iPhone. It’s certainly much easier to get a NES and SNES emulator on Android (Or anything else not 100% legal), something that could be  a big factor for those who don’t want to deal with jailbreaking an iPhone.

Navigation is another good example of the difference between Android and iOS. The Galaxy comes with a navigation app out of the box, while the iPhone does not. Yet the free app you get with Samsung’s gem is pretty barebones and feature-lacking. Compare that to a navigation app you can download from iPhone’s App Store, which can cost $50-80, and it comes down to a choice between paying for quality and getting by with free.

Other points in point form:

  • I did not have any GPS issues with my Galaxy, despite the pretty unanimous cries on the web that a software bug is pretty much crippling that feature. I got a quick and accurate lock on my location every time I used the Samsung’s GPS. For those of you with a problem with the Samsung’s GPS, a fix is apparently on the way.
  • The voice recorder on the Galaxy (and I assume every other Android phone) only records when the screen is on. Put the display to sleep and the recording stops. Very annoying. Making a bootleg of a comedy show with it is almost impossible!
  • The Galaxy ships with the option of using the Swype keyboard, which I can already tell would be a super fast way to type on a virtual keyboard after a week of constant use. Apple won’t allow Swype on its phones, in typical Apple fashion. Sigh.
  • While the Galaxy is priced at $149, we’ve already seen its price drop to as little as one cent on contract in the U.S. You can currently get it for as little as $69 south of the border, so Canucks dead set on getting the Galaxy may want to wait a bit for an official Canadian price drop or a special at Best Buy or Future Shop.
  • There still isn’t a decent Twitter app on Android. Sigh.
  • It’s actually easier to death grip the Galaxy than the iPhone.
  • The speakerphones are pretty similar in quality.

The Dynamic Duo. If only they could have a child...

Final thoughts

One of the biggest reasons to go for the Galaxy and its Android OS is to avoid the sometimes infuriating tyranny of Apple products. Even the most minor thing, like letting you use the volume button to take a picture on the iPhone, isn’t allowed by Apple’s rigid-yet-erratic approval process.

For those willing to sacrifice the iPhone 4’s incredible refinement, both hardware and software-wise, the Samsung Galaxy is your best choice – today. New Android devices come out all the time, and are always looking to dethrone last month’s model atop the Google hill. For those who are still in love with the iPhone, despite its faults, you can sleep well at night knowing that the iPhone 4 is still the best overall smartphone.

Perhaps the Samsung Galaxy’s biggest competition isn’t the iPhone, it’s HTC, another manufacturer of top of the line Android phones. In any event, it’s a pretty good time to be a smartphone user in Canada: We’re getting a good mix of Android phones to go along with our usual serving of BlackBerrys and iPhones.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2010 4:15 PM

    Good review! However, I think the Android wins hands down. I’ve had an iPhone for 2 years, broke warranty after a few weeks. If (and ONLY IF) your iPhone is jailbroken, you can start to compare features with any Android phone. If it isn’t, you’re living in a cave built by Apple. Jailbreak-only apps give a LOT of extra features (and power to customize) a lot of things, when it’s impossible to do (literally) when it’s not. With Android, it’s built in right out of the box. That’s what did it for me. My Android phone can do everything my iPhone used to do. Maybe people don’t recognize my device, maybe my App Store is a bit chaotic, but trust me, Android will win.

  2. Kevin permalink
    August 25, 2010 5:44 PM

    But you, pluc, are a programmer.
    I’m a guy who is tearing out what’s left of his hair trying to figure out overly confusing cell phone plans…

    All I want is a smartphone that will sip minutes and 3G data, then let me videochat with my wife when one of us is out of town. Why can’t I find a plan that will allow this?

  3. Word permalink
    September 9, 2010 4:17 PM

    I completely disagree with this article, the Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant is the best smartphone on the Canadian market, f the iPhone 4.

    • eliasmakos permalink*
      September 9, 2010 4:47 PM

      Um, did you read the whole post? The parts about Android multiple strengths? All you offer here is “the Galaxy S Vibrabt is the best” and no proof to back it up. Probably because you need to justify your investment. And that’s OK, but that doesn’t change the fact the the iPhone does outclass the Galaxy, in hardware, screen, cameras, apps, and battery life. The Samsung is a terrific phone, but most of its strengths come from the freedom Android allows and a better notification system.

      It’s going to be hard to believe your point without any examples of why. I certainly didn’t say the iPhone 4 is perfect, just better – mainly because of hardware.

  4. Word permalink
    September 9, 2010 4:20 PM

    By the way, how much did Apple pay you to say that the iPhone 4 is the more superior smartphone, because it isn’t and it looks like people actually agree with me.

    • eliasmakos permalink*
      September 9, 2010 4:49 PM

      For the record, I paid full price for the iPhone 4, and received the Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant for three weeks from Samsung to review.

      And contrary to your “it looks like people actually agree with me” statement, I suggest you look at the lineups all over the country and current sales figures, which strongly disagree with your version of reality.

  5. Reina Brown permalink
    October 6, 2010 7:26 AM

    I must say that this is by far one of the best blogs I’ve read. There is nothing like reading good content that is well written.

    [Editor’s note: From this point on, this comment turned into SPAM. I quite liked the beginning however.]

  6. Randy permalink
    October 7, 2010 10:23 AM

    Have had the Galaxy S for a few days and although it is a very good handset I have found
    one major drawback and that’s it’s handsfree app. For some reason Samsung wants you
    to fiddle around with the hand set while you have a headset on which is really annoying especially when driving. May even exchange the the Galaxy S for an iPhone or Blackberry because of it.

    • David permalink
      December 4, 2011 6:10 PM

      Randy, I had the same problem and returned my Samsumg for that very reason. The Samsung was only partially hands-free and this glitch was acknowledged by Samsung tech people.

      David

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  1. Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant now just $100 with $75 gift card at Future Shop « OK mobile computer.

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