I make no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of Samsung hardware, in fact people have gone as far as calling me a cheerleader. Recently during an Ausdroid team Hangout when I again mentioned that I’m struggling with the decision of which phone is right for me, our own Geoff “Jedi” Fieldew stated “Given how happy you’ve been with the SIII, I’m surprised the S4 isn’t a no brainer for you” and you know what, he’s right! It should be, but it’s not.
The argument against upgrading
As the Jedi has stated, my Galaxy SIII has served me well and I’m still very happy with it today. The performance did degrade over time, but a change of ROM to the CM nightlies has refreshed the device and my love for it’s performance. Even by today’s standards, the Samsung Galaxy SIII is a good phone; it’s not going to compete with the new HTC One or a Galaxy S4 but they’re a new generation of smart phone with newer hardware and newer software. After all of that is said, is the upgrade worth it?
The Galaxy S4, the new HTC One, The Xperia Z and even an iPhone (clearly these people don’t read Ausdroid, for shame!) were on the table from the carriers trying to win my business and to get me to contract again.
For me, I’m struggling on the decision for a number of reasons where an average user wouldn’t. I know the what phones are on the horizon, including new toys from Samsung. Being out of contract gives me lots of options to explore before I commit to a contract. The offers I’ve received require me to spend more monthly than I currently am to get the same deal. I am not sure that I actually need a new phone, the SIII is still going strong!
I’ve also got literally hundreds of dollars worth of accessories for my Galaxy SIII. Multiple cases, desktop cradles, extra batteries, wireless charging setup and the list goes on. Some of these will be transferrable, but in reality for me to get back to where I am in terms of accessories for a new phone will cost me at least $150 on top of the cost of the phone. So why would I spend the extra money when what I’ve got meets my needs perfectly already?
It’s starting to look like the upgrade is going to be cost prohibitive already.
The argument for upgrading
My current carrier is throwing deals at me, basically whatever they can do to get me to recommit to a 2 year term and get a new phone in my hands. While I’ve been with them for nearly 10 years, there’s no guarantee that I’ll go with them again.
There’s cheaper options for monthly contracts giving me more calls, more SMS and more data. Different carriers means different coverage maps; meaning different strengths and weaknesses, different blackspots with coverage and I have to learn how to best optimise my experience again. However, the fact I’m currently with Vodafone suggests I could possibly get a much better customer experience, definitely better coverage in fringe areas and possibly for less money. The reality is that I know what capabilities my carrier does have and I don’t necessarily want to learn where a new carrier works and doesn’t.
One of the biggest drivers for upgrading a phone, especially for an overgrown kid like myself is simply; it’s new and I want it. After all, he who dies with the most toys wins right? I like new toys, I like seeing new things and where technology has progressed from generation to generation and on paper at least, the Galaxy S4 does offer a user experience far superior to it’s older brother.
Having said that, there are leaks of 4.2.2 emerging for the Galaxy SIII that show many of the software features “new” to the Galaxy S4 that have been ported over to it’s older brother. Given this has occurred in the past with the Galaxy SII getting some of the features the Galaxy SIII shortly after it’s release, this is not unexpected for the SIII to see S4 features.
SMACKDOWN: Galaxy SIII vs Galaxy S4
Despite the commitment issues, what are the comparisons? The opportunity is there to upgrade at very low to minimal cost, given my predisposition to wanting new toys I need to look at this as subjectively as possible. So, is the upgrade worth it?
The obsession that Samsung have with making their devices lightweight with a modern and clean appearance has not waned, both the Galaxy SIII and Galaxy S4 are made dominantly of plastic and you can feel it. Perhaps it’s only my opinion but there’s a part of me that keeps screaming at me that as phones keep getting larger they should be getting slightly heavier too?
While this seems a frivolous comparison between the two phones, as someone who suffers badly from wookie hands that tend to drop phone a bit, a solid phone construction does actually mean a lot to me. The Galaxy S4 has a slightly more modern feel to it, mimicking the iPhone to some extent with it’s less rounded corners and flatter sides making the phone more “edgy” in your hand and the covers they’ve chosen for the battery on the S4 has an almost futuristic carbon fibre look.
Side by side the thing that really stands out between the Galaxy SIII and S4 are the feel of the construction in the hand. The Galaxy S4 is (as well known by anyone who has investigated the two phones) slimmer, ever so slightly larger in dimension and lighter in your hand.
Personally, while there is a limit to this statement: Size doesn’t bother me too much, I’ve looked at the Note II pretty seriously recently so it’s not a deal breaker and the extra screen real estate is always a bonus to information hungry users like myself. I like a phone that feels like it’s got some weight to it, so the SIII feels a bit better in the hand to me. Take those points as you will, but if I had to call a winner between the two devices, it would be the S4 by a hair.
The screen comparison is the first point where one of these outstanding Samsung devices stands out clearly from the other. The Galaxy SIII has an extremely well calibrated screen, with good PPI and colour saturation. Even today, as a stand alone device you’d be hard pressed to find too many faults with the screen of the Galaxy SIII.
The Galaxy S4 is sporting the latest in HD Super AMOLED screen tech, running at 1080 x 1920 resolution and 441 PPI (Pixels Per Inch). This is an outstanding display on it’s own; side by side with the Galaxy SIII you can see how far screen technology has come in a short time making the SIII look quite aged, making the S4 a clear winner in respect to the screen, this screen quality is evidenced by the device winning an award for having one of the best colour reproductions on a mobile device.
The Galaxy SIII has an 8MP rear facing camera and a 1.9MP front facing camera, which is comparable to most phones that are on the market currently. Both of the cameras, front and rear facing on the Galaxy SIII produce good quality images for their intended purpose
While I personally don’t tend to put too much emphasis on megapixels making a camera good, the Galaxy S4 is streets ahead of its older brother in not only the megapixel rating of the camera, resolution but also the optics in the camera and the software controlling it.
When analyzing it all, there’s some great enhancements on the Galaxy SIII, but the Galaxy S4 has taken everything involved with taking and sharing photos on your phone to the next level with GPS tracking of your location to recognise that you’re on holiday, sharing direct to family and friends as well as the standard software sharing options. I guess that’s why Samsung have marketed it as a life companion, it’s also the main reason that despite it being a very close race the Galaxy S4 comes out on top here.
While on some specific models, the sound production that Samsung have given users has not been the best both the Galaxy SIII and Galaxy S4 have done well in this area. Even running either the Galaxy SIII or Galaxy S4 through a decent set of speakers at relatively high volume it’s very difficult for an untrained ear to pick a difference between the quality of sound between the two of them. In fact despite many hours of testing; listening to podcasts, music, dozens of phone calls, Skype calls and Hangouts as far as the sound production of the two phones goes, there really isn’t a difference.
The only major difference between the two devices is the early shipments of the Galaxy SIII had some issues with the microphone producing poor quality and often low volume sound to people that you may be talking to on the phone at the time. This was resolved quickly, but I mention it here because the early adopters of the Galaxy SIII are likely to be coming up due for contract renewal very soon.
Both have wifi, Bluetooth, NFC, S-Beam (does anyone actually use this?), DLNA sharing and Kies. Both essentially the same options, but there’s one big…
Nay huge difference: 4G, while there is a 4G version of the Galaxy SIII it was a secondary release which many early adopters missed out on.
Telstra already has 4G running in areas around the country, Optus are running 4G in capital cities and now Vodafone are turning on 4G around the country. While there’s no guarantee what speed you’ll get based on the number of people on the tower you’re connected to, the amount of data those people are pulling etc, 4G is a considerable speed boost to those who are in range and makes the Galaxy S4 the clear winner of these two Samsung phones if speed is your drawcard.
On paper doing a side by side comparison, the Galaxy S4 is a clear victor in the battery competition sporting a 2600mAh battery versus the 2100mAh battery in the Galaxy SIII. Battery capacity doesn’t necessarily convert to battery life in daily use, so which one wins?
In reality, it depends on what you do with your phone during the day. How many times do you wake your phone to check your email, messages, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, change music tracks or even on the odd occasion, make phone call.
On purely default settings for screen brightness and using the devices naturally, the extra battery capacity of the S4 was slightly offset by the extra screen size of the device. The battery saving feature meant that some of the connectivity I relied on was not always there and a flood of notifications occurred within 20 to 30 seconds of waking the phone after a period of inactivity.
Both devices will get even a heavy user a full day of activity, in my testing the Galaxy S4 came out on top giving me a day and a half of use where the SIII was ready for some much needed power at the end of a full day, making this another tick in the box for the Galaxy S4.
Both the Galaxy SIII and S4 qualify as a top range phones, their specs are outstanding there’s no arguing that fact. They have some really nice user experience enhancements through the Touchwiz Nature UI and some that, frankly, annoy power users. Annoyance aside the performance of either device is blistering and few users would be able to pick between the two.
So the only objective, but strangely unfair way to decide between the two was benchmarking. There’s not a lot in benchmarking these days other than bragging rights over your mates with the ol’ “mine’s bigger/better/louder/faster than yours” argument.
Unsurprisingly, the Galaxy S4 comes out the winner here regardless of which app I used.
Most users don’t root their phones or load custom operating systems so the fact that I am running CM10.1 nightlies, while great for me is irrelevant to the everyday user. The current release of Android for the Galaxy SIII is Android 4.1.2 while the Galaxy S4 comes out of the box with Android 4.2.2
While it’s a lot of little things such as the stability of the operating system, better battery life, lockscreen widgets and a number of security features and enhancements it adds up to a big difference even for your everyday user versus the power users.
Some users will say “they’re both Jelly Bean” and others know that there’s a number of key differences between the two, at the end of the day we know that 4.2.2 is in the works for the Galaxy SIII but up to date is up to date so for users that like being up to date the Galaxy S4 is a winner in this regard.
There’s a few enhancements that are available on the Galaxy S4 that aren’t on the SIII, but in reality like the Galaxy SII before it… the old dog can learn new tricks and Samsung will probably push out most of the software tweaks that are wrapped in 4.2.2 on the new flagship to the older generation SIII.
Both devices have smart stay, which detects through use of sensors when you’re looking at the phone and keeps the phone awake without the need for touch input.
Samsung have taken these smart enhancements to another level with the Galaxy S4 offering Smart Pause and Smart Scroll. Smart Pause offers the ability for a video to automatically pause when you look away from the device and Smart Scroll scrolls through text by detecting your eye position while reading, much more useful on a tablet than a phone but the function is there.
The photography on either phone is (in terms of camera phones) more than acceptable, in fact they’re pretty outstanding compared to most of the competition out there currently with the notable exception of the HTC One which has a truly brilliant camera.
After the direct comparison of the two phones side by side it’s still very difficult to determine a “winner” between the two. There’s a lot of good points about the Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy SIII; they’re both really good looking phones, they’re both currently running high end specs, they’re both capable of offering a full day’s battery life without the need to find a wall plug to charge your device.
In a side by side comparison the Galaxy S4 got tick after tick over it’s older brother, Build Quality, the rear facing camera and associated software and Battery but where the Galaxy S4 really stands out is the availability of 4G and the screen. The clarity, colour saturation, video presentation on the extra screen real estate is a big winner for users who would be looking at a phone like the Galaxy S4.
So is the upgrade worth it? In short; Yes
The Galaxy S4 is an evolution of the Galaxy S brand, it’s got some new features and party tricks. It looks great, feels nice in your hand and performs well even for the heaviest of users. But in reality, it’s not for everyone. The Galaxy S4 is (speaking in terms of contract) $0 – $9 per month on around a $60 per month contract which is way beyond the needs, often the budgets of many users, offering more calls, SMS and Data than most users would ever use in a single month.
What the existence of a newer model of a phone like this does though is push the price of its older brother down. It really becomes a win/win for a lot of users, the Galaxy SIII is now $0 on $50 a month contract, possibly less depending on your carrier and if you shop around you can find it for under $500.00 outright which is a great price for what is, even now, a great phone.