Apple has just launched the iPhone 5S and 5C. This promises to be a game changer. How do the phones for 2014 stack up? TwentyFirstTech will be doing its first shoot-out to help you decide on your next smartphone. First up: The flagship models.
For part 2, go here.
1. Sony Xperia Z1
This new flagship Sony wonderphone is not only incredibly thin, but also the only phone here that claims to be water resistant to 1m, dust proof, and shatter proof. Sony managed to squeeze in a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 in there with a 2.2GHz Quad-Core Krait 400 CPU and an Adreno 330 GPU. Its camera is 20.7MP and has turned out pretty impressive pictures because Sony is using tech from its camera lines.
2. Nokia Lumia 1020
The first thing that stands out about this phone is its gigantic camera. It totes a 41MP camera with a Zeiss lens, a rather big sensor at 1/1.5″, and a whole series of complicated manual controls that compress a full-fledged DSLR into a phone. We’re expecting some really great pictures from this one.
3. Galaxy Note 3
This new phablet from Samsung packs in a massive 5.7 inch Super AMOLED screen at full HD, and a whole slew of S Pen features that have proven themselves hugely popular. With 3GB of RAM, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, with a quadcore chip set that is running at 2.3GHz, this phone is no slouch either. Perhaps most impressively it can capture video at the new 4K standard, and that certainly makes your phone future-proof. Worthy of mention is that this phone will launch with the Galaxy Gear, Samsung’s new smart watch (Samsung is cutting $100 from the price of the watch if it is bundled).
4. Galaxy S4
This seems to be the most dated phone in the entire shoot-out but it remains a significant consideration for those who prefer a phone with a less overblown screen size. This is running the previous iteration of the Snapdragon line, the S600, clocked at a slightly lower speed of 2.2GHz. The other variant has Samsung’s very own Exynos Octa Core chip, each clocked at 1.9GHz. It also shares the same amount of RAM as the Lumia 1020 and the Xperia Z1 – a healthy 2 GB. Its unique features perhaps include a huge array of sensors including a thermometer and barometer, lots of gesture controls, and Air View which lets your finger hover over an icon to access a preview.
5. iPhone 5s
This is the reason we launched our shoot-out in the first place. The ‘S’ line of iPhones have been widely derided as merely incremental upgrades but is it the same story this time? It sports an upgraded A7 processor which runs on 64-bit architecture, which is unprecedented on a smartphone, has a thumbprint sensor in the ubiquitous home button, and has made a very significant camera upgrade to an already fantastic camera.
So let’s get started shall we?
The iPhone used to be the laggard in this department. The Android phones made the leap to quad-core first, had far more RAM, and were higher on the benchmarks. In terms of processing prowess alone, the Galaxy Note 3 is the most powerful, packing in 3GB of RAM along with a slightly higher clockspeed than whats in the Sony Xperia Z1. The S4 is also in the same ballpark (For Benchmark speeds, please refer to a more detailed article coming out later).
Only the Lumia 1020 and iPhone 5S remain on dual-core systems, and people have always incorrectly used this to justify Android’s superiority. It is worth noting though that the iPhone was never really a slouch. With the power of Apple’s flawless hardware optimization, apps run smoothly and rarely lag unless heavy processing power is required. By contrast, even the flagship Android phones usually choke up due to the wide array of GUIs and systems it needs to run, with the Samsung’s TouchWiz the largest culprit.
Now that the iPhone 5S is on a 64-bit architecture, it theoretically should come into it’s own. However, as Jean-Baptiste Quéru (former Google software engineer) puts it, these changes will probably take over a year to be visible.
In the immediate future, this will make zero difference for consumers. Applications that ship today will continue to be compiled as 32-bit, so that they can run on all the other iOS devices as well. Since the iPhone 5S is likely to be faster than all those other iOS devices as well, there’s little point right now optimizing an application for the iPhone 5S, everything that runs well enough on an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 or iPhone 5c will run well enough on an iPhone 5S as well. Optimize for the low end, and the high end will take care if itself.
It is unlikely we will see the sort of performance boosts Apple is claiming because the 64-bit architecture only comes into its own at more than 4GB of RAM because that’s when 32-bit slows down. Such tasks haven’t been made for the smartphone, at least not yet. Additionally, the iPhone 5S is unlikely to have more than 2GB of RAM even though it has not been officially announced due to the fact that Apple has always managed to do more with less, as evidenced by the sole gigabyte of RAM in the iPhone 5, which is still a powerful device.
This being said, the iPhone should still be butter smooth but because we have no benchmark figures, the Galaxy Note 3 should take this section on mere technicality. However, it is unlikely you will notice the difference because all of these phones are ultra fast.
Winner: Galaxy Note 3
Apple has always been a strong performer here because its not just the megapixel count that matters. Because we will not go into a very in-depth analysis of photo quality, a lot of the stuff here will be based on personal experience (I have owned both an iPhone 5 and am using an S4 so it should be fairly accurate).
Larger pixels will generally yield a higher quality capture as light has been able to flow freely through them without being dominated by noise. But pack too many into a sensor without increasing the chip size significantly, and nothing changes. While S4 images look slightly sharper than the iPhone’s, its low-light performance leaves much to be desired. It also faces a lot of trouble with the white balance which the iPhone does not.
The Samsung pair thus look to be the worst performers here despite the Note 3 being the only one which is 4K capable. This is because the images posted by the new iPhone 5s are simply incredible because they upped the sensor size, and have a dual LED flash (one warm, one cool so that images look more realistic). In any case, 4K displays are still quite some time away.
The iPhone camera is a decent snapper, with it’s main strengths lying in it’s capture speed, focusing times, and general image quality. It is, however, not the best in any single field, but combine it’s whole package and you’ll get a formidable foe. When it lags, it lags behind marginally, and has surpassed every device in some way, until recently.
The Sony and the Nokia both have ridiculously high pixel counts but because the Nokia has a larger sensor (1/1.5″ compared to 1/2.3″) and far more pixels plus a Zeiss lens it can produce ridiculous amounts of details with marginal noise. While the Sony Xperia Z1 is no slouch, as you can see in this article, it simply cannot reach the sheer height from which the Lumia 1020 dominates. Sony is making progress, the largest outside Nokia, but it is not enough to dethrone the 1020.
Winner: Nokia Lumia 1020
Galaxy S4: 440 ppi, 5″ 1080p Super AMOLED
Note 3: 386 ppi, 5.7″ 1080p Super AMOLED
Xperia Z1: 440 ppi, 5″ 1080p Super AMOLED
Nokia Lumia 1020: 332 ppi, 4.5″ 768×1280 AMOLED
Apple iPhone 5S: 326 ppi, 4″ 640×1136 Retina display.
Apple used to have the most beautiful screen around with the first retina display. After continuing it with the iPhone 5 and now the iPhone 5S, the major gripe is it’s sub-720p resolution, a far cry from the full HD displays of competitors. Loved by some, but hated by most, it’s still 4 inches. Majority of consumers have clearly indicated they want larger screens, and the rest of the phones here have more brilliant, larger, and sharper screens. However, in the midst of all these pixels, what matters is the pixel density (ppi). The Galaxy S4 and Xperia Z1 smash the opposition in this field by a healthy margin, with the iPhone 5 lagging the furthest behind. Regardless, all of them will still look gorgeous, as pixel density hardly makes a difference after 300 ppi.
What is also quite important are the viewing angles. As always, the iPhone 5S has dominated. Changing the viewing angles hardly brings a change in colours, but does cause a considerable drop in contrast. The Lumia 1020 also performs well, giving good viewing angles, but suffers from a colour change when changing the angles. The worst performing, however has to be the Xperia Z1. Even with its Triluminos Full HD Bravia display, it still cannot match the viewing angles as the rest of the bunch. The S4 and Note 3, though, crush all competition easily. Their superior blacks, viewing angles and sunlight legibility prove an unassailable match to anyone. However, just on pixel density alone, I’ll give this to the S4.
Winner: Galaxy S4
The Android v iOS war has been raging on for the longest time. So we will just be telling you what’s new on the table.
The new iOS 7 looks gorgeous and refreshing but it also brings with it some features that the iPhone has been lagging for quite a while. Air Drop is Apple’s take on NFC (which doesn’t require the business of tapping phones), and the quick access bar to critical phone controls like Bluetooth is finally here. Along with that, we get a new boost to security in the form of a thumbprint scanner which replaces the need for passwords. This is great because the constant password prompts can be a real irritant.
But these innovations are not revolutionary. With the sole exception of a well-postioned thumbprint scanner (the Atrix had a very bad position), Android can do all the things iOS does and more. In other words, nothing has changed. If you want a smooth operating system that looks beautiful but with limited customizability, go with iOS. If you want the bells and whistles the latest tech can bring you, in a slightly less polished form, but with far more freedom for you to play with, take Android.
The new iPhone 5S in its grey, gold, and silver option looks even more gorgeous than ever. Its completely flush surface goes with the flat look of iOS 7, and the ring around the home button probably looks better than ‘the one ring which rules them all’. Apple has always known for building a premium product, with a focus on it feeling good.
The Samsung products, even with the new leather backing on the Note 3, still look cheap. The only real contender here is the Xperia Z1 which feels really premium as well.
Its really your personal preference, but I think the iPhone 5S looks gorgeous and is a leap above all phones and is an undisputed winner here.
Winner: iPhone 5S
Bells and Whistles
I could not come up with a more specific category for this, because all the phones have their unique cool features. Let’s evaluate how useful they are.
The S4 has tons of features that might or might not be useful. From Smart Scroll, to Smart Pause, to S Fitness, it has a whole series of sensors like pedometers and barometers. Their usefulness is limited because they often not work well but the fact that such care has gone into the user experience is an interesting take.
The Note 3 has lots of helpful S Pen features which allow for efficient multitasking which is great for people trying to replace their tablets.
The Xperia Z1 probably has the most useful unique feature. Its been proven to last 30 mins while submerged under 1m of water, is tested to be dust proof, and has a shatter proof screen.
The Nokia’s hardly unique, but potent feature is really its camera and it’s a really good one at that.
The iPhone? A thumbprint sensor….. While this seems really lame compared to the rest, we must give the guys at Cupertino a little more credit. Apple has stuck strong to its philosophy of not putting in more features than necessary. A thumbprint sensor embedded in the home button is to be honest quite smart. As said earlier, the Motorola Atrix had a fingerprint sensor, but a poorly located one, hence falling out of favour with majority of the crowd. The positional convenience is a huge amount of value-add because there will be no need to key in passwords any more. It really is a ‘wow’ factor!
However, in the end the most useful features belong to the Xperia Z1. You can manhandle it, dunk it and do whatever to it that you fancy, but tough luck trying to spoil it.
Winner: Xperia Z1
We’ve gone through multiple technical aspects and we’ve proven that in every single technical way, the iPhone cannot match-up. Where is does shine is in it’s hardware optimization. As an Apple die-hard turned Samsung supporter, I’d be the first to doom Apple to an ever-decreasing market share. However, Apple has always been a market leader, not a follower. There is a distinctive Apple style, and it works, as it has for the last few years. This new iPhone 5S is distinctively Apple, and as an option above the rest of the phones reviewed here, it actually makes sense.
We’ve reached a state in technology where its no longer a matter of which phone is better. It is about which fulfils its intended purpose. If you are a productivity warrior, the Galaxy Note 3 is the obvious choice. If you really want a good camera, go with the Lumia 1020. If you manhandle and mistreat your device, do look at the Z1.
For most though, the hard part is deciding between the Galaxy S4, Xperia Z1, and the iPhone 5S because all target users who want something that just ‘works’. In the past, the Galaxy S4 would have been the obvious choice but the iPhone 5S takes simplicity to the next level. It now possesses key features which Android used to have a monopoly over. Now if you get an android, you have to face massive lagging, fragmentation, and weaker security for not much more. Apple has upheld their baseline. Being chock full of features for the sake of having them is useless if the user experience is compromised. Their new phone with just two ground-breaking innovations in power and security shows that Apple still can work their magic, and that is all the consumer needs to know.
Because the iPhone 5S looks fantastic, brings 64-bit to the phone platform, and is an all-round performer, I’d gladly trade my Galaxy S4 for the phone which rules them all. The iPhone is king again.
Verdict: iPhone 5S
UPDATE: For part 2 of this shootout, do have a look over here!
Full Specifications on:
Sony Xperia Z1: http://www.gsmarena.com/sony_xperia_z1-5596.php
Galaxy Note 3: http://www.gsmarena.com/samsung_galaxy_note_3-5665.php
Nokia Lumia 1020: http://www.gsmarena.com/nokia_lumia_1020-5506.php
iPhone 5S (not available): This is the iPhone 5 link: http://www.gsmarena.com/apple_iphone_5-4910.php