HTC Desire vs iPhone 4 vs Samsung Galaxy S
13th Jul 2010 | 14:22
Our top three smartphones face off
Desire vs iPhone 4 vs Galaxy S: Interface
If you're looking for our HTC Desire HD coverage, then check out HTC Desire HD vs iPhone 4 vs Samsung Galaxy S instead.
The world has been forced to live with sub-standard smartphone experiences for years; putting up with a huge number of foibles in order to access the latest tech.
Want GPS on your Nokia N95? Get used to low battery and a slow UI. Want to record video? You'd be better off sketching what you see rather than try and decipher the blocky mess you're left with.
But now most smartphones are getting to the stage where there's very little wrong at all – no longer is there a compromise to be made.
So let's take a look at the top three in the world at the moment and see which phone gives you the most for your cash:
The iOS4 interface is more evolution than revolution, but that doesn't mean it's not a lot better than before. Things like double tapping the home button to call up multitasking and iPod controls work well, and the menu system is as familiar as ever.
However, the time is right for Apple to start thinking about widgets – people might have been scared before, but now iPhone users are starting to 'get' what smartphones are about, and a few things like weather widgets wouldn't go amiss – it's not always 23 degrees and sunny.
The HTC Sense UI is one of the best overlays we've seen on a mobile – it's the perfect blend of style and functionality.
From being able to pinch the screen to see all Home screens at once to the integrated social networking in the contacts menu, the overall feeling is one of intuition.
Granted, it takes a while to set up, but once done you're sorted for the entire journey with your new phone.
Samsung Galaxy S
Adding the TouchWiz 3.0 interface was a good move for Samsung, as it offers more than the basic Android overlay we've seen on its other Android phones.
Seven Home screens are accessible for widget and icon dropping, and the menu system is simple to use.
However, the widgets on offer are woeful – why are there so few available, Samsung?
The contacts menu is better, but a little convoluted compared to the intuitive Sense UI.
Desire vs iPhone 4 vs Galaxy S: Screen
The Retina Display from Apple packs the highest amount of pixels into a mobile phone screen, and offers a very sharp image on the screen indeed.
You can zoom right into letters on a web page and there's no graining – Apple says this is so high-res that the human eye doesn't need any more.
It uses LCD technology, rather than OLED, so it's a little thicker – although the iPhone 4 is still the thinnest smartphone on the market.
The OLED screen on the Desire is pretty nice in its own right – decent colour saturation, high contrast ratio, good response – but despite it being at the sharp end of the industry, it's still beaten comfortably by its rivals.
It has the same resolution as the Samsung Galaxy S but doesn't have the same clarity – although watching video on the screen is still a nice experience, and you can really ramp the brightness up when necessary.
Samsung Galaxy S
The Super AMOLED screen on the Galaxy S is the most advanced the Koreans have created – and it shows.
The screen is pin sharp, and the speed and response time is the best we've seen on a mobile, which means watching movies is a really nice experience.
According to the spec sheet, the iPhone 4's Retina Display is actually superior – but to our eyes we prefer looking at things on the Galaxy S.
Desire vs iPhone 4 vs Galaxy S: Calling
The iPhone has traditionally been plagued with dropped call issues – that seems to have been remedied in the latest version, which is lucky, as people were about to lose faith in Apple.
However, somehow Jobs' lot managed to let a big problem slip through the net: holding the iPhone 4 in your left hand will force signal to drop dramatically. We haven't encountered any dropped calls because of it, but it's a poor show.
Call quality is good thanks to the noise cancelling microphone though – and FaceTime is there if you like living in the early part of the millennium.
The Desire loses one key feature from the Nexus One in a separate noise cancelling microphone – although that does mean it's £5 a month cheaper on contract.
Call quality is only average as a result – not poor by any means, but get caught on a noisy street and you'll struggle to be heard.
Samsung Galaxy S
Like the Desire, there's no noise cancelling here – call quality is improved simply because the device is longer than most others thanks to a 4-inch screen.
Other than that it's the same basic experience – you get a fun beepy sound when calls are connected, the buttons are nice and easy to hit, and you'll feel pretty chirpy about the whole thing to be honest.
Desire vs iPhone 4 vs Galaxy S: Messaging
The iPhone has always come at messaging from the right angle – Exchange email, threaded conversations and so on, and now it's got a unified inbox too. We agree it's not groundbreaking, but all the small steps are in the right direction.
The QWERTY keyboard is ridiculously good on the touchscreen – so many people will use the iPhone as their first taste of non-keyed handsets and will be blown away at how easy it is.
With the Desire you're actually pretty limited in terms of how much you can do messaging-wise. Sure, you can add widgets for Facebook and Twitter and such, but in terms of core functionality, it's pretty much the same as the iPhone.
That's not to say it's a bad experience, but we'd hope a forward-thinking company like HTC would be seeing opportunities to create a unified inbox for Facebook, Twitter, email and everything else, like the BlackBerry range manages so easily.
That said, the keyboard is almost on a par with the iPhone, spookily working out what you're trying to say even if you just look at the correct keys. (Note: not actually true about the eye thing. But typing-wise it's tip top).
Samsung Galaxy S
Like the other two phones on test here, the Galaxy S doesn't really have much in the way of unification.
Like the Desire's Friend Stream, it has social networking all in the same place, and the cool 'Write and Go' application works nicely too if you find you have something to say but can't initially decide whether to email, text or Twitter it.
The keyboard is decent too – it also packs Swype, where you trace instead of tapping letters out. It's clever and works well, but it's not so much re-inventing the wheel as creating something that's as good but different. Like… erm… we don't know what's as good as a wheel.
Desire vs iPhone 4 vs Galaxy S: Internet
The iPhone series has been built on a solid internet experience and that hasn't changed since the inception of the range.
Pinch and zoom was a revelation, loading speeds for full HTML are brilliant and even the transitions between the window changes are cool
However, we're still not treated to Flash video, nor will we ever be – the iPhone 4 is a little stuck until HTML5 video pops up.
We never thought a mobile could out-iPhone the iPhone when it comes to the internet, but the Android OS has offered that chance, and the HTC Desire has taken it.
A fast 1GHz processor and quick-loading internet pages might make it the equal of the iPhone 4, but it's in the details where the Desire comes alive.
Things like being able to easily share via Twitter or Facebook from the internet menu and a constantly updated list of your most-visited sites are awesome touches… and with Flash already onboard it makes internet video a cinch – and this will be improved even further when Flash 10.1 lands via the Froyo update in the near future.
Samsung Galaxy S
Making the best use of the Android web browser, the Samsung Galaxy S internet experience is pretty good – although not up to the level of its Desire brethren.
It's essentially the same experience, with a finer detail thanks to the Super AMOLED screen, but doesn't use Flash video, which is a little bit of a let down.
You can still share links and see the most visited pages as bookmarks, which is cool – plus the internet menu has a quick link to the brightness setting of the Galaxy S, which is a really nice touch.
When Froyo comes to the Galaxy S, there won't be much to choose between it and the Desire – but for now, it's just slightly inferior when it comes to the 'net.
Desire vs iPhone 4 vs Galaxy S: Camera
Apple's iPhone cameras have long been the stick with which to beat the handsets – sure, Safari Mobile is great, but the 2MP cameras in the first models were just rubbish.
Jobs must have taken umbrage with such criticism, as the iPhone 4 has a 5MP camera with LED flash and HD video recording.
It's a great option to have, simply because the pictures look so good and the shutter speed is out of this world – HD video recording is slick and stable too.
And when it comes to media, we're looking at up to 32GB of storage, the full range of iPod power making music and video browsing very easy, and a decent audio performance coupled with good video thanks to the retina display.
It's strange to think that in a few short months the Desire has slipped so far back in terms of photography and media power.
Sure, the 5MP camera isn't going to set the world alight, as it only offered slightly above average photos, but it was certainly better than anything HTC had offered previously.
But it's not in the same league as the iPhone, as even though it has a flash it's not as powerful and the shutter speed isn't anywhere near – plus it only records at DVD quality, where others are moving to HD.
Media is the same – it's all very good, it's just not stellar with things like audio performance and ease of browsing (with videos lumped in with photos for some reason) not quite hitting the high levels its peers are managing with ease.
Samsung Galaxy S
Samsung has always had a heritage of making decent cameras, with the Pixon 12 among the most advanced cameraphones in the world.
However, that knowledge hasn't really shown up on the Galaxy S, as despite packing a 5MP sensor like the others on test, it hasn't got a flash and also struggles to take clear snaps.
The HD video recording is a bit better though, with decent footage possible providing you can hold the camera really still.
But when it comes to media, the Galaxy S really excels. Not only is the screen clear, large and bright, it's also got a ridiculous amount of sharpness to it when watching videos, and the contrast ratios are immense too.
Audio-wise it's great as well, with the bass and high-end particularly nice. However, thanks to the poorer camera, you'd have to argue the iPhone 4 is better overall.
Desire vs iPhone 4 vs Galaxy S: Apps and Maps
Were you aware the iPhone family has an app store? It does, you know, and a damn good one at that.
Packed with a whole host of apps, and boasting the largest number of big name brands chucking their wares in, the App Store has revolutionised the way we use smartphones.
Mapping is decent too – quick, easy to use and often updated, with the API offered out to developers for apps as well.
However, it lacks some of the critical elements that Google obviously saves for its Android platform, which means it will always be slightly inferior.
The HTC Desire has access to the Google Android Market, which is apparently closing in on offering 100,000 applications.
However, this portal is a little under-stocked still, with most of the tier-one applications only available on the iPhone. This should change in the next year, as many brands are seeing Android as a more mature platform, but it's a long way from matching the iPhone.
The Google Maps application is great, not least because it's making good use of the phone's 1GHz processor.
Elements like transit lines, free satellite navigation and a swift GPS signal make this a really good option if you're looking to find yourself – literally, not in the philosophical sense. Although there may be an App for that…
Samsung Galaxy S
Like the Desire, the Galaxy S has access to a whole range of applications through the Market, so there's no differentiation there.
However, the Galaxy S also has another portal: Samsung Apps.
It's a little odd as not only are there just six apps on offer, but these keep getting updates every two to three days.
It's not a great offering, but one that we hope will get bigger and offer tailor-made Galaxy S applications to users.
Map-wise, the Galaxy S slightly outdoes the Desire simply by having a better and clearer screen. This means if you're using the phone as a sat nav, seeing where you're going is that much easier, which is always a plus when navigating.
Desire vs iPhone 4 vs Galaxy S: Battery/Cost
The battery life on the iPhone range has been notoriously poor over the last few years, with the phone constantly asking for more than the power pack can provide.
The iPhone 4 bucks that trend by making a battery that last 40% longer, with the Apple processor helping to make sure the device only sips power, rather than gulping it down in huge swathes.
If there was one problem with the Desire, it would be the battery life, as users often struggle to get it to last the day at times.
It's not a terrible battery, because most are used to overnight charging of their phones, but it could still be a little bit better, especially when the competition has raised its game.
Samsung Galaxy S
The Galaxy S is neither awful at retaining battery nor good at lasting for a good length of time. Depending on whether you're enticed by the movie or music player, the power source can last from 8 hours to 1.5 days.
The main problem is the battery meter output – it will quickly slip down from 50% to almost nothing on occasion, meaning you can feel a little tricked by your handset.
We don't know what the deal is with Apple and the networks, but Jobs has somehow managed to force them to offer the iPhone 4 at a much higher price than other phones.
It's at least £50 more expensive than its rivals SIM free, but even on contract you seem to have to pay around £170 for the device where it's free for others.
The cheapest of those on test here, you can get the Desire for around £400 SIM free and from £30 a month for a free phone on contract.
However, you do need to add a memory card into the mix, as you only get a 2GB offering with the phone.
Samsung Galaxy S
While it's one of the more expensive smartphones, coming in at around £470 with 24GB of storage, the Galaxy S is still streets ahead of the iPhone in terms of contract price – if you shop around you can get if free on a £30 a month deal.
Desire vs iPhone 4 vs Galaxy S: Verdict
We like what we're seeing here: three smartphones that really offer a shedload of hardware for your cash.
The iPhone 4 and HTC Desire are very closely matched at the head of the field, with the Samsung Galaxy S not too far behind either.
It almost comes down to preference – are you a lover of the open Android approach, or do you prefer the controlled-but-app-filled Apple existence?
Thanks to the reception problem, the HTC Desire still represents the best all-round device in our opinion – Apple's free case solution is a great step, but it doesn't alter the fact that the phone hardware still has the problem.
So well done to the HTC Desire – despite being the oldest on test, it's still the top smartphone in our eyes... and if something beats it in the next few months, we're looking forward to seeing that.
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