*Updated* [dotTech Analysis] iPhone 4S vs Galaxy Nexus vs Galaxy S II (including carrier variants) vs Droid RAZR

Originally written on October 19, 2011. Updated on October 21, 2011 to clarify Galaxy Nexus has a Super AMOLED display, not Super AMOLED Plus.

Samsung Galaxy S II hit USA shores a few weeks ago (the rest of the world got it earlier this year back in May). iPhone 4S was released last week. Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Motorola Droid RAZR were announced in the past 24-hours. With so many juicy handsets going around, it is hard to decide which one to get. (Although, admittedly, your choices will be limited by which carrier you are with.) That is why dotTech has put together an analysis comparing the best smartphones available on the market right now: iPhone 4S vs Galaxy Nexus vs Galaxy S II (including carrier variants) vs Droid RAZR. Check out the detailed chart below followed by a discussion to learn more. Hopefully you will have a better idea on what phone to grab by the time you are done reading this article.

iPhone 4S vs Galaxy Nexus vs Galaxy S II (including carrier variants) vs Droid RAZR

Features/Specs Comparison Chart

(Click on the chart to view it in full size.)

Note: At this time, both the Galaxy Nexus and Droid RAZR have only been announced — not released.

Droid RAZR is going to be a Verizon exclusive in the USA, while Rogers in Canada is also confirmed to get it. No word on other carrier support around the world. Verizon is rumored to release Droid RAZR on November 10, 2011.

There has been no information on which carriers will be getting Galaxy Nexus. Only Japans’ NTT Docomo has been officially confirmed; and Verizon is rumored to get it. No word on other carrier availability. Verizon is rumored to release Galaxy Nexus on November 10, 2011

Discussion

If you feel overwhelmed by the chart shown above, don’t worry — it is overwhelming. As you may have noticed, many featured displayed in the chart are similar across the handsets. In other words, all seven handsets are probably more similar than they are different (give or take). So let’s break this analysis down into a few key points that are likely to be the deciding factors in which handset you go with (assuming, of course, you are not limited by carrier choice).

Operating System

The most obvious distinguishing factor here is that the iPhone 4S runs on iOS (v5) whereas the other six run on Android. If you are a diehard iOS fan, then there really is no need to look further since only one handset runs on iOS.

Among the Android handsets, Galaxy Nexus runs (or will run, when it is released) Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich. Ice Cream Sandwich is the latest version of Android, with the latest features, improvements, performance tweaks (e.g. optimization for dual-core processors), etc. Running Android 4.0 provides Galaxy Nexus a clear advantage over the other five handsets because, as many people can attest to, Android manufacturers are very slow in updating handsets to the latest version of Android. In other words, the Galaxy S II/carrier variants and Droid RAZR will most likely get Ice Cream Sandwich — we just don’t know when they will get it. It could be a month later, three months later, six months later… there is no way of knowing.

Now does that mean the Galaxy S II/carrier variants and Droid RAZR are outdated because they don’t run the latest version of Android? No. Gingerbread is still an excellent version of Android (and, technically, it was the “latest” version until 24-hours ago when Ice Cream Sandwich was announced) and the user experience on Gingerbread handsets is still top-notch; plus you will still be able to use 99% of apps (the other 1% being Ice Cream Sandwich only apps that will popup sooner or later). However, it does mean if you are a stickler for the latest version of Android (*cough* Ashraf *cough*) then Galaxy Nexus should be your handset of choice. Not only will Galaxy Nexus run the latest version of Android when it is released, but since it is a Nexus phone (i.e. Google manages the software themselves, there is little to no manufacturer/carrier interference) the Galaxy Nexus will get very fast updates when new versions of Android are released in the future.

Screen

Before I discuss anything about screens, let me say this: All seven handsets have excellent displays. If I were to split hairs, I would say Super AMOLED Plus is the best display type. However, from the Retina display in the iPhone 4S, to the Super AMOLED in the Galaxy Nexus, the Super AMOLED Plus in the Galaxy phones, and Super AMOLED Advanced in the RAZR, your visual senses will feel like they are in heaven when you lay eyes upon any of these gorgeous displays. Thus, since we can only split hairs on display type, the main difference between the screens comes in the realm of size and resolution.

Preferred display size varies from person to person; one person may prefer a 3.5 inch screen while another may prefer a 4.3 inch screen. However, be that as it may, a larger screen is typically considered to be better than a smaller screen because activities like playing games, watching videos, and surfing the web are more enjoyable on a larger screen. In that regard, the iPhone 4S (3.5″) is the biggest loser with the Galaxy Nexus (4.65″) coming out on top; the other handsets fall in between with 4.3-4.5″.

Of course, there is a point when diminishing returns hit and a screen becomes too big; when this point is reached will depend on your personal tastes. (For me, personally, I feel phones are too large if the screen is bigger than 4.3 inches. However, I would never rule out a phone with a screen larger than 4.3 inches without first holding the phone in my hand to see how it feels. If it feels fine – usable with one hand without any strain – I would definitely consider it as a possibility.) So while the Galaxy Nexus may have the largest screen, some people may prefer to go with a different handset because of the smaller – yet still vivid – display. For what it is worth, the Galaxy Nexus display is curved, so it feels smaller in hand than a non-curved display of same size.

The other aspect where the displays vary is resolution. Similar to the idea of bigger = better in display size, when it comes to screen resolution, bigger = better. The logic behind this is a) the larger resolution display you have, the more content you can fit on the screen at a time without scrolling, such as when you are surfing the web and b) the larger resolution you have the larger pixel density you have which leads to crisper images. (Pixel density also depends on screen size, though. When I say larger resolution leads to larger pixel density I am speaking relatively — talking about varying resolutions on displays of the same size.) Since, as I mentioned previously, all of these handsets have terrific displays, the latter point about larger pixel density and crisper images isn’t too important: The Galaxy S II handsets may have the lowest pixel density out of all seven handsets, but the Super AMOLED Plus display is still extremely vibrant and vivid — nothing to complain about. The former point also is not too big of an issue for most people; most people probably won’t ever notice a difference in screen resolution unless they compare devices side-by-side. However, if you are one of those people that must absolutely have the largest resolution, Galaxy Nexus is the phone to go. It should be noted, though, because of iPhone 4S’s smaller screen size, it has the largest pixel density of all the handsets.

Processing Power

As shown in the chart above, all seven handsets have dual-core processors. If measured in just megahertz, T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II has the “strongest” CPU. However, in terms of real-world performance, the processors on each phone provide/will provide excellent performance with little to no lag. If you are thinking “T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II is so much better than the iPhone 4S because it has a 1.5 Ghz dual-core processor and the iPhone 4S only has a 800 Mhz dual-core processor” then you are too fixated on the spec cheat. True, technically, T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II’s processor is clocked almost twice that of iPhone 4S’; but that doesn’t mean the iPhone 4S will lag while T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II will soar. Both devices provide excellent performance. In fact, if anything, iPhone 4S’s lower clocked processor helps conserve battery life more than T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II’s higher clocked processor.

In regards to GPU, Apple’s iPhone 4S pulls way ahead of the crowd. The dual-core PowerVR SGX543MP2 is the most powerful GPU on the mobile market at this time and in benchmarks it wipes the floor with the competition. Yes, it even beats the quad-core Mali-400 in the Galaxy S II. (This is a perfect example of how more cores doesn’t necessarily mean better or more powerful.) However, notice I said benchmarks. In real-world performance, the GPU on the Galaxy S II/variants will be able to handle everything you throw at it. So, unless you are a geek that just wants the best GPU, the difference between SGX543MP2 and Mali-400 shouldn’t be a deciding factor in what phone you get. What is worth noticing, however, is the fact that the Galaxy Nexus and Droid RAZR use a PowerVR SGX540 chip.

The PowerVR SGX540 is “last year’s model”; it is the chip that was used in the Samsung Galaxy models of last year. That is not to say the PowerVR SGX540 is “weak”, per se. As I mentioned in a previous article, some people would argue the full power of the PowerVR SGX540 has not been utilized yet even though the chip is “old”: The Galaxy Nexus and Droid RAZR will still be able to view videos (in HD, for the Galaxy Nexus), play games, etc. just fine. However, literally using last year’s GPU is highly disappointing in these otherwise great handsets.

Update: It is worth mentioning that the Galaxy Nexus runs at a much higher resolution that previous phones (1280 x 720). There are some valid concerns that the SGX540 may not be powerful enough to render some games at 1280 x 720 resolution. Only time will tell what happens.

Connectivity

Aside from screen size, probably one of the biggest factors in determining what phone you grab is connectivity. In other words, do you want a phone with 4G or will you be satisfied with 3G? Would you like to be able to roam globally with your device or not?

For roaming globally, iPhone 4S is the winner. iPhone 4S has both GSM and CDMA radios built-in and supports quadband 2G and 3G. So, technically, you should be able to use an iPhone 4S on literally any cellular network in the world and get 2G on all of them and 3G on most of them. (Assuming the iPhone 4S is unlocked, of course.) Now that doesn’t mean the other six devices can’t roam globally. With the exception of Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch (Sprint’s Galaxy S II), all the other devices can roam globally. However, some devices may not get 3G (this will depend on the 3G frequency used the international carriers). They will all 2G on GSM networks worldwide, but some may or may not get 3G. If you are a global roamer, this may be a make or break point for you.

For 4G connectivity, Galaxy Nexus and Droid RAZR are the big winners with LTE; and since Verizon’s blazing fast LTE network reaches a good part of the USA already and is continually expanding, having LTE on a handset – if you are a Verizon customer – is a huge pro in favor of the Galaxy Nexus and Droid RAZR. Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch comes in second with WiMax support, assuming you live in a city that has Sprint’s WiMax. The other handsets round out the game with fake 4G, otherwise known as HSPA+. (T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II has the fastest HSPA+ with theoretical speeds of 42 Mbps.) It should be noted that the iPhone 4S on Sprint and Verizon doesn’t get 4G at all. Since HSPA+ is only supported on GSM networks, iPhone 4S can get fake 4G… but only on the GSM networks that support HSPA+, e.g. AT&T.

Battery Life

Battery life is an important issue when discussing smartphones because you want to be able to use your phone without having to be stuck to an outlet all day. Although other phones may have larger batteries – with T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II having the largest one at 1,850 mAh – historically the iPhone has been the best smartphone in terms of battery life; and Android handsets have been poor battery performers. Things are changing, however.

Many critics that have used the Galaxy S II have claimed it has great battery life (a huge improvement over Galaxy S, the original); and Motorola has typically always done well in power conservation, even when other Android manufacturers were failing. So while in the past iPhone was the clear winner when it came to battery life, now it is not so much. Does that mean all the above-mentioned Android handsets will provide as good battery life as iPhone 4S? I don’t know — no one has tested it to find out for sure. If I were to guess, I would say probably not. My guess is iPhone 4S, even though it has a smaller battery, will still have better battery life than the other six handsets. (Battery savings is an advantage for having a smaller screen and lower clocked processor.) However, the other six handsets also provide/will provide great battery life. So if you absolutely need a phone with the best battery life, you should go with the iPhone 4S. However, if you just require a phone with good/great battery life, then all seven devices are up for grabs.

Update: There are reports iPhone 4S has “terrible” battery life. Just an FYI.

Conclusion

It may sound odd to some people, but deciding on a smartphone is a big decision, especially if you won’t be able to switch to a new handset for two years. Hopefully this article has helped you make a better informed decision. If anything, you should take away from this article that no device is “the best” or “perfect”; each device has its pros and cons and which device you should get will depend on your needs and preferences.

If you own or plan on owning any of the devices mentioned in this article, we would love to hear your feedback in the comments below. Also, feel free to discuss anything about iPhone, Android, or mobile phones in general.

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26 comments

  1. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Chuck Wilsker: ROM Manager is the best backup tool but it requires root. You won’t find very good comprehensive backup tools that don’t require root. If you are trying to backup contacts, you can do that through Google. If you want to be able to download your apps again, I suggest using App Referrer (http://dottech.org/mobile/android/best-free-apps/22334/android-best-free-app-referrer/) to e-mail yourself a list and use that list when you exchange devices. If you are looking to backup your documents/files/photos, I suggest plugging it into your computer and transferring the files onto your computer to create a backup there.

    Hope that helps.

  2. Chuck Wilsker

    I wanted to back as much as possible in anticipation of having to exchange my phone as two level 2 techs at VZW thought there might be a problem with the battery.
    I tried My Backup Pro and did trade in my razr for another one – i do like it.
    It backed up about two thirds of my apps, but the rest i had to manually re-install.
    Was interested in Titanium backup bot the phone had to be rooted which voids the warranty.

    Still looking for a better backup.

  3. Chuck Wilsker

    Got it.
    very nice.
    So far, I have to address the very short battery life.
    As Dru said, Google Calendar Sync and free GO Contact Sync Mod work OK.

    A tech at verizon wireless suggested k9 email for additional features. jury is still out on it.

    The phone is very solid and responsive..

    I’ll get back to you after a few more days.

    ask me any questions.

    Thanks for the interaction.

    Chuck

  4. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Chuck Wilsker: I haven’t used them myself since my Nexus S can natively tether, but I hear they work well. Easy Tether is even on sale in Amazon Appstore every now and then.

    There is also a free tethering app who’s name I can’t think of off the top of my head.

    Did you phone come in?

  5. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Chuck Wilsker: You are welcome!

    @Chuck Wilsker: Not necessarily. The ports for SD card may be on the sides. As it turns out, the RAZR is unibody (it won’t open — none replaceable battery) and all ports are on the sides, including the micro SD one.

    @Dru: You to hear you like your device! And I appreciate the feedback, especially the bit on how you sync with Outlook.

    @Dru: Eh, the cell phones and cancer link is still very weak at best. The most recent study I read couldn’t come to a significant conclusion.

  6. Dru

    One other reason I selected this model was the low SAR #s (radiation). You can google sar chart cell phones for charts. For example, http://www.sarshield.com/english/radiationchart.htm. I generally don’t like/trust Cnet but they also have a chart (http://reviews.cnet.com/2719-6602_7-291-1.html). The book that got me interested in radiation is “Cell Phones and the Dark Deception” by Carleigh Cooper. I stumbled upon it at a library one day. From personal experience I’ve noticed people’s sensitivities vary, maybe like allergies. I don’t know that everyone will develop problems (ala smoking) but I can’t say either that none will. Trying to avoid this pandora’s box in the comments of this fine article.

  7. Dru

    Terrific article! Thank you Ashraf. I have been using my first smartphone, a Sprint SGS2 E4GT, for about 3 weeks. I took about 3 weeks to decide what to get (maybe that’s not long for some; I was brand new to the wide world of smart phones, and I tend to over-research anyway).

    I first chose carrier (best price to me other than prepaid such as Virgin Mobile, etc; didn’t like the phones those offered as much), then chose SGS2 E4GT over the HTC EVO 3D (I didn’t need 3D, I liked display and responsiveness). I am so happy. It’s not perfect, but my life is so much more organized and

    I’m much more on the ball. Plus I’m having a ball learning the smart phone world and exploring various apps (such as taking credit card orders, finding cheapest gas, scanning Qcards, and oh so much more ;-)). I don’t leave the country and didn’t need world support. I wish the battery lasted longer than one day, but then again it’s like a palm-sized computer, I use it for so much more than my previous phone (2006-vintage Blackberry… data plan turned off for a few years).

    Regarding Outlook sync, I use Outlook on my PC to pull in my Comcast email and my 3 Gmail accounts. I then sync my Outlook Calendar and contacts to one of my Google accounts which syncs to my phone. I use free Google Calendar Sync and free GO Contact Sync Mod. That set up works nicely for me. I use the native mail app to pull my Comcast email (like Outlook on the desk) and native Gmail app to view that. Calendars consolidate, which is nice.

    What I’m missing is Task sync’ing. I’ve not yet found a great Droid app for task mgt; I’ve found a few I’m going to try. Ideally I’d like to sync with Outlook. I don’t like Astrid. I like Jorte, but I like Bus Calendar Pro more but it has no tasks.

    One page I found for comparing Outlook sync products: http://www.syncdroid.net/

    I took this opportunity to rethink my email strategy… moved a lot of my “bulk” or misc email to a gmail acct for that, and select others to my primary gmail acct in prep for moving to a place where Comcast isn’t. I can’t get myself to send my financial statements through the Google maze.

    Cheers!

  8. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Chuck Wilsker: Two more options I found to sync Outlook to Android:

    https://www.forge.funambol.org/download/ (free)
    http://www.markspace.com ($39.95)

    I have never tried any of these two, or the other two I mentioned in the previous comment, so I can’t vouch for how well they work.

    For what it is worth, you will have a lot less headaches if you do a one time import from Outlook to Google contacts/calendar/gmail and start using those.

  9. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Chuck Wilsker: Interesting; I wasn’t aware the RAZR is unibody. I suppose Motorola had their reasons for going unibody on the RAZR. Thanks for letting me know!

    @Chuck Wilsker: Okay that is a bit more tricky because by using Outlook you have your contacts and calendar data stored locally as opposed to the cloud. Are you looking to regularly sync or just want a one time import? Based off a quick 5-10 minute search on Google, I found two possible solutions for you (there are probably more out there — I may even write an article on this).

    First solution is a free migration tool by Google. (http://tools.google.com/dlpage/outlookmigration) This is for a one time import. It says its for Google Apps, so I am not sure if it will work with regular Gmail accounts or not, but it might. The tool is intended as a one time migration tool because the migrations are not automatic — you must manually do it. After you migrate, you can use Google calendar/contracts/e-mail, if you want, in place of your Outlook to keep in sync with your phone.

    The second solution is a paid software that syncs Outlook with your Google account, and therefore your Android phone. It costs $49.95. See http://www.companionlink.com/android/.

    Hope that helps!

  10. Chuck Wilsker

    From PC World:
    No Removable Battery
    One design decision, however, that I’m not sure many will appreciate, is the lack of a removable battery. Perhaps Motorola switched to an integrated battery for slimness’ sake or as a requirement for the waterproof feature, but if you’re the kind who likes to have an extra battery for your smartphone, unfortunately that won’t be an option for you on the Droid Razr.
    The maker claims an impressive 12.5 hours of talk time, however, so you may not need the spare battery. This long battery life, Motorola reps told me, is 2.5 hours more than the recently released Droid Bionic’s battery life rating.

  11. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Davey: From where I stand I see content creation ability as being in the realm of operating system and the apps associated with these operating systems as opposed to handset to handset. In other words, iOS vs Android vs Windows Phone vs Etc.

    Even in the comparison of the OS’es, it is hard to generalize because each different task/profession requires something different. So while iOS may be good for one profession (i.e. iOS has an app they need), Android may be better for another profession. As an example, let’s say you are using PracticeFusion, an online medical records management tool. PracticeFusion can be used directly on Android tablets because they support flash; for the iPad you need to use VPN tunneling with a computer. For what it is worth, most major apps/services are either available on both Android and iOS or have plans for being available on both. The best way to go about which works best for you is research.

    Where handsets do come in, however, is in terms of ruggedness: The ability to survive harsh use that may be apparent in field work. Since iOS is only available on iPhone/iPad the best way to make those “rugged” is to purchase accessories, such as rugged cases. For Android, however, there are rugged devices out there such as the Motorola Defy and Casio G’zOne Commando. Many of these rugged phones are not “top-of-the-line” in terms of specs, but provide other features like being water resistant. Of course if you want an Android that isn’t rugged, you can purchase rugged cases, too.

    Hope that helps.

    @Chuck Wilsker: No problem!

    No official word on being able to change the battery, but I am going to go off on a limb and say you will be able to change battery. The only Android devices which you can’t change the battery are the unibody ones, such as some recent devices HTC came out with.

  12. Chuck Wilsker

    Thanks for all of the great info.

    I will wait for the Razr. I also believe that windows phones will make a come back but it will take them a while to match the Razr.

    Have you heard anything about capability to change the battery?

    By the way, i will not be using outlook on an exchange server so one of your suggestions for sync software won’t work. I know there has to be something out there. I did see one called Sync 2 that looked good but it is $60.

  13. Davey

    Ashraf,
    Would you consider an additional article to address the one question that nobody ever raises in this kind of comparison? How capable are these devices as content-creation tools? Most discussions focus on their capability as content viewers. Here’s my rationale:

    I am a field engineer – in the sense of “out in the sagebrush”, dirt roads, and 4-wheel drive. We have always wanted to carry something smaller than a laptop. In the days of the PDA, many of us tried to use the HP Ipaq, or other Windows device with Pocket Excel and Pocket Word for data collection and report writing. They worked, after a fashion, but that genre is obsolete. I’ve thought about pairing a smart phone or small tablet with an external (bluetooth?) keyboard. Unfortunately, I really don’t want to use myself as a guinea pig.

    Thanks!
    Davey – in the mountains of Wyoming

  14. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Ashraf: One more thing I forgot to mention in Bionic vs RAZR: RAZR will, from what I hear, be a worldphone. In other words, it will have GSM radios and support global roaming, at least on 2G and maybe even 3G. Bionic does not.

  15. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Adrian: Thank you! I am glad you like the analysis.

    @arpit pratap singh: Glad you like this article! Do you have an SGS2?

    @Chuck Wilsker:

    1) The Droid Bionic is a phone that was delayed and delayed and finally released. For what it is worth, the Bionic and RAZR are very similar: Same processor (altho RAZR’s is clocked higher), GPU, same screen size, same screen resolution, LTE, locked bootloader, etc. However, the RAZR is better. Why? For two reasons: 1) RAZR has a Super AMOLED Advanced display which will blow away the not-Super-AMOLED-Advanced display of the Bionic 2) RAZR has a bigger battery and will likely be more power efficient thanks to a power-conserving app Motorola is providing on the RAZR called SmartActions. And since the RAZR is being released later, it will likely be supported in terms of Android updates more later than the Bionic will. It has already been announced the RAZR will get Ice Cream Sandwich in early 2012… whatever that means. Plus the RAZR is covered in Kevlar. Enough said. :-P

    If you can wait until Nov 10 when the RAZR comes out, I would definitely suggest the RAZR over the Bionic.

    2) I have never really had to sync with Outlook on my phone, aside from a few months where I used my Galaxy S’s built-in email app to get e-mail from an Outlook Exchange account. So I don’t know too much about this realm of Outlook syncs. However, from what I hear, it is very possible on Android devices. I know for sure every Android device comes with some sort of native e-mail add that can sync with Outlook e-mail. If that doesn’t work, there is a free app called K-9 Mail which is an excellent e-mail app that works well with Outlook. I haven’t used it myself but you may want to give it a try.

    If all else fails, I know some professionals with Androids that use an app called TouchDown Exchange. It costs $19.99 but supposedly it works well in syncing Outlook emails, contacts, calendar, and tasks.

    If Outlook syncs are that important to you, your best bet may be to go with a Windows Phone 7 device. Those obviously will be able to sync with Outlook.

    Hope that helps!

  16. Chuck Wilsker

    I was just about to go out and buy a droid bionic when i saw this.

    2 questions, if i may:
    1. how do you think the razr compares with the bionic?
    2. I an concerned about syncing my contacts, calendar, and email from outlook to a droid. any suggestions?

    loyally yours,
    Chuck