The Old Smartphone Versus the New Smartphone

April 22nd, 2014

If I told you that the iPhone 5s is an aging device, you might look at me with a questioning stare. But remember, it was released seven months ago, and that’s positively ancient in the tech business they say. So in the eyes of some who expect the constant march of bigger and better gear easily besting older gear, the iPhone 5s is clearly yesterday’s news. It doesn’t matter that it remains a best seller at wireless carriers in the U.S. and other countries. It’s time to set it aside for the latest and greatest.

Or maybe not.

So there is a certain comparison pitting the iPhone 5s against the iPhone killer du jour, the Samsung Galaxy S5 in America’s newspaper of record, The New York Times.

After the hot publicity accorded the Galaxy S5’s predecessor, the Galaxy S4, you’d expect the successor to have been put up in lights. But there was no special media event, just a fairly routine rollout at an international mobile gadget event. Was Samsung trying to tell us something?

Understand that I spent seven months using Samsung flagship smartphones last year; first the Galaxy S3 and later the Galaxy S4. They worked well enough, but Samsung’s feature glut did little but fill precious storage space without adding tangible value. With the Galaxy S4, you wondered if the product designers lost it. Why tout features that barely worked, or didn’t work at all, such as Smart Scroll? Was there even a need for such a feature?

With the Galaxy S5, the display expands by a tenth of an inch compared to its predecessor, to 5.1 inches. The difference hardly matters. It’s still a big shiny plastic gadget that, from a distance, doesn’t look altogether different. This time, Samsung is touting a fingerprint sensor that you swipe rather than touch, along with health-related apps.

Now according to the Times article, authored by Farhad Manjoo, the Samsung bests the iPhone 5s in few areas, such as having slightly longer battery life and being waterproof. I wonder why Apple hasn’t considered the latter feature, but we know nothing of what the iPhone 6 will bring except for some rumors.

The other key area in which the Galaxy S5 excels is the screen size, which is to be expected. I think Apple is running out of excuses not to have at least one model with a larger display, though I’m skeptical of the possibilities of a phablet. I don’t think that’s an area Apple will play in, as it just complicates the lineup without much benefit.

Fingerprint sensors? The Times scribe says it works 90% of the time in the iPhone 5s, but he could never get it to function on the Galaxy S5. Now granted there’s some variability with the accuracy of these fingerprint sensors. But Samsung is notorious for releasing buggy features, as if they never went through a normal vetting process during development. More to the point, how do they expect to get away with it?

Well, I suppose dealers could be trained to tell the customer that their fingers are too large, too small, too greasy, and if that doesn’t work, promise a software fix.

The Times piece says that the iPhone 5s is otherwise superior to the Galaxy S5 in pretty much every respect, including performance. Despite boasting a 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, the Samsung is bested by the iPhone 5s and its 64-bit A7 processor, which has two cores and runs at 1.27GHz. Yes, on paper, it would seem the A7 is about half the speed of the Qualcomm, but that’s just not the case when you measure actual performance.

Worse, the Galaxy S5 is already being discounted by the carriers even though it was only recently released. I’ve heard TV and radio ads touting two-for-one offers, or free with the traditional wireless contract. That hardly augers well for what’s supposed to be the best Android smartphone on the planet.

Despite that, it’s a sure thing that the usual band of Apple critics will continue to say that the iPhone is second best, and cite Android’s higher market share as evidence of dominance. But it’s also true Apple makes two thirds of the profits in the smartphone business, and that the most popular Android gear is low-end stuff that provides only the basic features of a mobile handset along with old and less-secure versions of the OS.

Worse, this gear is sold with little or no profit, simply to move more product. I’m not sure how that marketing scheme keeps a company healthy and prosperous, but I don’t pretend to understand anything about running a multinational corporation.

In any case, it’s no wonder why Samsung tried so very hard to copy the iPhone. As the Galaxy S5 clearly demonstrates, even with Apple to emulate, they aren’t doing a terribly good job in delivering a compelling product that excites customers. Once again, having lots of features doesn’t count if the features are barely functional, if they even work at all.

As to reviewing the Galaxy S5, so sorry but I’ve got better things to do.

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