Android lovers prepare to be spoilt for choice, because HTC is bringing its bevy of Ice Cream Sandwich-slathered lovelies to market. Of course lots of Droidheads have been tippety-tapping away on their beloved Samsung Galaxy S2s for nigh on a year now -- so how does Samsung's classic slice of Android compare to the latest Droidy phones: HTC's One X and One S?
And how do all three Android phones measure up to Apple's latest iPhone -- the iPhone 4S, a stupendous slice of smart phone goodness that nonetheless enrages Android fanboys because of its matronly tendency to tell them what they can and can't do.
Wars have been fought for less than the Android vs iOS fanboy saga, but prepare to set your technology tribalism aside while I assemble this quartet of handset contenders and pit one against t'other to decide which is the ultimate winner.
There's no accounting for taste. Just look at Steve Ballmer's jumpers. But to my gadget-loving eye at least, there's no phone quite as aesthetically arresting as the iPhone 4S. Well, apart from the identikit iPhone 4. But that's the point about design classics: they don't need changing.
The iPhone 4S's glassy front and back, banded by a steel ribbon, is the very essence of timeless class. It's as if 2001: A Space Odyssey's black monolith has fallen out of a TV set and landed in your hand. Apple has even fixed the antenna death-grip design snafu that struck the iPhone 4, so what's not to love?
This is a phone that happily fits in both hand and pocket -- unlike the enormo-slab that is the HTC One X. Add to that, Apple's attention to detail is in ample evidence at each meticulously constructed corner, switch and screw. The fact the iPhone has been so extensively copied -- slavishly, Apple would say -- is also a testament to the strength of the design.
In the Android camp, the HTC One X looks the business, with a curvaceous screen and rounded design that strokes the palm it sits on. It may be plastic, but it looks premium and has classy touches such as drilled speaker holes. However, this phone is huge -- so much so it's guilty of overreaching itself in the size department. It's 4.7-inch screen size is just too big for smaller-handed folk to happily handle. The screen's edges also flex under pressure, as I note in my review -- definitely a design flaw.
The One S does not share this flaw. It's solid as a rock, with a very sturdy frame that boasts some sleek design touches -- such as a matte black, ceramic finish option. It's also extremely thin and while its screen is still a tad big for my tastes, it isn't stupidly huge like its enormo-brother. From a pure design point of view, however, the One S is weak sauce compared to the glasstastic iPhone 4S. More iClone than design classic. Sorry HTC.
But what about the Samsung Galaxy S2, I hear you cry? The S2 certainly puts in an impressive performance, with a very slender frame and a pleasingly rounded -- albeit rather wide -- oblong form that's certainly easy on the eye. But take a closer look: the devil is in the detail when it comes to design -- and the plasticky S2 can't transcend Apple's slab of glass approach. The S2 is also distinctly iPhone-esque in appearance. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but flattery and sincerity don't win you any design awards, so the iPhone 4S easily wins this round.
Best for design: Apple iPhone 4S
The Samsung Galaxy S2 is in the midst of getting upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich -- as any S2 owner will tell you. This phone shipped with Android 2.3 and lots of S2 owners are still stuck on plain old Gingerbread, which is a big black mark for Samsung on the software side.
Still, even on Gingerbread, Android is a powerful and flexible interface, so the S2 is a capable beast, update or no. Samsung's TouchWiz overlay isn't amazing though -- it's not a terribly kludgy mess, by any means, but nor is it especially stand-out. Overall, the Android experience on the S2 definitely remains a tad geeky, even when the S2 is upgraded to ICS.
HTC's Sense 4.0 software, on the One X and One S, feels more polished than TouchWiz, with various graphical and user-friendly tweaks to aspects such as the native browser, folders, the recent apps menu and more making it a pleasure to use and navigate.
Sense won't endear itself to hardcore Droidheads who like their Android fix undiluted, but it scores highly on usability and polish. Both the One S and the One X also stand on a solid ICS foundation -- so they climb one rung above the S2 in the software stakes, getting the latest Android tweaks such as Face Unlock and device encryption as standard.
And then there is the iPhone 4S, which runs iOS -- an Apple walled garden where there are apps aplenty for every task you can imagine, OS updates get pushed out in a timely fashion as Apple cracks the whip over its
underlings 'network partners', and the iPhone interface is so easy to use that babies pop out of the womb making 'unlock my iPhone' gestures.
The trade-off for all this ease and bounty is that Apple's iOS is more restrictive than Android. You can only download apps approved by Apple, and you can't ditch its interface and stick something else on your iBrick without incurring the wroth of Cupertino, so iOS is certainly more constrained than Android.
And therein lies the rub for Android fans -- iOS doesn't let them flex their geek muscles. But iOS fans would just say: come on in, the water's lovely! So, ultimately, the choice of iOS or Android is a philosophical one: both OSes are very capable and powerful -- it's up to you which approach you prefer.
Best for software: Draw between HTC One X/One S and iPhone 4S
Software is all important these days, but it wouldn't be able to wow us without the necessary hardware underpinning it. And this quartet of phones is certainly not lacking in the hardware department with dual-core chips as the basic processor standard. The HTC One X even packs a quad-core-plus-one chip -- the first phone to arrive in the UK with such a souped-up engine.
Currently, though, the dual-core HTC One S delivers a generally faster performance than its big brother -- besting it in several benchmarks. The One S has a smaller screen and lower resolution, meaning it has fewer pixels to shift around, but there's also the issue of app optimisation -- it's early days for quad-core mobiles, so developers are unlikely to be doing too much to take advantage of four cores as yet, meaning the One X is more showpony than racehorse for the moment.
Optimisation is also important when it comes to the processor. Apple's iPhone 4S is reckoned to have a 1GHz dual-core chip that's underclocked to 800MHz, yet the Samsung Galaxy S2 has a 1.2GHz dual-core chip, so the S2 is faster right? Wrong. The iPhone 4S whups the S2's ass. So it's not even what chip hardware you have, it's how you optimise it that counts -- and Apple appears to be getting more out of its hardware than Samsung.
Moving onto display technology, the iPhone 4S' 330 dots per inch 'retina display' resolution beats the 256dpi One S on screen tech. The iPhone's also even more pixel-packed than the 312dpi HTC One X -- which has a gigantic 4.7-inch display that's not quite as crystal clear as the iPhone's. The Samsung Galaxy S2's screen is brilliantly bright, thanks to its Super AMOLED Plus display. Samsung's screen tech does tend to oversaturate colours, however, making content look less natural than it does on the other phones. The S2 also has the lowest resolution of the four, at 217dpi.
When it comes to cameras, all four phones are impressive. The iPhone 4S's excellent 8-megapixel lens is certainly a force to be reckoned with, although the HTC One X has a very decent snapper too, which is arguably just as good. And both the HTC One S and the Samsung Galaxy S2's lens also impressed us, so there's not a massive amount to choose between any of these phones when it comes to camera hardware.
Battery life puts clear blue water between some of the phones, with HTC's devices having the least battery stamina in my experience. The One X especially has a large appetite for battery juice (although HTC promises an update soon), while the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S2 will easily last you a day's moderate-to-heavy use before needing a charge.
On the storage front, the Samsung Galaxy S2 is the only device to include a microSD card slot to support expansion of up to 32GB of storage. The S2 also comes in 16GB and 32GB flavours, so it's possible to walk away with 64GB of storage in your pocket. Apple's iPhone 4S doesn't have a microSD card slot, but there is a model with 64GB built-in.
HTC's devices aren't so generous on the storage front. The HTC One X has 32GB of on-board storage, but there's no microSD card slot. And the One S has a mere 16GB (and no SD card slot). With both HTC handsets you do also get 25GB of cloud storage from Dropbox free for two years, but even factoring in this cloud cupboard space, they both still trail what you can get on board the iPhone 4S, or the Samsung Galaxy S2.
The One X is also faster than the 4S and its camera is arguably just as good, but its screen isn't as sharp and its storage isn't quite as roomy. Its battery is a definite weak point, at least for now.
And while the Samsung Galaxy S2 has decent storage options and a good camera, it fails to best the iPhone on processing performance and has a less impressive screen resolution.
So, overall, the iPhone 4S edges ahead of its Android rivals by excelling on so many hardware fronts -- but its lead is by no means massive, and Apple's rivals are definitely catching up.
Best for hardware: Apple iPhone 4S
The iPhone 4S does not come cheap -- Apple sells this handset SIM-free starting at £499 for the 16GB model, jumping to £599 for the 32GB model or an eye-watering £699 for the full-fat 64GB handset. You're definitely paying a premium for the Apple brand.
The Samsung Galaxy S2 can also set you back a pretty penny SIM-free, despite being about a year old -- this is surely a testament to its enduring popularity. Expansys is currently selling the 16GB Samsung Galaxy S2 for £420, while Clove has a 32GB S2 for £600.
HTC's new One series devices may be the newest of the quartet but they're also currently the cheapest -- albeit not by a huge amount. The HTC One S can be pre-ordered from Expansys for £405, while the HTC One X is on Clove for £492.
So the HTC One S wins cheapest overall price, but the HTC One X gets you a lot of bang for your buck -- so I call this category a tie between the two One series handsets.
Best for price: Draw between HTC One S and One X
The overall winner, with two and a half points, is the Apple iPhone 4S. Runner-up is the HTC One S, with one and a half points, followed by the HTC One X with one point. The Samsung Galaxy S2 comes last, not because it's a bad phone -- au contraire, it remains a very powerful and capable handset -- but chiefly because it's the oldest device of the four and is thus now facing a new generation of very powerful and capable Android handsets.
Samsung is suspected to be lining up a sequel to the S2 -- I mean the rumoured S3, rather than the tablet-cum-phone Galaxy Note -- so expect Korea's finest to pull something very compelling out of its smart phone kit bag in the not too distant future.