Once in a blue moon, when the stars are aligned and the sun shines through Stonehenge at precisely the right angle, no fewer than three mobile operating systems will receive major updates at roughly the same time. Reader, today we stand at one such holy juncture.
Apple's iOS platform has recently been upgraded to iOS 5, while the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, is about to explode on to the smart phone scene. Meanwhile Mango, the newest iteration of Microsoft's Windows Phone platform has also dropped from the tree.
So which OS should you buy into? Let's meet the lordly devices who have raised their banners in service of these three operating systems and ride into battle as their champions.
Apple iPhone 4S
Proudly bearing the iOS 5 insignia on its pennant, the iPhone 4S is a stately knight indeed, garbed in armour of metal and glass and wielding an 8-megapixel camera, a nippy A5 processor and Siri, the voice-controlled robot squire. The 4S is the direct descendant of the mighty iPhone 4, but it looks very similar to its royal father -- is this new device a rightful heir, or a pretender to the throne?
Samsung Galaxy Nexus
The standard-bearer for the whole Android operating system, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the biggest phone in the tournament, touting a massive 4.65-inch hi-def screen and a 5-megapixel camera. Seated astride a 1.2GHz dual-core-powered destrier, this fearsome contender wears the favour of Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Android. Garbed in grey
chainmail plastic, will it be the knight to unseat the iPhone?
Nokia Lumia 800
Since house Nokia bent the knee to Microsoft and swore fealty to the Windows Phone operating system, the realm has eagerly awaited the arrival of the Nokia Lumia 800. This handsome young outsider's shield is decorated with an 8-megapixel camera, and Mango -- the latest edition of Windows Phone. Can the Lumia 800's attractive design win back its family's lost honour?
Which of these phones deserves to sit on the throne, and which should end up spiked on a castle wall? Let's pit them against each other to find out. For when you play the game of phones, you win, or you die...
Ease of use
What use is a great new phone if you can't figure out how to use the blasted thing? None, that's what. Luckily, none of these mobiles are navigational nightmares. But some are still winners.
The iPhone 4S is running iOS 5, which almost everyone on the planet knows how to use, thanks to those ubiquitous Apple TV ads that show you how it works. Apps are tiled in neat grids of 16 on homescreens, and you swipe between these, tapping on apps you want to open. Double-tapping the 4S' home button brings up a taskbar that shows you all the apps you've got running so you can quickly hop between them.
And that's about it. Utterly simple, and attractive to boot. But it's not perfect -- moving between the apps you've got running often takes longer than it should, and diving into the settings feels like rappelling down into the seventh circle of Hell. Why are almost all the options you need hidden in the cryptic General tab? And why does it take so long to do something as simple as change Wi-Fi network?
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus has the 4S beat in many areas -- its Ice Cream Sandwich software looks to make Android much more usable, packing features like a persistent on-screen button that stacks all the apps you've got running across the screen. You can swipe up or down to see all of them, and swipe to the side on individual app windows to dismiss that app. It's a better way of handling multi-tasking.
But in other areas Android is still harder to use than rival operating systems. Google's robot-powered platform grants you immense freedom, but the price of that freedom is that you will find occasionally find yourself buried in a labyrinthine menu system, navigating subfolders within your phone's microSD card.
For pure eye-friendly ease-of-use, the Nokia Lumia 800 wins out, thanks to Windows Phone Mango. This operating system looks the business, sporting colourful tiles sewn together on a single homescreen, and impressive Facebook and Twitter integration. Each tile on the homescreen represents an individual app, and many of them fizz with activity, with live updates keeping you in the loop without you having to tire yourself out pressing anything.
Dive deeper into the menu system and you'll get more options, but it rarely gets more complicated to find your way around, with gorgeous menu transitions keeping your eyes happy throughout. We also like the ability to sort contacts into groups and pin those groups to the homescreen -- handy for keeping an eye on groups of friends and group messaging.
It's very simple. That simplicity might put you off if you love having a tonne of options at your disposal, but we think Windows Phone offers a great user interface that's easy to get to grips with.
Ease of use victor: Nokia Lumia 800
Windows Phone might deliver when it comes to a clear, intuitive interface, but when it comes to apps, the most you're likely to find in the Marketplace is a solitary tumbleweed, playing Doodle Jump on its iPhone.
There just aren't very many desirable apps and games on Windows Phone yet, with developers preferring to build apps for iOS and Android, where successful apps can earn their creators big money. As such, if you're really into downloadable goodies, the Nokia Lumia 800 isn't the best phone to go for.
The Galaxy Nexus fares better because there are loads of apps for Ice Cream Sandwich. Thousands of the blighters in fact, and many of them are free. But it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Because Google doesn't force apps through an approval process, there's an overwhelming amount of rubbish floating about on the Android Market, and its hard to find the nuggets of pure metal in among the dross. The default Market app doesn't help matters, because it's often confusing, and hard to see which apps are worth bothering with.
There's also a serious dearth of decent games on the Android Market. So while the Samsung Galaxy Nexus offers loads of apps, it's not the best choice if you're seriously addicted to apps.
The iPhone 4S wins this round -- while it has its flaws, it's easily the best operating system for apps. There are thousands of great apps, including loads of beautifully-presented, addictive games. Prices are reasonable, purchasing and installing is dead simple and the App Store app is dead easy to use.
App quality across iOS is generally high as well, thanks to Apple's strict approval process. That means you'll miss out on fun apps of somewhat dubious legality (such as game emulators) that are on Android, but we think for most people the sheer quality on offer more than outweighs this inconvenience. But that leads us to...
Apps victor: iPhone 4S
Freedom and general tinkering
The iPhone 4S might dominate in the apps stakes, but if you're a true geek who likes to take your gadgets apart to see what makes them tick, it'll leave you cold. Unless you want to jailbreak your phone, you'll have to play by Apple's rules. And that means only playing with Apple-approved apps and minimal customisation.
That's fine for some, but we know there are hundreds of gadgeteers out there who won't rest until they've forced their phone to make popcorn, change the TV channel and deliver soothing backrubs, all while running 17 operating systems and ordering pizza. If you're titillated by tinkering, the iPhone 4S will leave you, er, un-titillated.
Sadly Windows Phone is much the same. We mentioned above how easy it is to use, but the flipside of that ease of use is that your options are limited if you want to stray from the path Microsoft has laid out for you. As such, the Nokia Lumia 800 will frustrate those who like to muck about with their mobiles.
Android, on the other hand, offers all this in spades. Frustrated by the default keyboard? Download another one, there's loads to choose from. Want to funky up your homescreen? Download Launcher Pro. Want to play old-school games with a PS3 controller? Tricky, but certainly possible. This category is a no-brainer.
Tinkering victor: Samsung Galaxy Nexus
While the major difference between these three blowers is the operating system that powers them, it wouldn't be fair not to mention the hardware in question.
The iPhone 4S offers speed that far outstrips its predecessor, thanks to an A5 chip that's performed very well in our benchmark tests. We're also incredibly impressed with the 8-megapixel camera, which easily outpaced the Nokia Lumia 800 in our camera test, and shoots 1080p video to boot.
The 3.5-inch screen is the same panel you'd find on the old iPhone 4, but looks absolutely stunning nonetheless -- extremely crisp and sharp.
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus, meanwhile, has a lower-resolution camera than either of its competitors, offering up a measly 5-megapixels. It feels very snappy though, thanks to a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, and it has a big, beautiful 4.65-inch screen that boasts a stonking 720x1,280-pixel resolution.
Unlike many leading Android phones, the Galaxy Nexus doesn't have expandable storage -- you're stuck with the 16GB or 32GB of internal storage. That doesn't disadvantage it in this comparison, however, as neither of its competitors have a microSD slot either. The Lumia 800 has 16GB of storage, while the iPhone 4S offers 16GB, 32GB or 64GB, depending how much you pay.
The Nokia Lumia 800 has an 8-megapixel camera, though as we mentioned before it doesn't look like it's going to beat the snapper on the iPhone 4S, or other great mobiles such as the Samsung Galaxy S2. Still, a 1.4GHz processor and a screen with a very impressive viewing angle make this a decent bit of kit.
Choosing the best of these three phones in terms of hardware is tricky -- they each have their strengths and weaknesses. We're calling it a draw.
Hardware victor: Draw
Three brave phones enter the tournament, but which is still in the saddle?
The Nokia Lumia 800 might have a pretty face, and we're big fans of Windows Phone, but we can't recommend it yet when it's so bereft of apps. We hereby decree that the Lumia 800 be stripped of lands and titles. If it gets more apps to its name we might reconsider, but for now it must be banished.
Which leaves us with the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and wouldn't you know, it's an impossible choice. If you're a prolific downloader of music and apps, the iPhone 4S is the clear option.
But not everyone is so keen on apps -- for some people the freedom to experiment with their gadgets is more valuable. The Galaxy Nexus provides those thrills in spades, and the improvements in Ice Cream Sandwich look set to somewhat demystify the oft-baffling Android interface.
There's nothing in it -- to choose between these two mobiles you must look not to respectable technology websites staffed by handsome writers, but to your own heart.
Overall victor: Joint winners -- iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Is our judgement fair? Should the Lumia 800 have won, or is the Galaxy Nexus a million times better than anything else out there? Inform us in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.