Until recently, I was a loyal Apple customer, with two MacBooks and an iPhone 5. But I recently move from New York to London, and that meant I needed a new phone number. But my iPhone was locked, preventing that from happening.
So I decided to get a new phone. I really wanted a big, 5.7-inch iPhone 6, but that won’t be out until September at the very earliest, and maybe not until next year.
So I got a Samsung Galaxy 5S, one of the big-screen “phablet” phones with a 5.1-inch screen that is driving the smartphone category right now.
And I am blown away.
I had no idea what I’ve been missing.
Using a large-format Samsung Android is leagues ahead of the iPhone experience, especially for video and photos. The big screen makes a huge difference.
When I went back to my old iPhone I was struck by how bizarrely small it is. It was like looking at one of my old flip-phones from the early 2000s. I just couldn’t understand why I had tolerated it for so long.
The Galaxy handles texts and email better than the iPhone, too. My main demands on a phone are email, messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, photos, web media, and video. The big screen format really makes all of these pop in a way that they just don’t on the iPhone. This will sound like the zealotry of the newly converted, but iPhone users do not realise quite how bad even basic web media like YouTube or Vimeo are on an iPhone until you see them on a Galaxy.
The screen size really is a huge part of it.
Especially for photos. My Galaxy’s 16-megapixel camera can take such large pictures — 5,300 pixels wide! — that the photos are the size of bed sheets. I actually reduced the default photo size to the lowest setting, about 2,000 pixels, simply to make them more manageable. The iPhone 5S by contrast only has 8 megapixels and its maximum photo size is about 3,200 pixels.
There’s an argument that if I’m not using 5,000-pixel photos then why would I need it? But knowing that the phone has the raw power to handle magazine-production-scale photos if I feel like it is impressive.
And of course I can actually see my pics once I’ve taken them now. Again, the phone as a media device is a sheer pleasure. Instagram and Facebook on iPhone now seem like an insult to me.
This makes me think that the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 just won’t cut it. But something even bigger than 5.1 inches, like a 5.5-inch iPhone 6 phablet, could be a huge shaper of the market.
Video is amazing.
The audience for all types of video is moving to mobile and now I can see why. On iPhone, the video experience is frustrating for two reasons. First, you can’t see anything because the screen is small. Second, iPhone handles video in a weird way. Instead of just playing the video on the screen, the background goes black and then the video boots up in full-screen mode. The experience is … OK.
On the Galaxy, video just plays. Embedded on site, in YouTube, full-screen, wherever you want it. It’s completely smooth and, best of all, the quality of the pictures — and yes, their size — make video on a phone amazing.
I can definitely see myself loading movies onto this phone for flights rather than sitting through another seatback entertainment nightmare again.
This is a phone for grownups who need to work.
Back in January, I noted how my iPhone was becoming a problem when I needed to work remotely. The calendar and email support on iPhone are far from perfect, and worst of all the keyboard is so tiny that it produces fat-finger errors every time. It’s like a toy phone for children with iddy-biddy fingers.
But typing and email on the Galaxy are amazing. Partly it’s because the screen is so big you can actually get something approximating a full keyboard — numbers included! — on one screen. There’s less need to toggle back and forth. The extra space reduces fat-finger errors. Gmail is made for Android, and Gmail is amazing on Android in way that it just isn’t on iPhone. You can see photos of all the people emailing you on Android, for instance, but not on iPhone.
And the built-in Samsung email app is pretty good too. I prefer it to Apple’s, although both are comparable.
Best of all, the Galaxy has Swype built-in. iPhone users have no idea what this is, but for years it has been the best way to type on a phone. You swish your fingers across the board instead of pecking out letters one by one, and once you’ve gotten the hang of it you can type faster with fewer errors. (It’s coming to iPhone in iOS 8 … later this year.)
Best of all, I can actually edit stories on Business Insider’s desktop-based CMS editorial system on my phone. iPhone cannot do this. That is a game-changer. Most people at BI use iPhones, and if they need to change anything on the site they have to run back to their laptops to do it. Not me.
Android’s text cursors are superior, too — no more iOS magnifying glass for me! I can drag my cursors around the same way I do on a desktop, pretty much.
Finally, I can get some work done on my phone.
And, yes, my iTunes stuff turned out just fine.
Apple really does capture you in its ecosystem — I was afraid my iTunes collection wouldn’t play on Android. That fear turned out to be baseless. Transferring your iTunes onto an Android is easy. There are a ton of apps to do it for you (I used “Easy Phone Tunes”) and Google Music can do it via the cloud. Once on my Android, I noticed that Google’s Play Music and Samsung’s Music app were just as good as iTunes in terms of organising and presenting my stuff.
Here’s your bone, Apple fanboys: The Galaxy S5 has flaws, too.
Android is far from perfect, even when it’s sitting on a device with this much sheer power packed into its hardware. But most of the problems on the Galaxy are cosmetic. They are the kind of small details that Apple would have never have let slide, but Samsung shipped it as-is. So here goes:
- I noticed immediately that my new Galaxy didn’t come in the latest version of Android, and that just felt weird.
- There is only one way to set up a new Android phone. And that’s to find someone else who already has an Android and get them to talk you through it. It’s complicated because it’s giving you tons of choices, which is great, but still. The settings section alone is homework.
- The autocorrect when you’re typing is super-aggressive, and sometimes gets in the way. Weirdly, it won’t just let me type “OK” without trying to substitute something else. This is driving me insane. Partly it’s an issue of getting used to the way Android handles text — and I’m used to typing on an Apple. But still. “OK”? Come on!
- The Google integration is extremely intrusive. Basically, you can’t use the phone without signing in with your Gmail identity. I preferred the way iPhone let me keep my “identities” separate. On Android, Google now knows everything I do with my phone whether I like it or not.
- Google integration has some advantages, but it’s aggressive. The integration of chat, email and calendar, and all that stuff is often super-convenient. I once inadvertently found myself switching seamlessly from a Gmail chat to a Google Hangout on my phone without missing a beat. As an act of computing it was impressive. The fact that the phone kinda did it on its own was scary.
- The Galaxy’s task-processing is supposedly faster. Frankly, I didn’t notice this much. Credit to Apple: The iPhone packs a big punch in a small box. Machine response times on the Galaxy sometimes had a lag when the iPhone does not. Screen-scrolling is a little jerky on the Galaxy for instance — it’s almost instantaneous on iPhone. Apple fans will hate this. But again, it’s cosmetic. What counts is the overall capability of the phone — and Galaxy wins, for me.
In conclusion …
Like most Apple people, I just assumed that Apple automatically gives its iPhone customers all the best things it possibly can. And I assumed that because a phone’s body was made of metal it must be “nicer” than a plastic one. This turns out not to be the case.
There are several crucial areas where the Galaxy S5 makes my old iPhone 5 look feeble. Big things, like offering a decent screen and playing video properly. And lots of tiny things, too — I almost wept with joy at having a “back” button to help me navigate around. I liked the app-killing menu button also, which shuts down anything that’s running on your phone. And the Galaxy has a charming-slash-useful battery saving mode that lets you run your phone in black-and-white with reduced functionality, for emergencies.
Size matters. And so do the basic major functions: Photos, video, emails, and text — and they are all easier on the Galaxy S5 than iPhone. I am convinced that small smartphones in the 4-inch iPhone range will go the way of the clamshell.
The Galaxy S5 isn’t perfect, but I’m convinced it’s probably better than Apple’s iPhones are right now.