The best part of a month after the iPhone 4S peeked its head above the tech parapet, the dust is settling on Apple’s latest smartphone challenger. And for all the ballyhoo and bellicosity about voice controls and 'more power under the hood' that came out of Cupertino, for many people it’s hard to shake the feeling of disappointment over what’s essentially an iterative update.
The good news is that there are other phones out there. The better news is that they’re just as good. And the better-still news is that they don’t come with a price tag so hefty even Jessie J would struggle to be blasé about it.
Here’s our guide to the very best iPhone 4S alternatives. If you’re in the market for a new smartie but don’t want to be an iClone, look no further...
1 Samsung Galaxy Nexus
The newest Android challenger on the block takes all that was good about the monster-selling Samsung Galaxy S2 (CF: the pin-sharp Super AMOLED screen and slick, curved design that sits comfortably in your hand). And then teams it with everything that was good about the Google branded Nexus phones – namely, the vanilla version of Android unadorned by Samsung’s TouchWiz custom user interface. The result is a handset tour de force.
Choose this and you’ll get the latest Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android before anyone else – complete with the fun Face Unlock feature that harnesses face detection technology for a novel handset lock option, as well as slick multi-tasking and all-new versions of native apps.
Better yet, because you won’t have to wait for manufacturers to ensure their custom skins work with future versions of the operating system, you’ll get all yet-to-come editions of Android before the herd too.
Reasons to get on board: Did we say that you don’t have to wait for software bumps? We did? Well, we think it bears repeating. We can’t stress enough just how cool it is to get new OS iterations as soon as they come off Google's devs' production line.
Reasons not to: We can’t think of a really good one. But given that this phone will sell like gangbusters, it’s probably not the best handset to choose if you want to stand out from the crowd.
2 Nokia Lumia 800
The Lumia 800 is a landmark handset. Not just because it’s the first-ever Nokia smartie that doesn’t run a proprietary operating system. It’s also the best effort from the Finnish phone-maker in years and heralds the first stage of Nokia’s bid for a bona-fide mainstream hit.
As you might expect, the latest Mango version of the Windows Phone OS is augmented with some smart Nokia services that sweeten the appeal of its standard-issue live tile-based interface. Nokia Drive, for, instance, turns the Lumia 800 into the first Windows phone that doubles as a de facto sat nav device with full turn by turn voice directions.
There’s also a handy Nokia Music service that collates local radio playlists and does away with log-ins and passwords. This makes to it much easier to play music on your phone while you’re on the move.
As for design, Nokia’s gone for a radical form factor that dispenses with front-facing physical buttons and some smart colourway options that make the gun-metal greys and blacks of most of its rivals look a bit drab.
We’re especially taken with the white version with blue trim. Team it with blue live tiles and you’ve got the cutest, most POP-looking phone for a long time.
Reasons to get on board: Available free from £26 per month, the Lumia 800 is cheap for a high-end phone. And in an era where it seems everyone is a fully paid-up Apple fanboy, the scarcity of Windows phones means Nokia’s underdog handset has got loads of early-adopter appeal.
Reasons not to: The Windows Phone live tiles are a fairly rigid UI. So the Lumia 800 may not be for you if you want a phone that offers plenty of scope for customisation.
3 Samsung Galaxy S2
Not too long ago HTC had Android sewn up. Then came the Samsung Galaxy and the Galaxy S, which made Sammy the go-to brand for Google’s OS. Shortly after that came the outstanding S2 and the title of top dog changed hands for good.
Seven months and ten million unit sales later and the S2 is still top of many Fandroids’ wishlists. For proof, look no further than the uSwitch Tech Mobile Tracker, which it’s now topped for six consecutive months – most recently even seeing off the challenge of the iPhone 4S.
You want stellar specs? You got ‘em. The S2’s feature set takes in an eight megapixel camera, Android 2.3 (an update to 4.0 is scheduled for Q2 next year) and a brawny dual core processor. But the jewel in the crown is its glorious 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen that set new standards for Android phones.
Better still, with all eyes now turning to the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, you can anticipate some pretty substantial price drops soon.
Reasons to get on board with it: Once the networks cut prices, you'll be able to pick up the S2 for a paltry £25 per month. For this kind of smartphone wizardry, that's a steal.
Reasons not to: In the event that your chum gets the Galaxy Nexus, expect no end of teasing about owning “the older, less advanced model”. Some users also find the plasticky construction a bit insubstantial.
4 HTC Sensation XL
Music tech on mobile phones isn’t always what it might be. As any fule kno, if you want a rich sonic experience, you need a dedicated MP3 player. And you need to invest in some costly, quality earbuds. But maybe that won’t be the case for too much longer.
The Sensation XL features technology pioneered by Beats By Dre – the company helmed by Hip-Hop producer Dr Dre - as well as some free boutique-y uRBeats headphones in the box (usually priced £80). On the smattering of tracks we tried out on the phone’s media player with, we were mightily impressed.
We tried it with New Kingdom’s Cheap Thrills and can report that it handled the juddering bass with aplomb. Meanwhile, super-trebly indie types Josef K sounded warm and sans distortion.
Elsewhere, you’re looking at Android 2.3 out the box and plenty of screen real estate to fill with apps (the ‘XL’ part of this kit’s title refers to its vast 4.7-inch display). An eight megapixel snapper completes a very tidy package indeed.
Reasons to get on board: If you’re a music fan (especially if it’s urban music that does it for you), this is a phone that really sings.
Reasons not to: It’s a heavy bit of kit. And at times really feels it. The 4.7-inch screen also means it’s not terribly pocketable.
5 BlackBerry Curve 9300
It’s long-established that most people buy BlackBerrys for the services they offer, not for their often-lightweight specs. The success of the entry-level Curve kits is proof positive.
The latest addition to the Curve range marries smooth, rounded edges with a slim 11mm frame, Research in Motion’s trademark QWERTY keyboard, the latest version of BlackBerry Messenger and is 40 per cent faster than its predecessor. With that little lot who cares that it’s only got a five megapixel camera and a relatively mini 2.5-inch screen?
Reasons to get on board with it: It offers BlackBerry’s best-in-class email and instant messaging services for a shade over £20 per month.
Reasons not to: The Curve 9360’s lack of touchscreen might make you feel a bit 'pre-2007'.