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The Apple iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S2 are without a doubt two of the most popular smartphones currently on the market. However, therein lies a dilemma for new smartphone buyers: which one most merits your hard-earned smartphone buck?

To help you make an informed decision, we pitted them against each other in several categories we think are the most important considerations for any modern smartphone. Let’s take a look at how they fared.

Samsung Galaxy S2 and iPhone 4S side-by-side

Design and Build Quality

iPhone 4S

Featuring a completely level, candy bar form factor with aluminosilicate glass on both sides and a stainless steel band around the entire perimeter, the iPhone 4S doesn't just look gorgeous, it feels great, too.

Pick it up and you know instantly this is a product from a company that’s built its reputation on high quality and minimalist aesthetics. And despite its somewhat fragile appearance, this smartie is robust enough to escape most knocks and falls unscathed.

Samsung Galaxy S2

Measuring 125.3 x 66.1 x 8.5 mm in height, width and depth respectively, the Galaxy S2 is considerably larger, but still slimmer than the iPhone 4S. Better yet, it weighs much less, too – just 116g compared to the iPhone’s 140g – which, coupled with the textured battery cover makes the handset a real pleasure to handle.

It’s worth noting though, that the phone’s plastic construction can make it feel slightly flimsy and cheap, especially for its size. But once you get past that, the Galaxy S2 is a very handsome, solid bit of kit with a slick candy bar design much like the iPhone. And thanks to gorilla glass coating, it keeps those ghastly scratches at bay, too.

Verdict:

Looks can be subjective, but as far as we are concerned the iPhone – which to the unsuspecting eye looks exactly like the iPhone 4 - is still the best looking phone out there. While the S2 isn’t bad looking by means, we feel it just lacks the ‘premium feel’ factor the iPhone boasts.

Winner: iPhone 4S

Screen

iPhone 4S

Apple has consistently resisted equipping the iPhone with a larger screen. Instead it has amped up the pixel count in its ‘retina display’, which outpaces the competition by some distance with 329.65 pixels per inch compared to the S2’s 216.97. The iPhone 4S also boasts a staggering 613.32 sub pixels density (responsible for anti-aliasing) to 383.09 on Sammy’s kit.

Samsung Galaxy S2

Fewer pixels don’t necessarily mean the S2 is anything short of massively impressive. The Super AMOLED Plus display is incredibly vibrant and has an eye-popping contrast that really stands out.

It also has the size advantage with 4.3 inches of screen real estate compared to the iPhone’s 3.5-inches, which makes it brilliant for watching movies on the go and browsing the web more comfortably.

Verdict:

The iPhone 4S has a prettier screen, hands down. However, the S2’s display is larger and still manages to look amazingly sharp and striking. If you’re not fussy about pixel counts, you’ll be more than pleased with it.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S2

Processor

iPhone 4S

The iPhone 4S packs a dual core A5 Cortex-A9 processor, same as the iPad 2, making it a supremely fast bit of kit with a real feel of snap about it. And as titles such as Infinity Blade and Grand Theft Auto 3 have shown, it’s a brilliant gaming device, too, courtesy of the state-of-the-art PowerVR SGX543MP2 graphics processor from Imagination Technologies.

Samsung Galaxy S2

The Galaxy S2 is home to an Equinox 1.2GHz processor, also of the Cortext-A9 variety. This is paired with a Mali-400MP GPU and twice the RAM (1GB), meaning it’s able to run a ton of resource-heavy applications on top of a plethora of home screen widgets that are ‘always on’.

Verdict:

On paper, the Galaxy S2 is faster than the iPhone 4S. However, in practice the A5 processor actually outstrips the S2 and the rest of the competition based on benchmark tests by independent experts. This is despite the fact the processor is underclocked at 800MHz.

Winner: iPhone 4S

Camera

iPhone 4S:

The eight-megapixel camera is without a doubt the most significant hardware enhancement Apple has made on the iPhone 4S. The shutter speed is faster and there is a noticeable improvement in image quality, which we dare say can give even compact digitals a run for their money.

The camera app itself has been enhanced with an HDR (high dynamic range) and grid modes for improved lighting and composition, plus touch-to-focus ability for depth of field. The ability to use the volume rocker as the shutter release is also a boon.

Samsung Galaxy S2

The Galaxy S2 also comes with an eight-megapixel sensor and is generally excellent. The app loads up fast and there is an array of shooting modes suited for most snapping opportunities, such as Outdoor Visibility, Action and Panorama.

Shutter speed is a tad slow, though, at about three-to-four seconds between shots. But a wide selection of settings, such as white balance, ISO, focus mode and effects more than compensate.

Verdict:

The iPhone 4S camera sets a gold standard in mobile photography. It’s a notch above the Galaxy S2 and even some of the higher resolution snappers that featured on Nokia and Sony Ericsson smarties. That’s not a criticism of the S2, which is still a really great camera phone. But it just falls short in overall quality compared with the 4S.

Winner: iPhone 4S

Software

iPhone 4S

Powered by the latest iOS 5 operating system, the iPhone 4S offers a user experience that is seamless and simple. iCloud automatically backs up your important information, such as photos and documents, and syncs them across all the iOS devices you own. While Siri, a new voice-guided personal assistant, provides users the ability to perform commands by simply speaking to the phone.

Of course, it would be unfair to talk about software and not mention the App Store. This is home to more than half a million apps and growing, offering a vast selection of high quality games, useful tools and distractions.

Samsung Galaxy S2

Although at the time of writing the Galaxy S2 is still powered by the slightly ageing Gingerbread iteration of Android, Samsung has confirmed an upgrade to the latest Ice Cream Sandwich version will be rolled out imminently.

This brings an improved interface that sheds much of the clunky user experience that hampered older versions, thanks to resizable widgets with which you can customise multiple home screens to your own needs. You'll also get a new visual multitasking interface and more streamlined menus and navigation.

Verdict:

A smooth learning curve is one of iOS’s biggest advantages. However, it is also massively constrained in terms of customisability, which is where Android and the S2 really shine. Siri is great but is currently very limited due to lack of local search capabilities in the UK. The level of integration between different Google services as well as third-party apps on Android means that right now it is the more complete OS package.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S2

Value for Money

iPhone 4S

The iPhone 4S comes in three storage variants: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB for £499, £599 and £699 respectively. Contract options with a free handset start from £31 a month on a two-year deal with a wide range of networks. However, Apple policy requires some carriers to collect a minimum £99 one-off payment for the handset itself.

Samsung Galaxy S2

The Samsung Galaxy S2 currently comes in a 16GB edition only, with prices in the range of £429 when bought SIM free from independent retailers. Those looking to pick it up gratis, though, have a wide selection of deals available starting as little as £21.50 on a two-year contract.

Verdict:

The Samsung Galaxy S2 is several months older than the iPhone 4S and is consequently cheaper on most comparable tariffs. Since allowances vary based on the user’s needs, the only fair way then to measure the handsets’ value for money would be to compare their potential resale value.

iPhones generally command a high resale price due to the brand recognition and ‘premium’ appeal of Apple products. This means when you’re due for an upgrade to a new model, you’re almost certain to get a higher return on your old 4S than an S2.

Winner: iPhone 4S

Conclusion

If you want a smartphone that offers simplicity, an excellent camera and an enormous selection of apps, you really won’t be disappointed with the iPhone 4S.

If you want a handset with a large screen, superior customisability and not an iPhone, go for the Samsung Galaxy S2.

Find out more about the Apple iPhone 4S here: Apple iPhone 4S

Find out more about the Samsung Galaxy S2 here: Samsung Galaxy S2

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