Apple or Samsung - it's your call
There's little debate about the best smartphones on the market, says Adrian Weckler
What's the best smartphone you can buy? In my view, there's no question about the top two: Apple's iPhone 6 and Samsung's (new) S6 stand head and shoulders above all rivals.
That's a general, all-things-considered assessment: for those who like so-called 'phablets' (which are phones with extra-large screens), it will come down to a shoot-out between Apple's iPhone 6 Plus, Google's Nexus 6 and cheaper models such as Huawei's Ascend G7 (reviewed opposite).
What about Sony? HTC? Microsoft (still branded as 'Nokia' on many of its 'Lumia' phones)? They all make decent handsets. Sony, for example, still lays claim to high-end camera technology, a crucial metric in choosing a smartphone today. HTC is still the choice of some who value sleek design over other factors. And Microsoft-cum-Nokia? Well, if your office is telling you you have to have one, know that it's better than a BlackBerry.
But for most walking into a mobile phone shop, it is a straight contest between the latest models from Apple and Samsung.
So which should you buy? If you're agnostic about choosing between Android and iOS (Apple's operating system), the choice is as follows:
For camera, screen quality and power, Samsung is the clear choice.
For the 'ecosystem' of apps, work software and integration with other Apple devices in your life, the iPhone is the obvious pick.
Lots of ordinary people, of course, are more comfortable with one system over the other due to familiarity. If that sounds like you, there isn't any real clear reason to switch sides: both the iPhone 6 and Samsung S6 are outstanding phones that will satisfy almost anyone.
But for what it's worth, here's a further look at what differentiates the two superphones, and why you might decide to pick one over the other.
(i) Screen: Apple's 4.7-inch display is really good. But Samsung's 5.1-inch screen is absolutely magnificent with incredibly vivid detail and colour: it rates about 25pc higher than Apple's phone.
(ii) Camera: The S6 produces slightly sharper images overall than the iPhone. One caveat: the iPhone 6 Plus has a gorgeous slow-motion video feature that is great fun to use.
(iii) Battery life: Both these devices have decent, day-long batteries that usually last a day.
(iv) Ecosystem and apps: The iPhone wins hands down here. It has more accessories (cases and the like) and more apps are made for it on an exclusive basis than for any other phone system.
Apple iPhone 6
Price: From €700
While it doesn’t quite have the engine power or some feature specifications of Samsung’s S6, the iPhone 6 remains the joint-best phone you can currently buy for a couple of reasons. Its main advantage is its ecosystem. Not only does it (still) have the best range of apps (new offerings are launched for the iPhone more than any other platform), but it’s most likely to be the phone that is ‘supported’ by the IT department at work. (Apple iPhones have replaced BlackBerrys in middle-aged corporate office land.) Of course, the phone itself is no slouch, with a nice (but not top-end) 4.7-inch screen, a fingerprint-reader function button and the customary sleek Apple hardware design. The 8-megapixel camera is good, though not as good as some rivals. Battery life is much improved on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5. Lastly, the iPhone 6 will support Apple Pay, due to be launched in Europe later this year (and a service that I think will be a big deal). If you really want the best, go for the bigger 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus. That might be a little big for some, and it costs an extra €100. But with a little extra camera power, it’s the top of the line.
HTC One M8s
FEATURES: HTC is known for two things: sleek phones and stupid model names. Its new One M8s (just try to say that name aloud once, let alone remember it) comes after it launched its flagship One M9 (see review on Independent.ie). To the untrained eye, both five-inch handsets look almost exactly the same. But the One M8s is considerably cheaper due to some lower specifications. For example, it has a 13-megapixel camera instead of a 20-megapixel one. It also has a slightly fatter (0.2mm) form factor. And its software is a little older than the M9. On the other hand, it has a nice big 2,840mAh battery – the same one as the One M9. This means you should get a reliable day of usage out of it. The One M8s retains that nice metal unibody design that all high-end HTCs have sported over the last two years, so you won’t be embarrassed to leave it out on the pub table. For all but those who want the very latest and greatest, this should be an attractive handset at a saving of around €250 on the flagship model.
Samsung Galaxy S6
Price: from €700
Features: If you like Android phones and are looking for the top model, this is it. Forget about Samsung’s plasticky S4 and S5 phones: this gorgeous glass and metal model puts it right back on top of the heap. The 5.1-inch screen is top-end (with an astonishing 577 pixels per inch), while a slimming down of its Android ‘skin’ makes it easier to use. Samsung hasn’t added much to the 16-megapixel main rear camera, but it has beefed the front-facing ‘selfie’ camera up considerably, with a 5-megapixel, f1.9 lens. This puts it head and shoulders (excuse the pun) above its competitors for Instagramming yourself. Under the hood, the S6 plays second fiddle to no-one with 64-bit computing and 3GB of Ram. One advantage it has over the iPhone 6 is that the entry-level model has 32GB of storage, compared to (an insufficient) 16GB in the entry-level iPhone 6. (64GB and 128GB versions are also available.) The phone also comes in gold, for anyone looking for a bit of bling.
Huawei Ascend G7
Price: from €275
Features: Looking for something a little cheaper than the €700 Apple or Samsung flagship devices? In my view, Huawei’s latest offerings fit the bill. While not as well known as its premium brand rivals, Huawei is making good phones with 90pc of the features of flagship rivals and selling them for 50pc of the price. The G7, for example, is a very decent-looking 5.5-inch Android model with 4G, a good (13-megapixel) camera, a fast processor and 16GB of storage. Clever design tweaks include two built-in antennae which allow it to maximise the phone signal depending on which way you’re holding it. This sounds minor, but it’s not in areas where the phone signal is patchy. It doesn’t quite have the suave looks of an iPhone or a Galaxy S6. But the killer feature here is its price: €275 unsubsidised is less than half the price of high-end rivals. This is a really decent alternative for those looking for high-end features on a budget.
One to avoid: Samsung S6 Edge
Price: from €850
Features: On one hand, you have to give Samsung credit for trying to design something bold. But even if the new S6 Edge is a visually arresting handset, with curved edges that give it extra elegance on first view, it is not worth the extra dollop of cash. The glass edges give almost no extra functionality over the (excellent) standard S6, other than telling you the time. In fact, they make the phone a little less comfortable to hold, triggering apps you didn’t want to launch too often. The edges also increase the likelihood of a cracked screen, as there is now no side to buffer the glass against trauma when (not if) it is dropped. Granted, its other features — which are identical to the regular S6 reviewed opposite — are top notch. So if you don’t mind the slightly problematic tactile encumbrances that the S6 Edge gives you, you’ll still get a powerful, feature-rich device. But is it worth an extra €150? Nope.