The Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5 were the two most successful phones of 2012 and are still the some of the hottest mobiles in the world, but which should you buy?
Galaxy S4 is available to buy, and improves upon the S3 in almost every way.
For more, read our Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy S3 feature.
However, the iPhone 5 is still the latest Apple phone. It's not likely to be nudged into the past until September, when the iPhone 5S is expected to launch.
We've now spent several months with both these phones and understand what it's like living with them and using them day to day. We’ve also compared their specs, screens, software, apps and media skills to give you an expert and impartial assessment and help you decide whether the iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S3 is right for you.
There's even more to choice now. Make sure you also read our Samsung Galaxy S4 vs iPhone 5 comparison.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Price and Deals
The positive side of being an 'old' phone is that some great Galaxy S3 deals are available - you can get hold of one for a good deal less than you have to pay for an iPhone 5.
Shop around and you'll find the Galaxy S3 for free on contracts of £20 a month. From Carphone Warehouse, you can buy the S3 with a decent T-Mobile contract that costs £21 a month, which includes 1GB mobile internet, 500 texts and 100 minutes. The cheapest robust iPhone 5 contracts that get you a free phone cost £33 a month.
SIM-free there are similar price disparities. The 16GB iPhone 5 costs £529.99 direct from Apple, and the Galaxy S3 is currently a mere £349.99 on Pay As You Go from Three at the moment.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Video Comparison
If you want a detailed analysis of the Samsung Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5, you should read on below but you can also see the both phones in action and next to each other in our video review.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Design
iPhone 5 - 7.6mm thick, metal casing, non-removable battery
Samsung Galaxy S3 - 8.6mm thick, plastic casing, removable battery
A case of metal versus plastic, and hard lines against smoother curves, the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3 have quite different approaches to handset design. The two iPhone models released prior to the iPhone 5 featured glass panels on the front and rear, which gave the phone’s a hard, solid feel. However, rear glass plate has now been replaced with metal - aluminium.
This marks an even greater shift in design than a simple switch of glass for metal, as the previous iPhone 4S used steel for its metallic parts, rather than aluminium. Steel is harder, but also heavier. The use of aluminium is what lets the iPhone 5 slim down to 112g and 7.6 thick. It’s a very slim and light phone.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 has slightly less of an obsession with being small and thin, and it’s structurally closer to its forebears than the iPhone 5 is. It’s a plastic-bodied phone – another design choice that help keeps weight down – with a removable rear battery cover.
Much of the criticism the Samsung Galaxy S3 has received since its launch in May 2012 is down to this plastic battery cover. It’s perilously thin, which becomes especially noticeable when you take the thing off to access the phone’s battery or microSD memory card slot.
Real-world testing of the ruggedness shows that there’s nothing wrong with the Samsung Galaxy S3’s construction, though.
A few months ago, Android Authority produced a neat little video showing the torture of these two phones. You can see the results below.
The iPhone 5 survives a little better, but it’s the glass screen covering of the Samsung Galaxy S3 that takes more of a pounding than the plastic frame. Both phones use toughened glass as their front armour. The Samsung Galaxy S3 uses Corning Gorilla Glass II, the iPhone 5 a comparable form of toughened glass.
Both phones are tough, despite feeling lightweight (iPhone 5) and a touch plasticky (Samsung Galaxy S3) in-hand.
The shapes of the phones are quite different, though. With a more widescreen-aspect display, the iPhone 5 is a good deal less wide - 58.6mm against the Samsung Galaxy S3’s 70.6mm. This is one of the most compelling design reasons to choose a Galaxy S3 over the iPhone 5 for people with smaller hands.
Sheer size means that most people will have to stretch to reach from one side of the Galaxy S3 screen to the other, one-handed. And it gets surprisingly annoying.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 wins a point back for its fairly wide choice of finishes. The iPhone 5 is only available in two colours, black and white. The Galaxy S3 comes in white, black, blue, red, grey and brown.
iPhone 5 vs Galaxy S3 - Audio
iPhone 5 – 38S1077 Cirrus audio codec, No Apt-X, mono speaker
Samsung Galaxy S3 – Wolfson DAC, Apt-X Bluetooth, mono speaker
Like your music? The audio internals of phones aren’t talked about much, compared to – say – their cameras. But search hard enough and you can find out exactly what bits and bobs they use.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 has a particularly impressive DAC, which converts your digital music files into the analogue signal that comes out of the headphone jack. The iPhone 5 has a custom DAC using the Cirrus Logic 38S1077 class-D headphone amp.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 is the clear audio winner. Not only is its DAC superior, it also supports Apt-X. This is a high-quality Bluetooth codec, for use with higher-end Bluetooth headphones like the Sennheiser MM 550.
When using the standard SBC Bluetooth codec to stream audio, as the iPhone 5 has to do, there’s a noticeable loss of fidelity, much like listening to a lower-quality MP3 file. Apt-X is near-lossless. If you’ve spent a lot of cash on a Bluetooth speaker or Bluetooth headphones, this is something to consider.
Back to the core hardware, both phones have mono internal speakers. On an iPhone 5, you’ll find the speaker grilles on the bottom edge – two of them. On a Samsung Galaxy S3, the speaker is up by the camera lens.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Price and Deals
iPhone 5 – From £529 SIM-free, or £36 a month on contract
Samsung Galaxy S3 – From £391 SIM-free, or £30 a month on contract
Now that both the Samsung Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5 are at least a few months old, the benefits of not buying Apple have become very clear. The price of the Samsung Galaxy S3 has steadily dropped since May, but in most places the iPhone 5 has maintained its initial high cost.
SIM-free the 16GB iPhone 5 costs £529, while the 16GB Samsung Galaxy S3 sells at around £390-400. Slightly better deals are commonly available online if you search around too, letting you save a few quid extra with a bit of effort.
The price difference continues in contract deals. One of our favourite deals available at present for the Samsung galaxy S3 is the Tesco £30-a-month contract. It gets you the phone for free, 500 minutes, 5000 texts and 1GB of data a month. Comparable deals are available from the other main carriers too.
Similar deals on the iPhone 5 tend to cost around £5 more a month. It’s not a wallet-sucking extra expense, but do consider how much this might add up to over a two-year contract - £120. That’s almost exactly the price difference between the SIM-free cost of the phones.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Screen
iPhone 5 - 4in IPS, 1,136 x 640 resolution
Samsung Galaxy S3 - 4.8in Super AMOLED, 1,280 x 720 resolution
Cards on the table time – both the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3 have excellent screens. However, they’re about as different as top-end smartphone screens get.
The iPhone 5’s is more widescreen, letting the display expand without making the phone any wider than the iPhone 4S. Less concerned with keeping the phone palm-friendly, the 720p 4.8-inch monster screen of the Samsung Galaxy S3 does not compromise on size.
What’s more important from a comparison perspective is the screen technology working underneath. The iPhone 5 uses an IPS (in-plane switching) screen, the Samsung Galaxy S3 a Super AMOLED panel.
Each excels at different things. The Samsung Galaxy S3 is the king of contrast. In a dark room, the black areas on the phone’s screen will look much more convincing than the iPhone 5’s, which will take on a slightly grey-ish hue. Rich colours and deep blacks are what characterise the Samsung Galaxy S3’s screen.
However, the IPS screen of the iPhone 5’s maximum brightness is more dazzling, which is handy if you want to use the phone outdoors. Its surface is a little less reflective to boot and colours appear more natural, as Super AMOLED displays often oversaturate colours to show off what they’re capable of.
Sharpness is slightly better in the iPhone 5 too. Although the pixel densities of the displays are comparable, 306dpi for the Samsung Galaxy S3 and 326dpi for the iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy S3 uses a PenTile pixel construction. This is an uneven subpixel array that makes text look slightly fuzzy.
Samsung claims that a PenTile-style display increases the lifespan of screens, but as it ironed-out the problem in the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, it clearly sees there is an issue here. The Note 2 has a full-RGB subpixel structure, avoiding the PenTile sharpness problem.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Software
iPhone 5 - iOS 6
Samsung Galaxy S3 – Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, w/ TouchWiz
Whether or not you want iOS or Android is just as important as the picking between the hardware of the Samsung Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5. The cleanest distillation of their differences is that iOS is simple but a little restricted, Android is harder to get to grips with, but more flexible and feature-packed.
The iPhone 5 runs iOS version 6. Although the system is known for its streamlined, largely bug-free nature, Apple's iOS 6 was a fraught launch. It saw Apple replace Google Maps with its own mapping solution, single-handedly making the iPhone 5 a bit useless as a navigation tool. Apple’s maps are not good, packed full of out-of-date and plain wrong information. However, now that Google Maps has been released as a separate app for iPhones, iOS is back on track.
Other than its simple, app icon based home screens, iOS doesn’t offer quite as many features as the Samsung Galaxy S3’s Android, though. The Samsung phone has more bells and whistles than a fleet of old-timey steam trains, including gesture navigation, face unlock, gesture typing, an FM tuner, AllShare video streaming, NFC sharing, video multitasking and more.
Some of these are added through TouchWiz, the interface Samsung has laid upon basic Android in the Galaxy S3. For the full run-down of neat features, check out our list of the top 50 Galaxy S3 tips and tricks.
The iPhone 5’s list of extra features is much shorter, and they’re mirrored in the Galaxy S3 anyway. Siri is the voice assistant that lets you search the internet, check movie times and run apps without touching the screen. However, the Samsung Galaxy S3’s S Voice can perform similar feats.
iOS 6 also offers Passbook, which is a repository for things like online vouchers, virtual cinema tickets and so on, but it’s virtually useless in the UK at present and NFC-enabled apps for the Samsung Galaxy S3 have a great deal more potential.
Things aren’t looking too hot for iOS. However, for simple day-to-day use it remains an excellent, easy and quick system. And many of the Samsung Galaxy S3’s extra frills can feel unnecessary. For those relatively new to technology, we recommend iOS over Android.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Apps and Games
iPhone 5 – App Store, 700,000 apps
Samsung Galaxy S3 – Google Play, 700,000 apps
The Google Play store is rapidly catching up with the Apple App Store in terms of sheer volume of apps and games. In late 2012, both stores revealed that the number of apps available had hit the 700,000 mark. However, quality is much more important than quality in this field, and here the Apple App Store still has a clear lead.
The wealth of creativity apps available on the Apple App Store in particular is worth a mention. Music creation tools like the official Korg iKaossilator and Apple’s own Garageband do not have worth alternatives on Android, and it’s unlikely a top dev will fork out to fill this gap any time soon.
Games trail behind on Android too. Developers tend to use iPhone editions as their lead SKUs – the version that is developed first – because the iPhone gaming market is simply much more valuable commercially than Android’s. Android games are often effectively copies, known as ports, of iPhone originals.
There is an app advantage to using an Android device, though. You can manually install apps using their respective APK installer files – this is called side-loading. Download them with a computer, pop them on a microSD card, put it in the Samsung Galaxy S3 and you can load them from the phone's file explorer app. With an iPhone 5, you can only install apps from the official App Store unless you hack the phone.
Side-loading of apps lets you circumvent the restrictions applied on official app stores, each of which has a set of guidelines that often means apps are pulled or not allowed on the store’s shelves in the first place. However, this also circumvents the light security checks that go on at the Google Play store (apps with dodgy malware are quickly removed, in theory) and you could easily end up with an Android virus.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Power
iPhone 5 – Apple A6 1.2GHz dual-core CPU, triple-core PowerVR SGX 543MP3 GPU, 1GB RAM
Samsung Galaxy S3 – Exynos 4412 1.4GHz Quad-core CPU, Mali-400MP GPU, 1GB RAM
When thinking about processing power, there are two sides to consider. You can assess raw power through benchmarks, and how well developers have put the power to good use.
Starting with raw power, in the Geekbench benchmarking tool, the Exynos 4412 processor of the Samsung Galaxy S3 beats the iPhone 5. It scores 1720 points against the iPhone 5’s 1660. Geekbench is designed to comprehensively test a device’s processing power.
Galaxy S3 wins the Geekbench CPU test battle
The Galaxy S3 doesn’t win every benchmark challenge, though. In the Sunspider Java benchmark, which roughly judges web browsing speed, the iPhone 5 is significantly faster, completing the test in 915ms against the Samsung Galaxy S3’s 1143ms. Predictably, then, the iPhone 5 also beats the Samsung Galaxy S3 in the similar Browsermark test. It scored roughly 190,000 points, against the Galaxy S3’s 172,000.
Testing the GPUs of the phones, the iPhone 5 wins once more. In the GLBenchmark 2.5 fill test, the iPhone 5 trotted out an impressive 1797 MTexels/sec to the Galaxy S3's 781 MTexels/sec - not that much more than an iPhone 4S.
...but GLBenchmark's GPU tool is a solid win for iPhone 5 (M/texels/sec)
This power is put to better use in an iPhone too, because of a situation we already mentioned when discussing apps and games. As the iPhone gaming market is more lucrative than Android, games are often made for iPhones first, rather than Androids, and if a device’s full potential is to be realised, it’ll be the iPhone 5’s.
Of course, there’s an extent to which developers have to keep in mind the “limited” power reserves of the millions of iPhone 4s and iPhone 4Ss out there too. The iPhone 5 dev scene isn’t perfect, but it is healthy.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Connectivity
iPhone 5 – Lightning port, 3.5mm headphone jack, Wi-Fi, 3G/4G,
Samsung Galaxy S3 – microUSB port, MHL w/adapter, Wi-Fi, 3G (4G option available), Wi-FI Direct, NFC
Connectivity in these phones sums-up the differing approaches of Samsung and Apple. Apple’s connectivity is almost all proprietary. The new Apple Lightning port, the main connector of the iPhone 5, is used across most of Apple’s mobile devices these days, but you won’t find it elsewhere. The iPhone 5 has 3G and 4G connectivity, but while it has a form of Wi-Fi Direct, it’s not the standard type that’ll work with other devices.
But, hey, at least it has a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 has much better, more open connections. It uses the industry-standard microUSB port, with MHL compatibility. This lets you output video and audio from the phone to a TV, letting it function as a dinky little lounge media player.
Wireless connectivity is great too. AllShare lets you fire over music and video to Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players using your home Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Direct makes transferring files with other up-to-date devices quick and easy, and it has NFC too.
NFC is the latest darling of the wireless connectivity world. It stands for Near-Field Communication and can already be used to pay for some small items on the high street, without the use of a credit card or cash. We are talking about paying for cups of coffee at present, though.
This is an easy win for the “everything including the kitchen sink” Samsung Galaxy S3.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Storage
iPhone 5 – 16/32/64GB non-expandable
Samsung Galaxy S3 – 16/32GB (64GB exists but not widely available), expandable via microSD
Again, the Samsung Galaxy S3 wins on storage. The iPhone 5 offers a good range of options, 16GB, 32GB and 64GB of internal storage, but those extra gigabytes cost you a lot of extra cash. Want a 64GB iPhone? That’ll be £699.
There’s no way to increase the internal storage of an iPhone 5, either, so you’ll have to rely on cloud storage if you need more.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 comes in fewer storage flavours in the UK than elsewhere. Most retailers sell the 16GB edition, although a 32GB has also been available from Vodafone (it’s not available to buy at the time of writing). A 64GB edition of the Samsung Galaxy S3 has been produced, but there just isn’t the demand for one in the UK and consequently they are near-impossible to buy.
Why? It’s because expanding the memory with a microSD memory card is a good deal cheaper. Underneath the plastic battery cover of the phone is a microSD slot that’ll take cards up to 64GB. A class 10 64GB microSD card can be bought for around £40 these days – giving you an 80GB phone for less than the cost of a 16GB iPhone 5.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Cameras
iPhone 5 – 8MP, LED flash, user-facing camera
Samsung Galaxy S3 – 8MP, LED flash, user-facing camera
Specs-wise, the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3 cameras are near-identical. Both have 8-megapixel sensors with an LED flash a piece. However, the approaches of their camera apps are completely different.
The iPhone 5 camera interface is stripped-back and simple. Your only control is over whether HDR mode is enabled, whether you want to take a panorama photo or not, and if the screen grid is enabled or not.
HDR melds two exposures to reveal more detail in photos taken in difficult lighting situations, panorama takes a full-resolution 240-degree view of your surroundings and grid is a preview overlay that lets you line-up your shot with the horizon.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 offers many, many more options – along with the panorama and HDR modes the iPhone 5 supplies. Many of these options are things that the iPhone does behind-the-scenes anyway, such as stabilisation and face detection. But not all are.
Useful extra features include burst mode and resolution settings.
In practice, the iPhone 5 wins out for pure photo quality. It grabs that bit more detail, has slightly more natural-looking colour and less invasive upping of contrast. The Samsung Galaxy S3 LED flash is more powerful, however.
Both phones offer a good-quality user-facing camera for video chat over Skype/FaceTime.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Media Skills
iPhone 5 – Limited codec support, restricted file transfers
Samsung Galaxy S3 – Excellent codec support, free file transfers
One of the clearest wins for the Samsung Galaxy S3 is media support. It can play a wide array of audio and video formats, including lossless FLAC tracks and MKV videos. Media fiends will be in heaven.
The iPhone 5 only handles a severely limited range of formats. Most videos downloaded from the net will need to be transcoded before the native video app will be able to play them.
Any limitations in video skills can usually be plugged-in with third-party apps, though, for both of these phones.
No matter which media app you use, transferring files is simpler with a Samsung Galaxy S3. Plug the phone into a computer and its internal memory will show up as a disk drive, letting you drag and drop files. With an iPhone, you need to hook up to iTunes.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Battery
iPhone 5 – 1440mAh, non-removable
Samsung Galaxy S3 – 2100mAh, removable
Battery stamina is a hard thing to measure in phones, because we use them for such a wide array of tasks. However, the pure numbers show that the Samsung Galaxy S3 undeniably has a much larger main unit than the iPhone 5, 2100mAh against the iPhone’s 1440mAh
Set to constant tasks, such as web browsing, the Samsung Galaxy S3 wins. Consumer advocate Which? Set the phones to web browse the web constantly until their batteries gave up. The Galaxy S3 lasted for 359 minutes, while the iPhone 5 conked out after a mere 200. Ouch.
In general use, the difference is less marked. With 3G engaged, you’ll need to charge the devices every other day, or every day with intense use.
An additional benefit of the Samsung Galaxy S3 is that you can carry around a charged spare if you’re going to be away from a power socket for a while. Official batteries are available for around £15, or third-party knock-offs can be bought from eBay for just a few pounds.
iPhone 5 vs Samsung Galaxy S3 - Accessories
iPhone 5 – Lightning connector, charger plug, EarPod headphones
Samsung Galaxy S3 – microUSB cable, charger plug, Samsung earphones
What else do you get in the box? The iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S3 offer almost identical accessories. They offer their respective cables, a plug to jam them into for charging, and a pair of earphones a piece.
The Samsung Galaxy S3 offers reasonable-quality IEM-style earphones – these use rubber tips to give you some degree of noise isolation from the outside world. Apple’s EarPods are a bit more interesting. They replace the earbuds Apple has offered with its phones and players for years, using a design that’s in-between an earbud and an IEM pair.
EarPods have hard plastic outer shells that roughly plug your ear canal, although not enough to isolate like Samsung’s IEM pair. They offer significantly improved audio quality over Apple’s previous models, though. For more on EarPods, check out our full Apple EarPods review.
Choosing between an iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3 is a tough decision and – unlike some of the comparisons we do – there’s no clear overall winner. For those less interested in the tech, the iPhone 5 is much easier to use, easier to hold and is more robust. However, tech fans may well find the Samsung Galaxy S3 easier, thanks to its relative open-ness, micro-SD card slot and lack of restrictions.
For games, the iPhone 5 wins, as it does for its camera, by a whisker. However, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is a much better media player, with much greater codec support and more flexibility as to how it can bung video over to a television.
If money is an issue, though, the Samsung Galaxy S3 takes the lead, with at least £120 savings to be made.