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Phone fight: iPhone 5 vs Lumia 920 vs Galaxy S III

Which will be the smartphone champ of 2012?
Product: iPhone 5 | Publisher: Apple | Format: Android, iPhone, Windows Phone
iPhone 5 iPhone, thumbnail 1
Apple has played its smartphone hand for 2012. The iPhone 5 has been unveiled, and while some have grumbled at a lack of any true innovations, it's still the best phone Apple has ever made.

And Apple makes good phones.

Of course, so do Apple's rivals. In fact, much of the (occasionally unfair) criticism that has come Apple's way in recent days is down to the fact that the rest of the field has caught up and, in some ways, overtaken it.

So, what does the iPhone 5 competition look like? We've narrowed it down to two devices - both of which are brilliant phones and representative of two distinct platforms and ecosystems.

The Samsung Galaxy S III is the one that's already out, but don't think that means it's out of date. Oh, no. It's the reigning Android champ (though the HTC One X has the right to ask for a recount), which automatically makes it the biggest iPhone 5 rival.

The other contender is the Nokia Lumia 920, which will debut sometime in November and will be the flagship blower for the forthcoming Windows Phone 8 OS. This one's arguably the most exciting of the lot in terms of freshness, individuality, and innovation.

So, how do these three touchscreen titans match up against one another? Well, given the Galaxy S III is the only one of the trio that's available to purchase right now, we can't nominate any definitive winners. We do know enough about the other two, however, to make some informed comparisons.

Design and build

One of the things we love about these three phones is that they look completely different from one another. In a me-too industry full of dull black rectangles, that means a lot.

Still, we're here to see which device excels on the design and build front, so let's rule out the one weak device. Yep, the Samsung Galaxy S III has a lot going for it, but premium design isn't one of them. It looks disappointingly cheap, plasticky, and dated.

The iPhone 5 continues the design work that Jony Ive & Co. started with the iPhone 4. It's more of a refinement on those principles than a complete overhaul. It has a similar shape - all straight parallel edges and curvy corners - but is significantly thinner and lighter, with a matte metallic rear and machined ports.

One thing the Lumia 920 isn't is understated. 'Darned funky' is more appropriate, with its bright yellow, blue, or goodness-knows-what-else livery. It shares a basic design philosophy with the Lumia 800, which was the freshest phone design we'd seen since the iPhone 4.

Nokia is the only company that can really carry the fight to Apple in terms of innovative design and stellar build quality, and the Lumia 920's unibody polycarbonate shell looks as solid and durable as the 800 and 900 before it.


When the iPhone 4 arrived on the scene, it offered the best mobile screen around, thanks to its super-crisp Retina display. The iPhone 5 ups the screen ante in a couple of noteworthy ways, though.

It's bigger, of course, measuring in at 4 inches (compared to the 3.5-inch display on each of its predecessors). It's also much clearer, according to Apple, thanks to in-cell technology that removes one of the three layers typically required in LCDs.

Still, while the iPhone 5's screen marks a relatively modest step forward for The Big A, the competition has made vast strides to catch up. The Samsung Galaxy S III's 4.8-inch screen is much bigger, and only falls slightly short on pixel density.

The Galaxy S III's Super AMOLED technology is extremely easy on the eye, offering amazingly bold colours and deep blacks that no LCD can touch. Some take issue with the inferior PenTile panel that makes for a slightly less sharp picture than its rivals, mind.

The Lumia 920 could potentially win this round by combining many of the strengths of the other two devices with its own unique features. The Lumia 920 sports a 4.5-inch LCD display, which is neither as finger-strainingly vast as the Galaxy S III's or as 'dinky' as the iPhone 5's. It's also the sharpest of the lot, with a whopping 332 ppi pixel density.

Add in a number of technical innovations like Nokia's PureMotion HD+, which is said to be far more responsive than other LCD panels, and improved ClearBlack technology that improves outdoor viewing, and you have one impressive display.


With only the Galaxy S III actually out, it's impossible to make a definitive judgement on processing capabilities, but there is enough information online to make some well-considered assumptions and educated guesses.

The Galaxy S III could quite possibly feature the only quad-core CPU of the three. It runs on Samsung's own custom 1.4GHz Exynos chip, which has proven to be extremely capable.

While both the iPhone 5's and the Lumia 920's chips appear to run on half the number of cores, though, they're built using newer, smaller manufacturing processes. The Lumia 920 uses Qualcomm's 28nm S4 chip clocked at 1.5GHz, while the iPhone 5 probably runs on a custom 32nm chip clocked at around 1GHz.

In terms of graphical capabilities, the Galaxy S III (with its souped-up Mali-400MP chip) is a very strong performer, though benchmarks suggest there's not a great deal in it between the Mali-400MP and the Lumia's Adreno 225 GPU.

Apple claims, meanwhile, that the iPhone 5's A6 SoC will offer twice the graphical power of the iPhone 4S, which could well make it the champ - especially as it has fewer pixels to push around than the other two.

Of course, there are far too many variables, including OS, up-to-date drivers, and the aforementioned screen sizes, to figure in to make an informed decision. Just know that all three are very powerful devices.


All three phones contain high-quality 8-megapixel cameras - though the Lumia 920's is actually listed as an 8.7-megapixel snapper.

Of course, we know by now that megapixel count means little here. When it comes to smartphone cameras, which operate in extremely constrained spaces, it's all about image sensor size, image-processing capabilities, lens quality, and camera software.

The iPhone 5's camera would appear to be similar to the iPhone 4S's, which isn't necessarily a bad thing given the iPhone 4S still produces some of the best phone snaps around. However, Apple claims that the iPhone 5's camera has an all-new image sensor and optics, making for improved low-light performance.

The Samsung Galaxy S III has proven to be a very capable camera phone - the speed at which you can run off snaps is impressive, as is the ability to take snaps and video simultaneously. However, in terms of image quality, the iPhone 4S's snapper is arguably superior, so we're expecting the iPhone 5 to do even better against it.

Forget all that, though - the Lumia 920 could well trump the lot. Using its advanced floating lens system, the Lumia 920's PureView-powered camera delivers top-of-the-range image stabilisation. Nokia claims this allows the Lumia 920 to capture five to ten times more light than its rivals, as it can compensate better for lower shutter speeds.


This is the ultimate case of Apples and oranges. 'Which smartphone operating system do you prefer?' is, after all, a highly subjective question. Last year, your answer would probably have been iOS or Android. This year, however, there's a new challenger in town.

The Lumia 920 runs on the brand spanking new Windows Phone 8 OS, which is set to launch at the same time as the phone itself. Microsoft appears to have taken the bold and intuitive UI of its hugely promising Windows Phone 7, powered it up to run comfortably on HD multi-core devices (like the Lumia 920), and built it around the same powerful core as the forthcoming Windows 8 desktop OS.

It's much better equipped to carry the fight to iOS and Android - but, then, it needed to be. Android has taken massive strides with its Ice Cream Sandwich and now Jelly Bean iterations, resulting in a far smoother and more unified interface. Of course, Samsung has, unfortunately, slapped its custom UI on top of the Galaxy S III's Android interface. But, it's still built on an incredibly sophisticated and flexible core.

For Apple, it's a completely different story. The iPhone 5 will ship with iOS 6, which shows all the signs of being a rather conservative firmware update. It's very much a case of business as usual over at Cupertino, despite Apple's key competitors inarguably pulling ahead in a number of areas (chiefly UI and the use of widgets). Of course, iOS is responsible for both of the other operating systems' very existence, mind, and it remains a very solid and slick mobile OS.

Choosing your smartphone OS is a matter of personal preference, but we have to say we're very excited by what we're seeing from the Microsoft camp.


And, finally, games. It's what we're all here for, folks. And it's the one category in which we already have a clear winner - even before the device has hit the market.

Yes, the iPhone 5 will be the best gaming smartphone for the next year. And even then, it's likely that only the iPhone 6 will be able to take its crown.

Android has taken huge leaps forward with its apps and games ecosystem over the past year or two, and the Google Play Store is actually more pleasant to navigate now than iTunes. But, still, the sheer range of games available and the support from game developers on iOS mean Android can't hold a candle to it.

So, what of the Lumia 920 and its Windows Phone 8 OS? The newly renamed Windows Phone Store is, all in all, a pretty sorry place to be if you're a gamer. Yes, it has the whole Xbox Live hook-up and a smattering of decent exclusives, but for sheer range and numbers it's badly lacking.

Windows Phone 8 should improve matters, though. It's easier to program for, the hardware's more powerful, and developers will be able to include it in their cross-platform efforts. But, it's going to be like starting again from scratch, given the sorry state of Windows Phone 7 gaming, which means it'll be years until it can compete with iOS and even Android as a gaming platform.

Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy 19 September 2012
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