Apple iPhone 5s vs. Samsung Galaxy S4: Which phone should you get?

The biggest competition in mobile right now is Apple and Samsung, and the biggest rivalry, iPhone 5s vs. Galaxy S4. Both are enormously popular, but both are incredibly different. Integrated vs. licensed, small screen vs. big screen, design-centric vs. spec-centric, and the list goes on and on. Which one is best is a matter of endless debate, but the more important question is - which one is best for you?

Samsung Galaxy S4

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the current king of standard-sized Android handsets. And that 5-inches is standard sized now tells you a lot about the state of Android handsets these days! Like the iPhone 5s, the Galaxy S4 has been accused of being more tock than tick - an iterative improvement over last year's monstrously successful Galaxy S3. But what an iteration! Better in almost every way that matters, in addition to the larger, sharper screen, it brings improved performance, a 13-megapixel camera, and the latest version of Samsung's Android presentation layer, TouchWiz.

Here's Android Central's Samsung Galaxy S4 review by Alex Dobie:

Galaxy S4: The good

The Galaxy S4 is a speedy all-rounder which manages to deliver great performance and a big, bright screen in an ergonomic package. Widespread availability, tons of features and a fairly recent version of Android work in the S4's favor, as does its impressive 13-megapixel camera.

Galaxy S4: The bad

The TouchWiz UI remains a clumsy construction, and still lacks any kind of overarching design language. The bewildering array of settings and features and poor UX design will confuse some users. The occasional performance hiccups are disappointing to see, and the plastic chassis feels cheap.

Galaxy S4: The bottom line

If you're looking for an Android phone that performs well across the board, ticks every feature box you could possibly imagine and is available on just about every carrier on the planet, the Galaxy S4 is an easy recommendation. But this time around it's clear Samsung has merely stacked incremental updates -- mostly features and internal hardware -- upon its earlier flagship, rather than addressing that device's issues and rethinking what a smartphone should be in 2013. For some folks, that's fine. For others, more exciting products await elsewhere.

iPhone 5s

Apple iPhone 5s

Apple iPhone 5s (Image credit: iMore)

Like the Galaxy S4, the iPhone 5s takes last year's smash hit to an incrementally new level. It has the first 64-bit mobile processor, the Apple A7, the Apple M7 motion coprocessor, a much improved 8-megapixel iSight camera, increased LTE support, and the Touch ID fingerprint identity sensor. It has the same 4-inch screen, but it also has the newly redesigned iOS 7.

Here's iMore's iPhone 5s review by your's truly:

iPhone 5s: The good

The iPhone 5s is twice as fast as last year's already fast model. The improvements to the camera, including new 120fps slow motion video, are considerable. Built on top of a physics and particle engine, iOS 7 is not only a welcome redesign for Apple, but for the industry. Likewise, Touch ID works so well you'll immediately want it on everything.

iPhone 5s: The bad

Aside from the processors, camera, and Touch ID, not much has changed, unless you count new space gray and gold colors. It's still a 4-inch screen, which some people might find small, and while iOS 7 is beautiful in many ways, it's unfinished in some, and without the customization available to Android.

iPhone 5s: The bottom line

Apple call's the iPhone 5s their most forward-thinking iPhone ever, and on that they deliver. From iOS 7 to Touch ID to 64-bit, it's next-year's technology in your hand today. It's going to be on most carriers, in most countries in the world, and with the usual, unmatched app, accessory, and media support. Ultimately, it's the best iPhone ever. Again. If that's not what you want, Apple has nothing different to offer you. If it is, get it now.

So which one should you get?

Neither Samsung nor Apple fundamentally changed the game this year. Each simply got better at playing their existing strategies. And that's okay. But it means the decision remains essentially the same.

  • If a bigger screen and the ability to customize is more important to you than running iOS and all the high quality apps and accessories that come with it, or if you simply don't like Apple, go with the Galaxy S4.
  • If access to the iOS App Store, iTunes, and Apple Stores is more important to you than the power and flexibility that comes with Android, or you simply don't like Samsung, go with the iPhone 5s.

That's boiling it down to ridiculously absurd levels, but that's what buying decisions are all about. If you're still not sure, here are full reviews for both phones, and the best forums in the world to ask questions and get answers. Once you've decided, leave a comment below telling me why you went the way you did!

Still undecided?

If you're still not sure what to get, head on over to your local big box or carrier show and ask to try them out. Don't settle for dummy phones, ask to use demo units, and try them out for yourself. If you think you want an iPhone, but aren't sure which model, carrier, color, or capacity, here's a lot more information to help you decide:

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

83 Comments
  • I went from a 4S to a S4 to a 5S. Happy again!
  • I went from little money to less money to no money at all. Broke again!
  • When you consider the price of phones.. the extra couple $100 is worth it to be happy. I went to a 5S from HTC one.. I miss 2 things... 1. The awesome screen (not the size but it just looked nice) 2. the IR blaster(the fact i don't have it anymore bugs me, but to be honest the interface when using the IR blaster was cumbersome.) Im not at all a hater of any phones/brands, but the way apple handles stuff just seems to work better for me. example: WHen i would take a zoe with the HTC one .. it would save like 200 pics to my phone and didnt offer a way to clean it up, and forget importing.. i have so many crap pics and duplicates on my hdd now.. with the iphone.. it is SO EASY to clean up the bad pics when using burst mode. I do kinda miss the awesome mini movies / Zoes on the HTC.. but i do not miss managing the shots. That pretty much sums up android in general.. "pretty awesome if you dont mind micromanaging it"
  • My iphone 5s was 390$
  • Great breakdown Rene. Seems you cannot go wrong with either of these phones, but each have their specific audiences. Can't wait for the next Nexus to be released and see how it stacks up with these two, but specifically the 5s.
  • A friend of mine tuned me to these articleS which I detail how to find below. This article by Rene did not break it down enough. The comments are here mostly hearsay and Isheep or Galaxy heads talking cluelessly. Unless you've used both, you are not aware and some commenters make it obvious they haven't. They're just raising their glass to their phone assuming Google Android machinery /Samsung lag on something though technically and I repeat TECHNICALLY: there is pretty much nothing they lag behind and instead OFFER a whole lot more. These two break down technical aspects and facts, something this article did not by any means. READ : Gizmag Under the Microscope iphone-5-vs-galaxy-s4-comparison by:(Will Shanklin) Will Shanklin covers consumer technology for Gizmag. He's previously written for Android Central, Geek, GottaBeMobile, Android Police, and The Huffington Post. Relevant or not: Will holds a Masters degree from the University of California, Irvine, and a Bachelors from West Virginia University.) READ: Apple iPhone 5 vs. Samsung Galaxy S4: And the Winner Is…
    By Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief Side by side comparisons on almost every aspect of each phone with plenty of technical jargon to APPEASE THE EDUCATED AND KNOWLEDGEABLE CLASS :). Everything below will just be a bunch of nonsense. Some funny comments anyways. Unless you have used both you're just an Isheep or Galaxy head - and your points are just 'opinion.'
  • "Aside from the processors, camera, and Touch ID, not much has changed,..." - back away from the irony
  • They're both great phones. You can't go wrong with either one. I would love an iPhone similar in size to the GS4 with the ability to customize a bit more than iOS currently allows (I want to choose my own font. I promise not to use comic sans irresponsibly!). The only things I didn't like about the GS4 when I had it were 1) the audio with headphones wasn't as good as an iPhone (that's a biggie to me), 2) not every song I have in iTunes could be played on the GS4 and 3) the amount of carrier crap loaded on to the phone is a disgrace.
  • nice comparison. minor nit; the S4 doesn't have the latest version of Android (it's still on 4.2.2).
  • and that's a problem to consumers....how?
  • What's new in 4.3 that consumers may care about:
    better parental controls
    Bluetooth LE
    Open GL ES 3.0
    DRM API (hello 1080p Netlfix)
    background Wi-FI locations
  • I find thats a problem from a security, bug fixes and features standpoint. Security being the biggest one. With these things being our new wallets in many cases, our information is vital to us, but also a primary target for hackers / viruses, and thieves in general. With Samsung, their game is to allow older phones to fall behind to push you to upgrade and to get the next great thing. Not saying Apple doesn't do that with features, they do. However, I don't want them screwing with my security by holding back updates just for a few extra bux.
  • It's funny that Connor Mason is asking how it is important to consumers, and he got a couple of replies, and yet he is MIA. The fact is, both are good phones for sure. I bet S5 will come with all aluminum chasis, cause Samsung wants to shut all the doubters that criticize about their cheap fit and finish.
  • I'm thinking of getting the phone trifecta, the 5c or 5S, Lumia 1520 and the Note 3 or S4, I'm an indecisive person, so I'll just get all 3 major OS's, if the Z10 indeed gets demoted to an entry level device, and costs 250 or less I'll might get it too.
  • "[snip] so I'll just get all 3 major OS's [snip]" Windows phone is sadly outside the "major OS" camp (it’s warming the bench besides BlackBerry OS). But that is a good idea (though a tad pricey and time consuming).
  • i used to be a blackberry user who purchased a nexus4 for the apps.
    But after getting the Z10 i am totally neglecting my nexus, much better os specially with the ability to side load most of android apps.
    Only missing few things like the superior google now and sphere camera.
  • Z30, Note 3, 5S would be my trifecta.
  • Okay, I would choose Z30
  • I have nexus4 and Z10, you will never regret.
    Specially if you are using your phone for business.
    Nexus is mainly entertainment oriented.
  • Rene: Apples and oranges, no? I mean, people have mainly 4 choices in the mobile world: iOS, Android, BB or Windows Mobile. It's the operating system and its ecosystem that ultimately matters to me rather than a particular phone vs. another one. In other words, if I would to choose Galaxy S4 over 5s, I might get a great phone but a totally different OS to content with. And for that reason I choose iOS.
    If the question is now which iPhone to buy and why, withing the iOS ecosystem, than your review of the 5s becomes relevant to me.
  • Sometimes. Not everyone is aware of platforms. For many people, there's no "Android". There's Apple, Samsung, Droid, Nokia. As every phone becomes smart, the phones become more than just platforms.
  • Or to simplify your point, there is iTunes (ecosystem) and everything else.
  • Excellent point...we forget a majority (in lu of Internet stats) that just want pictures and angry birds.
    Even power users would have to admit that a large % of their usage can be done on both... I have a S3 that I picked up last year when my 3GS died. At that time at the end of the summer it was easily the best phone available. Come next year...I really hope there is a over 4.5 inch IPhone 6 to have to decide on.
  • Keep chanting 4.8, 4.8, 4.8, 4.8 :D
  • hell i would put the 5c above the s4
  • Not if you read 12 things Galaxy can do which Iphone Can't by Business Insider. You don't even know what a Galaxy does or how its different. Such an Isheep . On what basis do you say that? NONE. But since you are just blindly loyal, here is some info to help you out of YOUR I'CAVE AND YOUR false insistence your phone is so great for unknown reasons. Oh yea the aluminum and "Apple" logo - that means it is the best. Wake up and smell the coffee dreamer 77. :) These two break down technical aspects and facts, something blind Isheep would never do because someone brainwashed them into thinking their phone 'is the end all be all' lol. READ : Gizmag Under the Microscope iphone-5-vs-galaxy-s4-comparison by:(Will Shanklin) Will Shanklin covers consumer technology for Gizmag. He's previously written for Android Central, Geek, GottaBeMobile, Android Police, and The Huffington Post. READ: Apple iPhone 5 vs. Samsung Galaxy S4: And the Winner Is…
    By Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief Side by side comparisons on almost every aspect of each phone with plenty of technical jargon to appease anyone who at least tries to get half way educated on things before speaking.
  • Well I will have one of each. My work bought me an S4 and Im waiting for my 5s. Today I carry my iPhone4 as my Samsung 4S stays at home mostly pulled out to function as my Toddler's hotspot for his iPad YouTube consumption when we travel (since its a LTE device). The Samsung 4S's screen size in very nice sitting in the lazy boy but real life usage as a one handed device, it's too large (5'6" male). As a Android developer its frustrating and as consumer I personally do not care for Android. Even my Nexus 7 tablet is a glorified browser as its weight for reading/browser is spot on. But I do not care to expand nor invest its app options.
  • I made the mistake of buying purely on specs before and now I have an orphaned LG LTE with no updates and lousy after sales service . I won't make that mistake again. Even if both the S4 and 5S were the same in quality and specs, the bottom line for me is service. Only with Apple can you walk into the store and generally walk out with a working phone and a good mood.
  • Not true. Samsung has dedicated Best Buy stores with Samsung paid employees to help you walk out with a working phone. There are 10 to 1 or more Apple employees doing this in more locations but your blanket statement is not factual. Even the carrier stores will replace your phone if it stops working in warranty.
  • It's true that my story is anecdotal and LG is not Samsung or Apple but I do live in a medium size city and subscribe to a major carrier and I do not have any of the services you described.
  • Two years down the line i have not had a breakdown on s3 a year 2 months the note 2 is good, i sent my pal with a note 1 to a samsung shop here in what guys would call third world in Kenya and he left with his whole motherboard replaced, on a note 1 their service is great everywhere and it was a free service.
  • why not compare the HTC One? Or wait for the next Nexus?
  • This is what I was thinking. The HTC One is far better than the S4 in my honest opinion. The S4 doesn't even hold a candle to the one and it's excellent build quality. If I was to go back to Android there is only one company to consider and that's HTC.
  • I'm going to upgrade my 4S to a 5S as soon as I can get one. I really don't like how Samsung galaxy phones feel, and am not particularily fond of AMOLED screens. That is not to say I don't understand how good Samsung phones are, I know that but just don't like them. That said, and even though I like iOS's ecosystem more than Android's (maybe due to never owning an Adrndoid device myself), I was very tempted by a new Sharp phone anounced this week on CEATEC. It's a shame it's bound for Japan only.
  • Ive used an iphone 4s, samsung s4, and an iphone 5s. Apple hasnt even upgrade thier display to a 1080p screen yet still running on 720 p devices. Apple is all about speed yet samsung has the best of both. Speed and hd display. Isnt It kinda funny that apples customer service treats me badly yet when I called samsung. Ustomer support they showed me kindness.
  • Finally someone who has tried both phones. Friends of mine were just like you -couldn't go back to Iphone after trying SG. I just dislike people who assume that because something is 'popular' it is always the best. In this case, it is just not true. Reading up on both, how they are different, a like and actually using both is they only way these people get it.
  • I had to comment this much because I get baffled at the level of brainwashing some Isheep have. They just assume blindly and with such small mindedness, vigor and complete ignorance about anything else that their phone rules because of the logo. It is just bad for humanity that there are people like this. :)
  • And the answer is...... .....get the HTC One In all seriousness, your sister site Android Central have pretty consistently listed the HTC One as the best Android device currently available, so this seems like a fairer comparison. Plus Sense is more like iOS than the insanity that is touchwiz, so would be a more interesting comparison. Either that or the Moto X, which is perhaps the truest comparison.
  • I use both OS's. That is not the fair choice. If you are going to pick between them both the best Android super phone right now is without even a close choice the Note 3. This beast has it all, sick specs which include quad core processor, plenty of int storage with sd-card support, great camera, large replaceable battery and for the working pro the s-pen which works fantastic and much better than the Note 2. I can go on and on, I bought the 5S in white with 64gb of storage, love it. It isn't the same kind of phone as the Note 3. There isn't a Smartphone made as powerful as the Note 3. This phone has more HP than most home laptops. If you like a big phone the Note 3 is your phone, blows away the SGS4. The S4 has fixed the lag it came with out of the box, The Note 3 is twice as fast as the SGS4. I bought the Note 3 because I still like hacking away on the Android OS, this phone will have more Dev support than any other Android phone today. I am so happy I bought the iPhone 5 and then the 5S. I also really like the Note 3. Best of both worlds. The SGS4 does not even come close to the Note 3. I am lucky enough to enjoy them both.
  • I had the iPhone 5 went to the Galaxy S4 came back toa 64 gig 5s gold. I liked the galaxy but missed one handed operation. The lag on my galaxy never got better. I have all apple environment at home so the iPhone is better for me. Another issue that drove me nuts on the galaxy is if I used while charging it charged real slow on my iPhone that's not an issue. If the next gen iPhone goes for a larger screen I'd be happy if they took the 5s size and just made the whole screen usable. And Rene your reviews are the best.
  • Great review. Good info. Sent from the iMore App