Monday, January 23, 2012

Lumia 800 vs iPhone 4S

It’s no secret that the world of high-end mobile phones is currently dominated by the iOS and Android operating systems. To help you get a perspective on their latest releases, we gave you head-to-head spec comparisons between the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy Nexus, and then between the Droid Razr next to the Galaxy Nexus.

While those two platforms are the kings of the hill right now, Nokia showed us what a Windows Phone 7.5 handset can look like this week, with the gorgeous Lumia 800. Why not put it next to the iPhone 4S, and see how they size up?

Of course you’d be wise to look beyond just specs when shopping for a new device. If technical specifications were the only thing that mattered, then Android tablets would likely be taking a much bigger piece of the iPad’s pie. With that said, you can learn a lot about a device’s capabilities by looking at the individual components that it’s made of.

Design and dimensions
Both phones are similarly proportioned, with one exception. The Lumia is slightly wider, and longer by a hair. The biggest difference in dimensions is that the Lumia is thicker than the 4S. As new devices like the Galaxy Nexus and Droid Razr are racing to see who can become the thinnest, it’s interesting that Nokia’s handset measures a little chunkier than the last two iPhones.

Both of these phones are quite the lookers. While you’ve likely grown accustomed to the look of the iPhone 4S by now (it’s identical to last year’s iPhone 4), it’s hard to find a slicker-looking device. An aluminum antenna is sandwiched between two panels of glass. Even if you prefer a more rounded, less angular device, it’s hard to argue that the iPhone 4S isn’t classic Apple design at its finest.

The Lumia 800, meanwhile, brings something that we haven’t seen a lot of in smartphone bodies – color. It will be available in cyan (above) and magenta, in addition to the familiar black. The body of the phone has a more unified build than many recent handsets, with its smooth one-piece body. If you saw pictures of the Meego-running Nokia N9, it’s virtually identical to the Lumia.

The Lumia’s display is slightly larger than the iPhone’s, but has a lower resolution. The screen uses curved glass to create an effect of blending in with the body of the phone. In that regard, the greatest strength of the Lumia’s display may be that it lends itself to the illusion of no separation between display and body. Windows Phone’s heavy use of deep blacks, next to the black front bezel, will only accentuate this effect.
Pixel density tilts heavily in the iPhone’s favor, though 252ppi on the Lumia’s AMOLED display shouldn’t disappoint too many people.

Nokia went in an interesting direction here, foregoing a dual-core CPU, and instead opting for a single-core 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S2 chip. The iPhone 4S, meanwhile, carries Apple’s dual-core A5 system-on-a-chip, underclocked at 800MHz.

We’ll look forward to getting these two phones side-by-side for some performance testing, but we do already know that the iPhone 4S runs iOS 5 with no lag whatsoever. While some could be let down by the single-core CPU in the Lumia, the Windows Phone software library isn’t currently heavy on resource-intensive apps, so perhaps this single core chip, with a relatively high clock rate, will suffice.

Both phones are equals in the RAM department, coming in at 512MB. Some were surprised that Apple opted for half of the iPad 2′s 1GB in the 4S, but its performance doesn’t appear to be suffering without the extra memory. Perhaps Nokia and Microsoft came to the same conclusion regarding the Lumia and Mango.

While neither handset offers SD card support, the iPhone gives you more options for on-board storage. This is another area where Windows Phone’s much younger app library shows its face. Without the extensive library of huge games that the App Store has, there’s less of a need for the extra storage on the Lumia. Still, those who like to store their entire music library or several movies on their device may be disappointed with a maximum of 16GB.

Microsoft’s Skydrive service can help to make up for this, as owners of the phone will get 25GB of free cloud storage.

Battery life
I’d recommend taking the above estimates with many grains of salt. Apple is known for giving solid battery life estimates on both their iOS devices and MacBooks, while many other manufacturers’ claims are known for falling short. With that said, it looks like Nokia is promising longer talk time, and more standby, while the iPhone claims to have longer video playback.

For those more interested in the hardware, the Lumia 800 has a 3.7V 1450mAh battery. The iPhone’s, meanwhile, is a 3.7V 1420mAh model. As always, software and other hardware features can have at least as big of an effect on actual battery life.

While the iPhone 4S’ camera has been heralded as exceptional for a smartphone camera, the Lumia will also have a particularly high quality camera. We know this because it appears to be identical to the camera in the Nokia N9. The pictures that the N9 takes hold up fairly well next to the 4S (though the 4S still has an edge in terms of color vibrance and lighting).

One major difference in the camera department comes in terms of the front shooter. Namely, the iPhone 4S has one and the Lumia does not. Mobile video chat may not have caught on the way some expected it to, but if you want the option, the Lumia isn’t the phone for you.

Regardless of the hardware we compared above, the biggest spec may be that of availability. If you live in the US, you can get the iPhone 4S right now, while there is no information regarding an American launch for the Lumia. Nokia hasn’t had much of a presence in the states for some time, and it doesn’t look like they’re rushing to change that. Perhaps it’s part of a joint strategy with Microsoft to build an international presence, while easing into the US market. Either way, it will be available throughout most of Europe in November.

We excluded download speeds, as the Lumia obviously has no carrier info for a US release. The iPhone 4S, as you probably know, will get 3G speeds on Verizon and Sprint, and you may get HSPA 14.4 (“4G” according to AT&T) speeds on AT&T.

So while many won’t even have the choice between these two phones yet, the Lumia 800 is significant enough of an entry that it’s worth profiling. Microsoft needs their Nokia Windows Phones to be something special to have a hope of gaining some significant market share, and this phone has the ingredients (particularly in terms of design) to help them do that.

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