Android Central

It’s time for the third installment of our “should I upgrade series,” and this time we’re pitting the brand new Nexus 4 against Samsung’s 30-million-selling Galaxy S3. Over the past week we’ve already compared the new LG-built Nexus against HTC’s One X and Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus. But this is the big one -- the Galaxy S3 is the year’s best-selling Android smartphone, and many S3 owners will be wondering whether it’s worth swapping out Samsung’s latest for the competitively-priced, Android 4.2-running Nexus.

When you consider hardware, software and connectivity, the choice between the Galaxy S3 and Nexus 4 is far from clear-cut. So join us after the break, as these two handsets fight to the death for your amusement.

Build quality

Samsung likes to make its phones out of shiny plastic, so the Galaxy S3 is furnished in glossy polycarbonate with a “hyperglaze” finish. There’s a faux-metal trim around the side, and a relatively flimsy plastic battery cover. The result of the use of plastic is you get more screen real estate in a lighter device -- the Galaxy S3 packs a 4.8-inch display and weighs 133 grams, versus the Nexus 4’s 4.7 inches and 139 grams.

However, the Nexus 4’s soft touch back bezel and glass crystal reflection process rear means it feels colder and more sturdy. In fact, the only external plastic (of the traditional, shiny sort) to be found on the Nexus 4 is situated around the front, where its screen sports a shiny metallic trim.

The N4 is chunkier and heavier than the S3, but feels so much nicer in the hand. Although it’s cheaper than the Samsung device, LG’s Nexus feels more like a premium product. Questions remain as to how durable that not-glass glass back will prove to be, but we’re willing to give the Nexus the benefit of the doubt for now.

Edge: Nexus 4

Internal hardware

Android Central.The Galaxy S3 comes in many flavors, depending on where you live. The basic international version comes with an Exynos 4 quad chip, 1GB of RAM and HSPA+ data. There’s also an international LTE version with the same Exynos chip and 2GB of RAM. And then there’s the North American variant, which rocks a dual-core Snapdragon S4, 2GB and LTE data. Neither one is anything to sniff at, but none compare to the beastly quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro powering the Nexus 4.

On the other hand, the Galaxy S3 offers a removable battery, removable storage and built-in storage up to 64GB.
There’s also the screen to consider -- the PenTile SuperAMOLED panel used in the Galaxy S3 is decent, but inferior to the IPS screen in the Nexus 4.

We recognize that storage and battery access are real issues for many folks. As much as there might be valid reasons for the exclusion of both on a developer phone, their absence limits the user experience on the Nexus 4.
But the Nexus offers much computational oomph, which will lead to better gaming performance, faster browsing and a longer useful lifespan. That’s why it wins this round.

Edge: Nexus 4


There’s no LTE version of the Nexus 4 yet -- though we have reason to believe one may surface in the months ahead. Nevertheless, the Galaxy S3 offers proper 4G LTE connectivity in Europe, America and Asia, and that means it’s the winner here.

(For what it’s worth, the Nexus 4 gives you 42Mbps DC-HSDPA support, which is currently the fastest breed of HSPA around.)

Edge: Galaxy S3


The Nexus 4 ships with the very latest version of Android, 4.2 Jelly Bean, out of the box. And for the next year at least, you’re guaranteed to be at the front of the line for further OS updates. On the Galaxy S3, you’ve got Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean (or ICS if you’ve not yet been updated).

Android Central.It’s still pretty speedy, and TouchWiz incorporates many features absent from stock Android. But given the choice, we’d always pick the stock Android experience over Samsung’s customized UI, so this one goes to the Nexus 4.

Edge: Nexus 4


The Nexus 4’s got Google’s fancy new photo sphere stuff loaded out of the box, and the built-in 8MP BSI sensor is a respectable enough for a smartphone camera. But in terms of pure image quality, the Galaxy S3 has the edge, with finer details, better macro performance and more options in the Samsung camera app. Frame rates are also a little more stable on the S3 -- in our experience it’s locked to 30fps at all times, versus the Nexus’s variable frame rate.

Edge: Galaxy S3


Android Central.In terms of internals, all three flavors of Galaxy S3 are fast enough to see you through at least another year of Android updates and app releases. And Samsung has led the pack when it comes to software update timings. Jelly Bean for the Galaxy S3 hit in September, and as a flagship Samsung product, we’re sure more updates will follow, bringing the device up to Android 4.2 and beyond.

And the Nexus? Well, it’s a Nexus, you’ve got at least two years at (or near) the front of the queue for OS updates direct from Mountain View.

So what about hardware? Well, both have their issues there, too. The N4 has that untested not glass back, which is going to be more prone to breakage than a polycarbonate shell. On the other hand, the shiny back of the Galaxy S3 is a magnet for scratches and cosmetic wear.

So let’s call this one a tie. Both offer brilliant internals with plenty of life in them, but with a few external quirks.

Edge: Tie

The bottom line

If you’ve already got a Samsung Galaxy S3, you’ve already got one of the best Android smartphones of the year. There’s a reason Samsung’s sold over 30 million of these things -- the S3 is a damned nice phone.
The jump from a Galaxy S3 to a Nexus 4 is more a “sidegrade” than an upgrade. If you make the switch, some things will be better, others will be worse. The screen and software will be notably better, the camera will be worse, and you’ll lose the ability to expand upon your built-in storage space.

But then there’s the lack of LTE, which is kind of a big deal. And for us, this is a large part of the argument. If LTE is a necessity, you’re going to want to stick with Samsung, at least for the time being.

But if you live outside of North America, or somewhere without extensive LTE coverage, and are happy with the storage options provided by the Nexus 4, then it’s a worthy upgrade over the Galaxy S3. You can easily make enough money on the sale of an S3 to pick up a Nexus 4 from Google Play Store. And if you do so, you’ll be upgrading from one very good Android smartphone to another.


Reader comments

Should I upgrade? Samsung Galaxy S3 versus the Nexus 4


this is what i am doing.

I dont use the micro sd card slot, and i live in the UK and thus don't have or want at the minute LTE since its got near zero coverage and ridiculosly expensive.

I can get £250 on envirophone for my GS3, so i will be ordering a nexus 4 tomorrow as soon as i can. I cant wait to not have a plastic phone and stock android again ( i am running CM10 but there is issues with the international version of CM10 since sammy dosnt give everything out)

Appreciate the review! I'm a GS3 user who has been wondering this very thing. I don't see losing TW features as a loss since I'm running AOKP right now, but the camera is still pretty good on custom ROMs. Unfortunately, it looks like my mind still isn't made up yet.

Here I'll make up your mind for you... With the 16gb Nexus, you only get less than 12gb actual useable space.

So think about that when it comes to using the phone. Not only will you be hard-pressed to download apps, movies, take HD pictures and video etc.

What is the point of a quad-core? To run intensive apps and games right? But when the top games are easily over 1.8 gb these days, space fills up quick.

Unless you are a cloud user, putting music on your phone will eat up a large chunk as well, same goes for taking pictures or video.

If Google had come out with at least a 32 gb Nexus 4, I'd be the first to get it, but it's downright laughable they believe people can get by these days using cloud services and less than 11 gb space, with no room for expandable storage.

You can get micro-sd cards for dirt cheap these days.

For anyone who lives in a city with 4G LTE this would be the worst upgrade ever lol. Quad core processors on a phone isn't really something that a smart phone needs in my opinion right now, its just overkill.

So you go through LTE data in one day, meaning you go through HSPA+ in what, a day and a half?

I have unlimited data on my verizon Siii. You think you can run out of unlimited data??? Now that is dumb. Might want to look up the definition of unlimited so you dont make a fool of yourself in the future.

I use LTE all day. I watch youtube, I sometimes skype, I do a number of things and I get speeds anywhere between 36-77 mbps plus. I have yet to use more than 5 gb in a month.

The times when I'm at home or at school, i use WiFi, otherwise LTE is great to have on transit, or when you can't get to WiFi.

No it isn't, not if you're on a T-Mobile GS3, which I don't believe has LTE, and would be moot anyway since T-Mobile itself doesn't offer LTE. As somebody who doesn't keep phones for more than probably 6 months anyway, generally speaking, this is a good change. Especially since I can sell the GS3 for more than the cost of the N4 most likely (or at least on par).

Everyone else notice that's CM10 running on the Verizon GS3in the picture? Just curious if is this TouchWiz GS3 vs. Nexus 4 or CM10 GS3 vs. Nexus 4?

Wonder what the timeline on the CDMA LTE variant. A|C seems to think there's something in the works. Going pre-paid doesn't work for me so I'm holding out to see which way this shakes out.

C'mon many different articles about "Should I upgrade..." are you going to milk out of the Nexus 4 launch? Yes, it's exciting times when a new Nexus is released, but it seems like every time I refresh my RSS feed there's another comparison article coming out.

Here's my burning question: Should I upgrade to the Nexus 4 from my G1? I'm sure if I hit refresh a few times you'll have posted the answer, so don't bother answering here. LOL

Bad! If they stop at three, I won't have a good comparison article of the 3 year old G1 vs the Nexus 4. How will I decide if I should upgrade or not? ;)

I have the T-Mobile version in white with 32gb of int storage. I get faster HSPA+ speeds on T-Mobile vs my Verizon account with LTE. I like the removable battery, plenty of int and ext storage and let's not forget the dev support on the SGS3 is fantastic.
The T-Mobile version I have is the best SGS3 out of all, I have mine unlocked and can use it on AT&T by just switching sim cards, with that and the ability to get very fast HSPA+ speeds is great. I could care less about LTE, the battery in my phone lasts easily 11/2 days.
Saying all this I am still a very loyal Nexus fan and will buy the Nexus just because I want it. I wouldn't give up my SGS3 to buy it but am going to keep them both. I wish Nexus would give us a device with ALL the bells and whistles. The lack of int storage is a big turn off to me, I will use it as my 2nd phone and hopefully we will see a future build with more int storage. 32gb should be the very minimum without having ext sd card. This alone will keep many people away from this otherwise damn good phone.

Will that TMo SGS3 give you 3G/HSPA speeds on AT&T, or is it EDGE only? If it's EDGE only, what's the point? ;) Not being snarky, genuinely interested in knowing, since that used to be a selling point to me on GSM phones, but the reality of it was, unlocked or not, the different radio bands pretty much lock you in to the one carrier for useful data.

After you unlock the T-Mobile SGS3, just put the AT&T sim card in, you don't even have to root and you WILL get HSPA+ speeds from AT&T. Then if you want to change back to T-Mobile it is simply change back your sim to T-Mobile and that is it. The T-Mobile SGS3 has all the radios needed to run on AT&T's HSPA+ Network, (1900 & 850) That is why I think the T-Mobile version of the SGS3 is without a doubt the best version of the SGS3.
I had my phone unlocked by calling T-Mobile and told them I was going to Ireland, which I am and they sent me my unlocking code in 12 hours.

Google is hell-bent on promoting the LG Nexus, why the hell would SG3 users upgrade to an LG? More like a downgrade to me

i love my Galaxy S3 and i wanna be sure that the nexus 4 is as sturdy as people have said! i dont want a LG phone broke in a couple of weeks but Stock Android is a temptation

I'm debating, I currently have a 4S on TMobile, and an Evo 3D on Sprint. I like having both iOS and Android, so I'm not set in either camp. I'd have to ditch the 4S, and then it'd be 100% Android, and while I'd expect people wanting that on an Android site, I'm still not 100% sure I'd want to have both in the same ecosystem.

In this tech age, no SD slot just wont cut it, smartphones are mini computers, the phone function is just in added figure, even if the Nexus sports a quad-cpu Id still opt for the phone thst has expandable storage capability

In this tech age of everything moving to the cloud you mean (which is of course what google probably wants)? Granted, most of us don't have unlimited data (tho I do), and might need that extra storage. However, I've got an unused sd slot in my GS3 that's never been used, and all my music is online. That said, I don't get apps and games like I used to - which is about the only hang up I can foresee... videos would only be temporary on a phone, and really not at all since I've got a tablet. Personally, I don't see the need for expandable storage, for me.

Just curious... How do you use the cloud in an underground train station? How do you use a cloud in places where you have bad reception?

Caching? I don't need every song on my phone, just my favorites. If I want more obscure songs, I'll get them from the cloud. (I also keep a few podcasts locally through BeyondPod.)

Granted, music is pretty much the only thing I use on my phone that could be locally stored if need be. Between caching my favorite songs on Google Music and having a few stations cached on Slacker Radio, I've never felt that I need an SD card for my Nexus S (16GB).

I would upgrade in heartbeat if the Nexus4 had LTE and a 32GB version or a SD card slot. 12 usable GB's on a phone in this day in age is ridiculous and no matter how much Google wants to push me to the cloud I still like to be able to store a number of videos/pics/docs/music on my phone for the times when data is not available.

No LTE is also a deal breaker. In Chicago AT&T's HSPA+ network is a joke that has so many problems it's embarrassing. Unfortunately the alternatives aren't much better. LTE at least makes their data network usable when I am in the loop and by work.

What really disappoints me is that we have no legitimate options for a pure Google experience at the OS level and still maintain the features and flexibility in hardware. Sure I can root my GS3 and put CM10 on it, but I am still stuck with the fugly physical home button and I have now voided my warranty (yes I know there are ways around this, but jumping through hoops in not something I want to do right now).

what do you mean "reason to believe"?? Have you heard something about LTE versions??

Please let me know!! I'm about to buy the HSPA version as soon as its available.. but I can wait if I can get on ATT LTE soon!!..

Definitely upgrading. While I enjoy the size of the Galaxy S3 screen, I find it to be too saturated and fake looking when looking through web pages.

The hyperglaze plastic has also been a real let down for me, probably one of the worst feeling phones I've had in a while. The HTC One X felt significantly better but I couldn't bring myself to stomach Sense.

Now the Nexus 4 combines the best in software with the best in hardware. For a price which is half of what I paid for my S3. Can't lose.

I'm going with the S3 when my contract is up next month.. Can probably pick one up for 99.00/120.00- hold out for a 32gig N4- then sell the S3 on Ebay.

I am buying the N4 and will compare it to my GS3 on T-Mobile and decide which one I like. Then I may sell the one I decide not to keep or just keep them both cause the GS3 is a great phone and I like to have a backup just in case. Also fun to have a phone on the side to relieve my flash addiction.

"I hate Sense", "I hate TouchWiz", gotta have the "pure" android experience. Seriously, with a 3rd party launcher like Nova, which I have on both my One X and my SGS3 (both running a TW or Sense Jelly Bean ROM), I get that same "stock" feel that my Galaxy Nexus has. Seems like a silly reason to diss a phone or say you'll only go Nexus when both TouchWiz and Sense offer some nice features the "pure" android experience doesn't. It's a non-issue for me these days.

True, but when I had Nova launcher on the S3, it still wasn't as fast as the Nexus. And where I live, the Nexus gets better reception than the S3. I confirmed this through many people.

I completely agree with you. I'm quite new to android and didn't really like TW when I first saw it. But later I found out about the launchers, now I love it more than the "stock" experience on the nexus. So I'm perfectly satisfied with my S3, the camera, the extra micro SD card slot, etc.

The S3 is awesome.Best phone(mini tablet)on the market.Now if i could say the same for sprint.Sure they have a great data plan.But with 3g whats the point.And it doesnt look as if lte is coming to this area.Just like wimax that i was promised 2 years ago(Never happened)

At first, I wanted the Galaxy Note 2, then I wanted the Nexus 4. Now I am completely content with my S3, and hoping Jelly Bean makes its way to my device, sooner than later. My phone is still top of the line, and I will more than likely upgrade to next years crop of top of the line phones. I'm thinking potentially the Galaxy Note 3.

Had this same conundrum when I bought my Galaxy Tax 2 (7.0) and they advertised the Nexus tablet a week later. I stuck with my Galaxy for the removable storage.

I was going to hold out for this Nexus, but the lack of removable storage is a deal breaker - I listen to a lot of music on my commute and never liked to ration what music I can include (one of my biggest problems with iPods too). also just came off a LG My touch Q, and after a disappointing year with the Phone That Will Not Upgrade (even when rooted), I was not so keen to spend another dime on an LG device, even if it comes straight from Google.

I am anxious to see what this new Nexus will look like, but I am beyond happy with my GS3 and it would really take a next gen phone of epic proportions, not a lateral upgrade, to make me give this bad boy up so quickly.

I have well over 500GB of music, so I'm out of luck with any phone in regards to local music storage. That's why 16GB is fine with me. I wish they had a 500GB-1TB card, but if they did, it would probably be 5 to 10 times what the phone costs.

The real question is, if you're planning on upgrading now no matter what, and are on T-Mobile, would you get a Galaxy Note 2 or the Nexus 4? If those are the only two you are debating (quad-core versus quad-core).

Sorry. G note is it this year. Nexus 4 is nice but coming from the GS3- its not an upgrade. I love Pure Google on my phone and my note will get it eventually.

@mintvilla whatever you do don't sell your s3 on envirophone, they will give you the lowest amount possible. Sell it on eBay and your get loads more.

Me either. Quad-core, IPS screen and all it still lacks too many other features to even consider it an "upgrade".

I'm jumping ship and tried to order this morning :(
After sulking, I've just installed Nova on my GS3, now I've got my own GS3 Nexus with extra benefits :)

i tried the vanila Android experience and its not as intuitive and feature packed as TouchWiz.

i love the Camera and the screen on my GS3, TouchWiz is the most user friendly-feature-packet android based operating system ever, and its getting better and better with every update.

I'll wait and see what the US version of the Nexus 4 specs will be. After all, the international version SG3 was quad core but the US version was dual core. So this articles hardware comparison may not lean towards the Nexus 4 once it hits the US. But even without that I would still put SG3 ahead because of the SD slot, removable battery. The latter is a huge one for me. There have been plenty of times I've had issues that only a battery removal resolved. So with the Nexus, the only option would be to take or send your phone to a repair facility for something that a battery removal could possibly resolve.

I love T-mobile, amazing HSPA+ speeds in Los Angeles, and would love to have this phone - but the lack of the SD card is a killer for me. I do a lot of daily hiking in areas where data service is spotty(Griffith Park, Santa Monica Mountains). I use my phone (currently a GS2) to track my route & vitals (via a Zypher BT HRM) and to play music. I love having 20-30 gig of music available.

If they made a 64 gig model it would work for me( I currently have a 64 gig SD card), but once memory is installed in a device it's apparently soldered with unicorn tears judging by the price increase vs external storage - again a no-go.

Oh, and WIFI calling is my favorite T-mo feature, and not available :(

Soon I'll be moving up to the GS3.

I have the T-Mobile GS3 and I love it, but I've also ordered the Nexus 4. I'll be using both phones at switching the sim and at that price, why not?! Love them both until T-Mobile LTE next year kicks in. : ) Happy Panda here.