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.
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
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).
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
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.
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.