iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Take the two top smartphones available today and put them side by side, and you have what we present before you here -- the iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The former needs little introduction. It's the iterative follow-up to the original iPhone 4, faster with a better camera and that newfangled Siri to chat with. The latter is the latest "Pure Google" phone, the first with the Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" operating system.

Let's take a brief look at the two phones side-by-side.

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We're very much looking at contrasting hardware here. The iPhone 4S, relatively unchanged in the physical sense in the past year, remains a mixture of glass, metal and a bit of plastic. The Galaxy Nexus, on the other hand, is unmistakeably a Samsung phone, with a familiar feel, the same textured battery cover we've seen on other Android smartphones. But while the Galaxy Nexus may feel familiar to an Android user, it's scaled things up significantly.

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iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy NexuxsiPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Nexuxs

That's the greatest physical difference between the two. The iPhone's got its 3.5-inch display, unchanged since the original iPhone was released in 2007, though the resolution has increased to 960x640 -- the so-called "Retina display" with 326 pixels per inch. The Galaxy Nexus display does things on a grand scale, with a 4.65-inch Super AMOLED display at 1280x720 resolution -- 315 pixels per inch. (About 96 vertical pixels are used for the new on-screen buttons, however.)

iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy NexuxsiPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Nexuxs

We're not going to delve too much into the internals here. Both phones have dual-core processors and are fast, fast, fast. Period. (And that with Galaxy Nexus sporting more RAM.)

The Galaxy Nexus "only" has a 5MP camera. But it's got a "zero-lag shutter" which means when you press the button, that's the shot you get. The Google camera app is still a bit lacking, even if it did add panorama shots. For more functionality, such as HDR, you can snag a third-party camera app.

And removable batteries still win out, in our opinion. And tucked into the Galaxy Nexus battery is an NFC chip, though for some strange reason, Google Wallet isn't yet available for the Galaxy Nexus.

iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy NexuxsiPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Nexuxs

But where Android absolutely has gone toe-to-toe with iOS is with Ice Cream Sandwich. Android 4.0 might be stuck with a goofy nickname, but it's absolutely the best version Google's released.

iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy NexuxsiPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Nexuxs

The home screens are as customizable as they've ever been. But Google's made it simpler to do so than in previous versions. Widgets continue to make the Android experience more useful than ever, and they're more easily found in the app drawer. We're over the moon about Google cleaning up how to make folders on the home screen -- like in iOS, you just drag one icon on top of another, and a folder is created. And you can name them whatever you want. Feature well stolen borrowed.

iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy NexuxsiPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Nexuxs

With the Galaxy Nexus, Google's gotten rid of the capacitive buttons and gone with on-screen buttons. We're still on the fence about that one -- partly because it's taking a little getting used to, and partly because we're not sure function hasn't given way to form on this one. Regardless, on-screen buttons certainly have more flexibility any sort of physical button.

What Ice Cream Sandwich has really done is bring some major refinement to Android while keeping the functionality, flexibility and ability to customize that Android owners have long since enjoyed. The Galaxy Nexus is one phone. And while it's an important phone -- every Nexus device is -- it's the prolification of Ice Cream Sandwich that we're really going to keep an eye on going into 2012.

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