Galaxy Nexus -v- iPhone -v- Lumia 800

Over the course of a week I compared the Lumia 800, iPhone, and Galaxy Nexus. The following are my opinions of each which I hope will be useful to other people thinking about buying a new smartphone;

Size

I’m going to say straight off that the Galaxy Nexus is too big to become my daily ‘phone. I thought it would be when the specs started floating around, and, having had it a while now and travelled a bit with it, I still think it’s true.

Maybe it’s the clothes I wear, the way I sit, or the way I’m built, but I can always feel it when the Galaxy Nexus is in my pocket unlike the iPhone and the Lumia which are comfortable enough to forget about. This could be because I’ve spent a long time with my Nexus One and so I’m used to ‘phones of that size, but none the less it just feels uncomfortable (especially when sitting down).

The screen size isn’t so much of a problem. There are the occasional times when I’ve had to reach for something on the Galaxy Nexuses larger screen, but I’ve found the same is true on the other ‘phones too, so, to me the GN screen isn’t so big it causes problems, which was something I was pleasantly surprised at.

The iPhone and the Lumia are so similar in size it’s unnoticeable to me in daily use. I’m sure the specs will say there’s a millimetre or five here or there in one of the dimensions, but when they’re in my pockets or in my hands there’s really little difference, so I don’t see much use in trying to differentiate between the two.

If I had to pick one of the three as the most physically comfortable I’d got with the Lumia. It’s size gives it the edge over the GN for me, and the curved edges feel more comfortable to hold than the iPhone, but it’s a close run thing.

Battery

I’m a light-ish ‘phone user. I don’t spend all day using apps or making calls, I spend probably 30 minutes on the mobile each day (I don’t develop on the phone I use for calls), and over the last few days I’ve been switching between the devices to get a feel for how long they’d last with my usage pattern.

I’ve tried to limit the external factors as much as possible and kept them all within 3 meters of my WiFi hotspot and my FemtoCell, so network connectivity for both voice and data has always been what each of the devices show as “full” strength. Tests like this will always be very dependant on when you do them, so, although I’ve quoted figures for some tests, these are the figures for my tests, and even if you did the same you may see different figures.

First the most important point; All of the devices went for over 40 hours without charging with my usage pattern. That’s long enough to last from when I wake up, through one day and night, and another day, so there’s no problems with any of them running out half way through the first day.

I did an overnight battery loss test (because no-one calls me at night thankfully :)), and the Galaxy Nexus showed the biggest loss (11%), with the iPhone next (10%), and the Lumia 800 showing the least (8%).

This quick battery test reflected the order in which the ‘phones went from full charge down to 15% with the GN reporting roughly 2 days 6 hours, the iPhone going for 2 days 15 hours, and the Lumia lasting a bit over 3 days.

In practical terms, if you’re happy with putting your ‘phone on charge every day (or every other day), and you’re a relatively light user like me, all of these ‘phones will not require a change to your usage charging patterns.

During the time I did actively use the ‘phones, however, I noticed the Galaxy Nexus drained noticeably faster than the other two. Fortunately Android gives you the ability see what’s using the battery the most, and on the GN, during heavy use, the screen seemed to be the number one battery drain.

On my recent trip to DroidCon Netherlands I passed the GN around to a few people and ended up having to recharge it after about 8 hours, with the screen showing up as being responsible for over 55% of the drain. I’ve been passing the iPhone and Lumia around to people and, although it they haven’t been used nearly as much, they’ve reported figures that looked as if they’d still last well over a day.

So in a nutshell, with low to average use, any of these ‘phones should be fine, but if you’re a heavy user it’s probably wise not to rely on the GN seeing you through a day.

Camera

Looking at the simple mega pixel ratings would make people think the Galaxy Nexus would be the outright loser here with its’ 5 MP resolution as opposed to the 8MP on the Lumia 800 and iPhone 4S. But I’m not so sure.

Both sets of 3 ‘photos available in my Google+ gallery were taken within a couple of minutes of each other and the lighting didn’t change dramatically. The outdoor iPhone shot is in landscape due to my personal brain-failure rather than an intentional orientation change, but all three give you a good idea of the colour and detail from outdoor pictures, which is what I tend to take most of. None of the 3 used the in-built flash for the photos, and yes, they were all on auto-flash mode.

To me the iPhone is the clear winner. To me the picture looks closer to how I saw the scene, and it’s a “brighter” picture (which I prefer) and, to me, makes detail easier to pick out.

The Lumia and the Galaxy Nexus are a pretty close run thing to me. I can, of course, zoom in to the picture to a greater level of detail on the Lumia ‘photo because of it has more pixels on the sensor, but in terms of looking at the whole picture on my monitor I couldn’t easily choose between them.

When it comes to indoor photos though the Galaxy Nexus seems to suffer. The iPhone maintains its crisp quality, and the Lumia does a pretty good job too, although the colours look a little weird, but the Galaxy Nexus photos always seem, to me, to be dully and muddy.

I’ve seen the GNs camera suffer a number of times in indoor or lower light photos, and given that all 3 phones were on their default settings I’m going to put it down as the worst of the lot. There may be ways of tweaking it to improve it, but I doubt many people will use their phone for much more than point and click photos.

So there we have it, to my eyes the iPhone is the winner in terms of photo quality because I found the photos it took both indoors and outdoors to be what I would consider the best representation of scene, the Lumia comes second, and, because I could adjust the colours of the Lumia picture after taking it, but not the level of detail in the GN photo, the Galaxy Nexus is third due to it’s indoor issues.

Browsers

The browsers on each of the ‘phones have a pretty good level of standards compliance. They all achieve 100/100 on the Acid3 test but all of them have a small error in the purple block in the top right of the result area (and it’s different on each one). All three have rendered the sites I’ve looked at as well as I would expect, and in terms of presentation there’s little to pick between them.

When it comes to performance, however, the Lumia really shows up as being sluggish.

The SunSpider 0.9.1 results give the best illustration of the performance difference; The GN managed 2023ms +/- 1.6%, the iPhone hit 2245ms +/ 0.6% and then the Lumia crawled in with 6769.6ms +/- 0.3%.

The performance lag of the Lumia also showed in my real page tests. Loading reasonably complex sites like ibm.com and yahoo.com. The iPhone usually came in just ahead of the Galaxy Nexus with the Lumia was always crawling in last, usually by a significant margin.

While it’s good to see Microsoft have made significant improvements in the browser from the first Windows Phone 7 release, they really need to allow OEMs to use more modern hardware in order to deliver the levels of performance a users of high-end smartphones should expect.

Personally I’ve never been a fan of Flash, and on mobile devices I turn it off. I’ve seen flash bring the rendering speed of a mobile browser to its’ knees enough times to form the opinion that enabling flash is rarely worth the content that needs it. I know others will want flash, and for them that makes an iPhone a non-starter, but, given Adobes’ recent decision to let flash on mobiles become a thing of the past, I’m not going to penalise the iPhone for not supporting it.

So in terms of raw browser page rendering speed, for me, the iPhone is just a nose ahead of the GN, and the Lumia comes in last. If Flash is important to you then the GN would be the winner here. The only solid conclusion is whatever way you look at it the Lumia is solidly bottom of the pack when it comes to browsing.

Email

Android has always separated GMail from GMail email, and in earlier versions the experience was very different. GMail had a vastly more polished experience and the non-GMail email client, was, well, basic. On the Galaxy Nexus this isn’t the case, and the non-GMail experience is as good as I’d expect from a mobile email client, so it’s been a good step forward.

The Lumia and the iPhone have one email client. It doesn’t matter if you’re using GMail, Microsofts Live, Apples iCloud, or another mail provider, you access them all via a single interface, and that has an advantage; the potential for a single inbox for all your accounts.

If you have, say, a GMail account, an iCloud account, and a Live account, there is no way of creating a single view of the inbox on all three accounts on the GN. On the Lumia you have to create Linked inboxes, which is a bit of a pain, and on the iPhone you simply have a unified inbox, so you can get a quick snapshot of all your accounts in one easy step.

Another issue I’ve found with using the GN maybe more of a server-side GMail issue; On my desktop I use Apples Mail client which accesses my GMail account via IMAP which seems to create some problems for GMail because email I delete in the desktop client stills appear in the inbox of the GMail app on the Galaxy Nexus, which is irritating.

In terms of rendering emails, the Lumia seems to be the worst of the three. If you read an HTML mail both the iPhone and the Galaxy Nexus will try to fit them on the screen, whereas the Lumia will zoom out to fit everything on screen, which, quite often, means you end up zooming in before you can read everything.

So my personal ratings; I’d put the iPhone mail client first, it’s unified inbox and ability to render HTML emails to be readable without zooming is great. After that the Lumia and Galaxy Nexus both have their pros and cons, the Lumias’ rendering isn’t great, but the linked inboxes are useful to me, whereas the Galaxy Nexuses rendering is better, but the lack of any way to have a single view of all mail accounts (GMail and non-GMail) is annoying to me, so it’d be difficult to say one was significantly better than the other, and I’ll give the Lumia and GN joint second place.

Apps

I’ve never believed that the size of an app store or market has any direct link to the quality of the apps in it so I’m not going to play the “most apps wins” game.

Part of the reason for this is that when my company owned AndAppStore we were asked by one OEM to guarantee there would be a certain number of apps in a certain timeframe and I refused to do that. When asked why I pointed out that we could easy reach the number by including an app for every RSS feed we could find, but that wouldn’t be of much use to their customers. The CEO thanked me for my honesty and the relationship was made stronger for it, and they then understood the limitations of using an app counter to rate a product.

What matters to me is a pretty small core of apps. The Lumia, iPhone, and Galaxy Nexus all come with usable Maps apps, Browsers and Email clients, so that’s done and dusted. Beyond that my main needs are; Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, and 1Password. I also use, to a lesser extent, Skype, Google+, PogoPlug, and Stock tracking application.

Both the iPhone and the GN provide all these apps, whereas the Lumia falls short on all of the less important ones except for a stock tracking app. While I’m sure some people will take comfort in there being 39-odd thousand other apps, to me they’re pretty unimportant. Sure there may be some nice distractions in there, but nothing that’s going to change my core working practices.

In terms of quality though, both the Lumia and the iPhone benefit from the additional checking which goes on in their market places. Different apps look familiar when you use them, and there’s no sudden jarring in UI in the same way as when you go from, say, Dropbox to 1Password on the GN.

That’s not to say they’re perfect. I could reliably get the Facebook app on the iPhone to crash by attempting to post a specific link, so although they’re good they’re not perfect.

So, in conclusion, in terms of the range of apps, well, all three have a good range, but the iPhone and Galaxy Nexus have all the apps I need, whereas the Lumia is a little lacking, and when combined with the familiar feel that all the iPhone apps have I’d put the iPhone just above the GN due to the speed at which I can get to grips with new apps if I want to try them out.

Wrap-up

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m impressed with the iPhone. Given the tests I’ve been doing over the last week I can see why it is an aspirational device. Apps have a consistent feel and are wide ranging, the device is easily portable, it has a pretty decent camera, and it just comes together in a pretty simple to use package.

I’m also pleasantly surprised by Lumia. It falls short in terms of the variety of apps available, but Windows Phone 7 is only a year or so away from it’s public launch, so that’s to be expected. I have to admit I like it.

And then we come to the Galaxy Nexus. Whilst Android 4.0 does bring the device up to where Android tablets have been for a while in terms of user experience, the device seems, well, not that impressive. For me it’s too big, the camera isn’t good enough to rely on in all situations, and, after using the iPhone and the Lumia, I can see why people comment the Android experience not being a coherent one between apps.

So there you have it; After a week playing with all 3 devices I can now understand the view that the iPhone offers a superior phone experience and why people would queue to buy it, I can understand why Microsoft and Nokia have got behind the Lumia with some serious marketing money, and I can understand why, when the Galaxy Nexus was launched in one store in the UK (which was the only place in the world consumers could buy it), they’d only sold 60ish in the first four hours and you could just walk in and buy one.

Lets just hope we see some more inspiring Android 4.0 devices in the near future.

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