iPhone or Samsung is a question we are often asked. Oddly. There are, after all, myriad high-class smartphone makers on the market. Our current PC Advisor Best Buy is from LG, and I would personally recommend readers look at the HTC One (M8), the OnePlus One and any of the Sony or Nexus-branded devices that fill out the upper echelons of our Top 40 smartphones of 2014. Check out the full list here: The 40 best smartphones UK: The best mobile phones you can buy in 2014.
But it is the iPhone that retains the mindshare it gained when exploding the smartphone market in 2007, and Samsung is the only brand that comes close. Indeed, there are many people for whom 'iPhone' still means high-class smartphone, and 'Samsung' is the only alternative. And, after all, fully a quarter of our Top 40 smartphones are either iPhones or Samsung phones, so perhaps there is something in this. Let's get into comparing the smartphone offerings of Samsung and Apple. (See our iPhone 6 review.)
iPhone or Samsung: variety, availability, price range
My first thought was that Samsung wins this. Of course it does. No-one makes more varieties of smartphone than does Samsung, and its current UK products range in price from the £145 inc VAT Galaxy Fame up to the flagship-priced high-end Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4. Screen sizes range from the 3.5in Fame up to the frankly massive 5.5in Galaxy Note 4. And there are even more specialised devices such as the Galaxy K Zoom that is a phone-camera rather than a camera phone.
Yes, all of these devices are Android-toting touchscreen smartphones, but that is to forget the ATIV S Windows Phone, and to lay aside the knowledge that the Galaxy Note devices have a stylus for more complex input. Oh, and while almost all Samsung handsets are plastic there is some variety in the metallic Galaxy Alpha. And that is before we get into varieties of colour and spec. If it is variety you want, Samsung beats iPhone. (See also: iPhone 6 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 4 comparison: battle of the flagship phablets.)
But variety is another way of looking at inconsistency, and if Apple locks down and limits its product range, it does so because it wishes to sell only at the high-end of the market. This tends to mean that you get a good experience when you buy an iPhone. And you may be surprised at the current range - it can't match Samsung's spectrum of the cheap and expensive, the big and the small, but Apple has a few handsets to sell these days.
Available to buy new today from Apple is the iPhone 6 Plus, the iPhone 6, iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c. Surprised? These are all touchscreen iOS smartphones, but they range in price from the £319 inc VAT iPhone 5c up to the £789 top-of-the-range iPhone 6 Plus. Screen sizes range from 3.5in to 5.5in (sound familiar), and like Samsung there is a variety of onboard storage options from 8GB up to 128GB. Samsung wins out here by also offering storage expansion slots on most of its handsets, but it is fair to say that the iPhone range is broader than it has ever been.
Apple iPhones are pretty widely available on the high street these days, and you can of course buy directly from Apple. You don't have the latter option with Samsung, but it is also fair to say that Samsung phones are available from more UK vendors than are iPhones. Perhaps this reflects the wider price variant, and the cheaper range to which Samsung drops. Apple wants to keep hold of its margin at the high end, and Samsung chases volume. But it is only fair to say that both iPhones and Samsung phones are easy to find on the UK high street. (There are supply issues with the iPhone 6 Plus at the time of writing, but this is unlikely to last.) (See our iPhone 6 Plus review.)
iPhone or Samsung: build and performance
We're often asked - again - to 'prove' that either Samsung or Apple phones are better. Faster, usually. Indeed, we've written a whole in-depth feature about which smartphones are fastest, based on synthetic benchmarks. The trouble is that, with the best of intentions, this sort of thing is meaningless. Every iPhone I have ever used has been superfast - at least to start off with. And the same is true of every Samsung handset, with the exception of the truly cheap ones that tend to be a little laggy. But you get what you pay for in the smartphone world. The cheapest iPhone - the 5c - is a two-year-old 5s in a crappy plastic case. And it is priced accordingly. Some synthetic benchmarks will tell you that Samsung is the fastest, or iPhone rules all. But in reality it is nonsense. Pay good money for an iPhone or a Samsung and you will get good performance.
The question of design and build is more nuanced, but boils down to this: out of the box iPhones tend to be prettier, but Samsungs are more robust. You will need a case for your aluminium iPhone, but most Samsung phones are constructed principally of plastic. It may not look as shiny, but it is likely to withstand life in your pocket a little better. (See our Samsung Galaxy S5 mini review.)
iPhone or Samsung: Android vs iOS
Samsung vs iPhone is equal to Android vs iOS. And it isn't a simple question to answer. Android isn't like it used to be: if you are new to the smartphone game there's no obvious winner. These are the two most popular and best mobile operating systems around so it's about picking which one is right for you.
In essence, if you are a long-term iOS user you are probably best off sticking with what you know. You have after all almost certainly spent a lot of cash on apps that you'll have to spend again in Android. But it is worth considering that your iTunes music files will work in Android, and Android offers the opportunity of shopping around for music, movies, books and TV shows.
So, basically, Samsung phones offer more opportunity for customisation, and a variety of places from which to buy. iPhones offer a more locked down but curated experience. Samsung phones mean that Google is using Android to collect anonymous data to be used to anonymously target advertising. But iPhones force you to pay through the nose for iTunes (and no Samsung has ever forcibly downloaded Bono and his mates on to your phone). (See our Samsung Galaxy S5 review.)
iPhone or Samsung: the verdict
The verdict is: no verdict. If you are in the market for a new smartphone and have never owned either an iPhone or a Samsung, rest assured that you are looking at two of the best brands around. But not the only brands. Samsung will offer you something at the cheaper end of the market, but it won't be anything like as good as an iPhone... or a higher-priced Samsung. And both brands offer a variety of handsets, but Samsung's variety stretches wider. Ultimately, work out what you want from a phone and how much you are prepared to pay. Then consider the marginal differences between Android and iOS, and make a decision. And remember to try before you buy. (See also: OnePlus One review: bargain flagship Android is best deal smartphone of 2014.)