Fast Company

Comparing the iPhone's Three Hottest Rivals: Samsung, Sony, and HP

Three new smartphones have recently been revealed, each trying to capture a different consumer, each from a different maker. They all have one aim--to dethrone the iPhone as king of the market.

Samsung Galaxy S2Samsung's Galaxy S2

Samsung's next revision of the Galaxy S phone has been leaked for a while, but now it's official--and we know the full specifications list of the S2: It's an Android unit, with a 4.27-inch 800 by 400-pixel Super AMOLED display, a front-facing 2-megapixel unit, and a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera. It's also just 8.49mm thick, which makes it perhaps the skinniest smartphone ever made. There's also support for NFC (near field communication) in some versions of the device, tying in to NFC codes Google is building in to Android to bring NFC-enabled credit cards, and smart shopping to smartphones.

The phone has a gigabyte of RAM, and is powered by a Samsung dual-core 1GHz CPU--possibly the newly revealed Exynos.

It's in many ways a spectacular phone--a thin, highly powerful Android device with NFC skills and high-end CPU that surpasses the iPhone 4's skills by some serious margin. It even has an OLED screen which has a non-daylight performance that beats LCD hands-down, and the screen's bezel is impressively thin. Building on the success of the original Galaxy S, the phone is an evolution that's likely to sell significantly.

But sell to whom? The answer is consumers who desire a smartphone like the iPhone, but prefer Android's open architecture and pricing. Back in January Samsung said it had sold 10 million S-version phones over only about 7 months--significant numbers that make it a serious competitor to the iPhone.

Sony PlaySony's Play

Sony's Play is half a phone, half an evolution of the PlayStation Portable, and altogether an attempt to insert Sony into the mobile casual gaming market that Apple is rapidly stealing with the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Powered by a 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, it has a 4-inch 850 by 480-pixel multitouch screen on which to display the graphics driven by its Qualcomm Adreno 205 graphics chip. It comes in a quad-band GSM unit or a CDMA/EVDO unit (for Verizon compatibility), and there's a 5-megapixel autofocus LED-flash camera on its rear face along with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functions. The OS is Android 2.3, making the phone compatible with thousands of Android marketplace games, as well as a specialized games market drawn from Sony's PlayStation archive--a "legendary" title will be pre-loaded at launch--and Sony's also playing up the local Wi-Fi hotspot multiplayer options the device supports.

The thing is, though the Play carries Sony's legendary gaming pedigree, and sports the rapidly market-grabbing Android OS, it's likely to be a fairly expensive device that prices it beyond the youth gaming market. The games it supports--though iconic in many ways--may not have the allure of the titles being developed for the iPhone. Its specifications are also aimed at competing with the current crop of Android phones and the iPhone 4. But Android phones are getting cleverer all the time, and Apple is due to reveal the iPhone 5--with specs that surely outclass the Play's.

HP Pre3HP Pre3

HP's Pre3 is a reinvention of Palm's Pre smartphone (which it was hoped would transform Palm's failing smartphone business. It's a sliding phone, with a physical QWERTY keyboard in addition to a 3.58-multitouch screen with a 480 by 800 pixel screen. Inside a 1.4 GHz Qualcomm CPU provides the power, there's a front-face VGA camera for video calling, and a rear-face 5-megapixel unit, along with the usual share of sensors and wireless connectivity.

The things that distinguish the Pre3 from its peers is its use of Palm's innovative webOS code, and the fact that HP is aiming it squarely at both the business and consumer markets: Palm's website even notes it as a device for "Work and life. All on the same screen." Elsewhere Palm highlights that it's equipped with "business essentials," and notes the support for Microsoft Exchange--still an infrastructure system that many businesses rely on.

WebOS is also a distinctive proposition in the smartphone market. It has a fun, attractive element that marks it apart from Apple, and it has a slickness that's quite definitely different from Google's sprawling and (to some minds) fragmented Android OS. HP is also injecting some good hardware into the Pre3's ecosytem, including the wireless charging unit and keyboard, which will appeal to many buyers.

The only issue HP faces with the Pre is its reputation as an also-ran.

Apple's iPhone 4...and 5

Apple's iPhone 4 is aging now (at least in the markets where it launched on its release day in 2010), but in terms of hardware it's still standing up to its Android competition. These three new phones surpass it in many technical ways, but none of them has the design chic and beauty that Johnny Ive nailed with the iPhone 4.

Meanwhile, the iPhone 5 is imminent, with what's expected to be a boost in processor and graphics powers, improvements to its screen technology, and hot-rumored NFC wireless integration. It's likely to surpass the Pre3, in terms of technology, and though its screen may not rival the OLED unit on the Samsung S2 it'll be better than the already-impressive iPhone 4's retina display. Apple is also likely to insert several unexpected tweaks, and add a design polish that its peers will attempt to clone. And as the iTunes market continues to grow and expand, Apple's market domination is unlikely to weaken soon.

In other words, while the S2, the Play and the Pre3 are strong competitors--none of them is likely to dethrone the iPhone 4, and certainly not the fifth edition. Ultimately, none of the competition is distinct enough in any of the markets they're trying to capture.

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1 Comments

  • Michael Brown

    Gotta correct a some mis-information here:

    quote: "HP is also injecting some good hardware into the Pre3's ecosytem, including the wireless charging unit..."

    HP did not inject wireless charging. Palm had the Touchstone inductive charging unit (for the Pre and Pixi) from the very introduction of the original Pre - long before it was aqcuired by HP.

    Perhaps you were referring to the inductive charging unit for the all-new HP TouchPad.