A smartphone shopper's dilemma: Wait for the next iPhone or go Android 4.0?

Apple's new iOS 6, which is coming to next iPhone later this year, is looking pretty good. Will be it enough to beat out the current crop of Android 4.0 phones? Ask Maggie offers some insight.

Google and Apple have upped their game in 2012, and a new crop of smartphones running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and Apple's new iOS 6 will offer consumers a tough choice when it comes to choosing a new phone.

Apple isn't expected to launch the next iPhone until the fall. But the company gave a preview of what's to come with the unveiling of iOS 6 mobile software this week at its WWDC conference in San Francisco. From what I can tell, the new iPhone will give the current crop of Android 4.0 devices a run for their money.

In this edition of Ask Maggie I help one reader evaluate the likely trade-offs between one of the hottest new Android devices running Ice Cream Sandwich -- the HTC One X/Evo 4G LTE and the Samsung Galaxy S III and the upcoming version of the iPhone. I also explain why older iPhones won't be getting all the features offered in iOS 6.

HTC One X/Evo 4G vs. Samsung Galaxy S III vs. Apple iPhone

Dear Maggie,
My contract is up with Sprint, and I need help as to which new phone I should get. Can you please help me with the pros and cons of the new HTC Evo 4G LTE, Samsung Galaxy S III and the iPhone 5. I have the previous Evo. Can you can you please help?

Thanks,
Kalem]

Dear Kalem,
You have narrowed your search to what I think will be the three hottest smartphones of the year.

Today, HTC is the only carrier currently shipping one of the devices you mentioned. Samsung plans to launch the Galaxy S III later this summer. And the new iPhone is expected to be launched in the fall.

(Keep in mind that HTC has multiple versions of the same device on all four major carriers, but it calls them different names. Sprint and AT&T offer the higher-end device as the Evo 4G LTE and HTC One X, respectively. Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA also have versions of the device with modified specs and names.)

I won't be able to offer you a true comparison of all three phones, because all the phones aren't available yet. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus III has been announced, but it won't be released in the U.S. until this summer. And Apple hasn't introduced its new iPhone yet.

That said, the specs of Samsung's latest phone have been released, and Apple has offered some information about what the latest software features will be. At Apple's WWDC event in San Francisco on Monday the company showed off iOS 6 mobile, which will be available for iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch devices this fall.

To be honest, I don't think it's all that helpful to compare smartphones purely based on hardware. I think software features have become much more important in choosing a smartphone, since the differentiation that most consumers care about comes down to software.

Still, there are a few hardware features that I think matter, such as network support, screen size, and camera quality. Processing power is important, but for the average consumer, it probably doesn't matter whether it's a dual-core processor or a quad-core processor. And I wouldn't consider those things a deal-breaker.

Now to answer your question: What are the pros and cons of each device? Again, I can't go through specific features of each phone and compare and contrast, because the iPhone is still unannounced. But I can give you some general guidance.

Ecosystem:

The first thing you need to decide is which eco-system best fits your needs: Google Android or Apple iOS. If you've already been using a Google Android Evo, you may be well-entrenched in the Google Android ecosystem. This is especially true if you're already using Google Play for your music and your life is synced with Gmail.

But if you have already bought into the Apple iOS ecosystem and you own multiple Apple devices, such as an iPad or Apple TV, then iOS could be a better fit for you.

Personally, I have found that the Apple ecosystem is easier to use. Things just seem to work. Apple may not always come up with a particular feature or functionality first, but by the time it reaches an iOS device, it just seems to work better than anywhere else.

My fiance, Mark, who is a Google Android fan, would disagree with me completely. He has built his entire digital life around Google. And he doesn't have any trouble getting his phone and his content to sync with him on whichever device he uses.

Keep in mind that Mark and I are stereotypical iPhone and Android users. As an Android user, he is way more technical than I am. He's an IT geek by profession who is happy tinkering and customizing his devices. I'm an impatient journalist who happens to write about technology and just wants things to work. So Apple iOS suits me better. That said, Apple's ecosystem is more closed. And once you enter Apple's world, you'll find it's hard to break out and go somewhere else. So be warned.

As I am sure you are aware, the Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One X/Evo 4G LTE are both Google Android devices. So some of the software features I'm about to describe will apply to both devices. But because Google has created an "open" operating system, the companies have also been able to layer on additional software capability through Samsung TouchWiz and HTC Sense. So some functionality may differ between Android devices.

Here's a look at some key functionality on these devices:

Samsung's S-Voice vs. Apple's Siri

My colleague Jessica Dolcourt on the CNET Reviews team published an in-depth look at the differences between Samsung's S-Voice service and Apple's Siri voice recognition personal assistant tool. Take a look for more details.

In a nutshell, Apple has made some serious improvements to the Siri voice-activated personal assistant app since it was first introduced in the iPhone 4S. Thanks to iOS 6, the service will now be able to launch apps and do a whole slew of other things, such as, perform voice-activated Facebook and Twitter updates, pull in sports scores and movie times, make reservations through OpenTable, launch Apple's new navigation service to get directions, and more.

Apple also announced plans to put Siri in the steering wheel of compatible cars from Toyota, GM, Mercedes, BMW, Honda, and Audi to allow "eyes free" voice activation services. App developers will also be able to create even more functions for Siri using an API that Apple released this week.

Samsung has created its own Siri-like app for the Galaxy S III called S-Voice. Samsung's technology also launches apps and offers voice-activated turn-by-turn navigation. And it can also switch into driving mode. Additionally, it also you to use voice controls to dial the phone, compose a memo, search for contacts, and schedule tasks, just like Siri offers. And you can snap a photo, place and answer calls, search the Web for answers, get the weather, and tweet via voice activation. You can also adjust the volume, send e-mail and texts, and launch the native music player.

But in Jessica's assessment, Apple still has the edge when it comes to voice recognition technology. The main difference is that Siri just works better. The software is simply faster and more accurate. For example, in CNET UK's Siri (iOS 5) versus S-Voice test of 15 commands, S-Voice won just a single round. On many occasions, S-Voice wasn't even able to interpret the CNET editor's request.

Google Maps (available on all Android devices) vs. Apple navigation

As part of iOS 6, Apple will now offer its own mapping and navigation app that also includes 3D rendering. The app also includes a new traffic service that shows you the location of accidents, courtesy of crowd-sourcing, so you can try to avoid them. The app also displays the ETA for your destination and will try to render a better route when you're stuck in traffic. It even works when your iPhone or iPad is at the lock screen.

And since it works with Siri, you won't have to take your eyes off the road to follow directions. Just tell the device where you want to go, and Siri will direct you there.

The new Maps app will also include local information for more than 100 million businesses worldwide at launch, as well as integrated Yelp reviews. Apple first integrated Yelp information into the iPhone with the introduction of Siri on the iPhone 4S.

Of course, much of this functionality has been available in Google Maps and Navigation apps for years. In fact, the turn-by-turn navigation is one of the features I like most about Android phones. And for people who want to use their smartphone instead of a separate navigation device for driving, the Android has long been a better choice over the iPhone.

But now it looks like iPhone users will have a comparable maps and navigation offering. The big question is whether it will in fact be comparable.

Google Maps and Navigation have been around for a while, and the company is also adding new features to those services. Last week, it announced that the mobile version of Google Maps is going offline, which means you won't need to be connected to the Internet to get map and navigation service. This is a big deal especially for people who want to conserve their data usage. It also added off-road Street View via a new backpack-sized camera. And Google Earth will soon be serving up 3D imagery that you'll be able to "fly" above, just like the 3D feature offered by Apple.

My guess is that Google will still have an edge over Apple in this area at least initially. So if this is a very important feature to you, I'd wait to see how Apple handles it on the new devices.

Google Wallet (available only on some Sprint Android phones) vs. Apple Passbook

Google and Apple in the future may be competing to offer you a mobile payment solution. This new service may not appeal to some subscribers. But if you are interested in these so-called digital wallets, you will likely have a choice between Google and Apple for such a service.

Currently, Google has its Google Wallet app, which allows users to load some credit card information into a phone. Using a short range wireless technology called Near Field Communications, users can swipe the phone against a terminal to access that credit card information and make a payment. The service is nearly a year old, but it's only available on a handful of devices and only on Sprint Nextel's network. It also has limited credit card support right now. Google Wallet also stores loyalty cards and gift cards. And Google says that eventually it plans to allow users to store any and all cards they'd find in their actual wallets in the Google Wallet app.

Apple doesn't yet offer a so-called digital wallet, but the company seems to be paving the way for such a feature. In new iOS 6, it will enable a new feature called Passbook, which will allow users to store airline boarding passes, gift cards and movie tickets on a phone. Many experts think this app could be a precursor to an Apple payment service. Apple's CEO Tim Cook said during the WWDC presentation on Monday that Apple now has more than 400 million active accounts in iTunes with credit cards. And since iPhones and other iOS devices are connected directly to iTunes, Apple could easily leverage this payment system to pay for things other than music and videos.

My guess is that if you've already been buying music and other content from Apple via iTunes, the Passbook will be easier to set up than reloading your payment information into Google Wallet.

That's it for the major software differentiators. Here are the top three hardware features I would consider.

Network support:

The HTC devices and the Samsung Galaxy S III operate on 4G LTE networks. Apple hasn't said whether the new iPhone will be 4G LTE, but if I were a betting woman, I'd wager my apartment that it will also support the faster network speeds. If by some crazy chance it doesn't, then that could hurt iPhone 5 adoption in a big way. Once Apple does offer an LTE device, the real differentiator to consider will be based on which network you want to use.

Camera:

It's difficult to compare these specs given that Apple hasn't announced the hardware for the new iPhone yet. Given that Apple in the past has led the market in camera technology, my guess is that it will keep pace if not exceed what its competitors are doing when it comes to camera technology. Both the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X/ Evo 4G LTE offer an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash and 1080p video capture.

But the mark of a good smartphone camera will not be judged on megapixels alone. Manufacturers are also improving sensor size and aperture. And they're adding advanced features, such as burst mode that allows you to rapidly take up to 20 shots in quick succession.

Software then chooses the best shot in the group and discards the rest. HTC and Samsung each offer this rapid-fire photo shooting on the two phones you mentioned.

HTC and Samsung have also added features through their respective software overlays on these devices that enhances camera functionality. HTC Sense on the HTC One X lets you unlock the phone with your face, scanning your features to recognize you. The Samsung Galaxy S3 through its TouchWiz software also uses facial recognition technology. It searches for your face before switching the device to standby. This prevents the phone from automatically shutting down when you're looking at the screen but not touching or swiping anything on the screen, making it much easier to use for reading or viewing video.

As I said before it's unclear what Apple will offer in terms of a camera on the new iPhone. But I expect it to be an improvement over the already good quality camera offered on the iPhone 4S.

Screens:

There are two main things to consider when thinking about a screen on a smartphone. One is size and the other is image quality.

The Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One X/Evo 4G LTE each have 4.7 inch screens with 720p displays. The iPhone 4S is considerably smaller with a 3.5 inch screen. But many people believe that Apple will increase the size of the new iPhone. My CNET Reviews colleague Scott Stein wrote in a recent post about what to expect from the new iPhone that he believes Apple's new map app with 3D is a good hint that the next iPhone will have a larger screen in line with its competitors.

In terms of quality, Apple's current retina display offers very high resolution with outstanding picture quality. But Samsung and HTC also offer impressive screen technologies on their high-end devices. Samsung is using its Super AMOLED panel and HTC is using Super IPS.

IPS technology uses backlights whereas AMOLED screens have light-emitting pixels. These are two different technologies that offer their own advantages. AMOLED screens work better in low light. But some reviewers say that HTC's IPS screen offers more accurate color reproduction with whiter whites than the Super AMOLED screens.

The bottom line is that there are likely to be some features and apps that work better on the new iPhone and some features that will work better on Android devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One X/EVO 4G LTE. As a consumer, you should consider the features that will mean the most to you. If a really solid mapping and navigation service is most important, go Android. And then choose between the Samsung or HTC devices.

They are very similar in feature and functionality, so the choice may come down to the actual look and feel of the device and software that you like best. But if voice recognition technology and an excellent camera are more important to you, then wait to see what Apple announces next.

Good luck in making your decision! The truth is that all three of these devices will be top of the line, so it's a tough decision.

iOS 6 and Turn-by-Turn navigation for older iPhones

Dear Maggie,
With iOS 6 Apple will FINALLY have native turn-by-turn navigation. But in the voice of Siri. Does that mean navigation will only work on the iPhone 4S and the next generation iPhone Siri-enabled devices?

Thanks,
Derek

Dear Derek,
I'm sorry to report that older iPhones -- a.k.a. the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 -- will not be able to use the turn-by-turn navigation or the new 3D flyover feature in the Maps app.

Apple hasn't said why these devices won't support these new iOS 6 features, but it's likely because these phones don't have the dual-core A5 processors that are necessary to run the functionality.As you noted, Siri doesn't work on those devices. And the reason is because the hardware doesn't support it.

This is what the company says on its Web site in its description of the Siri app:

Siri uses the processing power of the dual-core A5 chip in iPhone 4S, and it uses 3G and Wi-Fi networks to communicate rapidly with Apple's data centers. So it can quickly understand what you say and what you're asking for, then quickly return a response.

Because the hardware isn't up to snuff, iPhone 3GS users will also not get other advanced features offered by iOS 6, including shared Photo Streams, the new email features, and the offline reading list in the Safari browser.

This is exactly why I don't recommend users buying older generation iPhones even though the price is cheap. Some AT&T customers who have recently bought inexpensive iPhone 3GS's will be left out of many of the new features in iOS 6.

I hope this answered your question.

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

 

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