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Review: Galaxy strong contender to iPhone

Wednesday - 6/20/2012, 3:26pm  ET

By ANICK JESDANUN
AP Technology Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Until I started watching videos on Samsung's new Galaxy S III phone, I never thought of the iPhone's display as small.

The Galaxy's screen measures 4.8 inches diagonally, compared with 3.5 inches for the iPhone. That translates to a display area that's nearly twice the size. Yet the Galaxy is thinner and lighter.

Apart from that, the Galaxy shares the iPhone's curvy and shiny design, along with a center button that wakes up the device from power-saving mode or takes you from whatever you're doing to a home screen.

Unlike the iPhone, the Galaxy runs on faster 4G cellular networks (AT&T markets its iPhones as 4G, but the network is based on older technology). The Galaxy also comes with a new wireless technology called near-field communications, which can be used to share files and make purchases.

Pictures taken with the Galaxy were sharper and had better light balance than those with the iPhone, based on a handful of test shots I took. The Galaxy's tool for measuring data usage _ for those of us no longer on unlimited plans _ surpasses what comes with the iPhone.

All that makes the Galaxy a strong contender to Apple's popular device.

I understand the comparison isn't entirely fair. The iPhone 4S is about eight months old, and there's a new model expected this fall. Last week, Apple previewed changes to the phone's operating system, promising improvements to its Siri virtual assistant, a mapping service with voice navigation and more.

But the reality is the new Galaxy is available now _ not in September or October.

All four national wireless companies and regional carrier U.S. Cellular will sell the Galaxy, which runs the latest operating software from Google, a flavor of Android known as Ice Cream Sandwich.

The basic model with 16 gigabytes of memory will cost $200 with a two-year contract through AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and U.S. Cellular. That's comparable to the iPhone's $199. A 32 GB model will cost $250, which is cheaper than a comparable iPhone at $299. T-Mobile will charge at least $30 more than others, though it may still be cheaper overall with lower monthly data fees over two years.

The Galaxy phones will be available in white or blue. AT&T will also have a red version this summer, but it won't carry the 32 GB model. Availability starts this week, though dates vary by wireless company.

Now back to Galaxy's screen.

The Galaxy shines when displaying widescreen video. That's because much of the display's increase is in width rather than in height when the phone is held on its side, or landscape mode. The iPhone wastes some display real estate to make wider videos fit. There are unused strips of black above and below those videos.

When watching a foreign movie through a Netflix app, the Galaxy's larger screen makes the subtitles much easier to read. I can read them fine on the iPhone, but my eyes kept zeroing in on the text to do so, making me miss the action.

The colors on the Galaxy also appeared richer, thanks to a screen that uses organic light-emitting diodes, rather than a standard LCD.

All that video can deplete your data allowance in no time.

On the iPhone, the tool for measuring data usage isn't easy to find. You have to choose "General" in your settings, then "Usage," and then "Cellular Usage." There's info there on the amount of data sent and received, but no total. You have to remember to manually reset the counter each month on the day your billing cycle starts.

On the Galaxy, "Data usage" is the third item from the top under "Settings." You can tell the phone when to warn you that you're about to reach your cap for the month. You can also automatically disable data usage when you've reached a pre-specified point to avoid extra charges. You don't have to do any math to get the total used, and the counter automatically resets each month. You can also see which apps use the most data.

Before I go further, I'll say a few things about where the iPhone still excels.

_ The iPhone has more software from outside parties, extending the device's functionality. Many apps are written only for the iPhone and other Apple devices. Versions for the Galaxy and other Android phones sometimes come months later and lack all of the features.

_ The iPhone works better than Android devices in corporate settings. Android, for instance, lacks the tools needed to access Wi-Fi at my office or the corporate email system (though some might consider that a plus for Android).

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