Apple's design team must be quite fond of the iPhone 4, which explains why the new iPhone 5 (two generations newer) looks almost identical. They aimed for same but better and pretty much nailed it, barring some issues with the finish.
Samsung on the other hand is keeping things fresh and is on its third design for the third generation Galaxy S phone.
We won't argue over aesthetics - you can make up your own mind on that one - but we'll take a more practical look instead.
Let's start with the iPhone 5. Apple replaced the thick, heavy glass on the back with aluminum. This made the phone both thinner and lighter, plus aluminum is usually appreciated when it comes to high-end feel, though it's scratch-prone.
The device was designed with durability in mind (scratches on the back will spoil the aesthetics but won't impede functionality). It has a scratch-proof sapphire to protect the camera lens, for example. One thing we're not so sure about (other than the aluminum back) is the home button - those have been known not to age gracefully and while it feels different on the iPhone 5, only time will tell if Apple has really taken care of the issue.
The 3.5mm audio jack was moved to the bottom, so you can listen to music with the phone upside down in your pocket (that was made possible by the new, smaller connector). The advantage of this is that you can reach in and pull the phone out holding it the right way up, without having to adjust your grip.
The new connector is pretty interesting itself - it has the awesome ability to work whichever way you plug it in (no more guessing way is up) and is more durable than its 30-pin predecessor, but requires a $30 adapter to work with older accessories (and not all of them are supported). If TV-out is what you are after, for example you will need to pay $49+tax for a lightning to HDMI cable, which sound quite ridiculous.
Apple also went with a new SIM card standard - nanoSIM. It's quite rare at the moment, but getting a new SIM or cutting an old one to size is a fairly easy task, so we don't consider this much of a downside.
Samsung took a new turn when designing the new Galaxy S. Instead of the durable but plain-looking plastic of the S II, they went with hyperglaze finish. The curves of the phone make it feel thinner and improve the handling, but it just might feel too plasticy for some.
Say what you will about the plastic of the Galaxy flagship phone, but one thing no one can deny is that you get more color options than you do with the iPhone (which sticks to black or white despite the palette of colors on the iPod touch).
While scratching the back is not a problem, the screen seems to be a bigger worry. Even though both phones' screens are protected by Gorilla Glass (GG 2 on the Samsung), according to the first drop tests we saw, the screen on the Galaxy S III is a bit easier to crack than that of the iPhone.
The port positioning on the Galaxy S III is traditional - 3.5mm audio jack on top and a microUSB at the bottom (if you're going to have docks and cradles, that's where you need to put the USB port, really).
While the microUSB cables can be plugged in only one way, they are much easier to find. And with the right adapter, you get either HDMI or USB Host thanks to the MHL functionality.
We mentioned the sapphire cover on the iPhone 5 that protects the camera. The Galaxy S III doesn't have that, in fact, the camera protrudes slightly making it even more vulnerable.
The Galaxy S III uses the increasingly popular microSIM format and it does have a microSD card slot, which pretty much makes paying extra for a 32GB or 64GB version unnecessary. You can always pop in a 32GB or 64GB card - not only will you be actually getting more storage in the end, but you'll be saving quite a lot of cash, too.
While we're still looking under the hood, we might as well mention the battery too. It has 2100mAh capacity, more than the 1440mAh of the iPhone 5, but the custom-made Apple A6 chipset might be able to beat the Exynos 4412 Quad inside the Galaxy S III (Cortex-A9 cores are getting old and so is the Mali-400 GPU and their power-efficiency is not up to par).
There's no contest here really. The iPhone 5 handles like something you bought from a jewelry shop and it looks way better than the Galaxy S III. It's also way more compact so even with the build quality issues it has, it still comes as a winner here.
Winner: Apple iPhone 5