Say what you will about specs but they're not the first thing you notice about a handset. What we have here is some amazing pieces of technology - phones you'll want to show off. But a touchscreen bar isn't exactly the form factor to let designers unleash their creativity. Plus, a large, bright, high-res screen is enough to make any handset a looker.
We have two completely different approaches here. Design is a rather broad concept: there's handling and ergonomics - and there're engineering choices that affect the actual performance. In terms of pure looks though, the iPhone is having a walkover here.
Apple deserves much credit for the styling of their latest phone. They did a complete overhaul of one of the most minimalist designs ever. The iPhone 4 has the right measures of simplicity and sophistication. And it's all meaningful. It's the latest in a line of phones that redefined user-friendliness but it's the next generation too in features and technology.
Samsung on the other hand, don't seem to care too much about the packaging. The Galaxy S does little to stand out among the multitude of affordable mass-market touch phones that the company has been churning out. The simple and plasticky phone is quite in line perhaps with Android's egalitarian nature.
Simplicity was key for Apple too, but premium finish for their latest and greatest must've been a matter of noblesse oblige. Some of Apple's innovative design solutions are questionable to say the least but the glass-covered, metal-framed iPhone 4 is a joy to behold.
Choosing an all-plastic case for the I9000 Galaxy S, Samsung were able to keep the phone's weight to the incredible 119 grams (the iPhone 4 weighs in at 137 g). Quite an achievement this one - don't forget we're talking a 4" screen. Among other things, the plastic body makes the Galaxy S much cheaper to make too.
Now depending on how you look at it, the lower weight might be an advantage, as it makes the handset less of a burden in the pocket, or a disadvantage, as it takes away some of the solid feel we've come to expect in premium phones.
The glossy plastic body of the Galaxy S doesn't look quite so nice after a short while - it doesn't take long for it to become a greasy mess. The rear of the phone is less affected by this unpleasant effect. The bluish dots on the back cover were also an attempt perhaps to give the premium handset a bit of personality. The subtle holographic depth effect might have seemed relevant to the phone's name too.
One aspect where the Galaxy S does beat the iPhone 4 however is handling. The Samsung handset has a subtle chin at its back that makes the handset both comfortable and more secure to hold. A 4" screen does push the limits of comfortable single-handed use but the Galaxy S feels good in the hand - especially with the tapered edges, which previous iPhones had too.
The Apple's latest on the other hand has top-notch finish but this is somehow at the expense of secure handling. The iPhone 4 is so slick and smooth with all that glass up and front that it makes you take extra care not to drop it.
This brings us to the next aspect of design - durability. Firstly, the iPhone 4 has a clear advantage as far as day-to-day wear and tear is concerned. The scratch-resistant glass panels can suffer quite a lot of abuse and will look as good as day one.
However glass, sturdy as it may be, is still pretty sensitive to dropping. Early tests showed that the iPhone can survive landing on its face, but falling on a side is likely to cause a nasty crack on the front or bacl. And with glass panels that are pretty hard to replace this is not something you want to have to deal with.
A bumper case is usually good enough to stay out of trouble but those cheap looking (but pretty expensive to buy) pieces of plastic do take away quite a lot of the device's appeal.
The plasticky Galaxy S on the other hand is far easier to scratch but is less vulnerable to dropping. Not to mention that replacing its full-face back panel is far easier and cheaper and requires less technical knowledge. We'd rather call it a tie here.
On a final note we'd like to point out the size difference. The 4" screen of the Galaxy S is marvelous to look at but might be an issue for some users. We guess 3.7 inches is as far as phones should go to. Our two rivals here are keen to support that claim. It just seems the iPhone puts the majority of people at ease. The big screen of Galaxy S will delight power users, but might turn off the average Joe.
Apple iPhone 4: 9/10 • Samsung I9000 Galaxy S: 7/10