Every year the battle for the best phone reaches new heights, but this time around it feels particularly fierce.
The pandemic forced us all to stay at home, but phone designers used this time to their advantage, dreaming of new, game-changing ideas that you can now hold in the palm of your hand.
The world is divided into two factions: those who worship at the altar of Apple and those who won’t use anything but Android devices. There’s division over devices everywhere, from friendship circles, in households and even at the ES Best Shopping desk.
We took Apple and Samsung’s coolest, high-tech drops out for a spin, reviewing them toe-to-toe on everything from screen size and clarity to specs to find out which handset really is the fairest of them all.
Who will triumph: Team Android, or Team Apple?
Shopping Writer Abha Shah: Why I’m Team Android
From my very first handset (a once-prized Nokia 3310, used primarily to play Snake) to my most recent Google Pixel, I’ve always favoured the android of the species. I find them infinitely more intuitive - it’s almost as if they can read my thoughts on what I want to do next.
I prefer the depth of choice in the Android arena too. Shoppers get more of a level playing field: competition between brands stops prices spiralling, and that same rivalry pushes innovation and creativity - who can say the same for Apple who has basically released the same phone for a decade, just with incrementally improved specs? I just don’t see the attraction.
Shopping Editor Ellie Davis: Why I’m Team Apple
After making the big move from iPhone to Google Pixel a few years back, I was content with the Android life – and then they launched the 13 and it solidified why I’m ‘Team Apple’. Prior to this, I’d had every model of iPhone in existence, even the original one (which I wish I’d kept for posterity).
For me, it’s all about the camera. I am no professional photographer by any stretch of the imagination, but a souped up megapixel is number one on my list of things to look for in a new phone. Apple has always been miles ahead of the pack in this arena and with this latest launch, they put all other smartphones to shame.
Abha: I’m taking the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 for a spin, and from the off, I can see this is unlike any other handset I’ve tried. It’s about the same size as a regular mobile with a 6.2-inch screen when folded (although double the depth and much weightier, it feels as though it’s connected to a battery pack), but open it and you’re holding a tablet sized device that flattens completely. No unsightly cracks, just a smooth, super-sized 7.6-inch screen that makes picture-taking a pleasure and streaming content a personal cinema-style experience. Friends have stopped mid-sentence when I’ve pulled it out of my pocket. It’s a high-tech magic trick and everyone wants to watch.
It comes in three colours all pre-fixed by ‘Phantom’: green, silver and black, which goes with everything.
Ellie: When the iPhone 13 Pro first landed on my lap, it was like trying to navigate a spaceship. The interface is so different from Android (which I will admit is actually particularly user-friendly) but it took no time at all to adapt back to iPhone life - it’s like riding a bike.
Aesthetic-wise, the iPhone 13 Pro is an attractive, eye-catching phone. It lacks the gimmick of the Fold, but the large, screen-filling picture makes everything clear and easy to use. I opted for the lovely lilac-blue hue named Sierra Blue. This is just one of the many shades available of this latest drop. There’s also Graphite, Gold, and Silver, and whether you opt for the mini, classic, or Pro in either size, there are a range of colours to choose from.
The Pro is kitted out with three lenses on the back. This may be overwhelming to those uninitiated with previous models but marks the next stage in the multi-lens revolution that has dominated recent phone launches. I say the more, the better.
Size and weight
Abha: As mentioned, this is heavier than your average handset at 271g, but I don’t find that to be an issue. In fact, it’s reassuring - there’s no way the Fold3 could slip out of my pocket without me realising. Folded, I can comfortably hold the phone in one hand; opened requires two. It fits neatly into my pockets but if I was the clubbing type, it’s probably be too big for a clutch bag. The Fold’s sister, the Flip3, wins there: it goes down to just 4.2-inches.
Compared to the iPhone 13’s 173g weight, Apple is the better option on paper, but for me, it’s a small price to pay for a screen that doubles in size.
Ellie: As Abha mentioned, the iPhone 13 is the lighter phone but not to its detriment. I’ve had phones in the past that were so light, they slipped right out of my hands and resulted in a pile of smashed glass. The Pro is the Goldilocks weight and size.
Abha: The fact that the Fold3’s Infinity Flex Display can morph from a standard-size screen into a tablet is clearly the biggest plus, especially against Apple’s boring old stationary version - but wait, there’s more. The amplified screen, protected with scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass Victus, gives you more room to display all your apps, and you can have a different selection here to the 6.2-inch home screen you see when folded.
Most people will love the unfolded 7.6-inch size for catching up on their latest box set obsession or watching YouTube tutorials (especially as the 120Hz adaptive refresh rate gives pin-sharp visuals), but I found it quite useful for checking emails too. With more room for text I can see quickly if a message is urgent or not. So helpful when I’m working remotely.
You can take this phone anywhere without worry. The Fold3 boasts IPX8 Water Resistance in up to 1.5m of freshwater which means it can hold its own against whatever the infamous British weather throws at it. It will also be absolutely fine if you drop it in the sea or pool; Samsung actually recommends you give it a quick rinse under the tap to rid it of corrosive sand and chlorine particles. It’s this sort of groundbreaking tech that moves it head and shoulders above Apple, a company so accustomed to its phones breaking that it has to offer a health plan to customers.
When it comes to the folding mechanism, the hinge been tested to within an inch of its life: Samsung says the Fold3 will open and close up to 200,000 times without causing damage - that works out to 100 times a day.
Ellie: The 6.1” screen (or 6.7” for the Max) is perfectly sufficient and you can even maximise this to fill every corner of the phone when you are in Netflix or another video streaming platform. The OLED display is noticeably better than previous models and the brightest yet (25 per cent higher than iPhone 12 when on max).
Super Retina XDR display, ProMotion and refresh rates of up to 120Hz might not mean much to the average Joe but these elements combine to enhance the picture and make this latest model the most responsive than ever.
If you’re clumsy like me, you’ll appreciate the Ceramic Shield front cover that according to Apple is the toughest smartphone glass and is exclusive to the tech giants. As someone who is on first-name terms with the guys at my local iSmash, this has been very welcomed (it is worth mentioning though that I’m no daredevil and I have adorned a case too). Accidental spills? No problem. The industry-leading IP68 rating of water resistance will keep the tech intact.
The advanced A15 Bionic chip is the fastest in a smartphone and in turn provides the speediest graphic performance that is ideal for cinematography and gaming. Without delay, it is capable of 15.8 trillion operations per second. Beat that.
Pictures and video
Abha: Aside from the open screen (have I mentioned the screen size?) what I love most about the Fold3 is the cameras. Samsung has packed an entire studio into one handset.
Similar to the iPhone13, there are three 12MP cameras on the back; one ultra-wide, one wide-angle and one telephoto. The cover camera is 10MP and when the main screen is opened you can just make out a small camera on the front but this one is only 4MP - it fades to near-invisibility when you’re streaming so no distractions. But if your heart sinks at the thought of grainy selfies, think again - the Fold3 that covered too.
One of the standout features in camera mode is that it can mirror the shot on the cover, so you can see the frame when you say cheese. If you’re asking someone else to take a shot, say goodbye to blind directing, dodgy angles and fingers over the lens, because you can monitor it all; the Fold3 lets you take the perfect picture every time, whether or not you’ve got your finger on the button. It’s so brilliant it deserves a standing ovation. The same applies for capturing videos, so if you’re a blogger you can record clips while sitting in the director seat. What’s your move, Apple?
For selfies, open the main screen away from you and point your palm to the camera which will trigger the timer. Or, keep the phone closed and use the 10MP camera on the front as normal (but admittedly not as cool). The cameras all boast the specs we’re used to seeing in our handsets now, and then some: I’m talking 10x digital zoom, food, night and panoramic modes, hyperlapse, slow-mo, super slow-mo, portrait, scene optimiser, QR code scanner - the whole nine yards.
Streaming and browsing on the Fold3 is a pleasure, thanks in no small part to the generous pixels per inch (PPI) rate. On both the cover and the main screens, it’s a rich visual display with 387PPI on the former and 374PPI on the latter. In layman’s, that’s the clearest, brightest graphics yet.
Ellie: When it comes to picture quality, iPhones are far ahead of the competition. Sorry Abha, but your photos are grainy and blurry relatively speaking when compared to the unrivalled crystal-clear images offered by my phone.
The 13th iPhone marks Apple’s most advanced camera system no doubt in part to the well-publicised A15 Bionic chip that is miles ahead of the competition. There are three unmissable cameras; Ultra Wide, Wide and Telephoto lenses that may appear bulky in promotional materials but are flush with the phone so it remains flat (and prevents cracks after inevitable knocks and bumps). Whether you are taking extreme close ups or those skyline wide shots, it comes out looking better than ever. There’s 3x optical zoom, image stabilisation for a smooth and steady shot and the low-light night mode has been given a huge boost on every camera and even on selfie mode (it’s 2.2x better than its predecessor).
The Wide camera is the most souped up - 1.9 pixels and faster shutter speeds mean that no matter the lighting, there’s intricate detailing in every snap. Ultra Wide has a larger aperture for more dynamic images and takes a starring role in ensuring your pictures taken in darker settings are brighter, more true to life and still as crisp as during the day. It has also enabled ultra-magnified images with the ability to focus on subjects at just 2cm away. National Geographic, here we come. The new Telephoto camera gives that impressive zoom we mentioned earlier and gives it a total of 6x optical zoom across the entire system. Features like Deep Fusion blend multiple images taken to create a composite of the best and brings more detail into the fold
You can opt for the photographic style to suit you - adapting tone, warmth and vibrancy - and this becomes the pre-set customising your image to your preference without the need for filters, while still adapting the saturation, contrast and brightness in different parts automatically to focus on the important elements and not alter the picture too much.
I know Abha is waxing lyrical about the ability to see your picture on the front of the Samsung phone but with this camera, you can take a selfie and widen the shot to include your whole group - it does the trick.
It’s probably in video mode where you can see the cameras in full force. Cinematic mode blurs the background and focuses on the subject with impressive depth-of-field transitions and automatic focus changes (although you can change this in the editing) to help you channel your inner Martin Scorsese. Extreme macro close-up, time-lapse and slo-mo are all available as standard and with even better performance so you don’t need to download additional editing apps. Dolby Vision enhances the image quality and gives you a more accurate realistic reflection of colour and the content. The graphics are simply glorious.
Abha: On a typical day, I’m using my phone for a smorgasbord of tasks, from responding to Instagram comments, to reading emails, checking my online banking, and chatting with friends. On a full charge, this baby can go the distance - I only need to plug it back in when I’m about to go to bed but on the occasions I’ve forgotten, I’ve still got more than 50 per cent battery left when my morning alarm goes off. I average at a respectable (compared to Ellie, anyway) 3.5 hours of screen time a day in the working week.
Ellie: One of my bugbears with Apple was battery life. Luckily this is something that the developers have focused on improving. I found that even with my average screen time of six hours a day (don’t judge me!), it does last throughout. I am religious about putting it on Low Power Mode and this doesn’t alter the experience. It simply reduces background activity and pushing your emails through - two elements that are not deal-breakers to me.
Abha: The Fold3 runs on a Snapdragon 888 chip, supported by 12GB of RAM. It comes with 256GB of internal storage as standard, but if you find you need more space, choose the 512GB option instead. Whatever phone you have, doing monthly housekeeping on your device is essential. Empty your gallery of memes and GIFs that have served their purpose and clear your downloads of things like restaurant menus, event tickets and screenshots. Cloud storage is also your friend, folks.
Ellie: At different price points, you can get 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and the all-new 1TB - no matter how many takes you need to get the perfect shot, good luck filling that!
Abha: I’ve had this phone for around three weeks and even with a training session (yes, I am a grandma) I’m still floored every day by how much the Fold3 can do. From transcribing interviews into text - not perfectly, but still a huge improvement from stop-write-start old way - to morphing into a tablet and even a miniature laptop, the Fold3 adapts to every task. It’s attuned for working on the go and you can run up to three apps on the same screen at the same time, which is great when you’re relaying info from emails to WhatsApp groups or Zoom, for instance. You can also view apps vertically as well as horizontally: the latter turns it into a laptop if you place a keyboard at the bottom to take notes. Genius.
Ellie: There are a few exclusive apps and elements that can’t be beaten with iPhone. Even if you are staunchly against Apple, most of your friends won’t be. FaceTime is a game-changer, giving you more hi-res picture on calls than WhatsApp can. There’s also the new Portrait mode to blur out distracting background and the ability to chat as a memoji for laughs guaranteed. I spend most of my calls either as the octopus or the shark. Honourable mention also goes to Apple Maps that recreates the city in which you are navigating in 3D and MagSafe for wireless charging that is just handy.
Phone networks are tripping over themselves to offer deals on both these rockstar devices. Here are the best deals we’ve seen on the handsets alone as well as on contracts:
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 handset deals
AO - £1,599
Samsung - £1,599
Selfridges - £1,599
John Lewis - £1,599 (and a two-year guarantee)
Very - £1,599
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 contract deals
Carphone Warehouse - from £79pm with 100GB data and £119.99 upfront cost
EE - from £98pm with unlimited data and £30 upfront
O2 - from £68.98pm with 30GB data and £50 upfront on 36month plan
Three - from £51pm with 100GB data and £99 upfront on 24month plan
Vodafone - from £49pm with £49 upfront cost on 36month plan
Apple iPhone 13 Pro handset deals
Apple iPhone 13 Pro contract deals
O2 - from £45.50 monthly, £30 upfront with 3GB data
Vodafone - from £57pm with £49 upfront
Three - from £35.50a month with £69 upfront and unlimited data
EE - from £68 a month with £50 upfront with 40GB data
Abha: Playing with the Fold3 secures my position as a die-hard Android fan. It’s clever, it’s innovative, it’s perfect for the demands of modern life. It may be twice the price of Apple’s iPhone 13 but it’s double the tech too. Seeing firsthand what this phone is capable of makes it worth the investment in my eyes. It’s the best of the two, hands down.
Ellie: This is the most advanced iPhone to date and you can tell. From the super speedy response times to the unrivalled picture quality, I won’t be hanging up my Apple hat anytime soon.