Head to head: Nokia 808 PureView and Samsung Galaxy S III

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In my recent 'N8 to 808' feature, I postulated that the natural upgrade from an N8 would be to a 4.3"-screened smartphone at most, but there was a definite opinion that the new Samsung Galaxy S III is still an attractive option for current N8 owners, despite the size. Having spent some time with the SGS3 at the launch event, I wanted to compare specs and features between this and the 'shoe-in N8 upgrade', the 808. Personally, I fancy owning both...(!)

As usual, the table is part reference, part subjective opinion. And where obviously appropriate, I've allocated a row winner, in green.

  Nokia 808 PureView Samsung Galaxy S III
  808 SGS III
First sold May 2012 May 2012
OS Nokia Belle FP1 Android 4.0.4 plus TouchWiz and other Samsung extensions
Form factor, materials Solid plastic body, full-face Gorilla glass capacitive touchscreen, 170g Larger but lighter, essentially two-handed form, plastic body, full face Gorilla glass, 133g
Dimensions 124 x 60 x 14 mm 137 x 71 x 9 mm 
Connectivity Pentaband 3G, Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, 'USB on the go' (to USB disks/accessories), NFC Quad band 3G,  Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, integral wifi tethering without needing third party software, USB on the go, NFC
Input mechanisms Adequate virtual qwerty landscape keyboard with writing aids, plus qwerty or numeric 'T9' input in portrait mode. Compatible with most Bluetooth and USB keyboards. Pretty good multi-touch virtual qwerty keyboard in both portrait and landscape modes (where appropriate), with writing aids. Compatible with most Bluetooth keyboards. S-voice (based on Vlingo) allows some voice recognition and control.
Display  4.0" (360 x 640 pixels) AMOLED with ClearBlack Display polarisers, true RGB pixels, readable in bright sunlight 4.8" (720 x 1280 pixels) Super AMOLED, pentile pixel layout (some argue that this effectively halves the 'real' resolution), just about readable in bright sunlight
Interface  (Symbian) Nokia Belle FP1, kinetic scrolling everywhere, multi-touch where needed, six homescreens of live widgets, whole interface works in portrait or landscape mode. Android 4, customised with TouchWiz additions, kinetic and multi-touch, of course. Seven homescreens of live, often interactive widgets. Most applications work in landscape mode, but homescreen and app menu is resolutely portrait only. S-Voice interface with customised 'wake up' audio control
Speed  Good, 1.3GHz ARM 11 with 512MB RAM and a graphics processor to help out with effects, transitions and multimedia, plus a dedicated PureView camera GPU. Generally very good, with a quad-core 1.4GHz Exynos processor, plus GPU. The processing power has been demonstrated by playing back smooth 1080p Flash video in web pages - amazing, in a phone. As with Symbian, there's full, no holds multitasking. 
Memory capacity (storage)

Up to 512MB of C: (system) disk, plus 16GB mass memory and flexible microSD expansion, e.g. adding an extra 32GB. Apps can be installed on any disk. Plugging in the phone to any desktop computer allows mass memory and microSD to be mounted and treated like any other disk. Plus generic USB disk support via 'USB on the go', adding up to 128GB extra.

16/32/64GB (depending on variant) of integral storage (MTP-mountable on a desktop), plus microSD expansion, quoted up to 64GB. Plus generic USB disk support via 'USB on the go', adding up to 128GB extra.
Camera (stills)

Superlative 38 megapixel stills, though usually running in 5mp 'PureView' mode, offering zero digital noise and 'perfect' pixels with lossless 3x digital zoom. Huge 1/1.2" sensor and Carl Zeiss optics. Exposed camera glass. Proper shutter button.

Genuine Xenon flash and tuned camera hardware make for foolproof evening/social shots.

Good 8 megapixel photos, 1/3.2" sensor. Results will be similar to those from the Galaxy S II with near identical camera hardware - see my SGS2/N8 photo comparisons. A variety of extra camera modes in software.

Not having a camera shutter button has to be a negative though... 

Camera (video) 1080p video capture is superb and at high bitrate, a variety of focus options, plus intelligent (non-lossy) 3x digital zoom; audio capture in stereo and with pro-quality digital mikes and RichRecording software and electronics, capable of handling a very wide volume range. Full 1080p capture, with continuous auto-focus good audio capture at normal volumes, in stereo.
GPS and navigation  Good GPS, backed up by Nokia Wi-fi location, with Nokia Maps 3.9 worldwide free sat-nav. Maps can be pre-loaded by continent, country or area.  Good GPS, with Google Maps Navigation and (somewhat robotic) voice guidance. Maps can now be pre-loaded into a cache and then pulled back later, but not, as far as I can see, on a country level.
Audio out Loud, high quality mono speaker, 3.5mm jack, A2DP, FM transmitter to car radio, plus Dolby Digital Surround Sound (through HDMI port) Adequate mono speaker, 3.5mm jack, A2DP.
Multimedia playback Video playback is terrific, with a wide range of codecs supported. YouTube playback in high quality requires a third party download (e.g. CuteTube), 360p via the mobile YouTube web site. Video playback is excellent on the big HD screen. Excellent HQ YouTube support means that quality streamed video is never far away, too, on that 720p screen, bandwidth permitting.
Web browsing Symbian Web (webkit-based), functional without ever really impressing, though it's faster on the 808 than on any previous Symbian handset. Stunning rendering speed on a stunning display. The Android browser on the SGS III is fairly unbeatable in mobile, with text reflow, etc. At 720p resolution, many sites also don't even need zooming or panning if your eyes are good enough. 
Email All purpose Mail client provides 'push' facilities for Mail for Exchange, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo! mail and many others - works well on the whole but some limitations and performance annoyances when 'rich' emails come in. The odd pairing of Gmail and a generic email client persists, as is usual for Android, but it should all work well and at very good speed here, bandwidth permitting.
Other application highlights out of the box Microsoft Office Mobile editing suite/cloud integration, Dictionary, Zip manager, Photo editor, Video editor, Nokia Social Networking (Twitter and Facebook) Full Polaris Office editing suite, plus Dropbox, various digital content hubs/stores and the usual Android core applications.
Application store and ecosystem  Nokia Store client, hundreds* of high quality native Symbian applications are compatible. There's an automatic update system but installs are somewhat intrusive where the Qt Smart Installer is involved.  Google Play (the new name for the Android Market...!), and access to many thousands* of high quality native (based on Java) applications. Applications can be automatically or manually updated.
Battery 1400mAh, replaceable when needed, microUSB charging, casual use should last 2 days. 2100 mAh, replaceable when needed, microUSB charging, casual use should last 2 days.
Ongoing firmware support and OS updates Symbian's long term prospects are of course time-limited now. Support and minor upgrades will continue at some level though, for another three years. Many OS modules and components can be upgraded, over the air, as-and-when using the 'Sw update tool' in the device. Prospects reasonable, this is Samsung's flagship for 2012, though any core Android updates will take many months to appear, since the OS has to have TouchWiz applied and then tested as such.

* yes, yes, overall numbers in each store are much higher, but I'm estimating the number of genuine high quality applications/games. Not novelties or copycats or junk.

As ever, it's interesting (though not that relevant) to add up the green 'wins': the Samsung Galaxy S III scores 6 to the Nokia 808 PureView's 4. Which sounds about right to me, allowing for the context of today, the smartphone world in 2012. I would emphasise three things though:

  • the high number of rows/attributes for which I simply couldn't pick an overall winner, either because doing so is entirely subjective (i.e. depending on personal preference) or because the two devices were simply too evenly matched.
  • the 808 and SGS3 are very different form factors. You only have to hold each to realise that. I excluded the SGS3 from my article last week because I felt it was too large a leap in form factor for an existing N8 owner. Look at the dimensions here - the 808's significantly bigger than the N8 and yet the SGS3 rather dwarfs it. 
  • the 808 and SGS3 have very different core specialisms. The 808 is utterly focussed(!) on the camera functions, while the SGS3 is more an all-rounder and access to the huge library of Android applications or even some of Samsung's new S-gimmicks is likely to be an attraction.

Which one would I pick, given the choice? I'm not going to answer that until I've tested full retail versions of each. Watch this space!

Comments welcome as usual.

Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 22 May 2012