While the focus rightly so was on the features and specifications of the iPhone 5, one of the biggest announcements during Apple’s event yesterday was the $99 iPhone 4S (see our review from October, 2011). While we’ve seen this before with carriers offering the iPhone 3GS at sub-$100, this is the first time we’ve seen an iPhone that is relatively new (originally released in October, 2011) being sold at this price point. While many have compared the iPhone 5 vs Nokia Lumia 920 vs Samsung Galaxy S III, let’s take a moment to compare the $99 iPhone 4S to the field.
The biggest competitor in the $99 price bracket is the HTC One X. A premium build Android phone that has seen a rather quick and drastic price reduction, likely to remain competitive with the Samsung Galaxy S III, despite being able to hold its own versus the latest from Samsung. HTC doesn’t have the ad budget to battle with Samsung, so the aggressive pricing here makes sense. If that was indeed the intent, how does it fare against the iPhone 4S, which has its share of marketing muscle behind it. Customers wooed by larger displays might find the allure of the spectacular, larger HTC One X display to be an option. If you want to buy an HTC One X, you have to do so on AT&T. Verizon and Sprint don’t offer the One X, again limiting it’s ability to go head to head with the iPhone 4S.
The direct competitor on Sprint is the Samsung Galaxy S II, which has been on the market since May of 2011. It ships with Android 4.0 and at some point in Q4 will receive Google’s Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update, which offers an abundance of improvements, most notably speed and smooth scrolling. When Apple releases iOS 6 on September 19th, iPhone 4S owners will receive a free update and it will be compatible with all of the features. In fact, iOS 6 will be available on the iPhone 4S before the iPhone 5 is even available. That’s a big deal. For those wondering about fragmentation on Android, look no further than the Verizon Galaxy Nexus. Nexus devices are often lauded because they come with stock Android, ensuring they’ll have timely updates to the latest and greatest OS updates. It’s very telling when a Nexus device still hasn’t received an update to an OS that was announced in June.
When it was released, the S II garnered great reviews. Like so many Android devices, which seem to find new releases weekly, it’s feels a bit long in the tooth. Compare this to the HTC One X and there is no comparison. While Samsung’s Galaxy SII is no withering willow when it comes to specs, notably the 4.3-inch Super AMOLED display, there is no comparison when it comes to build quality. The iPhone 4S exudes quality and has the distinction of having the best camera is a smartphone. This will likely change with the release of the iPhone 5 and the Nokia Lumia 920. While the iPhone 4S will be available from Sprint for $99, you have to jump through some rebate hoops to land at a sub-$100 price point for the Galaxy S II.
On Verizon, you have the newest member of the Droid family in the Motorola Droid RAZR M. While the trend is smartphones has been to go big, really big, the Droid M bucks the trend in a refreshing way. Not unlike the iPhone 5, the Droid RAZR M is ultra-thin and features a taller, not wider display. With it’s 4.3-inch HD display and support for Verizon’s 4G LTE network, Motorola has managed to pack a great deal of good specs into an affordable package. While the design isn’t inspiring, it’s a well built phone. It too ships with Android 4.0, with a promise of Jelly Bean coming later this fall. Having used this phone with both versions, the difference with the update is noticeable. The companies behind the Droid phones have made some interesting choices in UI, with an interface that feels as if I’m being punched in the face by my smartphone. It’s a visual assault of massive proportions. But hey, it’s Android and you can customize the heck out of the Droid RAZR M and make it your own.
The HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S II and Motorola Droid RAZR M are all very good phones. They all offer a larger display than the iPhone 4S at the same price point. All very capable and well reviewed phones. Customers shopping the sub-$100 smartphone market have some great choices, which now includes the iPhone 4S. The party crasher. I’ve used both the Samsung Galaxy S II and Droid RAZR M extensively and would not be able give up my iPhone 4S for either of those devices. The HTC One X features overall solid build quality with a beautiful design and display. But is it enough to forgo the benefits of an iPhone. Spec fights are great and the iPhone 4S can match up with the best of them, but I submit that doesn’t matter much to most consumers. They simply want a great phone for less money. Just last week, the iPhone 4S was a great phone for $199. Nothing has changed, but the price. The iPhone 4S boasts an ecosystem that includes over 700,000 apps. When a new update is released, such as iOS 6 on September 19th, it won’t be left behind. Industry leading design, retina display and for know the best camera available on a mobile device. All this for $99. I think they might sell a few of these.