Buying a smartphone for somebody else is no different than buying any other gift, except for the pesky carrier data plans and limited availability of many devices. Luckily, both the Samsung Galaxy S2 and iPhone 4S are available on multiple carriers, and that makes comparing them much easier. You aren't forced to go to only one carrier, although that wasn't the case with previous iPhone versions. These are two of the most popular smartphones in the world, so you're likely to find features you like in both phones. They are similar in price, around $200, have eight megapixel rear-facing cameras and fast processors under the hood.
But what would your giftee want? Are they into apps? Do they text quite a bit? Are they always on Facebook or watching videos? More to the point, are they on the same plan as you, do they have a carrier contract already (and if so, which one) or are they a free agent (no smartphone plan)? We'll tackle the first two scenario's as they are a bit more complicated. If you're adding a line to your plan, it will depend on what carrier you use. Verizon doesn't have the Galaxy S2, and T-Mobile doesn't have the iPhone. Crazy right?
Ok, so you're either a Sprint or AT&T customer, and you're adding a Galaxy S2 (Epic 4G Touch on Sprint) or iPhone 4S (16GB version) to your plan. On AT&T, the Galaxy S2 should be able to download content and upload photos etc. a bit faster than the iPhone because iPhone is not 4G-enabled. On Sprint, the difference is not as noticeable because their 4G network is nascent and does not offer as high of speeds. But, Sprint does offer unlimited data, so unless you are an AT&T customer who is grandfathered into their unlimited plan, that might be a factor for you.
If you're buying either the Galaxy S2 or iPhone 4S for somebody who already has a mobile phone plan, well, unless money is of no concern, then it is a little trickier, especially if you're planning on making it a surprise. You have to find out what carrier they use, but to find out what the status is of their contract, you'd have to ask. So much for the surprise. Once you know where they are in their contract, then you can proceed accordingly
But aside from all that data plan confusion, you still want to know which device they'd want. If they like videos, the Galaxy S2 has a bigger screen, so it would be more comfortable to watch on. Extensive use of video playback might become a battery issue, though, and iPhone 4S has a great battery. Both phones have an enormous selection of apps to choose from, and while their respective app ecosystems are constantly evolving, generally, the iPhone apps have a wider audience and lots of support, but they also tend to be more expensive than Android apps. That just means you'll see more one and two dollar apps in the App Store and more free apps in the Android Market. Again, that is just a guide. You could spend weeks sifting through the apps to get a better idea of what is there. As for people who send lots of text messages, the virtual keyboards may not be up to their standards, but unless they are a dedicated text demon, they may not put up too much of a fuss. iPhone 4S tends to be a bit faster as far as lag time between when you tap the screen to when you see the text appear.
But the main feature iPhone 4S brings is the Siri voice activated digital assistant that can understand your speech and even talk back to you. On Galaxy S2, there is Voice Talk, but with Siri, you can speak normally (more or less) and it will understand you. Physically, the biggest difference, besides the screen size, is that iPhone 4S is make of metal and glass and Galaxy S2 is made of plastic. Some people don't like a plastic feel, but others like that it is very light and very thin. iPhone 4S is 9.3mm thick and Galaxy S2 is just 8.5mm.
Apple makes its own software and it's called iOS. Samsung licenses their software from Google, and it runs the Android 2.3 version known as Gingerbread. There is an Android 4.0 update that Galaxy S2 will get in early 2012, however, and that is a very different system than the current one. It's different in feel, but it does add dozens of new features like a facial recognition security feature. Unfortunately, you'll have to check out the Galaxy Nexus on Verizon to see what the 4.0 version looks like. That is the only smartphone currently running the update, and devices like Galaxy S2 will get it eventually.
It really comes down to how well you know what your giftee likes/wants. If you have any doubts, get the iPhone 4S. You don't have to learn a new software system in a couple months and Apple is likely a more familiar company with a feel your giftee may be comfortable with. Whatever you decide, try to have fun with these devices, and remind your giftee there is always a new device right around the corner if they are not head over heels in love with what you get them. Tell us in the comments any anecdotes you have about buying somebody a new smartphone.
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