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When I choose the Subdivide Smooth option in edit mode it looks different from the Subdivision Modifier. Not only is it smaller but also the shape of the one from edit mode seems distorted.

enter image description here

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When using subdivision in edit mode, the original vertices stay at the exact same place. The rest of the mesh swells up around it.

When using the modifier, vertices and edges are more like control points of a nurbs curve. The image below illustrates it. Note that concave shapes (the thinner section of the model below) will swell outwards.

Subdivied blocky thing

It's not possible to make a truly spherical shape when using subsurf, but the more verts you have in the original mesh, the less noticeable the irregularities will be and the more spherical it will look. You can also use a Shinkwrap modifier to "project" your mesh onto a real sphere, or a Cast modifier or the To Sphere (Alt+Shift+S) operator to warp it into shape. I often do this when wanting a mesh that can be subdivided but still have a nice equator.

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    $\begingroup$ or To Sphere (Alt Shift S) $\endgroup$ – wchargin Nov 5 '13 at 14:27

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