Last week Apple announced its three iPhones for 2018 – the iPhone XR, XS and XS Max. And while the temptation to jump right onto the newest shiny thing might be hard to resist, maybe now is the time to pick up one of its rival flagships, the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+. If you're wondering which side of the divide you'll fall this year, New Atlas compares the specs and features of Apple's iPhone XR, XS and XS Max to Samsung's Galaxy S9 and S9+.
The iPhone XS Max and the Galaxy S9+ are close to the same size, with Samsung's device being slightly taller and thicker and Apple's a tad wider. Both tower over the other phones, with the Galaxy S9 slotting into the middle ground between the iPhone XR and XS.
The iPhone XS Max sure lives up to its name. Weighing well over 208 grams, it's the heaviest iPhone ever and likely takes the cake even if you widen the field to the rest of 2018's phones. Apple's "entry-level" iPhone is next on the scales at 194 g, while the base model Galaxy S9 is the lightest in this group.
If it's hard to get your head around these numbers, just remember that a US nickel weighs exactly 5 grams, so the lighter phones are basically saving you from lugging around a coin purse's worth of change.
The higher end iPhones are available in more refined color options – gold, silver and gray. The XR gets to play a little looser, with splashes of blue, yellow, red and coral. Samsung strikes a middle ground with a bit of both, offering black, gray, gold, blue and purple.
It seems like the days of metal backs are all but gone, as most phones have opted for glass front and back with metal frames for support. Both Galaxies and the iPhone XR are ringed in aluminum, while the iPhone XS and XS Max use stainless steel.
With the exception of the iPhone XR, these phones have a water resistance rating of IP68. That normally means that a device can survive being submerged in liquids as deep as 1.5 m (4.9 ft) for up to 30 minutes, but Apple says that the iPhone XS and XS Max can plunge down to 2 m (6.6 ft) if need be. The iPhone XR isn't without its own protection however – its IP67 rating means it should be fine down to 1 m (3.3 ft).
Swimming with any of these phones is probably still a bad idea, but it's comforting to know that they'll at least be fine if you spill a drink on them or forget to take them out of your pocket before jumping in a pool.
At an eye-catching 6.5 inches, the screen on the iPhone XS Max is one of the biggest ever, and really blurs the already-murky boundaries between phone, phablet and tablet.
The 6.2-in display on the Galaxy S9+ is no slouch either, and the others are hovering around the 6-in mark, which about the average nowadays.
One of the major trends in recent years has been to squeeze as much screen as possible onto the front of phones, and it's interesting to note just how quickly devices with chunky bezels began to look outdated.
With this year's iPhones, Apple has apparently realized this and gone all-in on the iPhone X school of design. For better or worse, that also means the "notch" in the top, which has proven pretty divisive over the last year, has carried across to all three new models.
The Galaxy phones meanwhile don't have that notch, instead just having relatively thin bezels along the top and bottom of the display.
Gone are the days of standardized phone screen resolutions. With the exception of the iPhone XR, most of these devices hover around the ill-defined Wide Quad HD, with the two Galaxies being higher than that and the other two iPhones a little under.
The Galaxy S9 has the highest pixel density, with the S9+ losing a little of that by way of stretching the same resolution over a larger screen. The iPhones, particularly the XR, have lower definition, but Apple is known to make the most of that. Generally, most people wouldn't notice much difference unless you had them all lined up.
Apple held onto the In-Plane Switching Liquid Crystal Display (IPS LCD) technology long after most other manufacturers had switched over to Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) displays, but first joined the club last year with the iPhone X. The XS and XS Max continue that trend, while the XR sticks with the old IPS LCD.
Not that there's anything wrong with IPS LCD – both technologies have their pros and cons. Generally, OLED screens are known to produce brighter colors, deeper blacks and better contrast, while IPS LCD may have sharper and clearer images and more "natural" colors.
Apple is betting everything on its Face ID system, having cut the once-standard fingerprint sensor from its newest iPhones. And why not – the TrueDepth 3D camera is designed to scan a user's face in full 3D, apparently making for a highly accurate and secure system.
Samsung's facial recognition system is a bit less reliable – without that 3D element it can apparently be fooled by a photograph of the right person – but to build on that, the Galaxies have an iris scanner as well. The two techniques can be rolled into one facial scan to make it more secure. And if you're still in the habit of unlocking your phone with the tap of a finger, the trusty fingerprint scanner is still present and accounted for.
The new iPhones are running on Apple's latest chipset, the A12 Bionic. Samsung's phones are running Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 processor. it's pretty hard to rank how these stack up against each other, given there are so many variables involved in how well a phone runs, but both should run better than their predecessors anyway.
About 4 GB of RAM is to be expected in most phones, and here the iPhone XS, XS Max and Galaxy S9 fit the bill. The iPhone XR gets by with 3 GB, while the Galaxy S9+ goes all-out with 6 GB.
For all five of these phones, 64 GB of storage is the baseline and 256 GB is an option. Samsung slots 128 GB in the middle, while Apple cranks things up with a generous (but pricey) 512 GB model.
Both Galaxies have the option to expand the storage with MicroSD cards, up to a maximum of 400 GB. Apple doesn't bother with that, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem given their beefy onboard options.
Apple never releases the direct battery numbers for its phones, but somebody usually gets in there and figures it out. Nobody has yet managed that at this early stage, but we'd bet they fall far short of even the Galaxy S9's 3,000 mAh capacity. That said, Apple is known for squeezing every last drop of juice out of the batteries it does use, so you're still likely to get at least a full day's use out of a single charge.
What Apple is willing to say is that the iPhone XS lasts about 30 minutes longer than the iPhone X did, while the XS Max lasts 90 minutes longer. The iPhone XR, meanwhile, is said to last 90 minutes longer than the 8 Plus did.
All five of these phones can be fast-charged if, say, you need a quick top-up before heading out. But while it's just a simple software setting on the Galaxy S9 and S9+, the iPhones can't do it out of the box – instead, you'll need to buy a separate charger.
Wireless charging is also available across the board here, but in this case all five phones require a charging pad, sold separately. We're yet to see any phone include one in the box.
Apple's slow obliteration of the headphone jack is almost complete, with the plug now completely absent from all iPhone models you can buy today. That leaves just a Lightning port alone on the bottom of the new generation of iPhones, which looks rather clean.
Thankfully, rather than pack in a 3.5 mm-to-Lightning adapter, Apple now just throws in specialty earbuds with a Lightning plug on them. Honestly though, if you haven't already made the switch to Bluetooth headphones or earbuds, now is the time, no matter which phone you have.
The Galaxy S9 and S9+ charge via USB-C, and still offer the option for the old headphone jack.
All five phones have NFC chips in them, which allow users to make mobile payments at participating stores.
On paper, the Galaxies have higher-spec selfie cameras, with more megapixels and a wider aperture. But the iPhones feature Apple's depth-sensing technology, which is what allows them to use the Face ID system to unlock the devices.
The iPhone XR and the Galaxy S9 have single 12-MP cameras on the back, although the S9 can apparently switch between two aperture modes – f/1.5 for better low-light snaps, and f/2.4 for more detailed images in the bright light of day.
The Galaxy S9+ and the two higher-end iPhones sport dual 12-MP sensors, one with a wide-angle lens and the other a telephoto. The main difference is that the S9+ can also see better in the dark, with that f/1.5 aperture.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos are a given across the board here, and Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) is also universal to help smooth out the jitters while shooting video.
All five phones are capable of shooting in up to 4K or just regular old 1080p, but the Samsung devices offer a little more choice with the in-between resolutions.
One of the key selling points of the new Galaxies is the super slow motion mode, which shoots at a ridiculous 960 frames per second. The iPhones can only do slow-mo at 120 or 240 fps.
Bokeh effects – where the background is blurred to make the subject pop – can be applied on photos from both companies' phones, but for Samsung only the S9+ can do that, and only on the rear camera. The iPhones can all do it with both front and back cameras.
There's a bit of copycatting going on in the emoji world. On the iPhone X last year Apple introduced Animoji, which lets users turn themselves into cartoon animals that mimic their facial expressions and lip sync whatever message they record. Samsung followed suit with its extremely-similar AR Emoji system, which included licensed Disney characters as well as cartoon avatars of the users themselves. Now, Apple has copied that last point with what it calls Memoji.
Both sets of phones come with the latest versions of their respective operating systems installed – iOS 12 for the iPhones and Android 8 Oreo for the Galaxies.
Apple products wouldn't be the same without its old mate Siri, who has a few new tricks up her sleeve with iOS 12. Siri Shortcuts, for example, let users set their own custom voice commands for tasks that might have several steps.
Samsung has its own service, Bixby, which is serviceable enough but not quite as well polished as other systems out there.
Apple and Samsung seem to have an agreement, so as not to step on each other's toes at launch. The new Galaxy generation launched back in March this year, while the iPhone XS and XS Max came out just this week. The iPhone XR is due for release in October.
Apple products have always come with a premium price tag, but never more so than this year. The 512 GB model of the iPhone XS Max is pushing US$1,500, and even the 64 GB has broken the $1,000 mark. The XS hovers around the same point, which might make the XR the one to get if you're looking to save a few pennies without compromising too much on the experience.
On the other hand Samsung has had a six month head start, meaning the Galaxy S9 and S9+ have already had a price drop since launch. Starting at $620 – literally half the price of some new iPhone models – those Galaxies look quite the bargain, comparatively.
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