The first major flagship phones for 2019 have set sail from Samsung. Last week the company unveiled the Galaxy S10e, S10 and S10 Plus, with a decent jump up from last year's models and extra cameras crammed onto the back. So how well do they stack up against their biggest competitors – the most recent iPhones? New Atlas compares the specs and features of the Samsung Galaxy S10e, S10 and S10 Plus with the iPhone XR, XS and XS Max.
In physical terms, the phones tend to pair up. The Galaxy S10e and the iPhone XS are close to tied as the smallest devices – interestingly though, that's Apple's middle tier and Samsung's entry level device. After a bit of a gap, the Galaxy S10 and the iPhone XR are again within a few millimeters of each other. And finally, the two premium phones are again close to the same size, with the iPhone XS Max measuring just 3 mm wider than the Galaxy S10 Plus.
There's no such pairing up in weight though – Apple's devices are heftier across the board. The lightest iPhone is a couple grams heavier than the heaviest Galaxy. The only exception is if you opt for the special model of the Galaxy S10 Plus, which comes with a ceramic backing that adds an extra 23 g. For reference, a US nickel weighs exactly 5 g, so the differences between them is equivalent to walking around with a few extra coins in your pocket.
Samsung seems excited about its new "Prismatic" designs, which apparently catch the light in a way that shines with different colors. Or there's a bright pink, if that's more your jam. If you're going for the ceramic finish on the S10 Plus, you have the option of black or white.
The iPhone palette is a little more basic, with silver, gray and gold on the XS and XS Max. Apple has let loose a bit more on the XR though, throwing in blue, yellow, coral and red options.
All six of these phones are built with glass front and back, ringed in metal for support. On the three Galaxy phones and the iPhone XR, that metal is aluminum, while the iPhone XS and XS Max go for stainless steel.
Again, there's a special edition of the Galaxy S10 Plus with a ceramic backing.
All six of these phones have a good water resistance rating. For most that's IP68, which officially means they're dust-proof and can withstand being submerged in water down to a depth of 1.5 m (4.9 ft) for 30 minutes. Apple goes a little further and claims the iPhone XS and XS Max can dive down to 2 m (6.6 ft). The iPhone XR's rating of IP67 means it should be fine down to 1 m (3.3 ft).
In practice though, it's still not a good idea to take your phone swimming, but it's nice to know that a quick accidental dunk won't be the end of it.
Much like with the physical sizes, the phones pair up when it comes to display sizes. The iPhone XS and Galaxy S10e have 5.8-inch screens, while the mid-tier Galaxy S10 and entry-level iPhone XR bump it up to 6.1 inches. The Galaxy S10 Plus stretches out to 6.4 in while the iPhone XS Max lives up to its name with a 6.5 in display.
It's well established by now that modern phone designs are all about pushing the screen as close as possible to the edge of the device, and all six of these phones look pretty slick in that department.
Where that ratio starts to drop is in how they handle the front-facing camera. These three iPhones have all adopted the "notch" from 2017's iPhone X, where the camera lens is contained in a small black bar that juts down from the top. It's a divisive feature, since it eats up a bit of screen real estate.
With the Galaxy S10 series, Samsung has a new solution – the so-called "hole punch". There's now just a small circular spot in the corner holding the camera, which we first saw on Huawei's 2019 phones a few months ago. It might also take some getting used to (for users and UI designers alike) but it seems like a neater solution.
Apple does a good job of hiding it, but in terms of raw pixels, iPhone screens are consistently lower than the competition. In fact, the iPhone XR has dropped below Full HD, which itself has been towards the low-end of expectations on phones for years.
The iPhone XS and XS Max fare better, with resolutions somewhere between the murky definitions of 2K and Quad HD. The Galaxy S10e is in the same ballpark, albeit not quite as high a resolution as the two higher-end iPhones.
The Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus sport the highest resolutions of this bunch, and are among the sharpest of any current flagship phones.
The industry seems to be moving towards Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) technology for displays. The low-end iPhone is the only hold-out with an In-Plane Switching Liquid Crystal Display (IPS LCD).
OLED – and its advanced variants like Active Matrix (AMOLED) and Super AMOLED – have a few advantages over LCD. Because each pixel is individually lit, the display is capable of brighter colors, darker blacks and better contrast. They can also be thinner since they don't need a backlight like LCD – it's no coincidence the iPhone XR is the thickest device here.
After just two generations, Samsung has ditched the iris scanner and focused on the tried-and-true fingerprint sensor and facial recognition. The Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus have an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner built into the lower section of the screen, while the S10e has a capacitive one on the side of the phone. That might seem like a strange place for it, but we guess it is where your fingers go while holding the device.
Apple, meanwhile, dropped fingerprint sensors a few years ago, leaving the Face ID system as the only biometric unlocking method.
The three Samsung phones are all powered by Qualcomm's latest chipset, the Snapdragon 855 (or the equivalent Exynos 9820 in Europe, the Middle East and Africa). The iPhones use Apple's most recent processor, the A12 Bionic.
In pure numbers, the iPhones have about half the RAM of the Galaxies. But that doesn't necessarily translate to noticeably slower speeds – Apple has tight control over its operating system, so is known to be able to squeeze more out of less power.
Samsung, on the other hand, has broken a new barrier in flagships by offering the option to kit out the Galaxy S10 Plus with a monstrous 12 GB of RAM – but that doesn't come cheap.
It wasn't long ago that 64 GB was a roomy bonus for built-in storage, but now it's the low end of the scale, and is all but phased out. That's the basic option for all three iPhones, while the smallest amount you'll get on a Galaxy is 128 GB.
The two entry-level phones – the iPhone XR and the Galaxy S10e – cap out at 256 GB, which is still pretty generous. When the iPhones launched late last year, 512 GB seemed like a lot, but now it's been eclipsed by the Galaxy S10 Plus as the first major phone to offer 1 TB.
If you do fill up your phone, Samsung gives the option to top it up with a MicroSD card, up to an extra 512 GB. Prospective iPhone owners will need to be a bit more careful about which model they buy though – there's no expanding it later on.
The Galaxy S10 Plus is the first major flagship to break through the 4,000-mAh capacity mark for batteries. The other two Galaxies fall more in the usual range of smartphones.
Again, in pure numbers the iPhone batteries fall well short of most rival phones, but Apple's tight control over the hardware and software means it can make the most of what it has.
It's also worth keeping in mind that these figures aren't the be all end all of battery life. Other factors include certain settings, what you're using the phones for, etc. In practice, you should get more than a day's worth of regular use out of all these phones, or maybe two of light use.
All six of these phones can be fast-charged, if you need a quick top-up before heading out. But there's a catch – the iPhones need a dedicated fast charger, which is a separate purchase of about US$70. For a feature that's been standard for four or five years on almost every other major phone, that decision is frankly baffling on Apple's part.
All six phones can also be charged wirelessly, but this time a separate purchase is required by both companies. In fact, we're yet to see a phone released with a wireless charger in the box.
An interesting little quirk of the Galaxy phones is a feature Samsung calls PowerShare. Not only can the phones themselves be wirelessly charged, but you can charge another phone or device by placing it on top of the Galaxy.
The Galaxy line charges through industry-standard USB-C, while the iPhones use Apple's proprietary Lightning ports. If you still have a pair of plug-in headphones, you'll be happy to know that Samsung is still hanging onto the 3.5 mm audio jack.
The Galaxy S10e and S10 have decent front cameras, with 10 megapixels and an aperture of f/1.9. The S10 Plus adds a second camera, with 8 MP.
The 7-MP cameras on the front of the iPhones have depth sensors built-in, which Apple calls TrueDepth 3D.
The iPhone XR is the only phone in this list to have just one rear camera – a decent 12-MP number with an aperture of f/1.8. The other two iPhones sport a dual camera setup, with a wide angle and a telephoto lens.
The Galaxy S10e has a wide-angle and an ultra-wide camera, with 12 MP and 16 MP respectively. The S10 and S10 Plus have the same setup and add a 12-MP telephoto lens to the mix.
Many of the usual camera modes are present and accounted for in all six of these phones. They can all shoot stills with high dynamic range (HDR), and video in resolutions up to 4K with optical image stabilization (OIS) to keep things looking smooth. With multiple cameras now the norm, the bokeh effect – where the background can be blurred to different degrees to make the subject pop – is better than ever.
You can speed up time with the classic timelapse (or what Samsung calls Hyperlapse) mode, or slow it down with slow-motion at up to 240 frames per second. And one of the key selling points of the Galaxy S9 series is back on the S10s – Super Slo-mo, which crawls at a snail's pace of 960 frames per second.
Apple was the first to roll out augmented reality (AR) features like Animoji and Memoji. Users make cartoon versions of themselves that mimic their facial expressions, and can be sent as short videos. Samsung's AR Emoji system is basically the same thing, except it also includes licensed characters like Mickey Mouse.
Both sets of phones are running the latest versions of their operating systems. The Galaxy phones all come equipped with Android 9 Pie, while the iPhones are running iOS 12.
The quintessential Siri is here to stay on Apple's devices, complete with a few new tricks as of iOS 12. For example, you can now create custom commands called Siri Shortcuts for things you do regularly.
Samsung has its own version, dubbed Bixby, which is basically the same thing but not quite up to the same standard.
Apple started releasing this generation of iPhones back in September last year, with the entry-level iPhone XR following a month later. The Galaxy S10 series is due to launch in March 2019.
All of this new tech doesn't come cheap, and prices seem to be trending upwards in recent years. The lowest you'll pay is $749 for either a 64 GB iPhone XR, or a 128 GB Galaxy S10e. For an extra 50 bucks, you can double that storage space on the XR.
The next cheapest is the 256 GB model Galaxy S10e at $849, followed by either a 128 GB S10 or 256 GB iPhone XR for $899. Beyond that, prices start cracking the thousand-dollar mark.
When the iPhone XS Max was announced, we balked at the $1,449 price tag for the 512 GB edition. But Samsung has now one-upped them, with the 1 TB Galaxy S10 Plus retailing for an eye-watering $1,599.
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