We break down the most important features you should consider when comparing the S9 to the iPhone X.
Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus have come to fight for Apple’s smartphone crown with new features and supercharged cameras. But the iPhone X won’t go down easily, and deciding between the newest Galaxy and iPhone may prove tougher than ever.
Preorders for the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus start on March 2, and the phones hit stores on March 16. We’ll have our reviews posted before that latter date, and they’ll have definitive answers on how the new Samsungs stack up. But if you can’t wait until then, there are some things we already definitively know — like price, screen size and the headphone jack situation — that can help inform your buying decision.
Samsung has a flat-out advantage here. The cheapest iPhone X (64GB) will cost you $999. Expect to spend less on the S9, and you get two price points to choose from. Prices vary from carrier to carrier, starting at $720 for the S9 and $840. Those are also 64GB models, but — unlike iPhones — they can be easily and massively expanded with the addition of cheap MicroSD cards.
Note that Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus, which features nearly all of the X’s features, is much more price competitive with the S9 Plus, but it’s got those old-fashioned big bezels.
This one’s another clear win for Samsung. It actually has a headphone jack. The iPhone X does not. The X requires you to use a dongle for traditional headphones, use Apple’s Lightning port headphones or you can use the Bluetooth option on both phones.
Software and ecosystem
Android Oreo 8.0 vs iOS 11 is pretty much like comparing Apples to oranges (ahem!), but switching from either is a big deal. If you have deep ties to one or the other, this might be another easy deal-breaker.
Even if you’re neutral on your operating system preference, however, remember that your OS choice has impact beyond the phone. If you’ve already purchased all of your TV shows on iTunes, you won’t be able to access them on a Galaxy phone. Bought a HomePod? Also no good on Samsung. Google services, meanwhile, are much more Apple friendly, but still not 100 percent compatible. You can send audio and video from some but not all of your iPhone apps to Chromecast devices, for instance.
Advantage: Varies by user preference
Both phones are glass on glass with metal frames and barely-there bezels. The S9s have curved edges and screens that appear to spill over the sides. The bezels on the iPhone X are slimmer top to bottom, but you get the intrusive notch at the top. The iPhone comes in monochromatic Space Gray and silver, while the S9 comes in Midnight Black, Coral Blue, Lilac Purple and Titanium Gray.
Advantage: Varies by user preference
The iPhone X’s is the same size as the 5.8-inch screen on the S9 (minus the notch), while the S9 Plus has a larger 6.2-inch screen. All three are OLED displays, but the S9’s have slightly higher resolution and pixel density (2,960×1,440 pixel 529ppi and 570ppi) than the Super HD Retina Display on the iPhone X (2,436X1,125-pixel 458 ppi). The iPhone X however has TrueTone technology that adjusts the color temperature of the screen relative to the type of ambient light, so that colors look accurate no matter what the lighting condition.
Advantage: Samsung for size and resolution, but color preference will vary
The iPhone X has stereo speakers on the bottom of the phone and on the earpiece. The S9 and S9 Plus are the first Galaxy phones to also get stereo speakers. They’re tuned by AKG and have a Dolby Atmos codec which, according to Samsung, translates into richer, louder sound.
Advantage: Both have a stereo speaker configuration, but this one is TBD until we can listen to them both side by side outside of a demo room.
Neither phone has an in-screen fingerprint scanner like the Vivo X20 Plus UD or Apex concept phone, but the S9s kept the fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone like their predecessors for mobile payments and unlocking your phone. Except this time it’s in a better position: below the camera instead of beside it like on the S8. To unlock the iPhone X or to verify a payment, you’ll have to use the FaceID feature or a passcode. (More below.) The iPhone 8 Plus has the trusty ol’ TouchID fingerprint sensor on the front, but — again — at the expense of thick top and bottom bezels.
Advantage: Samsung — if a fingerprint sensor is a must-have
Face-unlock (FaceID vs. Intelligent Scan)
Both phones have facial-recognition features that can be used to unlock them, but the technology used is different. The iPhone X has a True Depth (depth sensing) camera on the front of the phone that maps out your face in 3D using infrared dots. Apple says FaceID authentication is even more secure than its TouchID authentication on the fingerprint scanner.
The Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus use Intelligent Scan; a combination of the iris scanner and the less-secure facial recognition feature that uses the non-depth sensing front camera to unlock. But the fingerprint or iris scanner will still be your safest bet for this phone.
Advantage: Apple (based on our initial hands-on, and Samsung’s Intelligent Scan specs)
It’s still early to declare a winner in this category because we have yet to test the S9s in the real world, but here are the facts.
The S9 has a single main shooter, while the S9 Plus has a dual-lens setup similar to that of the iPhone X with a 12MP wide angle and 12MP telephoto lens for better zoom and DSLR-style portraits. The S9 Plus allows you to control the intensity of the blur while you’re taking the shot or after, much like the Note 8. The iPhone X on the other hand, has a Portrait Lighting, which lets you play with different lighting options for portraits during or after you take the shot.
What’s unique about the S9s is that the main lens has a variable aperture which changes from f1.5 and f2.4 depending on the lighting and has the potential to improve low-light shots significantly. It’s a feature that’s been around for ages in point-and-shoot cameras, but it’s new for a phone and this is why it matters. It also lets you choose the aperture yourself from the camera’s Pro Mode.
The S9s also have a new super slow-motion feature that lets you record video of up to 960 fps in HD. The iPhone X is fixed at ƒ/1.8 and has a max slo-mo rate of 240 fps in Full HD.
The front cameras, meanwhile, break down as follows: The S9 has an 8-megapixel front camera with an ƒ/1.7 aperture, compared to the 7-megapixel depth-sensing camera (ƒ/2.2 aperture) on the iPhone X. Both have a blurred background option for selfies and augmented reality capabilities.
For what it’s worth, DxO Mark has already anointed the Galaxy S9 Plus as having the best smartphone camera on the market, surpassing both the iPhone X and the Google PIxel 2.
Advantage: TBD after testing
AR emojis vs. Animojis
AR emojis is Samsung’s take on Apple’s Animojis, animated emojis that can be controlled with your face. Apple’s Animojis focus on a few emojis like the poop and the unicorn, while the S9 gives you a few more options. You can transform your face into an animal or Disney character, or you can customize your own avatar by taking a selfie on either camera.
AR emojis didn’t blow us away when we tried them briefly early this month. CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt said, “Samsung’s AR Emoji feature lacks the charm and verve of iPhone’s animojis — they came off as eerie and unfinished.” We’ll let you know if that changes after longer-term experience with the S9.
Advantage: Apple, based on our early experience
The S9 have three tiers of onboard storage options depending on the market (64GB, 120GB and 256GB) with up to 400GB of expandable storage. The iPhone X only offers a 64GB and 256GB option with no SD card slot.
The motors on both these phones are beasts, but it’s hard to compare them without the S9 in our hands. The S9s are powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 or the Samsung Exynos 9810, depending on your region, while the iPhone has Apple’s A11 Bionic chip on the iPhone X.
Our early tests of the Qualcomm 845 yielded strong results versus other Android phones when we benchmarked “white box” phones earlier this month — though it’s unclear if the Galaxy S9’s Snapdragons will be optimized at the same speeds. Similar tests by Anandtech on the new Exynos chip were decidedly less encouraging, but the site noted that it was unclear if its test unit was representative of the final shipping product.
To that end, you’ll have to wait for benchmarking tests from CNET and others once we get final consumer versions of the phones.
Advantage: TBD after testing
Both have wireless charging and some form of fast charging, but the S9s have larger batteries than the iPhone. But sometimes the size of the battery doesn’t determine the usage time, so again we’ll have to wait for the results from our tests to determine a winner.
Advantage: TBD after testing
The Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are looking strong in the early running, but so far, this is more of a specs and price comparison than anything else. If some of those early “known knowns” sway you — say, the price and headphone jack on the Galaxy S9, or the iOS and Face ID on the iPhone — maybe you’re ready to whip out your credit card and take the plunge.