Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone: Did Samsung beat Apple’s best?

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Galaxy S9
Does the Galaxy S9 have what it takes to take on iPhone X?
Photo: Samsung

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 series, with its edge-to-edge display and features like iris scanning, offered smartphone buyers a refreshing alternative to an all-too familiar iPhone experience in early 2017. Now the Galaxy S9 is here and things are a little different.

The iPhone isn’t boring anymore. With an edge-to-edge display of its own, as well as Face ID, dual cameras, and the incredible A11 Bionic chip, iPhone X has made Apple the smartphone maker to beat once again. Does the Galaxy S9 have what it takes?

Check out our in-depth comparison to find out which is better.

Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone: Specifications

Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone X
Click to view table at full size.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone: Software

Software is the first thing to consider when choosing between the Galaxy S9 and an iPhone. If the software sucks, the hardware counts for nothing — but both Android and iOS are excellent choices in 2018. It all comes down to which platform you prefer.

Some might argue iOS is buggier. That might be true right now. But Samsung’s take on Android isn’t perfect. The “Samsung Experience” is still somewhat bloated, though it has gotten better in recent years, and Samsung is terribly bad at delivering updates.

Whereas iPhone users can look forward to a major upgrade every year — and smaller updates in between — as soon as they’re rolled out by Apple, Galaxy owners will be forever waiting for the latest version of Android. Most Galaxy S8 owners are still running Android 7.0 Nougat six months after Android 8.0 Oreo made its debut. The Galaxy S9 will ship with Oreo, but not the latest version.

If you can live with that, you can look forward to greater freedom on the Galaxy S9. Android remains far more customizable, without the same restrictions imposed on iOS. It also has the Google Assistant, which is light years ahead of Siri in almost every way.

Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone: Design

Just like its predecessors, the Galaxy S9 is gorgeous. It’s made out of curved glass that’s held together by an anodized aluminum frame. iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are very similar, while iPhone X has glass panels front and back, with stainless steel in between.

What makes the Galaxy S9 and the iPhone X so beautiful are their edge-to-edge displays — but they’re a little different. Samsung has chosen to use bigger bezels above and below the display, whereas Apple has eliminated them almost entirely in favor of a controversial “notch.”

Galaxy S9
Galaxy S9 is gorgeous, much like iPhone X.
Photo: Samsung

Only you can decide which look you prefer. Galaxy owners don’t have to worry about the notch getting in the way when they watch movies, but they also don’t have the iPhone’s incredible True Tone technology, which adjusts the display’s color temperature to match that of the ambient light.

Only the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus have physical Home buttons. Apple has opted for control gestures with the iPhone X, whereas Samsung uses the Galaxy S9’s pressure-sensitive display to mimick a capacitive Home button, which you might find is easier to adjust to.

The iPhone still has its beloved mute switch, while the Galaxy S9 does not. Samsung does offer a dedicated virtual assistant button, but it only works with Bixby, so it’s pretty much useless.

We should also mention that the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ still have headphone jacks, whereas the latest iPhone’s rely on Bluetooth and Lightning connectivity. All are dust- and water-resistant, with wireless charging and stereo speakers.

Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone: Performance

The Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ are two of the first devices to pack Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 845 processor. It’s faster than last year’s Snapdragon 835, but we don’t yet know how it will stack up against the A11 Bionic chip inside the latest iPhones.

Qualcomm has a hard time beating Apple’s A series chips with its Snapdragon series. Despite faster clock speeds and more cores, they are typically outperformed by the iPhone in benchmark tests. That could change this year, but only time will tell.

We do know the Galaxy S9 has more RAM than any iPhone — twice as much in some cases. That should mean it’s better at things like multitasking, but Android isn’t quite as efficient as iOS. Again, Apple seems to be able to do more with a lot less and make the most of its hardware.

None of these devices will be slow, however. One chip may perform slightly better than the other in benchmark tests, but when it comes to real world performance, you can expect a very similar experience across the board. The Galaxy S9 and the latest iPhones are all blazing-fast.

Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone: Cameras

Here’s where things get really interesting. We’re familiar with the dual camera setup you get with the iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X. Thanks to a secondary telephoto lens, you can enjoy features like Portrait Mode and optical zoom, plus improved low-light performance.

Samsung has taken a different approach with the Galaxy S9, which is its first flagship smartphone with a mechanically adjustable aperture. In good lighting conditions, it’ll snap photos and videos at f/2.4 — but when it’s dark, it opens right up to f/1.5. According to Samsung, it’s the best smartphone camera.

The Galaxy S9+ has the same lens, plus a secondary lens that offers many of the same features you get from iPhone X. iPhone 8 has a single lens that takes excellent photos, but is nowhere near as exciting as the others. It does have optical image stabilization like its rivals, however.

Again, we’ll have to wait and see how the Galaxy S9’s camera performs in the real world to see which is better. But no matter which smartphone you buy from this list, you can expect steller photos and videos.

Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone: Security

When it comes to unlocking your phone, Samsung offers everything you could ever want. The Galaxy S9 series still carries a fingerprint scanner — and now it’s in a much better position — as well as facial recognition and iris scanning.

iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus maintain Apple’s trusy Touch ID, whereas iPhone X owners have Face ID and… nothing else. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing: Face ID is incredibly secure and impressively accurate. Samsung’s facial recognition has been known to be fooled by photos.

Apple has long set the benchmark for biometric security, and we don’t expect that to change this year. It’s too early to say for certain, but we’re almost sure the Galaxy S9 won’t do facial recognition like the iPhone X. If you’re not into that, however, Samsung has all the other options.

Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone: Features

As mentioned above, all five handsets offer water-resistance, wireless charging, and stereo speakers. The iPhone also offers True Tone display technology. But again, it’s Samsung that offers more.

The Galaxy S9 has matched iPhone X’s Animoji with its own AR Emoji. It also has the expandable storage iPhone fans can only dream of. However, its most exciting feature by far is DeX, the platform that turns a Galaxy smartphone into a desktop computer.

Stick the Galaxy S9 on a DeX dock, add a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and you suddenly have an Android-powered PC. It’s even better than it sounds, with many apps now optimized for desktop use. It’s perfect for those on the go who need to be productive, and there’s nothing like it on iPhone.

Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone: Price

You may have heard that iPhone X starts at $999, which makes it one of the most expensive smartphones on the market.

iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are more affordable, but they just don’t stack up in design or features. Unless you’re attached to the Home button, they’re not really worth considering in 2018. If you’re really strapped for cash, get an iPhone 7 instead — it offers almost exactly the same experience.

The Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+, at $720 and $840 respectively, are cheaper than iPhone X. They also match its premium design, edge-to-edge display, and high-end specifications. You’re really paying a premium for iOS in this case, and only you can decide if it’s worth it.

Galaxy S9 vs. iPhone: The verdict

Samsung continues to impress with some of the best Android-powered smartphones money can buy. You won’t find another handset on the market that offers something you don’t get in a Galaxy S9, and despite being pricier than the Galaxy S8, it’s still cheap by iPhone X standards.

With that said, it’s software you should really focus on. If you need freedom, choose the Galaxy S9. If you need iMessage, FaceTime, and regular software updates, choose an iPhone.

This post was originally published at 10:07 a.m. on February 26, 2018.