Did you catch the announcement of the new smartphone that’s nearly all glorious, OLED screen on the front and packed with the latest and greatest tech inside – and a bulging price point to match?
No, it’s not the Samsung Galaxy S8, or even the Galaxy Note 8 at that. It’s the Apple iPhone X, and sure, it might seem familiar to anyone that’s been following Samsung’s flagship phone moves this year. The iPhone X gives Apple’s handset a dazzling redesign with a crisp, beautiful new screen that dominates the face of the phone, along with many other strong perks.
Right now, however, the Galaxy S8 is our favourite smartphone in the world, and it does so at a price that’s likely to turn out cheaper than than the iPhone X. Can Apple’s rebuilt, 10th-anniversary handset really shake up our smartphone standings?
Here’s how this showdown looks so far based on the specs.
DESIGN: BOTH ARE BEAUTIES
No, the iPhone X and Galaxy S8 are not identical – but they’re a lot closer than the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8 were.
The iPhone X follows the trend of the Galaxy S8 and LG G6 in that it’s almost all screen on the front. The curved Galaxy S8 screen barely has any bezel along the sides, while the top and bottom have slim black bars – and it looks pretty seamless. It’s glass on the back, as well, and the whole thing just pops. It’s fabulous.
Apple’s solution is to have screen stretch to all four sides, but then have a little notch in the display up top, with that space housing the front and infrared cameras, the microphone, and sensors. It’s a bit odd, but the nearly-all-screen face is also very striking. And it too has glass on the back now, returning to the iPhone 4s days of yore.
We’re quite taken with the Galaxy S8, but the iPhone X looks mighty fine as well. Until we spend ample time actually holding the iPhone X and getting used to its shape, we’re calling this category a draw.
Likely Winner: Draw
SCREEN: EXTRA LARGE, EXTRA BEAUTIFUL
The iPhone X rocks a 5.8in, taller-than-normal OLED screen with HDR support… and so too does the Galaxy S8. Like two peas in a pod here, right?
Well, almost: the iPhone X screen is flat, while the Galaxy S8 screen curves on the left and right sides. Also, the Galaxy S8 has a resolution bump, coming in at 2960×1440 (571 pixels per inch) while the iPhone X resolution is lower at 2436×1125 (458ppi).
The iPhone X screen should look excellent, and it should certainly be crisper and more vivid than the outdated iPhone 7 display. But it’s really only a smidge sharper than 1080p resolution, while the Galaxy S8 is up in Quad HD territory.
Samsung’s screens are the gold standard for smartphones, and have been over the last couple years now. But Apple’s recent True Tone screens for iPad have likewise been fantastic, and the iPhone X pairs that True Tone tech (which adjusts colours for ambient light) with an OLED screen and incredible contrast. It’s also a 3D Touch screen, although we imagine there are few folks out there who are truly swayed by such a feature.
The iPhone X might fall short on pixel density, but it really could come out ahead in other respects. It’ll be hard to top Samsung’s offering here, but we’re excited to see how Apple’s latest offering stacks up. Until we can really pit them head to head, we’re calling this one a draw.
Likely Winner: Draw
CAMERA: SHARP SHOOTERS
Two cameras are better than one, right? Well, not always – but the iPhone X’s additional back camera, continuing the trend of last year’s iPhone 7 Plus, will bring some handy extras.
The iPhone X has a pair of 12-megapixel shooters on the back: one wide angle (f/1.8), the other telephoto (f/2.4) – both with optical image stabilisation – and the pairing of the two let you dig into some optical zoom, as well as take snazzy Portrait shots. The new Portrait Lighting feature also lets you adjust the kind of lighting seen on those shots, which looks really neat.
Meanwhile, the Galaxy S8 has just one 12MP back camera (f/1.7), and it’s quite excellent. Thanks to a load of software enhancements, it’s even better than the Galaxy S7’s camera, and it pumps out crisp, colourful shots. However, it’s not our favourite smartphone camera right now, loosening Samsung’s once-enviable grip on that category.
Will the iPhone X leapfrog the Galaxy S8 in terms of everyday camera quality? We’ll have to wait for our review testing to find out, but we think there’s a good chance it can edge out a win here.
Likely Winner: Draw
PERFORMANCE: POWER LIFTERS
The A10 Fusion processor in last year’s iPhone 7 could hold its own against Samsung’s Exynos 8895 in the Galaxy S8, but Samsung might struggle when the iPhone X’s A11 Bionic chip gets thrown into the ring.
Early benchmark tests suggest that the A11 Bionic blows every other smartphone out of the water in terms of overall performance, with single-core scores that double the Galaxy S8, and a multi-core score that’s more than 50% higher. That’s insane. In fact, the scores even beat a modern MacBook Pro! And that’s with 3GB RAM in the iPhone X vs. 4GB in the Galaxy S8.
Will we see it in day-to-day usage? It’s not likely: the Galaxy S8 is incredibly responsive with Android Nougat installed, just like the iPhone X will be super speedy with iOS 11 in tow. But you might see it with multitasking performance, or when running high-end games and apps. For now, though, Apple apparently wins this one on paper. This is a spec showdown, after all.
Likely Winner: Apple iPhone X
BATTERY AND PERKS: PERKS GALORE!
Well, the iPhone X finally takes down one of the Galaxy’s continual advantages: wireless charging. Apple’s top-end phone adds it in thanks to the new glass backing, although the iPhone X doesn’t offer fast wireless charging. It does have corded fast charging, though.
As for battery life, we don’t have official specs on the size of the iPhone X cell, but Apple says it’ll go two hours longer than the iPhone 7’s meager 1,960mAh pack. The Galaxy S8 meanwhile, has a 3,000mAh battery pack that can typically hold its own for a full day, provided you don’t go too hard on games and streaming media. We suspect the iPhone X will hit a similar notch, but we’ll have to wait for testing to confirm.
In terms of storage, the iPhone X bumps up the starting tally with its 64GB and 256GB models, but still doesn’t have microSD support. With the Galaxy, you get 64GB within and then can build out from there. Same as Apple, then.
The iPhone X has scrapped Apple’s influential Touch ID sensor in favour of Face ID via the new TrueDepth front-facing camera setup, and unlocking your phone looks pretty smooth in Apple’s stage demos – but not seamless. The Galaxy S8’s facial scanning is much the same in our testing: it works well much of the time, but not all of the time. We’ll see how Face ID actually pans out.
Also, the TrueDepth system allows Apple to offer really goofy, hilarious-looking animated emoji that mimic your own facial reactions. Yep, we’re into that.
But Samsung also has a couple of big bonus, hardware-related perks: Gear VR support, which is really cool and entertaining, and DeX Station dock support, which is… a work in progress. The latter lets you plug your phone into the dock and connect it to a monitor for a PC-like desktop work environment, which might be really helpful to some people, but we found it pretty limited (and limiting) in our review testing. It’s a niche need, but some will love it.
Between storage and VR, Samsung has enough meaningful edges here to take this category.
Likely Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8
INITIAL VERDICT: A PRICEY PROPOSITION
The Apple iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy S8 seem like two of a kind in a lot of respects, and unless something has gone horribly wrong with Apple’s latest, they’ll surely be two of the best, most refined smartphones available today.
We already know that’s true with the Galaxy S8, and our impressions of the iPhone X don’t suggest otherwise. But there’s a really massive difference here – and it involves money. The Galaxy S8 is already expensive for a flagship, but ultimately worth the added expense over, provided that you crave those extra-premium perks.
Does that iPhone X then have even more extra-premium perks to bump up the price over the S8’s already expensive current price of R13,500? For most buyers, we’d guess not. Spending that sort of money on a smartphone feels less and less necessary as the mid-range market fills up with absolute gems of capable handsets, and asking perhaps R18,000 for a phone is madness, right?
Sure – but there are cheaper iPhone options to appeal to those who don’t want to drop that much money on a phone, and Apple knows that only its hardcore faithful are going to buy a R18,000 iPhone. If you’re also a die-hard Apple lover who’s been waiting for the company to make a big leap, here it is.
If not, however, and you’re looking for a brilliant handset that’s a few thousand less, then the Galaxy S8 is your best bet. And given how similarly capable these phones are, we’d be a bit surprised if our review testing reveals a phone worth spending an extra R4,500 on over Samsung’s industry leader here.
Likely Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8