Samsung Galaxy S9 vs. Apple iPhone X: Heavyweight smartphone clash

Samsung’s latest flagship has sailed onto the scene at MWC in Barcelona boasting an impressive new camera, a refined curved body, and a few other improvements over last year’s Galaxy S8. It’s an attractive smartphone that’s sure to tempt many, but in order to claim the title, it will have to knock out Apple’s reigning champion — the iPhone X. We decided to compare the two in various categories to see which comes out on top.

Specs and performance

Galaxy S9 iPhone X
Size 147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5 mm (5.81 x 2.7 x 0.33 inches) 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm (5.65 x 2.79 x 0.30 inches)
Weight 163 grams (5.74 ounces) 174 grams (6.14 ounces)
Screen 5.8-inch Super AMOLED 5.8-inch Super Retina AMOLED display
Resolution 2,960 x 1,440 (529 ppi) 2,436 x 1,125 pixels (458 ppi)
OS Android 8.0 Oreo iOS 11
Storage 64GB 64GB, 256GB
MicroSD card slot Yes No
NFC support Yes Yes (Apple Pay only)
Processor Snapdragon 845 with Adreno 630 A11 Bionic with 64-bit architecture, M11 motion co-processor
RAM 4GB 3GB
Connectivity 4G LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA+, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi 4G LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA+, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
Camera Super Speed Dual Pixel 12-megapixel rear, 8-megapixel front Dual 12 MP rear, 7MP FaceTime HD front
Video Up to 4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps, 720p at 960 fps Up to 4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps
Bluetooth Yes, version 5.0 Yes, version 5.0
Biometric authentication Iris, fingerprint, face unlock, Intelligent Scan Face ID
Other sensors Accelerometer, barometer, gyro, geomagnetic, proximity, iris Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer
Water resistant Yes, IP68 rated Yes, IP67 rated
Battery 3,000mAh Fast charging (Quick Charge 2.0), wireless charging (Qi and PMA) 2,716mAh 21 hours of talk time, 13 hours of internet, 14 hours of video playback, and up to 60 hours of audio playback Fast charging – 50 percent charge in 30 minutes, wireless charging (Qi standard)
Ports USB-C, headphone jack Lightning
Marketplace Google Play Store Apple App Store
Colors Lilac Purple, Midnight Black, Coral Blue Space Gray, Silver
Availability March 16 AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Apple
Price $720 $999
DT review Hands-on review 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Samsung Galaxy S9 comes with Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 845 processor, which is faster and less power-hungry than last year’s Snapdragon 835. It’s backed up by an ample 4GB of RAM. Expect a phone that’s capable of handling the latest and greatest games and switching between apps with seamless ease. We’ll need to take it for a longer spin to really put it through its paces, but this challenger is certainly no slouch in the performance department. For all its power, the Galaxy S9 is up against a behemoth in the speed stakes. Apple’s iPhone X is packing the company’s A11 Bionic chip and it’s lightning fast, blowing away all comers in benchmark testing.

The iPhone X only has 3GB of RAM, but iOS handles memory management differently than Android, so it doesn’t translate to inferior multitasking performance. Both phones come with 64GB of onboard storage, but there’s also a 256GB version of the iPhone X, though it does cost an extra $150. The Galaxy S9 offers a MicroSD card slot for easy, and potentially cheap, memory expansion of up to 400GB. It’s arguable whether you really need the extra processing power, but there’s no doubt that the iPhone X is faster, so it has to take this round.

Winner: iPhone X

Design and display

galaxy s9 Plus hands-on review front full
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The design of the Galaxy S9 is a slight refinement on the Galaxy S8, but you could easily mistake the two phones for each other. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the S8 is one of the best looking phones ever released. Samsung has refined the design, smartly responding to feedback by moving the fingerprint sensor underneath the camera module, where it really should have been from the start. Samsung’s stunning 5.8-inch, curved, Super AMOLED, Infinity Display is gorgeous, sporting an 18.5:9 aspect ratio at a razor sharp 529 pixels-per-inch (ppi). The sloping glass sides and incredibly slim bezels have enabled Samsung to fit a relatively big screen in a phone that’s easy to manage one-handed.

Apple’s iPhone X is a very different design, with a glass back that houses the dual camera module in the top left corner. There’s no fingerprint sensor to be found, because Apple opted for FaceID instead, which employs the dual front-facing camera setup on the front. The iPhone X has an almost all-screen bezel-less front, but the front-facing camera and a few other bits and pieces have been packed into a notch that digs into the top of the display. The Super Retina AMOLED in the iPhone X is also 5.8 inches, but it has a more traditional aspect ratio, and isn’t quite as sharp as the S9 at 458 ppi. It’s still a very good-looking display indeed.

Side by side, you will be hard pressed to pick the better display. The designs are so different that it really comes down to personal preference, though the lack of a fingerprint sensor on the iPhone X can be annoying at times. We’re going to give the S9 a narrow win here.

Winner: Galaxy S9

Camera

apple iphone x
The headline feature for the Galaxy S9 is the camera. Samsung has packed in what it’s calling a Super Speed Dual Pixel camera, which is rated at 12-megapixels. It’s capable of switching between an f/1.5 aperture and an f/2.4 aperture, which means it can adjust for low light situations to take in more light with a larger aperture. It also takes shots with 30 percent less noise than the S8, by employing a multi-frame system that snaps 12 shots and combines them for best results. As for the front-facing camera, it’s rated at 8-megapixels and sports a fairly large f/1.7 aperture. Samsung’s Galaxy S9 Plus actually has a better, dual camera setup which allows for telephoto zoom and a more pronounced bokeh effect.

Apple also put a lot of effort into the iPhone X camera with dual 12-megapixel lenses with f/1.7 and f/2.4 apertures. It’s capable of 2x optical zoom and can produce a great bokeh effect. Apple’s front-facing camera is rated at 7-megapixels and has an infrared counterpart that enables it to detect faces, even when it’s dark. We can’t call this one without a proper hands-on test of the Galaxy S9 camera in the wild. There’s no doubt that the iPhone X camera is superb, but we expect great things from the S9 camera. Only an in-depth head-to-head can produce a winner, so we’re calling this a tie for now.

Winner: Tie

Battery life and charging

You’ll find a 3,000mAh battery in the Galaxy S9, which should see you through an average day with change. That’s the same size battery that’s in the Galaxy S8 and it’s just about right. Because the Snapdragon 845 is more power efficient, and Samsung doesn’t seem to have added anything that would be an obvious battery drain, the S9 may offer a slight improvement over its predecessor. We’ll find out for sure when we test it more extensively. The iPhone X battery is rated at 2,716mAh. We’ve lived with it for quite a while now and find that it offers average day-long performance, almost always making it to the end of the day with a little left in the tank.

Both phones support wireless charging, which is handy. They also both support fast charging, though Samsung has chosen to limit the S9 to Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0, even though the Snapdragon 845 would in theory allow for QC 4. Although the iPhone X can also be charged up quickly, Apple neglects to include a fast charger in the box with it, which is annoying considering the price of the phone. There isn’t enough to separate these phones, so we’ll call this a tie pending further testing with the S9.

Winner: Tie

Software

The Galaxy S9 comes running Android 8 Oreo with Samsung’s user interface on top. It’s a solid combo that runs smoothly and does everything you might want it to. Samsung has done some good work to improve and streamline its UI, but it’s still a far cry from stock Android. Apple’s iPhone X runs iOS 11, which is tailor made for the device and silky smooth to navigate. We’re not going to get into Android vs. iOS again here, suffice to say both are great and your preference will probably be based on what you’re used to.

Samsung has surprised no one by throwing AR Emoji onto the S9, allowing you to create an emoji that reflects your facial expressions, just like Apple’s Animoji. The big software extra for Samsung’s S9 is Bixby, which has a range of AI tricks up its sleeve, enabling you to identify objects around you and translate in real-time. A lot of the same things can be done with Google Assistant and other Google apps, so we’re not entirely convinced that Bixby is essential.

The iPhone X also boasts FaceID, Apple’s sophisticated face unlock security, which is certainly a bit faster and easier to use than Samsung’s Iris scanner, though possibly not as secure. We can’t pick a clear winner here.

Winner: Tie

Pricing and availability

Pre-orders for the Samsung Galaxy S9 open on March 2, and it rolls out on March 16, so you don’t have long to wait to get your hands on one. It’s available from all the major carriers in the U.S. and you can buy it unlocked from Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, and a few others retailers. It costs $720 unlocked, which is far cheaper than Apple’s iPhone X, which starts at $1,000. It’s an easy win for the Galaxy S9.

Winner: Galaxy S9

Overall winner: Apple iPhone X

This is a really tough contest to pick a winner for — yes, the Galaxy S9 is cheaper, but it all still comes down to how the camera and battery perform. We love the display and the design of the Galaxy S9 and Samsung has eliminated the biggest gripe we had with the S8 design by moving the fingerprint sensor. The S9 is a beautiful device and it feels great in the hand.

There’s no doubt that the iPhone X is also an attractive device with a stunning display and it’s also faster in the performance stakes. We can’t call the camera and battery sections without further testing, so if the S9 impresses us enough in those categories, it could overturn this decision, but for now the iPhone X scores a narrow win and remains our current pick for best smartphone.