Apple iPhone XS vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 9: Clash of the $1,000 Kings
Apple and Samsung's latest flagships go head to head to see which one is worth its expensive price tag.
You can do a lot with $1,000. You can pay rent, pay your electric bill, pay for food, pay for college, save it for your retirement – basically anything and everything important. But if you have an extra $1,000 somehow or you’ve been saving it for a rainy day and feel like picking up a new smartphone, two devices immediately come to mind: the iPhone XS and Samsung Galaxy Note 9.
The reason? Both start at $1,000. And no matter which one you choose, you’ll be getting a great phone. They both pack the best of what Apple and Samsung have to offer and each of their respective feature sets are awesome. But when it comes time to pull the trigger, it’s important to know which one’s gonna fit better into your lifestyle.
That’s why we’re here. Let’s take a look at the iPhone XS and Note 9 and see which one is worth your ten Benjamin Franklins.
[We’d like to extend a special shout out to Verizon who was able to hook us up with both the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and Apple iPhone XS for review! You can check them out at their website here.]
Design & Build
At this point, we’re familiar with glass sandwich designs, and the iPhone XS and Galaxy Note 9 are nothing short of a case of déjà vu. Both offer glass on the front and back, with Samsung opting for aluminum side rails and Apple selecting stainless steel. In my opinion, the stainless steel feels much more premium since each time you pick the phone up after it’s been sitting for a while, you get that cold metal feeling which reminds you of how well-designed the device is.
On the other hand, Samsung makes the Note 9 easier to grip. Mind you, this phone is big, so being able to confidently hold such a beastly handset is quite the complement. The company doesn’t include a glossy coating over the aluminum siding of the Note 9 like Apple does with its stainless steel rails, so there’s more texture to latch onto and, hopefully, lead to less shattered phones as a result.
That’s not to say the iPhone is terribly slippery, however. Given its rather compact size, the XS is pretty easy to grip and use with one hand. I’m a huge fan of its form factor thanks to its skinny screen and non-existent bezels. Of course, you certainly don’t wanna pick up this device (or the Note 9, for that matter) with winter gloves since it’s bound to slip by just looking at it wrong, but otherwise, it fits perfectly in your hand.
If I had to say which one I like better, I’m going with the XS. The Note 9 always feels just a bit too big for me, and the XS serves as a perfect size since it has a large screen in a small form factor. I’ve also played around the XS Max and, I have to say, I like that a bit more than the Note 9 as well thanks to its rounded corners which makes it more comfortable to hold for longer periods of time.
When you pick up either device, you’ll be immediately greeted by their respective displays. The XS, as previously mentioned, sticks with a 5.8-inch Super Retina display with a resolution of 2436×1125 and an aspect ratio of 19.5:9. Meanwhile, the Note 9 packs a much larger 6.4-inch display with a 2960×1440 resolution and an 18.5:9 aspect ratio. Both offer OLED panels and, coincidentally, manufactured and produced by Samsung.
That’s not to say they’re the same thing, however. Samsung’s known for vibrant, punchy, and colorful screens that can make your jaw drop when you see them in the real world. On the other hand, Apple has famously stuck with LCD panels that are better tuned for color accuracy and the most true-to-life reproduction of images. It’s a similar story with the company’s line of OLED panels that made their debut on iPhones in 2017 with the iPhone X.
Sitting next to each other, it’s clear Samsung wants the vibrancy and colorfulness of its panel to convince buyers it’s superior to the iPhone’s somewhat dull display. Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone XS has a great display with accurate colors and textbook levels of image reproduction. However, in everyday use, the Note 9 is just prettier to look at. Videos, games, and common tasks all just look better thanks to the higher resolution, wider aspect ratio, and curved sides. Plus, the Note 9 packs 1,200 nits of brightness which is just insane and makes it perfect for viewing outdoors. So display wise, the award’s going to the Note.
Performance is always tricky when you’re comparing iPhones and Androids. It’s mostly because they use two completely different platforms that rely on different spec sheets. Android customers can take better advantage of more RAM, for example, while those with an iPhone can easily get by with as much as 2 or 3GB.
Regardless, in terms of performance, the iPhone XS has the advantage. It uses Apple’s A12 Bionic processor which is one of the first 7nm chipsets to ever enter a consumer device, and my God is it fast. I can fly through multitasking and switch between apps every couple of minutes without one hiccup or reload. Of course, the iPhone also has iOS 12 to thank which makes every supposed iPhone its on faster. In addition, it comes with 4GB of RAM which doesn’t sound like much, but thanks to Apple’s aggressive app management, you feel like you have twice the amount of memory at any given time.
The Galaxy Note 9 is nothing to mess with, though. It uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor and 6GB of RAM and is fully capable of handling every task you throw at it. There’s even an option to upgrade the RAM to 8GB. Flying in and out of apps is trouble-free on this device, and so is gaming. But since it runs on Android, Samsung doesn’t have the same level of control Apple does in terms of optimization. Because of this (and the fact the SD 845 is manufactured on a 10nm process instead of 7nm), you don’t get the same efficiency and speed as the XS. The Note performs great, but the iPhone is just better.
All that being said, the Note 9 actually does come out on top in one particular performance aspect: storage. Whereas the iPhone XS is available with 64GB out of the gate, the Note 9 comes with 128GB by default and for the same price. Both phones can be upgraded to 512GB of storage, of course, but when you’re simply spending $1,000, you’ll get a better value with the Note 9 in terms of how much stuff you can keep on your phone.
In a typical Matridox/Max Buondonno review, this is usually where I start talking about software. So, we’re gonna do that here, too, but under one condition: I don’t wanna make this an iOS vs. Android thing. I can’t tell you which platform is better since that’s a subjective decision you have to make for yourself. However, I can tell you which one I favored while comparing both phones.
The iPhone XS comes with Apple’s iOS 12 pre-installed. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Note 9 features Samsung’s Experience UI on top of Android 8.1 Oreo. In terms of performance and fluidity, iOS wins hands-down. It’s just so much smoother than the software on the Note 9. Animations are fluid, apps don’t hang up, and you get consistent updates the moment they become available.
That’s not to say I hate Android or something. In fact, I’m a huge fan of Android and I really enjoy using Samsung’s skin. But things can feel bloated sometimes, especially since carrier versions of the Note 9 not only come with Samsung’s extra apps but those injected by the carriers themselves as well. You also don’t get the optimizations you get with an iPhone since Samsung doesn’t have full control over Android like Apple does over iOS.
Okay, I’m gonna stop there before I get a bunch of iOS and Android sheep yelling at me in the comments and asking how much Apple and Samsung have paid me.
Smartphone cameras, nowadays, are good. They’re really good. And sometimes, the way to decide which is the best is to decide who’s pictures you like the most. This is one of those times because both the iPhone XS and Galaxy Note 9 have stellar shooters.
On the XS, Apple includes dual 12MP sensors, with the main shooter featuring an f/1.8 aperture and the secondary lens packing an f/2.4 aperture. It’s a similar story when it comes to the Note 9 as Samsung also packs dual 12MP cameras on the back. However, the main sensor has a variable aperture ranging from f/1.5 to f/2.4, allowing more or less light into the sensor depending on lighting conditions. The secondary lens packs a familiar f/2.4 aperture. Both cameras have phase detection autofocus, portrait mode with adjustable background blur, and support 4K video capture at 60 frames per second.
As you can see in the comparison pictures above, the results from both cameras are great. Colors are reproduced well, contrats are good, dynamic range is decent, and light is plentiful. The iPhone does tend to lean toward the warmer side of things whereas the Note 9 keeps things cooler, but both offer great overal image quality. At night, the shooters aren’t too shabby either. I will say, however, I like Apple’s portrait mode more than I do Samsung’s.
Apple also has a leg up when it comes to capturing video. For some reason, recording video with an iPhone is just better than most other Android devices. Don’t ask me why because I have no idea why this is true.
Samsung also has its strengths, though. The Note 9 comes with super slow-motion photography for capturing video in slo-mo at 960 frames per second. You also get a professional mode which is still (still!) lacking on the iPhone.
I also like the Note 9’s selfie camera a bit more than the XS’. The wider angle helps to fit more in the frame without the need of a selfie stick and images are typically sharper than the ones you get out of the XS. Of course, the video capture conversation still presents the iPhone with the crown, but for still selfies, the Note 9 is the way to go.
Regardless, both cameras are great and it’s really up to you to decide whether one’s better than the other. To me, both cameras do enough to balance themselves against each other. It’s all up to what style of photography you prefer. I, personally, like them both and would be happy with either in my pocket day-to-day. Because of this, I’m calling it a tie.
That’s the only tie, though, because now we’re getting into battery life and this is where one of these devices really shines.
With the iPhone XS, Apple includes a 2,658mAh battery. On paper, this doesn’t sound like very much at all. In fact, the Android standard over the past couple of years has been 3,000+ mAh. But you’d be surprised by how long this device can last on a single charge. I would certainly know because I used this device like a mad man while I was covering CES in Las Vegas. Luckily, I found the device is perfectly capable of making it through a 16-hour day on a single charge. Mind you, I had to plug the phone back in before bed, but it nonetheless got me through each day of CES.
With that amount of praising, you’d think the Note 9 would face an uphill battle to dethrone the iPhone XS. But that’s not true at all. Samsung shoved a massive 4,000mAh battery into the Note 9 which can easily last a day and a half. We’re talking, like 24 hours of use before a charge. Yeah, it’s that good.
What’s more, the Note 9 comes with fast charging out of the box. Apple’s idea of fast charging the iPhone XS costs a minimum of $50 to acquire since you have to buy an entirely new cable and wall outlet. What’s more, both phones have wireless charging, but Samsung’s implementation is faster. So in the battery department, Samsung is the obvious dominate force.
Lastly, let’s discuss extras. The iPhone XS and Galaxy Note 9 both come with IP68 certifications for water and dust resistance, and both come with dual-SIM slots thanks to one physical slot and one embedded e-SIM. For security, the XS opts for Apple’s Face ID system which works really well. However, if you enjoy fingerprint scanners, you’ll want to stick with the Note 9 as this device still retains the age-old method of unlocking your phone.
You also get voice assistants with these two phones: Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s Bixby. I shouldn’t have to tell you which one is better, but if you must know, it’s Siri. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you the same thing.
Then there’s the absolute ton of features Samsung jams into its Note 9 that Apple simply doesn’t do with the XS. Things like a stylus, a desktop mode, split-screen for apps, a notification LED, iris scanning, Edge panels – basically everything but the kitchen sink, you’ll find shoved somewhere into the Note 9. If you love having a ton of features in your pocket accessible at a moment’s notice, get the Note 9.
Speaking of features in your pocket, by carrying around the Note 9, you get a headphone jack. With the iPhone XS, you do not. This could be a deciding factor for anyone interested in picking up either of these devices. So if wired audio connections are crucial to your way of life, Samsung’s flagship will be your best bet.
I really like both phones. They’re great devices that come with excellent feature sets. But when it comes down to which device is actually worth $1,000, I’m going with the Galaxy Note 9. It just offers more for the money like a bigger screen, more storage, great cameras, astonishing battery life, and a beautiful design. Don’t get it twisted, however, because I love my XS thanks to its compact form factor, mind-blowing performance, good battery life, and great cameras. I just don’t think it’s entirely worth $1,000. Maybe $800 or $900, but not $1,000.
If you’re stuck in Apple’s ecosystem and can’t get out (*cough* iMessage!), grab the iPhone XS. It’ll be the best $1,000 you ever spent on a phone. But if you’re shopping for overall value, get the Note 9. It justifies its high price tag much better than the XS tries to do.