Now that the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ are official, they will immediately be compared to the best of Samsung's chief competitor in the mobile space, Apple. While Apple is halfway through its product cycle, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are still formidable opponents, so let's take a look to see how the two sets of phones stack up against one another.
Galaxy S8 vs. iPhone 7
Perhaps the most striking thing about the Galaxy S8 next to the iPhone 7 is how much more efficiently it uses space. While nearly the same width and only a few millimeters taller than the iPhone 7, Samsung's newest flagship manages to fit a 5.8-inch screen into a compact body; the iPhone 7 still has a small 4.7-inch display.
Apple is expected to do away with the home button on the iPhone 8, but for now the Galaxy S8 just looks more space-efficient.
Moreover, Apple's 1334x750 pixel resolution, with its 326ppi pixel density, seems to fall further and further behind every year; Samsung's 2960x1440 pixel QHD+ SuperAMOLED screen is bright, vivid and color accurate while maintaining a clear advantage in sharpness and clarity, at 570ppi. This year, Samsung has also done away with its physical home button, for the first time integrating its controls into the display (as Google encourages). That reclaimed space is now extra screen, which helps with games, media and other fullscreen activities. And while Apple is rumored to do away with its own home button later this year, it's unclear how the company will minimize the impact to the way iOS works, since it has, since the beginning, relied on that single press or tap to return home.
Of course, the Galaxy S8 also sports curved glass, a move that puts Samsung all-in on a the so-called "edge display." While this may initially be seen as a controversial move, it is also one of Samsung's clearest technological advantages right now, and as limited a gain in productivity as the curved glass currently offers, it plays very well with consumers, and that's all that matters.
Around back, Samsung has moved its formerly front-facing home button to the back, next to the camera, in what is quickly becoming a very controversial decision. As Andrew Martonik points out in his hands-on preview, as much as Samsung wants you to take advantage of the integrated iris scanner to unlock the Galaxy S8, the fingerprint sensor is still the most effective way of doing so quickly, but it may take users some time to get used to the new rear placement — and cleaning the camera lens from the smudges that will inevitably accrue.
But Samsung has also taken a small page from Apple's playbook by integrating a pleasant haptic engine into the area below the virtual home button on the front, making it feel like a physical press. It's not quite the real thing, but after a while, just as you do with the iPhone 7's capacitive home button, you quickly grow used to it.
The ports and buttons on the two phones line up fairly predictably, with Samsung positioning its power button on the right side of the phone, and its volume buttons on the left. This year, though, there's an addition to Samsung's outfit: a dedicated Bixby AI button that sits just below the volume rocker on the left side, offering one-press access to dozens of on-phone features. Apple relies on a long-press of its home button to access Siri, its own AI assistant.
Moving to the bottom of the phone, Samsung has transitioned to a USB-C port, which is much more versatile and offers faster data rates and quicker charging through a compatible USB 3.1 connection. A single speaker cavity sits to its right, while Samsung has wisely chosen to keep the 3.5mm headphone jack around for at least one more year.
Both phones are made of a combination of metal and glass, but like the Galaxy S7 the back is covered with strong Gorilla Glass rather than brushed or matte aluminum. And while the Galaxy S8 looks and feels very similar to its predecessor, it the design is improved in one major way: its matte black version has color-matched metal on the sides to follow the contours of the black rear and front glass, providing an unbroken pool of gorgeous darkness. More companies have begun doing this, but Samsung still does it best.
Finally, it has to be said that as narrow as the Galaxy S8 is — which means it's usable in one hand without discomfort — it does feel much taller than the iPhone 7. That 18.5:9 aspect ratio is going to be new to Android and iPhone users alike, so if you do decide to buy a Galaxy S8 after coming from an iPhone, you're in for a small adjustment period.
Apple's A10 chip is faster than anything out there right now, but you'd be hard-pressed to notice a difference between it and the Snapdragon 835.
Internally, the iPhone 7 sports the A10 chip, a quad-core SoC that includes two high-frequency, high-performance cores and two low-energy cores for ambient activities, with just 2GB of RAM (and the 7 Plus has 3GB). The RAM deficit hasn't been a problem in years past, though, since iOS is generally more efficient than Android in its resource and RAM management.
It's already been determined that the A10 is faster in single-core activities, but both the Snapdragon 835 and Exynos 8895 best it in multi-core benchmarks — conclusions that don't really mean anything in the real world, but are interesting nonetheless. And while both Galaxy S8 models sport 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, the iPhone vacillates in storage size — and price — between 32GB, 128GB and 256GB. With the Galaxy S8's microSD card, none of that price shuffling is necessary.
Galaxy S8+ vs. iPhone 7 Plus
The screen to bezel efficiency continues with the story of the Galaxy S8+, especially when compared to the iPhone 7 Plus. While Apple's bigger phone boasts a 5.5-inch 1080p display, much more akin to most Android phones, it is very wide and extremely tall. Indeed, Samsung's 6.2-inch Galaxy S8+ is considerably narrower, and only slightly longer, than the iPhone 7 Plus. Neither phone is exactly one hand-friendly, but you're definitely going to need to adjust the way you hold the Galaxy S8+ to swipe down from that notification shade without a second hand.
The Galaxy S8+ has all the same ports and button placements as its smaller counterpart, including the rear fingerprint sensor, which is even harder to reach on the larger version of the phone. Its 6.2-inch QHD+ SuperAMOLED display shares the same resolution as the Galaxy S8, 2960x1440 pixels, which makes it slightly less dense at 529ppi, but still far sharper than the 401ppi iPhone 7 Plus. As accurate and bright as Apple's screens are, they will likely never catch Samsung in the pixel density arms race — if that's a real thing anymore.
The Galaxy S8 and iPhone 7 both have single rear 12MP camera sensors with f/1.7 lenses, making them pretty similar on paper and in real-world results. While Samsung tends to go for a more exaggerated color palette and Apple for a flatter, more realistic photo, they both have the potential to take amazing photos in daylight and low light.
The Galaxy S8+ lacks a second sensor, but Samsung doesn't think it needs one.
While we haven't had a lot of time to play with the cameras on the Galaxy S8, Samsung tells us it shares hardware components with the Galaxy S7; what is different, though, is the connection to the main chip, which has been upgraded from the Snapdragon 820 to the Snapdragon 835 (and in Europe, the Exynos 8890 to the Exynos 8895). This improved ISP, or image signal processor, should have a significant impact on things like focus speed and HDR performance, but we'll see.
The one thing that the Galaxy S8 series doesn't have that the iPhone does — at least, the iPhone 7 Plus — is a second camera sensor. While the LG G6 has a second camera for wide-angle shots, and the iPhone 7 Plus uses its for additional distance and depth-of-field effects, Samsung was comfortable with the Galaxy S8+'s performance to live on its own.
We've seen plenty of good and bad photos from Apple's second camera — it lacks optical image stabilization, and has a much narrower aperture, so it lets in much less light — it's still going to be a point of comparison when shopping for a new phone. Samsung did reportedly experiment with adding a second sensor to the new Galaxy S8 lineup but felt the technology wasn't quite ready — in whatever form it was going to take — so it may be delayed a year.
Either way, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ should have amazing cameras, some of the best on the market, and we're looking forward to putting them through their paces in comparison to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.
Finally, we come down to software. Samsung is shipping the Galaxy S8 with Android 7 Nougat, and while Samsung's software has improved markedly over the past few years, to the point where it can be considered neck-and-neck with the best interpretations of Android, its update record is still shoddy. Take the Nougat update on the Galaxy S7 series; it took nearly 11 months for the update to begin rolling out to U.S. carrier devices, and it's still not available on the unlocked version.
Apple, on the other hand, updates all of its devices at once, and does so with the cooperation of its carrier partners. It would be nice for Samsung to get to that point, but for now it — and Android — work differently.
As close as the two platforms are in terms of features, there's another major consideration to take into the account: the two app stores. Google Play and Apple's App Store don't have too much between them these days, but some companies, especially smaller startups, still choose iOS as a first, or even exclusive, destination when publishing their apps. So do game companies, which derive considerably more revenue from iOS than Android. That being said, most of the major titles eventually come to Android, and the delta between releases is shortening, but it's still a reality.
The other side of the argument comes in the form of continuity; Samsung relies on Android, so it's increasingly trying to find ecosystem tie-ins in other ways. Take DeX, Samsung's hardware dock that turns the Galaxy S8 into a Microsoft Continuum-like desktop experience. This is Samsung trying to exert as much control over its software as possible — this is Android, not Chrome or anything else, but it's Samsung's Android — and that's admirable.
Which should you buy?
The question of which phone you should buy largely comes down to platform preference, but you should also keep in mind that Samsung's phones are a full half-year newer than the iPhone 7 series, and benefit from a highly competitive Android ecosystem that is consistently pushing partners to develop innovations in the hardware space.
Apple feels less of a need to constantly redesign its phones because it has an entrenched and loyal user base that have, over time, grown reliant not just on the iPhone hardware but iOS as a platform, with iMessage, iCloud and many other features with which Android manufacturers can't directly compete, since Google controls Android. Samsung has tried, and Bixby is a good example of that, but it still uses Google services as its backbone.
So it then comes down to hardware. The most notable upgrade in this year's Galaxy S series is the screen — larger screens and smaller bezels make for phones that use space far more efficiently than ever before. They're also taller, thanks to the odd 18.5:9 aspect ratio. That Snapdragon 835 or Exynos 8895 processor keep things moving at a fast clip, and bring some much-needed efficiency improvements to the table. Of course, battery life benefits from the more-efficient processor, but we'll have to wait a bit longer before we determine whether the 3,000mAh battery in the GS8, or the 3,500mAh cell in the GS8+, perform better than the equivalent cells in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.
Both the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8 series are great, but Samsung has maximized the usable space on the front, and that makes it feel far more modern than the aging design on the iPhone.
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