The Galaxy S9 has dramatically faster LTE than the iPhone X, but that isn't the whole story

As technology advances and more of what we do transitions to the internet and cloud, it's increasingly more important to carry smartphones that offer reliable LTE performance. Samsung recently revealed (opens in new tab) that the Galaxy S9 and S9+ have demonstrated LTE speeds that are up to 42% faster than competing handsets in real-world conditions, and while that might sound like a seriously impressive feat at first, it's not as jaw-dropping as Samsung's cracking it up to be.

First off, let's go through how Samsung got the numbers it did. Samsung used Ookla Speedtest, a well-known company, to track LTE performance on the Galaxy S9, iPhone X, Google Pixel 2, and two-generations-old Galaxy S7. When doing so, Samsung found that the S9 series was: 37% faster than the iPhone X, 17% faster than the Pixel 2 and 38% faster than the Galaxy S7. At least, on average.

The study was conducted via speed tests on Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint from February to April of this year, and compiled along weighted averages to take out the outliers. All of that is perfectly legitimate, and while Samsung and Ookla are honest in their testing, being 37% faster than the iPhone X in average benchmark-like tests isn't necessarily representative of real-world performance you'd actually experience. As you can see in the chart below, the carrier in question alone will make a huge difference in the delta of speeds between two devices, before you even get to everything else. Here's how the numbers break down:

Galaxy S9 download speeds versus the competition

The modem that's being used in the Galaxy S9 and S9+ is considerably faster than the ones found in other handsets, as the test results show, but the variables that go into data speeds when using your phone like a phone and not strictly testing download speeds aren't as clear cut. What network is your phone on? How's the coverage in your area? How many apps do you have accessing data in the background? What kind of file are you downloading? Where are you downloading from? All of these questions (and more) weigh heavily in the end result of whether your Galaxy S9 would feel notably faster than an iPhone X or Pixel 2.

Furthermore, as seen in the table above, the carrier you get your phone from can also have an impact on data performance. In the case of the iPhone X, GSM versions of the phone use an Intel modem while the Verizon variant boasts a Qualcomm one.

Real-world use is a completely different beast than benchmark tests.

A snappier modem can contribute to technically faster speeds, but when you throw in all of the real-world variables and the fact that most consumers likely wouldn't notice any difference above a certain threshold, that "42% faster" figure loses some of its luster. Yes, it may be faster — but you may not actually notice it being faster given the real-world circumstances we all deal with as network conditions change.

The Galaxy S9 is a tremendously powerful phone and is capable of wickedly fast data speeds, but so are most other modern smartphones. There may be many instances where the Galaxy S9 is able to finish downloading an app or video file a handful of seconds faster than an iPhone X or Pixel 2, and while that's a welcome convenience to have, it isn't reason enough to ignore the rest of the competition — it's just another data point to take into consideration.

Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

  • I use the iPhone X, Pixel 2 XL, and S9+ on Xfinity Mobile and they all have similar upload/download speeds. Perhaps it's because Xfinity Mobile is an MVNO and the speeds are capped, but one wasn't any better than the other in terms of speed.
  • I thought Pixel didn't work on Xfinity?
  • Any phone with Verizons bands will work with an Xfinity Mobile SIM card. Only downfall is no wifi calling on android, just iPhones.
  • Does that mean if I unlocked my Sprint Galaxy S8+ and obtained a SIM card for Xfinity Mobile, I could get reliable connection?
  • It doesn't. My Pixel 2 XL is on T-Mo. Whoops.
  • I have had XM since November and have yet to experience any "capped speeds." I'll regularly pull 50+ mbps down. Best I've gotten is 120's.
  • Man I wish this phone had the P preview.
  • Why? Gestures are that important to you? Oh wait, the phone already has a tonne of gesture controls. I'm not trying to be an azz.. But what specific features in Android P are either revolutionary, or something that has you excited?
  • Version number 9.0. That's all I want to stare at all day. /s
  • I`m using the S9 plus and HTC U11, I am having better luck with HTC U11 than S9+.
  • I used an iPhone X for a week and while using it, tested this myself both where I live and where I work. I found this to be accurate. What I found more surprising was that the iPhone's WiFi download (but not upload) speeds were also about 40 to 50% slower than the S9+. Still, as a long time Android fan, I was really, really impressed with the iPhone X once I got over some quirks. It's insanely fast, the 3D touch has been optimized even further and is more useful, and the new UI felt more intuitive than any phone UI I've ever used within 2 days of use.
  • Apple uses Intel and Qualcomm modems for its phones. Tests show the iPhones with the Intel modems are slower than the ones with Qualcomm. So I read somewhere Apple throttled down the Qualcomm modems on the iPhones so they re more even in their speeds with the Intel modems. And since Apple and Qualcomm are in legal disputes Apple is going to Intel for its modems for the majority of its phones.
  • Just what everyone wants... Slow modems
  • Another area where its better than the Pixel then...
  • In your opinion. The article states it's only 17% faster than the Pixel. That's negligible at best. I tried the S9+ and still prefer my Pixel 2 XL. The P Beta has been awesome.
  • Lmao... Again... One of the only 3.9 million buyers worldwide who bought a Pixel last year... Please be specific.... Define your Android P love, lol....
  • Where to start.. fluidity, battery life, up to date security patch, new notifications, new look, better messaging..I could keep going. You seem jealous.
  • Can you elaborate on the better messaging part?
  • 17% isn't negligible, yo.
  • From calling and texting and all the usual things people do, it kind of is. It's not some big shocking difference.
  • Then why not buy a smartphone with a Snapdragon 210 processor?
  • Well ofcourse in my opinion. I didn't say it was anyone else's did I??! No matter what you say, the Pixel sales are shiny *****. You have a phone very few people have... That should make you feel special, no?
  • Faster is faster. Even 1% faster means it's faster.
  • Eh, there comes a point where its just theoretical and all of these are capable of more speed than the networks can typically keep up with. So long as my radio, spotify, podcasts and Netflix/HBO Go/Spectrum/Amazon Video do not stall and buffer (like they often did on sprint) I'm good. I'd rather get a consistent true 3-4 mbps than really high peaks and lots of low speed I can't use.
  • I definitely agree with you there, if the network is good, all these phones are already capable of very high speeds for us to notice a difference.
  • The website is fantastic at turning a positive into a negative or at least they try.
    Sad..the bias is so visible..
  • I haven't noticed any difference between my S9 and my V30.
  • Honestly, My experience on Bell Canada's network is more greatly impacted where I am in Canada... Not the modem. I've got great network speeds in the city I'm in due to exceptional tower coverage in town & to the north (because of the oil industry), relatively small population with thousands who work shift work. If I'm in the capital city 100s of km to the south, coverage is even faster. But... If I'm in the middle of the province a few kilometers from the main highway... I might be furious that I even have a smartphpne, because network reception is absolutely awful at the best of times. I'm usually online at home or over visiting friends, I'm on a high speed internet connection via home WiFi signal. The speed test used is a huge factor. You want to use a speed test that pings the network servers of your network! Eg. An WiFi test through my home network is valid if it pings Shaw servers in on of two cities in my province (I forget which one), Not some random server affiliated 1000s of kilometres away with a speed test in, say, Chicago, Illinois... A proper speed test for a mobile network also is critical.... For the purposes of measuring modem speed, I'd guess you would have more valid results by testing through a fast home based WiFi network. Simply stated, it's a dumb article... With way too many uncontrolled factors.
  • Weird article...bending things to suit your on going narrative I guess
  • Typical fluff piece that's becoming the norm lately
  • Samsung's providing the fluff by stating it has faster network speeds. We're laying out what that actually means and why it isn't as big a deal as the company is making it sound.
  • This article is confusing. I think the take away is that the s9 is objectively faster than the competition but it's the networks and coverage that are the bottlenecks. This seems like a good thing to me but the way this article is written it's almost like it's not?
  • Exactly.
  • The point is that yes some phones are theoretically faster than others but taking that as a reason one phone is "better" than the other isn't a good idea.
  • I find it a bit presumptuous attempting to discredit controlled scientific results by making statements like "but when you throw in all of the real-world variables and the fact that most consumers likely wouldn't notice any difference above a certain threshold". "Likely" wouldn't notice. Justified by an undefined "threshold". No real study or data to support these claims, so opinion is being presented as fact in order to reduce the significance of the 42% advantage the S9 demonstrated during actual studies. I'll be the first to admit, I'm an Android fan and fond of Samsung in general.. but if that isn't a hit piece on an already poorly selling device I don't know what is.
  • Let's be pragmatic... For the sake of argument, let's agree there is a 42% difference... Well, 42% of what? If the reaction time, or ping, of my connection, is 24 milliseconds, does a 42% lower speed... Ie. An extra 10 milliseconds... Does it really matter? Lol. I suggest no.
  • Instead of having arguments for the sake of arguing, let's stick to facts. In the article, it's stated the test results were obtained using the Ookla Speed Test app, which tests the download and upload speeds of the device. 42% faster download average is very significant. If the S9 clearly performs substantially better in controlled testing where be all conditions are identical, then it stands to reason that while the "real world" conditions may vary between users, the S9 will certainly outperform under those same conditions. All of the information needed to reach this conclusion is presented in the article. You're doing the same thing the author did, specifically attacking the significance of the number using opinion and naivety. Try harder.
  • even if it doesnt matter that does not discredit the fact that it is still the truth.
  • My Note 8 consistently gets much higher download speeds than my girlfriends iPhone 8. We are both on Tmobile and at one location I was averaging 260 mbps and she topped out at 180 and averaged about 160. It doesn't matter where we are, I always get much higher download speeds.
  • Wow, even when you are praising Samsung you find a way to kiss Apples ass
  • Huh?
  • Its cause the snapdragon 845 not because the phone, Qualcomm always has the best lte modems because they hold alot of the patents.
  • This article is a joke. It's like saying "yeah, a Snapdragon 845 is faster than the 835, but it really depends on what apps you're running, what version of Android, etc. You probably won't notice a difference." Point blank: it's faster, and the delta is enough that Samsung is justified in using it as a selling point. Arguing otherwise just makes AC look biased.
  • But it makes no difference to most as their network can't match the performance.
    Agreed it's got to be better but you can't tell people they will see a difference if they won't.
  • Watch this video from about 4:50
  • This article just shows how misleading this writer can be.
  • The difference is negligible but either way, the Pixel will keep its level of performance for way longer than both the S9 and iPhone X, still I'm glad both phones are faster than the overpriced and overrate iPhone X. With that being said, I would still choose a Pixel over both the S9 and iPhone X as the Pixel is the only flagship phone I want as it runs my favourite version of Android.
  • Sounds to me like the author of this article happens to be an iphone fan. Nothing like trying to belittle facts. No matter the scenerio in which the s9 is being tested, its out performs your iphone. Just swallow it and move on. Crapple will always be just that.
  • Too right, Apple is overrated, overpriced and inferior to Android and I'm glad I woke and left crApple for Android and I'm never going back crApple will always be inferior to Google and Android phones.
  • He's not an Apple fan, as he's a Samsung hater, for some unknown reason..
  • Anything to stand out from the competition.
  • I understand that variables could affect the results, but, if everything was the same, the S9 series should be faster.