Apple launched its refreshed iPhone 8 and 10th-anniversary-edition iPhone X yesterday. Samsung, of course, launched the latest Galaxy Note 8 a few weeks ago. But how do the devices compare with each other, and which one is the right choice for you? Let’s take a look.
It’s impossible to cleanly compare the specs on an iPhone versus an Android device thanks to underlying differences between the phone operating systems and the hardware choices of their manufacturers. Samsung has historically prioritized higher core counts and CPUs that do much less work per cycle than their Apple counterparts. That’s still the case today, with Apple’s new A11 Bionic SoC, but the ratios have changed: The new A11 SoC is a pair of high performance cores (up to 25 percent faster) and a quad of high-efficiency cores (up to 70 percent faster). This suggests Apple might be downclocking the cluster compared with its dual-core A10 predecessor, but has added cores to compensate.
We’ve seen different reports on RAM; some sites have said 3GB while others have said we don’t know this yet. 3-4GB for Apple is a safe estimate here, so we’ve included the 3GB report in our table below. Historically, Android devices tend to field more RAM than Apple does, though the Note’s 6GB is probably overkill for the hardware at this stage. Then again, phones tend to last longer than they used to, so stocking up a bit on memory probably isn’t a problem, either.
In raw specs, the Galaxy Note 8 wins on screen size, resolution, and expandability. RAM is also a likely win, though we can’t confirm that yet. We’ll wait for Raymond Soneira of DisplayMate to sound off on the screen technologies involved before we crown a winner on overall quality and color balance, but both Samsung and Apple have a strong track record here. No matter which company wins this particular comparison, you aren’t getting a bad display either way.
The iPhone X is lighter than the Galaxy Note 8, faster in single-threaded performance (this is a guarantee, given Apple’s long-term history of pushing single-threaded performance and relatively few CPU cores), and with a new GPU core that will likely offer excellent performance (again, given Apple’s typically strong work, here).
But in a lot of ways, what device you pick between iOS or Android is based less on the intrinsic characteristics of the phone and more about the use-cases you want to enable. Do you have a use for a stylus and want removable storage with a headphone jack? The Note 8 (or a Galaxy S8) are your devices of choice. Interested in Apple’s AirPods or its AI processor? That’s going to shove you to the iPhone side of the fence. And of course there are questions about whether facial recognition will work as well as Apple claims it will, or whether the AI processor inside the phone can actually be used for something useful. Absent a great deal more technical information and practical use cases, we can’t evaluate these criteria altogether. Even the improved camera features need to be checked in various light conditions to test how their capabilities in real life relate to what they can do on paper.
What strikes me about the modern high-end phone business is how little improvement most new features offer to the core experience of using the device. The Galaxy Note 8, or iPhone 8 and iPhone X are, I’m sure, faster and sexier than the Galaxy Note 7 6 or the iPhone 7. But for the most part, even their improvements are just iterations on an existing formula. Digital assitants and facial recognition are stuck somewhere between “handy” and “revolutionary,” useful in enough cases to justify their addition (to some customers, at least), but not really critical to the function of the platform.
Of course, when you’re in the market for a new device, having Samsung and Apple build really good iterations on rather boring platforms is exactly what you may want; not everybody wants to re-learn how to use a piece of hardware when the new version ships. Other capabilities, like Apple’s new AI co-processor, could prove useful over time.
Right now, I’d argue the most useful thing Apple announced is a $ 50 price cut on the iPhone SE, bringing it to just $ 349 for a 32GB device with a still-fast processor and excellent camera. On the Android side of the equation, I’d say the best trends in that ecosystem today are the way midrange and low-cost devices have improved year-on-year — not the way Samsung, LG, or HTC (not really) manage to raise flagship phone prices and marginally improve features every 12 months.