Comparing Apple to … well, not oranges
There are countless smartphones to choose from on today’s market, but it is arguable that only a handful are providing true innovative design. Trying to make each model better than the last through software and hardware upgrades, redesigned body or frame, and plenty of extra features is something you want to look for when a manufacturer produces a new device – two such manufacturers being Samsung and Apple. These ‘industry titans’ make beautiful pieces of mobile technology year after year, which leads us to a review of each respective manufacturer’s latest premium models and the differences in their ‘Plus/+’ sized counterparts (as well as a comparison to “last year’s model”) in order for you to choose the device that is right for you.
iPhone 7 & 7 Plus
On the outside, the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus don’t look significantly different from their previous iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models, even while being claimed to be Apple’s best iPhone to date. Continuing to feature the same 4.7 and 5.5-inch screen sizes, both devices even have matching dimensions (with slightly different weight).
The iPhone 6s – 5.44 inches long, 2.64 inches wide, 0.28 inches thick, and weighs 4.55 ounces
The iPhone 6s Plus – 6.22 inches long, 3.06 inches wide, 0.28 inches thick, and weighs 6.07 ounces
The iPhone 7 – 5.44 inches long, 2.64 inches wide, 0.28 inches thick, and weighs 4.87 ounces
The iPhone 7 Plus – 6.23 inches long, 3.07 inches wide, 0.29 inches thick, and weighs 6.63 ounces
Design-wise, however, there are few visual differences between the iPhone 6s/6s Plus and the 7/7 Plus. Antenna bands no longer span across the back of the devices, providing a cleaner, sleeker look. Apple also introduced three new colors: a matte black color just simply called “Black”, a “Jet Black” color with a high-gloss finish, and a “(PRODUCT)RED” Special Edition model in a deep red aluminum with white front bezels that celebrates 10 years of partnership with (RED) – a charity that benefits AIDS research.
Another thing to note is that the 7 and 7 Plus follow Apple’s standard naming scheme, with a numeric increase during even years to mark external design changes and an “s” increase during odd years to denote internal feature updates only.
2007 – iPhone
2008 – iPhone 3G (exception – new design is arguable)
2009 – iPhone 3GS
2010 – iPhone 4 (new design)
2011 – iPhone 4s
2012 – iPhone 5 (new design)
2013 – iPhone 5s
2014 – iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus (new design)
2015 – iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus
2016 – iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus (new design)
2017 – iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus (??? – new design) *
*Apple is planning to release three models in 2017. While one may be named the iPhone 7s and 7s Plus, and be similar in design, the presumed name for Apple’s “flagship” is the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.
There may not be many ‘aesthetic’ design differences, each major iPhone release comes with increased features and hardware changes that simply are not visible just by looking at the device’s body.
While the iPhone 7/7 Plus may look like its predecessors, the most recent models have been re-engineered from the inside out with new seals and adhesive techniques to make it more water and dust resistant. With a resistance rating of IP67, both the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are entirely dust proof and able to withstand one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. While safe from splashes and accidental submersion, it is ill-advised to take either of these devices for a swim or intentionally get them wet. (Even though tests have proven that the iPhone 7/7 Plus can survive immersion in a variety of liquids – soda, hot coffee, or even sea water.)
DisplayMate, the industry standard of excellence for image and picture quality, claimed the iPhone 7 has the “best LCD display” it’s ever tested at the time, calling it a “major upgrade” over the previous model iPhone. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus have achieved the highest color accuracy, peak brightness, contrast rating in bright light, and lowest screen reflectance of any smartphone display in 2016 – while having the highest contrast ratio of any IPS LCD display. Apple is using a new LCD display in the iPhone 7/7Plus that’s 25% brighter than the display from the iPhone 6s/6s Plus, so full sunlight while outdoors should not affect the brightness or clarity of the screen. They also incorporated a cinema-standard wide color gamut (complete range or scope of color), as well as end-to-end color management for more vivid, saturated colors.
Something to note is that the screen resolution of 750 x 1334 pixels (326 pixels-per-inch) and 1080 x 1920 pixels (401 pixels-per-inch) for the iPhone 7/7 Plus (respectively) matches that of the previous iPhone 6s/6s Plus models, which shows that this is not the best metric when comparing the displays of both iPhone iterations – especially when using sites that just show the ‘specs’.
Apple improves the processor in each iteration of the iPhone, including the “s” series, but benchmarking tests have proven that the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus are indeed equipped with the fastest mobile processor Apple has produced yet – even outperforming the A9X in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, as well as most MacBook Air models and even Samsung Galaxy devices (including recent models).
Using a four-core CPU (the first in an iOS device), the A10 Fusion in the iPhone 7/7 Plus combines both power and efficiency. An Apple-designed performance controller switches between two sets of two-core systems, high-performance and high-efficiency, and makes sure the correct processes are running for maximum performance and maximum battery usage. When doing something that requires the more powerful CPU, such as playing games, the high-performance cores run. Alternatively, doing something that doesn’t require a lot of power, like sending a message or an email, the high-efficiency cores turn on to draw less power and use less battery.
For comparison to previous models, the two high-performance cores are 40% percent faster than the A9 chip in the iPhone 6s and twice as fast as the A8 chip in the iPhone 6. The two high-efficiency cores run at 1/5th of the speed of the high-performance cores, but this is to preserve battery life. It is unclear exactly how much extra battery life you receive when compared to the previous models, but it is marginal at best.
Along with the four-core CPU, the iPhone 7 features a six-core graphics chip that’s 60 percent faster than the aforementioned A9 and three times faster than the A8. At the same time, it draws one-third less power than the A9 and half as much power as the A8. There is an embedded M10 motion coprocessor in the A10 Fusion chip that captures motion-based data from the compass, accelerometer, and gyroscope to power Apple’s health and fitness capabilities without significant power drain.
3.5mm ‘headphone jack’
Rather, the lack thereof. There is no headphone jack in the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, so headphones need to connect wirelessly or through the Lightning port via an adapter. The removal of the headphone jack was done to save space and to make room for new technologies (or a second speaker), plus Apple is using its elimination to drive the development of wireless headphone technology. To ease the transition away from the 3.5mm headphone jack, Apple does include Lightning EarPods and a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter in each iPhone box. Apple has also developed new wireless headphones called AirPods, which is included as an honorable mention to general design improvements.
AirPods, Apple’s new wireless earbuds, look a lot like the standard EarPods without the wires. Reviews suggest they’re similar in shape and size, but the internals are entirely unique. Since there are no wires between the AirPods, each one operates independently. You can wear both at the same time, or just use one for phone or FaceTime calls. For intelligent, high-efficiency playback with a consistent, reliable connection, AirPods feature an Apple-designed W1 chip – the first wireless chip Apple has created. AirPods also use a built-in infrared sensor to detect when they’re in the ear, and responds to touch gestures such as ‘double-tapping’ to activate Siri.
Although the same features are built into both the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, the latter has one other unique feature – a second camera lens. The first lens in the iPhone 7 Plus is the same wide-angle 28mm lens included in the iPhone 7, but it is installed alongside a second 12-megapixel 56mm telephoto lens with an f/2.8 aperture. The two lenses create a new zoom feature that allows iPhone 7 Plus users to switch seamlessly between standard 1x zoom and an optical 2x zoom within the ‘Camera’ app. Optical zoom is superior to digital zoom because there’s no loss of detail, but the 2x optical zoom function also enables better digital zoom for clearer photos up to 10x closer. Apple claims that because you’re starting with a 2x lens when you zoom in with the iPhone 7 Plus, the quality is up to four times better than the digital in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
With the removal of the headphone jack, Apple decided to add a second speaker in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus – introducing surround sound for the first time. With a speaker placed on both the top and bottom of the device, stereo sound works in both portrait and landscape orientations. The two speakers put out twice the volume of the single speaker in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, and have a better overall sound due to the increase in dynamic range.
Unlike the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, which worked on any network, GSM iPhone 7 and 7 Plus models designed for the AT&T and T-Mobile networks are not compatible with the CDMA networks of Verizon and Sprint. Apple has used LTE chips from both Qualcomm and Intel in its devices. GSM devices with Intel chips are not equipped with CDMA functionality, whereas Qualcomm chips work on both GSM and CDMA networks.
Galaxy S8 & S8+
The way the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ are put together is the defining feature of both handsets. On first use they look like a device that’s been brought back from the future. If you’re upgrading to the S8 from the Galaxy S5 or S6, or even switching from an older iPhone, it’d look like something from a science fiction movie. (Headphone jack included.)
With the popularity of the Galaxy S7 Edge convincing Samsung that the time is ripe to make all its flagship phones look rounded and glossy, the ‘curved on both sides’ Edge screen is now there by default. Aesthetically-speaking, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy S8+ have an almost identical design, with a glass back (tip: buy a protective case), a metal frame, and tiny bezels above and below the screen. The physical home button on either phone has also been removed, and the fingerprint scanner has been relocated to the back next to the camera. So, what are the differences? Size mostly …
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is 5.86 inches long, 2.68 inches wide, 0.31 inches thick, and weighs 5.36 ounces
The Samsung Galaxy S8+ is 6.28 inches long, 2.89 inches wide, 0.32 inches thick, and weighs 6.10 ounces
With comparable widths and thickness, the primarily difference comes from weight and length– but the S8 is already huge for a smartphone as it is, so the S8+ just seems over-the-top. As far as general design goes, there aren’t many more differences except for price – but the ones that are present will be discussed in later sections.
The Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+ has one of the most stunning displays around, with the luxury of being released several months after the iPhone 7/7 Plus. While it’s been proven factually through DisplayMate’s rigorous testing, it’s also clear from the moment you pick up the S8 or S8+ – the colors are rich, the black and white contrast is immaculate, and everything just looks sharp. Streaming content in HD is a dream, and watching movies on these devices is one of the best mobile entertainment experiences one can have.
That said, you can’t ignore Samsung’s effort to cram a larger display into a smaller form factor (the newer 18.5:9 ratio, opposed to the 16:9 widescreen folks are more accustomed to), but one complaint with the display, despite all its glory, is that it is just long. Too long, at least where it is more difficult to use one-handed or reach the entire length of the screen with your fingers – especially on the S8+. They’re just giant phones made for giant-handed people.
The resolution on both devices is the same (1440 x 2960 pixels), but the S8 benefits from a smaller screen in terms of pixels-per-inch – 570 ppi for the S8 versus 529 ppi in the S8+. Does this mean you shouldn’t get the S8+? No. Does this mean the display on the S8+ is significantly worse? Also no. It would be more impressive if you could notice a difference!
One of the biggest reasons, at least in the past, that folks may have preferred iPhones or manufacturers of other Android devices is the dislike of ‘TouchWiz’, Samsung’s user interface (or UI). That’s not to say that everyone is going to love the touched-up TouchWiz straight away (rather the newly dubbed ‘Samsung Experience’), but you can tell the effort put into making everything just look sleeker and cleaner than ever before!
The Infinity Display has seen to the removal of the physical home, menu, or back buttons. Instead they are virtual, called up with a swipe of the finger whenever you’re using a full-screen app. Another big change is the loss of the app drawer button – the tray is still present, but it’s now accessed by swiping up or down on the home screen. Long-pressing on icons from the home screen also brings up contextual menus (like 3D Touch from the iPhone) and the notifications shade looks premium, even if it can be a little bit complex.
Device Maintenance is also another neat feature, gamifying your efforts to keep the phone running at optimal levels. It scans your device and offers a score out of 100 depending on the performance of the battery, apps and CPU – encouraging you to hit that 100 percent mark to reach ‘maximum efficiency’. Every so often you’ll be pinged with a notification that less-used apps are being shut down, with the only downside being that you won’t get any more notifications from those apps until you reopen them – but that’s a small price to pay to keep the phone running fast and smooth.
Battery & charging
Other than screen size, the battery is the biggest difference between the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, as Samsung is using the extra space inside the S8+ to pack in a 3,500mAh juice pack, while the standard Galaxy S8 has a 3,000mAh battery. It’s worth noting that neither size is massive, especially given the phones they’re powering. The S8’s battery is the same size as the S7, and the battery in the S8+ is actually slightly smaller than the 3,600mAh battery in the S7 Edge.
It may sound worrisome for those who want multi-day performance, but it’s assumable that the decision was made to avoid risking another Note 7 catastrophe. (Sometimes bigger isn’t always better.) Plus, thanks to more power-efficient chipsets found inside each device, both phones are more than capable of reaching the day-and-a-half milestone while utilizing some of the built-in battery saving functions. In terms of real-world usage, the battery life on the Galaxy S8 or S8+ is hard to define, but ‘better than acceptable’ is a great way to put it. Under hard use things would get dicey towards the end of the day, but in more sedate conditions it’s easily going to get you home to a charger.
Both handsets also support fast charging via a USB Type-C port. The fast charging, while not vastly improved since last year’s S7 and 7 Edge models, is still miles better than any phone that arrived in 2015 or earlier. The Samsung Galaxy S8 can go from no power at all to full in around 80 minutes, with a linear charging curve – so it doesn’t taper off at the end, it’s more of a consistent power top-up. Add 10-13 minutes on to the time it takes to charge the S8+, but still should never have to worry about getting enough charge before making the commute home.
The camera on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ are, to no surprise, one of the best around. Its main strength is taking in sharpness, light, and color to make something appear just the way you saw it – capturing the image you want. The 12MP camera on the rear and the upgraded 8MP front-facing camera both excel in low light, and while megapixels aren’t everything, they often take pictures that are better than in-person while in the dark.
It is arguable that Samsung took a gamble in not putting a dual-lens camera on the back of the S8 (or following Apple and at least adding it to the Plus model), which seems to be the new trend in terms of smartphone cameras. Instead, they made it easy to take photos! You can double-tap the power button to instantly open the ‘Camera’ app (or swipe from the lock screen) and then you’re less than a second away from the shutter firing. The interface on the camera is all very swipe-friendly, which will please those wanting to use the phone with one hand. Swipe from the left to display the modes you can use, swipe from the right you’ve got filters than you can customize, swipe down to access the selfie camera, or you can hold and swipe the shutter button to zoom into your subject.
The only real criticism is that the picture quality may look better on the phone than on a computer screen or TV. The main issue seems to deal with exposure, where in bright light the Galaxy S8 or S8+ tends to slightly overexpose images. It seems that Samsung had been so busy trying to get great low-light shots, which they achieved, that some of the day-to-day pictures suffer from light bleeding in. The quality of the picture is still good overall, but beware very bright scenes. Samsung does make up for this a bit with their ‘Pro Mode’, that allows users to manually set a focal length of the image they want and then the device will create a high-lighted area for you to line up your shot just right! But, Samsung must do more than that to keep their camera competitive in the Galaxy S9 or later models.
The S8 and S8+ use Bluetooth 5.0, and while not the most interesting subject it adds some flair to the wireless listening experience. On the new Samsung devices, you can pair Bluetooth headphones and have the volume controls sync with the phone. (Granted, this feature has been around on iPhones and iPads for a while now.) While minor, it makes a big difference when you don’t have to take your phone out of your pocket to adjust the volume of a phone call or music.
Another feature that the S8 and S8+ offer is dual-speaker output, meaning you can connect two Bluetooth speakers at once and stream simultaneously. A little forewarning, though – the synchronization is not perfect, and the device does warn you of that! It works best while outdoors and wanting to spread music around, but separate, adjacent rooms within Bluetooth range would also be tolerable.