Apple iPhone XS vs Samsung Galaxy S10 full review

By its own lofty standards, Apple's phone division has been under the cosh a bit lately, with the firm recently announcing that revenue for Q1 2019 was down 15% on the year before. With ominous timing, Samsung is here to compound the Cupertino company's woes with the launch of the Galaxy S10, its new flagship smartphone. But which device has more to offer?

In this article we compare the S10 with the iPhone XS, looking at specs, design, features and value for money, and help you decide which is the best phone for you. Our comparison is based on hands-on testing at Samsung's Unpacked event.

Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S10 starts at £799/$899.99, with an additional £200 if you want 512GB of storage. For comparison, the S9 started at £739/$719, so Apple isn't the only smartphone company pushing up prices.

You can buy the S10 now (direct from Samsung, or via Carphone Warehouse). However, it's worth checking you're not missing out on a better offer. We've got a separate article rounding up the best Galaxy S10 deals.

Samsung also makes its own wireless headphones to go with the S10, and you can read about these in our Galaxy Buds review.

The iPhone XS starts at £999/$999 (that's the model with 64GB of storage; it costs £1,149/$1,149 with 256GB, or £1,349/$1,349 with 512GB). You can buy direct from Apple, or browse our roundup of the best iPhone XS deals.

Design and build

The iPhone XS is the tock of Apple's tick-tock upgrade cycle - after the (comparative) thrills of the iPhone X and its brand-new look, the XS is more of the same. It's a great design, though: almost all screen, with slim bezels and no Home button. The notch at the top of the screen (for the camera and Face ID sensors) has divided opinion, though.

The S10 has not got a notch, instead achieving the all-screen look by incorporating the front-facing camera into the corner of the screen. Thanks also to slimmer bezels than last year's S9, the device achieves a 93% screen to body ratio - but will you find the camera cutout annoying when viewing full-screen video?

Samsung may win some brownie points for including a headphone port, something Apple left behind some time ago.

iPhone XS in pictures

iPhone XS vs Samsung Galaxy S10: Design

iPhone XS vs Samsung Galaxy S10: Design

iPhone XS vs Samsung Galaxy S10: Design

Samsung Galaxy S10 in pictures

iPhone XS vs Samsung Galaxy S10: Design

iPhone XS vs Samsung Galaxy S10: Design

Features and specs

The S10 has an impressive feature set. It's got the advantage of being half a year younger than the XS, of course, but Samsung always tends to offer more spec for your dollar than Apple, which focuses more on the overall user experience.

Here are some highlights of the devices' respective feature & specs lists, starting with the all-important cameras.

Cameras

This is the area that Samsung appears to have focused on most of all.

Whereas you got only one rear-facing camera on the S9 (the S9 Plus had two), the S10 has three. You get a 12Mp wide main lens with a variable aperture of f/1.5-2.4, a 16Mp ultra-wide f/2.2 and a 12Mp f/2.4 telephoto.

We observed a pleasingly smooth transition when moving between lenses and it should prove to be a great user experience - although this (and image quality) is something we'll need to test more extensively.

The XS has just two lenses on the rear (boring!) but they make for a superb photographic setup, providing excellent detail and faithful colour reproduction. You get portrait mode on front and rear (the front version isn't quite as sharp, in our opinion) and shots stand up better to heavy zoom than on the iPhone X, apparently thanks to changes to the pixels.

Thanks too must go to the Neural Engine, which performs intelligent processing to make the camera perform better in complex lighting conditions. This 'Smart HDR' enables you to get good-looking shots even if the subject's face is in shadow and there's a bright light source behind.

Performance

Samsung, as usual, delivers more processing power on paper, but both devices are fast enough for it not to be an issue.

The XS and its A12 chip are comfortably able to run anything on the App Store, and this will continue to be the case for years to come. The S10, meanwhile, has twice as much RAM and a super-fast processor (you get the 8nm Exynos 9820 in Europe and the Snapdragon 855 if you buy elsewhere) and we found it superfast and responsive out of the box.

Wireless charging

Both phones can charge wirelessly. But what the S10 does that's a bit more interesting (if a little gimmicky) is act as a wireless charger. Turn on wireless power share mode and place the phone face down, and it turns into a Qi charging mat - handy for those Galaxy Buds.

iPhone XS specs

  • iOS 12
  • A12 Bionic processor chip with Neural Engine
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB/256GB/512GB storage
  • 5.8in (2436 x 1125, 19.5:9, 458ppi) 'Super Retina HD' OLED screen, 625cd/m2, True Tone, 3D Touch
  • Dual (f/1.8 wide-angle and f/2.4 telephoto) 12Mp rear-facing camera, True Tone flash, 2x optical zoom, dual OIS, 4K video at up to 60fps, slo-mo at 1080p at up to 240fps, Portrait Mode, Portrait Lighting
  • 7Mp front-facing camera, f/2.2, Retina Flash, 1080p video at up to 60fps, Portrait Mode, Portrait Lighting, Animoji/Memoji
  • 2,658 mAh battery; up to 12 hours internet use (claimed); fast charge up to 50% charge in 30 minutes (claimed)
  • Stereo speakers
  • IP68 water- and dust-resistant
  • Face ID
  • Gigabit LTE, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC
  • 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm
  • 177g

Galaxy S10 specs

  • Android 9.0 Pie with One UI
  • 6.1in Wide Quad HD+ (3040x1440) 19:9 Dynamic AMOLED
  • Exynos 9820 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 octa-core processor
  • 8GB RAM
  • 128/512GB internal storage
  • microSD card slot (up to 512GB)
  • Dual pixel 12Mp, f/1.5-2.4, OIS rear camera + 16Mp Ultra Wide, f/2.2 + 12Mp Tele, f/2.4
  • Dual pixel 10Mp, f/1.9 front camera
  • Pressure sensitive home button
  • Embedded Ultrasonic Fingerprint scanner
  • 2D Face Recognition
  • Heart rate monitor
  • 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • 4G LTE Cat 20
  • Headphone jack
  • USB-C
  • 3400mAh non-removable battery
  • Fast Wireless Charging 2.0
  • Wireless Powershare
  • IP68 dust & waterproof rating
  • 70.4x150x7.8mm
  • 157g

Software and apps

The iPhone XS ships with iOS 12, the version that launched in autumn 2018. This was generally felt to be a quiet update, focusing on speed and stability more than features, although we still got Group FaceTime, Screen Time, Memoji and various handy enhancements to the interface.

The XS will be able to update to iOS 13 for free in autumn 2019, and that update is expected to contain slightly more fireworks than its predecessor.

The S10 is of course an Android phone, running Android 9.0 'Pie' with Samsung's One UI modifications. Like Screen Time on iOS, this version adds features to help you actually use your device less, as well as fun new gestures and a shake-up to the design.

As a general rule Android is more open to customisation, and earlier with new features; iOS is a bit more secure, and big-name apps will usually appear on iOS first because iPhone owners are more willing to spend money on software. Ultimately, however, your preference will probably direct you towards whichever OS you're more used to, because it's a pain learning a new set of controls.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S10's feature set is impressive, with the rear-facing triple cameras a particular standout, but the XS stands up well half a year after its launch. Its design is still modern-looking (even if it's the same as the X) and its own camera setup is superb.

Rather than focusing on the spec list, the choice here may come down to looks (the choice of notch or camera cutout is a controversial one) or a simple preference for Android or iOS. But Apple's ever more premium pricing makes the idea of switching surprisingly appealing right now.

We'll need to spend more time with review samples of the S10 before we can come to a definitive conclusion: watch this space for a full comparison review.

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