Apple iPhone XS Max vs Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus full review
Samsung has finally unveiled its much-anticipated new line-up of Galaxy flagships, which includes the Galaxy S10, S10 Plus, and a new, smaller, S10e. But how does the largest of these compare with the current king of the hill?
In this article we compare the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus and iPhone XS Max for design, features, tech specs and value for money, and help you decide which is the best big smartphone for your needs and budget.
Price & availability
Samsung's new Galaxy S10 Plus is available to buy now. There are three variations available, which include the standard glass-backed edition that comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for £899/$999.
This year also sees the introduction of a ceramic-backed model which will cost £1,099/$1,249 for 8GB RAM and 512GB of storage or £1,399/$1,599 for the top of the range 12GB/1TB combination. This is remarkably still cheaper than the top iPhone XS Max, even though the Samsung model has twice the storage and can add a further 512GB via its microSD card slot.
The iPhone XS Max is available now in three different storage size variants. These are priced as follows:
- 64GB iPhone XS Max: £1,099/$1,099
- 128GB iPhone XS Max: £1,249/$1,249
- 512GB iPhone XS Max: £1,449/$1,449
Of course, you'll find both the iPhone and Galaxy S10 Plus on all the major carriers, but flagship contracts are never cheap so be prepared to pay at the very least £40 p/m to get the newest handsets. To see the current offers we'd recommend, read our Best iPhone XS Max deals and Best Galaxy S10 deals guides.
Design & build
Samsung has been in a real purple patch recently in terms of aesthetics and build quality. The newly unveiled S10 Plus continues this trend with svelte lines and elegant styling that almost seem out of place on a larger-sized device.
Pride of place is taken by the 6.4in Wide Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O display that Samsung says gives the S10 Plus a screen to body ratio of an amazing 93.1%. This is aided by the lack of a notch and minimal bezels, all made possible by the installation of a dual cameras under the display in the top corner (with a small curved rectangular aperture to let light get to the lenses) and the Ultrasonic fingerprint sensor embedded directly into the screen.
A glass back means wireless charging continues to be a regular feature on the Galaxy line, this time joined by Wireless Power Sharing that allows the S10 Plus to top up any Qi Charge compatible device that might be running low on juice.
Three cameras are present on the rear, with the addition of an Ultra-wide lens potentially making the S10 Plus more versatile than the iPhone XS Max with its dual shooters.
The S10 Plus comes with a USB-C charging port, there's support for Wireless Fast Charging 2.0, plus stereo speakers and the rare sighting these days of a headphone jack that the Korean company steadfastly refuses to retire. Bravo!
An IP68 water- and dust-resistance rating is another standard feature on Samsung flagships, but Apple has finally caught up in this area, with the iPhone XS Max having the same fearlessness in water.
In the iPhone XS Max, Apple follows the design principles it introduced with the iPhone X. This includes the absence of a physical Home button on the front panel, leaving it mostly clear of obstructions except for the notch at the top that houses the Face ID camera array.
A smooth stainless-steel frame surrounds the 6.5in display, and a glass back means the device also comes with wireless charging capabilities. There are dual cameras on the rear, housed in a raised area that is the only real blot on the aesthetic landscape.
Considering the increased size of the screen, the iPhone XS Max still manages to come in at a size slightly smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus, albeit with a marginal increase in weight. Compared to the Galaxy S10 Plus though, it's about even in height and width, but Samsung's new offering is narrower and a considerable 33g lighter.
- Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus: 157.6 x 74.1 x 7.8mm; 175g
- Apple iPhone XS Max: 157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7mm; 208g
- Apple iPhone 8 Plus: 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5mm; 202g
Both devices are unabashedly premium in their construction and materials, which you would hope when you bear those huge prices in mind.
Specs & features
Under the hood you'll find the latest that either company can muster in the horsepower stakes. Samsung includes either the Exynos 9820 (UK) or Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 (other regions) paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage that can be expanded by a further 512GB via the microSD card slot.
There's also another edition that features a ceramic back and comes with either 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage or 12GB of RAM and a towering 1TB of space, both of which can also be expanded.
Apple opts for its own powerful A12 Bionic chip, flanked by 4GB of RAM and a choice of either 64GB, 256GB or 512GB of RAM. As usual, the storage space is non-expandable, so be sure to buy what you need because you won't be able to increase it later.
Samsung has long had some of the best panels on the market, and the S10 Plus is no exception to that rule. The 6.4in Wide Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O display is huge and has the curved edges so synonymous with the brand.
The spec sheet shows that it's HDR10+ certified and employs Dynamic Tone Mapping to deliver highly realistic colours and contrast in video and images. Samsung also claims that "a unique fluid composite in Dynamic AMOLED reduces harmful blue light without changing the colour of what's onscreen".
This could be an important innovation, as blue light is linked to disrupting sleep, so being able to use your S10 Plus in bed then still getting a good's night sleep would be a welcome feature.
While the S10 Plus doesn't have a notch, it does have a pill-shaped opening in its top-right corner. If the fashion for notches is over, then break out the bands, but the jury is still out on how this new approach will fare over time.
Apple's 6.5in Super Retina HD display is the largest ever to appear in an iPhone and it's undoubtedly one of the best. A 1 million to 1 contrast ratio and wide gamut make the colours impressive, plus support for HDR10, Dolby Vision and Apple's own True Tone technology ensure that everything looks lush and detailed.
Basically, you're not going to be disappointed spending any length of time staring at either of these displays.
Both Apple and Samsung hang a lot on the cameras sported by their devices.
In the XS Max there is a potent combination of the Face ID array on the front which has proven itself to be fast and consistent when unlocking the phone, plus capable of some great portrait selfies that employ the depth of field trick that blurs out the background.
Flipping the iPhone over shows the twin camera unit that's comprised of dual 12Mp optics (f/1.8 wide angle and f/2.4 telephoto) with a 2x optical zoom and optical image stabilisation. These produce excellent results, in either stills or videos, and remain one of the easiest cameras with which to quickly capture high-quality photographs.
Samsung goes one step further with triple cameras on the back - 12Mp telephoto, 12Mp wide-angle, and 16Mp ultra-wide - with the latter really being the standout lens. At the release event the company showed off a variety of images to display the full scope of the ultra-wide camera, which Samsung says has the same field of view as the human eye.
Whatever the measurements, the ability to shoot epic landscapes and tall panoramas is one that we look forward to testing extensively in our labs over the coming weeks.
As you'd expect, both devices have a wide range of specialist features, such as HDR, 4K recording, night modes, Bokeh effects, slow motion and a host of others.
You can be sure that these two will be battling it out for the smartphone camera crown with the Google Pixel 3 and Huawei Mate 20 Pro for the rest of the year, but we have to say that the Ultra-Wide lens on the S10 Plus really could be the decider, at least until Apple's new iPhones appear in September.
Here's a breakdown of the technical specifications for both devices:
|Specifications||Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus||iPhone XS Max|
|iOS||Android 9 Pie with OneUI interface||iOS 12|
|Colours||Prism White, Prism Black, Prism Green, Ceramic White, Ceramic Black||Gold, Silver, Space Grey|
|Display||6.4in Super AMOLED Wide Quad HD+ Infinity-O display (3040x1440, 525ppi)||6.5in Super Retina Display (2688x1242, 458ppi) OLED|
|Processor||Exynos 9820 / Snapdragon 855||A12 Bionic|
|Expandable Storage||Up to 512GB via microSD||None|
|Rear camera||16Mp f/2.2 Ultra Wide,
Dual-pixel 12Mp Wide (f/1.5+f/2.4) with OIS, 12Mp Tele (f/2.4) with OIS
|12Mp wide-angle, f/1.8, OIS + 12Mp telephoto, f/2.4, OIS, optical zoom, 10x digital zoom, Portrait Lighting, Portrait Mode, quad-LED flash|
|Front camera||Dual pixel 10Mp f/1.9, 8Mp Depth (f/2.2)||7Mp FaceTime HD, f/2.2, 1080p video|
|Video recording||4K UHD, HDR10+ and Dynamic Tone Mapping||4K at 24/30/60fps, 1080p slo-mo at 240fps|
|Biometric security||Ultrasonic Fingerprint Sensor||Face ID|
|Wireless charging||Yes, Fast Charging 2.0||Yes|
|Dimensions||157.6mm x 74.1mm x 7.8mm||157.5mm x 77.4mm x 7.7mm|
Software & Apps
The iPhone XS Max comes with iOS 12, which is the latest refinement of Apple's mobile operating system. It features a newer interface, optimised with gestures to overcome the lack of a home button, and generally delivers the experience that Apple users have grown so used to over the years.
This latest iteration brings features such as Siri shortcuts, grouped notifications, and a Screen Time app designed to help you reduce the number of hours spent staring into the iPhone.
Samsung has been making strong strides in improving the software that comes as standard on the Galaxy S range. This year is a big move forward thanks to One UI, a new, clean version of its Samsung Experience skin that seems a world away from the garish colours and over-elaborate features that TouchWiz once brought. Running on top of Android 9 Pie, it looks to be a formidable alliance.
We need to spend more time with the device to see how it stands up in day-to-day use, but the initial signs are very promising indeed.
Both of these devices are big in a number of ways: size, performance, and price. The iPhone XS Max is beautifully designed, packs great cameras, and speeds along without a stutter in sight.
Samsung's S10 Plus is still fresh out of the box, and needs further testing, but so far it seems to add more features in the right areas - cameras, storage, and software - while maintaining the quality for which the Galaxy S line is known. At these crazy price points, neither is a casual purchase, but there's no doubt you'll be getting a powerhouse device whichever route you take.