The Samsung Galaxy S versus the Apple iPhone. It’s a battle as old as time itself, as long as you don’t count every year before 2010. These the two highest-end phones from by far the two most popular phone makers in the world, and despite the many outstanding competitors that arrive each year, millions of shoppers end up whittling their choices down to one or the other. For better or worse, Samsung and Apple’s respective flagships are largely going to be judged in light of each other, and oftentimes only each other.
At the risk of contributing to this borderline duopoly, we’re going to compare these two rivals again. Apple’s iPhone 6 juggernaut has been out and about for almost seven months, but with Samsung’s newest attraction, the Galaxy S6, now approaching its usual spring release date, we’re finally able to stack the two side by side. And thanks to the drastic changes to the latest Galaxy’s hardware, various gaps in quality that used to exist between the two now appear to have been closed, making any choice between the two that much more difficult.
Still, we’re not going to tell you which one is better here – the Galaxy S6 only just launched, and in general that’s an argument that usually comes down to personal preference. But we can present some info, based on the phones’ spec sheets and things we’ve found in our own testing, that’ll make any choice you’re facing a better understood one. So with one last futile reminder that these aren’t the only two phones in the world, here’s the tale of the tape for the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Apple iPhone 6.
Up until a couple of months ago, build quality was a box you could dependably check in Apple’s favor. Every year a new Galaxy S would arrive, and every year Samsung would aim for function over fashion. Its phones have long been powerful, well-proportioned, and relatively lightweight, but in the process they’ve often turned up as boring rectangles made of cheap-feeling (and occasionally silly) plastic. The iPhone, with its cleaner lines and affinity for aluminum, has always come off as the statelier, more mature device.
That’s no longer the case. Or at least, the once obvious chasm between the two has been reduced to a few small cracks. The iPhone 6 is an evolution from its predecessors, jumping up in overall size, rounding out its sides, and coating itself entirely in aluminum. It still has that innate look and feel of an iPhone, though, which is to say that it’s still a gorgeous piece of hardware.
The Galaxy S6, meanwhile, is a wholesale revamp of any Galaxy S device that’s come before it. There were hints of Samsung’s aesthetic alterations in its Galaxy Alpha offshoot, but the S6 is an even bigger leap than that phone suggested. While the design language of its front isn’t much changed, all the plastic that plagued past Galaxy devices has been erased, replaced by aluminum sides and a plate of Gorilla Glass 4 on its back. It’s nothing revolutionary in the wider smartphone market, but it’s a landmark moment for Samsung, and the first flagship it’s made in years that doesn’t come off as cheaper than its asking price.
It also looks kind of sort of looks like the iPhone. Most major smartphones share similar design points these days, but the overall shape of the Galaxy S6—along with little details like its speaker grilles, antennas, and port placement—make the device resemble its biggest competitor more than anything else. It’s foolish to claim that Samsung has “copied” Apple here, but all of this is say that anyone who once favored the iPhone 6 for its design may not feel too out of place with the Galaxy S6.
These two share plenty of traits that aren’t as curious, though. Both are exceptionally thin, for instance, with the Galaxy S6 measuring 6.8mm at its slimmest, and the iPhone 6 coming in just a hair thicker at 6.9mm. The S6 is larger than the iPhone on the whole–the former is 143mm tall and 71mm wide, while the latter is 138mm tall and 67mm wide–but that’s only due to its more spacious display (which we’ll get to in a sec). Similarly, the S6 (at 138g) is a tad heavier than the iPhone (at 129g). We have to judge these phones relative to their respective sizes, though, and in that sense both devices get a great deal out of their available space without burdening your hands.
Finally, both the Galaxy S6 and iPhone 6 come in a variety of colors. For those who want their S6 to feel slightly more personalized, Samsung will offer the device in black, white, gold, and blue. Apple, on the other hands, offers the iPhone 6 in its usual slate of silver, “space gray,” and gold. One minor thing to note here is that these colors only apply to the back of each iPhone—the front will always be black or white–whereas the Galaxy S6’s paint jobs take effect on both sides.
As previously mentioned, this year’s Galaxy S continues to dwarf the iPhone in terms of display size. The iPhone 6’s 4.7-inch panel is a marked jump from the iPhone 5s’ 4-inch counterpart—largely because Apple wanted to keep up with the big screen craze Samsung helped popularize—but it’s not as roomy as the Galaxy S6’s 5.1-inch screen. Bigger doesn’t mean better when it comes to smartphone displays, but the S6 provides more room for texting, gaming, and viewing media.
Both screens are sharp, but the S6’s super high 1440 x 2560 (or “Quad HD”) resolution equates to a comically large pixel density of 577 pixels per inch. That keeps the panel eternally crisp—and it should make the S6 play nicer with Samsung’s Gear VR virtual reality headset—but it also goes well beyond the point where the human eye can discern individual pixels on a screen this size. Still, there’s a certain comfort in having this sort of overkill.
The 750 x 1334 resolution of the iPhone 6’s display sounds much more modest by comparison, and with a pixel density of 326 ppi—the same as 2010’s iPhone 4—it’s never going to be as crisp as the S6’s screen. Again, though, the spec sheet can be deceiving. You’ll be able to see pixels here if you strain your eyes hard enough, but with ordinary use, you’ll have a hard time finding any obvious dips in sharpness. Apple’s been efficient in this regard.
Samsung and Apple continue to employ different types of display technology, which both have their unique benefits and deficiencies. The Galaxy S6’s Super AMOLED panel should bring especially luscious colors, while the iPhone 6’s IPS LCD display should have a slight advantage in brightness.
In all honesty, it’ll be hard to go wrong with either screen here: The S6 will be sharper, sure, but display quality has been one trait that both of these manufacturers have excelled in over the years, and so far we’ve seen nothing to suggest that’ll be any different going forward. Viewing angles, contrast ratios, touch sensitivity, outdoor visibility, general color accuracy—it’s all fantastic on the iPhone 6, and it looks like it’ll largely be the same on the Galaxy S6. We’ll confirm or deny these hunches once our Galaxy S6 review goes live in the coming days.
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