This week, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note 9, a high-end device that matches Apple's iPhone X on the most notable item on any spec sheet: price. With the Note 9, Samsung has laid its cards on the table; in a few weeks, Apple will counter with new iPhones, including — if the rumors hold — an iPhone X Plus that properly matches up with the Galaxy Note 9.
Here's a look at some of the key Galaxy Note 9 features and how they might compare to whatever Apple has up its sleeve for next month.
Big screens are in
For all the mockery that phablets like the Galaxy Note got in the early days, the moment Apple introduced a large-screen iPhone — the iPhone 6 Plus, back in 2014 — Apple saw huge sales jumps that exposed the pent-up demand from people who just wanted a bigger-screen model.
Rumors aside, it's logical that Apple would bring out a larger model of iPhone X now that the original version has a year of sales under its belt. While I expect that the iPhone X itself will get a nice feature boost this fall, it's the iPhone X Plus that would directly compete with the Galaxy Note 9.
According to a Bloomberg report, Apple plans a new 6.5-inch OLED phone with a screen in the vicinity of 2436 x 1125 pixels. That's a larger diagonal than the Note 9 has, albeit at a slightly lower screen resolution than the Samsung device's 2960 x 1440. That plus-sized iPhone would be at the same resolution as the iPhone X, so it pencils out.
The processor battle's already over
Samsung has focused on maximizing processor power under load with the "water carbon" cooling system in the Note 9, but the phone's Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 just can't compete with the A11 Bionic processor in the iPhone X, as Tom's Guide's initial tests show.
This fall's iPhones will presumably ship with the even-faster A12 processor. Designing its own processors gives Apple a big advantage, one that doesn't look to abate anytime soon.
The search for storage
The Galaxy Note 9 offers a maximum of 512GB of storage, twice what's offered in the highest-end iPhone X. (Apple does offer 512GB of storage in the iPad Pro.) It's hard to imagine a scenario in which Apple doesn't boost the top storage figure in the iPhone X Plus to 512GB, though it will undoubtedly cost a pretty penny for users to make that upgrade.
Samsung gets colorful
One of the most notable features of the Note 9 design is that it avoids traditional monochrome color styling; this new phone comes in hues of purple and blue. Back in the iMac and iPod days, Apple excelled at creating whimsical products with bright colors, but these days, the company puts out products that are almost entirely monochrome. The iPhone X's glass back is gorgeous, but you can get the phone in only black or white. The iPhone 8 has a little more variety — there's gold, silver, space gray and red — but that's it.
Will Apple finally crack and allow a little more color into the iPhone X after introducing that Product Red iPhone 8 this spring? I wouldn't put money on this happening, but I'd sure like to see it. Buying a colorful iPhone case is fun, but having a colorful phone is better.
Behold the S Pen
Samsung has included pen support with the Galaxy Note for years; it's basically a fundamental part of the product design. This year's Note 9 is no different, with an upgraded S Pen featuring Bluetooth connectivity.
After years in which the conventional wisdom — and statements from Steve Jobs — suggested that Apple would never build a stylus for a touch-screen device, the company released the Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro, seeing some success with the product. Earlier this year, Apple also introduced support for a lower-cost stylus, the Crayon, made by Logitech for the education market.
Will this be the year Apple finally accepts that some people want to write on their iPhones, too? If there was ever a time and a product for it, it's now, with the introduction of the iPhone X Plus. The existing Apple Pencil simply won't do — it's way too big for an iPhone — but Apple could introduce a smaller variant, perhaps using the simpler wireless technology included in the Logitech Crayon.
Wouldn't it be nice to sketch, or take notes, on a 6.5-inch iPhone with an OLED screen? I think so. The iOS apps are there to support this activity. It's up to Apple to build that technology in and embrace the pen just as it did the phablet.
Beyond the processor speed, the place Apple's most likely to beat Samsung is in the race to see who can charge the most. The iPhone X starts at $999, just like the Galaxy Note 9. It's hard to imagine that an iPhone X Plus wouldn't start at $1,099, and with an upgrade to 512GB of storage, you might be looking at a price at or above $1,300.
The average selling price of an iPhone is currently at the highest it's ever been, thanks to the iPhone X and the slightly boosted prices of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. Can Apple push the cost higher still? Some would argue that raising prices is what Apple does best.
For all of the media hype about the battle between the Galaxy Note and the iPhone, Samsung and Apple have the two largest and most loyal customer bases in the smartphone world. A slightly upgraded spec on an iPhone is unlikely to convince a Galaxy Note lover to switch brands, and vice versa.
Still, there's no denying that Samsung and Apple are fierce competitors, and Apple has made huge sales gains by pushing into terrain first explored by Samsung. If there is indeed an iPhone X Plus on the horizon, it will easily be the best competitor to the Galaxy Note yet.
Credit: Tom's Guide