The battle for the best smartphone used to be a one-horse race, but the gap between Apple and Samsung has closed fast. More and more, people are taking up a Galaxy instead of automatically deferring to an iPhone (although Apple's sales are still staggering). There are many reasons for this, including a perception that the feature-packed Samsung Galaxy line represents a better value for the money than the iPhone.
With this fall's releases of new iPhone and Galaxy models, we took a look at the iPhone vs. Galaxy question to see whether either brand is likely to be a cheaper buy and a better value over the long term. After comparing the purchase prices of the latest models and what they offer for the money, we also looked at the cost of ownership, factoring in apps, durability, and resale value.
iPhone vs. Galaxy: Hardware.The flagship models under each brand name have consistently been released at the same price point -- about $200 for a 16GB phone with a new two-year service contract on most carriers. The larger models, including the new iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4, generally cost an additional $100. The Samsung Galaxy S5 has been on the market long enough that it can be found for as little as $89.99 (with a Verizon Wireless contract). Last year's iPhone 5S has dropped to $99.99 with a 24-month contract.
Without a two-year commitment, the upfront price is higher, of course, although an argument can be made that opting for a subsidized phone under contract is more expensive in the long run. The iPhone 6 is selling for $649 contract-free. The sticker price of the Samsung Galaxy Alpha, which made its U.S. debut Sept. 26 on AT&T, is about $613. Verizon customers can buy the Galaxy S5 outright for about $600 (other carriers charge more). Among the flagship phones released within the past year, the iPhone 5S is the cheapest contract-free option, with a retail price of $549.99. The larger iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4 are priced at $749 and $699.99, respectively.
In the end the iPhone 5S may have the lowest non-contract price, but it's getting long in the tooth, and the Galaxy line is generally less expensive.
|Apple iPhone 6 Plus||September 2014||$299 and up||$749 and up|
|Apple iPhone 6||September 2014||$199 and up||$649 and up|
|Apple iPhone 5S||September 2013||$99.99 and up||$549.99 and up|
|Samsung Galaxy Note 4||October 2014||$299.99 and up||$699.99 and up|
|Samsung Galaxy Alpha||September 2014||$199.99 (AT&T only)||$612.99|
|Samsung Galaxy S5||April 2014||$89.99 and up||$599.99 and up|
Just as your mother told you, it's what's on the inside that counts. Between the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy S5, most experts agree the Galaxy is the clear winner. The camera, memory, processor, battery, and screen resolution of the S5 all beat out the iPhone 6 (which, in turn, surpasses the iPhone 5S). The Galaxy Alpha more closely aligns with the iPhone 6, however. The device has disappointed some reviewers with its low-res screen but has also traded the plastic of previous Galaxy models for a "beautiful" metal body. The new iPhone 6 and Galaxy Alpha share a screen size of 4.7 inches, larger than the previous iPhone 5S but still smaller than the 5.1-inch screen on the Galaxy S5. That's not necessarily a plus or a minus, however; some smartphone users prefer a smaller handset.
What about those who want a larger "phablet"? Like the Galaxy Alpha, the new Galaxy Note has shed its plastic case in favor of an Apple-esque metal frame. The iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5-inch screen, the largest of any Apple phone to date and just slightly smaller than the 5.7-inch screen on the Galaxy Note 4. However, the Note 4 has superior resolution and pixel density. And again, the Apple device falls behind when it comes to specs such as the memory and processor. CNET puts the two phones side by side, along with the LG G3, for a quick and easy lookover.
iPhone vs. Galaxy: Apps.Both the Google Play store (for Samsung Galaxy phones, which use Google's Android operating system) and the Apple App Store peddle more than 1.2 million apps. Frugal consumers may be looking for apps available for free, but a "free app" can easily cost you money. So-called freemium apps -- those that are free to download and use but offer in-app benefits for a price -- have led to lawsuits aimed at both Apple and Google by parents of children who have racked up hundreds of dollars in in-app purchases. Recently the European Commission asked both companies to remove the "free" label from apps that use this approach to make money. Given both app stores' obfuscation of the true, long-term costs associated with apps, it's hard to point a finger at either one as being more or less expensive.
iPhone vs. Galaxy: Durability.Already the new devices have gone through some durability testing by consumers and experts. SquareTrade, a third-party insurer, has conducted tests on the iPhone 5S, 6, and 6 Plus and the Galaxy S5. This involved dropping, sliding, and dunking the phones and assigning them "breakability scores" (the lower the number, the better). The Galaxy S5 scored the worst, with a 6.5; the iPhone 5S did marginally better, with a score of 6; the iPhone 6 earned a 4; and the iPhone 6 Plus received a 5. Apple isn't in the clear, however. Reports that a few consumers' svelte new iPhones bent while being carried in a pocket have brought on a PR headache for Apple.
Although Samsung's newest Galaxy devices haven't been subjected to similar tests yet, Engadget gives the Alpha a 9.3 out of 10 for durability based on expert reviews. Android Guys reports that Samsung designed the phone with rounded corners to provide better protection from damage if it's dropped and a grippy material on the back to keep the phone from slipping out of consumers' hands. The Galaxy Note 4 has a similar metal frame with a textured back to enhance users' grip.
Although the iPhones do better than the Galaxy S5 when it comes to durability testing, it's yet to be seen how widespread "bendgate" is and how the new metal-framed Samsung devices do in the hands of consumers.
iPhone vs. Galaxy: Resale Value.Neither an Apple iPhone nor a Samsung Galaxy is a true bargain buy, but you can reduce your losses by reselling the phone later. IPhones tend to hold their value extremely well across models. A 2013 survey of resale prices on eBay and a similar site in China showed that even the iPhone 4, three years after its release, held its value over a six-month period. Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S3 lost about a quarter of its resale value over the same period. An analyst cited in Forbes drew a similar conclusion after tracking resale prices in the U.S., China, India, and Brazil. The iPhone certainly seems to be the better pick when it comes to long-term resale value. In the first year of life, though, Android phones do tend to hold their value almost as well as iPhones, one reseller told CNET.
Final Recommendation.For consumers who like to keep a phone for only a year before replacing it with a newer model, the Galaxy product line offers better value. Buyers arguably get a technically superior phone at a slightly cheaper price with an equivalent lineup of apps and similar durability. On the other hand, because Galaxy devices lose more of their resale value over time, it makes sense to go with an iPhone if you expect to use the same device for several years before upgrading. Even if you spend a little extra upfront on a brand-new phone, you should come out ahead when you sell the device.
Winner for Now: Galaxy. Winner for the Long Haul: iPhone.