Samsung Galaxy Note 10 vs iPhone XS Max

Where is your money best spent when it comes to these giant smartphones?

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 vs iPhone XS Max
(Image credit: Samsung / Apple)

With the iPhone XS Max launched last September and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 now imminent, it makes sense to compare these two super-sized phones from two of the biggest names in the smartphone business – which handset ends up coming out on top?

Apple and Samsung continue to go head-to-head at the premium end of the phone market, and these are the biggest and priciest phones that they have to offer, so it makes sense for us to compare them in key areas such as design, features and internal specs.

It's worth remembering that the Galaxy Note 10 is going to be joined by the Galaxy Note 10+ when it's eventually unveiled – the "plus" model offers a bigger screen and a camera upgrade,  though the internal CPU and most key features are the same on both phones.

In the comparisons below we're going to focus on the standard Samsung Galaxy Note 10 but do bear in mind the more expensive, larger Galaxy Note 10+ when you're making your deliberations – it might end up being the best phone for you out of all three handsets.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 vs iPhone XS Max: design

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 leak

(Image credit: Samsung)

We're talking about two very impressive slabs of glass and metal here: the Galaxy Note 10 and the iPhone XS Max are both irresistibly premium, and are both likely to turn heads if you pull them out of your pocket while family and friends are around. Both give you plenty of screen space for movies, websites and anything else, too.

The Samsung phone is the slightly smaller of the two, based on the leaks we've seen so far, with a 6.3-inch AMOLED screen on the Galaxy Note 10 (with a 1,440 x 3,040 pixel resolution screen, apparently). There's a very small cut out notch up at the top of the display, rather than the chunky notch that the iPhone XS Max goes for, and on balance we'd have to say we prefer the look of the Samsung handset overall.

Not that the iPhone XS Max is particularly ugly or anything – it sports a 6.5-inch, 1,242 x 2,688 pixel OLED screen, and does an impressive job of keeping the bezels down to a sliver on every part of the phone except where the notch is. It's also worth noting that you can pick up the iPhone XS Max in grey, black or gold. It looks very similar to the iPhone X from 2017, so we'd expect a bigger design refresh this year.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 vs iPhone XS Max: specs

iPhone XS Max

(Image credit: Future)

As with the design, so with the specs – these phones are both very evenly matched, and neither is going to let you down in the performance department. Whatever apps you're running, whatever tasks you're doing, these two handsets are going to be able to cope with everything and then some, and that'll be the case for a number of years, too.

Based on leaks, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 comes with a Snapdragon 855 or Exynos 9825 chip inside for keeping everything running, depending on where in the world you live. That is apparently going to be paired with 6GB of RAM and 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of internal storage. Around the back there's talk of a triple-lens rear camera for snapping all those precious memories on the go.

The chip inside the iPhone XS Max is the Apple A12 Bionic, which is likely to be upgraded again with the 2019 iPhones. You also get 4GB of RAM and 64GB, 256GB or 512GB of storage space. It's no slouch in the  camera department either, with a dual-lens 12MP+12MP camera on the rear. It's very hard to separate these two phones in terms of specs, but the Samsung phone might just have the edge.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 vs iPhone XS Max: features

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 leak

(Image credit: @OnLeaks / @91mobiles)

One of the major differences between these two flagship phones is the S Pen stylus that accompanies the Galaxy Note 10. It enables you to do all kinds of cool tricks, like take down handwritten notes on the lock screen, or operate the camera remotely. It means the Note 10 can be seen as more of a productivity workhorse.

And let's not forget the Android vs iOS debate: both excellent mobile operating systems but both rather different in the way they work and feel. Which one you prefer is likely to be the one you're most used to, but we can say that Samsung's One UI skin is one of the better third-party takes on Android out there at the moment.

Otherwise it's a very similar story in terms of features: both phones offer IP68 waterproofing, both phones let you make mobile payments, both phones offer wireless charging if you need it, and so on. The Galaxy Note 10 is rumoured to be including a memory card slot for expanding the available internal storage though, something the iPhone XS Max doesn't have.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 vs iPhone XS Max: verdict

iPhone XS Max

(Image credit: Apple)

With these phones so well matched – oodles of power, fantastic design – one way to approach the question of  which one is best for you is to think about whether you prefer using Android or iOS as a day-to-day OS. Another consideration is whether you'd make much use of the S Pen stylus that comes with the Samsung phone.

We're still waiting for the Note 10 to officially launch at the time of writing, which means we can't be too specific about how well the camera takes photos or how long the battery lasts. However, we don't expect there to be huge differences in any of these key areas when it comes to the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 vs the iPhone XS Max.

Both phones will rip through any task you set them, take fantastic-looking photos (most of the time), and last you a day between charges. It really comes down to the software (or manufacturer) you're most comfortable with, and perhaps the size of screen that best fits your hands (and pockets).

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.