Welcome to the biggest smartphone battle of 2014. In the blue corner the Apple AAPL +0.05% iPhone 6 and in the red corner the Samsung Galaxy Alpha.
This isn’t the head-to-head many were anticipating. The four month old Galaxy S5 was expected to be the natural challenger, but following disappointing sales Samsung has had a rethink and the newly announced Alpha is a like-for-like metal handset which throws down the gauntlet to the heavily leaked iPhone 6 in every area.
So let’s break down these rivals ahead of what promises to be two of the biggest advertising campaigns in smartphone history.
Display: iPhone 6 4.7-inches – Galaxy Alpha 4.7-inches
For Apple the new iPhone represents a big step up in screen size from the 4-inch display seen since the iPhone 5 and an even bigger 5.5-inch model is expected to launch soon after. For Samsung the Alpha actually represents a step down from the 5.2-inch display on the Galaxy S5 and demonstrates how determined it is to make a phone which directly trades blows with the new iPhone.
But the first blows here will go to Apple. It’s widely reported 1704 x 960 pixel display creates a pixel density of 416ppi (pixels per inch) compared to the Alpha whose screen surprisingly is just 1280 x 720 pixels for a 320ppi.
Given how close both pixel densities are to Apple’s claim that a ‘Retina Display’ (the point where your eyes cannot distinguish individual pixels) starts at 326ppi it remains to be seen how much difference there will be in reality, but it is odd that Samsung has stepped down from the Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixel displays it has used in flagship phones for the last few years.
In turn Samsung will be hoping the head turning (though arguably garish) AMOLED technology it uses in the Alpha and S5 will be enough to catch the eye compared to Apple’s more subtle IPS screens.
Samsung Galaxy Alpha
Materials: iPhone 6 Metal and Sapphire – Galaxy Alpha Metal, Plastic And Gorilla Glass
The second blow Apple lands will be the materials of the iPhone 6. Samsung has taken direct cues from the HTC One M8 and the iPhone 6 in finally producing a phone which uses metal in its chassis, but this only extends to the edges while rear remains plastic and the screen is the familiar Corning GLW -0.15% Gorilla Glass 3.
By contrast the iPhone 6 will ditch its glass back in favour of an all metal chassis and the screen is heavily tipped to be sapphire-based. Doubts still remain after the ‘proof’ offered by several leaks was undermined, but if Apple does go with sapphire it is expected to be layered with glass. As such the durability may not be as indestructible as many hope but it should still represent a step up from Gorilla Glass 3.
Read more: iPhone 6 Sapphire Display: Everything You Need To Know
Alleged iPhone 6 fascia with sapphire display
Size and Weight
Despite this being one of the few aspects of the iPhone 6 not to leak, here Samsung appears to hold all the aces. At 0.26-inchs (6.7mm) thick the Galaxy Alpha is the slimmest mass market smartphone ever made and with a footprint of 5.21 x 2.58 inches (132.4 x 65.5mm) and weight of just 4.06 oz (115g) it should remain usable with one hand.
By contrast dummy units of the iPhone 6 have shown it to be almost the same footprint as the Samsung Galaxy S5 – 5.59 x 2.85 inches (142 x 72.5 mm) – despite the S5 packing a 5.2 inch display. This is due to Apple retaining thicker top and bottom bezels which add to the height. Meanwhile the only other all metal 4.7 inch handset is the HTC One M7 which tips the scales at 5.04 oz (143g). Apple should beat that as the iPhone 6 is also expected to be very thin, but it does look like one handed use will be tough for most.
Samsung-Galaxy-Alpha-3Power: iPhone 6 Apple A8 Chipset – Galaxy Alpha Exynos 5 Octa 5430
Here both handsets should be a real treat. The power of the A8 remains unknown, but Apple has doubled the power of its A series of ARM-based chips with each generation so the dual-core 1.3GHz CPU and quad-core GPU in the already fast iPhone 5S A7 chipset should see major gains and there is also talk of a step up to 2GB of RAM.
But the Galaxy Alpha should be able to match anything the iPhone 6 throws at it. The Alpha will come with 2GB of RAM and Samsung’s own Exynos 5 Octa 5430 chipset which the company claims will outpace the Snapdragon 805, ARM’s latest and greatest chip which is expected to appear in the Galaxy Note 4 and Nexus 6.
For reference the Snapdragon 800 chipset was seen to be largely on a par with Apple’s A7 and since then the 801 has added more power and battery optimisation while the 805 is a major leap forward in both.
Sony Exmor IMX220 sensor
Camera: iPhone 6 13 Megapixels – Galaxy Alpha 12 Megapixels
Megapixels a poor guide to camera quality, but it is noticeable that Apple is set to step up from the 8 megapixel lens in the last three iPhones reportedly to Sony ’s 13 megapixel Exmor IMX220 camera sensor. This makes sense given previous iPhones have all used previous generations of this Sony line and it brings a 1/2.3′ sensor which would be a notable jump from the 1/3.2” sensor in the iPhone 5S. Video recording will remain at 1080p while optical image stabilisation (OIS) is expected to be exclusive to the monstrous 5.5-inch iPhone 6 variant.
As for the Galaxy Alpha, Samsung has curiously taken a step down to 12 megapixels from the 16 megapixel sensor in the Galaxy S5. The sensor has yet to be revealed and while it also lacks OIS it offers real-time HDR (High Dynamic Range) so you can see the light balancing on the screen before taking a photo. Samsung has also fitted the Alpha with a selfie-friendly 2.1 megapixel front facing camera, something Apple should match.
ios-7-charging-featuredMemory: iPhone 6 Up to 64GB – Galaxy Alpha 32GB
Rumours once suggested the iPhone 6 would be the first 128GB smartphone, but having seen those dry up I will stick to what we know: up to 64GB of non-expandable storage is guaranteed. Consequently the Galaxy Alpha has two surprises in stock: neither of them good.
The first is that the handset does not have a 64GB version (at least not yet) and second is Samsung has ditched the microSD expansion slot that almost every Galaxy smartphone (and certainly every high end Galaxy smartphone) ships with. The logic may be to mimic Apple and keep storage options simple, but it could be a potential deal breaker for some.
Battery Life: iPhone 6 1800mAh – Galaxy Alpha 1860mAh
Like megapixels, battery capacities don’t tell the whole story but here the handsets appear to be very well matched. It has been suggested the iPhone 6 may see a last minute bump to a 2100mAh battery, but regardless Apple will be leaning heavily on the efficiency of the A8 chip and iOS 8 to compensate for the larger screen and its higher resolution. Apple will need to produce some magic here as the iPhone 5S has mediocre battery life at best and that sported a 1560mAh battery.
It is a similar story for Samsung. The 1860mAh battery in the Alpha is a big drop from the 2800mAh battery in the S5, but Samsung will also hope the greater efficiencies in its Exynos 5 Octa 5430 chip make a difference. Where it may hold an advantage, however, is the 720p screen as driving less pixels greatly lessens the workload and may explain Samsung’s decision to shy away from 1080p. If Samsung can significantly top the iPhone 6’s battery life few may care about the lost pixels.
Read more: New iPhone 6 Leak Reveals Weak Battery
Miscellaneous: Sensor overload
Both handsets will pack fingerprint sensors (though the iPhone 5S has shown slicker integration compared to the S5) while the Galaxy Alpha will carry over the heart rate sensor seen in the Galaxy S5. With fitness having played a major part in Samsung’s Galaxy S5 software, the same will again happen here and with Apple HealthKit formally launching with the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 this will be a major battle ground for these handsets.
That said the Galaxy Alpha loses the S5’s water resistant coating and no leaks have indicated the iPhone 6 will have it either so while both handsets have tough exteriors they won’t be happy being used in the rain.
iPhone 5S current pricing
iPhone 5S current pricing
Release Date And Price
Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 6 on September 9th while Samsung has signalled its deliberate clash by confirming the Galaxy Alpha will go on sale in ‘early September’. Given the potential for a small gap between announcement and release this may give the Alpha a slight head start.
While the cost for the iPhone 6 remains unknown, Apple is famed for releasing each new iPhone at roughly the same price point as the last. That should mean from $199 on contract and $649 contract-free. Samsung has yet to reveal the cost of the Alpha, but it would be surprising if the company doesn’t try to marginally undercut this.
It is widely reported that the iPhone 6 launch will be the largest in Apple history with 50-60 million units expected to be sold before the end of the year. As such I’d expect the iPhone 6 to easily outsell the Galaxy Alpha, even though these figures will include the larger 5.5-inch iPhone 6.
Then again that isn’t really the point. The point is for years now Apple rivals have been wasting their opportunity to meet the iPhone 6 head-on. So called ‘mini’ handsets have been of a similar size to the iPhone 6, but come in at midrange prices often with lower midrange components. A trend only bucked by Sony and its relatively unknown Xperia Compact series.
With Samsung finally stepping up to the plate, however, this depressing trend looks to be coming to an end. Apple knows the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 will already face a tough fight and now it can expect one in the 4.7-inch bracket as well.
The smartphone war just got even tougher and that’s good news for all of us.