We recently set out to find the best phones for people whose primary usage revolves around social media apps like Facebook and Instagram. Samsung, Apple, and Google were the three brands that made our top five, and while the latter only had one finalist, the two bigger OEMs had a pair of phones each. What struck us, however, was that Samsung's phones edged out Apple's not once, but twice.
Let me be clear here: The two Apple phones that made our list are excellent choices for social media. They offer great performance on all social media apps, especially Snapchat (more on that later), and have excellent cameras for both photos and videos. However, the two entries from Samsung offer more. Both provide extra features which improve the overall experience and help you get the most out of your favorite social media apps. And while Samsung isn't perfect, based on our testing, they are the social media phone of choice.
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The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is one of the most complete phones ever released. After the 2016 fiasco with the Galaxy Note 7, Samsung was conservative with its successor, the Note 8, as they tried to regain the trust of the public and correct any issues they may have missed.
After a year without issues, Samsung once again pushed the limits of fitting the best technology available into one phone package, a hallmark of the Galaxy Note brand. The result is this year's Note 9, and it's because of the phone's completeness that it excels in many areas, including those that appeal most to social media users and influencers.
It starts with the camera system. Both rear cameras have optical image stabilization, making low-light photography much better and shaky videos a thing of the past. The prominent new feature of this year's camera is the variable aperture, which changes the diameter of the camera opening to adjust for different lighting scenarios. The primary camera will automatically switch between apertures of either f/1.5 or f/2.4, depending the situation. While the front camera has a fixed aperture, it's the widest of any mainstream phone at f/1.7.
Speaking of video, have you seen those epic super slow-motion videos on social media? More than likely, they were taken with a Samsung device. All three of Samsung's latest flagship phones include support for super-slow-motion video (960 fps at 720p). The rest of the competition is limited to 240 fps at 1080p, which the Note 9 can also do if you'd prefer higher resolution.
As you know, a great camera is nothing without adequate storage. With the Galaxy Note 9, you can have up to an unprecedented 1 TB worth of storage. You need the 512 GB variant and a 512 GB microSD card to accomplish this, but the result is enough disk space to put many laptops to shame. And, as bigger microSD cards come out, the Galaxy Note 9 will be able to take advantage, with support for up to 2 TB microSD cards.
Then there is Dual Messenger. With this feature enabled, you can clone a social media app and sign in to each instance of the app with a different account, thus allowing you to receive notifications for each account at the same time. And this feature is built into the Samsung Experience UI, so no jailbreaking or rooting is required.
It's this combination of features that allowed the Galaxy Note 9 to top Apple's best offering, the iPhone XS Max. But Samsung's domination doesn't stop there. Both Samsung and Apple managed to have two phones on our list, and it's with the second phone's performance that we find Samsung is the OEM of choice for social media users.
Ranked third on our list was the Samsung Galaxy S9+. This device was a later entry in our testing, as it's the oldest phone on our list (it's been 10 months since release). But after going through our testing, we realized just how good of a phone it was thanks to its similarities to the Galaxy Note 9. And while the iPhone XR is amazing choice for social media users, when compared to the S9+, it's really not close.
If you love the Galaxy Note 9, the Galaxy S9+ is virtually the same device, but cheaper. The screen's a bit smaller, the camera a tiny bit worse, the battery is a bit smaller, and there's no stylus — that pretty much sums up the differences between these two phones. But none of these shortcomings hinder your experience on Instagram, for example, if you decide to choose the Galaxy S9+ over the Galaxy Note 9. The latter is better, but not by much.
It has the same camera on paper as the Galaxy Note 9, with dual 12 MP rear cameras and an 8 MP front-facing camera. It supports the same super-slow-motion video and variable aperture as well. However, as DxOMark's testing shows, it doesn't perform quite as well in real-world situations, managing a score 3 points lower in both photo and video when compared to the Galaxy Note 9.
With all the photos you'll be taking for social media, you might keep some on a cloud storage service like Google Photos. If you want to upload any of these photos to, say, Facebook, iPhones require you to open the cloud storage app first, then share your photos to the Facebook app from there. However, Android devices like the Note 9 and S9+ let you access the cloud services directly while in the social media app, saving you time and unnecessary touches.
Samsung phones also make sure you get to every notification as soon as they arrive. Thanks to the Always-on Display feature, you don't even have to wake your phone to check for new alerts — your display will remain on even after you turn off the screen. To conserve battery, it will turn off all but a few pixels where it will display relevant information such as the time, date, and any new notifications. And thanks to its OLED display, this feature has a minimal impact on the battery.
Both Galaxy phones also have a notification LED. This light will blink various colors whenever an alert arrives, which you can customize to your liking. This way, even when your phone's on silent or you happen not to feel the vibration, you can instantly see the blinking light and know that a new notification has hit your feed. And best of all, for those who prefer a small smartphone, you can use the Samsung Galaxy S9 with its smaller overall body, and nearly all of the same specs as its bigger counterpart.
Snapchat is objectively worse on Android. The sixth most popular social media app (as of July 2018) has cut some corners on the Android operating system, and the result was a laggy and slow app which took awful pictures. Snapchat took their first big step to fix this with an overhaul of the app in 2018, but it didn't fix all the problems.
Previously, Snapchat decided it was easier to use screengrabs of the viewfinder than to use the camera hardware to take photos. The reason being was since Android has so much variability (such as users running older software, various screen sizes, etc.), instead of trying to optimize the app for all the different types of phones, they could use the screengrabs which would work on all phones. As a result, pictures were pretty terrible, and many Android users left the platform.
To fix the problem, Snapchat "upgraded" to Camera1 API to start using the camera modules on phones and improve picture quality. But this API was last updated in 2008 and has been replaced with Camera 2 API on almost all current Android devices. So while we welcome the change, it still not as good as it needs to be.
I say all this to let you know that while we agree Snapchat is still worse on Samsung phones than on iPhones, it is getting better. And while Snapchat's popularity is undeniable, it is an outlier and doesn't define Samsung's performance on the other social media apps.
All three current flagship Samsung devices (S9, S9+, and Note 9) will provide you the best experience on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and much more. Notifications will not be missed thanks to the Always-on Display and notification LED. Both phones let you take great photos and have more than enough storage for ones which don't "make the cut." And both will let you share from both the internal storage and cloud storage, right from the app.
What do you think about Samsung devices topping our list? Have you considered switching to a Galaxy Note 9 or Galaxy S9+? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
This article was produced during Gadget Hacks' special coverage on becoming a social media expert on your phone. Check out the whole Social Media series.