Smartphone or laptop upgrade time? Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung are all pitching for your festive dollars

With a new range of flagship smartphones and laptops to choose from, here's a guide to what's on offer.

It’s been a busy time for tech giants in the run-up to Christmas, with Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung all making major product announcements. If you’re hunting for a new smartphone or laptop, there’s a new range of flagship models to choose from. Here’s a guide to what’s on offer.

It’s been a busy time for tech giants in the run-up to Christmas, with Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung all making major product announcements. Therefore, if you’re hunting for a new smartphone or laptop, there’s a new range of flagship models to choose from. Here’s a guide to what’s on offer.

New iPhones

With last year’s iPhone X, Apple departed from its traditional smartphone design. In particular, the X offered a significantly larger (5.8-inch) display but with narrow bezels surrounding the screen, along with stylistic changes and several advanced new features such as facial recognition. 

Its recently announced successor, the iPhone XS, offers similar specifications to the X, but with a processor upgrade, Apple’s new A11 chip, along with a host of tweaks. These result in improved performance, battery life, waterproofing, and screen and photo quality. However, it’s also even more expensive than the iPhone X, with a hefty starting price of A$1629.

A new model, the iPhone XS Max, is much the same as the XS but with an even bigger 6.5-inch screen.

A new model, the iPhone XS Max, is much the same as the XS but with an even bigger 6.5-inch screen. You will also pay more, with prices starting at A$1799. Contract pricing isn’t cheap either, from A$90 per month for the XS or A$105 for the XS Max (with 4GB of data from Optus). 

In either case, you will be getting Apple’s best smartphone yet, but if they’re too rich for you, Apple has launched another new model, the iPhone XR, for a more reasonable A$1229. It actually has a larger display than the XS, at 6.1 inches, although the resolution and other screen specifications are inferior.

There are a few other fairly minor compromises, such as the camera and lower waterproofing specification, but the XR is still a very good smartphone – and for many possibly better value than the XS and XS Max.

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Google Pixel 3

Google’s new Pixel 3 offers a design upgrade over last year’s Pixel 2, with a larger (5.5-inch) and improved screen in a handset that’s around the same overall size as the
previous model. Google has done this with ultra-thin bezels, bringing it into line with other 2018 flagship phones. The 6.3-inch Pixel 3 XL has received a similar makeover.

The Google Pixel 3The new handsets have a new processor (Snapdragon 845), bigger batteries and now support wireless charging. But the main updates are to the software. They run Google’s latest mobile operating system, Android 9 (“Pie”) and upgraded camera software with artificial intelligence that improves low-light shots and automatically picks the best photo from a burst.

Best of all, Google has kept pricing to a more reasonable level than rivals Apple and Samsung: from A$1199 for the Pixel 3 and A$1340 for the 3 XL. Optus’s 4GB plan costs A$68 per month with the Pixel 3 and A$78 for the 3 XL.

Galaxy Note 9

Samsung’s latest flagship business phone, the Galaxy Note 9, has had several upgrades, including a slightly larger (6.4-inch) screen, improved camera and the new Snapdragon 845 processor. It now offers a minimum 128GB storage. 

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9That’s twice the minimum storage of the iPhone XS and Pixel 3 – and, unlike those two competitors, it can be expanded with a microSD card. It also has a headphone jack, which the Apple and Google phones lack.

One interesting addition is to the S Pen, which now has Bluetooth. As well as being a stylus, it can be used as a remote control for the phone; taking photos and adjusting volume, for example.

However, the big upgrade is to the battery. Samsung took a conservative approach with the Note 8 after the Note 7’s overheating disaster, but the latest handset’s battery is much bigger and lasts longer, without any of the problems of the Note 7.

Not surprisingly, the Note 9 is expensive – priced from A$1499 outright or A$95 per month from Optus (although currently with an impressive 50GB of monthly data). 

New Microsoft Surfaces

The Surface Laptop 2Meanwhile, Microsoft has released a few upgrades to its Surface range, which comprises the Surface Pro 6 convertible, Surface Laptop 2 and Surface Studio 2 desktop computer. All are rather incremental updates, with the improvements mainly inside the box.

For the Surface Pro 6 and Laptop 2, that means new eighthgeneration Intel processors, either a Core i5 or i7. It’s the first Surface Pro to have a quad-core processor, and therefore offers significantly better performance than an equivalent previous model. 

The Surface Laptop 2 starts at A$1499 and the Surface Pro 6 at A$1349. Unfortunately, the Surface Pro’s keyboard type cover is still an extra A$199.95. 

The Surface Pro 6For those on a tighter budget, Microsoft recently launched a new convertible tablet, the Surface Go. Its specifications are modest compared to the Surface Pro: 10-inch screen, entry-level Intel Pentium Gold processor, and either 64GB or 128GB storage. However, it’s significantly lighter (at just 522g) and cheaper (from A$599), although again the type cover is extra.

The Studio 2, meanwhile, offers an improved 28-inch display and faster processor and graphics. It’s still very much aimed at creative professionals, with pricing starting at A$5499.

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