Battle Lines Have Been Drawn
We Trick Out an M&P9 and Glock 17 Gen3 to See How They Compare
By David Merrill
When the Smith & Wesson M&P was first released, the comparisons to Glock immediately started rolling out. While there have been other so-called “plastic fantastics,” the M&P was the first that actually seemed capable of dethroning Glock from the top of the pile. Adding to the noise of Glock versus 1911 and .45 ACP versus 9mm, soon came Glock versus M&P.
This isn’t your typical A versus B piece. Sure, we’ll look at the raw handguns themselves, as it provides a solid baseline, but we’ll also have a gander at the aftermarket for some solid solutions to potential drawbacks and possible deal breakers. Today we’ll cover three different levels of modifications for each type of pistol: OEM, enhanced, and advanced.
To that end, we obtained an example of each handgun, a fullsize 9mm version of each. A Glock 17 Gen3 was chosen over a Gen4 not only because a Gen3 is still easy to obtain, but also because the vast majority of aftermarket parts are tailor-made for that popular series. A large-frame M&P 9mm was chosen as the rival. Since the Glock doesn’t have a magazine or thumb safety, we configured the M&P similarly.
When considering either pistol, the word utilitarian first comes to mind. Initially, that sounds OK, but it also conjures images of concrete Soviet-bloc housing and Toyota Corollas. If you just want a place to lay your head at night or something to make quick jaunts to the grocery store, that’s fine. But of course, we want to go further.
Out of the box, it’s considerably easier to talk about differences than similarities. The M&P ships standard with different backstraps to accommodate for hand sizes, whereas Glock didn’t release the same, perhaps in a reactionary manner, until their latest Generation 4 variants. While both can be burned with soldering irons or otherwise modified, with the S&W having the edge on grip, neither is particularly aggressive.
The same goes for the swappable magazine release, though with small hands the M&P release tends to be easier to engage with your dominant hand without breaking your master grip. S&W has a truly ambidextrous slide stop/release, though if the photos are to be believed, we’ll soon see the same from the next Glock offering.
Neither will win awards for the basic factory sights. The M&P sights are better than the plastic pieces lovingly referred to as “dovetail protectors” found on the Glock, but that’s a bit like saying Carrot Top is less obnoxious than Pauly Shore.
The triggers are much of the same, but in the opposite direction. We’re not even upset that S&W managed to have a longer pull with more creep than a Glock — we’re impressed at the feat. Of course, higher-end models of both can be had with better. Measured on an actual trigger scale, the M&P weighed in with an average of 7 pounds, 5.7 ounces; the Glock at 5 pounds, 13 ounces. Despite the weight difference, my split times on the range were similar at 0.22 seconds between shots. No, I’m not winning any championships anytime soon. Overall impression: utilitarian.
In an effort to correct some of these woes we turn to the aftermarket, which in this case means Brownells. It’s no surprise that we address the same downsides of each pistol: sights, trigger, grip, and controls. We consider addressing these first as near-mandatory upgrades in most circumstances. Here's the parts breakdown for each:
S&W M&P: 2 Apex Tactical Aluminum AEK Trigger 5 21st Century Gunfighter Catalyst Extended Magazine Release 7 Trijicon HD Night Sights 10 Brownells Insta-Grip Tape
Glock: 2 ZEV 3.5-pound trigger bar 5 TangoDown Vickers Extended Magazine Release 7 Trijicon HD Night Sights 10 A-Zone Gear Grip Tape 13 Aro-Tek Extended Slide Release
If you want two grown men to argue like children, the easiest way is to find a woman they’re both attracted to and add her to the mix. The immediate runner-up would be to ask them about preferences in pistol sights. The minutiae between fiber optic, tritium, adjustable, fixed, thin front sights, etc., can work people into a tizzy. Though the S&W is newer than the Glock, it’s been around long enough that you can probably get whatever sights you prefer. I happen to like Trijicon HD sights, so both guns are wearing them.
Regarding controls, there was a bit less needed on the S&W side of things. Their foresight from the factory is apparent. If you like an aggressive texture, grip tape makes for an easy job of it. If you plan to carry either pistol, you might want to put grip tape on just the off-body side, as to avoid sanding yourself down or wearing holes in your undershirts as you go about your day. Just be sure you install your preferred grip module on the S&W before applying the grip tape.
The triggers showed the biggest improvement here. If you’re a “just keep it stock for reliability” person, feel free to opt out. However, with both guns there are combinations that are proven to be reliable. The Apex AEK completely changed the feel of the M&P trigger; once you try it, you might never turn back.
The pull was shortened a bit, smoothed tremendously, and reduced to 5 pounds, 7 ounces, though it subjectively feels much lighter. At the range, splits improved to 0.16 seconds, standing out as the largest single enhancement of any item shown here. Be advised that working on the M&P trigger can be quite frustrating when compared to the simplicity of the Glock. Thankfully Apex has a good series of installation and troubleshooting videos.
The simplest solution with the Glock was installing a ZEV connector. It didn’t give the same dramatic change as the AEK on the M&P, but did result in an incremental upgrade to a 5-pound, 3-ounce pull and 0.18 second splits. Of course, you can do more if you start swapping springs and such — which is what the advanced scenario is all about.
We’re not just going a little further here, we’re running all the way down the road in this section. As in, make-your-friendsuncomfortable down the road. We’re going to push it as far as we can go without having to rely on custom work. Match triggers, threaded barrels, optics, and more — yes sir. This is also where the more robust aftermarket of the Generation 3 Glock shines the most. But as you’ll see, all is not lost for the M&P. Here’s the parts breakdown for each:
Glock 2 ZEV Trigger Springs 3 Agency Arms Flat Trigger 4 ZEV Threaded Barrel 6 Brownells/Taran Tactical Magazine Extension 8 Trijicon RMR06 9 Raven Concealment Freya Magwell 11 ZEV Dragonfly Slide
S&W M&P: 3 Apex Tactical Red Flat Face Forward Set Trigger 4 AAC Threaded Barrel 6 Brownells/Taran Tactical Magazine Extension 8 Vortex Viper Reflex Sight 9 Burris FastFire M&P Mount
Yes, we replaces the entire upper half of the Glock. The fact that this form of aftermarket support exists for the Glock and not the M&P shouldn’t be taken outright as a slight against the S&W. Aside from Glock being around for decades longer, it also perhaps demonstrates S&W being more proactive about anticipating their own aftermarket — interchangeable grips, ambi controls, and let’s not forget the M&P C.O.R.E. that was released well before the Glock MOS. Had Glock released the MOS several years ago, the pool of aftermarket optics-ready Glock slides would likely be smaller.
We’re fans of handguns with red dots, though it’s easy to spend as much on the optic itself as the base handgun. The same could be said for rifles, as well, though not everyone finds this juice worth the squeeze. Certainly an optic that mounts in the rear sight’s dovetail is less than ideal. As far as sight acquisition goes, the slightly higher height over bore can be surmounted with a little trigger time. However, cowitnessing iron sights is a non-starter with this setup. In general, with a slide-mounted optic it’s best for the optic to be recessed into the slide itself.
The ZEV Dragonfly comes straight from Brownells ready to go with ZEV internals and plain sights, all hot and ready for you to drop in a barrel and an RMR.
If you’ll be running a suppressor or muzzle device of some kind, a threaded barrel is mandatory. Additionally, you may be able to eke out extra accuracy if you decide to roll with a match barrel, though some fitting may be required. Those shooting lead reloads will probably enjoy the non-polygonal nature of the rifling as well. Brownells/Taran Tactical extensions give you more projectiles for the party. 23+1 rounds of 9mm isn’t anything to turn your nose up at. Unlike many other magazine extensions, the Brownells variety comes with replacement springs and has a locking mechanism so it’s exceedingly hard to lose by accident. Admittedly, we may have enjoyed the schadenfreude in the past from watching someone’s magazine spill rounds everywhere when their extensions failed.
Flat-faced triggers may take some getting used to for some and are a joy for others, and both the Apex and Agency rock wide, flat faces. Whenever you stack non-OEM parts on top of non-OEM parts, you can start running into problems. Part of the reason these particular trigger parts fall under the advanced section is that you should probably know what the hell you’re doing before you just start replacing one part after another. And if you weren’t good at swapping out fire control parts before you start ... you’ll either get good at it, or have an awfully hard time with it.
The Apex Red Flat-Faced trigger is designed to work with Apex’s Forward Set Sear; it just doesn’t play well with the factory sear. Thankfully, Brownells sells these as a matched set. It also should be noted that at the time of this writing the red version is only available from Brownells. Put in the time on the bench, and you’re rewarded with minimal creep and overall throw. That original OEM pull of more than 7 pounds was halved to 3 pounds, 7 ounces. Split times weren’t cut in half, mostly because this shooter isn’t superhuman, but times below 0.15 seconds were recorded.
The ZEV/Agency solution provided similar results, ultimately attaining a pull weight of a measly 3 pounds, 3 ounces, and average splits of 0.16 seconds.
Why the magwell? Why not? Though originally designed as a reloading aid, if you have larger mitts it’ll help your hand stay higher on the grip. In order to fit the Raven Concealment magwell on the Glock 17, we had to trim back some of the grip tape — this is a fitted part manufactured with precision.
The bottom line is that you need to determine what you want to do and how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. Configuring for defense is different from competition. If you’re looking to upgrade all the way to advanced in parts and pieces, the Glock is the obvious choice with its vast aftermarket support. If you’re looking for the simplest solution right out of the box, perhaps strongly consider something from the S&W line. I’ve been shooting Glocks for a long time, but those M&P aftermarket triggers sure do shine brightly once properly tuned.
Remember that we’re talking about two pistols that have seen heavy law enforcement, carry, and competition use for years. It’s cliché to say that you can’t go wrong, but you really can’t. Besides, the title of this article wasn’t “Glock versus Lorcin.”
Trigger Upgrade Components for Glock
Drop-in Flat Trigger for Glock
Match Barrel for G17, Threaded
Vickers Glock Extended Magazine Release
Taran Tactical Innovations Firepower Base Pad Kit Glock +5/+6
Zev Dragonfly G17 Slide Kit
V4 Connector for Glock
Extended Slide Release for Glock
S&W M&P Build:
Smith & Wesson:
M&P Handgun 9mm 17+1 Full Size No Safety
Specialties M&P Aluminum AEK Trigger
Specialties Red Flat Face Forward Set Trigger
S&W M&P 9mm Threaded Barrel
21st Century Gunfighter:
M&P Catalyst Extended Magazine Release
Taran Tactical Innovations M&P Firepower Base Pad Kit +5/+6