Google Pixel 3 XL vs Samsung Galaxy Note 9 full review

Google has updated its smartphone range for 2018/2019, with the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. The larger of the two replaces a predecessor that boasted one of the best cameras on the market, but had a few niggles too. So, how does the new model stand up to the latest in the Samsung line that invented big phones?  We compare the Pixel 3 XL with the Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

Price and availability

Google set the release date for the Pixel 3 XL as 1 November in the UK, and there are two models to choose between;

  • Pixel 3 XL 64GB: £869/US$899
  • Pixel 3 XL 128GB: £969/US$999

These are available in three colours: Just Black, Clearly White, and Not Pink

You can pre-order the device directly from Google, or check out our Best Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL deals page.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 was released on 9 August and is now freely available either directly from Samsung.

There are two models available;

  • Galaxy Note 9 128GB - £899/US$999
  • Galaxy Note 9 512GB - £1099/US$1249

Both of these come in a choice of colours: Midnight Black, Ocean Blue, and Lavender Purple. Check out the best Samsung Galaxy Note 9 deals.

Design and build

As both of these devices have top-end prices, you’d rightly expect top quality construction, and on the whole this is what’s delivered.

Google has gone with an all-glass design that has a 6.3in OLED display on the front and a two tone glass on the back. The latter seems to have been achieved by sanding the lower two thirds of the material to give it a matt finish that’s comfortable to hold.

pixel 3 xl vs galaxy note 9

Wireless charging comes to the Pixel line for the first time, which is a great addition. A fingerprint sensor also adorns the rear, along with the solitary camera lens that’s becoming something of a rarity these days. After all, Samsung’s new Galaxy A9 now comes with four!

The main talking point of the Pixel 3 XL has been its rather large notch on the display. Where other manufacturers have gone with shallower variants, or made the larger ones quite narrow, the Pixel 3 XL has a whopping great protuberance. If you’ve already signed up to the notch way of life, then it probably won’t be much of an issue, but those moving to one for the first time might find it needs quite a bit of getting used to.

pixel 3 xl vs galaxy note 9

One absence we still lament is that of a headphone jack, but at least Google puts an adapter in the box, unlike those mean Mindys over at Apple.

Samsung’s Note 9 continues the excellent design ethos the company has been using for the past few years. Its large frame looks classy and premium, with the 6.4in Super AMOLED Infinity display uninterrupted by slim bezels at each end. No notches here, instead Samsung sticks with its traditional placement of the various front facing cameras and sensors as a thin line at the top of the phone.

pixel 3 xl vs galaxy note 9

A metal chassis runs that entire perimeter of the Note 9, housing the USB-C charging port, speaker, headphone jack, S-Pen silo, volume and power buttons, plus the somewhat redundant Bixby button that nobody uses.

A curved glass back continues the aesthetic, with a fingerprint sensor and dual-camera unit found in the upper third, and wireless charging under the hood.

pixel 3 xl vs galaxy note 9

Both devices come with IP68 ratings for water and dust proofing.

Features and specs

Samsung’s Note range gets it name mainly because of the S-Pen that has been an ever present since the original Note was released back in 2011. This year’s iteration is a far cry from that initial effort, featuring Bluetooth technology for the first time.

This allows the S-Pen to be used as a remote control for the phone, which can include taking photos, changing slides on PowerPoint presentations, or even setting up your own custom options.

pixel 3 xl vs galaxy note 9

Writing is smoother than ever thanks to the new 0.7mm tip and 4096 pressure levels, and the added ability to create quick notes on the lock screen is a welcome addition.

Samsung has made the Note 9 a productivity powerhouse, and its Dex technology means users can plug the device into a hub and have it instantly turn into an Android-powered PC.

There’s plenty of performance baked in too, thanks to the Exynos 9810 (or Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 in some regions), and 6GB/8GB of RAM depending on whether you choose 128GB or 512GB of storage. These space capacities can also be increased by a further maximum of 512GB via the microSD slot.

Cameras have always been a strongpoint of the Note range, and the automatic dual-aperture feature on the Note 9  (also available on the Galaxy S9 and S9+) means the lens switches between f/1.5 and f/2.4 apertures to capture great photos in both bright and dark situations.

A second 12MP camera brings the ability to combine both for 2x optical zoom, of for creating cool bokeh effects in portraits.

Google might not have a stylus to call its own on the Pixel 3 XL, but cameras is again an areas where it shines. The Pixel 2 XL was lauded by many as the best camera of the last smartphone generation, and with new modes accompanying the 12.2MP dual-pixel f/1.8 main shooter, the Pixel 3 XL looks set to continue that trend.

pixel 3 xl vs galaxy note 9

Top Shot automatically picks out the best images from a burst, so that you’ll not end up with an almost perfect picture but where someone has their eyes shut. Night Sight is probably the most interesting new mode, as it uses Google’s impressive photo processing software to turn dark and poorly lit scenes into ones that look like daytime.

We’ve only had the units for a short time so far, but results are already encouraging. Be sure to look out for our full review to see whether the camera really does live up to its promise.

The Pixel 3 XL adopts another unusual feature this time around, with Active Edge sensors meaning that squeezing the sides of the device triggers specific user-defined commands. These can include taking a selfie on the twin 8MP front facing cameras, playing music, or whatever else you decide.

In terms of specs, the Pixel 3 XL comes with the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor but only 4GB of RAM, which seems a little low these days. Storage is standard fare in 2018, with 64GB and 128GB options.

Here’s a breakdown of the main technical specifications for both devices;

Specifications Pixel 3 XL Samsung Galaxy Note 9
iOS Android 9.0 Pie Android 8.1 Oreo
Colours Just Black, Clearly White, Not Pink Midnight Black, Lavender Purple, Ocean Blue
Display 6.3in 2960 x 1440 19:9 P-OLED, 523ppi 6.4in 2960x1440 Super AMOLED, 516ppi
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or Samsung Exynos 9810
RAM 4GB 6GB/8GB
Storage 64GB/128GB non-expandable  128GB/512GB (expandable by up to 512GB via microSD)
Rear camera 12.2Mp f/1.8 rear camera: Dual 8Mp front facing cameras 12Mp dual cameras, f/1.5-2.4 and OIS, f/2.4
Front camera 8Mp f/1.8 + 8Mp f/2.2 8Mp f/1.7 
Video recording 4K T 30fps, 1080p at 30/60/120fps, 720p at 240fps 4K at 30/60fps, 1080p slo-mo @240fps, 720p slo-mo @960fps
Wireless charging Yes Yes
Waterproofing IP68 IP68
Dimensions 158 x 76.6 x 7.9 mm 161.2 x 76.4 x 9 mm
Weight 184g 205g
Price £869/£969 £899/£1,099

Software

As the Pixel 3 XL is a Google phone, its comes with the most up-to-date Android version (9.0 Pie) and will continue to get regular updates to the new versions for at least a couple of years.

The interface is clean, easy to use, and is the preferred flavour of Android for most people in the Tech Advisor office.

pixel 3 xl vs galaxy note 9

Samsung continues to refine its once garish overlay for Android. These days there’s not too much to moan about, as the modern design is attractive and performs well.

There are still plenty of Samsung-branded apps that duplicate the Google ones that come with Android, but you don’t have to use them if you don’t want to.

Specs

Samsung Galaxy Note 9: Specs

  • Android Oreo 8.1
  • 6.4in 2960x1440 Super AMOLED, 516ppi
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or Samsung Exynos 9810
  • Adreno 630 or Mali-G72 MP18
  • 128GB/512GB storage
  • 6/8GB RAM
  • 12Mp dual cameras, f/1.5-2.4 and OIS, f/2.4
  • 8Mp f/1.7 front facing camera
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • 4G LTE
  • Dual nano SIM option
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • 4000mAh battery
  • IP68 waterproof
  • 161.2 x 76.4 x 9 mm
  • 205g

Google Pixel 3 XL: Specs

  • Android 9 Pie
  • 6.3in 2960 x 1440 19:9 P-OLED display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
  • Adreno 630 GPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64/128GB non-expandable storage
  • 12.2Mp f/1.8 rear camera: Dual 8Mp front facing cameras
  • 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX
  • 4G LTE
  • Nano-SIM
  • GPS NFC
  • 3430mAh battery
  • 158 x 76.6 x 7.9 mm