Pixel 2 XL vs. Galaxy Note 8: One phablet to rule them all

pixel 2 xl vs. galaxy note 8
Elijah Nouvelage/AFP/Getty Images
The Pixel 2 XL, the larger of Google’s two new smartphones, is a testament to the company’s hardware expertise. It has a 6-inch P-OLED screen that can display more than 16 million colors, a zippy Qualcomm processor, and one of the best cameras on the market. Even better? It retails for potentially hundreds of dollars less than the high-end iPhone X.

The Pixel 2 XL has a formidable competitor in the Galaxy Note 8. Samsung’s 6.3-inch phablet has a curved edge-to-edge screen, a massive amount of memory, and support for wireless charging. But those perks don’t come cheap — the Note 8 starts at over $900.

Suffice to say that even if money’s no object, it’s not an easy decision. Here’s how the two compare.

Specs

Galaxy Note 8
iphone x vs galaxy note 8 samsung press
Pixel 2 XL
Google Pixel 2 XL vs. Apple iPhone X
Size 162.5 × 74.8 × 8.6 mm (6.40 × 2.95 × 0.34 inches) 157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm (6.22 x 3.02 x 0.31 inches)
Weight 195 grams (6.88 ounces) 175 grams (6.17 ounces)
Screen 6.3-inch Super AMOLED 6-inch P-OLED display
Resolution 2960 × 1440 pixels (522 ppi) 2880 x 1440 pixels (538 ppi)
OS Android 7.1.1 Nougat Android 8.0
Storage 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB
MicroSD card slot Yes No
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (U.S.), Samsung Exynos 8895 (international) Snapdragon 835, with Adreno 540
RAM 6GB 4GB
Connectivity LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA, EVDO, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi GSM, CDMA, HSPA, EVDO, LTE, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
Camera Dual 12 MP rear (both with OIS), 8MP front 12.2 MP rear, 8 MP HD front
Video Up to 4K at 30 fps, 1080p at 60 fps, 720p at 240 fps Up to 4K at 30 fps, 1080p at 120 fps, 720p at 240 fps
Bluetooth Yes, version 5.0 Yes, version 5.0
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Other sensors Accelerometer, barometer, gyro, geomagnetic, heart rate, proximity, iris, pressure Gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, proximity sensor, barometer
Water resistant Yes, IP68 rated Yes, IP67 rated
Battery 3,300mAh

22 hours of talk time, 13 hours of internet, 16 hours of video playback, and up to 74 hours of audio playback

Fast charging, wireless charging (Qi standard)

3,520mAh

Fast-charging

Charging port USB-C USB-C
Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Colors Midnight Black, Orchid Gray Just Black, Black & White
Availability AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, Unlocked Google Store, Verizon, Best Buy
Price $930 $849
DT review 4 out of 5 stars Hands-on review

When it comes to internals, the Pixel 2 XL and Galaxy Note 8 have a lot in common.

The Note 8 and Pixel 2 XL pack Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 system-on-chip, the same chip in flagships like the LG V30 and HTC U11. (Qualcomm says it has a 27-percent performance advantage over the Snapdragon 821, the first-gen Pixel’s processor.) But the Note 8 has an advantage in the RAM department: 6GB of RAM compared to the Pixel 2 XL’s 4GB. The jury’s out on whether or not that will make a noticeable day-to-day difference, but on paper, the Note 8 is theoretically capable of juggling more apps, Chrome tabs, and tasks in the background than the Pixel 2 XL.

In terms of storage space, the Pixel 2 XL can’t beat the Galaxy Note 8’s sheer flexibility. The Note 8’s top-end model boasts 256GB, and every model has a MicroSD card slot than can fit a removable card. The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, doesn’t support MicroSD cards and maxes out at 128GB.

Things are a bit more evenly matched on the audio side of the equation. Both phones support Bluetooth 5.0, the latest standard, and high-quality audio codecs like Qualcomm’s aptX.  The Galaxy Note 8 has a 3.5mm headphone jack, unlike the Pixel 2 XL, but the Pixel 2 XL has stereo front-facing speakers.

In our book, though, the Galaxy Note 8 wins on overall hardware. Its extra RAM, storage options, and 3.5mm port put it ahead of the Pixel 2 XL.

Winner: Galaxy Note 8 

Design and display

Google Pixel 2 XL vs. Pixel XL
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends

You’d be hard-pressed to find two phones that look less alike than the Note 8 and Pixel 2 XL.

The Note 8’s exterior is a mix of aluminum, water-resistant plastic, and shatter-resistant Gorilla Glass 5. It has an edge-to-edge screen that curves around the phone’s bezels, as opposed to the Pixel 2 XL’s flat screen. The Pixel 2 XL boasts a resolution of 2880 x 1440 pixels and a tall 18:9 aspect ratio, but the Note 8 is slightly taller, with a resolution of 2960 × 1440 pixels and an 18.5:9 aspect ratio. The Note 8 display also has the advantage of support for high dynamic range (HDR). In apps like YouTube, Netflix, and others that take advantage, expect its color contrast, black levels, and brightness to come out on top of the Pixel 2 XL’s display.

Both phones’ fronts are relatively minimalist, owing to their narrow top and bottom display bezels and software-based home and navigation buttons. The Pixel 2 XL’s physical buttons comprise a single power button and a volume rocker. The Galaxy Note 8 isn’t all that different, with the notable exception of the Bixby button — a button that launches Samsung’s AI-powered voice assistant (more on that later).

Flip both phones around and it’s a slightly different story. The Galaxy Note 8’s fingerprint sensor sits adjacent to the rear camera, which makes it both difficult to reach and easy to smudge. The Pixel 2 XL’s fingerprint sensor, by contrast, is smack-dab in the middle of the phone — your index finger’s natural resting place.

The Note 8 and Pixel 2 XL are on even footing in the port department, save the Pixel 2 XL’s absent headphone jack — both have USB-C connectors. With the exception of the Pixel 2 XL’s two-tone design rear cover, which creates some much-needed visual contrast on a phone that’s otherwise somewhat plain, they’re both fairly low profile. Most folks won’t find either polarizing.

The Note 8 is IP68 rated to withstand up to 5 feet of water (for 30 minutes), and the Pixel 2 XL is IP67 rated for up to 3 1/2 feet (for 30 minutes).

The Galaxy Note 8 and Pixel 2 XL trade blows in the design department, but the Note 8’s superior water resistance and curved screen win it the round.

Winner: Galaxy Note 8

Camera

pixel 2 xl vs. galaxy note 8
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Note 8 and Pixel 2 XL approach photography differently. The former has dual rear cameras, but the latter’s single rear camera draws on sophisticated artificial intelligence.

Let’s start with the Pixel 2 XL. Its 12.2-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, 1.4μm pixel sized-camera uses clever software to improve clarity in low light and boost sharpness in bright daylight. It taps a Google-designed imaging chip, optical image stabilization (OIS), and electronic image stabilization (EIS) to counteract jerky hand movements, and boasts dual pixel phase-detection and laser autofocus technologies that hone in on subjects in milliseconds.

The Pixel 2 XL’s other AI smarts make the camera even more useful. The Google Camera, the app that powers the phone’s sensors, has an iPhone 7-like Portrait Mode (on both the rear and front camera) that slightly blurs the background while keeping the foreground in focus, an effect known as bokeh. Another feature — Motion Photo — records a three-second clip before and after you tap the shutter button.

Then there’s the Google Lens, an AI photo analyzer that can pick out books, DVD covers, architectural landmarks, and more. Thanks to Google-designed AI chips that process more than 180 trillion floating point operations per second, Google Lens can give a description of a building in a photo or identify the artist of a painting.

That’s all very impressive, but so is the Note 8’s rear camera, which consists of a f/1.7-aperture wide-angle lens and a f/2.4-aperture telephoto lens. The Note 8 uses them to the fullest in Live Focus, a camera mode that lets you apply bokeh to your photo before or after you capture it, and Dual Capture, which takes a close-up and a wide-angle shot at the same time.

When it comes to video, both phones’ rear cameras support resolutions up to 4K at 30 frames per second (and 1080p at 120fps). Samsung says the Note 8’s dual OIS gives it a leg up over phones like the iPhone 7 Plus, but Google says the Pixel 2 XL’s combination of OIS and EIS performs even better. When we have the Pixel 2 XL in hand, we’ll put the latter claim to the test.

The two phones’ cameras are as evenly matched as they seem, but early evidence suggests the Pixel 2 XL’s camera slightly edges out the Note 8’s. In early October, camera authority DxOMark gave the Pixel 2 XL an unprecedented 98 rating, slightly above the Galaxy Note 8’s score of 94.

It’s tough to declare a winner in the photo category without having put the Pixel 2 XL through its paces, but based on what we know so far, it just about beats the Galaxy Note 8 in terms of picture quality. Software like Google Lens is the icing on the cake.

Winner: Pixel 2 XL

Battery life and charging

pixel 2 xl vs. galaxy note 8

The Pixel 2 XL has a 3,520mAh battery, which is a tad larger than the Galaxy Note 8’s 3,300mAh battery. It’s too early to tell how much of a difference that 220mAh will make in the real world, but we’re not expecting anything dramatic. The Galaxy Note 8 lasted about a day with moderate to heavy use in our testing, and we’re expecting the same of the Pixel 2 XL.

Both phones support fast charging, albeit different standards. The Galaxy Note 8 can fully recharge in 90 minutes thanks to Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charging. The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, taps USB Power Delivery for up to 7 hours of battery life in 15 minutes of charging. With the right adapter, you can charge up the Pixel 2 XL faster than the Note 8.

The Note 8 has wireless charging, too. It’s compatible with any Qi charging pad, unlike the Pixel 2 XL. But, despite that advantage, the Pixel 2 XL comes out slightly ahead in the battery category, thanks to the extra capacity and faster charging capability.

Winner: Pixel 2 XL

Software

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review app switch
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Note 8 ships with the latest flavor of TouchWiz, Samsung’s custom-designed interface that runs atop Android 7.1.1 Nougat. Perhaps the highlight is Samsung’s Bixby assistant, which serves up contextually useful information on the fly, and support for the Dex Station, a dock (sold separately) that transforms it into a functional desktop replacement. That’s to say nothing of the Note 8’s iris- and face-scanning security features, which save you the trouble of having to type in a password.

The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, runs stock Android 8.0 Oreo. Among the headliners are Notification Channels, which let you toggle notifications on a per-app basis. A brand-new picture-in-picture mode lets you minimize apps like YouTube to a draggable window, and new limits on apps’ background tasks promise battery life improvements across the board.

But the Note 8 has something the Pixel 2 XL doesn’t: Samsung’s S Pen stylus. There’s Screen Off memo, a feature which lets you sketch and write memos without switching on the Note 8’s display, and Smart Select, which generates GIFs. Air Command pulls up a list of app shortcuts when the S Pen’s removed from its slot, and Magnify turns the S Pen into a digital magnifying glass, enlarging the text and images around its tip. Finally, a new feature called Live Messages lets you sketch an animated image and share it with friends as a GIF.

The Pixel 2 XL doesn’t have an answer to the S Pen, but does have features that take advantage of its custom hardware. Active Edge launches an app or setting with a squeeze of the phone’s touch-sensitive bezels. The low-power Always On Display mode shows a monochrome clock and notifications, even when the phone is off. Now Playing taps the Pixel 2’s three-microphone array to identify music playing nearby and put a link to the relevant Google Play Music listing on the lock screen. Google’s AR Stickers, which launch in preview alongside the Pixel 2 XL, project digital labels onto tables, chairs, and other surfaces.

It’s also worth noting that the Pixel 2 XL has the latest flavor of Android and will continue to get software updates the moment Google rolls them out for at least the next three years.

Winner: Tie

Price and availability

The Pixel 2 XL isn’t as expensive as you might expect. Google’s flagship ships in 64GB and 128GB storage configurations for $849 and $949, respectively, with a Google Home Mini speaker (a $50 value) free with every purchase for a limited time. Alternatively, you can opt for Google’s monthly financing option, which is $35.38 per month for the 64GB model and $39.54 per month for the 128GB model.

The Note 8, on the other hand, starts at $930 for 64GB.

But the Note 8 is available from more places, including AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint in the U.S. The Pixel 2 XL, like last year’s Pixel XL, is exclusive to Verizon, the Google Store, and a handful of brick-and-mortar retailers.

Still, $930 is a steep price to swallow. And that’s why we’re giving the win to the Pixel 2 XL.

Winner: Pixel 2 XL

Overall winner: Pixel 2 XL

There’s no denying that the Galaxy Note 8 is a powerful smartphone with capable cameras and a beautiful screen. But the Pixel 2 XL has it beat in several respects.

The Pixel 2 XL has a better camera, a bigger battery, and it can be had for less money than the Galaxy Note 8. Sure, the Pixel 2 XL doesn’t have an answer to the Note 8’s iris scanner, headphone jack, or S Pen stylus, but it more than makes up for its shortcomings with clever software, custom hardware, and Google’s cloud-powered AI.

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