Samsung Galaxy Note 9 vs. Pixel 2 XL: Flagship face-off

Galaxy Note 9 front

Samsung announced its newest flagship, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, in early August. It packs stunning specs along with an all-new S Pen, making it easier than ever to stay productive on the go. But how does the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 compare to Google’s Pixel 2 XL? We put the two phones to the test to find out.

Specs

Samsung Galaxy Note 9  Pixel 2 XL 
Size 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8mm (6.37 x 3 x 0.35 inches) 157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm (6.22 x 3.02 x 0.31 inches)
Weight 201 grams (7.09 ounces) 175 grams (6.17oz)
Screen size 6.4-inch AMOLED display 6 inch OLED display
Screen resolution 2960 x 1440 pixels 2880 x 1440 pixels
Operating system Samsung Experience 9 (over Android 8.0 Oreo) Android 9.0 Pie
Storage space 128GB, 512GB 64GB, 128GB
MicroSD card slot Yes, up to 512GB No
Tap-to-pay services Samsung Pay, Google Pay Google Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
RAM 6GB, 8GB 4GB
Camera Dual 12MP (with OIS) and 12MP (with OIS) rear, variable aperture, 8MP front 12.2MP rear, 8MP front
Video Up to 4K at 60 frames per second, 1080p at 240 fps, 720p at 960 fps 4K at 30 fps, 1,080p at 120fps, 720p at 240fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-Type C USB-Type C
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Water resistance IP68 IP67
Battery 4,000mAh 3,520mAh
App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon
Colors Ocean Blue, Lavender Purple Just Black, Black & White
Price $1,000+ $849+
Buy from Samsung, Best Buy Google, Amazon, Verizon
Review score Hands on 4.5 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

Galaxy Note 9 s pen remote settings
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

When it comes to performance, both the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and Pixel 2 XL are workhorses. That said, since the Note 9 was released nearly a year after we first got our hands on the Pixel 2 XL, it definitely has improved specs. You’ll find a more powerful Snapdragon 845 processor along with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM in the Note 9, compared to a Snapdragon 835 processor with just 4GB of RAM in the Pixel 2 XL.

The Galaxy Note 9 also has the edge when it comes to battery capacity and charging. You’ll find a massive 4,000mAh battery in the Note 9 — enough to get even the most demanding user through a full day. The Pixel 2 XL has a 3,520mAh battery capacity that is plenty for the average person, but may leave power users frantically searching for a charger by the end of the day. And while both phones feature quick charging, only the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 has wireless charging capabilities.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the clear winner for this round. It’s not just the updated specs that make it a clear winner, but the 4,000mAh battery and wireless charging capability as well.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 

Design and durability

Galaxy Note 9 blue with yellow stylus
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 looks incredibly similar to its predecessor: It has a glass sandwich design with a near bezel-less display. The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, looks much more utilitarian with its aluminum back and chunky display bezels. While aesthetics is largely subjective, we’d venture to say most people would prefer the refined design of the Note 9 as opposed to its competitor, but it is taller, thicker, and heavier than the Pixel 2 XL.

When it comes to durability, the competition is much closer. While we think the Pixel 2 XL would fare better in the event of a drop and should do fine with an accidental dunk in water, the Note 9 has a higher IP68 rating meaning it can handle slightly deeper water, up to 1.5 meters, for half an hour without damage. Both phones employ Gorilla Glass 5 which should able to handle an accidental tumble (though we definitely recommend a case for your phone).

This round is a really close call, but we’re giving the win to the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. In addition to being a more refined design overall, the phone boasts slightly better water resistance.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Display

Galaxy Note 9 front
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

While great internal specs are crucial, you can’t overlook display quality when comparing phones. Luckily both the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and Pixel 2 XL have gorgeous OLED displays that offer excellent color accuracy. On the Note 9, you’ll find a 6.4-inch display with a 2960 x 1440-pixel resolution which translates to 516 pixels per inch (PPI). The Pixel 2 XL has a slightly smaller 6-inch display with a 2880 x 1440-pixel resolution which makes for a slightly sharper 538 PPI.

Thanks to the extra screen real estate and Samsung’s more mature Super AMOLED tech, we’re giving this one to the Note 9.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Camera

Galaxy Note 9 camera app
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Since its release in 2017, one of the most talked about features on the Pixel 2 XL is its camera. So how does the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 compare to one of our favorite shooters? Surprisingly well!

On the Note 9, you’ll find a dual camera module with 12-megapixel sensors, both with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). The Note 9 also has a variable aperture that can switch from f/2.4 to a much wider f/1.5 for beautiful low-light photos. It boasts support for 2x optical zoom and can record video at a higher frame rate than the Pixel 2 XL. There’s also a new A.I. feature, exclusive to the Note 9, that uses scene detection to adjust color, white balance, and other settings. Samsung even added a flaw detection feature that will alert you if someone has closed their eyes when a photo is taken.

The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, packs a single 12.2-megapixel sensor with OIS. The aperture is f/1.8, which should do well in most scenarios, though some detail may be lost in low-light photos. While the Pixel Visual Core processor and Google’s camera software can create stunning photos, it still lacks A.I. scene detection and other advanced features that are becoming more common on high-end smartphones.

It’s was a hard choice, but we’re calling this round for the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. While the Pixel 2 XL has one of the best smartphone cameras we’ve ever seen, the Note 9 is much more versatile.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Software and updates

Best Google Pixel 2 XL screen protectors
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends

Looking for the latest version of Android? Well, if you’re using the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, you’re going to have to wait a while. However, Pixel 2 XL users are already enjoying all the new benefits of Android 9.0 Pie. In addition to getting the first stab at Android Pie, the Pixel 2 XL gets more frequent security and feature updates in general and will get future Android updates as soon as they’re released. If you’re a seasoned Samsung user, you’ll know the smartphone giant can be slow to update at times.

In this round, the Pixel 2 XL shines. Not only does it have the latest version of Android, it gets more frequent updates overall. And while the Samsung Experience UI has improved vastly, we definitely still prefer stock Android.

Winner: Pixel 2 XL 

Special features

Galaxy Note 9 pink s pen
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

When it comes to special features, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 has lots to offer. It features a Bluetooth-powered S Pen that can control the phone remotely and be used to activate different features on the Note 9. There’s also DeX mode built in, meaning you can use your phone as a makeshift desktop by attaching it to a monitor.

Special features are a little more sparse on the Pixel 2 XL. When it was first released, Google Lens was an exclusive feature, but it has now made its way to many Android phones. It does, however, have Active Edge, which allows you to squeeze the phone to activate Google Assistant.

We’re calling this round for the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. The newly improved S Pen and built-in DeX mode make it the clear winner.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 

Price

Both the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and Pixel 2 XL are flagship smartphones and carry a premium price tag. Pricing starts at a $1,000 for the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and the 512GB variant is even more expensive at $1,250. You can pre-order now and it will hit stores on August 24 with wide availability from major carriers and retailers.

The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, is a little more affordable. The 64GB version sells for $850, while the 128GB model comes in at $950. You can buy it right now direct from Google or with Verizon in the U.S.

Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Galaxy Note 9 pink and blue s pens
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

While we adore the Pixel 2 XL, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the clear winner of this competition. For the most part, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 beat out the Pixel 2 XL because it’s a newer phone with better hardware. We expect a better matchup when the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 faces off against the upcoming Pixel 3 XL in the coming months.

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