Flagship face-off: Samsung’s Galaxy S9 Plus vs. Google’s Pixel 2 XL

Samsung Galaxy S9
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Samsung opened this year’s Mobile World Congress with its new flagships, the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. Samsung’s latest and greatest are getting a lot of attention, and for good reason: They pack some of the most impressive specs of any smartphone we’ve ever seen.

The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, is one of our favorite Android smartphones of all time. With the Pixel 2 XL you get a best-in-class camera, stock Android, and fast version and security updates. While the specs on the Pixel 2 XL may not be as awe-inspiring as the new  S9 Plus, Google managed to make an extremely efficient flagship that can handle just about anything you throw at it.

Suffice to say you can’t go wrong with either the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus or the Google Pixel 2 XL. Here’s how the two stack up.

Specs

Galaxy S9 Plus Pixel 2 XL
Size 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm (6.22 x 6.84 x 0.33 inches) 157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9 mm (6.22 x 3.02 x 0.31 inches)
Weight  189 grams  (6.66 ounces) 175 grams (6.17 ounces)
Screen  6.2-inch Super AMOLED display 6-inch P-OLED display
Resolution  2,960 X 1,440 (529 ppi) 2,880 x 1,440 pixels (538 ppi)
OS  Android 8.0 Oreo Android 8.1 Oreo
Storage  64GB 64GB, 128GB
MicroSD card slot Yes (up to 400GB) No
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Snapdragon 845, with Adreno 630 (U.S.)

Exynos 9810 (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 12MP with OIS rear, 8MP front 12.2MP rear, 8MP front
Video  Up to 4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 60 fps, 720p at 960 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 — Also has Intelligent Scan (Facial/Iris recognition) 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  3,500mAh

Fast-charging

Wireless Charging

3,520mAh

Fast-charging

Charging port USB-C USB-C
Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Colors Midnight Black, Titanium Gray, Lilac Purple, Coral Blue Just Black, Black & White
Availability AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, Unlocked Google Store, Verizon, Best Buy
Price  $840 $850
DT review Hands-on review 4 out of 5

The Samsung Galaxy S9 packs all the specs you’d expect in a flagship. It features the latest and greatest Snapdragon 845 processor and a healthy 6GB of RAM. There’s the absolutely gorgeous 6.2-inch AMOLED display as well. And, for the first time, Samsung added stereo speakers and a dual camera to the Galaxy S9 Plus.

When it comes to internals, the Pixel 2 XL is starting to show its age. It houses the Snapdragon 835 processor, which is perfectly acceptable, but no where near as fast or efficient as the Snapdragon 845. It also features a paltry 4GB of RAM; while that should be enough memory for most people, it is certainly a bit on the low side in 2018.

In terms of storage, the Pixel 2 XL just can’t compare to the Galaxy S9 Plus. While the Galaxy S9 Plus only offers a 64GB storage option compared to the 64GB and 128GB options on the Pixel 2 XL, Samsung’s smartphone has a MicroSD slot that supports up to 400GB of external storage.

In our book, the Galaxy S9 Plus wins on overall hardware. The extra RAM, storage options, and current-generation processor on the Galaxy S9 Plus put it ahead of the Pixel 2 XL.

Winner: Galaxy S9 Plus

Design and display

Samsung Galaxy S9
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Take a look at the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Pixel 2 XL and you’ll quickly be able to tell the design aesthetic of the two smartphones is quite different. While Google went for a more utilitarian design on the Pixel 2 XL, the Galaxy S9 follows in the sleek and sophisticated footsteps of its predecessor.

Composed of a shatter-resistant Gorilla Glass surrounding an aluminum frame, the Galaxy S9 is a beautiful and somewhat-durable flagship. Its 6.2-inch edge-to-edge display has slightly smaller bezels than the Galaxy S8 Plus.

Flip the Galaxy S9 Plus over and you’ll quickly spot the differences between it and the S8 Plus. This year’s Samsung flagship features a dual camera array for the first time. You’ll also find a more conveniently place fingerprint sensor.

The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, features a 6-inch POLED display with some pretty chunky bezels. Instead of glass, Google opted for an aluminum frame on the Pixel 2 XL. While it’s durable, it definitely doesn’t look as refined as the competition.

On the back of the Pixel 2 XL you’ll find a single camera lens and a well-placed fingerprint sensor. While it may seem, at first glance, that a single camera lens is a disappointment, Google has proven you can take excellent photos with such a setup.

On the bottom of both the Galaxy S9 Plus and Pixel 2 XL you’ll find a USB-C charging port. On the Samsung Galaxy S9, however, you’ll see an additional port that’s becoming quite a rarity: One for a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The Galaxy S9 Plus 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.

While design may be subjective, the Galaxy S9 still wins this category for its curved display, 3.5mm headphone jack, and higher IP rating.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Camera

Google Pixel 2 XL camera app
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

This year, Samsung finally joined the dual-camera bandwagon on the Galaxy S9 Plus. The phone features two 12MP lenses. The primary lens has autofocus, optical image stabilization (OIS), electronic image stabilization (EIS), and a dynamic aperture. The secondary lens has many of the same specs, but with a stationary F2.4 aperture.

While a dual-camera array is not overly impressive on its own, Samsung definitely managed to delight us with its first-of-its-kind dual aperture. Instead of relying on software fixes for poor exposure like other smartphones, Samsung created a lens that can mechanically adjust aperture from f/1.5 to f/2.4. In theory at least, this means much better low-light shots.

To be quite honest, the front-facing camera on the Galaxy S9 Plus doesn’t seem much different than last year’s model. It features an 8MP camera with auto focus and an f/1.7 aperture, which should allow you to get pretty good shots, even in low light.

In addition to hardware upgrades, you’ll find some pretty significant software improvements on the Galaxy S9 Plus. Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Animoji, called AR Emoji, makes its debut on the Galaxy S9 Plus. The feature uses the front-facing camera to capture your emotions and transpose them on different emojis, Disney characters, and even Bitmoji-esque avatars that you can customize to better match your own features. While it’s a pretty cool addition, it doesn’t quite compare to Apple’s Animoji.

Google took a different approach to its camera on the Pixel 2 XL. Rather than adding dual lenses, the company chose to create ingenious software solutions to improve images in any lighting condition. It also added Pixel Visual Core, a separate imaging sensor that can dramatically improve photos from third-party apps.

On the Pixel 2 XL, you’ll find a 12.2MP camera with an f/1.9 aperture. Optical image stabilization and electronic image stabilization are included to counteract jerky hand movements, as well as dual-pixel phase-detection and laser autofocus. There’s an 8MP HD front-facing camera on the Pixel XL 2 that takes pretty impressive selfies.

Both the Galaxy S9 Plus and the Pixel 2 XL feature an AI camera assistant. You’ll find Bixby Camera on the Samsung, while Google Lens is on the Pixel 2 XL. Although both assistants can provide contextual information on objects and locations, Google Lens is definitely more robust and provides a significantly superior user experience.

When it comes to video, Samsung has made some pretty impressive strides with the Galaxy S9 Plus. One of the most impressive new features on the Galaxy S9 Plus is Super Slow-mo, which allows you to shoot video at an astonishing 960 fps in 1080. There’s also slow motion at 240 fps at 1080p, and you can shoot 4K video at 60 fps.

Video specs on the Pixel 2 XL aren’t as impressive as you’ll find on the Galaxy S9 Plus. Google’s flagship supports shooting in 4K at 30 frames per second, while you can shoot in 1080p at 120 fps.

In terms of overall image quality, Google appears to have found the sweet spot between hardware and software on the Pixel 2 XL. It snagged a DxOMark rating of 98 last year, the highest ever for a smartphone. The Galaxy S9 Plus, however, packs a number of new features and innovations you’re not going to find anywhere else while still managing to grab a great shot.

Since we haven’t managed to run the Galaxy S9 Plus through its full paces, its tough to declare a winner in this category.  Although the Pixel 2 XL is a proven champion, Samsung has never fallen far behind and the additions to this year’s Galaxy S9 Plus may just push it over the top.

Winner: Tie  

Battery life and charging

galaxy s9 hands-on review photo slow-mo
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Samsung Galaxy S9 has a 3,500mAh battery, which is ever-so-slightly smaller than the Pixel 2 XL’s 3,520mAh battery. Since the difference is so minimal between the two batteries, and the Galaxy S9 Plus packs a more efficient processor, we don’t think you’ll notice much of a difference in battery life. You can expect both phones to last about a day with moderate use.

While both phones support fast charging, the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus has a leg up on the Pixel 2 XL. Google’s smartphone relies on USB Power Delivery to provide up to seven hours charge in 15 minutes. The Galaxy S9 Plus, on the other hand, continues to use generations-old Quick Charge 2 technology. While both will give you a quick power boost, the Pixel is a little speedier.

The Galaxy S9 Plus also has wireless charging, a feature the Pixel 2 XL unfortunately lacks. It’s a feature we’re coming to expect on flagship phones, and we hope Google steps up to the plate with the next-generation Pixel.

While it’s a close call for this category, the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus wins. Though both offer similar battery capacities, the Galaxy S9 pulls ahead with wireless charging and a more efficient processor.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

Software

pixel 2 xl vs razer phone
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Both the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and the Pixel 2 XL ship with Android 8.0 Oreo. The Galaxy S9 Plus, however, comes with the Samsung Experience theme while the Pixel 2 XL runs stock Android. While Samsung Experience has improved significantly, the stock Android experience is much preferred.

In addition to Samsung Experience, the new Galaxy S9 packs a lot of interesting software. You’ll find an updated version of Samsung’s artificially intelligent assistant, Bixby, as well as Bixby Camera. There’s also Samsung’s take on Animojis, called AR Emoji, on the Galaxy S9. And we definitely can’t forget about Intelligent Scan, Samsung’s new authentication method that uses iris and facial recognition to open your phone.

The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, offers its own AI assistant called Google Lens. You’ll also find AR stickers in the camera app featuring characters from Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Stranger Things. And we’d definitely be remiss if we didn’t mention Active Edge, which allows you to squeeze the phone’s frame to activate Google Assistant or other selected apps.

For this category its just too close to call. While we definitely prefer stock Android and Google Lens on the Pixel 2 XL, the addition of AR Emoji and improved Intelligent Scan on the Galaxy S9 Plus makes this category a draw.

Winner: Tie

Price and availability

galaxy s9 hands-on review lilac back
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

In terms of pricing, the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is more expensive than its predecessor, coming in at $840 unlocked, or $35 a month for 24 months. While the price is steep, Samsung packed a lot of new features into its flagship smartphone. If the price for entry is a little too high, not to worry: Most U.S. carriers will offer monthly financing and lease options.

For the price, there’s a lot of value in the Pixel 2 XL. Google’s flagship smartphone ships in 64GB and 128GB storage configurations for $850 and $950, respectively. You can also finance the phone on Google’s website with the 64GB model coming in at $35 a month, and the 128GB model at just $5 more.

Pre-orders for the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus begin March 2. The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus will ship and be available in stores beginning March 16.

In terms of availability, its much easier to get your hands on the Galaxy S9 Plus compared to the Pixel 2 XL.  You can find the Galaxy S9 on every major carrier in the U.S., including AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. The Pixel 2 XL, on the other hand, is exclusive to Verizon, the Google Store, and a handful of brick-and-mortar retailers.

Although the Galaxy S9 Plus is more expensive than the Pixel 2 XL, it packs better specs. It’s also much easier to find one, and you’ll have more financing options through your carrier. For these reasons we have to hand this round to the Galaxy S9 Plus.

Winner: Galaxy S9 Plus

Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

galaxy s9 hands-on review front bottom
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There’s no denying the Pixel 2 XL is one of the best Android smartphones ever made, but the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus bests it in several categories. With better specs, more charging options, and an arguably better camera, the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus is the smartphone to beat in 2018.

Updated February 26: Corrected DxOMark score for Pixel 2 XL. 

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