Google Pixel 3 XL vs. Gal­axy Note 9 vs. iphone XS Max: Which $1,000 phone is worth it?

You’re spend­ing a lot, but are you get­ting a lot?

PCWorld (USA) - - News - BY MICHAEL SI­MON

The four-fig­ure hand­sets just keep com­ing. While the Pixel 3 tech­ni­cally starts at $799, if you want the larger Pixel 3 XL (see page 15) with 128GB of stor­age, it’s go­ing to set you back $999, $50 more than last year’s Pixel 2 XL with the same stor­age. That makes the Pixel the third phone so far to top a thou­sand bucks, fol­low­ing last year’s iphone X ( go.pcworld.com/apix) and the Gal­axy Note 9( go.pcworld.com/gxn9). And there will surely be more to come. But for now, let’s see how the three most ex­pen­sive phones on the planet stack up.

DI­MEN­SIONS

The Pixel 3 XL has a big­ger screen than the Pixel 2 XL, but with a new de­sign that trims the bezels, it’s prac­ti­cally iden­ti­cal in size to the model it suc­ceeds:

iphone XS Max: 157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7mm

Gal­axy Note 9: 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8mm

Pixel 3 XL: 158 x 76.7 x 7.9mm

Even with less screen than the iphone XS Max, the Pixel 3 XL is a touch taller due to a pretty large chin. It’s also a hair thicker than the iphone XS Max but for the most part, the two phones are very sim­i­lar, with the iphone get­ting the edge due to its edge-to-edge de­sign. The Note 8 is the big­gest and thick­est of the lot due to its ex­tra-tall screen and S Pen.

DIS­PLAY

The iphone XS Max has the big­gest screen of the lot at 6.5 inches, but the Pixel 3 claims the high­est res­o­lu­tion with an eye-pop­ping 523 pixel per inch:

iphone XS Max: 6.5-inch OLED, 1242 x 2688, 458 ppi

Gal­axy Note 9: 6.4-inch OLED, 1440 x 2960, 516ppi Pixel 3 XL: 6.3-inch OLED, 1440 x 2960, 523ppi

The Pixel 3 gets the edge here in terms of res­o­lu­tion, but the iphone is the big­gest. And there’s a caveat with the Pixel: It has a giant notch, even big­ger than the one on the iphone XS Max. The Pixel 3 XL kind of makes up for it with a cool fea­ture baked into its al­ways-on dis­play, how­ever. Pop it onto the $79 Pixel Stand, and you can turn it into a de facto smart speaker, with the dis­play show­ing al­bum art and As­sis­tant queries even when locked.

PER­FOR­MANCE

There’s no sur­prise that you’ll find the best pos­si­ble sil­i­con in all three phones:

iphone XS Max: A12 Bionic

Gal­axy Note 9: Snap­dragon 845 Pixel 3 XL: Snap­dragon 845

Note that Google and Ap­ple are tops in their games at op­ti­miz­ing their phones for the lat­est chips, and the Pixel 3 XL is no ex­cep­tion. I’ll need to put the Pixel through its paces when I write my full re­view, but my first im­pres­sions are strong. And we al­ready know that the iphone XS Max is an ab­so­lute screamer. The Note gets the short end of the stick here, but it’s cer­tainly no slouch. It’s just that Google is bet­ter at op­ti­miz­ing An­droid than any other phone maker.

BAT­TERY

Ap­ple doesn’t di­vulge the ca­pac­ity of its bat­ter­ies, so we won’t know ex­actly what’s in­side its new phones un­til ifix gets its hands on one and tears it down, but we can sur­mise a lit­tle from what Ap­ple has told us:

iphone XS Max:

3,179mah

Gal­axy Note 9:

4,000mah

Pixel 3 XL:

3,430mah

The Note 9’s 4,000 mah bat­tery is an ab­so­lute work­horse, eas­ily pow­er­ing through all but the heav­i­est us­age days. But the iphone XS Max is more than able to get you through a full day, even with the small­est bat­tery among these three phones. And while the Pixel 3 XL has a smaller bat­tery than the Note 9, it should also be plenty big enough to last from morn­ing till night. So bat­tery shouldn’t be a rea­son to buy or not buy any of them.

STOR­AGE

The in­ter­nal stor­age arms race is of­fi­cially in full swing. We may have been com­plain­ing just a few short years ago about the pal­try stor­age in the en­try-level iphone, but those days are gone, and now our phones have more stor­age than some lap­tops. Here’s how

much stor­age you can get for a thou­sand bucks (and up):

iphone XS Max: 64GB/256GB/512GB Gal­axy Note 9: 128GB/512GB

Pixel 3 XL: 64GB/128GB

The Pixel 3 is the only phone that doesn’t of­fer a stor­age tier higher than 128GB, and it also doesn’t have the Note 9’s ex­pand­able stor­age. But 128GB should be more than enough for most peo­ple.

REAR CAM­ERA

Sur­pris­ingly, none of the flag­ship phones here did much to up­grade the hard­ware in the cam­eras this year:

iphone XS Max: Dual 12MP wide-an­gle (f/1.8) and tele­photo cam­eras (f/2.4), dual op­ti­cal image sta­bi­liza­tion, 2x op­ti­cal zoom Gal­axy Note 9: Dual 12MP wide-an­gle (f/1.5-2.4) and tele­photo cam­eras (f/2.4), dual op­ti­cal image sta­bi­liza­tion, 2x op­ti­cal zoom

Pixel 3 XL: 12.2MP, f/1.8

While the dual-cam­era ar­rays on the iphone XS Max and Note 9 are very sim­i­lar, you’ll no­tice that the Pixel 3 XL is still rock­ing a sin­gle lens on the back. But don’t count it out. Google’s pro­cess­ing is the best in its field, and it still of­fers an ar­ray of fea­tures to match the iphone XS and Note 9, in­clud­ing por­trait mode, Su­per Res Zoom, and Night Sight. I

only got a chance to play with it for a short while, but I’m su­per im­pressed with what Google can do with a sin­gle lens. The iphone is tough to beat, but Google has done some pretty im­pres­sive things, so stay turned to see how it stacks up.

FRONT CAM­ERA

The front cam­era isn’t some­thing phone mak­ers pay too much at­ten­tion to, but it’s im­pres­sive on all three of these phones:

iphone XS Max: 7MP, f/2.2

Gal­axy Note 9: 8 MP, f/1.7

Pixel 3 XL: 8MP stan­dard, f/1.8 + 8MP wide, f/2.2

Cu­ri­ously, the rea­son for the ex­tra cam­era on the front of the Pixel 3 XL isn’t for por­traits, it’s for a fea­ture Google calls Group Selfie Cam. Us­ing a slider at the bot­tom of the screen, you can ad­just the cam­era from a 75-de­gree field-of-view to a 97-de­gree one to cap­ture more peo­ple in your shot. There’s also a new fea­ture called Pho­to­booth that will trig­ger the shut­ter when you smile or make a funny face.

Ap­ple uses its True Depth front cam­era for An­i­moji and Sam­sung has a sim­i­lar but in­fe­rior fea­ture called AR emoji, but snap­ping self­ies is pretty stan­dard. All three phones are able to take por­trait self­ies, but Ap­ple also brings por­trait light­ing to the ta­ble.

PRICE

We al­ready know that all three phones cost $1,000, but you can spend a lot more than that if you’d like:

iphone XS Max: $1,099/$1,249/$1,449 Gal­axy Note 9: $1,000/$1,250

Pixel 3XL: $899/$999

The Pixel 3XL is the only phone here that doesn’t start at a thou­sand dol­lars, but you’re also not get­ting less stor­age (64GB) than the Note 9. The Pixel 3 XL and Note 9 both charge a thou­sand bucks for 128GB of stor­age, while Ap­ple only of­fers a 256GB tier for $1,249. So yeah, they’re all ex­pen­sive.

The iphone XS Max’s big screen doesn’t have the high­est res­o­lu­tion.

Games on the iphone XS Max are op­ti­mized for its new chip.

…and so does Ap­ple’s iphone XS Max.

The Gal­axy Note 9 has a dual cam­era ar­ray on its rear cam­era…

The Gal­axy Note 9 and its sty­lus.

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