Two of the biggest smartphone showdowns in 2017 are naturally the best of what Samsung and Google have to offer. That is, the Galaxy Note 8 and Pixel 2 XL. These are two very different approaches to the smartphone, and that means different sets of compelling features. Let’s break it down.
The Google Pixel 2 XL uses LG’s 6.0″ P-OLED display, and like we deemed in our Samsung Note 8 and LG V30 Comparison, the Note 8‘s colossal 6.3″ S-AMOLED panel has the clear advantage when talking about overall screen quality. It also has a secondary camera (2x telephoto) that the Pixel 2 XL lacks. But the Pixel comes out on top when it comes to camera and software prowess, and offers dual front-facing speakers.
- About the same aspect ratio ~ 18:9
- Snapdragon 835 octa-core chipset
- Main camera specs:
- Note 8: 12MP, Dual Pixel, f/1.7, Portrait mode
- Pixel 2 XL: 12.2MP, Dual Pixel, f/1.8, Portrait mode
- 8MP front camera
- 64GB base storage
- Waterproofing (IP68 on Note 8 and IP67 on Pixel 2 XL)
- Bluetooth v5.0
Samsung Note 8
- Best and brightest OLED screen
- 83% screen-to-body ratio
- 6GB of RAM
- Secondary 2x telephoto camera
- Dual Pixel for quick auto-focus
- Fast wireless charging
- IRIS retina scanner for security
- S Pen stylus
- Awful fingerprint scanner placement
- Slower Quick Charge 2.0
- Non-HD aptX wireless audio codec
- low aperture on secondary camera – f/2.4
- Huge phone size and weight
- Older version of Android
- Expensive – almost $1K
Google Pixel 2 XL
- More durable and less slippery build
- Dual front-facing speakers
- Superb camera reproduction
- Great battery life
- AptX HD and LDAC support for high-res for wireless audio
- Buttery smooth software and latest Android features
- Great fingerprint scanner implementation
- Slightly lower price than the Note 8
- Single camera, which also has a hump
- Inferior screen-to-body ratio
- Grainy display in lower brightness and muted colors
- No microSD card slot
- No wireless charging
- No headphone jack
- Carrier exclusivity to Verizon
Differences in use
- Despite the Pixel 2 XL having a significantly smaller screen (6.0″ vs 6.3″ on the Note 8), the phone sizes are close. The Note 8 is only 4.6mm taller. And the Pixel 2 XL is actually 2mm wider, due to Samsung’s curved screen.
- The Pixel 2 XL has better handle-ability in our opinion. The grainy finish on the metal is not as slippery as glass, and the sides are flat.
- The Note 8’s curved screen can result in accidental screen touches. The Pixel 2 XL doesn’t have this problem.
- The power and volume button layout makes more sense on the Note 8 – power on the right side and volume on the left. It’s not the worst thing that the Pixel 2 XL has them both on the right side, but the volume rocker at a middle position and the power button well above it doesn’t make sense from an ergonomic standpoint. But then we also have to complain that Samsung forces a Bixby button on us, underneath the volume rocker.
- The fingerprint scanner experience is much better on the Pixel, for obvious reasons.
- The Pixel’s dual front-facing speakers murder the Note 8’s mono, bottom-firing speaker. But the Note 8 has a non-dongle-required headphone jack.
- Samsung has been in the OLED game much longer than any competitor, and it shows compared to a manufacturer trying its hand at it. Case in point, the LG-made 6.0″ P-OLED panel doesn’t scale as brilliantly as Samsung’s S-AMOLED. It looks fine in medium to high brightness, but lower it and a shade of grainy/splotchy-ness will show (most noticeable on a white background).
- A couple of other differences are that the Pixel 2 XL doesn’t have as high of a max brightness ceiling as the Note 8, and it hits a color shift (blue hue) and much a less viewing angle and to more of an extent than the Note 8.
- Via a move by Google, colors on the Pixel 2 XL are muted and don’t have that vibrant pop that we typically see on OLED displays. Google calls this “natural” but it looks too dull to our eyes. We can see the argument that the Note 8’s screen can be too saturated, but we would easily take the latter if we had to choose. Google threw in two options to boost vividness, but they’re half-baked.
- Some may pass off the Pixel 2 XL because it missed the dual camera boat, but in real-world use it is of little consequence to us. What matters is picture quality, and Google has the upper hand when it comes to that.
- Both of the phones have quick auto-focus (AF), but the Note 8’s is a bit quicker. Also, the Pixel’s AF focuses on the center, where the Note 8’s covers a larger space. This can translate to off-focus on the Pixel if the subject is in motion or off-center.
- The main camera specs are very similar: 12MP shooters with 1.4 µm pixel sizes, and aperture is f/1.7 on the Note 8 and f/1.8 on the Pixel 2 XL. However, for what it’s worth, the angle on the Note 8 lens is a little wider than the Pixel.
- The Pixel can do bokeh with its single sensor (utilizing its Dual Pixel system to capture differential depth of field). Both systems achieve a nicely outlined Portrait, but we’ve come to prefer the Pixels results because of how sharply/detailed the subject is captured. Another win for the Pixel is that it can do Portrait on the front camera, where the Note 8 cannot.
- Shots are noticeably sharper on the Pixel 2 XL. Many times the Note 8 got a brighter shot, but the Pixel captures colors and dark details better (i.e. shadowed areas). Another trend we noticed in the comparison is that the Note 8’s captures are warmer (slightly yellowy compared to the Pixel 2 XL), which comes down to user preference.
- Both phones have the feature to query information from an image. Samsung calls it Bixby Vision while Google calls it Google Lens.
- Naturally, the software experience on these phones is substantially different. Samsung always opts for a heavy UI atop the Android OS, while Google brings the newest stock Android build, which in itself is a more minimalistic/essential approach than most third-party manufacturers sport.
- Google certainly has the upper hand in terms of optimization and smoothness. The software’s response in the Pixel 2 XL is nearly flawless, with virtually no stutters/hiccups. Swiping, scrolling, opening, etc. is all fluid and buttery smooth. Google’s slick transitions and animations of the evolved Material Design enhance the pleasant experience by making it feel like you’re interacting with something real than rendered.
- Not to be unfair to the Note 8 – its UI has been drastically improved as of late. It has some slick aesthetics itself and is satisfyingly quick to respond. Except for short stutters here and there, navigation is also exceptionally smooth. And we also appreciate some features that Google has yet to bring to stock Android, like the ability to hide the bottom navigation bar to use the large screen to its fullest.
- Android 8.0 (not yet on the Note 8 as of this writing) has some new systematic features from Google. Some of these are icon badges (dynamic notifier on an app’s icon if that app has a notification) and long-press functions (app-specific menu when long-pressing the icon), notification priority customization (you can tweak the level of importance of notifications of an app, and even for the kind of notification you receive from it), and Now Playing (which displays track information on the Always On Display of music the phone hears in the environment).
- The Note 8 also has its list of custom, useful features that the Pixel lacks, like the ability to change the icon grid number, re-arrange the navigation buttons, a sound quality upscaler, theming, and a screen-shrinking one-handed mode.
- Both virtual assistants are plenty competent, but with strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Bixby handles actions better (i.e. telling it to open an app and do something specific), while Google Assistant is better with information retrieval and contextual understanding.
- The Pixel 2 XL has the battery advantage. It has a larger capacity, by 220 mAh, but also a smaller, less energy-consuming screen. It’s noticeably better in real-use, but the difference isn’t drastic. The Note 8 is optimized well.
- The Note 8’s pressure-sensitive Home button is very nifty, especially if you use the function to auto-hide the navigation bar. You can also use it to wake the phone. The Pixel doesn’t have this, but it does have double-tap-to-wake, which Samsung continues to neglect.
- Both phones have a method to toggle their virtual assistants. Samsung opts for a dedicated button, while Google implemented a squeeze function (pressure sensors on the sides that get activated when you squeeze the phone). We prefer the squeeze method, as you can increase the sensitivity and reduce accidental presses. Unfortunately, you cannot remap the actions on either phone.
- The Always-On Display on the the Note 8 is vastly better than that on the Pixel 2 XL. The former gives you control of different content you’d like displayed (even if you want a picture there) and has some interact-ability (i.e. letting you control music playback by double-tapping the track info). The Pixel just displays the clock, date, and icons for the list of notifications, with no interact-ability at all.
Camera Sample Comparison
There’s a lot to consider when choosing between these two behemoths of the 2017 smartphone battle. The Google Pixel 2 XL and Samsung Note 8 their own very distinct lists of pros and cons, making the decision that more challenging. It really comes down to what matters more in your smartphone usage. We must say that the Note 8 nails the overall package, performing solidly in practically every category.
That said, in what the Pixel 2 XL exceeds at, it does so with colossal might. No other Android smartphone can match how smooth and effortless the UI performs. After using the Pixel 2 XL a good while, we must commend how much of a pleasure it is to use something with this swift that never lets up. And the shots we got out of the new camera are dang impressive.