Editors' Note:This article was originally published on October 28. We've updated it with test results from the iPhone X now that we've had more hands-on time with Apple's phone.
It's a great time to buy a smartphone. All the major phone makers have rolled out their latest flagships, and a new model — the highly anticipated iPhone X from Apple — has just joined the mix. All of these phones tout cutting-edge features and introduce new designs that rely on expansive displays.
It's also quite an expensive time for smartphones, with prices climbing ever upward. The new big-screen flagships from Apple, Google, LG and Samsung all cost at least $800, with some models even approaching the $1,000 threshold.
Which of these premium handsets is most deserving of your money? To find out, we took five models that cost $800 or more — Apple's iPhone X, Google's Pixel 2 XL, the LG V30, and the Galaxy S8+ and Galaxy Note 8 from Samsung — and compared them across a variety of categories. It's a close competition, but Samsung's devices enjoy the slightest of edges as the flagship phones you want to buy.
Flagship Phone Specs
|Pixel 2 XL
|Galaxy Note 8
|5.65 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches
|6.2 x 3 x 0.3 inches
|5.97 x 2.97 x 0.29 inches
|6.3 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches
|6.4 x 2.9 x 0.34 inches
|Screen Size (Resolution)
|5.8 inches (2436 x 1125)
|6 inches (2880 x 1440)
|6 inches (2880 x 1440)
|6.2 inches (2960 x 1440)
|6.3 inches (2960 x 1440)
|Two 12-MP cameras (wide-angle: f/1.8; telephoto: f/2.4)
|12 MP (f/1.8)
|16 MP (f/1.6); 13 MP (f/1.9)
|12 MP (f/1.7)
|Two 12-MP cameras (wide-angle: f/1.7; telephoto: f/2.4)
|7 MP (f/2.2)
|8 MP (f/2.4)
|5 MP (f/2.2)
|8 MP (f/1.7)
|8 MP (f/1.7)
Smartphone makers have spoken, and bezels are out. All five of these flagship phones feature minimal bezels, though in the case of the Pixel 2XL, they're still pretty noticeable. The other four phones offer edge-to-edge displays, with the iPhone X including a noticeable notch that dips down into the screen to accommodate the front-facing camera.
That notch also houses the sensors the iPhone X needs to support its Face ID unlocking feature. As a result, Apple's phone is the only one of these flagships to lack a fingerprint sensor. Other phone makers moved their fingerprint readers to the back of the phones, with Google and LG putting them in easy-to-find locations. Samsung placed its fingerprint sensor next to the cameras on the S8+ and Note 8, and that's probably the biggest flaw on either phone.
Yet, the nod here still goes to Samsung's phones, thanks to that gorgeous Infinity Display. The S8+ and Note 8 give you a futuristic look, with a good screen-to-body ratio. We're particularly impressed with the way the edges of the Note 8's screen curve around the side of the phone.
Our Pick: Galaxy S8+ and Note 8 (tie)
With Apple at last switching from the LCD panels it used in past iPhones to an OLED screen with the iPhone X, we finally have something of a level playing field for displays. But not all OLEDs are created equal, as it turns out.
The OLED panels used for the LG V30 and Pixel 2 XL are essentially the same POLED screen. (That's no shock; LG built the Pixel 2 XL at Google's direction.) There's a bit of a tint when you look at the V30's screen at an angle. But colors are really off on the Pixel 2 XL, which suffers from color shifting as you turn the phone from side to side. There are also reports of screen burn-in. Google has promised software updates that will address both concerns about the Pixel 2 XL’s display.
Having now spent more time with the iPhone X, we like what we see in the phone's OLED display. While its 2436 x 1125 resolution can't quite match the 2960 x 1440 resolution that the Galaxy S8+ and Note 8 provide, the iPhone X is brighter than either of Samsung's phones. Using a light meter, we measured the iPhone X at 574 nits to 408 nits for the Note 8.
More importantly, the iPhone X is less saturated than Samsung's phones, and it does a better job with white balance. We also appreciate how Apple's phone handles viewing angles — a common problem with OLEDs where the screen can take on a blue tint when you view it off-center. The iPhone X maintains brightness as you move the phone from left to right.
Our Pick: iPhone X
This is one category in which every flagship has something to offer. If you shoot a lot of video, you'll appreciate the cinematic filters LG has included in the V30, and that phone's dual-camera setup produces stellar wide-angle shots. Dual rear cameras were also a welcome addition to the Galaxy Note 8, as they allow Samsung's phablet to take striking shots in Portrait Mode, with a stylish background blur (an effect you can customize on the fly).
The Pixel 2 XL needs only one lens to pull off Portrait Mode, thanks to computational photography, and that phone's front-facing selfie cam offers portait shots too. And though the Galaxy S8+ offers just one rear camera, its dual-pixel technology and wide aperture produce excellent shots, even in low light.
Yet, we think the iPhone X tops them all.
It's a fairly close competition, as we found when we compared Apple's new phone to the Pixel 2 XL in a head-to-head camera contest. But the iPhone X benefits from an f/2.4 aperture on its rear telephoto lens that helps it capture more detail. Both the telephoto and wide-angle lenses on the back of the iPhone offer optical image stabilization for steadier shots. And, like the Pixel 2 XL, the front camera on the iPhone X can pull off Portrait mode effects (which you can also shoot with the phone's rear cameras.)
In our camera tests, the iPhone X has delivered shots with brighter colors, and it captures more details when you use the zoom. Other cameras outpace the iPhone X in low-light, but Apple's latest phone delivers quality shots under a variety of conditions.
Our Pick: iPhone X
Call it a tale of two processors. The phones from Samsung, Google and LG all feature Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 CPU. The Note 8 has the most RAM, at 6GB; all those other Snapdragon 835-powered phones have 4GB. Not surprisingly, the Note 8 turned in the best result in the Geekbench 4 measure of overall performance, with a score of 6,564. The LG V30 fared best in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test for graphics, but the scores of all the Android phones were bunched fairly close together.
But the iPhone X, like the iPhone 8 before it, leaves those other phones in the dust, thanks to the A11 Bionic processor inside. On the Geekbench 4 test of general performance, the iPhone X scored 10,357. The top-performing Android phone on this test, the Note 8, tallied a 6,564 score. That's a pretty big edge for the iPhone.
Our video-editing test, in which we transcode a 2-minute 4K video clip to 1080p in the Adobe Clips app, is especially illustrative of the A11's power. The iPhone X matched the iPhone 8's performance, pulling off that task in just 42 seconds. The fastest Android phone, the Pixel 2 XL, did the job in 2 minutes, 55 seconds.
Our Pick: iPhone X
With one glaring exception, these flagships are going to last longer on a full charge than the average smartphone. That exception: the LG V30, which died after 6 hours, 30 minutes of continuous web surfing over LTE. The average smartphone lasts 9:40 on our test. The S8+, Note 8 and Pixel 2 XL all landed on our list of longest-lasting smartphones. Google's phone had the best result, at 12:09.
At 10:49, the iPhone X battery life is an hour better than the category average. Yet, it's not the longest-lasting smartphone Apple offers — that would be the iPhone 8 Plus, which costs $200 less than the iPhone X.
Our Pick: Pixel 2 XL
Other than the camera, this is probably the closest competition among these five phones, and the choice of winning device really boils down to what you want out of a smartphone.
Do you create a lot of photos and videos? If so, the LG V30's Cine Video filters are appealing, and you'll love the phone's sound. The phone's 32-bit quad digital-to-analog converter produces richer audio that will have you grooving, even on an ordinary pair of earbuds.
Are you ready to embrace AR? The iPhone X's cameras are specially tuned to take advantage of AR apps. Right out of the box, you'll be able to use that front-facing camera to turn your face into an animated emoji that mirrors your expression, and you can expect more third-party apps to come, thanks to Apple's ARKit. You're also able to unlock the iPhone X and confirm mobile payments with your face using the phone's Face ID feature.
Or maybe the phone is your primary productivity tool? Then you'll really enjoy the S Pen that comes with the Note 8. Not only can it translate text or turn sketches into GIFs, but the S Pen also lets you scribble up to 100 pages of memos without ever unlocking your phone. Like the S8+, the Note 8 also works with Samsung's DeX station accessory, which lets your smartphone double as a portable PC. And both the S8+ and Note 8 include Bixby, Samsung's new and improving digital assistant.
We like our smartphones to be extra smart, though, and it's hard to top what Google is doing with the Pixel 2 XL. The phone supports Google Lens, a new feature that taps into object recognition to turn your camera or your photo roll into a discovery tool. Select a picture of a famous landmark in Google Photos, and Google Lens can summon up a description about what you're looking at. Point the Pixel 2 XL's camera at a Wi-Fi password, and you can capture it, saving yourself from the tedium of data entry.
The Google Assistant is the best of the digital assistants for our money, and the Pixel 2 XL lets you summon the feature just by squeezing the sides of the phone. And since this phone comes directly from Google, you're always assured of getting security and Android updates the moment they're available.
Our Pick: Pixel 2 XL
If you look only at dollars and cents, the LG V30 seemingly has a leg up here. It's the least expensive of the four flagships in this review, with a starting price of $800 if you buy the phone from T-Mobile. But at the moment, you're limited to specific carriers: LG doesn't offer an unlocked version of the V30 right now. Which carrier you choose also affects which model you get, as only Sprint offers the higher-capacity V30+.
The Galaxy S8+ offers the widest range of prices — not surprising, because that phone has been out the longest. Samsung lists the price of the S8+ at $825, but you can find it for less than $800 at some retail outlets. You can also buy the S8+ unlocked, just like you can with the pricey, $950 Note 8.
After Samsung's phones, the $849 Pixel 2 XL probably offers the greatest flexibility. While Verizon is the only carrier selling Google's new phone, you can also buy an unlocked Pixel directly from Google and use the device with whatever carrier you want. You can also use the phone with Google's Project Fi wireless service if you prefer.
The iPhone X is the priciest model in this comparison. And since the $999 phone is available only for preorder now, you'll be hard-pressed to find any iPhone X deals or discounts right now. The best you can do is money back if you have an older phone to trade in.
Winner: Galaxy S8+
Add it all up, and Samsung's phones retain a slight edge, sharing top honors for design, and ranking as runner-up choices in several categories. The Galaxy S8+ gets the nod over the Note 8, because it's a little less expensive and you're more likely to find a deal on this slightly older phone.
|Pixel 2 XL
|Galaxy Note 8
The Pixel 2 XL did remarkably well, winning two of our face-off categories. We'd hesitate to recommend that device over Samsung's phones at this point, however, at least until Google resolves some of the display issues that have cropped up. But if you want a long-lasting phone that packs in intriguing features, Google's latest is an appealing option.
The iPhone X comes very close to supplanting the Samsung phones, and now that we've had more time with Apple's phone, we think it has the best OLED screen. It also won the performance and camera rounds, though it faces some stiff competition in that latter category. But the Samsung phones boast better endurance and lower price tags, giving them an edge over Apple's new model.
Credit: Tom's Guide
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.