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iPhone XS Max vs Galaxy Note 9: Which Big-Screen Phone Wins?

They are two of the biggest phones ever -- with prices to match. The 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max ($1,099) is ready to battle the 6.4-inch Galaxy Note 9 ($999). Both phones boast serious power, highly advanced cameras and gorgeous and ginormous OLED screens. But these flagships are quite different in several ways, especially their storage options, processors and special features.

Editor's Note 11/11/2018: The holiday season is here. Make sure to check out our guide to the best iPhone XS and XS Max deals of the season.

iPhone XS Max (left) and Galaxy Note 9 (right)

iPhone XS Max (left) and Galaxy Note 9 (right)

We put both the iPhone XS Max and Note 9 through several rounds of competition to declare a winner.

Update Oct. 5: We have updated this comparison with iinfo about a charging issue affecting some iPhone XS and XS Max units.

iPhone Xs Max vs Galaxy Note 9: Specs Compared

iPhone XS MaxGalaxy Note 9
Starting Price$1099(64GB), $1,249(256GB), $1,449(512GB)$999(128GB), $1,249(512GB)
ProcessorA12 BionicSnapdragon 845
Screen6.5-inch OLED (2688 x 1242 pixels)6.4 inches Super AMOLED (2960 x 1440 pixels)
Storage64GB, 256GB, 512GB128GB, 512GB
microSDNoneUp to 512GB
Biometric security
Face IDFace scan, Iris scan, fingerprint
Rear CameraDual 12-MP (f/1.8) and telephoto (f/2.4)Dual 12-MP (f/1.5) and (f/2.4)
Front Camera7 MP (f/2.2)8 MP (f/1.7)
Battery Size3,179 mAh (rumored)
4,000 mAh
Battery Life (Hrs:Mins)
10:38
11:26
Water resistanceIP68IP68
ColorsGold, Silver, Space GrayLavender Purple, Ocean Blue
Size6.2 x 3.05 x 0.3 inches6.3 x 3 x 0.34 inches
Weight7.3 ounces7.1 ounces

On the surface, the iPhone XS Max is really just a bigger version of the iPhone X. It weighs in at a hefy 7.3 ounces, compared to 7.1 ounces for the Galaxy Note 9. Still, the iPhone XS Max is slightly thinner at 0.3 inches versus 0.34 inches for the Note.

iPhone XS Max (left) and Galaxy Note 9 (right)

iPhone XS Max (left) and Galaxy Note 9 (right)

Both phones are IP68 rated, which means they can withstand being in 2 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. Note that only the Note 9 has a headphone jack.

What’s new on the iPhone XS Max is a reformulated glass front and back that Apple says is the most durable ever on a smartphone. (We haven't tested that yet, but videos of the iPhone XS being drop-tested suggest Apple's new phones are pretty durable.) There’s also a new gold color option, which looks pretty elegant with its color-matched stainless steel edge.

Galaxy Note 9

Galaxy Note 9

If you’re not a fan of notches, the Galaxy Note 9 will satisfy with its Infinity Display. The overall look is similar to the Note 8, but the back is less curved than before and it has diamond-cut aluminum around the sides. Still, having a fingerprint sensor on the back on the Note 9 is a bit of an eyesore compared to the iPhone XS Max’s cleaner aesthetic.

iPhone XS Max

iPhone XS Max

The Note 9 does have more eye-catching color options, with your choice of Lavender Purple and Ocean Blue, but it somehow looks and feels less premium than Apple’s flagship.

Winner: iPhone XS Max

Display

It’s not much of a difference, but the iPhone XS Max does sport a slightly bigger OLED display at 6.5 inches, compared to 6.4 inches for the Note 9. But the panel on Samsung’s phone has a higher resolution of 2960 x 1440 pixels, compared to 2688 x 1242 pixels for the iPhone XS Max.

iPhone XS Max (top) and Galaxy Note 9 (bottom)

iPhone XS Max (top) and Galaxy Note 9 (bottom)

The Note 9 delivered an impressive 224 percent of the sRGB color gamut in our lab tests. And the color accuracy was just as impressive, as it achieved a Delta-E score of 0.34. (0 is perfect.) The iPhone XS Max wasn't as colorful, covering 123 percent of the sRGB color gamut, though a Delta-E score of 0.22 means the XS Max renders those colors more accurately.

iPhone XS Max

iPhone XS Max

The screens are equally as bright — the Note 9 hit 606 nits on a light meter while the iPhone XS Max reached 604 nits. Just keep in mind that you can hit that peak brightness manually on the iPhone XS Max using Control Center; with the Note 9 you’ll have to be outdoors in direct sunlight for that max level to kick in.

We put the iPhone XS Max and Note 9 side by side and had a few colleagues pick which display they liked best. In one cityscape photo, the orange light beneath the Tokyo Tower looked more vibrant on the Note 9, and the Note 9’s panel delivered better contrast in other images. However, the iPhone XS Max’s display presents a brighter image at its max setting indoors.

MORE: iPhone XS vs. iPhone X: What's Changed?

The Note 9 does give you more control over the display, supplying four modes (Adaptive Display, AMOLED Cinema, AMOLED Photo, Basic) so you can customize the picture to your liking.

Winner: iPhone XS Max

Performance

This one is pretty easy to call, especially now that we've run the iPhone XS Max through our battery of benchmarks and real-life speed tests. The A11 Bionic processor in the iPhone X was already the fastest chip in a phone, and the 7-nanometer A12 Bionic has widened Apple’s lead over Snapdragon 845.

On the Geekbench 4 general performance test, the iPhone XS Max scored 11,515 — a much better result than the Note 9's 8,876 score. Apple's phone continues to outpace the Note 9 in our real-world test where we transcode a 2-minute 4K video to 1080p.

The XS Max also topped the Note 9 when it came to opening apps quickly — anywhere from around 3 seconds faster on Pokémon Go to nearly 15 seconds faster on Fortnite.

About the only test where the Note 9 turned in a better score than the iPhone XS Max was on the 3DMark Slingshot Extreme graphics benchmark. Here, the Note 9 scored 4,639 to the iPhone XS Max's 4,339.

MORE: Best Smartphones on the Market Now

But the iPhone XS surged past the Note 9 on another graphics test called GFXBench, which closely resembles real-world gameplay. The iPhone XS notched 1,604.7 frames on the Aztec Ruins portion of the test, and 1,744.44 frames in the Car Chase test. The Note 9 fared worse at 851.7 and 1,103 frames, respectively.

The bottom line? With the A12 processor, the XS Max is the fastest phone currently available.

Winner: iPhone XS Max

Cameras

Apple had some ground to make up here with Samsung, but based on our most recent camera face-off between the iPhone XS and Note 9, Apple has delivered a better camera phone.

iPhone XS Max

iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS Max’s camera benefits from a new sensor with larger pixels that offers a greater depth of color, which should result in up to 50 percent more light gathering capability. The auto focus promises to be twice as fast, and there’s Smart HDR for delivering better highlights in the shadows.

Galaxy Note 9

Galaxy Note 9

In this side-by-side shot between the iPhone XS and Note 9 taken at Bryant Park, the iPhone delivered more detail in the shadows and an overall warmer photo. The Note 9’s image looks blown out by comparison in certain areas.

The iPhone XS also delivered a better-looking Portrait shot than the Note 9. Our colleague Caitlin’s skin looks unnaturally pale on the Note 9, and one person is in the background isn’t blurred out on the Samsung photo that should be.

The Note 9’s camera is still very formidable. Not only do you get a wider aperture at f/1.5 (versus f/1.8 for the iPhone XS Max), but the Note 9 offers a dual aperture feature that automatically switches to f/2.4 to deliver better results in brighter conditions.

In this photo of a church, the iPhone XS’ shot has a little more detail, but the Note 9 wins because it does a better job illuminating the scene.

Winner: iPhone XS Max

Special Features

The Note 9 has several compelling features, starting with its improved S Pen. You can use the stylus to take notes and draw, but you can also use it as a remote control for the phone, because it now has built-in Bluetooth connectivity. For example, you can snap a selfie with the push of a button on the pen, or you could change music tracks.

Galaxy Note 9

Galaxy Note 9

While the iPhone XS Max offers a dual-pane view within certain apps, like Mail and Calendar, only the Note 9 lets you run two separate apps side by side.

iPhone XS Max

iPhone XS Max

Another key Note 9 highlight is Samsung DeX, which allows you to use the Note 9 as a mini PC when you plug it into a larger monitor. All you need is a USB-C to HDMI adapter and a cable to get started; you no longer need a pricey dock. Plus, only the Note 9 has expandable storage via a microSD cards slot

In addition to Face ID, Apple’s True Depth camera makes Animoji happen and Memoji, mapping your expressions to several animated avatars or a personal one you create, respectively. The similar AR Emoji feature on the Note 9 doesn’t look very natural.

Handy for travelers or anyone who wants to use two separate phone numbers, the iPhone XS Max now offers dual-SIM capability.

Winner: Galaxy Note 9

Security

The iPhone XS Max offers a front True Depth camera that enables Face ID, so you can unlock your phone with ease. This is faster on the XS Max than on the original iPhone X. The Note 9 does face unlock, too, but it’s not as secure as Face ID  — you can’t use Samsung’s feature to verify mobile payments, for example — and Samsung’s iris scanning can be hit or miss. You can always use the fingerprint scanner on the Note 9’s back, though.

Winner: iPhone XS Max

Battery Life and Charging

The Note 9 packs a whopping 4,000 mAh battery, which is one of the biggest you’ll find in a phone. The handset lasted an impressive 11 hours and 16 minutes on the Tom’s Guide Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over LTE at 150 nits of screen brightness. (For context, the average smartphone dies after 9 hours, 48 minutes.)

After tearing down the new Apple phone, iFixit says the XS Max runs on a 3,179 mAh battery. The XS Max finished behind the Note 9 with a runtime of 10:38. That’s above the smartphone average but not good enough to beat Samsung.

The Note 9 comes with a fast USB-C charger in the box. If you want that perk on the iPhone Xs Max, you’ll have to fork over even more dough for a 30-watt charger and USB-C to Lightning cable, which seems obscene for a $1,099 phone.

Some users are complaining that the iPhone XS and XS Max are not charging when the displays are turned off, an issue Apple will reportedly fix with the upcoming iOS 12.1 update.

Winner: Galaxy Note 9

Price and Value

Let’s talk numbers. The Note 9 looks like a better value than the iPhone Xs Max for two reasons: 1) The starting price for Samsung’s phone is $100 less at $999 (versus $1,099 for Apple’s); 2) You also get double the storage in the Note 9 at that starting price (128GB vs 64GB).

Samsung Galaxy Note 9View Deal

That price delta grows between the Note 9 and iPhone Xs Max to $200 as you go up to 512GB. Plus, only the Note 9 gives you expandable storage.

Winner: Galaxy Note 9

Overall Winner: iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS Max is now the best big-screen phone you can buy, but it didn’t beat the Galaxy Note 9 by much in this face-off. They are both Editors' Choice winning handsets for a reason.

iPhone XS MaxGalaxy Note 9
Design (10)98
Display (15)1514
Performance (20)2017
Cameras (20)1816
Special Features (5)35
Security (5)54
Battery Life (15)1214
Price/Value (10)68
Overall8886

Apple’s flagship won the design and performance rounds, and its camera fared better in side-by-side photos comparisons. And while the Note 9 gives you more biometric security options, Face ID is simple and works best. The iPhone XS’ display edges out the Note 9’s panel slightly for higher brightness you can get on command.

The Galaxy Note 9 pulls ahead in some important categories, though. It offers longer battery life based on our testing and faster charging out of the box, and it gives you double the storage and microSD expansion for less money. And if you really care about productivity, the S Pen can really come in handy.

Overall, both the iPhone XS Max and Note 9 are superior phablets, but Apple’s handset barely squeaks out the victory.

Credit: Tom's Guide