Pixel 3 XL vs. iPhone XS Max: Google’s Big Phone Could Win

Samsung may be Apple’s main rival when it comes to smartphone sales, but Google’s Pixel lineup offers the purest expression of what Android can be. The $899 Pixel 3 XL, available to pre-order now, snagged the iPhone’s now-standard notched display while undercutting the recently released iPhone XS Max on price.

Cheaper doesn’t always mean better, but based on our hands-on time with the Pixel 3 XL, it’s clear the XS Max has some stiff competition. We will update this face-off once our full review of Google’s new phone is live.

Pixel 3 XL vs. iPhone XS Max: Specs Compared

Pixel 3 XLiPhone XS Max
Price$899 (64GB), $999 (128GB)$1,099 (64GB), $1,249 (256GB), $1,449 (512GB)
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 845A12 Bionic
Screen6.3-inch OLED (2960 x 1440)6.5-inch OLED (2688 x 1242)
OSAndroid 9.0 PieiOS 12
Biometric securityFingerprint sensorFace ID
Storage64GB or 128GB64GB, 256GB, 512GB
microSDNoNo
Rear Camera12.2MP f/1.8 aperture with OIS and EISDual 12-MP (f/1.8) and telephoto (f/2.4)
Front Camera8-MP wide-angle (f/2.2), 8-MP (f/1.8)7 MP (f/2.2)
Battery Size3,430 mAh
3,179 mAh (based on teardown)
Water ResistanceIP68IP68
ColorsClearly White, Just Black, Not PinkGold, Silver, Space Gray
Size6.2 x 3.0 x 0.3 inches6.2 x 3.05 x 0.3 inches
Weight6.5 ounces7.3 ounces

Design

Let’s get it out of the way: Yes, the Pixel 3 XL has a notch, just like the iPhone XS Max does. Google doesn’t score any points for design innovation this year.

The Pixel 3 XL maintains the two-tone look that Pixels have sported for three generations, this time in all-glass to enable wireless charging (more on that later). The glossy/matte juxtaposition in white, black and “not pink” (which is pretty much pink) is an eye-catching look in a sea of black slabs. It also helps that this treatment resists fingerprint smudges.

It’s unfortunate that the back of the Pixel 3 XL is marred by a fingerprint sensor, which is the only way to biometrically authenticate your identity. And the front of the Pixel still has a thick bezel along the chin, which was a strange design decision.

There’s really no match for the iPhone XS Max, which contrasts its gold, silver and space gray glass with matching stainless steel trim to elegant effect. There are almost no bezels to speak of on Apple’s phone, and the rear of the device is clean, with two stacked cameras and the now-iconic Apple logo. You unlock your phone using the TrueDepth camera housed in the notch on the iPhone’s front.

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

For the greatest in smartphone design, the XS Max is still the phone to beat.

Advantage: iPhone XS Max

Display

The Pixel 3 XL’s 6.3-inch quad-HD OLED (2960 x 1440) panel is slightly higher-resolution than the iPhone XS Max’s 6.5-inch OLED (2688 x 1242) screen, but in our hands-on time with both devices at Google’s Pixel event, it was tough to tell whether one was brighter or more colorful than the other.

What we did notice, however, was the Pixel 3 XL’s distracting notch, which descends into the display further than the iPhone’s. The Pixel’s notch is narrower than the XS Max’s on the sides, but deeper — an effect we didn’t like so much.

The notch is a feature that grows on you over time, so we’ll have a verdict after we spend more time with the Pixel. Fortunately, Google will let you hide this notch via software.

Advantage: Draw

Cameras

The Pixel 2 is easily the best camera phone around, even a year after its release. The Pixel 3 XL’s ultra-smart camera looks to be even more advanced, using machine learning to figure out the best possible shot.

The XS Max has two 12-megapixel lenses on the back, one of which is a telephoto lens to enable Portrait Mode and 2x optical zoom. The Pixel 3 XL still has just one 12-MP lens, but a trio of AI-assisted photography features will make you feel like you have all the lenses you need.

Google’s Super Res Zoom negates the need for optical zoom by reframing an image to fill in and sharpen the details when you shoot from far away. The tool takes advantage of your hand movements to capture just the right resolution. Top Shot takes a series of photos before and after you press the shutter to help you take the perfect frame.

With Night Sight, a low-light feature that seemingly floods the frame with light, Google is taking aim at Apple. During the Pixel launch event, the company showed off two photos taken at twilight in Central Park: one on the XS, one on the Pixel 3. The Pixel 3’s low-light photo was much brighter and clearer than the iPhone’s. Night Sight won’t debut on Pixel phones until next month, but in our hands-on time with Super Res Zoom and Top Shot, we were impressed.

MORE: Best Android Phones - Top Rated Smartphones You Can Buy ...

The Pixel has just one rear lens, but Google added a secondary wide-angle lens next to the selfie camera. That’s designed to help you take group selfies with more scenery in the background. Simply use the The Pixel can also take portrait selfies and, like the iPhone XS Max, you can adjust the background blur or the object of focus after taking the photo. The Pixel doesn’t offer any portrait lighting effects like the iPhone, but you can do face retouching (i.e. smoothing).

Advantage: Pixel 3 XL

Performance

With 4GB of RAM and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 CPU, the Pixel 3 will likely be a solid performer, up there with the top Android flagships on the market.

But even though we have yet to benchmark Google’s new phone, there’s little to no chance that the Pixel 3 XL will beat the iPhone XS Max, which sports Apple’s A12 Bionic processor. This chipset blows every other phone out of the water.

MORE: iPhone XS and XS Max Battery Life: The Results Are In

On the Geekbench 4 test of overall system performance, the XS Max scored 11,515, easily beating the OnePlus 6 with its whopping 8GB of RAM. The Pixel 3 will likely perform about as well as most Snapdragon 845-powered phones with 4GB of RAM, but that’s nowhere near what the latest iPhones can do.

Advantage: iPhone XS Max

Special Features

With the Pixel 3, Google is doubling down on its intelligent Assistant with new features aimed at making us say, “Siri, who?”

The most impressive new tool, Call Screen, uses Google’s Duplex technology to screen potential scam calls on your behalf. You won’t have to waste time talking to robots and spammers, thanks to this feature.

Google is also challenging Apple’s augmented reality prowess with a new feature called Playground. The company is partnering with cultural powerhouses, including Marvel Studios and Childish Gambino, to put celebrities, actors and comic book heroes in your photos and videos.

MORE: 9 Reasons the Pixel 3 Beats the iPhone XS

Of course, the iPhone XS Max also uses augmented reality to make life more fun. The depth-sensing front-facing camera uses your facial expressions to animate an emoji you can design to look just like you, called Memoji. The new iPhone also has Animoji, the popular iPhone X feature that works just like Memoji but for animating unicorns, lions and, well, poop.

Advantage: Draw

Battery Life

The Pixel 2 XL was one of the longest-lasting flagship phones you could buy. We’re not sure if the Pixel 3 XL can top it, but it might come close.

The Pixel 3 XL’s 3,430 mAh battery pack falls between the Pixel 2 (2,700 mAh) and the Pixel 2 XL (3,520 mAh). Both phones lasted longer than the smartphone average (9 hours, 48 minutes) on the Tom’s Guide Battery Test, continuous web-surfing over T-Mobile’s LTE network. The Pixel 2 XL clocked in at 12:09, an impressive showing, while the Pixel 2 lasted 11:07, behind the Galaxy Note 9 (11:26) but ahead of the iPhone XS Max (10:38).

We expect the Pixel 3 XL to pull ahead of the XS Max and Pixel 2, but fall short of the Pixel 2 XL.

But that’s OK: There are two ways to quickly charge up your new phone. Google is including an 18-watt fast-charging USB-C cable and brick in the box, while Apple makes you buy a separate $68 accessory to take advantage of the XS Max’s fast-charging capability.

If you want to charge up quickly and wirelessly, Google designed the $79 Pixel Stand for the Pixel 3. The new phone supports 10-watt wireless charging, which easily exceeds the XS Max’s 7.5-watt capability.

Advantage: Pixel 3 XL

Price and Availability

The Pixel 3 XL starts at $899 for 64GB of storage. The iPhone XS Max is $1,099 for the same amount of storage, and runs all the way up to $1,449 for 512GB. That’s...a lot of money.

It’s too soon to tell, but early results indicate that the Pixel 3 XL is a better camera phone than the XS Max, and for $200 less. That’s impressive.

Pixel 3 XLView Deal

But the Pixel 3 is a Verizon exclusive, which means you have to go through Google or retailers like Best Buy if you want to bring the phone to another carrier. The iPhone XS Max is all around easier to track down and set up service.

Advantage: Pixel 3 XL

Outlook

The iPhone XS Max is a sophisticated smartphone with gorgeous design and unrivaled performance. But the Pixel 3 XL could win with smart camera features, lengthy battery life and a price that’s downright affordable for a big-screen flagship.

It’s too soon to call a winner, because we haven’t published an in-depth review of the Pixel 3 XL with benchmarking tests and real-world comparisons. Stay tuned for our final verdict on which smartphone wins.

Credit: Tom's Guide