2017 has turned out to be one of the best years in recent memory for smartphones. Last year we thought smartphones had been rather stagnant on the hardware front, with exception to a couple of manufacturers dabbling with modularity, but this year has seen the bezel all but disappear. OLED displays are king of the hill with all manufacturers now with Google and Apple following Samsung’s lead in that category. OLED displays have the ability to control lighting in each individual pixel, whereas LCD displays are backlit and never truly get black, which leads to an incredible contrast ratio. If you haven’t gone OLED yet, you’re truly missing out.
Qualcomm reasserted itself this year with the Snapdragon 835 processor: it’s found in every major flagship smartphone across the board. Phones now have a bare minimum of 32GB of storage, with flagships mostly going with 64GB. Memory has been standardized to 4GB, with some phones even reaching up to 8GB.
Cameras are where the advancements are truly taking place. Just about every flagship has a top of the line camera. We’re not quite at the place where phones can replace full on DSLR cameras, but the question is being asked which means we are closer than ever to having a true all in one device.
When you think about how far smartphone manufacturers have come in just one year, it’s crazy to think of the first Pixel as old. It’s also to think of the S7 edge as having huge bezels, but it really does have huge top and bottom bezels that make it look old too. Last year, there technically wasn’t even a Note after it was recalled due to battery issues. And finally, Apple changed up its design of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus to allow for wireless charging, but that’s expected as it is well behind the curve on adopting technology. Nonetheless Apple did release the iPhone X, which is a bezel free, all display phone that is going to be the “design of the future”. That literally probably means Apple will stick with the design for the next five years since it rarely ever makes changes now that Steve Jobs has passed.
Now with Google releasing its Pixel 2XL, the year of the 2017 smartphone has come to an end. Should you upgrade to a new phone if you have one from last year or even the year before? The simple answer is no if your current phone works fine. There’s rarely a time when anyone needs to replace their phones every year, unless you’re particularly hard on your devices. In most cases it’s cheaper to fix broken displays, replace failing batteries and even factory reset devices than to replace them. New smartphones, especially flagships aren’t cheap. However, if you want to replace your 2015 or 2016 smartphone, no one is going to fault you since the upgrades are so drool worthy.
In this Battle of the Titans post, we’re going to compare the best from Samsung versus the best from Google: The Pixel 2 XL versus the Galaxy Note 8. Which one should you get? Read through the post and decide for yourself.
Google Pixel 2 XL Specs
- Price: $849 (64GB), $949 (128GB), can only be purchased through Google or Verizon (carrier exclusive)
- Display: 6″ QHD+ 2880 x 1440 pOLED at 536ppi
- Aspect Ratio: 18:9
- Corning Gorilla Glass 5
- Battery: 3520mAh
- Operating Software: Android 8.0 Oreo
- Processor: Snapdragon 835, 2.35Ghz + 1.9Ghz Octa-Core
- Graphics: Adreno 540
- Memory: 4GB
- Storage: 64 or 128GB (not expandable)
- Front Camera: 8MP 1.4um/f2.4 aperture
- Rear Camera: 12.2MP 1.4um/f1.8 aperture (with Optical and electronic image stabilization)
- Dimensions: Length 6.2in x Width 3.0in x Height 0.3in
- Weight: 175g
- Colors: Black & White, Just Black
- Audio: Dual front-firing speakers, no 3.5mm audio jack
- Durability: IP67 water and dust resistance
- Wireless: NFC, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, GLONASS, eSIM
- Port: USB-C 3.1 Gen 1
- Other: Active Edge (squeezable sensor), rear fingerprint reader, Android Pay, no earphones
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
- Price: $930 Unlocked, $950 through all four major wireless carriers
- Display: 6.3″ Quad HD+ Super AMOLED (2960 x 1440) 521ppi Infinity Display
- Aspect Ratio: 18.5:9
- Battery: 3300mAh
- Operating Software: Android 7.1.1 Nougat
- Processor: Snapdragon 835, 2.35Ghz + 1.9Ghz Octa-Core
- Graphics: Adreno 540
- Memory: 6GB
- Storage: 64GB expandable up to 256GB via microSD card slot
- Front Camera: 8MP 1.22um/f2.4 aperture (with wide selfie mode)
- Rear Camera: 12MP Dual camera with dual OIS, Live Focus, optical zoom up to 2X
- Dimensions: Length 6.4in x Width 2.94in x Height 0.34in
- Weight: 195.04g
- Colors: Orchid Grey (US), Midnight Black (US), Maple Gold (International), Deep Sea Blue (International)
- Audio: Mono down firing speaker, 3.5mm audio jack
- Durability: IP68 water and dust resistance
- Wireless: NFC, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, GLONASS, nano SIM
- Port: USB-C 3.1 Gen 1
- Other: S-Pen ( can even be used underwater), wireless charging, dedicated Bixby button, Iris scanner, face recognition, rear fingerprint scanner, Samsung Pay and Android Pay, Smart edge features, comes with AKG earphones
Similar but very different
The most important factor in buying a smartphone is its price. Both phones are very similarly priced, with the Pixel 2 XL starting at $849, while the Note 8 starts at $930. Lots of reviewers balked at the price of the Note 8, but the Pixel 2XL falls in the same category especially when you consider the price of the 128GB model that jumps to $949. There’s a premium market for smartphones and a high demand for them and Google and Samsung are both capitalizing on it. With the Apple X starting at $999, it looks like 10 Benjamins is the new norm. No matter which phone you go with, your wallet is not going to like it. Samsung’s Note 8 is much more accessible to users since you can get it on financing plans across all four major wireless carriers, but Google decided to make its device a Verizon exclusive leaving T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint customers to buy unlocked at full price through Google. I think this is a terrible decision by Google to leave those customers out of the equation. Not only do millions of consumers love to use financing plans on these high-priced devices, but they also like to use their carriers for in store support and for warranty issues.
Both devices are almost identical when it comes to internal hardware. Both run the same Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, both have 64GB of internal base storage, but the Pixel 2 XL has 4GB of RAM while the Note 8 has 6GB of RAM. Google’s version of almost unadulterated Android, which can no longer truly be called pure Android with the addition of the Active Edge, requires less RAM to run clean and smooth than the Note 8. Samsung is known for modifying Android, and it’s because of Samsung that we have many features even found on the Pixel 2 XL today. Nonetheless, all of the Android modifications require a bit more horsepower which is why Samsung went with 6GB of RAM. I’ve been using the Note 8 before it was launched, and have never experienced a Galaxy device this buttery smooth. No one has put the Pixel 2 XL through its paces yet, but if history were to hold true, the almost pure Android experience on it will be extremely fast.
All in all, the two phones are nearly identical on the inside.
Where these two phones differ most is in software. Samsung runs a modified version of Android called TouchWiz and it’s because of this that the Note 8 has the awesome S-Pen. Samsung pioneered the powerful stylus back into smartphones when Apple did everything it could to do away with it. There’s no other phone that even comes close to the S-Pen experience, however a subset of users actually find it useful.
Google has an advantage over all other manufacturers where it can install the latest software on its devices first. Because of this, the Pixel 2 XL will always have the quickest updates over all other non-Google devices. With that being said, Samsung has done an incredible job of keeping its devices up to date. It hasn’t gotten much credit in the press these days about how good it is about keeping its software current, but there is no other manufacturer who is faster at keeping their devices up to date on the latest software. The Pixel 2 XL currently runs Android Oreo, but I would predict Samsung to get the Note 8 on Oreo no later than February. On that topic, Android Nougat is a stable version of Android without any real issues so there isn’t a major need for Oreo at this time.
Google is also dabbling with adding more useful features to its software on the Pixel 2 XL. It now has a feature called Active Edge which allows you to squeeze the device to perform certain functions. It was first debuted on the HTC U11 and came with so-so reviews. Samsung is the king of software modifications and its Infinity panels try to do similar things with little success.
Last year, Google offered unlimited, original quality photo backup to Pixel users, but this year quietly backed off that lifetime feature. Pixel 2 XL users can upload unlimited quality photos with a lifespan of three years, after which they will need to pay for additional cloud storage to keep their photos. This is pretty annoying, and levels out the playing field with the Note 8 in terms of photo backup.
Software is where most of you will make your decision on this purchase. Some of you are Android purists, while others consider pure Android as boring. I can see the benefits and downsides of both camps, but this decision is totally up to you.
Google finally brought water resistance to the Pixel 2 XL. It’s got an IP67 rating which means it can survive in one meter of water for 30 minutes. It’s also completely dust proof so you won’t get any specs of dirt under your display.
The Note 8 comes with a slightly better IP68 rating that translates into survivability for 30 minutes up to 1.5m of water.
The Note 8 can actually be used under water with the S-Pen. I’m not 100% sure why anyone would want to do this, but hey, the feature is there if it floats your boat. It does serve a more useful purpose of being able to use your phone in the rain though. Phone displays transmit information when moisture touches them, so if you happen to be in a rainstorm and need to use your phone, the S-Pen could be a lifesaver in this scenario.
Regardless, you won’t really want to swim with either device.
The Pixel 2XL has a slightly larger battery than the Note 8: 3520mAh vs. 3300mAh respectively. The Note 8 had to sacrifice a bit of space for the S-Pen, and that’s a subjective trade-off depending on what kind of user you are.
Both batteries should get you through a full day with normal usage, however with those gorgeous displays, many of you will be pushing the phones to their limits and will most likely need a recharge at some point.
If wireless charging is important to you, be aware that the Pixel 2 XL is not capable of charging wire free. The Note 8 with its glass back can charge wirelessly using compatible chargers.
The Note 8 has a 6.3″ Super AMOLED display, while the Pixel 2 XL runs a 6″ pOLED display. Both displays will look absolutely beautiful, especially with minimalist borders, but the Note 8 will take the edge in terms of brightness. The Note 8 currently has the brightest display of them all with a peak of 1200 nits.
The Pixel 2 XL does have a slightly smaller display and thus has a slightly higher pixel density than the Note 8. Above 500ppi, almost no one will be able to tell a difference.
Like it or not, but DxOMark is the default standard for camera tests. According to its tests the Pixel 2 XL earned a best ever 98 score. The Note 8 earned a 94 despite having a dual camera setup that the Pixel 2 XL does not have. If the camera is the absolute most important feature to you, or is near the top of the list, the Pixel 2 XL has the superior camera. I’ve only put the Note 8 camera through its paces, but have already had friends ask me if I actually took the photos from the Note 8 (Live Focus Mode). Many of them thought I used my DSLR and they even said, “wow, we are closer than ever to getting rid of DSLR cameras.”
I’ve included an untouched sample of the Note 8 of my dog Taro at the beach in San Diego. I think it’s pretty impressive so for the Pixel 2 XL to beat it, it’s gotta be ridiculously good. If you want to see more photos taken with the Note 8, I’ve created a free Google Photos album of my personal shots. You can view them here.
I never could wrap my head around Samsung not being able to have a dual speaker setup on its Galaxy devices, including the Note 8. Samsung loads up all of its phone with so many features that I can’t fathom why it isn’t giving us this feature, but personally I’d rather have a mono speaker than doing away with my 3.5mm audio jack. Apple and Google both did away with that useful hardware, and I’m very thankful Samsung kept it.
Sure there are thousands of wireless headphones to choose from, but they can be pricey, they don’t last forever, and wireless connections still aren’t 100% there despite the improvement to Bluetooth 5.0. The Note 8 is almost identical in size to the Pixel 2 XL, has a built-in stylus, and still manages to squeeze in the audio jack. And for true audiophiles, the 3.5mm audio jack delivers true uncompressed sound that Bluetooth does not.
While it’s been over a year since companies did away with the audio jack, very few accessory makers have made USB-C headphones. There’s a small list of dongles, adapters and headphones out there, but it’s one more cost that we don’t need. You can’t charge your phone and listen to music through wired earbuds at the same time – this may not be a problem for all of you, but for many it is.
If you happen to prefer output from the phone’s speakers, the Pixel 2 XL should be your choice here. However, if you want to use your wired headphones, the Note 8 is one of the last flagship phones to have the 3.5 audio jack.
Which one is right for you?
No matter which phone you decide to go with, the Note 8 or Pixel 2 XL, you’re going to get a great smartphone. You’re also going to spend a lot of cash so make sure it’s the one for you. With the Pixel 2 XL, you can save yourself a bit of money if you keep your data usage limited and go with Google’s Project Fi service. However most of you love your carriers and will stick with them.
Google earns a slight edge in camera performance over the Note 8, although both are so good that very few average consumers will notice a significant difference. Software experiences are quite different, although you can rest assured that both will get their respective monthly security updates to prevent theft of private information.
Both phones have incredible displays, with the slight edge going to the Note 8. However, like camera performance, very few of you will notice any significant differences and will love them both.
It’s most disappointing that Google joined the bandwagon to kill the audio jack. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a big deal if there were thousands of wired options available to USB-C headphones from cheap to audiophile grade, but that option isn’t there yet and the audio jack needs to stay.
It truly boils down to what software experience you want from your phone, but regardless, you’re going to get one heck of a phone no matter which one you decide on.