Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus vs Google Pixel 2 XL: first look

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus vs Google Pixel 2 XL: first look
The new Samsung Galaxy S9+ (see full specs here) has just entered the phone arena and it comes with big ambitions: it is designed to look and feel exquisite, it's equipped with a better camera than the already great one on the S8 and Samsung has even improved its custom Android interface so that the phone runs smoother.

All of this calls for one thing: a comparison with the phone that Google itself has made, one that is commonly brought up when we speak about great cameras, and one that has a pure form of Android that Google keeps updated regularly. Yes, we are talking about the Google Pixel 2 XL.

We had one with us at the Samsung event that's just wrapped up and we now have some first-hand impressions. So here it is: our first comparison between the Samsung Galaxy S9+ and the Google Pixel 2 XL.

Design, display and build quality

The Galaxy S9+ display is marvelous and blows the dim and life-less Pixel 2 XL screen out of the water.

The Galaxy S9+ and the Pixel 2 XL are both big phones, but despite the S9+ having a 6.2" display — bigger than the 6" one on the Pixel 2 XL — the Galaxy S9+ is actually the smaller of the two. Samsung has cut down the bezel to the bare minimum and the S9+ has one of the highest screen-to-body ratios ever seen in a phone at nearly 84%, while the Pixel 2 XL has much bigger bezels all around and a screen-to-body ratio of only 77%. It's not just this: the Galaxy S9+ has a refined design with elegant curves that give it a truly exquisite look. The Pixel 2 XL on the other side has a more blocky, less ergonomic shape, a strange plastic-like metal finish and also feels much bulkier. In terms of materials, the glass back on the S9+ might get messy with fingerprints, but it looks stunning, while the more practical Pixel remains smudge-free, but never has that elegant feel.

Both phones are also water-resistant, but the Galaxy has the higher, IP68 rating that ensures the phone will survive even a deeper plunge in water (up to 5 feet), while the Pixel has an IP67 rating (up to 3 feet submersion in water).

While design can be subjective, there is one thing that is not: the screen on the Galaxy S9+ looks fabulous. Its rich, lively colors blow the Pixel's dim and lackluster display away and the difference is clearly noticeable in real life. The Galaxy has great viewing angles, deeper blacks, more impressive colors, more color adjustment color options and while both are OLED screens with a Quad HD resolution, they are indeed very, very different. 


New variable aperture camera looks good at first look, but still the Pixel has wider dynamics.

"Camera. Reimagined" says Samsung, but is it good enough to match the AI-enhanced camera on the Pixel 2 XL?

We took a few pictures with both phones (see their camera specs here), not nearly enough to draw any final conclusions, but we noticed some things. First, the Pixel 2 XL is still superior in terms of dynamic range. But secondly, we noticed that photos from the Pixel 2 XL don't look great on the display of the phone itself. The Galaxy S9, on the other hand, has a display that makes its pictures shine and if you compare photos from the two phones on the phones themselves, you'd be convinced that it is the Galaxy that shoots the better pictures.

We came back and opened the same pictures on a laptop and noticed that it was actually the Pixel that took slightly more likable photos: with higher dynamics and a bit richer detail, but those are only our first impressions.

Take a look at the photos that we took right below (downsized for convenient, faster viewing):

And then there are the tips and tricks of which the Samsung has many. The new AR Emoji and stickers are fun and we actually see ourselves using them on a regular basis. There is no such a thing on the Pixel. The new Super Slow Motion looks grainy, but also... epic! And this is another magic trick the Pixel cannot pull out.

For selfies, both phones are able to shoot portrait shots with a blurred background, which is a really neat option.


A Galaxy phone that does not lag?

Here was our number one wish for the Galaxy S9: make it so that this super-expensive Android phone does not stutter and lag.

This is about the same plea that we have for Samsung every year and every year we come away slightly disappointed. Well, this time around it seems that the impossible has happened and the Galaxy S9+ seems to actually run without much stutter.

Is it as fast and smooth as the Pixel 2 XL? No. But it does seem much faster than the Galaxy S8 that would just noticeably pause and stutter every time you opened the Bixby panel or the app drawer.

The Samsung also has the newest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 system chip, while the Pixel 2 XL has last year's Snapdragon 835. This makes a noticeable difference in benchmarks, with a nearly 40% to 50% higher scores for the Galaxy over the Pixel:

Other features

And then there are the other features and specs. Obviously, we cannot say anything specific about battery life, but the battery size itself remains at 3,500mAh on the Galaxy S9+, almost exactly as big as the 3,520mAh one on the Pixel.

Both support fast charging, but the Galaxy also has wireless charging supported.

The one big new improvement in the Samsung phone is a dual speaker (the bottom speaker acts as a woofer, while the earpiece on the front like a tweeter), and it sounds louder than the very low-quality speaker that the S8 used to have. We did not get a chance to compare the speaker output between the S9+ and the Pixel 2 XL in detail, so look forward to that in our final review.

Final words

Overall, you could easily call the Galaxy S9+ an iterative upgrade over last year's S8+, an "S" release of sorts, but this iterative upgrade brings an important improvement in one key area: performance, which — at first look — looks improved. And that is really the one thing Samsung missed the most in assembling that elusive puzzle that we call 'the ideal smartphone experience'.

The Pixel 2 XL clearly has an advantage with fast, day-one software updates and the still smoother daily performance, but its lackluster display really ruins an otherwise good phone.

So far, this tips the scales in Samsung's favor in our books, but we'd have to spend a bit more time with both to say this with certainty.

What do you think about these two? Which one is your favorite?
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