Google has just announced its flagship phones for 2018 – the Pixel 3 and 3 XL – which means all your best options for the year are now on the table. If you're considering one of the latest Pixels, the main question you're probably asking yourself is how well they stack up against the other key players – specifically, Apple's new iPhones. To help you decide, New Atlas compares the specs and features of the Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL to the iPhone XR, XS and XS Max.
The Pixel 3 XL and iPhone XS Max live up to their big-sounding names, being close to the largest phones of the generation. Less than a millimeter separates them in each dimension.
The iPhone XR sits in its own middle ground, while the Pixel 3 and iPhone XS are again fairly close in size at the smaller end of the scale.
While close in size, Google's phones are substantially lighter than their Apple counterparts. The Pixel 3 XL is 24 grams lighter than the iPhone XS Max, and the Pixel 3 almost 30 grams less than the XS. If you're having trouble imagining that in practical terms, remember that a US nickel weighs exactly 5 grams, so that's the equivalent of lugging around five or six extra coins in your pocket.
This time around Apple has mostly tried to keep its devices classy, with silver, gray and gold shells for the iPhone XS and XS Max. The more "casual" XR has been allowed to splash out a bit, with blue, yellow, coral and red options.
Alongside the restrained black and white models, Google's flair of choice is a shade of pink called Not Pink.
All five phones are made of glass front and back, ringed in metal. For the two Pixels and the iPhone XR that metal is aluminum, while the iPhone XS and XS Max are framed in stainless steel.
Water and dust shouldn't be too much of a problem for any of these five phones. Officially, the iPhone XS and XS Max have the strongest ratings, with the "6" indicating they're entirely dust-proof and the "8" meaning they can survive being submerged in water to a depth of 2 m (6.6 ft) for 30 minutes.
The iPhone XR's rating of IP67 means it's also dust-proof but slightly less water resistant – safe down to 1 m (3.3 ft), tops.
The Pixel 3s are a bit murkier. The 8 means they should have the same high water resistance but oddly enough, Google hasn't specified the dust resistance rating. Officially an "X" means there isn't enough data to rate the product in that field, so we're not sure why that's the case. Still, we'd assume it'll be fine for everyday use.
At an impressive 6.5 inches, the iPhone XS Max has the biggest screen of any mainstream phone this year. The Pixel 3 XL's isn't far behind, with its 6.3-in display bigger than average.
Said average is probably around 6 inches, so the iPhone XR and XS are around that mark while the Pixel 3 has what may be the smallest of any major phone released in 2018.
The iPhone XS Max manages to make the best use of the front of the phone, with more than 84 percent of that valuable real estate dedicated to the screen. The iPhone XS and Pixel 3 XL follow pretty closely, with similarly slim bezels around the display.
By the way, we hope you like notches in the tops of your screens, because that's the new normal apparently. The only phone of this bunch to not add the divisive feature is the base model Pixel 3.
The screen on the Pixel 3 XL (which Google describes as QHD+) has not only the highest resolution of these five, but is tied with Samsung's Galaxy S9 and S9+ as the highest on a 2018 phone.
The iPhone XS Max is no slouch though, with the highest resolution seen yet on any iPhone. The XS also manages a decent display that's approaching QHD, while the Pixel 3 is just over 2K. And finally the iPhone XR limps over the finish line with a resolution that falls short of Full HD.
That said, Apple attempts to make up for these technical shortcomings with Retina Displays, by designing its UI so that "widgets" have more pixels in them to make them look sharper than older Apple devices.
As four of the five devices on this list attest, Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) is kind of seen as the "premium" display technology nowadays, although there are still plenty using variations of Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD). Apple was a long-time holdout on the tech, only dipping its toes in the OLED waters for the first time last year with the iPhone X. The XR sticks with the In-Plane Switching Liquid Crystal Display (IPS LCD) of previous generations.
Both technologies have their pros and cons, but in general terms, LCD devices are said to be sharper and clearer, while OLED have brighter colors and better contrast.
The two new Pixels can be unlocked with a quick tap of a finger to the fingerprint sensor on the back. As of this year Apple has ditched that tech entirely and put all its eggs in its Face ID basket, which only unlocks the phone when it recognizes a registered user staring back at it.
The new iPhones are all powered by Apple's latest chipset, the A12 Bionic, which the company says is a little faster and consumes 50 percent less power than its predecessor. The Pixels are both running on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845, which is essentially the standard for Android phones this year.
Although some manufacturers are starting to push the RAM envelope towards 6 GB and even 8 GB, the iPhones and Pixels are content with 4 GB. That should still be fine though, given it's been the baseline for a few years now. The only exception here is the iPhone XR, which makes do with 3 GB.
One area that Apple is going above and beyond is in storage space options. While the Pixels max out at 128 GB – which is pretty generous already – the iPhone XS and XS Max give you the option to not only double it, but crank things right up to 512 GB. This is the first time we've seen that much space crammed into a phone, and heavy users should appreciate it – although of course, that much legroom carries a pretty hefty price tag.
None of these phones have a MicroSD card slot to expand your storage down the track. With that in mind, better mull over your built-in storage options before you commit to something.
The Pixel 3 XL has the biggest capacity battery on this list, by a decent margin. Apple never releases its exact figures, but they usually come out as soon as independent benchmarkers get their hands on them. If those are to be believed, the iPhone XS Max has the second-biggest battery, followed by the XR, Pixel 3 and XS.
In practice though, capacity doesn't tell you the whole story of how long your battery will last. Apple usually manages to squeeze more out of less by keeping tight reigns over how the software and hardware work together. Google says the Pixel 3s (and anything running Android 9 Pie) have a new feature called Adaptive Battery, which learns how often you use different apps and designates battery power accordingly, so those you barely use don't hog it all.
in any case, you're likely to get at least a full day's use out of any of these phones, and probably more.
All five of these phones can be fast-charged, letting you quickly top up the battery in a pinch. Apple was one of the last manufacturers to come to the party on this now stock-standard function, and is the only one to charge extra for it. To fast charge an iPhone XR, XS or XS Max, you'll need to fork over an extra US$70 for a USB-C to Lightning cable and a 30 W USB-C charger.
The addition of wireless charging is new to this generation of Pixels, while Apple introduced the tech to iPhones last year. In all cases, you'll need to buy a separate wireless charger to make use of the feature.
A mainstay on portable audio devices since the Sony Walkman in the 1980s, the plug seems to have finally been pulled on the 3.5 mm headphone jack. None of these phones have one, and its extinction is spreading throughout the rest of the industry.
That leaves these phones with just the one port at the bottom – Apple's proprietary Lightning for the iPhones and the ubiquitous USB-C for the Pixels. Both companies pack in new earbuds that plug straight into those ports, while the Pixel also comes with a 3.5mm-to-USB-C adapter, in case you want to keep using the headphones you already have.
All five of these phones have an NFC chip, which can be used for mobile payments and to transfer data between devices at close range.
The 7-megapixel cameras on the front of the iPhones are decent enough, but the real selling point is the tech Apple calls TrueDepth 3D. These cameras can scan in three dimensions to build a detailed model of a user's face, which forms the basis of the Face ID system.
Google has gone for dual 8-MP selfie cams on the new Pixels, one of which is a wide-angle lens. The main use for these, according to the company, is to let you squeeze more friends into your selfies, for a type of photo that Google (apparently without much thought) has dubbed "groupies."
Google's choice to stick two cameras on the front of the Pixels means the rear camera remains solo. That's a little odd given the current trend of having two or even three cameras on the back. That said it's still a decent camera, with 12 megapixels and an aperture of f/1.8 for better low-light snaps and wider depth of field. The main on the iPhone XR has those same specs.
The iPhone XS and XS Max meanwhile sport dual 12-MP cameras on the back, combining a wide-angle and a telephoto lens. Together that gives you a pretty good range of photo options, whether you want to focus in tight on a subject or expand the view outwards to capture more of the scenery.
The kinds of things you can do with those cameras is an ever-growing list.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) in photos and videos is becoming standard, giving your snaps better contrast and colors. All of these devices can also shoot video in both Full HD and 4K, and have some form of Optical Image Stabilization to smooth out the wobbles while filming.
Slow-motion is becoming bigger too. All five of these phones can shoot slow-mo at either 120 or 240 frames per second, but while the iPhones can keep a 1080p resolution for both modes, the Pixels tone it down to 720p when filming at 240 fps. If you'd rather speed up your videos, the iPhones also have Timelapse options.
The Pixels can use Google Lens to recognize things in your photos, bringing up for example the Wikipedia pages for landmarks or showing you prices and where to buy objects you scan. It can also translate signs and text in foreign languages in real-time.
And finally, both companies have some form of Augmented Reality (AR) to play with. Apple has Animoji and Memoji, which let users transform their faces into cartoon characters or caricatures of themselves, which can be saved and sent as videos or emojis.
The Pixels have similar stickers to place over your selfies in the vein of Snapchat filters, but Google goes a step further with what it's now calling AR Playground. These can scan a scene to recognize where the ground and objects are, to place 3D animated characters in a more realistic way. So far it includes characters from Marvel, Star Wars and Stranger Things.
Both sets of phones come with the latest versions of their respective operating systems preinstalled. In the case of the iPhones that means iOS 12, while the Pixel 3 and 3 XL are the first devices to launch with Android 9 Pie. This latest version brings with it a focus on using artificial intelligence to streamline the experience.
The new Pixels are, unsurprisingly, running the Google Assistant, and Apple devices wouldn't be the same without Siri.
The iPhone XS and XS Max launched back in September. The Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL are due to launch next week (October 18) in the US and follow in other parts of the world on November 1. The iPhone XR is due to drop on October 26.
The iPhone XR is the most entry-level phone on this list, with prices starting at $749. For just 50 bucks more you could either double the storage space or go for a 64 GB Pixel 3, while $899 will get you a choice of either the 256 GB XR, 128 GB Pixel 3 or 64 GB Pixel 3 XL.
While even the most expensive Pixel 3 scrapes in under a grand, that's where the iPhone XS and XS Max start. After that, prices stretch all the way up to almost $1,500, a new high-water mark. Lately Apple seems to be skewing itself even more towards being a luxury brand than it has previously.
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