Comparing 2018's flagship phones: iPhone XR, XS, XS Max vs. LG G7 ThinQ vs. Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ vs. Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL
As 2018 draws to a close, all the flagship phones of the year are available and duking it out for attention on people's holiday shopping lists. But how do they all stack up against each other? New Atlas compares the specs and features of eight major phones of 2018: Apple's iPhone XR, XS and XS Max, LG's G7 ThinQ, Google's Pixel 3 and 3 XL, and Samsung's Galaxy S9 and S9+.
Big is beautiful once again, as 2018 normalized phones that in past years might have attracted the awkward "phablet" moniker. The biggest of the bunch is the Galaxy S9+, which is just slightly taller than the Pixel 3 XL, followed by the iPhone XS Max – although both of those phones are wider. Both Galaxies are pretty thick too, just beating out the iPhone XR.
The Pixel 3 is the baby of the group, and given its small size, thick bezels and tiny screen, it's beginning to look like it belongs firmly in the past.
The Pixel 3 is also the lightest of the bunch, and by quite a wide margin – 60 grams separates it from the bulkiest device, the iPhone XS Max. That's the equivalent of 12 US nickels. The others all fall within that range, separated by the odd coin or two in weight.
Cast an eye over the palettes of these phones and you'll notice a few recurring colors. Muted tones like black, white and gray are common, while other splashes of color include blue, red, yellow, pink and purple options. For a more stylish finish, maybe try gold and silver.
All eight of these phones have gone for glass front and back, ringed in metal for support. In the case of the iPhone XS and XS Max that's stainless steel, while the other phones are all built with aluminum.
All eight phones have pretty solid resistance to dust and water. The IP68 rating officially means the devices are dust-tight, and can survive immersion in water deeper than 1 m (3.3 ft) for up to 30 minutes. Apple goes further and says the iPhone XS and XS Max will be fine down to 2 m (6.6 ft).
The iPhone XR, meanwhile, is rated IP67, which means it can be dunked no deeper than 1 m.
Strangely, the "X" in the rating of the two new Pixels suggests Google hasn't bothered to get them rated against dust, but we'd assume they're more or less dust-proof anyway.
In practice, we don't recommend testing the accuracy of these claims, but there's some peace of mind in knowing that your expensive toy won't be instantly killed by an accidental dip in the bath.
Although the Galaxy S9+ is the biggest phone, it has the third-biggest screen, behind the iPhone XS Max and the Pixel 3 XL. The iPhone XR and LG G7 are close behind with 6.1-in displays, followed by the iPhone XS and Galaxy S9 at 5.8 inches. And bringing up the rear once again is the Pixel 3, at a quaint 5.5 inches.
Size isn't everything, though – one important emerging metric is the ratio of the screen to the overall front area of the device. Manufacturers are increasingly stretching the screen from edge to edge, and phones with bulky bezels around them quickly look old-fashioned.
It's no surprise then that the Pixel 3 has the smallest ratio, with fairly large black bars above and below the screen. Up the other end of the scale, the iPhone XS Max and Galaxy S9+ have done the best job of banishing bezels.
But, of course, there's a catch. All three iPhones, the LG G7 and Pixel 3 XL have notches carved into the top of the display, which has been a divisive design choice for the last few years. If you prefer the flat top, all three companies give you the option to "turn off" the screen at either side of the notch, but you'll obviously lose a little display real estate.
The "winner" of the resolution race is the LG G7, with 3,120 pixels crammed into the vertical and a density of 564 pixels per inch. The Pixel 3 XL and the two Galaxy S9s aren't far behind, with a three-way tie on a resolution of 2,960 x 1,440. That said, the Galaxy S9 has the highest pixel density of the three, but that's because the screen itself is smaller. Swings and roundabouts.
Bringing up the rear is the iPhone XR, which sports a screen that's not even Full HD, in a world where mobile devices consistently deliver Quad HD or better.
LCD seems to have fallen out of favor somewhat, as the industry moves towards OLED and AMOLED screens. Apple has relegated the LCD tech to its "budget" offering, the iPhone XR, and LG is the only other company on this list to use it.
That said, both LCD and OLED (and their variants) have their pros and cons. IPS LCD has brighter displays and more natural colors, while AMOLED provides better contrast and more vivid colors. In the end, it's probably more a matter of personal taste.
Apple has well and truly transitioned to its Face ID system, entirely removing the old fingerprint sensor from this generation of iPhones. The G7 and both Pixel phones stick with it, allowing users to unlock the devices with a touch of their finger, as most of us are used to.
But rather than making us choose, Samsung has thrown both options onto the Galaxy S9 and S9+, and on top of that added an iris scanner that can work in tandem with the facial recognition system for an extra layer of security.
The three iPhones are running on A12 Bionic processors, Apple's latest chipsets. All five of the Android phones are powered by eight-core versions of Qualcomm's current flagship processor, the Snapdragon 845.
What does this mean in practical terms? Basically, each phone should be faster than its respective predecessor, but you probably won't notice much difference in speed between them.
The industry standard for RAM at the moment is 4 GB, and there's little deviation from that. The iPhone XR still makes do with 3 GB, while the Galaxy S9+ ups the game to 6 GB. Still, you're not likely to notice much difference day-to-day between these phones. RAM is largely used to keep multiple apps open at once, and even then you'd have to be a pretty heavy multitasker to get it close to the limit with 4 GB – let alone six.
The baseline for built-in storage space has crept up to 64 GB, which is more than enough for the average user.
If you're looking for more, all of these phones (bar the LG G7) have roomier options, but prepare to pay more: storage space is the key thing that cranks up the price.
The iPhone XR, Pixel 3 and 3 XL, Galaxy S9 and S9+ double that to 128 GB, but if that's still not enough all three iPhones and both Galaxies double it again to 256 GB.
Still hungry for more room? Well, we're not sure what you're doing with your phone, but the iPhone XS and XS Max top out at a mammoth 512 GB.
A MicroSD card is a good way to expand that storage if you find yourself tapped out down the track – plus they can be cheaper than buying the next model up of the phone.
The LG G7, Galaxy S9 and S9+ all have a MicroSD card slot, with the two Samsung phones maxing out at an extra 400 GB. If you buy an iPhone or a Pixel, you'll have to make sure you get one with enough space straight off the bat.
The standard range for smartphone battery capacity is currently between 3,000 and 3,500 mAh, and most of these devices fall into that group. The Pixel 3 and iPhone XR fall just short of the bar, while the iPhone XS is, perhaps surprisingly, the phone with the smallest battery.
But don't take these numbers as hard and fast rules on which phones will last longer than others – there are plenty of factors that influence battery life. Apple, for instance, tends to use batteries with smaller capacities but iPhones will still squeeze a day or more of use out of them, thanks to the company's tight control over the operating system and how apps use the power. And, of course, it depends what kind of stuff you're using them for, too.
All eight of these phones can be fast-charged, which is a handy feature if you need a quick top-up before heading out. But while the five Android phones – and basically every other phone out there – can do this out of the box, the three iPhones come with a frustrating caveat. To fast charge an iPhone XR, XS or XS Max, you'll need to buy a Lightning to USB-C cable and a USB-C power adapter, which will set you back an extra US$70 or so.
All eight phones also offer wireless charging, but in this case none of them can do it straight out of the box. No matter which phone you get, you'll have to buy a wireless charging pad, but in our opinion it's a less necessary function than fast charging, mostly because you can't use the phone while it's juicing up.
Apple sticks with its proprietary Lightning port for power, while all five Android phones use the more-or-less industry standard USB-C. This doesn't make much difference either way – unless all your friends have one and you have the other, in which case it might be hard to borrow a charger in an emergency.
The 3.5 mm headphone jack is now critically endangered, with only the LG G7, Galaxy S9 and S9+ providing a last refuge for the once widespread port. But maybe this is a sign it's time to move on to Bluetooth headphones and earbuds.
For the LG G7 and both Samsung Galaxies, the front-facing camera is a fairly straight-forward affair. All three can take 8-megapixel stills – plenty good enough for selfies – while the Galaxy cameras have a wider aperture. That lets in more light, allowing for better low-light shots and a better bokeh effect.
One of the key selling points of the latest iPhones is what Apple calls a TrueDepth 3D camera. This allows the lens to sense depth, underpinning the Face ID system.
The Pixel 3 and 3 XL sport dual 8-MP cameras on the front, one of which is a wide angle lens. The main reason for this, according to Google's marketing, is to cram more people into your selfies.
The rear cameras on the iPhone XR, Pixel 3 and 3 XL boast the same decent specs, with 12-MP resolution and an aperture of f/1.8. The Galaxy S9's camera can also shoot in 12 MP but Samsung has fitted it with a dual aperture, one of which is the widest seen yet on any smartphone, at f/1.5. This should help bring out details in really low-light shots.
The other four phones all have dual cameras on the back. The iPhone XS and XS Max and Galaxy S9+ have wide-angle and telephoto lenses, all of which have 12 MP resolution. The wide-angle lens on the S9+ has the same dual aperture as the base model S9.
The LG G7 ups the resolution to 16 MP on both of its rear cameras, one of which has a wide-angle lens.
Nice photos and videos can be expected from the cameras on all eight of these phones. They can all take shots with High Dynamic Range, and shoot video up to 4K resolution with some form of image stabilization.
All eight can also shoot slow motion video up to 240 fps, but the two Galaxy phones blow the others out of the water with the super slo-mo mode, which captures the world at an industry-leading 960 fps.
Google has just recently released an update called Night Sight, which allows the Pixel 3's cameras to see in the dark to an unprecedented level. Using specialized algorithms, the phone takes several brief exposures in a row before overlaying them into one image, not just lightening the scene but bringing out sharper details, more colors and better white balance in the final photo.
Augmented reality (AR) is another big selling point, with all eight cameras including some form of the technology. On the iPhones, that's Animoji and Memoji, which sync the user's face with animated animals or cartoon versions of themselves, which can be sent in messages. Samsung's AR Emoji is basically the same thing, while AR Playground (formerly AR Stickers) lets users add animated characters to photos and videos from the Pixel 3 phones or the G7.
The three iPhones are running Apple's latest operating system, iOS 12. The LG G7 and Galaxy S9 and S9+ are running Android 8 Oreo. The Pixel 3 and 3 XL are the first phones to update to Android 9 Pie, which will most likely make its way to other phones early next year.
Naturally, Apple mainstay Siri is back on the iPhones. The Pixels and the G7 feature the Google Assistant, while the two Galaxy phones are using Samsung's own Bixby. In practice, they all do basically the same stuff, so it's more a matter of your own preference.
The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are the longest in the tooth, having released way back in March this year. That means the next models are also the closest, with the Galaxy S10 no doubt arriving in the next three or four months.
The LG G7 is the next oldest – it came out in June. Then you've got the iPhone XS and XS Max, which were released in September, followed by the XR a month later. The Pixel 3 and 3 XL also came out in October.
The lowest price you'll pay for one of these phones is US$620, for the 64 GB Galaxy S9, and the range extends all the way up to $1,449 for the 512 GB iPhone XS Max.
It's interesting to note that Apple seems to be pricing its products higher and higher compared to the others. Splurging for the top-of-the-line Pixel 3 XL or Galaxy S9+ will still ring up for less than the mid-tier iPhone XS. Looking at the specs above, it's getting harder to see what bang you're getting for that extra buck.