Pixel XL and Note 7

No longer can we compare the latest phones from Google and Samsung on an uneven scale — at $769, the Pixel XL goes toe-to-toe with the Galaxy Note 7's price. And for that money, you're looking to get a top-end phone in either case. Both have big screens, solid hardware, all the specs you want and a few interesting points to differentiate from the pack.

With the Note 7 returning from its recall and the Pixel already up for pre-order, it's a great time to see which one is the best choice at the top-end of the Android world. Read on.

On the inside

Two high-end phones, two packed spec sheets. Processor, RAM, screen resolution, battery size, connectivity and just about every other spec lines up pretty evenly when you look at the numbers. The Galaxy Note 7 has a slight advantage with its S Pen stylus, OIS on the camera, wireless charging and notably more robust IP68 water-resistant rating. That final point will probably be a big one — while water resistance certainly isn't standard at this point, more phones are offering it and it's turning into a "must have" for a lot of people.

The Pixel XL's newer-generation processor technically gives it an advantage in terms of future-proofing, and its optional 128GB of internal storage is great, negating the need for an SD card for many people out there. It's a minor point on the camera side, but it's worth noting that the Pixel XL has laser auto focus on its camera as well, which has a theoretical advantage in low-light focusing abilities over just phase-detect auto focus.

Category Google Pixel XL Galaxy Note 7
Operating System Android 7.1 with Google UI Android 6.0
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Display 5.5-inch 2560x1440
Gorilla Glass 4
5.7-inch 2560x1440
Dual edge screen
Gorilla Glass 5
Rear Camera 12MP, f/2.0
1.55-micron pixels
12MP, f/1.7
1.4-micron pixels
Front camera 8MP, f/2.4 5MP, f/1.7
Battery 3450 mAh
3500 mAh
Charging Rapid Charging Quick Charge 2.0
Qi wireless
Powermat wireless
Connectivity USB-C, Bluetooth 4.2 USB-C, Bluetooth 4.2
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Input Touchscreen Touchscreen
S Pen stylus
Storage 32/128GB
microSD up to 256GB
IP rating IP53 IP68
Dimensions 154.7 x 75.7 x 8.6 mm 153.5 x 73.9 x 8.6 mm
Weight 168 g 169 g

The Note 7 wins on raw specs, but the Pixel XL's software wins that battle.

When it comes to what's really running the show inside, the big differentiation between the two is software. Samsung's experience and features are a pretty well-known quantity at this point. You can't really hate on Samsung's interface at this point: it's consistent, slick, powerful and downright fast. The issue with Samsung's current software suite is the sheer number of features that can be overwhelming, and that's at its peak on a Note. With lots overlapping apps and services on the phone from both Samsung and Google, things can get confusing — and that's before you add in all of the bloatware from carriers and Samsung's built-in apps that you can't disable or uninstall.

While the Pixel XL adds a few new features above and beyond what we've come to expect from a history of Nexus phones, the name of the game (especially compared to the Note 7) is still simplicity. There are no duplicate apps pre-installed, and so long as you're okay with Google's services you're getting a top-class experience for everything built into your single Google Account. You can duplicate some of the experience on other phones by swapping apps or changing the launcher, but when it comes to simplicity, Google's software still does things best. You're also getting access to brand new features like Google Assistant first, and also have the knowledge that you're getting two years of software updates, guaranteed.

On the outside

Externally, things are quite interesting. Most of us know the Galaxy Note 7 by now — it's built incredibly well, makes liberal use of curved glass and is striking to look at from just about any angle. With small bezels and a curved screen it's incredibly small for the screen size as well. The Pixel XL comes in with a different approach: not only is it a touch taller and wider than the Note 7, it offers a smaller screen at 5.5 inches diagonally at the same time.

The Note 7 is sleek and compact for its size; the Pixel XL is just average in this regard.

Though the Pixel XL isn't svelte, it sure does feel nice and have plenty of interesting visual flourishes. The primarily metal body isn't just a bland slab — the large beveled edge connecting the back to the sides, together with the chamfered edge that transitions to the screen, give glimmers of light and extra surfaces to grip when using the phone. The big pane of glass that makes up about one-third of the back of the phone is an interesting way to handle the issue of RF transparency and turn it into a design element. The phones really don't look similar, even when compared black on black — the Note 7 is certainly more flashy, while the Pixel XL is a bit more subtle and strong looking.

But when you turn the phones around to the front, it's all about the screen. The Note 7 gives you more screen to look at, and Samsung's screens really are best in the business. The Pixel XL's 5.5-inch display is also AMOLED and has the same resolution, technically giving it a higher pixel density but at this level it doesn't really matter. The Pixel XL's display is nice, but it shouldn't make any Note 7 owners (or potential owners) jealous.

Google's new Pixel XL and the still-fresh Note 7 will appeal to different buyers, but one thing that remains constant is the large outlay of cash that will be required to buy either one.

Which phone has the specs, features, design and software that you're looking for? Let us know in the comments!

Google Pixel + Pixel XL