The year-old Google Pixel 2's camera surprisingly still beats the brand new iPhone XS

With staggered release cycles, companies get a short-term upper-hand when they launch a phone against months-old hardware and software from the competition. Right now, the brand new iPhone XS is out — and we're still about a month away from the Google Pixel 3, so it's being compared to the nearly year-old Google Pixel 2 instead.

Normally, you'd think that'd put the iPhone XS way ahead — and in many ways, it is, because that's just how the tech industry works. But one place it seems Apple still hasn't caught up to Google's best tech from 2017 is the camera. With iPhone XS phones out in the wild now, a common refrain among reviewers and observers alike is that the Google Pixel 2 still takes consistently better-looking photos than Apple's new latest $1000 flagship.

Indeed, in the first handful of camera comparisons we've done with the two phones (a Pixel 2 XL and iPhone XS Max, in particular), the Pixel continues to flex its software-driven camera capabilities even as Apple touted its new "SmartHDR" camera processing on the latest iPhone. Most of us know the Pixel 2 takes deep, colorful photos with a really good feel for the proper exposure, and you can see in these side-by-side shots the area where it still shines against the iPhone XS' 12MP f/1.8 setup.

iPhone XS Max (left) / Google Pixel 2 XL (right) — click images to view larger.

Across the board the iPhone XS seems overexposed and soft compared to the deeper colors and sharpness of the Pixel 2. The dimly lit indoor hallway shot in particular shows how well Google manages to smooth details and nail the lighting.

The iPhone XS takes great photos — they just aren't as great as the Pixel 2.

As is the case in so many camera comparisons, if you were to take the iPhone XS photos alone and analyze them you'd be perfectly happy with the results. They're better than what the iPhone X was capable of, and probably better than most other phones out there. But it's interesting to see them beaten by the nearly year-old competition from Google. Other publications and reviewers have observed the same: the Pixel 2 just takes better photos, whether you measure by subjective feelings or objective metrics.

That has me increasingly excited for the Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL, which we'll see in a matter of weeks. We were rather skeptical of the Pixel 2 and 2 XL's cameras as the start given their lackluster hardware, but Google blew us away — now with another year of hardware advancement and software improvement, it could widen the gap.

What are your thoughts on the differences between the Pixel 2 and iPhone XS cameras?

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.