Google Pixel 3
It's a small phone, but the Pixel 3 has all of the same features and power of the larger 3 XL. The 5.5-inch 18:9 display looks great, and is supported by all of the modern specs and hardware features you want. Plus, you get to experience Google's simple, fast, and up-to-date software.
Google Pixel 3
Simple and powerful
Samsung Galaxy S9
Samsung's approach of packing in the most features makes the Galaxy S9 an excellent choice for the widest number of people. In hardware, it has everything the Pixel 3 does, and then some — but the trade-off comes in its tougher-to-manage software and inferior overall camera quality. What this comparison ultimately comes down to is the price.
Samsung Galaxy S9
There aren't many flagship-level phones with all the bells and whistles that are also small enough to use in one hand. If that's what you want, the Pixel 3 and Galaxy S9 are two of the best options. Here's how they differ.
Should you buy a Google Pixel 3 or a Samsung Galaxy S9?
These phones' larger siblings take the spotlight, but what's great about the Pixel 3 and Galaxy S9 is that they're nearly identical to their larger counterparts — which means you get a fantastic phone in a smaller size at a lower price. But which is the best?
At their core, the Pixel 3 and Galaxy S9 are incredibly similar. The spec sheets match up closely across the board with only a few notable differences: the Galaxy S9 has a microSD card slot for memory expansion, a slightly larger battery, and a marginally bigger screen. Those similarities carry over to other parts of the hardware experience — these are relatively compact phones finished in glass on both sides with a metal frame and rounded edges. The Pixel 3 is ever-so-slightly smaller and lighter, but you wouldn't really notice since the Galaxy S9 also feels light and its curved screen helps usability. The Pixel 3's matte etching on the back dramatically reduces fingerprint accumulation, and its fingerprint sensor is also just a bit more natural to feel — it also doesn't have a Bixby button to accidentally press.
Samsung's screen is a bit more colorful and gets much brighter to help combat direct sunlight, but in every other respect, the Pixel 3's display matches its quality. Above and below the screens on both phones you find stereo speakers, but Google's are louder and both face you for a proper stereo feel. Though that may not matter to you as much as the fact that it's missing a headphone jack, which Samsung has in the Galaxy S9.
|Category||Pixel 3||Galaxy S9|
|Operating system||Android 9 Pie||Android 8.0 Oreo|
Gorilla Glass 5
Gorilla Glass 5
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845|
Pixel Visual Core
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 845|
|Rear camera||12.2MP, 1.4-micron|
f/1.8, OIS, PDAF
f/1.5 or f/2.4, OIS, PDAF
|Front camera 1||8MP, f/1.8, auto focus|
|8MP, f/1.7, auto focus|
|Front camera 2||8MP, f/2.2, fixed focus|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0 LE, NFC, GPS||Wi-Fi 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0 LE, NFC, GPS|
3.5mm headphone jack
|Charging||18W USB-C PD|
|Quick Charge 2.0|
|Security||Fingerprint sensor||Fingerprint sensor|
|Dimensions||145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9 mm|
|147.7 x 68.7 x 8.5 mm|
|Colors||Just Black, Very White, Not Pink||Midnight Black, Lilac Purple, Coral Blue, Slate Grey|
For many people, this comparison hinges on the software experience. Google and Samsung have dramatically different approaches to what's important on a phone, and Google trends toward simplicity while Samsung typically values the volume of features and customizability. Android 9 Pie on the Pixel 3 is dead simple for anyone to use, but its performance and functionality scales nicely to diehard Android power users as well. Integration with Google's apps and services is unparalleled, and so long as you're okay with that, you'll be rewarded with a lack of bloat and unnecessary apps. Samsung still has trouble walking the line between being all things to all people while also trying to keep things simple. For the most part, it works, but it requires a lot more setup and management. The Galaxy S9 is dramatically more customizable, but the trade-off is having a lot more to "deal" with.
The discussion of software performance brings us nicely into the cameras. Google is the champ in the camera segment, and it does it by leaning heavily on software to augment its single rear camera. Every photo is great and the results are often spectacular — you'll just be happy with this camera, no matter what. The Galaxy S9 has a great camera in its own right and is great in a variety of situations with great shot-to-shot consistency and a high level of overall speed. However, the smaller Galaxy lacks the secondary lens of the GS9+ — meaning it doesn't do portrait mode or have that 2X optical zoom; those are both things the Pixel 3 has, even though it has just one camera. The raw quality of the GS9 isn't far behind the Pixel 3, but Google has the lead here.
Both phones take great selfies, with good sensors supported by fast lenses and autofocus, but the Pixel 3 once again edges things out just a bit with its secondary camera that offers a wide-angle view and excellent portrait mode.
The one big wrinkle in this whole comparison is the price. The Galaxy S9 debuted at a similar price to the Pixel 3, but that was several months ago, back in March. Now, the Galaxy S9 can regularly be had for about $650, a solid $150 less than the Pixel 3 and a considerable price difference if you're at all focused on value. For the lower price, you might be okay with the Galaxy S9's slightly inferior camera and shorter software support lifespan — not to mention all of the parts of the experience that are effectively identical to the Pixel 3.
But when price is less of a factor — something made even easier with 24-month financing — the Pixel 3 offers a more compelling overall package. Its camera is spectacular and its software experience is fantastic — while the rest of the hardware and specs are nearly identical, meaning you don't give up anything major in order to get that Google software suite.
Simple and powerful
The best software Google has to offer
The Pixel 3 is a fantastic phone in a compact size. It has an excellent software experience direct from Google, great all-around hardware in terms of design and specs, and has the best cameras you can get today. It's tough to find a flaw with this formula.
All things to most people
The Galaxy S9 has received price cuts since its introduction, and that makes it an incredibly enticing option if the price is at all a factor for you. For a considerable amount less than the Pixel 3, you get hardware of the same quality, plus still-great cameras and every software feature you can imagine.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.