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Samsung Galaxy S9+ vs. Google Pixel 2 XL: Which should you buy?

We've already put the smaller versions of these phones, the Galaxy S9 and Pixel 2, head to head — but now, we look at the big ones. In many ways, comparing the Galaxy S9+ to the Google Pixel 2 XL is far more interesting, as they match more closely regarding size, specs, capabilities, and price. Being more expensive and bigger, people have much higher expectations that these are the true flagships from Samsung and Google — so, which one is best for you? We have all of the information you need to decide.

What's the same

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Samsung Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL

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Samsung Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL

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Samsung Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL

In many ways, Samsung and Google have made very similar flagships. Size-wise, the phones are nearly identical. The Galaxy S9+ has a bit smaller bezels, and its curved display makes it a tad narrower, but the Pixel 2 XL's slightly smaller screen averages things out, so both phones have a very similar footprint. They're big, and give you lots of screen to use, but aren't particularly unwieldy — and in most cases, you can get things done with one hand.

In size and feel, Samsung and Google have made very similar flagships.

They're both curvy phones, limiting the number of times your hand finds a sharp edge in use. I'll discuss the merits of glass versus metal below, but both are constructed extremely well and give you the feeling that you got your money's worth spending $850.

Samsung Galaxy S9 vs. Google Pixel 2: Which should you buy?

Both phones are water-resistant and have dual speakers that give stereo separation and sound pretty good. Inside the Galaxy S9+ has a slight spec advantage with its newer Snapdragon 845 processor and 6GB of RAM, but you'll see I have this mentioned in the "same" category because the Pixel 2 XL simply feels just as fast as, or faster than, the Galaxy S9+ in daily use. Chasing specs in this case isn't a great idea, even though I'll recognize that a couple years in the future that extra processing power and RAM could make a difference.

Outside of that processor and RAM, things are about the same. Both phones have high-resolution displays, and all of the supporting radios and random little specs you expect to see on a high-end phone. Their batteries are almost the same size, and in my experience they offer about the same battery life from day to day — the only real difference being the Galaxy S9+'s inability to settle down and just sip power when in standby, where it just continues to drain at a faster rate than the Pixel 2 XL will if it's just sitting on a table ostensibly not doing much.

What's different

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Samsung Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL

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Samsung Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL

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Samsung Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL

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Samsung Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL

Let's continue the hardware discussion with the parts that differentiate these phones. Whether you like a glass-backed or metal-backed phone is mostly personal choice — and in this case, even the Pixel has a pretty large pane of glass on its back. The Galaxy S9+'s glass enables wireless charging, and it sure looks stunning out of the box. But the glass isn't nearly as durable as the Pixel 2 XL's metal, and the number of fingerprints and scratches the Galaxy S9+ picks up over time can be a major disappointment.

Samsung continues to offer more hardware for the money, but the same approach in software isn't always great.

With the potential durability concerns, the Galaxy S9+ gives you hardware benefits. You get a headphone jack (and headphones in the box as a bonus), as well as an SD card slot for adding up to 400GB of storage at a whim. The latter may not be a huge deal, but I'll still argue the headphone jack is an incredibly useful port to have. The Galaxy S9+'s display is also a big step up in overall quality from the Pixel 2 XL's, with better brightness, colors and off-axis viewing — Samsung still wins the screen fight, hands-down.

Where things swing back in the Pixel 2 XL's favor is in software. The Galaxy S9+'s sheer number of features could be perceived as an advantage, but I'll argue all day that Google's simplicity wins overall. You can always add capabilities and features through tweaking settings and installing apps, but you can never get away from Samsung's duplicate apps and immense changes to Android that are regularly getting in your way. It's never a good feeling to have to fight with the phone to get it working cleanly and efficiently.

Advanced users can manage, and normal people will be able to put up with the cruft, but they shouldn't have to — and the Pixel 2 XL offers a more enjoyable daily software experience because of what it doesn't have. Add in Google's commitment to two years of major software updates and three years of monthly security patches, and the Pixel 2 XL offers a simpler overall package that doesn't require so much maintenance or worry. You can just enjoy using the phone, with Google's apps and services, plus the key apps you want to use, and you'll quickly forget about the other fringe features you thought would be useful on the Samsung phone.

Both take wonderful photos; the question is how hard you want to work for it and how many tools you need.

The final important factor here is the cameras. I'll say it right from the start that I think both of these phones have excellent overall camera experiences, and they both take great photos every time you press the shutter button. Everything else about the phones aside, anyone would be happy with these phones. But there's some nuance to how they get there.

The Pixel 2 XL takes all of the work out of taking photos. Its extremely simple camera interface just lets you press the shutter and watch magic happen, as HDR+ processes your photo and gives you a wonderful recreation of the scene. It gives you bursts of color and crazy-wide dynamic range, and that's super-appealing to the eye. The Galaxy S9+ makes you work for it a little more — it'll take a fundamentally great photo with fine details and low noise even in a dark room, but you may have to adjust exposure or tap to focus to get just the right shot sometimes. The GS9+ then goes above and beyond with a great Pro camera mode, 960 fps slow-motion and lots of little tweaks that just give you more options for taking a variety of photos with the camera.

Again, both phones can do wonderful things with their rear cameras. Whether you want the super-simple route or one that gives you more tools and a little more work to do is up to you.

Bottom line: Which should you buy?

Samsung Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL

This is the big question. At the highest level, which phone is "best" for you lands primarily on your feelings about the software. Do you want Google's clean, sleek experience that is lacking a bit in terms of raw features? Or do you want the power, options and customization potential of Samsung's software, at the cost of usability and some added frustration? Both are valid choices, and the average customer probably won't be as upset with Samsung's software as I may be, but I still feel Google is doing things the right way with its Pixel software — now, and two years on when it's still getting updates.

It comes down to which software experience aligns with your needs.

If you're indifferent on the software front, Samsung offers a compelling total package with the Galaxy S9+. It straight-up offers a better display, newer internal specs, more hardware features and some nice value-adds — and aside from its glass back being a bit more fragile, it doesn't do anything worse than the Pixel 2 XL. The Pixel 2 XL's hardware is a bit more robust and has a nice understated design, but in most people's eyes, this hardware isn't as enticing as what Samsung has.

Some will hang onto the differences in camera quality to make a decision, but once again I feel the software experience is on a higher priority level. Both phones take great photos, but simply do things a little differently. If you're fine with Samsung's approach to software, you'll be plenty happy with how it handles photography — likewise for Google and the Pixel 2 XL. So pick which software you like, come to terms with the hardware differences, and when you pick you'll know that either phone will take great photos.

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

46 Comments
  • I look at both. Both great phones I bought the pixel XL 2 300 off and 100 bill payment sold my old phone for 375 so cost was about 100 dollars
  • Sounds more like you forgot to add the $375 your old phone was worth. The $375 was the same as cash in your pocket. I hate when people do this. Is this a millennial thing?
  • It's general lack of understanding. I see this all the time. Opportunity cost is another thing people don't account for.
  • Care to explain?
  • My question, exactly . . . My problem is my big three priorities are screen, battery, and software . . Samsung wins on screen, they are equal on battery (acc to Andrew), and Pixel wins on software (imo and for my taste) . . So the score is essentially tied 😲
  • Different people put different weights on each feature.
  • Right, that's what I meant to say, usually the advice is "what's most important to you?" And *for me* that's a tie, so I'm still conflicted . . I'm a big fan of your opinion and analysis, and in the end I want to say a beautiful screen is most important to me, but my wife has an s7 and every time I have to help her with her phone all the duplicate apps (triplicate in some cases) and two app stores just drives me bonkers.
  • I don't think this is a very good comparison. The xl2 should be compared to the 8+ or note. When the pixal3 is released then compare it to the s9+. Now that would be much better!
  • Problem is you can't buy the Pixel 3, and we're still months away from it even leaking let alone being actually released. These are the 2 best phones you can buy from Samsung and Google, why not compare them?
  • Because when the pixel 3 comes out people will comment "why not compare it to the note9?" and on and on it goes, so we need to compare with what we have . . .
  • I've been reading about bad Samsung SW for many years now (is this ever since Nexus and Pixel phones came out?). It's almost expected now: Samsung SW bad, Pixel SW good. While I agree that Samsung SW is heavy with many superfluous features, I, for one, am not so bothered by Samsung SW, and I like using Samsung add-ons like S Health, S Pay, default keyboard with long press for "!" and "?", etc. As Andrew says, "advanced users can manage" and average users may just be happy with whatever comes with Samsung. So, what's such a big deal in the top of the line fast performing phones in 2018? I would be interested in a dedicated article about the Samsung SW compared to Pixel SW, and whether the difference is such a big deal in this day and age.
  • There's absolutely no doubt that it's a huge difference, but it all just comes down to personal preference, one is not necessarily'better' than the other . . You don't mind the extras, some people *do* mind them; some people want regular updates, some people couldn't care less . . Just all depends . . .
  • Besides Samsung health their software is very poor and biggest issue is the Samsung lag. Try both a pixel and a Samsung phone and it is very noticeable.
  • I'll be trying them out side by side come this Friday the 16th. BestBuy never releases their phones early, even with pre-order, but it is great this year to have day one unlocked availability.
  • https://youtu.be/XKdJ6DnPhzk
  • Lol 😂, good one.
  • I'm a Pixel fan but would choose the S9+ this time round.
    The extra RAM seems to have sorted the "Samsung stutter" issues on the Note and no reason to think it won't on the S9+
    Camera and hardware are all top notch so could be the time to give Samsung another go.
    Then again I might wait for the Note 9 or Pixel 3....
  • If we were to get the Pixel Software on Samsung Hardware (but with a flat glass screen), that would be the perfect combination. I hate Samsung Software, but they check all the boxes on the hardware. I will only consider a phone if it has a HEADPHONE JACK so therefore, i will never buy a GOOGLE PIXEL 2, no matter how awesome their software is--I would rather consider a Nokia or Motorola, if I wanted a slab phone, but since BlackBerry is the only brand that has a physical keyboard and great stock android experience, that's really the only brand I'll consider as my daily driver.
  • Samsung’s software has improved. They still need to tone down their duplicate crap, but their software really isn’t that bad anymore, and their phones check all the boxes
  • Keep hearing it has improved and not my experience. Try a pixel back to back with a Samsung phone and very noticeable.
  • I have. It’s apples to oranges. Just like Android will never be as cohesive as iOS, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t improve year to year. Same goes with stock Android compared with a skin
  • I agree, Samsung needs to remove some of the duplicates, but the software is really nice and not nearly as locked up as the Pixel. Does the Pixel have themes? Nope.
  • It's Android and you're complaining about 'lack of themes' just omegalul
  • The Pixel software isn't *locked up", it's Android not iOS, yes the Pixel 2 XL software doesn't have as much features as Samsung's but it doesn't need to either and I prefer it that way as most of Samsung's gimmicks err features just get in the way and aren't useful to me plus I'm a Google and stock Android lover so I'll naturally pick the Pixel 2 XL over the S9+ as I prefer the fast, clean and smooth experience of pure Android along with the fast updates and consistent monthly security patches and 3 years of updates as opposed to 2 years from Samsung, plus I'm don't like Samsung's bloated software.
  • This comparison is just dripping with hyperbole and bias. "Oh, dear, you might get fingerprints on that glass back!" "It's just so fragile! It would never occur to me to put a case on it!" "but you can never get away from Samsung's duplicate apps" Yes, you can. Disable them if you don't like them. "You can always add capabilities and features through tweaking settings and installing apps" Okay, please tell us what apps and settings can add a superior display, zoom camera, variable aperture, wireless charging, fast wireless charging, and Samsung Pay to your Pixel 2 XL. I'll wait. Oh, you mean software features? Pssst. Let me tell you a little secret. You don't have to use all the features.
  • I think you're just going to have to actually use a Pixel for a few weeks to see the appeal.
    There is no getting away from the fact that many who have tried them like them.
    They don't have the features I want so I'll not be buying one but having jumped from Samsung S7 to Pixel to Oneplus 5T and likely Note 9 next I can see the appeal of all of them.
  • I get that they have an appeal to a certain audience, but Andrew simply exaggerated the standard anti-Samsung talking points in order to force the Pixel 2 XL to look better than it is. Fingerprints? Fragile glass back? Duplicate apps? Seriously? This article is only one step better than what an anti-Samsung troll would post as a comment. All that was missing was "laggy, janky touchpiss" and "slows down over time". Or wait, did he say those things and I missed them?
  • It is not the features but the lag with Samsung software that hurts the experience and just no so on the Pixel for some reason.
  • I have a Note 8 with last year's SoC. Zero lag. Samsung software "lag" was a problem, but it is just a Google fanboy talking point now. If the S9+ lags an imperceptible picosecond behind something the Pixel 2 XL does, that's hardly enough to offset everything that's inferior or missing on the Pixel 2 XL.
  • I forgot to mention microSD and headphone jack. Have fun adding those to a Pixel 2 XL.
  • My hands shake, and a huge number of pics I take with the 9+ come out blurry. Other than switching to sports mode, is there any solution? I've gone through every setting, it's like there's no OIS on this. Really frustrating.
  • Regular Joe will buy Samsung anyway because it says Samsung on the box. No research needed. The S9 fits the needs of the majority, and that's how Samsung designs and markets their flagships every year. I'm not saying this as a negative. I'm saying this as a reality.
  • Thanks for answering the question nobody asked.
  • Hey, no problem!
  • I went back and forth between the XL2 and Note 8. I initially settled on the XL 2 for the software updates and camera. I can disable what I don't want on the Note/S9+ using BK Disabler. I switched back to the Note after two successive months of Google's security updates being too buggy and causing issues with various things that are extremely important, like Bluetooth and WiFi. Samsung may be too slow with their updates, but their updates seem to be more stable of late. Overall once the security update advantage became a burden, I disabled bloat with BK Disabler, and sideloaded Google's camera, I'm far happier with my Note 8.
  • Lol, I know what you you mean. I haven’t been able to expand YouTube videos to fill the screen on my Pixel 2 XL for about a month after having spent multiple hours on the phone with Google and YouTube separately. The expansion to fill the screen works properly on Netflix, Amazon prime video, and anything else you can name, but not on Google’s own YouTube service on their own phone, and I pay for YouTube Red, to top it off. This may seem like a minor thing, but it really pisses me off, in large part because it’s their phone and their service that I actually pay a premium for. Google better sh*t rainbows if they expect me to pony up for the 3rd generation Pixels, after having purchased both the 1st & 2nd generations, and having turned on about a baker’s dozen other people to give them a try.
  • 😂 not having micro sd support or a headphone jack put the pixel on most people's 💩 list. S9+ is the best thing out... so far.
  • Think it depends what is important to you. If smooth ui then you get the pixel as nothing can touch how buttery smooth. No slow down also over time.
  • What is the DAC like for audio via Bluetooth and headphone jack in the S9+ compared to the Pixel XL? Yes I realize that the LG V30 is probably the best but I'm curious if it will be a substantial update to my S7 Edge.
  • Samsung needs to partner with someone to update the damn software.
  • Pixel 2 XL all day long over the S9+, while I like the look of the S9+, I can't stand Samsung's software, it's bloated and Samsung:s duplicate apps app store are inferior to Google's, plus the fact that Samsung are bad with updates plus Samsung's gimmicks err features aren't useful to me plus I'm a Google and stock Android lover so naturally the Pixel 2 XL is gonna appeal to me as as Google's vision of Android is the same as mine and I love how fast, smooth and clean Google's UI is which is true and pure Android as Google intended and how Android should look and feel and the benefits of fast updates and consistent security monthly patches plus the Pixel 2 XL has all it needs and doesn't need anything else, and it is still Android, but free from any mostly useless features and gimmicks plus the fact that the Pixel 2 XL is more durable and while the screen isn't as good as the S9+, it's nowhere near problematic now that Google has fixed the issues that plagued the first batch of Units. So overall my priority is software and battery life and the Pixel 2 XL comfortably beats the S9+ and will be my next phone plus the Pixel line will continue to be my go to phones as I'm a Google and stock Android lover.
  • Didn't Google extend os updates to 3 years with the Pixel 2 release?
  • They did but only with the Pixel 2 and 2 XL onwards.
  • That's what I was getting at, Andrew mentioned the length of updates in the article but said 2 years, not 3.
  • I'm sure that was an error on his part, maybe he'll correct it comes to Android Q next year.
  • Pixel 2 XL all day and everyday over Sampoop S9+