Oversized Phone Smack Down

Technology used to be a race to get smaller. For the first decade or more of their existence, manufacturers raced to downsize their cell phones, where being the thinnest and lightest meant your device was superior to all others.

Somehow bigger has become better, and in the age of modern smartphones, it’s now a race to see how much screen real estate can be crammed into pockets of smartphone users across the country. Thankfully, the moniker of “phablet” didn’t stick, but super-sized smartphones are more popular than ever, and with Apple bounding its way back into the XL smartphone race, the battle for the best big smartphone is underway on store shelves across the country.

With each of the major phone makers having their contender for your big phone budget, the question naturally becomes, “Which is best?” BFAds pits the biggest smartphones against each other in a battle royale for your holiday dollars in our Oversized Phone Smack Down!



This might seem like an easy category to judge since bigger is better, right? After all, isn’t a larger screen the only reason to put up with a larger phone in the first place? That may be true, but there are a couple of other factors at play here.

Phone Size Resolution Pixel Density Screen to body Ratio
iPhone XS Max 6.5” 1242 x 2688 458ppi 84.4%
Pixel 3 XL 6.3” 1440 x 2960 523ppi 82.8%
Galaxy Note9 6.4” 1440 x 2960 516ppi 83.4%

There’s a lot to go over, so let’s start out by talking about some items that are not on this chart because they are present on all three screens. All three devices have capacitive OLED touchscreens capable of producing 16 million colors and support HDR10.

The iPhone XS Max has the largest screen of the three with the highest screen-to-body ratio of 84.4%, according to GSM Arena. For those unfamiliar with the term, this means the screen takes up 84.4% of the surface area of the front of the phone with the rest taken up by bezel, speakers, camera, and, of course, the infamous notch found on the top of the screen. While iPhone XS Max has the largest screen with the best ratio, it’s also the lowest in both resolution and pixel density.

The Google Pixel 3 XL wins out only in pixel density here. Despite going for an “edgeless” style like the iPhone X series, the massive notch on the front of the screen matched with the area reserved for the lower speaker means the Pixel 3 XL has both the smallest screen while still having the worst screen-to-body ratio.

The Galaxy Note9 matches the Pixel 3 XL’s resolution, but more importantly, has a larger screen with a better screen-to-body ratio and has no notch whatsoever on the face of the phone. While the Pixel 3 XL does have a slightly higher pixel density, noticing an extra 7 pixels in every square inch of the phone screen is impossible with the naked eye, making this difference negligible for most. Combine this with the fact that Samsung is renowned for having some of the best and most vibrant screens year in and year out, and the winner here is clear.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note9



Just as with screen size and quality, there are a lot of numbers to digest here with some interesting differences that result in a clear winner.

Phone Processor/GPU RAM Storage Battery
iPhone XS Max Apple A12 Bionic 4GB 64GB/256GB/512GB 3174mAh
Pixel 3 XL Snapdragon 845/Adreno 630 4GB 64GB/128GB 3430mAh
Galaxy Note9 Snapdragon 845/Adreno 630 6GB/8GB 128GB/512GB 4000mAh

The Pixel 3 XL and Galaxy Note9 both feature the industry-leading Snapdragon 845/Adreno 630 combination that is the standard in 2018 flagships. The iPhone XS Max, of course, features the proprietary Apple A12 Bionic chipset, which handles both CPU and GPU duties. So which is better? Technically, the A12 bionic is the newer, more capable chipset, but it only exists in Apple phones, and the power difference between the A12 and the Snapdragon 845 is not great enough that any reasonable person would base a buying decision on the A12’s performance advantage.

What we’re left with is the other factors that help determine a better hardware set, and that’s RAM, storage, and battery. This is where the Note9 clearly sets itself ahead of both the iPhone XS Max and the Pixel 3 XL.

On the storage front, the Pixel 3 XL is the only phone that doesn’t offer a 512GB option, although Google offers unlimited Google Photos storage with all Pixel 3 phones, which could help alleviate some storage issues. However, the one feature that would completely solve any storage issues for either iPhone XS Max or the Pixel 3 XL is the ability to expand storage with a microSD card. Expandable storage is only present on the Note9, meaning you can be a photo and video junkie and still be able to easily and inexpensively store all your media right on your phone.

Moving on to RAM, there is a clear and obvious standout here with the base model of the Note9 featuring 6GB of RAM, while the premium version comes equipped with 8GB, a respective 50% and 100% increase over the competition. This is more of an indictment of the Pixel 3 XL than the iPhone XS Max, however, since iPhones are well optimized to work fluidly with 4GB of RAM, but when stacked up against the Note9 or almost any 2018 flagship, the 4GB found in the Pixel 3 XL is the bare minimum you’ll find on an Android phone.

Something not listed here that lets the Note9 deal the final blow to the iPhone XS Max and the Pixel 3 XL in this category is the inclusion of the headphone jack. Of all the premium flagships in 2018, the Note9 is one of the few that features an old-fashioned 3.5mm headphone jack, while others require the purchase and use of a dongle or adapter to use anything but the included buds or wireless headphones.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note9



If there’s one aspect of smartphones that gets people excited, it’s the camera, an area where Samsung used to reign supreme as one of the only smartphone makers that paid careful attention to picture quality.

Phone Wide Camera Telephoto Camera Selfie Camera 4K 60fps Video
iPhone XS Max 12MP f/1.8 12MP f/2.4 2x Optical Zoom 7MP f/2.2 Yes
Pixel 3 XL 12.2MP f/1.8 - 8MP f/1.8; 8 MP, f/2.2 No
Galaxy Note9 12MP f/1.5-2.4 12MP f/2.4 2x Optical Zoom 8 MP f/1.7 Yes

More than any other category, the ability to shoot great photos is where the raw hardware specs alone are simply not enough to determine which smartphone is superior. This is no better demonstrated than in the fact that the Google Pixel 3 XL continues Google’s tradition of bucking the multiple camera trend and including only a single rear camera.

In fact, the Google Pixel 3 XL appears to simply have an upgraded Google Pixel 2 camera, which is widely regarded as the best smartphone camera ever produced. But what about all the neat tricks that Samsung and Apple tout, like better separation by using two cameras in tandem, a popular feature usually referred to as the Bokeh effect, where the subject remains sharp but the background is blurred out almost completely?

These effects are all still present on the Pixel 3 XL’s single camera, including the ability to not only adjust the Bokeh effect after the fact as seen on Samsung phones, but with the Pixel 3 XL, you can change the subject of the photo entirely.

Not only that, the Pixel 3 XL’s top shot mode offers something that other cameras do not; when you snap a photo, the camera app actually takes several shots at once and will recommend a better shot than the one you took if it detects anything wrong, like closed eyes or loss of focus. Samsung’s Note9 does something similar but will only alert you to a problematic picture so that you can take another photo, but by the time you realize it, the moment you wanted to capture may have passed.

Strangely enough, Google is the only one of our contenders here to have multiple cameras on the front of the phone with a wide and super-wide selfie camera that can increase the field of view, a welcome feature for those who like to bring their friends in close and cram their heads together to all appear in one shot.

The only area where the Pixel 3 XL doesn’t excel is in the fact that it lacks optical zoom. Google tries to make up for this with its new Super Res Zoom feature, which is likely the best digital zoom we’ve seen yet but still is not as good as true optical zoom. Video junkies may also be turned off to the fact that the Pixel 3 XL doesn’t record 4K video at 60 frames per second, but with the massive video file size, those who would use this feature heavily would likely have a dedicated camera for this specific purpose.

Pixel 3 XL is the obvious runaway here, but that's not to say that the iPhone XS Max and Samsung Note9 take bad photos. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The phones here are the cream of the crop and are the undisputed champions of smartphone photography. But in a competition, there can be only one winner, and when you take the best existing camera and improve on it, it’s almost a no-brainer.

Winner: Google Pixel 3 XL

Software and Assistant

Software and Assistant

Software is a bit tricky to judge, but there are some clear ways to approach choosing which phone offers the best software package, even if it’s specific to the person buying the phone.

If you’re fully entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, you can all but stop reading now and go out and get your new iPhone XS Max. There’s no better or more seamless way to experience everything Apple and iTunes has to offer than with an iPhone. And Siri, the assistant that started it all, offers robust, reliable voice control and command of your phone. iPhones work, and they work well. The limited nature of the iPhone product line generally means better performance with less bugs, crashes, slowdown, and, most importantly, less bloatware.

In fact, bloatware is where the Note9 starts to lag behind the competition. That's not to say that the device isn’t fluid or lacks performance, but if we’re comparing Apples to oranges here, Samsung is very interested in pushing their own proprietary software suite, and this means of a ton of preinstalled apps that cannot be uninstalled from Galaxy phones. Samsung has their own payment apps, email clients, messaging apps, health tracker, web browser, voice recorder, app store, and more than cannot be uninstalled, launch by default, and run in memory when you start your phone. The biggest offender here brings us right back to the assistant comparison, and that’s Bixby, Samsung’s very own digital assistant, which many find to be lackluster but still with a dedicated button on the Note9 that cannot be remapped for any other function.

The Pixel 3 XL ships with what is very close to vanilla Android, but what Google does add on top of stock improves the phone rather than detracting from the experience or acting as a resource hog. Most of the customization is that of the heavy integration of Google services and Google Assistant. Much like Apple’s ecosystem that is intimately weaved into every aspect of an iPhone, such is Google’s integration with the Pixel. The Google Assistant itself is right up there with Siri when it comes to responsiveness and ease of use.

With the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, Google has really taken the Assistant to another level by giving it the ability to screen calls. With a tap of the screen, Google Assistant will answer any of your phone calls and have a conversation with the caller while it transcribes the conversation in real time so you can decide whether to accept the call. Combine that with superior third party app and hardware support, and Google Assistant edges out both Siri and Bixby.

Winner: Google Pixel 3 XL

Overall Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note9

Software and Assistant

Let’s be clear about one thing: There are no losers in this contest. Whether you pick the Note9, the Pixel 3 XL, or the iPhone XS Max, you are getting a powerhouse of a device that outclasses almost everything else on the market.

Samsung Galaxy Note9 takes top prize here thanks to its beautiful, notchless screen and design, robust hardware package with expandable storage, and one of the best camera phones on the market. Sure, Bixby is lackluster compared to Google Assistant and Siri, but the beauty of an Android phone is the flexibility to install Google Assistant on a majority of Android devices, including the Note9.

The Note9 also has the Galaxy S Pen integrated right into the phone's housing, making it the only phone here that lets you easily scribble notes, draw on photos, or have a Bluetooth remote camera shutter button anywhere you go. The S Pen is a cherry on top of a robust and feature-packed smartphone.

What is your pick for the best smartphone of 2018? Did you disagree with our picks here? Head down to our comments section, and let us know what phone grabbed your top honors of 2018.

Of course, with Black Friday approaching fast, many are waiting with bated breath to find out what kind of discounts 2018 brings to smartphones. Check back with BFAds throughout the holiday season to find out what kind of doorbuster deal is available for your smartphone of choice!

October 16, 2018
blog comments powered by Disqus

Back to Top

Log Into Your BFAds Account

Remember Me