Google Pixel XL vs Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Which big Android phone deserves your cash this year?
Update: This article has basically become redundant as Samsung has decided to stop selling the Galaxy Note 7 entirely, after uncovering a serious battery flaw that was causing some users' handsets to catch fire. If you own a Galaxy Note 7, turn it off, and get it back to Samsung as soon as possible. And if you like reminiscing about what could have been, read on...
We rather like Samsung's Galaxy Note 7. It's high-specced, looks gorgeous and has the best camera on the market.
But there's a new competitor in town, and it's Google. The search engine giant has entered the fray with a duo of flagship phones, the Pixel, and the Note 7 suddenly has some competition in the high-end market.
We thought we'd take an early look at how the two handsets stack up and see what sets them apart.
Google Pixel XL vs Galaxy Note 7 – Design
If we were to pick out one thing that Samsung has got right (there are several, actually) this year with its handsets, it would be design. The S7, S7 Edge, and Note 7 are all beautifully crafted devices, and with curved screen edges and a metal and glass case, the Note 7 might just be the best-looking phone the company has ever manufactured.
Samsung has also added a slight curve to the back of its handset, making it comfortable in the hand. And with Gorilla Glass 5 protecting the screen, the Note 7 should hold up well against even the most disastrous droppages.
Related: Google Pixel vs Pixel XL
With all that in mind, Google has much work to do in order to outdo its rival. So, does the Pixel XL trounce the Galaxy Note 7? Well, we're yet to fully review the handset, but here's what we know so far.
The Pixel XL looks very much like the HTC A9; hopefully, however, the A9 serves only as design inspiration, and hasn't bestowed its lowly performance onto the Pixel XL. If we're honest, we'd have liked to have seen a whole new design on the Pixel and Pixel XL. While the A9 isn't unsightly, we're not convinced by the large bezels on the front, or the chamfered edges.
And while the two-tone metal and glass rear looks somewhat classy, the overall look of the Pixel XL just doesn't appear to compete with that of the Note 7. It isn't ugly, but it won't wow you when you open the box either.
Related: Note 7 vs S7
In terms of features, you'll find a fingerprint scanner on the back of the Pixel XL, while the Note 7's offering sits below the home button on the front. Both these handsets use a USB Type-C connection, which can be found on the base of each phone. The Note 7 adds a built-in iris scanner, providing another (supposedly more secure) way of unlocking your phone.
Overall, the Samsung looks to have this one in the bag.
Google Pixel XL vs Galaxy Note 7 – Display
So, is it a similar story when it comes to the phones' screens? Well, things are a little closer in this department. Both the Pixel XL and Note 7 use AMOLED technology for their displays, which equates to inky blacks and better energy efficiency than you would get with an LCD screen.
The biggest difference – and it isn't really all that significant – is in the size of the two screens. Google's handset features a 5.5-inch display, while Samsung includes a larger 5.7-inch offering.
Related: Note 7 vs iPhone 7 Plus
This makes a slight difference when it comes to pixel density. While both phones have the same 1,440 x 2,560 (QHD) resolution, the Pixel XL's slightly smaller screen means pixels are packed in more tightly. That results in a 534 pixel-per-inch (ppi) density on the Google phone, while the Note 7 comes in at 518ppi.
In practice, you're unlikely to notice a difference. A QHD display is going to provide incredibly crisp pictures on both these handsets. The only time you might notice a difference is if you use either phone as part of a VR headset – more on that later.
Google Pixel XL vs Galaxy Note 7 – Hardware and performance
There's no doubt that both Google and Samsung have brought their A-game when it comes to hardware on these devices. The Note 7 and Pixel XL are two of the most capable handsets on the market, and come with top-end features and specifications.
So which one clinches first place? Well, without using the Pixel XL it's difficult to say. We have no benchmarking scores to go on for Google's phone, so will have to keep this section limited to the spec sheet for now.
And that sheet reveals some serious hardware under the hood of the Pixel. First up we have Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 821 running the show. The chipset is the latest offering from the US firm and supposedly comes with a 10% boost to processor performance. That means the Pixel is capable of running Daydream VR – Google's new virtual-reality platform – and will work with the company's new Daydream View VR headset.
Related: Pixel vs iPhone 7
Samsung has provided an Exynos 8890 chip with the Note 7. It's a powerful processor that has yielded some impressive benchmarking scores and provided us with a fluid and trouble-free user experience. Nevertheless, it isn't quite as advanced as the 821, and in that sense, Google has a real edge here.
Of course, it isn't all about processing power. The inclusion of 4GB of RAM in both the Pixel and Note 7 ensures speedy performance in the latter, and should do the same for the former. For storage, you have a choice of either 32GB or 128GB for the Pixel, while the Note 7 comes with 64GB as standard. The big difference here, however, is the Note comes with a microSD card slot, while Google has neglected to include this feature on the Pixel.
Also lacking in the Pixel phone is the ability to use a proprietary stylus. Samsung's phablet comes with an improved S Pen, which allows you to interact with the device in an entirely different way, offering as many sensitivity levels as Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 Surface Pen.
At this point, it's still up in the air as to which of the two handsets takes the performance crown. On paper, Google has Samsung beat – but we'll have to wait and see whether that's reflected in the benchmarking scores.
What's more, the S Pen gives Samsung a small but notable advantage in the functionality stakes.
Google Pixel XL vs Galaxy Note 7 – Software
And so we come to the software portion of our comparison. Android serves as the basis for your phone-based exploits on both these devices, but while the Note 7 runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, Google has the luxury of packing the latest version of its Android OS into its phones.
The Pixel XL will arrive with Android 7.0 Nougat installed, giving you the most up-to-date user experience that Google offers. Nougat is also the only OS capable of running Daydream VR, adding another benefit to having the latest version of Android.
The Note 7 is sure to receive an upgrade to Nougat in the near future, however, so it won't be long before Note owners get a similar user experience to those who opt for the Pixel XL.
But it's worth bearing in mind that the two phones will still differ significantly due to the skins overlayed onto the base OS by each company. Samsung's notoriously frustrating TouchWiz returns on the Note 7, but the South Korean firm has taken steps to ensure it isn't quite as irritating as it once was.
Gone are the childish colours, and the skin appears a lot less intrusive than it once was. However, it still isn't as pleasant an experience as using stock Android.
Interestingly, if you're expecting such a thing to appear on the Pixel XL, you might be surprised to learn that Google has whacked a skin on its own OS in the form of Pixel launcher. We've played around with leaked APKs and can say it's a little different to what we're used to. The app drawer is nowhere to be found, while the search bar has been superseded by a new pill-shaped icon and a view of the date.
You'll still get all the benefits that come with Nougat, though, such as split-screen apps and an improved Doze mode.
Again, it's early days, and we're yet to fully test out Google's skinned OS. We suspect it will be a better experience than using Samsung's TouchWiz, however, but we'll reserve judgement for a later date.
Google Pixel XL vs Galaxy Note 7 – Camera
Samsung has managed to put out what might be the best smartphone camera we've ever seen. Initially appearing on the S7, the same impressive shooter reappeared on the Note 7 unchanged – which isn't a bad thing.
With a wide f/1.7 aperture for better low-light performance, optical image stabilisation (OIS) for steady shots, and a responsive app, the 12-megapixel rear camera is a pleasure to use. Photos are packed with detail and colours remain natural while still seeming vibrant. There's support for 4K video, too, and shooting in 1080p lets you use the HDR feature.
So, what has Google done to try to oust Samsung from the smartphone camera throne? On paper, things are looking good. The Pixel XL also comes with a 12-megapixel rear shooter, but has a less wide f/2.0 aperture, so Samsung still might have an edge when it comes to low-light shots. Google has also added the usual support for 4K video.
While the camera on the XL looks to be a great offering then, Samsung still seems to have the better setup. We'd be surprised if Google managed to really show Samsung up in the camera category, but we'll have to wait and see once we've taken the Pixel for a spin.
If you care about selfies, you'll be pleased to know Google has added an 8-megapixel front-facing camera to the Pixel XL, while the Note 7 only comes with a 5-megapixel offering.
Google Pixel XL vs Galaxy Note 7 – Battery
With its slightly larger screen, the Note 7 would benefit from a larger cell. And while the non-removable Li-ion 3,500mAh battery is ever so slightly more capacious than the non-removable Li-ion 3,450mAh battery in the Pixel XL, there isn't a lot in it.
Still, in our experience, the Note 7 has a perfectly respectable battery life that allowed us to go from morning to the end of the day with 25% charge remaining.
Whether the Pixel will offer similar performance remains to be seen, but there shouldn't be much in it based on the specs – especially since it will benefit from Nougat's enhanced energy-saving features and won't need to power such a large screen.
Google Pixel XL vs Galaxy Note 7 – Price and release date
The Note 7 is available right now, and can be bought SIM-free for around £700. Unfortunately, due to the whole overheating and explosion debacle, you might struggle to get your hands on one right now. If you do decide to pick one up, ensure you're getting a version that's been fixed by Samsung. The box should indicate whether the phone is safe, and Samsung is also reportedly planning to change the battery icon in the top of the screen from white to green on safe devices.
The Pixel XL is available to pre-order now in the US and UK for £719 (32 GB) and £819 (128GB). The phone will actually release on October 20.
Google Pixel XL vs Galaxy Note 7 – Summary
We're waiting to get our hands on the Pixel XL for a full review, so we'll have to reserve judgement until that time. For now, these two appear to be evenly matched phones.
Google's offering comes with certain benefits, such as a more powerful processor and likely more easy to use OS. But Samsung has many positives, such as waterproofing, the S Pen, and a seriously classy design.
We'll have more once we've reviewed Google's latest handset.
WATCH: Galaxy Note 7 Review
Let us know which phone you think comes out on top in the comments.