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iPhone X vs. Google Pixel 2 XL: Which flagship phone is the best?

It's the battle of the giants as we weigh Apple against Google. See which one wins.

James Martin/CNET

Two of the best phones you can buy, Apple's iPhone X and Google's Pixel 2 XL have lightning fast speeds, exceptional cameras and high-end hardware. As the marquee devices of Silicon Valley's largest tech companies, it's only natural to compare them head-to-head: design, camera, performance, software and overall value.

No phone will ever meet 100 percent of anyone's needs and, as great as they are, they each come with their own set of pros and cons. But if you're deciding between the two, this breakdown should make it easier to pick.

Also keep in mind that successors to both phones are coming soon. The next iPhone X is expected to be announced some time in September, while Google is strongly suspected to announce the Pixel 3 and 3 XL in October. So if you can wait a bit longer and want even more options to consider, hold off until October.

Design: Pixel 2 XL's sharp screen or the iPhone X's elegant looks?

The Pixel 2 XL looks a lot like 2016's model, which includes a glass shade and a plastic-coated aluminum body that isn't particularly attractive (though the body does make it less likely to shatter or crack if dropped).

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The Pixel 2 XL (left) and the iPhone X.

James Martin/CNET

The iPhone X, on the other hand, has a unique design that sets it apart from past iPhones. It has superthin bezels and no home button. It also has a black notch that sits at the top of the screen. That's a permanent feature here, unlike some Android phones that let you hide the notch).

As for their displays, the iPhone X has a 5.8-inch screen while the Pixel 2 XL has a sharper 6-inch display with a higher resolution and a higher pixel density.

Both phones have OLED screens and both are known to suffer from burn-in. For Google, this issue brought its warranty policy to light, which the company eventually broadened to accommodate burn-in. Apple also acknowledged this problem, noting that it engineered its display to "be the best in the industry in reducing the effects of OLED 'burn-in.'" Its Apple Care policy doesn't state any specific coverage for burn-in, however.

In addition, both phones are water resistant, which is great for extra protection. But neither one has a headphone jack, and you'll need to use wireless headphones or a dongle to listen to music.

Winner: With its higher-resolution display, the Pixel 2 XL wins this for me. But if we're talking about overall style and sleekness, the iPhone X has the upper hand.

Camera: The best of the best

The Pixel 2 XL has one of the best cameras out there, and that still holds true nearly a year after its launch. Even with just a single rear-camera lens, it can pull of bokeh-style portrait shots beautifully. Its HDR+ enhanced feature is superior at rendering scenes with tricky lighting and different exposures, and it handles low-light environments excellently.

Now playing: Watch this: iPhone X vs. Pixel 2: Camera test
3:52

In addition, the Pixel 2 XL integrates gyro-based electronic image stabilization with its optical image stabilization (OIS) for photos and video. In the end, footage recorded on the Pixel 2 XL is super-smooth and steady.

Meanwhile, the iPhone X has a dual-rear camera (one wide-angle and one telephoto) for clear optical zooming and portrait pictures. Both lenses also have OIS. 

Testing out the cameras on the iPhone X and the Pixel 2 (which has the same camera as the 2 XL).

CNET

While this advantage is hard to discern between well-lit pictures from both phones, you can really see its benefits on the iPhone X's photos at full resolution, or with pictures taken in dim lighting. Also, when recording zoomed-in video, the iPhone Xs's dual-OIS setup is especially beneficial, as videos are noticeably more stable.

If you're a fan of selfies, both the iPhone X's depth-sensing front-facing camera and Pixel 2 XL's software can capture portrait photos too. However, pictures don't look as smooth as portraits taken with their respective rear cameras.

For more information, check out our two(!) camera comparisons (the Pixel 2 and 2 XL have the same camera):

Winner: Both phones take great photos; you can't go wrong with either choice. The iPhone X is the best all-around phone to grab-and-go when you're snapping pics and recording video. But the Pixel 2 XL's fantastic dynamic range takes brilliant still-photos.

Performance: iPhone X is faster, but the Pixel 2 XL lasts longer

The iPhone X has a proprietary A11 Bionic processor, while the Pixel 2 XL has Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 chipset. When I ran 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited and Geekbench 4's single- and multi-core benchmarks, the iPhone X comfortably beat out the Pixel 2 XL on every test. (Keep in mind though that benchmarks can be optimized depending on the OS.)

That doesn't mean the Pixel 2 XL is a slouch or anything. For daily tasks like scrolling through web pages, opening the camera, and typing out messages on the keyboard, I couldn't discern a difference between the two. But when it comes down to the numbers, the iPhone X wins by a longshot.

Battery life, however, is a different story. The iPhone X has wireless charging and during our battery test for continuous video playback on Airplane mode, it lasted 11.45 hours. That's shorter than the times we clocked in for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus (which were 13.5 and 13.75 hours, respectively). But, the tests run by Tom's Guide and the Wall Street Journal found the iPhone X battery life to run somewhere in between the 8 and and the Plus, so keep in mind user experience with the iPhone X varies.  In our same test, the Pixel 2 XL lasted longer at 13.83 hours.

Winner: If you want lightning-fast processing speeds, the iPhone X has it. But if you want a longer-lasting battery, go with the Pixel 2 XL.

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Both the Pixel 2 XL (left) and iPhone X have lightning-quick processors.

James Martin/CNET

Software: Are you already on iOS or Android?

A large part of what phone you'll buy depends on the ecosystem you're comfortable with. Apple's iPhone X runs iOS 11 and has the digital voice assistant Siri. iOS also features syncing iMessages across devices (a stronghold feature that iOS users love) and Apple Pay too.

In addition, because the iPhone X's front-facing camera can sense depth and map faces, it has a few software tricks that other iPhones don't. This Face ID feature can unlock your phone and authorize payments with FaceID instead of a fingerprint. It can also create fun animated emojis that mirror your facial movements.

Now playing: Watch this: Siri vs. Google Assistant vs. Bixby
4:46

The Pixel 2 XL runs Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box, but was one of the first phones to receive the latest Android 9.0 Pie update (a big benefit of Google-branded phones). The Pixel has the superior Google Assistant and Google Lens, which calls up information about the world around you using the camera and Photos app. It's especially handy when you want to find out more about what's in front of you. It won't be exclusive to the Pixel 2 phones forever though, as it will roll out to other Android phones later.

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When it comes to amount paid-per-gig, what phone gives you more?

James Martin/CNET

Value: iPhone X costs more up front

If you're interested in getting a 64GB phone, the Pixel 2 XL is notably the better value, starting out at about $150, £200 or AU$180 less than the iPhone X. In the end, that means you'll keep more cash in your wallet for the first-tier storage amount.

But when it comes to the higher-tiered memory option, you'll actually get more bang for your buck with the iPhone X as far as internal storage concerned. With 128GB on the Pixel 2 XL, you'll have to cough up $949, £899 and AU$1,549. Meanwhile, you'll pay $1,149, £1,149 and AU$1,829 for twice that amount (256GB) on an iPhone X. That may be more expensive, but in terms of amount paid-per-GB, the iPhone X is more cost efficient.

iPhone X and Pixel 2 XL price comparison


Apple iPhone X Google Pixel 2 XL
USD $999 (64GB), $1,149 (256GB) $849 (64GB), $949 (128GB)
GBP £999 (64GB), £1,149 (256GB) £799 (64GB), £899 (128GB)
AUD AU$1,579 (64GB), AU$1,829 (256GB) AU$1,399 (64GB), AU$1,549 (128GB)

Which one's right for you?

With its sharper screen, superb camera and longer-lasting battery, I'd go with the Pixel 2 XL -- especially if I'm eyeing the first-tier 64GB option. We also think it's the best Android to switch to if you're a long-time iPhone user.

But if you're already deep within the iOS ecosystem, you don't plan on switching and have the budget for it, by all means go for the iPhone X. Its fantastic dual-camera setup, luxurious looks and convenient and secure FaceID will definitely keep you up to speed with future iPhone developments from Apple.

iPhone X and Pixel 2 XL spec comparison


iPhone X Google Pixel 2 XL
Display size, resolution 5.8-inch; 2,436x1,125 pixels 6-inch; 2,880x1,440 pixels
Pixel density 458 ppi 538 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 5.7x2.79x0.30 in. 6.2x3.0x0.3 in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 143.6x70.9x7.7mm 157.9x76.7x7.9mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 6.14 oz.; 174g 6.17 oz..; 175g
Mobile software iOS 11 Android 8.0 Oreo
Camera Dual 12-megapixel 12-megapixel
Front-facing camera 7-megapixel 8-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K
Processor Apple A11 Bionic Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Storage 64GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB
RAM 3GB 4GB
Expandable storage None None
Battery 2,716mAh (Apple doesn't confirm this) 3,520mAh
Fingerprint sensor None (Face ID via TrueDepth camera) Back of phone
Connector Lightning USB-C
Headphone jack No No
Special features Water-resistant (IP67); wireless charging; Face ID 3D unlock, Animoji Water-resistant (IP67); Active Edge launches Google Assistant; unlimited cloud storage; Daydream VR-ready