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Camera showdown: Google Pixel 2 XL vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Galaxy Note 8

Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Portrait Mode comparison

Portrait Mode selfie on Pixel 2 XL

Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Pixel 2 XL

Galaxy Note 8

Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Portrait Mode on Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Portrait Mode on Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Portrait Mode on Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Portrait Mode on Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Portrait Mode on Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Portrait Mode on Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Portrait Mode on Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Portrait Mode on Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Live Focus Galaxy Note 8

Pixel 2 XL

Portrait Mode selfie on Pixel 2 XL

Pixel 2 XL

Pixel 2 XL

Pixel 2 XL

Pixel 2 XL

Pixel 2 XL

Pixel 2 XL

Pixel 2 XL

Pixel 2 XL

Galaxy Note 8

Galaxy Note 8

Galaxy Note 8

Galaxy Note 8

Galaxy Note 8

Galaxy Note 8

Galaxy Note 8

Galaxy Note 8

There is no doubt that the Google Pixel 2 XL and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 are two of the best Android phones you can buy. The Pixel 2 XL packs one rear camera and uses machine learning and AI to create stunning images. The Note 8 has dual rear cameras each with optical image stabilization (OIS). But which one takes better photos?

Let's take a look.

Caption by / Photo by Josh Miller/CNET

Here's a photo of the Port of San Francisco taken with the Note 8. Notice the boosted contrast and saturation.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

I took this shot with the Note 8 as the sun was setting behind a sailboat. It looks like a frame of film from a movie.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

This picture by the Pixel 2 XL has a pure clinical beauty with expertly rendered detail and highlights.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Both phones have a Portrait Mode which simulates a shallow depth of field by blurring the background. It's called Live Focus on the Note 8. The portrait on the left was taken with the Pixel 2 XL and the one on the right with the Note 8.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

The Pixel 2 XL also has a Portrait Mode on its front facing camera. And it works amazingly well.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Here are two shots of Stella the cat. This one is taken with the Note 8.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

This one was taken with the Pixel 2 XL. Notice the extra detail in the pillow and the cat's fur.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

This photo of Ruby the dog was taken with the Pixel 2 XL.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Here's Ruby again, and I'm standing in the same spot, but I'm using the telephoto camera on the Note 8 to zoom in on Ruby's expression. Being able to have an optical zoom is an added advantage of the Note 8.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

I was on a ferry crossing San Francisco Bay when I saw the sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge. I used the Note 8's telephoto camera to take this picture. I really love how dramatic the photo came out.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Here's the same moment taken with the Pixel 2 XL. While I could digitally zoom in, I didn't because I didn't want to lose image quality. Notice the detail of the waves and how well the Pixel 2 XL handled the highlights.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Low light is always challenging for smartphone photography. The Note 8 renders the scene OK, but there is a lot of color noise (the blurry specks) throughout the photo.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

The Pixel 2 XL handles the color noise much better. It's not perfect, but the sky and water looks pretty good.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

As Salesforce Tower grows into the San Francisco skyline, there are new ways the city frames itself. This shot was taken at dusk on the Note 8.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Here's the same scene taken with the Pixel 2 XL. Notice how much more detail there is and how well it handles the highlights in the clouds. You can actually see the soft pink hue.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

I loved these leather gloves inside this cable car. It looks like there's an invisible person holding on. This photo was taken with the Note 8. Notice the blown highlights in the background.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

And here is the same cable car captured with the Pixel 2 XL. It holds the highlights in the background well enough that you can see the green leaves on the tree.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Here's an old building near Nob Hill taken with the Note 8. Notice the detail in the bricks and windows.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

This picture was taken with the Pixel 2 XL. It has just a tad more detail in the textures of the building. And the color temperature of the photo is more accurate.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

The next 18 shots were all taken in Portrait Mode on the Pixel 2 XL or Live Focus Mode on the Note 8. In general, the Note 8 renders better looking background blur and people's skin appears softer and more flattering than it might normally be. Some people like that and some people don't.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

The Pixel 2 XL portraits have much more accurate detail in the face and do a consistently good job separating the foreground from the background.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Galaxy Note 8 portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Pixel 2 XL portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Galaxy Note 8 portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Pixel 2 XL portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Galaxy Note 8 portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Pixel 2 XL portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Galaxy Note 8 portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Pixel 2 XL portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Galaxy Note 8 portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Pixel 2 XL portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Galaxy Note 8 portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Pixel 2 XL portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Galaxy Note 8 portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Pixel 2 XL portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Galaxy Note 8 portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Pixel 2 XL portrait.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Here's a selfie taken in Portrait Mode on the Pixel 2 XL. The camera does an excellent job at separating both of us from the background despite us not being on the same plane.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

The next eight pictures are some of my favorite photos that I took with the Pixel 2 XL. Here's a cargo ship going under the Golden Gate Bridge. I digitally zoomed in to capture the moment.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

This is a statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi near the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

A quartet of chocolate chip cookies awaits bagging at Nourish Cafe.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Here's the wake after a ferry boat I was on with the Bay Bridge in the background.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

This is a shiny circular sculpture located in downtown San Francisco.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

I am impressed that I got this shot of the American flag. It was flapping around quite fast.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Some seagulls fly in front of my view of the Bay Bridge.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Friday and Saturday nights mean Mo Gamin' in the Mission.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

An old Honda is decked out with televisions and vintage Nintendo consoles which are free to play -- the hand sanitizer is also free.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

The next seven photos are some of my favorite pictures that I took with the Note 8.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

The Ferry Building looks stunning all lit up at night.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

A sail boat glides across the bay.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

A seagull just as it is about to take off.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

Another shot of the sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge. I like that there is a cargo ship in the background and the silhouette of a sailboat crossing in between it and me.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

I am riding at the front of a cable car going down California. This shot was taken through the window.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET

The sun rises over San Francisco and makes Salesforce Tower glow pink on the horizon.

For more on my camera comparison between the Google Pixel 2 XL and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 check out my full shootout story.

Caption by / Photo by Patrick Holland/CNET
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