Pixel 3 XL vs iPhone XS Max: Apple and Google's biggest phones, head-to-head

Two of the best phones of 2018 – but which one is best?

Pixel 3 XL vs iPhone XS Max

It's been a fantastic year for smartphones, with all the big names pushing out new handsets for 2018, and two of the largest mobiles we've seen in 2018 are the Pixel 3 XL from Google and the iPhone XS Max from Apple. But which one is actually the best?

Here we'll compare the Pixel 3 XL against the iPhone XS Max in all the key categories that matter, from the design and finish to the components packed in under the hood. If you're thinking of buying one of these phones, then here's all the information you need to know.

Pixel 3 XL vs iPhone XS Max: design

Pixel 3 XL

Pixel 3 XL

Both the Pixel 3 XL and the iPhone XS Max offer up iterative updates on their predecessors – the Pixel 2 XL and the iPhone X respectively – you'll find the designs of these phones very familiar. The Pixel 3 XL offers a bigger screen and a new notch compared with the Pixel 2 XL, while the iPhone XS Max is like a bigger copy of the iPhone X.

Both phones are fantastically well designed: we like the two-tone texture on the back of the Pixel 3 XL (and all other Pixel phones), which Google says it has improved to be more durable and better to the touch this year. The notch on the front of the 6.3-inch, 1440 x 2960 pixel display looks a little large, but we suppose we can live with it. White, black and light pink are the colour options.

If we had to pick a winner in design terms though, we'd pick the 6.5-inch, 1242 x 2688 pixel display iPhone XS Max, available in space grey, silver and gold – it's a superb-looking glass and aluminium slab of technology, with curves and edges and a display notch all in the right place and nicely proportional to each other. You could complain that the design hasn't changed much from 2017, but why mess with a winning formula?

Pixel 3 XL vs iPhone XS Max: specs

iPhone XS Max

iPhone XS Max (left) and iPhone XS (right)

Comparing specs between smartphones is always difficult, especially when Apple is involved (it uses a somewhat different set of parameters than its Android rivals). Lists of specs don't take into account the various software and hardware optimisations each manufacturer brings to the table, though they can give you a good idea of how speedy and powerful your phone will be – and these two handsets are from the very top of the pile.

The iPhone XS Max comes fitted with Apple's new A12 Bionic chip, which it says should provide a boost of around 15 percent performance-wise from the 2017 handsets (with more of a bump in the graphics department). That's matched with 4GB of RAM and 64GB, 256GB or 512GB of internal storage.

The Google Pixel 3 XL comes with the latest Snapdragon 845 on board, as well as 4GB of RAM, and 64GB or 128GB of internal storage (with no memory card slot for expanding that). In terms of raw speed the Apple phone appears to have the edge here, though the Pixel 3 XL will also be able to cope with everything you can throw at it and then some.

Pixel 3 XL vs iPhone XS Max: features

Pixel 3 XL

Pixel 3 XL

The single-lens 12.2MP snapper on the rear of the Pixel 3 XL is up against the dual-lens 12MP+12MP camera on the back of the iPhone XS Max. Given the prowess of Google's image processing algorithms, we reckon this is about even – if you need genuine, 2x optical zoom, you need the dual-lens optics available on the iPhone, though don't discount the unlimited Google Photos storage you get with the Pixel 3 XL.

Elsewhere the features are broadly comparable: you've got wireless charging, IP68 waterproofing and dustproofing, and pretty much all the other bells and whistles available on both of these handsets. They're the best in mobile technology that Apple and Google can produce right now, and it shows in the list of features.

Of course there's the big issue of iOS vs Android to consider as well. Both Android 9 Pie and iOS 12 introduced some neat new software features this year – including tools to help you manage your "digital wellbeing" and spend less time staring mindlessly at a phone screen – but you probably already know which one you prefer. The benefit of Android on the Pixel phones is you get no bloatware and speedy updates as soon as Google releases them.

Pixel 3 XL vs iPhone XS Max: price and verdict

iPhone XS Max

iPhone XS Max

We're expecting prices for the Pixel 3 XL and the iPhone XS Max to fluctuate slightly over the months – check the widgets on this page for the most up-to-date prices. At launch, the 64GB version of the iPhone XS Max was £230 or $200 more expensive than the 64GB version of the Pixel 3 XL, which may be a factor in your decision-making.

That said, it's hard to split these phones in most of the areas that matter. For Android fans, the Pixel 3 XL is the ultimate pure Android experience – top-notch hardware, the latest software updates straight from Google, oodles of power, and plenty of camera trickery for the best photos on the go (plus unlimited cloud storage for those images).

On the other hand the iPhone XS Max is the ultimate handset for iOS lovers (especially those who like a big screen) – its design is even more appealing than the Pixel 3 XL, and it has even more power under the hood. Either of these phones is going to serve you very well indeed for years to come.

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.