Pixel 3 vs Samsung Galaxy S9: which smaller flagship is for you?

The Pixel 3 is one of the best Android smartphones unveiled in the last few months, but is it as good as the mighty Samsung Galaxy S9?

In this article, we take a look at how the Pixel 3 compares against the Galaxy S9 in an attempt to answer the question: which one should you buy?

Also read: Samsung Galaxy S9 review

While the Pixel 3’s and Galaxy S9’s larger siblings tend to take all the spotlight, what’s great about these two smaller models is that they are almost identical to their higher-end brothers, but are sold for more affordable price tags.

So which one of these pocket-friendly Android devices is better? Keep reading below.

Design and display

The Pixel 3 and Galaxy S9 are both “small-ish” devices compared to most smartphones available on the market today. The Pixel 3 features a 5.5-inch OLED display with 2160 x 1080 resolution and 18:9 aspect ratio, while the Galaxy S9 takes advantage of a larger 5.8-inch curved Super AMOLED display with 2960 x 1440 resolution and 18:9 aspect ratio and support for Mobile HDR Premium content.

Both of these displays are gorgeous and work really well in all situations, although the Galaxy S9’s tends to be a little bit more colorful.

In terms of design, both Pixel 3 and Galaxy S9 looks very similar to their predecessors. The Galaxy S9 gets the same curved glass front and back as the Galaxy S8, which meet at a thin metal frame. The tall and narrow Infinity Display makes the phone feel elegant and svelte in hand. Compared to the previous model, the Galaxy S9 boasts slightly thinner chin and forehead, but the overall look is maintained.

Turn the phone around and you’ll see a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor that sits beneath the single camera. Samsung is also offering face and iris-unlocking technology on board of this smartphone.

Also read: Pixel 3 XL impressions

The Pixel 3 retains the same two-tone style we’re already familiar with from the previous generation. But this year Google is using glass instead of metal for the phone’s back. There’s a central fingerprint sensor on the rear, with the camera sensor sitting in the top left corner.

The Pixel 3 has bigger bezels at the top and bottom than the Galaxy S9, although this design choice allows for front-facing speakers to be accommodated.

It’s important to note here that both flagships have skipped the “notch” trend, by opting for the classic look. The same goes for the Galaxy S9+, although the Pixel 3 XL does feature a big notch on top of the display.

The Pixel 3 has IPX8 rating against water ingress, but the Galaxy S9 features full IP68 certification against water and dust.

Power and performance

The two models are based on the Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line chipset, the Snapdragon 845. Both models include the 4GB of RAM and 64GB of base storage. But with the Galaxy S9, you can get a variant with up to 256GB on board, as opposed to just 128GB, which is the maximum you can get with the Pixel 3.

Google’s flagship does not have a microSD card slot, while the Samsung one does. It can be employed to expand memory up to 400GB.

When it comes to battery, the Pixel 3 relies on a 2,915 mAh juice box with 18W fast wired charging. Fast Qi wireless charging is also part of the equation.

The Galaxy S9 has a larger 3,000 mAh battery with Fast wired charging, as well as fast Qi. Despite the slight difference, neither of the phones should struggle to offer all-day performance.

Camera

Both Samsung and Google flagships are known for offering a superior camera experience. And the Pixel 3 and Galaxy S9 are no exception to the rule.

The Galaxy S9 is the first Samsung device to introduce the new variable aperture feature. This means the main 12MP sensor can switch between a fast 1/5 aperture and a f/2.4 aperture depending on the scenario.

In combination with 1.4-micron pixels, the wide aperture can offer improved low-light performance. The rear camera also has optical image stabilization (OIS) and can record video in 4K at up to 60fps or 1080p at 240fps. There’s also a super-slow-motion 960 fps video recording option.

As for the Pixel 3, it uses a 12.2MP sensor with 1.4-micron pixels and f/1.8 aperture. Google has equipped it with optical and electronic image stabilization too. And with the company’s AI-power image processing on board, the Pixel 3 is capable of delivering some great results. The camera is packed with a series of great features like Night Sight mode which promises super well-lit and detailed shots in the most dimly lit environments. It works in a similar way to Google’s HDR+ feature.

Where the Pixel 3 stands out is the dual front camera. It’s a pair of wide-angle lens which enables a new Group Selfie Cam that offers a wide-angle view so you can get more people into one shot.

The Galaxy S9 has only a single front-facing lens of 8MP variety with an 80-degree FOV and wide f/1.7 aperture.

Software

Samsung and Google offer dramatically distinct software experiences. While the search giant leans towards simplicity by offering a pure Android experience, the Korean smartphone behemoth bets on the number of additional features and customizations.

The Galaxy S9 launched with Android 8.0 Oreo and Samsung Experience user interface, but since then the company unveiled One UI. This is the phone maker’s new user interface that comes with modern features, layouts and modes. In the US, Galaxy S9/S9+ users can already access One UI with Android Pie in beta. A public roll-out is expected in January.

One UI marks a new approach for Samsung, by making it easier to use devices single-handed, helping users focus on one thing at a time, and more.

Even so, a certain category of users will always tend to gravitate towards the elegant software experience which only the Pixel can offer. It’s fair to say that in this department, Google’s flagships will always have the advantage. The Pixel 3 was launched with Android 9 Pie out of the box.

Special features

Both flagships come bundling their own set of special features. The Pixel 3 has borrowed the squeezable sides technology that was first introduced by the HTC U11. Like before, a firm squeeze on the phone’s frame will quick-launch certain apps like the Google Assistant.

Also read: HTC U11 review

Google’s latest flagship also includes features like Now Playing (which tells you which song is playing) or Screen Call (for screening calls).

As for the Galaxy S9, it offers the option of turning yourself into a 3D cartoon-like avatar with AR Emoji. What’s more, the flagship is capable of powering a desktop-like experience through DeX.

Both smartphones include a self-developed virtual assistant, although Samsung’s Bixby is still light-years behind the Google Assistant.

Pricing

Introduced back in February at MWC 2018, the Galaxy S9 is widely available with carriers and several retailers in the US.

Prices for the unlocked Galaxy S9 start at $719.99, but if you plan to acquire the device via a carrier, you might be able to score a deal. For example, at the time of writing, AT&T is offering the phone with a $70 discount (conditions apply).

As for the Pixel 3, you will be able to grab it either from the Google Store or from Verizon. Prices start at $800.

Conclusion

While the Pixel 3 is a bit more expensive, it’s worth considering if you’re craving a solid software experience, the latest updates and great photography. Alternatively, the Galaxy S9 comes with a gorgeous display, it’s available with more storage and also offers a very good camera with some special features like super-slow-motion video shooting.