Sony Xperia XZ3 vs Samsung Galaxy Note 9: Which is best?

Two of autumn's biggest and brightest Androids battle it out

Released this past spring, Sony's Xperia XZ2 was the best flagship we had seen from the company in some time, scrapping its old, boxy smartphone aesthetic and packing in some neat perks. And now the Xperia XZ3 is even better.

True, the barely six-month turnaround has been startlingly quick, but the proof is in the pudding: the XZ3 looks even nicer, has a dramatically better screen, and makes some other improvements while keeping the same relatively modest price point… well, modest for a 2018 flagship phone.

On the other hand, there's almost nothing modest about Samsung's Galaxy Note 9. It's extra-large and definitely in charge, and this stylus-packing phone definitely tips the price scales at a startling £899.

If you're looking for a new top-end Android, these are two of the most intriguing options today – but which is the smarter pick? Here's what we think.

Design: A matter of polish

Despite the larger screen on the Galaxy Note 9, these phones really aren't far apart in total footprint: the Note 9 has about 3mm more on height and width, while Samsung's phone is actually the thinner one. Both are glass-and-aluminum behemoths.

And at a glance, again, they look pretty similar from the front: tall, curved screens covering the front, bezel on the top and bottom, and no notch on either. That said, the Xperia XZ3's bezel looks a fair bit chunkier, while the Sony logo at the bottom is a bit of an eyesore.

From the back, there's a fair bit of difference: the Xperia XZ3 is curvy and glossy with a mirror finish, while the Note 9 is a bit more restrained. Pick your preference, but we find the Note 9's approach a bit more polished on the front and back alike.

Add to that the much better fingerprint sensor placement on Samsung's phone (it's just too low on the XZ3), and we give the Galaxy Note 9 the edge here.

Verdict: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Screen: Both big and bold

The Xperia XZ3's screen is a big, big upgrade over the XZ2, thanks to the switch to a Quad HD pOLED panel. This 6in screen is a stunner, borrowing Triluminos and X-Reality image processing tech from Sony's TV division to deliver punchy visuals, pin-sharp clarity, and fantastic HDR support.

It's one of the best out there, but it's not the best. In fact, we'd say the Galaxy Note 9 takes that honour, tied with Samsung's Galaxy S9 and S9+ as well, as the 6.4in Quad HD Super AMOLED panel gets even brighter on top of the excellent clarity and contrast. It's close, but again, the Note 9 is just a smidge better.

Verdict: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Camera: Good vs. great

The Huawei P20 Pro is the reigning camera champ, although we're looking forward to seeing the Apple iPhone XS in action – but the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is darn close to the top of the ladder.

In fact, we called it a "near-perfect phone camera" in our full review, highlighting the dual 12-megapixel (f/1.5 and f/2.4) setup for its "pretty much impeccable overall image quality," along with stellar Auto HDR functionality. The main sensor can swap between f/1.5 and f/2.4 aperture based on your available light, capturing more detail when light is plentiful.

The Xperia XZ3 sticks with one back camera, a 19MP (f/2.0) snapper, but the results are pretty good. We saw plenty of colour, great contrast, and solid detail in shots, although zooming in does show a fair bit of noise. The results are much subtler than past Sony handsets, even if we'd put it a notch or two behind the Note 9 in overall prowess.

Verdict: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Performance: Pretty close

Here's one area in which we can call these handsets pretty even. Both house top-tier Android processors: the Xperia XZ3 runs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip, while the Galaxy Note 9 uses Samsung's own Exynos 8910 chip in some regions (including Europe), while others use the very same Snapdragon.

Benchmark tests have shown some advantages for the Note 9's Exynos chip, but in everyday usage, both of these are super fast and totally capable of doing whatever you please on your handset. And the Xperia XZ3 even has Android 9 Pie out of the box, while Samsung is still rocking Oreo as of this writing.

Verdict: Draw

Battery and perks: Note-able perks

The Note 9 has the larger battery here, at 4,000mAh vs. 3,300mAh on the Xperia XZ3, and while you'll probably pull a few more hours of uptime as a result, it's not as beastly as Samsung's boasts suggested. It can stretch into day two, but not that far.

As for internal storage, the Note 9 packs a punch – it has 128GB in the base model or a whopping 512GB if you spend more, while the Xperia XZ3 sticks with 64GB. Luckily, both support microSD cards up to 512GB for expanded storage.

Of course, the Note 9 comes with the S Pen stylus, its most unique selling point. It pops out of the phone and lets you sketch, scribble, and take notes, plus this year's edition offers Bluetooth connectivity, letting you use it as a media remote, camera shutter button, and other neat tricks.

If you need a stylus, the Note 9 is obviously your phone of choice. If not, like the vast majority of modern smartphone users, then the advantage may seem minimal or nonexistent.

But Samsung has other little benefits in tow, like Gear VR headset support and the ability to plug the Note 9 into an external monitor for a PC desktop-like experience. Samsung always has these added features, but that's what you're paying so much for.

Meanwhile, the Xperia XZ3 has a heavy vibration motor, which buzzes along to music and delivers force feedback during games. Yeah, not the most incredible addition…

Verdict: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Verdict: Surprise!

Four category wins for the Galaxy Note 9 and a draw? Well, that seems like a slam dunk for Samsung, right? Not so fast…

The Note 9 does pack some incredible components, but it also weighs in at a wallet-melting £899+. And frankly, it's much more phone than the vast majority of smartphone users need, especially if you're not dead set on a stylus. The Galaxy Note 9 truly is impressive, but given that price, we still think it's still a very niche option.

Sony's Xperia XZ3 might be marginally outclassed in a few key ways, but at a much more reasonable £699 for a top-tier flagship phone, we still think it's the better option for the vast majority of prospective buyers. It's Sony's best smartphone to date, and a true contender for your smartphone cash this autumn.

Winner: Sony Xperia XZ3