Google Pixel 3 XL vs Apple iPhone XS Max: The weigh-in

Big phones, big hype, and big money – which tech giant will come out on top?

You're looking at two of autumn's biggest smartphone debuts… and two of the biggest phones you can buy, period. Seriously, they're huge.

Apple's iPhone XS Max packs in a massive 6.5in display into a frame about the size of the iPhone 8 Plus, thanks to all of that missing bezel, while the Google Pixel 3 XL stretches a 6.3in panel onto a newly-notched design.

They're two of the most alluring handsets you can choose from right about now, but if you're ready to drop several hundred to more than a thousand quid, which should you choose? Here's what we think now that we've been hands-on with the Pixel 3 XL, and we'll finalise this verdict once we issue our full review.

Design: To the Max

This is a pretty one-sided battle. Both phones have a notch on the front, but there are some seriously key differences here. The Pixel 3 XL notch isn't quite as wide, but it sure is deep. It looks like a proper half-pipe up there.

And then while the iPhone XS Max keeps the edge-to-edge design elsewhere on the front, the Pixel 3 XL has a huge chin at the bottom. Look, the Pixel 2 XL was the same way: it felt like Google didn't go quite far enough on refinement, and it's glaringly obvious here too.

On the back, we actually like the Pixel more – it's glass this time around, but the two-tone approach remains intact. It's still more compelling than the plain glass backing of the iPhone XS Max, though.

Screen: We'll see

We'll have to wait and see on this one. Both sport OLED displays, but the Pixel 3 XL has the edge on resolution: the 1440p display beats the 1242p Max screen on that front, meaning it's a bit crisper. At those resolution marks on a ~6in screen, though, you're unlikely to see a difference.

But last year's Pixel 2 XL displays earned mixed reactions, with some buyers complaining about dulled colours and awkward viewing angles. Google suggests that the new display is much brighter and bolder, and it looked great during our hands-on. We'll see with longer-term use, though.

We already know that the iPhone XS Max's screen is brilliant, though. It's a stunner, with significantly more dynamic range than last year's already-excellent iPhone X screen. We'll have to put them side-by-side to see which really stands out the most.

Camera: Snap decisions

This time last year, the Pixel 2 XL boasted the best smartphone camera on the market, bar none. And it was a single shooter, at that. The Pixel 3 XL is back with similar specs, but the competition has gotten a lot tougher; Huawei's P20 Pro is our current smartphone camera champ, boasting some handy tricks thanks to its triple-camera setup.

It might only have one back camera, but it has a raft of A.I.-assisted abilities to help it do quite a bit – including take snazzy Portrait shots and let you tweak the background blur and bokeh after the fact. It also automatically snaps multiple shots and then suggests the best of the bunch to keep.

The Pixel 3 XL does double up on front cameras, however, but that's for group selfies thanks to a wider-angle secondary camera. It doesn't have any kind of facial unlock feature.

The iPhone XS Max has two cameras on the back, and they're pretty fantastic. They routinely take brilliant shots, with a larger and speedier sensor in the mix than on the iPhone X, while the Smart HDR feature snaps several versions of each photo and merges them together on the fly to develop one oft-excellent result. And the Max has the same kind of depth slider for tweaking the background of Portrait shots.

And on the front, of course, you'll find the TrueDepth camera setup that enables Face ID security, Animoji, and Memoji. That's fun, and it works like a charm nearly all of the time.

Performance: Bionic power

The Pixel 3 XL seems plenty fast based on our brief hands-on testing, and it should: it's rocking the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 flagship chip seen in many of this year's top Android phones, with 4GB RAM inside. And it has Android 9 Pie, the recently-released new revision.

Of course, the iPhone XS Max is already super swift, using Apple's own A12 Bionic chip and 4GB RAM with iOS 12. But when it comes to benchmark testing, the A12 Bionic zooms beyond the Snapdragon 845 and any other Android chip on the market right now. You might not notice a difference in day-to-day usage, although we haven't compared them side by side... but that extra power is there if you need it.

Battery and perks: Pretty close

The battery packs in these phones aren't too far off in size: the Pixel 3 XL has a slight advantage with a 3,430mAh cell, while the iPhone XS Max lands at 3,174mAh. Quite likely, the Pixel 3 XL will fall into the strong all-day category, much like the XS Max. Both offer up wireless charging.

In terms of storage, the iPhone XS Max offers quite a bit more to play with at the upper levels. Both start at 64GB for the base model, while the next Pixel 3 XL goes up to 128GB. Instead, the XS Max is offered in 256GB and 512GB options. Neither supports microSD cards.

The Pixel 3 XL also has a nice perk in the form of Google's Daydream VR platform, letting you pop the phone into a headset shell to play games and apps. Apple doesn't have a comparable option.

Initial verdict: Can't call it yet

The iPhone XS Max is one of our absolute favourite phones right now. Will the Google Pixel 3 XL challenge that status?

It's certainly possible. There's a lot to like about it, from the big, bright screen to pure Android 9 Pie and plenty of power onboard. It also ought to be fantastic for smartphone snaps, given the quality of last year's Pixel 2 XL camera.

On the other hand, the Android competition is tough, and with the OnePlus 6T and Huawei Mate 20 soon to be announced on top of this year's existing powerhouses, it might be harder for the Pixel 3 XL to stand out this autumn. We'll see how that shakes out.

When it comes to price, Google comes out well ahead in this comparison: the Pixel 3 XL is ₹83,000 compared to truly jaw-dropping ₹109900 for the iPhone XS Max. That's the classic Apple tax at play, but you're paying for a truly phenomenal handset. We'll find out in a couple weeks whether the Pixel 3 XL matches it on that front as an all-around experience.