Google's new Pixel 3 XL is the latest competitor to Huawei's P20 Pro. But which should you buy? We explain how they compare and how they differ, as well as offering buying advice to help you choose the right one.
If you're after a 'pure' Android experience then it's impossible to beat a Pixel phone. You pay a premium for the latest model, and prices have gone up again this year to - presumably - keep in line with Apple and Samsung.
That's a shame after the great-value Nexus years, but nothing stays the same. It means that you have to really want the Pixel 3 XL, and it doesn't have any really innovative (hardware) features to make it stand out. Granted, the software is excellent.
Huawei's P20 Pro is a fantastic phone, with excellent hardware and - in particular - stunning cameras. The EMUI software isn't to everyone's taste but there's still a lot to like, especially if you're coming from an iPhone.
And it's by a long way the cheaper option here, especially when compared to the 128GB Pixel 3 XL which is the amount of storage in the P20 Pro. Choosing between the two is tricky, but if you can live with EMUI, the P20 Pro is better value.
PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
- From $899
PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
These two Android phones are some of the most expensive around, though the Pixel 3 XL is Google's priciest yet, starting at £869, but if you want the 128GB version which matches the capacity of the P20 Pro then you'll have to stump up £969.
In the US those prices are $899 and $999 respectively. And you won't be able to get a P20 Pro easily, since they're not sold in the US.
You can get one as of 1 November, which is the official release date.
In the UK, you'll pay £799 for a P20 Pro from Carphone Warehouse, so it's the cheaper option here.
FEATURES AND DESIGN
Let's start with cameras since you're probably considering both phones because of their photographic credentials.
The Huawei has four in total, with three on the rear. Actually, only two are usable in the sense that the third has a monochrome sensor - not colour - and isn't directly accessible. Instead it's used to provide extra detail for the colour cameras to improve sharpness.
Sure, it does take a mean black-and-white photo, but for general purposes it's there to give colour snaps a boost.
And the P20 Pro does take fantastic pictures. The 40Mp main camera shoots at 10Mp by default, but you can get the full 40Mp resolution if you really want to, and detail is stunning. The third camera is an 8Mp telephoto which has an optical zoom of 3x the view of the main camera. But using software and the 40Mp camera, it has a 5x 'hybrid' zoom which gives surprisingly detailed results.
Round the front is a 24Mp selfie camera which isn't quite as impressive, but still does a great job.
Portrait mode is on offer front and back, but on the back camera the results are superb. Lastly, there's an amazing Night mode which can deliver sharp photos when it's almost pitch black, a feat no other phone can yet compete with.
The Pixel 3 XL has a somewhat unconventional arrangement: one camera on the rear and two on the front. We've yet to properly put these through their paces, but initial impressions are good.
Starting with the front, you get two 8Mp sensors, but one standard and one wide-angle lens which is ideal for group shots. Detail levels, of course, can't compete with the 24Mp of the Huawei, but the shots are perfect for sharing on social media which, after all, is the home of the selfie.
On the back is a 12.2Mp camera, similar to the Pixel 2 XL before it. This relies on software trickery for things like zoom and, frankly, the results aren't great compared to the P20 Pro's. There's only so much detail you can conjure up when you don't have an optical zoom and Google's software trickery only does so much.
But for standard and portrait photos, the Pixel 3 XL looks a force to be reckoned with, just like its predecessor. Despite the single camera, portrait photos are marvellous and have wonderful bokeh. And Google's HDR+ mode delivers high dynamic range without any noticeable delay.
Best of all is the new Top Shot feature which takes photos before you press the button and automatically picks the best (and lets you decide if you think another one is better still).
When it comes to video, both the P20 Pro and Pixel 3 XL top out at 4K at 30fps. And Huawei doesn't offer any stabilisation above 1080p, whereas Google does.
Plus, if you do pick the Pixel, you get unlimited free storage for original quality photos and videos on Google's cloud servers for three years.
So which is best? It depends on your priorities. If you're not bothered by the lack of a dedicated telephoto camera and want stable video and take lots of group selfies, the Pixel 3 XL.
If you do want the P20 Pro's zoom, it's night mode and aren't bothered about shooting video at higher than 1080p, then go for the Huawei.
FEATURES AND DESIGN
Both phones are as well built as you'd expect for this sort of money. They have glass both front and rear, though only the Pixel supports wireless charging.
We're big fans of the Twilight finish on the P20 Pro, but if you want something plainer, the Pixel 3 XL comes in black, white and a sort of pink.
The matt-effect glass on the Pixel 3 XL feels great. It's almost like the soft-feel plastic that you find on some products, and it's a bit grippier than the gloss-finish P20 Pro.
Neither phone offers expandable storage via microSD card, but the P20 Pro comes in a dual-SIM version whereas the Pixel 3 XL does not. However, for some reason Google chose not to reveal that the phone actually has an eSIM, just like the iPhone XS, so can considered a dual-SIM phone as well.
After mocking Apple for removing the headphone jack, Google has followed suit and taken it off the Pixel 3 XL. This means it is just like the P20 Pro: you'll need to use the included headphones, Bluetooth headphones or an adaptor from USB-C if you want to use your existing headphones with a 3.5mm jack.
Both phones have fingerprint scanners, the Huawei on the front, the Google on the rear.
P20 Pro: 6.1in, 2244x1080, OLED, 408ppi
Pixel 3 XL: 6.3in, 2960x1440, OLED, 523ppi
They also both have big screens with notches in them, but the Pixel 3 XL's is deeper than most.
The Pixel 3 XL has a fairly thick bottom bezel - or chin - and this does detract slightly from the overall look, especially when some rivals have a bigger screen-to-body ratio. But there's a reason for it: front-facing speakers. Like the Pixel 2 before it, there's good stereo sound on offer here.
At 6.3in, it's a little bigger than the P20 Pro's screen and higher resolution too, but it's hard to pick a winner here: they are both great screens.
P20 Pro: Kirin 970, 6GB RAM, 128GB storage
Pixel 3 XL: Snapdragon 845, 4GB RAM, 64 / 128GB storage
There isn't much to choose between in terms of performance. The Kirin 970 isn't quite the powerhouse that Huawei initially made out, but it is still plenty fast enough to make the P20 Pro a responsive, fast phone in general use.
The Pixel 3 XL has the latest Snapdragon 845 chip, which is faster in benchmarks such as Geekbench 4 but it's hard to tell the difference when using both phones side by side.
We've already mentioned the lack of video stabilisation above 1080p30 on the P20 Pro, but this is really the only time you'll run into the limitations of the Kirin 970's performance.
In terms of battery life, we already know the P20 Pro is a two-day phone. Unless you are using the GPS and screen constantly, you won't need to charge it every night.
We're still testing the battery life of the Pixel 3 XL, but it's looking like it won't match the P20 Pro. That isn't too surprising given the 3430mAh capacity, compared to the 4000mAh cell in the P20 Pro.
This table summarises the key specs:
|Specifications||Pixel 3 XL||Huawei P20 Pro|
|iOS||Android 9.0 Pie||Android 8.1 Oreo|
|Colours||Just Black, Clearly White, Not Pink||Twilight, Midnight Blue, Black|
|Display||6.3in 2960 x 1440 19:9 P-OLED, 523ppi||6.1in 2244x1080 OLED, 408ppi|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845||HiSilicon Kirin 970|
|Rear camera||12.2Mp f/1.8||40Mp with OIS (colour) + 8Mp telephoto (3x) + 20Mp, f/1.6 (monochrome)|
|Front camera||8Mp f/1.8 + 8Mp f/2.2||24Mp, f/2.0|
|Video recording||4K at 30fps, 1080p at 30/60/120fps, 720p at 240fps||4K at 30fps, 720p slo-mo @960fps|
|Dimensions||158 x 76.6 x 7.9 mm|
Android 9 Pie is what you'll find on the Pixel 3 XL. This is bang up-to-date and offers the latest and - in Google's view - best version of the operating system. It has all the latest features such as full-screen navigation and - exclusive to the Pixel - the new Top Shot camera mode.
Huawei hasn't updated the P20 Pro to Android 9 yet, but it probably will at some point. It's Emotion UI - EMUI - changes Android's look and feel significantly and it's very iOS like. There are lots of extra options in the settings, including a split-screen mode, some knuckle gestures, such as swiping across the screen to enable said split-screen mode and plenty else besides.
EMUI tends to divide opinion, but it isn't hard to get used to, and there are benefits such as Huawei's Born Fast Stays Fast feature which keeps apps in check and tries to minimise any slowdown. Far from being marketing hype, it does work.
Ultimately, they're both Android phones and which manufacturer's version you prefer is a personal choice: each has some unique features and each works in a slightly different way for certain aspects of the OS. We prefer the clean style of stock Android, but we like some of the EMUI customisations as well.
Google Pixel 3 XL: Specs
- Android 9 Pie
- 6.3in 2960 x 1440 19:9 P-OLED display
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
- Adreno 630 GPU
- 4GB RAM
- 64/128GB non-expandable storage
- 12.2Mp f/1.8 rear camera: Dual 8Mp front facing cameras
- 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX
- 4G LTE
- GPS NFC
- 3420mAh battery
- 158 x 76.6 x 7.9 mm