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Sony Xperia XZ3 vs. Galaxy Note 9: Can Sony topple Samsung’s giant?

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By Mark Jansen


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Sony Xperia XZ3 review
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

Sony’s new Xperia XZ3 has been revealed, and it boasts everything that made the Xperia XZ2 a great phone — along with a few beneficial changes and Sony’s first-ever OLED smartphone display. Are these small tweaks enough to make the Xperia XZ3 a contender against one of the biggest flagship phones of 2018? To see whether the Xperia XZ3 can hold its own against the Galaxy Note 9, we put the two phones head-to-head in a series of comparisons to decide which of these two amazing devices should be your next phone.

Specs

Sony Xperia XZ3
Samsung Galaxy Note 9
Size158 x 73 x 9.9 mm (6.22 x 2.87 x 0.39 inches)161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm (6.37 x 3 x 0.35 inches)
Weight193 grams (6.81 ounces)201 grams (7.09 ounces)
Screen size6-inch OLED display6.4-inch Super AMOLED display
Screen resolution2,880 x 1,440 pixels (537 pixels per inch)2,960 x 1,440 pixels (516 pixels per inch)
Operating systemSony UI (over Android 9.0 Pie)Samsung Experience UI (over Android 8.1 Oreo)
Storage space64GB
128GB (with 6GB of RAM), 512GB (with 8GB of RAM)
MicroSD card slotYes, up to 512GBYes, up to 512GB
Tap-to-pay servicesGoogle PayGoogle Pay, Samsung Pay
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 845Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
RAM4GB 6GB (with 128GB storage), 8GB (with 512GB storage)
Camera19MP rear, 13MP frontDual 12MP (with OIS) and 12MP zoom (with OIS) rear, variable aperture, 8MP front
Video2,160p at 30 frames per second, 1080p at 960 fps2,160p at 60 frames per second, 1,080p at 240 fps, 720p at 960 fps
Bluetooth versionBluetooth 5.0Bluetooth 5.0
PortsUSB-C3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C
Fingerprint sensorYesYes
Water resistanceIP68/IP65IP68
Battery3,330mAh

QuickCharge 3.0

Qi wireless charging

4,000mAh

QuickCharge 2.0

Qi wireless charging

App marketplaceGoogle Play StoreGoogle Play Store
Network supportT-Mobile, AT&TT-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint
ColorsBlack, Silver White, Forest Green, Bordeaux RedOcean Blue, Lavender Purple
Price$900Starting from $1,000
Buy fromBest Buy, AmazonAmazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Samsung
Review scoreHands-on review4 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

Sony Xperia XZ3 review
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

Going by the numbers, the Note 9 has a slight edge on the XZ3 in terms of pure performance. Both phones are equipped with the powerful Snapdragon 845 — but the Note 9’s water-cooling system should mean that it can push harder and for longer, without as much risk of overheating. The Note 9 also has more RAM, with 6GB and 8GB options dwarfing the XZ3’s 4GB. To be fair, you’re unlikely to notice these differences in real-life use — but it’s clear that the Note 9 is the objectively more powerful phone.

Storage options paint a similarly one-sided story. The Note 9’s 128GB model has twice the storage of the XZ3’s 64GB — and that’s without mentioning the ludicrously roomy Note 9 model with 512GB of storage. However, both have support for MicroSD cards up to 512GB in size, making it unlikely users of either phone will run out of storage quickly.

The winner isn’t as clear in battery life and charging. The Note 9 comes with a massive 4,000mAh battery that comfortably lasts a day — and while the 3,330mAh battery in the XZ3 is clearly smaller, it should also easily see you through a day’s use, putting these two phones in similar positions. Both have Qi wireless charging available, which is convenient, but the XZ3’s quick charging tops the Note 9’s with support for QuickCharge 3.0.

While the XZ3 claws back some points with speedy charging, it’s clear Samsung’s titan is the more powerful phone.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Design and durability

note 9 weather
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Consumers in 2018 demands beautiful flagships, and neither phone lets us down in that regard. The XZ3 and the Note 9 are both desirable glass phones with aluminum frames, and curves that gently wrap around their bodies. However, the XZ3’s bezels aren’t as slim as the Note 9’s, and Sony’s Ambient Flow design has yet to catch up fully with the sleek and slick Samsung flagship range. If you’re still rocking your old wired headphones, it’s important to note that only the Note 9 is equipped with a headphone jack.

In terms of durability, you’re likely to want a case for the XZ3 and the Note 9 — glass is fragile and can be slippery, so the added protection and grip will be a must for some. These phones are otherwise well-protected, with IP68 ratings against water immersion and dust. The XZ3 goes a step further with an IP65 rating as well — giving it protection from jets of water from any direction, as well as full immersion protection.

Style and beauty are subjective — but we think the majority of people would agree the Note 9 is the prettier of these two. While the XZ3 gets points for its IP65 rating, the headphone jack on the Note 9 seals the deal.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Display

Sony Xperia XZ3 review
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

Sony has been using LCD screens in its Xperia phones for years — so it’s a pretty big deal that the XZ3 now comes with the more advanced OLED display technology. It’s a beautiful screen, with inky blacks and deep, vibrant colors — it’s the most beautiful display we’ve ever seen on an Xperia phone.

But can it beat the Note 9’s Super AMOLED display? DisplayMate named the Note 9’s display as the best it had ever tested, and using it makes it easy to see why. It’s exceptionally sharp, and the color reproduction is nearly perfect — as is the deepness of blacks.

The Note 9 has one of the best displays around, and we’re not sure the Xperia XZ3 can beat it. If it turns out the XZ3’s screen outperforms the Note 9’s after further testing, we’ll change this verdict — but until then, the Galaxy Note 9 wins.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Camera

note 9 shutter button
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It’s bad news for anyone hoping Sony would carry on the dual-lens camera seen on the Xperia XZ2 Premium — the XZ3 is equipped with just a single rear-facing lens. It’s very similar to the camera lens from the XZ2 — a 19-megapixel camera that provided good shots, but sometimes struggled with exposure. It wasn’t as good as the XZ2 Premium’s dual-lens set-up, and therefore isn’t as strong as the dual 12-megapixel lens setup on the Note 9.

There’s a 13-megapixel lens around the front of the XZ3 though, and it’s likely that this monster of a front-facing lens will be the match of the Note 9’s 8-megapixel selfie shooter. Video is a closer race too. Both phones have support for 4K recording, as well as super slow motion video at 960 frames per second — but the XZ3 can record super slow motion video at 1080p, beating the Note 9’s 720p.

But it’s too little, too late. It’s still early days for the XZ3, but the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 has the clearly superior camera. We haven’t even mentioned the Note 9’s variable aperture or A.I.-driven scene optimization — because we didn’t have to. The Note 9 runs away with this.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Software and updates

Sony Xperia XZ3 review
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

You’ll find fairly heavily altered versions of Android on both of these phones. Samsung uses the Samsung Experience UI on its phones, and while it’s much better than the old TouchWiz UI, it’s pretty far from stock Android. Purists won’t have any more luck with the Xperia XZ3 though, as Sony uses its own custom UI and adds a lot of additional bloatware.

However, the XZ3 has a serious advantage by being one of the earliest phones to adopt Android 9.0 Pie. Samsung’s update record isn’t as solid as Sony’s, and we suspect it’ll be months before Samsung upgrades the Note 9 to Android Pie. You can probably expect to get a quicker update to Android Q from Sony’s phone as well, making the XZ3 the phone to get if you love sampling the latest Android treats soon after launch.

Winner: Sony Xperia XZ3

Special features

note 9 notes
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

You either love or hate the special features on the Xperia XZ3, as a lot of them are fairly niche. There’s the usual Xperia shoes-ins — PS Remote Play for PlayStation 4 remote streaming, and the 3D Creator app. But the XZ3 has also seen some new and useful additions. Users can use Side Sense to bring up a menu with a single tap, and Smart Launch launches the camera app when the device is put into landscape mode.

But the XZ3’s options pale in comparison to the Galaxy Note 9’s vast plethora of tools. The S Pen in particular has seen some serious improvements, including a low-power Bluetooth remote connection that supplements its usual uses. Samsung’s DeX desktop mode has been improved too, and no longer requires the expensive dock to work. Bixby is more useful than before, and Note 9 owners also benefit from fast facial unlocking.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Price

The Galaxy Note 9 is currently available from most major carriers, with prices starting from a whopping $1,000. The Xperia XZ3 will cost $900 when it releases on October 17 — but keep in mind that it’ll only work on T-Mobile and AT&T.

Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

The Galaxy Note 9 is among the best smartphones in the world right now, so the Xperia XZ3 was always going to have a hard time topping it. It’s clear to us that the Note 9 is the superior phone in most categories, and that means it’s the Samsung you should be picking.

However, the competition was not completely in the Note 9’s favor, and some categories are closer than the final score would have you believe. The Xperia XZ3 is still a powerful phone with a gorgeous display, and if you love Xperia phones, then it’s a great choice for you. But for everyone else, it should be the Note 9.


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