The demand for Google’s first “true” smartphones — the Pixel and Pixel XL — has been high. Maybe too high; Google has struggled to fulfill online orders. The Pixel XL (128GB), for example, hasn’t been in Google’s online store since late November — the only smartphone Google had in stock at the time of writing was the smaller Pixel, in black or blue (not white), and only in the lesser 32GB size. They were announced three months ago, and they’re still almost as rare as Nintendo’s $60 NES Classic Edition.
But is the Pixel worth the wait? Other phones that look, feel and function very similarly to the Pixel — like the Huawei Mate 9 — are making a strong statement: no.
I’ve tested the Mate 9 for the last few weeks after having used the Pixel XL for two months, and I can attest that they share many similar qualities. The Pixel beats out the Huawei Mate 9 in several areas — it’s a terrific phone, after all — but the differences most likely won’t affect your everyday use Furthermore, the Huawei boasts a few appealing features of its own, whereas some of the Pixel’s features have yet to fulfill their promise.
OS: Android OS version 7.0 (Nougat)
Processor: Hisilicon Kirin 960
Display: 5.9-inch IPS LCD FHD
Headphone Jack: Yes
Charging Port: USB Type-C
Weight: 6.70 ounces
Buy Now: $600
I’m a basic phone user. I scroll through Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, and I check emails. For me, both phones ran identically. Both have huge displays, powerful and similarly fast processors, headphone jacks (!!) and minimal bloatware. Unlocking the Mate 9 with its fingerprint scanner felt like déjà vu. Spec-wise, the two phones’ cameras are largely similar — which is worth noting, given that the Pixel XL supposedly has “the best smartphone camera ever.”
But there are substantial differences, the biggest being their displays. The Mate 9 has a noticeably larger display (5.9 inches, compared to the Pixel’s 5.5 inches), but with a lower resolution (1920 x 1080, as opposed to the Pixel XL’s 2560 x 1440). This would be important if you spend a lot of time streaming Netflix or YouTube; but I use a tablet or a laptop for on-the-road streaming more often than not, so I didn’t even notice the difference until I squared both phones next to each other. The real strength in the Pixel XL’s resolution is its VR functionality.
The Mate 9 isn’t VR-ready like the Pixel XL, and won’t work with the Daydream View headset. Disappointing? Sure. But if you’re like me, it’s not a deal breaker. After the first two weeks of having the Pixel XL and Daydream View headset, I rarely used the two together. The combo is a cool party trick — say, at Christmas or Thanksgiving, to show off YouTube VR (which is admittedly awesome!) to friends and family — but VR games on mobile just can’t yet compete with console games like FIFA or Battlefield.
The rear fingerprint scanners are slightly different as well. The Pixel XL’s feels larger and is admittedly more versatile; you can use it like a trackpad, to navigate the settings dropdown menu. You can’t do that with the Mate 9, whose fingerprint scanner is strictly used to unlock the phone, which is too bad, since it’s a neat feature for the Pixel XL. But Google hasn’t fully utilized it yet. You can’t scroll through web articles or emails from the back of the phone, for instance, which would be really cool and useful. Until Google Pixel XL’s fingerprint scanner becomes more versatile, it won’t be absolutely worth it.
Bottom line is, the Pixel XL edges out the Mate 9 on the sexier features. If you’re into VR or want “the promise” of a better fingerprint scanner, get on the waitlist for the Pixel XL. But if all you want is the (impressive!) smartphone functionality — a fast processor and a great camera — you can get it with the Huawei Mate 9, cheaper and faster.