iPhone XR vs Android’s best: A razor-thin margin of victory

Apple's newest and cheapest handset takes on the Galaxy Note 9, Pixel 3 XL, and OnePlus 6T.

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iPhone XR vs Android: Camera

If you look at the specs for each of these cameras, you’d probably think the OnePlus 6T is the best:

iPhone XR: 12MP, f/1.8, OIS
Pixel 3 XL: 12.2MP, f/1.8, OIS
OnePlus 6T: 16MP (OIS, f/1.7) + 20MP (f/1.7)
Galaxy Note 9: 12MP (OIS, f/1.5) + 12MP (OIS, f/2.4)

iphone xs vs android cameras Christopher Hebert/IDG

The Pixel 3 XL (left) and iPhone XR both have single cameras, but they perform as well as dual-camera phones.

But like battery capacity, specs don’t mean much when it comes to smartphone cameras. More and more work is being done by the image signal processor, and it’s gotten to the point where the computational work is far more important than hardware. Quite frankly, OnePlus’s camera doesn’t even really compete against these phones.

portrait compare xr and Michael Simon/IDG

In Portrait Mode, the Pixel 3 XL (top right) once again blew everyone away with a stronger unadjusted bokeh effect and crisp definition. The iPhone XR (top left) nailed the color of my son’s cheeks, while the Galaxy Note 9 (bottom right) and OnePlus 6T (bottom left) smoothed his features a bit too much.

The iPhone XR uses the same lens as the XS, so the only thing you’re losing from Apple’s thousand-dollar phone is 2X optical zoom and the depth necessary for true portrait mode. Apple does offer portrait mode on the XR (unlike prior single-camera iPhones), but only for people, a limitation that isn’t on any of the other phones. For pet lovers, that alone is probably a deal-breaker.

motion compare xr andMichael Simon/IDG

All four phones have optical image stabilization on the main camera, but the iPhone XR (top left) and Pixel 3 XL (top right) handled motion much better than the OnePlus 6T (bottom left) and Galaxy Note 9 (bottom right).

With low-light images, the Pixel’s Night Mode blows the XR and everything else away. It’s astounding. The OnePlus 6T has a Night mode as well, but it doesn’t come close—adding a weird sepia glow to things and completely blowing out any available light. Dark scenes that are barely recognizable on other phones are gorgeous on the Pixel 3 XL, with even light and details that XR and Note 9 simply can’t see. Some might argue that the photos are unnatural and soft, but unless you’re inspecting them closely, they’ll look perfectly fine to most eyes. When they’re taking a picture of their kids in a dark room and the end result looks like it was professionally lit, parents aren’t going to care about a little facial smoothing.

night compare xr and Michael Simon/IDG

Night Sight on the Pixel 3 XL (top right) is just remarkable, showing up the OnePlus 6T’s own Night mode (bottom left). The Note 9 did OK with its f/1.5 camera (bottom right). The iPhone XR (top left) just plain struggled in this nighttime scene.

The Pixel 3 XL doesn’t just take better pictures than the rest; it’s downright remarkable what it can do with a single lens (and a lot of background processing). The iPhone XR and Note 9 were often close (though the XR really struggled with low-light shots), but from portraits to low-light photos, the Pixel 3 XL truly raises the bar for smartphone cameras.
Winner: Pixel 3 XL

iPhone XR vs Android: Price

Apple generally gets trounced when it comes to price, but the iPhone XR is different. It was created as a lower-priced alternative to the iPhone XS, and at $749, it offers a surprising value for what you get. That’s $150 cheaper than the Pixel 3 XL and $250 less than the Note 9.

iphone xs vs android op 6t Christopher Hebert/IDG

Even of you spring for the top-of-the-line model, the OnePlus 6T (right) offers a fantastic value over the iPhone XR.

The OnePlus 6T costs even less, starting at $549. You’re giving up a few important features, namely wireless charging, water resistance, and stereo speakers, and the camera is unremarkable. But the specs are otherwise top-of-the-line, the screen is great, and the design is simply gorgeous. Even of you max it out with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, it’ll still cost you $120 less than the iPhone XR.

Apple might have pulled off a nice trick by trimming 25 percent off the price of the iPhone XS without sacrificing too much of what makes it such a great phone, but I just can’t overlook the tremendous value offered by the 6T.
Winner: OnePlus 6T

iPhone XR vs Android: Conclusions

While last year’s battle produced a clear winner in the iPhone X, the competition is a lot closer this year. The iPhone XR lost a few main categories, namely design, display, and camera.

Priorities matter, too. If you care about pixel density, the extra $250 for the Galaxy Note 9 will be well worth it. The same goes for the $899 Pixel 3 XL (or $799 Pixel 3, which I didn’t test but has the same camera) if you want to take the best possible photos. And if design’s your thing, definitely take a look at the Thunder Purple OnePlus 6T.

iphone xs vs android rear Christopher Hebert/IDG

The best phones of the year also come in some of the best colors of the year.

But if you want the best all-around phone that won’t cost a thousand bucks, that delivers incredible performance and battery life, next-gen biometrics, a strong OS, and an attractive price, the iPhone XR is the way to go. No Android phone has quite the same combination of specs, features, and power, even if the XR falls a little short in the areas where iPhones usually excel. When I looked at the results, the XR’s performance and update guarantee were enough to push it over the edge. But again, it’s very close.

Apple just needs to work on those damn bezels for next year.

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