iPhone 11 vs Android’s best: An underdog does just enough to take down the champ

The iPhone 11 is an incredible phone, but there's one I like a little better.

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OS

I could spend the next several hundred words debating the differences between iOS and Android and trying to convince you why the iPhone 11 has stronger app support and better gesture navigation, or why Google Assistant is superior to Siri and notifications are actually quite good on Android.

But the fact of the matter is, for every point I make about one, an equally salient point could be made about the other. The scale of iOS has lead to widespread bugs and issues that Apple struggles to squash, while Android’s fragmentation and generally slow update schedule is continuously frustrating. The two operating systems are extremely close now—heck, they both even have dark mode.

android vs iphone scattered Christopher Hebert/IDG

Whichever phone you choose, you’re getting a great, modern OS.

So let’s talk about Android vs Android instead. We often refer to Android as a universal OS, but each phone brings a very different interpretation, affecting the overall experience as much as the specs and the hardware. Here’s what you get with the phones here:

  • Galaxy S10+: One UI
  • Pixel 4 XL: Android 10
  • OnePlus 7T: OxygenOS 10

The One UI Android skin on the Galaxy S10+ is the most unique of the bunch, as far away from stock Android as a Galaxy phone has ever been. It’s also the smartest interface Samsung has ever designed, with intuitive controls, thoughtful layouts, and powerful apps. As the first Galaxy to ship with One UI, the S10+ easily delivers the best end-to-end Samsung experience in years. Major updates are still an issue—One UI 2 based on Android 10 likely won’t arrive until 2020—but Samsung has done a fantastic job with crafting an OS that’s all its own.

The OnePlus 7T is one of the very few phones to ship with Android 10. Its Oxygen OS skin is every bit as light and airy as its name suggests. It sticks close to Google’s vision of Android and even feels like an Android One phone at times. However, powerful customization and smart features, plus a healthy dose of speed, give Oxygen OS its own character while still giving Android purists enough to love.

The Pixel 4’s main reason to exist is as a showcase for the latest Android build, so like the OnePlus 7T, it ships with Android 10 on board. But unlike the iPhone 11, which runs iOS 13 like it was tailor-made (because it was), I encountered more issues with Android 10 on the Pixel 4 than I have with any other Pixel phone. App crashes and hangs, laggy scrolling, and general slowness has plagued my time with it. Worse, the November update that should fix things has been slow to reach my phone. Software problems with new phones are hardly uncommon—Apple certainly has its share of them each year—but the Pixel is supposed to represent the best of Android, and so far the Pixel 4 doesn’t.
Winner (Android): OnePlus 7T

Miscellaneous features

Each phone offers apps and features that are unique to the experience. The Galaxy S10+ has its Edge shortcuts, which let you swipe from the curved area of the screen to access apps. The OnePlus 7T has a Reading Mode that desaturates the screen to make it easier on the eyes. The iPhone 11 has Animoji and FaceTime.

They also all have some form of water resistance, though the OnePlus 7T isn’t IP-rated, so we don’t know how deep you can dunk it. On paper, the iPhone 11 is the most resistant, letting you submerge it in 2 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. (The Pixel 4 and S10+ guarantee a depth of only 1.5 meters).

The Pixel 4 brings something that you won’t find on the other phones here. Called Motion Sense, it lets you control parts of your phone by waving your hand above the screen. It’s limited to snoozing alarms, skipping tracks, and silencing calls for now, but it works extremely well and has incredible potential. In a world of near-homogeneity when it comes to smartphones, I commend Google for thinking and engineering out of the box with the Pixel 4.
Winner: Pixel 4 XL

Camera

The camera is probably the main thing people research when buying a new phone, and I’m just going to say it here: Each of these phones’ default cameras will take fantastic pictures out of the box without adjusting a single setting, despite some differences and deficiencies, as you’ll see here.

android vs iphone pixel camera app Christopher Hebert/IDG

The iPhone 11 (left) and Pixel 4 XL (right) don’t have a ton of manual controls, but they still take the best pictures.

All have multiple cameras, but you’re getting only two with the Pixel 4 XL (standard, telephoto) and the iPhone 11 (standard, ultra wide), while the S10+ and 7T have three apiece (standard, ultra wide, telephoto).

The funky placement of the iPhone 11’s cameras have a purpose: It’s the only camera where you don’t have to adjust your shot when switching from standard to ultra-wide. It’s a small but meaningful attention to detail.

If you’re looking for the fastest, most accurate, most versatile, then the iPhone 11 is your champ, just barely beating out the Pixel 4 XL. Neither Google nor Apple offer users the manual controls in the stock camera app that the OnePlus 7T and the Galaxy S10+ do, but you wouldn’t need them if they did. The photo processing on the iPhone 11 and Pixel 4 are far enough ahead of the other phones here where you can be absolutely confident that you’re getting the best possible picture when you tap the shutter, no matter the subject, mode, or lighting condition.

The bigger jump over last year can be seen in the iPhone 11’s Night Mode. While it will be criticized by some as merely playing catch-up to Google’s Night Sight, which debuted to wows on the Pixel 3, Night Mode is a revelation for nighttime photography, with a mind-blowing algorithm that produces better results than the Pixel 4 in some instances. 

The iPhone excels in its understanding of what’s being shot. Other night modes simply amp up the brightness and exposure with varying results, while the iPhone 11 does a better job of preserving the shadows and overall integrity of the scene.

While both the iPhone 11 and the Pixel 4 XL usually snuffed the competition, more often than not, I preferred the nuance in the iPhone 11’s shot. Where the Pixel 4 XL’s Night Sight shots often seem like a Photoshop brightening filter had been applied, which affected clarity and sharpness, the iPhone 11’s shots had deeper blacks, crisper details, and less overall noise and graininess.

android vs iphone night mode Christopher Hebert/IDG

The iPhone 11 (top left) handled this extremely dark scene better than the Pixel 4 XL (top right), the Galaxy S10+ (bottom left), and OnePlus 7T (bottom right).

Small details aside, at times the iPhone 11 simply floored the competition. As you can see in the comparison shots above, all four phones did well with pulling out the color of the darts, but the board on the wall is another story. The OnePlus 7T struggled mightily with white balance (a constant issue when shooting in low light with white backgrounds), and the numbers in the S10+’s shot are barely visible. The Pixel 4 handled the color well, and illuminated the colors in the board and most of the bottom numbers, but the iPhone 11 was the only one of the bunch to illuminate all of the numbers (even if some aren’t legible) and properly brighten the wall.

android vs iphone portrait Christopher Hebert/IDG

The Galaxy S10+ (bottom left) handled my son’s messy hair slightly better than the others in this portrait shot, but it’s hard to find fault with the iPhone 11 (top left), Pixel 4 XL (top right), or OnePlus 7T (bottom right).

When shooting in normal light, however, the differences aren’t nearly as extreme. In the portrait examples above, each camera handles the background blur (and my son’s messy hair) very well. You can quibble with skin tone and saturation (I personally prefer the Pixel 4 XL's), but for the most part they all handle portraits very well.

android vs iphone detail Christopher Hebert/IDG

The iPhone 11 (top left) nailed the color and captured more detail in this shot of a tree trunk, but the Pixel 4 XL (top[ right), Galaxy S10+ (bottom left) and OnePlus 7T (bottom right) weren’t far behind.

Everyday shots come down to little details as well. Take these shots of a plant, above. Good bark, contrast, and color detail are present in all four pictures, but you can see how the OnePlus 7T lags a bit compared to its higher-priced peers, mainly due to autofocus issues. The iPhone 11 and Pixel 4 XL captured the deep maroon best, but again, I’m splitting hairs. 

oneplus 7t night Michael Simon/IDG

The OnePlus 7T might not be on the same level as the iPhone 11 or Pixel 4 XL, but it’s capable of taking mind-blowing pictures.

For example, if you had to guess which camera took the photos above, you’d probably guess the iPhone 11 or Pixel 4, but they were actually snapped with the OnePlus 7T. Granted they were taken in ideal lighting, but they underscore just how far OnePlus has come with its smartphone photography. 
Winner: iPhone 11

Price

While you’d expect to pay about the same price for any of four smartphones with the best processor, screen, design, and cameras you can buy, that’s not the case:

  • OnePlus 7T: $599
  • iPhone 11: $699
  • Pixel 4 XL: $899
  • Galaxy S10+: $1,000

That’s a $400 gap between the Galaxy S10+ and the OnePlus 7T, and well, if you’ve gotten this far, you know that the S10+ isn’t $400 better than the 7T. Quite frankly it’s not $300 better than the iPhone 11, either. Apple shocked the world by lowering the price of the iPhone 11 compared to its iPhone XR predecessor, but for all you’re getting with the 7T, the other phones here just can’t compete.
Winner: OnePlus 7T

Conclusions

With all due respect to the Pixel 4 XL, this is a three-phone race. Tally the category winners, and it’s a close call between the iPhone 11, Galaxy S10+, and OnePlus 7T. You won’t regret buying any of them, but the one you’ll feel just a little better about is the OnePlus 7T.

android vs iphone back Christopher Hebert/IDG

The rear of the phones have even more character than the front.

OnePlus phones have long been our pick for best value in a smartphone, but it’s time to recognize the 7T for what it is: a legitimate flagship that costs hundreds of dollars less than it should. Where things like the camera, design, and network compatibility used to drag down its predecessors, the 7T is a milestone for OnePlus, putting every other Android phone on notice—and the iPhone 11. 

Yes the iPhone does some things better—and the lack of wireless charging on the OnePlus 7T is frustrating—but as a full package that’s $100 cheaper, it’s easy to recommend the OnePlus 7T to anyone in the market for a new phone, no matter which operating system they want.

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