The new iPhone XR might not be a flagship, but it’s really good. So good, in fact, that I called it Apple’s best iPhone ever in my review—not because of its specs (which are technically inferior to those of the XS and XS Max) but because of its value proposition. That’s pitting it against other, pricier iPhones, though. I wanted to see how the iPhone XR would fare against three of Android’s best phones: the Galaxy Note 9, Pixel 3 XL, and OnePlus 6T.
We’ll walk through all the major factors we review in a phone, discussing each phone’s pros and cons and picking a winner. Click a link on our table of contents if you want to jump to a specific item.
iPhone XR vs Android: Display
Ask any screen geek about the difference between the iPhone XR’s LCD display and an AMOLED screen, and they’ll tell that there’s no comparison. Text is crisper, colors are brighter, and whites are more brilliant on the OLED displays, and blacks are as deep as they can get thanks to the ability to turn off each individual pixel completely.
LCDs have their strengths—they’re much cheaper to manufacture, and brighter and easier to read in sunlight— but they’re inherently inferior to OLED due to the need for constant backlighting. That makes them thicker, less malleable, and less power-efficient, with duller colors.
All of the screens here are very similar, but somehow the 6.2-inch iPhone XR looks tiny compared to the 6.3-inch Pixel 3XL, and 6.4-inch OnePlus 6T and Galaxy Note 9. In addition to its size, the display in the iPhone XR’s resolution is 1,792×828, or 720p, versus the 2K displays on the Note 9 and Pixel 3 XL, and the 1080p one on the OnePlus 6T. The XR’s effective ppi is just 326, again a far cry from the Note 9 (516), Pixel 3 XL (523), and OnePlus 6T (402).
However, unless the phones’ screens are compared side by side, most people aren’t going to see a difference. It’s tough unless you know what you’re looking for. Scaled-down HD content still looks great, text is crisp and easy to read, and even blacks looks good. True Tone is an absolute delight.
Apple calls the screen on the XR “Liquid Retina,” a fancy marketing term to draw attention to the rounded corners and “all-screen design.” But I also found it extremely color-accurate, and I preferred the shape of the XR’s corners to those of all the comparison phones. The Note 9’s are a bit too boxy for my tastes, and the OnePlus 6T’s too round. The Pixel 3 XL is the worst of the bunch, with mismatched top and bottom corners that offend my eyes.
The iPhone XR excels in brightness, too. In my testing, which turned each phone to maximum brightness and turned off the respective adaptive brightness toggles (as well as True Tone on the XR), the iPhone XR topped off at 825 nits, with the others coming in below 700.
However, there’s no hiding that the iPhone XR has an LCD. No matter how much work Apple put into making the XR screen realistic and vibrant, a pixel-by-pixel comparison with the three OLED-equipped phones I chose wasn’t much of a contest. The OLEDs accomplish a broader range of tones and hues, most clearly when viewing something with a black background, like Apple’s iPhone XR page. On the OLEDs, the blackness blends into the bezels, but on the XR there’s an obvious distinction where the screen ends and the bezels begin.
Out of the three OLED phones, I prefer the Note 9. Samsung makes the best OLED displays in the business—in fact, it supplies screens for the iPhone XS and Pixel 3 XL. The optimization and calibration it’s done on the Note 9 is second to none. Samsung also offers a variety of display options to adjust both the resolution and the temperature.
The Pixel 3 XL is a close second—though I noticed a bit of smearing when watching videos. The OnePlus 6T does well with fewer pixels, particularly after I switched to DCI-P3 mode. In fact, I found the default setting way too saturated for all of the Android displays, a problem I didn’t have with the iPhone XR. Which is good, because even if I did I couldn’t do anything about it.
Even with the screen mode set to “Basic,” the Note 9 shines, with richly saturated colors, excellent white balance, and barely any visible banding. Though its maximum manual brightness is lower than that of all the other phones, it still lights up a room and performs extremely well in direct sunlight. I preferred the aspect ratio of the XR and other Android phones here to the Note 9’s ultra-tall proportions, but ultimately I just couldn’t deny the overall greatness of Samsung’s display.
Winner: Galaxy Note 9
iPhone XR vs Android: Design
When I compared the iPhone X vs. flagship Android phones last year, I predicted that “a couple of” Android flagships would adopt camera notches in 2018. It turns out nearly every major Android phone maker sells a phone with a camera notch. Even holdout Samsung teased a family of notched screens at its developers conference.
But a notch alone does not make a premium phone. The iPhone XR has the same cutout at the top of the screen as the iPhone XS, but the designs diverge otherwise. On the XR, the glass back comes in four new colors in addition to the standard white and black, and the sides are made of color-matched anodized aluminum. That’s a material downgrade from the iPhone XS’s stainless steel, but I actually prefer it. It’s less prone to scuffs and scratches, but I especially like the way the color peeks over the edges of the screen. Simply put, the rear of the iPhone XR is a thing of beauty, even more so than the Pixel 3 XL’s gorgeous two-tone frosted glass. And it’s a small thing, but I like the placement and length of the iPhone’s power button.
The bezels, on the other hand, are less beautiful. Due to the inherent engineering issues with LCD screens, Apple has increased the size of the bezels on the XR by about 50 percent compared to those on the iPhone X (4mm vs 2.5mm). The difference is stark. For years, Apple has taught us that every millimeter matters when it comes to smartphone design, so the iPhone XR feels like a step backward from both the iPhone X and 8.
Apple could have given the iPhone XR slimmer bezels with a larger chin and forehead like the other phones here. By sticking with 4mm bezels all around, the company prioritized symmetry over slimness. I actually prefer the iPhone XR’s display design to the the Note 9’s unbalanced Infinity Display and the Pixel 3 XL’s giant chin. However, when it came to watching movies, the XR’s notch was a real issue, while the 6T and even the Pixel 3 XL were able to hide it.
The OnePlus 6T gets it right. Yes, the chin is larger than the side bezels, but it’s nowhere near as large as it is on the Pixel 3 XL or the Note 9. In fact, it’s no bigger than the XR’s bottom bezel, with slimmer sides and a skinny forehead that’s interrupted only by the smallest of notches.
The OnePlus 6T has a “teardrop” notch just large enough to include a single camera, unlike the wide notch on the iPhone XR and the ultra-deep one on the Pixel 3 XL. Like those phones, the notch extends a bit deeper than the standard status bar, but its curved design has a slimming effect. It’s done so well, I prefer the visible notch to the blackout bar, and it’s one of the few phones I’ve used where it actually feels like I’m getting more screen real estate and not just a weird compromise.
I never thought I’d see the day when OnePlus bested Samsung or Apple with a smartphone design, but the 6T is a real work of art, with the highest screen-to-body ratio of all the phones here and a notch that even haters can love. And just wait until you see the new Thunder Purple color in person.
Winner: OnePlus 6T
iPhone XR vs Android: Battery
When Apple announced the XR alongside the XS and XS Max, the most surprising difference between the three devices wasn’t the screen, it was the battery life. According to Apple’s specs, the iPhone XR “lasts up to 1.5 hours longer than iPhone 8 Plus,” which is more significant than it seems. The iPhone 8 Plus was Apple’s previous battery champ, lasting noticeably longer than the iPhone X.
But claims are one thing, results are another. Because Apple provides little in the way of specs for its iPhones, we have to rely on iFixit teardowns to get the goods. We now know that the iPhone XR includes a 2,942mAh battery, a lot smaller than the ones inside the other phones here:
Benchmarks tell another story. Using the Geekbench 4 Battery Benchmark test with the screen set at 200 nits and adaptive/automatic brightness turned off for each of the phones, the OnePlus 6T trounced the others, with the iPhone XR and Note 9 bringing up the rear:
On paper, the iPhone XR gets smoked, plain and simple. But as usual with the iPhone, paper doesn’t tell the whole story. OnePlus and other Android phone makers have been known to game benchmarks to skew results in their favor, so we should take these numbers with a grain of salt. And as such, real-world testing didn’t bear out these results at all. The two best performers in day-to-day use were the iPhone XR and Note 9, which scored the lowest using Geekbench’s test.
Apple has a knack for squeezing lots of juice out of relatively small batteries, and the XR is no exception. iOS 12’s Auto-Brightness is either vastly superior to Android Pie’s Adaptive brightness, or Apple is performing some wizardry with background processes. Each of these phones lasted through a full day of heavy use (or close to it), but the iPhone XR was the one phone that consistently ended the day with a decent amount of battery to spare (10-20 percent), without ever needing to plug it in. The Note 9 was a close second. The OnePlus 6T performed extremely well too, though it tended to get extremely dark with automatic brightness turned on, to the point where some movies were unwatchable.
Speaking of which, I watched a two-hour Netflix movie with adaptive/auto brightness off, and the brightness turned all the way up for each phone. Starting with a full charge, here’s what I was left with:
It’s here where you can see how the iPhone XR’s adaptive brightness and the A12 chip benefits the battery. Where the other phones took a 20-percent hit and got quite warm after a third hour of streaming, the iPhone lost just seven percent of its battery life and barely broke a sweat. Whatever Apple’s doing with its phones is incredibly impressive. I can only imaginee how long the next iPhone would last if Apple decided to give it a 4,000mAh battery.
Winner: iPhone XR
When the battery’s died, who charges fastest? Find out on the next page.
iPhone XR vs Android: Charging
While all of these phones are capable of fast charging, the mileage varies considerably when using each handset’s bundled power adapter and cable. Here’s what I ended up with after an hour of charging following a full depletion for each phone:
The iPhone percentage isn’t a misprint. Apple still bundles a woefully inadequate 5W charger with the iPhone XR (as well as the thousand-dollar iPhone XS models), and it charges the iPhone incredibly slowly. To get faster charging on the iPhone XR, you’ll need to pony up $19 for Apple’s 12W USB Power Adapter or buy a similar third-party plug. In any case, it’s not as good as the OnePlus’s fast charging.
Results pulled a bit more even with wireless charging, though the iPhone brought up the rear here too, topping off at 7.5W while the Note 9 reached 10W. The Pixel 3 XL also reached 10W, but it required its own Pixel Stand to do so and dropped to 5W on other chargers. The OnePlus 6T doesn’t offer wireless charging yet, which is a bummer, but the strength of its cable system edges out its competitors.
Winner: OnePlus 6T
iPhone XR vs Android: Performance
The iPhone XR has the distinction of being the only phone in this comparison that isn’t powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor. Apple’s A12 chip shows them all how it’s done:
Android fans will point out that all of these phones have more RAM than the iPhone, but Apple manages to make good use of the iPhone XR’s memory, too. On average, it kept around 12-15 apps at the ready for switching (without needed more than a second to load), the same as the Note 9 and the OnePlus 6T, and way more than the Pixel (though Google says that’s a bug that will be addressed in a future update). Rumor has it that the Snapdragon 855 will catch up, but for now, the gap is very wide.
Winner: iPhone XR
iPhone XR vs Android: Sound
The Galaxy Note 9 is the only phone here that still has a headphone jack, so it starts off with a big lead out of the box. To compensate, Apple offers up a set of Lightning Earbuds but opted to dump the 3.5mm adapter this time around (you can buy one from AppleRemove non-product link for $9.) OnePlus includes a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter but you’ll need to buy a pair of $20 USB-C BulletsRemove non-product link. Google bests them all, bundling a set of surprisingly good USB-C Pixel Buds along with a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in every Pixel 3 box.
The iPhone XR, Pixel 3 XL, and Note 9 feature stereo speakers (the 6T does not), and they all sound great. When pumped to the max, the iPhone XR has excellent bass but can get a little muddled, and the Note 9 is a touch tinny for my ears. The Pixel 3 XL sounded best due to its front-firing speakers.
Winner: Pixel 3 XL
iPhone XR vs Android: Biometrics
Apple introduced Face ID with the iPhone X, and it only took a year to bring it to the rest of the iOS lineup, including the iPad Pro and iPhone XR. Apple has improved the system for its 2018 phones, and the enhancements only pad its lead. In short, Face ID makes all other biometric options seem slow, clunky, and just plain dated.
None of the Android phones here have a system to match the combination of security and simplicity that Apple delivers with Face ID on the XR. OnePlus’s in-display fingerprint sensor brings a wow factor for sure, but it’s slower and less reliable than traditional fingerprint sensors. While the 2D facial recognition on the 6T works incredibly fast, it can be easily spoofed, which kind of defeats the purpose. The Note 9’s iris scanner is the closest thing to Face ID, but it’s much too persnickety to really compete. The Pixel 3 XL doesn’t even try, offering only a standard fingerprint sensor on the rear.
Winner: iPhone XR
iPhone XR vs Android: Operating system
A smartphone is only as good as its software, and you pretty much know what you’re getting with the XR: the newest OS, years of updates, and strong app support. The new full-screen design means gesture navigation takes over, and it’s just as intuitive, familiar, and responsive as it was with the home button.
The XR is one of three out of the four handsets here to support both gesture navigation and the latest respective OS, with the Note 9 being the odd phone out. They’re all somewhat similar: Swipe up to go home, pause to multitask, swipe right to cycle through apps, etc. But while it’s clearly the future for the iPhone, it’s less certain on Android.
The OnePlus 6T is the only to offer the option to switch between gesture and virtual button navigation, and I suspect lots of users will opt to leave it off. Gesture navigation in Android 9 Pie is nowhere near as fluid nor smart as it is on the iPhone, and the enhancements OnePlus has added don’t move the needle. In fact, without the home button or indicator line as guidance, I was often confused as to where and how to swipe on the 6T.
Even on the Pixel 3 XL, where gesture navigation is as good as it gets on Android, there’s a clunkiness and half-baked nature that makes it feel stickier and slower than it does in the XR. The Pixel’s tremendous speed and optimization more than make up for it, but switching between it and the XR only highlights the iPhone’s advantage. On the XR, gesture navigation is smart and smooth as butter.
But the Pixel 3 is head and shoulders above the rest of the Android field. The Note 9 is still on Oreo and will be for a while, and even the minimal OnePlus 6T feels just a touch slower that it does when compared to the Note 9. Android on the Pixel 3 is the closest you’re going to get to iOS on the iPhone, with tight end-to-end control over the entire system that results in a top-notch experience (no pun intended).
On its own, the Pixel 3 XL is a bland, even ugly phone, but Android 9 makes its inner beauty shine. For example, check out these startup times:
Six seconds might not seem like a lot, but when you’re staring at the screen, it seems like an eternity. And it’s like that all over the Pixel 3: apps, multitasking, scrolling, it all flies by and makes the other Android phones feel inferior. Google also promises two years of major updates and three years of security updates, which is way more than you’ll get on any other Android phone. It’s still not as good as Apple—especially when it comes to fixing major bugs that pop up—but Pixel owners are consistently the first to get updates.
Ultimately, choosing between the Android 9 and iOS 12 is a matter of preference, and there are strong opinions on either side. Let’s call this one a tie.
Winner: iPhone XR/Pixel 3 XL
iPhone XR vs Android: Storage
Internal storage is finally becoming less of an issue when buying a smartphone, especially a premium one. All of the phones here offer at least 64GB of base storage. To simplify things to a base level, here’s the gigabyte-to-dollar ratio (for the full price of each handset):
Apple actually offers a decent upgrade for the XR, letting you go from 64GB to 128GB for just $50. Google charges $100 for the same storage bump. Samsung offers a good value, but forces users to upgrade to more storage than they probably need (though it does bump the RAM to 8GB). It’s also the only phone to offer an SD slot for expandable storage, so you could bump it up to a full terabyte, which is just nuts.
I still have to give the crown to the OnePlus 6T here. It offers the best per-gigabyte value—and also bumps the RAM to 8GB in the 256GB model—and it’s not overcharging or forcing heaps of storage on its users, like Samsung does with the Note. That’s why I like the 128GB option on the XR for $50, which Apple doesn’t offer on the iPhone XS.
Winner: OnePlus 6T
Everyone cares about their phone’s camera. We look closely on the next page.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.