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: 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:

iPhone XR: 37 percent
Pixel 3 XL: 82 percent
OnePlus 6T: 91 percent
Galaxy Note 9: 76 percent

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: 

Geekbench (single-core/multi-core)

iPhone XR: 4818/11326
Pixel 3 XL: 2313/8454
OnePlus 6T: 2359/8922
Galaxy Note 9: 2391/8268

Things are a bit more equal when it comes to graphics performance between the two chips, but the iPhone XR’s A12 chip still showed up the Snapdragon 845:

3DMark SS Extreme (Vulkan API vs Metal API)

iPhone XR: 3651
Pixel 3 XL: 3482
OnePlus 6T: 3842
Galaxy Note 9: 3641

Ice Storm Unlimited

iPhone XR: 77344
Pixel 3 XL: 61756
OnePlus 6T: 64264
Galaxy Note 9: 54990

iphone xs vs android fan Christopher Hebert/IDG

It might be hard to tell of any these phones apart with the screens off, but using them is a different story. 

And finally, I ran the AnTuTu benchmark, which is far more popular on Android than iOS, with similarly lop-sided results:

iPhone XR: 335174
Pixel 3 XL: 285184
OnePlus 6T: 289691
Galaxy Note 9: 282680

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 Apple for $9.) OnePlus includes a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter but you’ll need to buy a pair of $20 USB-C Bullets. 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.

iphone xs vs android ports Christopher Hebert/IDG

The Galaxy Note 9 (bottom) is the only phone here to offer a headphone jack.

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.

iphone xs vs android size Christopher Hebert/IDG

The iPhone XR (far left) is the fastest and simplest to unlock.

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.

iphone xs vs android all Christopher Hebert/IDG

The OnePlus 6T (second from left), Pixel 3 XL (second from right), and Galaxy Note 9 (far right) all run Android, but the experiences are very different.

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.

iphone xs vs android line Christopher Hebert/IDG

(Left to right): The iPhone XR, OnePlus 6T, and Pixel 3 XL all run the latest version of their respective operating systems, but the Galaxy Note 9 is still stuck on Android Oreo.

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:

iPhone XR: 15 seconds
Pixel 3 XL: 9 seconds
OnePlus 6T: 18 seconds
Galaxy Note 9: 16 seconds

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):

iPhone XR (64GB): $11.70
Pixel 3 XL (64GB): $14.05
OnePlus 6T (128GB: $4.28
Galaxy Note 9 (128 GB): $7.81

galaxy note 9 lilac Christopher Hebert/IDG

Only the Galaxy Note 9 lets you pop in an SD card and double the storage to 1TB.

To get an even better sense of the storage value, take a look at the upgrade prices for each of these phones:

iPhone XR: $0.78 XR (64GB upgrade)
Pixel 3 XL: $1.56 Pixel 3 XL (64GB upgrade)
OnePlus 6T: $0.62 (128GB upgrade)
Galaxy Note 9: $0.65 (384GB upgrade)

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.

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