iPhone vs Android: Camera
While each phone here has multiple cameras, the hardware is quite different. The Note 20 Ultra offers a 50X “Space Zoom” lens while the OnePlus 8 Pro has a dedicated color filter camera. The Pixel 5 has an ultra-wide lens for the first time and the iPhone 12 offers night mode on both the wide and ultrawide cameras as well as the selfie cam.
But no matter which phone you choose, you’re getting an excellent camera. There are surely subtle differences between them, but smartphones in 2020 have reached staggering heights when it comes to photography, to the point where we have the luxury of nitpicking.
Take nighttime or low-light shots. Just two years ago, it was a detriment for most of these phones, but ever since Google introduced Night Sight on the Pixel 3, everyone has scrambled to catch up. And they have. In the image below, which was taken in a room where I could barely see what I was shooting, all of the phones capture color, detail, and clarity that the eye simply cannot see.
In the photo above, the Pixel 5, bottom right, captures an incredible level of clarity to the point where you can easily read all of the words, even the ones way in the back. The OnePlus 8 Pro (bottom left) also does a fantastic job with conveying detail, though the exposure is a bit amped up. The Note 20 Ultra (top right) also nails the color and detail, while the iPhone 12 (top left), which is still very good, isn’t as sharp as the others.
In better lighting, all four phones do an admirable job capturing a scene, as you can see above. The color, contrast, and depth on this busy scene are all preserved incredibly well, with only the OnePlus 8 Pro (bottom left) going a bit too hard on the saturation in the leaves. The iPhone 12 (top left) gets really nice detail on the leaves while the Note 20 (top right) leans too heavily into focusing on the front leaf. Once again, the Pixel 5 (bottom right) gets it all right.
It’s the same story with color. Each of the phones here does a tremendous job of parsing different and diffused colors above, but you can see a little softness in the OnePlus 8 Pro (bottom left) and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (top right). The iPhone 12 (top left) and Pixel 5 (bottom right) get the color and the clarity nearly perfect, but Google once again gets a slight edge.
There’s a bit more separation when it comes to zooming. The Note 20 Ultra has 5X optical zoom versus 3x on the OnePlus 8 Pro and pure digital zoom on the iPhone 12 and Pixel 5. So the Note 20 is clearly ahead of the other phones here when zooming, whether at 5X or 30X. It’s an area where the iPhone 12 (top left) shows its inferiority and where even Google’s incredible processing on the Pixel 5 (bottom right) can’t compensate. The OnePlus 8 Pro surprisingly struggles as badly as the non-telephoto phones, which shows how hard it is to zoom with a fixed smartphone lens. But if you’re going to be taking a lot of shots from further away, the Note 20 is definitely the one to buy.
When it comes to video, all four phones offer impressive video stabilization as well as 4K at 60fps. The Note 20 Ultra can shoot in 8K at 24fps as well and the iPhone 12 records in 10-bit Dolby Vision HDR 4K at 30fps. On the front, the selfie cams are all fairly equal, even with different hardware.
Pixel 5: 8MP
iPhone 12: 12MP
OnePlus 8 Pro: 16MP
Note 20 Ultra: 40MP
But you’re not going to want to make a decision based on the front camera. And when it comes to the rear camera, any phone will deliver the goods, but there’s one that’s just a little ahead of the pack, despite its lack of a zoom lens.
Our pick: Pixel 5
iPhone vs Android: Price
Before we get down to the price, we need to talk about storage. The iPhone 12 starts at 64GB, while the Note 20 Ultra, OnePlus 8 Pro, and Pixel 5 have 128GB. So to keeps things fair, I’ve bumped the iPhone 12 to the next storage tier when comparing prices.
Pixel 5: $699
OnePlus 8 Pro: $799
iPhone 12: $879
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: $1,300
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is certainly in the conversation for the phone of the year, but its price is a major detriment. Even Apple’s most expensive iPhone, the 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max, is $200 cheaper than the Note 20 Ultra with many of the same features, including a 2.5X telephoto lens. Samsung needs to seriously rethink its prices now that 5G is pretty much universal.
At the other end, the Pixel 5 needs to be cheaper to compete with the iPhone 12 and more specifically, the iPhone 12 mini, which starts at $729. The Pixel 5 seems to be in something of a transitional period and there’s a lot to like about Google’s moves, but the value just isn’t quite there.
Apple increased the price of the iPhone 12 by $130 as compared to the iPhone 11, which is no small hike, but you’re also getting much more for your money: namely, 5G and an OLED display. And it’s still more than $400 cheaper than the Note 20 Ultra and just $80 more than the cheapest OnePlus 8 Pro with 8GB of RAM.
Our pick: iPhone 12
iPhone vs Android: Conclusion
As I said at the start, these are four of the best phones of the year, and they all have their strengths. The Note 20 Ultra has a gorgeous display. The OnePlus 8 Pro works hard, lasts long, and charges in a flash. The Pixel 5 has great software integration and the best camera I’ve ever used in a $699 Android phone.
But only the iPhone 12 brings it all together so well. The design, display, processor, OS, and camera are all at the top of their game, and even if it isn’t the best in every category, it’s at or near the top in most of them. Not since the iPhone X has there been such a generational leap in performance and features, and even with the same camera hardware, the iPhone still improves over the iPhone 11. Add in the guaranteed OS updates and incredible battery life and you’ve got the phone of the year—and likely most of next year too.
It’s so good, there’s only one other phone I might recommend: the iPhone 12 Pro.