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iPhone XR vs. Galaxy S10E: Which $750 phone should you buy

Apple and Samsung's cheapest flagship options both cost the same. But which one is truly better?

If you're looking for a flagship phone but don't want to pay a flagship price, the iPhone XR and Galaxy S10E are two of your best options from Apple and Samsung. Having launched in October 2018, the iPhone XR is the most recent and least expensive iPhone you can get, compared to the $1,000 iPhone XS and $1,100 iPhone XS Max.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy S10E came out this year, and is one of five Galaxy phones Samsung unveiled in February. Compared to the $900 Galaxy S10 and the pricier $1,980 Galaxy Fold (which doesn't yet have an official release date, thanks to screen issues), the Galaxy S10E is the cheapest one of the group.

Now playing: Watch this: iPhone XR vs. Galaxy S10E: How to choose the best phone

Both the iPhone XR and Galaxy S10E start at $750 and have comparable features and hardware. So if you're comfortable with both iOS and Android, how do you choose what phone to get? We break down the pros and cons of each when it comes to their design, camera prowess, battery and processing performance, software features and extra goodies.

Design: iPhone's elegance vs. Galaxy's classic features

The Galaxy S10E has a 5.8-inch AMOLED screen and looks great. It's truly the most elegant design you're going to get from Samsung without paying too much, compared to the other Galaxy S10 phones. And while it doesn't feel as luxurious as the iPhone XR, its small size is comfortable to hold. The phone's flat screen gives it an old-school look and is reminiscent of phones a few years ago, before Samsung curved the side edges of its Galaxy phones.

Meanwhile, the iPhone XR has a 6.1-inch LCD display. Unlike past iPhones, the iPhone XR feels fairly sturdy, and we felt less afraid to drop it. We don't recommend you do, but in case you're curious, this is what happened when we dropped a naked iPhone XR on the sidewalk. Also, when both phones are on maximum brightness, the iPhone is much more vibrant, especially off-axis, or when you view the phone from its sides. However, the Galaxy S10E's OLED screen means blacks are much darker and inkier. The phone also has a higher resolution and a greater pixel density than the iPhone XR, but you really can't discern much of a difference unless you hold the phones side-by-side.

Another difference between the two is how they tackle the front-facing camera. The Galaxy S10 has a "hole-punch" camera in the screen. While it looked odd at first, over time we got used to it. There are also some creative wallpapers you can download that play with the hole-punch. The iPhone XR, on the other hand, has a black notch up top that houses the TrueDepth selfie camera. Once a point of contention when it first debuted with the iPhone X in 2017, we've gotten used to the notch at this point.

Both phones have stereo speakers, but the Galaxy S10 also has a headphone jack for you to plug in your wired headphones and listen to music or make calls with. This is handy when you don't want to buy Bluetooth headphones or you want to listen to music and charge your phone at the same time. The iPhone XR only has a Lightning port. These days, however, the absence of a headphone jack isn't considered much of a deal-breaker; indeed preferring the beloved but endangered headphone jack may just be delaying the inevitable as more and more phone makers decide to lop it off their handsets.

Finally, the iPhone XR and Galaxy S10E are rated IP67 and IP68, respectively, for water resistance. On paper that means the Galaxy S10E can survive a slightly deeper plunge underwater, but when we tested the iPhone XR, it actually survived at a depth almost eight times what it was rated for. 

Winner: The iPhone XR looks and feels more premium to us, but we love the S10E's great OLED display and headphone jack, which gives it a clear advantage


What phone takes better photos and video?

Angela Lang/CNET

Camera: Are two lenses better than one?

The iPhone XR has one 12-megapixel camera on the back, while the Galaxy S10E has two: a 12-megapixel wide-angle shooter and a 16-megapixel ultrawide-angle lens. Both take fantastic photos, and you can read a deep-dive camera comparison between the two here. In general though, the Galaxy S10E's Scene Optimizer can make colors look over-the-top, and color accuracy on the iPhone XR is better in daylight and indoor lighting.

When it comes to low-light, the iPhone XR isn't bad, but it doesn't look as good as the Galaxy S10E, which takes brighter, more detailed low-light shots. Interestingly, unlike some of its Android competitors like the Pixel 3 and OnePlus 7 Pro, the Galaxy S10E doesn't have a dedicated camera mode for low-light out of the box. Instead, the phone optimizes settings whenever it autodetects a dim scene, but users can't manually switch this on. Samsung is rolling out an update for this though, and while our Galaxy S10E doesn't have it yet, we're looking forward to testing it.

Both phones take portrait photos, which blur the background for a dramatic look. We much prefer the portraits from the iPhone XR. Edge detection is better and the falloff between the fore- and backgrounds looks more natural than with the Galaxy S10E. Subjects also look sharper and the dynamic range appears to be wider. Portrait mode on the iPhone XR works only on human faces, though, so you can't turn it on for pets or inanimate objects.

Portrait photos taken with the iPhone XR (left) look more natural than the Galaxy S10E (right), but you can't use it on non-human faces.

Lynn La/CNET

The iPhone XR (left) did not expose the blue sky as well as the Galaxy S10E (right) in this picture.

Lynn La/CNET

The reds and greens in the iPhone XR's image (left) is much more vibrant and rich than the Galaxy S10E (right).

Lynn La/CNET

Portrait photo mode is called "Live focus" on the Galaxy S10E. The default effect is subtle, and we're not fans of its different blur designs, like the radial blur (it's kind of tacky). You can adjust the blur after the shot has been taken on both phones, but the effect looks most natural from the iPhone XR.

For selfies, the iPhone XR has a 7-megapixel TrueDepth camera while the Galaxy S10E has a 10-megapixel camera. Both can take portrait pictures. The Galaxy S10E lets you toggle to a slightly wider perspective and there's a Beauty Mode that's on by default. While the Galaxy S10E pulls off solid portrait pictures, we still prefer the warmer skin tones on the iPhone XR and the softer background.

The iPhone XR's selfie portraits (left) are warmer than the Galaxy S10E (right).

Lynn La/CNET

As for video, the quality from both is great, with a well-exposed image. The Galaxy S10E also has the added advantage of HDR10+ support when recording to help balance out dramatic shifts between shadows and highlights. Video from the iPhone XR, however, looks more cinematic in terms of stabilization and how the exposure changes more smoothly to compensate for lighting conditions. Audio recording on the iPhone XR is also better to our ears -- it just picks up more detail.

Winner: Tie. The S10E has the advantage of a wide-angle lens and superior night photos, but the XR has a better portrait mode and video

Battery life and performance: The iPhone XR beats the Galaxy S10E

The iPhone is powered by Apple's own A12 Bionic processor, while the Galaxy S10E has the Snapdragon 855 chipset. The iPhone XR won three out of four benchmarks, but with daily usage you don't feel much of a difference between the two. The iPhone XR is really responsive and is quick to launch the camera, focus and take photos. Then again, the Galaxy S10E is zippy too, with day-to-day tasks like opening apps, scrolling through webpages and launching the camera. Side-by-side there were times when one phone did something a hair faster than the other, but there was no consistent winner.

While Apple doesn't disclose its iPhone's battery capacities, teardowns report that the iPhone XR has a 2,900mAh battery. The Galaxy S10E has a slightly higher capacity of 3,100mAh. Both clocked in solid times in our lab tests, but the iPhone XR lasted longer even though it has a smaller battery. When we played a video on a continuous loop in Airplane Mode, the iPhone XR lasted nearly 20 hours while the Galaxy S10E lasted 17 hours. This is a good example of how something might not look great on paper (for example, the iPhone XR's battery capacity), but real-world testing reveals otherwise.

Both phones also have wireless charging, but the Galaxy S10E has an extra-nifty feature called wireless power share. This lets you wirelessly charge phones, earbuds, wearables and other accessories directly on the back of the phone. It's definitely useful when you want to charge your own things wirelessly, though we're not too sure about allowing strangers to zap your phone's battery like Samsung would have you believe in its commercials.

Winner: iPhone XR

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

Galaxy S10E
iPhone XR


Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Galaxy S10E
iPhone XR


Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 single-core

Galaxy S10E
iPhone XR


Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 multi-core

Galaxy S10E
iPhone XR


Longer bars indicate better performance

Software: iOS or Android?

The iPhone XR runs iOS and while it looks just like any other iPhone, we appreciate its clean, user-friendly look. Both phones don't have a physical home button, meaning you'll have to rely on gestures or digital back buttons to navigate. We prefer the iOS gestures in this respect, especially for multitasking and app switching because it is more fluid and easy to master than the Android version. The iPhone XR also has iMessage and FaceTime if you're talking to other users with an Apple ID, which is a seamless experience compared to the more fragmented world of Android messaging.


The Galaxy S10E's new interface, OneUI.

Angela Lang/CNET

Meanwhile, Samsung refreshed its interface with a new look called One UI. We're glad Samsung decided to refresh its UI because we were never big fans of TouchWiz to begin with. The interface still hasn't won us over, since we find the icons and menu layout unappealing. Of course, if you hate the UI of an Android phone you can always customize the phone's look by changing the launcher, which we strongly recommend.

In addition, the Galaxy S10E has a remappable Bixby button. This is great because we're not huge fans of Bixby (or Siri, for that matter), preferring instead to use Google Assistant because of its greater skill set on Android in particular and its precise responses to our queries. For more info, read CNET's comparison of Siri, Google Assistant and Bixby.

Winner: Tie.

Other features to consider

There are also other factors you'll need to think about when you're making your decision on which phone to buy:

Biometric authentication: For unlocking your phone, the iPhone XR uses Face ID, which is fast, relatively smooth and secure enough for digital payments. The Galaxy S10 also has face scanning but you can't use it to authorize payments. For that you can use the fingerprint scanner located on the phone's edge.

Payment systems: The Galaxy S10E has a big advantage with Samsung Pay which allows you to use your phone to tap and pay at almost every retailer, regardless of whether or not they have NFC or contactless support. The iPhone XR has Apple Pay, which requires the retailer to have an NFC-compatible terminal.

iOS' quirky Memoji


Storage and memory: The Galaxy S10E starts with 128GB, which is twice the amount on the iPhone XR. That means the Galaxy phone is a better value in terms of dollar-per-gig. It also has expandable storage up to 512GB, while the iPhone has none. This will be crucial if you take lots of photos and video. If you're an iPhone user and need more memory, you'll have to sign up for Apple's iCloud service, which charges a monthly rate. For more on this, read our storage breakdown of the iPhone XR and other phones here.

Memoji vs. AR Emoji: While this is 100% a novelty, we still prefer the cute, user-generated virtual avatar of yourself called Memoji on the iPhone XR to the AR Emoji on the Galaxy S10E. It just looks a lot better.

The best phone depends on your priorities

Angela Lang/CNET

Both phones are superb, but deciding which phone is best for you will depend on what you like. The Galaxy S10E is ideal if you want a small phone with a headphone jack. The fact that it has more memory is important too, especially if you always find yourself shooting lots of photos and running out of space. Despite Samsung's OneUI being so-so, the fact that the Galaxy S10 is an Android phone means you can change the launcher, customize the look, and really make the phone your own. And the convenience of Samsung Pay is compelling because you can effectively leave your wallet at home and pay with your phone virtually anywhere.

On the other hand, the iPhone XR is more of a complete package. The camera is a great all-arounder that excels for both still images and videos, and the overall look and feel of the phone is more premium. It also offers almost everything you could want from the more expensive iPhones for a lot less cash.