Pixel 3 vs. iPhone XR: Which should you buy?

Google Pixel 3

This is without a doubt the best phone Google has ever made, with entirely unparalleled camera capabilities. But the real strength here is the unique integration with Google's services, including unlimited photo backups and predictive services baked into Android 9.

Google Pixel 3

Powerful simplicity

Ridiculously good cameras
No notch
Unlimited photo backup
Compact design
Video features are limited
Launch issues have yet to be addressed

Apple iPhone XR

Apple's "cheaper" iPhone is quite good, but it couldn't be more clear the company is focused on charging you more for basic accessories.

Apple iPhone XR

Battery powerhouse

Surprisingly good display
Capable speakers
FaceID is very good
So many great colors
Cameras are just okay
Still no great fast charging solution

If your goal is to avoid a $1000 price tag on your next phone without a lot of sacrifice, these are without a doubt two of the best choices available today. But when it comes to having a phone that works for you and a camera that works like no other, the choice couldn't be more clear.

Your primary computer should make your life easier

The lines separating flagship phones made by Apple and Google have been growing blurrier for a little while now. Both companies have spectacular focus on delivering the best possible combination of hardware and software it seems capable of, but there's still some fascinatingly unique things about each of these phones.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Pixel 3iPhone XR
Operating systemAndroid 9 PieiOS 12
Display5.5-inch OLED, 2160x1080 @ 443ppi6.1-inch True Tone IPS LCD, 1792x828 @ 326ppi
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 845Pixel Visual CoreA12 Bionic chip with Neural Engine
Rear camera 112.2MP, 1.4-micron, ƒ/1.8, OIS, PDAF12MP, ƒ/1.8, OIS, PDAF
Front camera 18MP, ƒ/1.8, auto focus75-degree lens7MP, ƒ/2.2, auto focus
Front camera 28MP, ƒ/2.2, fixed focus97-degree lensNone
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0 LE, NFC, GPSWi-Fi 802.11ac 2x2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.0 LE, NFC, GPS
AudioStereo speakersUSB-CStereo speakersLightning
Charging18W USB-C PDQi wireless5W LightningQi wireless
Water resistanceIP68IP67
SecurityFingerprint sensorFaceID
Dimensions145.6 x 68.2 x 7.9 mm148 g150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3 mm194 g
ColorsJust Black, Very White, Not PinkWhite, Coral, Black, Blue, Yellow, Product(RED)

Apple's strength over Google is, without a doubt, its control over hardware. The iPhone XR is supposed to be the "cheap" version of the iPhones launched this year, but you wouldn't know it by holding one next to an iPhone Xs. In fact, the multitude of bright colors available for this model might lead less tech savvy folks to believe this is the "superior" model. The outer shell is undeniably premium, with just enough heft to fee substantial as you walk around with it.

The IPS LCD panel on the front does all of the same clever True Tone magic the OLED-packing Xs does, making the display look fantastic in every light. FaceID, speaker quality, wireless charging, all of the things we see other manufacturers shave away when trying to make a "cheaper" model have been preserved and work great. It is possible to notice the drop in pixel density when holding this phone and a Pixel 3, but you really have to go looking for it to see it.

There are a number of situations where it genuinely feels like the Pixel 3 is thinking and acting on my behalf, which is cool as hell.

The biggest reason to consider getting an iPhone XR over any other phone, really even another iPhone, is the battery. The use of an LCD display with a lower resolution means this phone is not only crazy fast but draws way less power to accomplish a lot of the same things. I got at least an hour of extra battery out of this phone compared to the smaller Pixel 3, which was about what I expected.

The Pixel 3 display is, by design, never really off. I could disable the always-on display and enable some power saving features if I wanted the battery to match the XR, but I don't often find I need to because I can quickly restore 30-40% of the battery in a few minutes with USB-C Power Delivery. The included charger from Google, and indeed most USB-C battery backups, will quickly top this phone off in what feels like no time at all. While you can purchase a power adapter that will charge the iPhone XR a little faster than its included 5W power brick, it's still nowhere near as fast as what you get through USB-C. And if you're really throwing money around on better chargers, the fast wireless charger Google makes for the Pixel 3 is a better investment anyway.

I wouldn't say Google's approach to the Pixel 3 is lesser, rather I think the choices made in its design will appeal to a different audience. Those of us who can't stand the dreaded notch will find a forehead and chin instead, with nice front-facing speakers to fire right at your face when you want them. These speakers aren't louder than the iPhone XR, in fact at full volume they're slightly quieter, but there's significantly more body to the sound you hear. There's substantially more bass and depth to just about everything you play from these speakers, which is great for those who enjoy that experience. Google's front design also made room for a secondary front-facing camera, which allows for wide angle selfies and some very clever depth magic for Augmented Reality apps.

Speaking of the camera, despite very similar hardware on the spect sheet you can expect the Pixel 3 to slightly outperform the iPhone XR in most photos while the opposite is true with video. Google's computational photography pulls in light when there doesn't seem to be any, makes 2X digital zoom photos feel like optical zoom, and is significantly more accurate with portrait mode. And while the Apple camera app is great, there's still no quick way to launch the app without first waking up the screen. But if you want to grab a quick 4K video at 60FPS on your Pixel 3, you will quickly be disappointed as you discover that option straight up doesn't exist.

And really, software is the whole story when it comes to the Pixel 3. The always-on display lets me see what song I am listening to without me needing to lift a finger. The notification tray keeps an eye on things I regularly dismiss without opening and offers to make those alerts go away for me. Google Assistant is actually useful, and more than that it's proactive in a lot of the information it gives me. I think AI is an overused buzzword in the tech world these days, but there are a number of situations where it genuinely feels like the Pixel 3 is thinking and acting on my behalf, which is cool as hell. To get all of this, of course, you have to give your data to Google and be ok with that. Apple chooses to be extremely cautious and respectful of your data in every step on its OS, which is awesome, but a result it lacks a lot of these experiences.

Russell Holly

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter