The iPhone XR and the Galaxy S10e are Apple and Samsung’s solution to a problem they created. Not rich enough to afford our $1000 flagships? Here’s a cutback option for $750 with a similar name and feature set.
But while both phones have the same price tag, they both go about it in different ways. Apple chose to make its cheaper variant bigger and beefier, with a larger display and battery. Meanwhile, Samsung went the opposite route, making the S10e the smallest of the four new S10 phones. Then there are a bunch of other differences as well, not to mention the biggest one, which is the software.
So, if you have $750 clanging around in your pocket and you aren’t partial to either platform, which one should you choose? We decided to find out.
As mentioned before, the iPhone XR and Galaxy S10e are diametrically opposite when it comes to design. The XR is the bigger and bulkier of the two, to the point of feeling a bit too big and bulky, as if Apple wanted it to feel noticeably worse than their thin and light XS flagship phones. Meanwhile, the Galaxy S10e is one of the smallest phones we have used in years and the closest thing we have today to a “small phone” in 2019.
Apart from the size and weight, there are also other subtle differences in design. The XR has a notch in the display while the S10e has the more fashionable hole punch. While everyone learned to ignore the notch on the iPhone, the community embraced the S10 hole punch design with wallpapers that conceal the camera in clever ways. Unfortunately, many of these wallpapers only work well on the bigger S10 and S10+ and not so much on the S10e due to the different display dimensions, but we digress.
The S10e also has a fingerprint sensor on the side placed within the power button. It’s really fast and very reliable, to the point you wonder why Samsung decided to go with the slow and unreliable ultrasonic sensor on the bigger S10 models. There’s also a Bixby button on the side, which can finally be remapped to another app.
The iPhone XR meanwhile doesn’t have a fingerprint sensor of any sort as it relies on its excellent Face ID sensor for authentication. The system is fast, secure and reliable; everything you want from biometric security. Unfortunately, the long press to Siri on the power button is still annoying a year and a half after it was introduced on the iPhone X and having to press and hold the power and volume buttons to turn the phone off feels silly. It’s also very easy to accidentally take screenshots on this phone. However, as reparations, the phone does have a mute slider, something every phone should have but doesn’t.
Apart from that, both phones are glass and metal sandwiches. The S10e does feel really nice in hands, much more than the somewhat ungainly XR, but that comes down to personal preference and some may prefer the hefty weight and feel of the XR. Both are well built, with solid construction and dust and water resistance.
However, Samsung goes a step further and provides a case in the box for those are paranoid. The case looks rather nice with a circular hole pattern on the back that lets the color of the phone shine through, and reminds a bit of the iPhone 5c case.
Speaking of colors, the XR and S10e both come in six colors. However, while all six of the XR colors are available in all markets where it’s available, the S10e color availability depends upon the market, with your region getting anywhere from 2-5 of all the colors. This somewhat defeats the purpose of having multiple color variants, especially in regions like India where you only get the black and the white variants.
The XR has a 6.1-inch LCD that Apple calls Liquid Retina. It has a resolution of 1792 x 828 and a pixel density of 326 PPI, same as many of the previous generation iPhones. The S10e has a 5.8-inch OLED display, which Samsung calls Dynamic AMOLED. It has a resolution of 2280 x 1080 and a pixel density of 438 PPI.
On paper, it seems that Samsung has the upper hand. The S10e display is very good, with excellent color accuracy (in the Natural mode), wide color support, high contrast and good viewing angles. It’s also a flat display, unlike the curved ones on the other S10 models, which means you don’t get any distortion around the edges, which is well worth the slightly thicker bezels. The display also supports HDR10+ and while Amazon Prime Video is the only service offering compatible content for now, you can still enjoy standard HDR10 content in Netflix or YouTube.
However, the display is a bit small, which isn’t surprising considering the size of the phone. While this may not be a problem for people who actually want a small phone, if you only bought the S10e because of its lower price tag, then this can be a problem. It’s fine for basic app usage but any sort of multimedia applications, such as photos, videos or games, aren’t as enjoyable on this screen. The display also doesn’t get too bright manually. It’s only with auto brightness under direct sun or during HDR playback can it reach its full brightness.
Samsung has also added a couple of minor annoyances in the S10 series. While playing SDR videos, the display tends to crush the deeper blacks very aggressively to make the video look contrasty. This is on top of the already crushed blacks that is inherent to Samsung displays. This hides a lot of shadow details in videos and there’s nothing you can do about it. Samsung has also added a display dimming feature that constantly adjusts brightness based on what’s being displayed. If the screen becomes prominently white, it dims slightly but very suddenly and in a hard to miss manner. Again, there is no way to disable this.
Comparing an iPhone and an Android phone is always a challenge because for a lot of people, the software is the crucial bit that makes or breaks their purchase decision.
If you are already entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, there are good reasons to choose iOS. You get a great selection of apps and games, interoperability between Mac, iPad and Apple TV, and ability to use services like iMessage, AirDrop and iCloud Share. If you have an iPhone, you can also get the Apple Watch, arguably the best smart watch on the market and the one most likely to still be around and supported two years from now.
Over on the Android side, you do get a lot of customizability and the ability to tune the software to your exact needs. Samsung has also worked a lot on improving its UI design, which is better than it ever was. It still comes with a lot of features, many of which, unfortunately, are buried far too deep to find easily. And when you do find them you may feel there are a bit too many of them. Still, having options is never a bad thing and the S10e will certainly reward you if you want to tweak every little aspect of your phone, even those you didn’t think could be tweaked.
Still, while iOS can feel a bit restrictive at times, Android has its fair share of issues as well. The apps and games on the Play Store still don’t feel as polished as the ones on the App Store. The S10e, in particular, does come with a bit of bloatware in the form of unnecessary Facebook and Microsoft apps, none of which can be uninstalled. Samsung also doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to software updates; while you will get the occasional device specific updates, major Android updates often come far too late.
Then there’s the issue of privacy and security. While iOS is an inherently a secure platform due to its many restrictions, Apple has also repeatedly shown that it will always value user privacy over its own- or third-party developers’ needs. Meanwhile, the same cannot be said about Android and Google, where things are generally quite lax and the open platform means developers have a free rein to do as they see fit.
In the end, you will have to add all of these up and decide for yourself what is it that you care about most.
The iPhone XR has been the performance champion ever since it was announced thanks to Apple’s A12 Bionic chipset. The CPU performance figures have been off the charts and because it has a lower display resolution than the more expensive XS and XS Max, it also does better in GPU tests.
However, Samsung has done a decent job catching up to Apple in the past six months. While the GPU performance still lags behind, the CPU performance of the new Exynos 9820 is surprisingly close.
When it comes to everyday use, it’s really hard to notice too much of a difference. In some ways, the iPhone does feel a bit slower but only because iOS has such dramatic, elaborate animations which go on forever and slow everything down. The S10e feels a bit snappier in comparison and you can make it feel even quicker by tightening up the animation speed in developer settings, something that’s now possible on iOS.
Where the S10e struggles – and this is a problem endemic to Samsung phones – is with memory management. At 6GB, our S10e had twice as much memory as the iPhone XR but it didn’t feel that way. While iOS tends to suspend application activity once an app has been in the background for a while, when you open the app it feels like you just closed it. You can open an app a day or two later on the XR and it would still be in the same state that you left it.
The S10e, meanwhile, chooses to aggressively close apps in the background once they have been left there for a while. You can sometimes open an app an hour later and it will start afresh on you. More importantly, opening apps from memory also takes a split second longer and you really feel that delay. The next time you close and open that app, however, it opens instantly. This means if you keep shuffling between a couple of apps, they will all open and close instantly but, say, open that sixth app in your task manager and the phone makes you wait a moment before it launches it.
It’s amusing that while people used to laugh at the somewhat restrictive multitasking on iOS in the past, Android OEMs these days are now choking apps in the background at every opportunity to eke out every last bit out of that battery, essentially resulting in an experience that is worse than on iOS.
The iPhone XR has a single 12MP, f1.8 wide-angle camera on the back. The S10e, on the other hand, has a 12MP f1.5-2.4 wide angle and a 16MP f2.2 ultra wide-angle camera.
Both phones have excellent main cameras and both also look quite similar. It’s only when you zoom in closer do you start seeing the difference.
The iPhone photos are generally sharper, even though the S10e can stop its aperture down to 2.4 in bright lighting. The iPhone generally chooses to retain detail even at the cost of added noise. The S10e prefers to smooth things a bit to reduce noise, which also results in less detail.
The S10e tends to overexpose a bit like some of the previous Samsung phones. This results in some loss of highlight detail. The iPhone has better overall exposure and also retains detail better in highlights. Both have capable HDR mode but the iPhone’s HDR is more subtle and it also uses it more frequently. The S10e enables its HDR less often but you can also tell when it has been used.
The color performance differs quite a bit on the two phones. The iPhone, in most lighting conditions, will choose to go for a warmer image while the S10e will have a cooler color tone. The S10e image often looks better between the two but the iPhone image is more natural. However, the iPhone also messes up its white balance at times. Incandescent lights tend to trip up the iPhone camera, resulting in colder looking images.
The actual colors are very similar on both. However, the iPhone has wide color support, so if you have a P3 compatible monitor then you will see a greater range of colors from the iPhone image. The reds, in particular, look much deeper and vivider than from any other phone camera. The S10e can artificially saturate its colors if the scene optimizer is on, depending upon the subject.
In low light, there’s again not too much of a difference between the two aside from white balance. The iPhone images are once again a bit sharper but noisier while the S10e cleans up the noise at the cost of some detail. The S10e does have a Night mode that kicks in automatically in extremely dark situations but it’s only if you have scene optimizer enabled and it’s also not particularly good.
Where the S10e camera pulls ahead is in having a Pro mode in the camera app. While most people aren’t likely to use it, it’s good to have this option, which also allows you to save images in raw format.
The S10e also has a more usable portrait mode. Called Live focus, it works with people as well as objects. The Portrait mode on the iPhone XR, however, only works with people and you will have to download a third-party app such as Halide if you want to use it with objects.
But the biggest trick up the S10e’ sleeve is the ultra wide-angle camera. While only having a fixed focus lens, this camera offers a tremendous field of view, which is both useful and also lets you capture much more interesting-looking shots. Once you get use to shooting with this lens, the standard wide-angle feels much more restrictive and boring in comparison. Unfortunately, the quality of the sensor is not as good as on the main wide-angle camera, and the lens itself has heavy barrel distortion around the edges. The latter can be corrected through a setting in the Camera app but then it also crops in a little. Still, it’s an extremely fun camera that more phones need to have.
For the features and performance that you are getting, the S10e is actually one of the best value smartphone on the market and for that, it gets our pick.