You’re looking for a new phone but held out due to the exorbitant price tags of the more expensive flagships. The iPhone Xs costs SGD 1,649, but perhaps it was too small for you, or too little of an upgrade from last year’s iPhone X to justify such a high cost. The iPhone Xs Max is the perfect device, but you’re unwilling to fork out SGD 1,799 (for just the 64GB variant!). There’s the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, but you’re all for that stock Android experience, aren’t you?
Side by side, the iPhone XR (SGD 1,229, 64GB) and the Pixel 3 XL (S$ 1,399, 64GB) look pretty similar. They’ve got notched displays and a single rear camera. We’ll help you make a decision between these two fantastic choices but bear in mind that we’ve only have had the iPhone Xs Max and the Pixel 3 devices on hand. The iPhone XR has yet to be made available.
The iPhone XR suffers from the affliction of being the cheaper alternative on the 2018 iPhone lineup. That means plenty of premium features can’t be found on the device. The iPhone XR has a 6.1-inch LCD screen, something many considers to be a transgression in the thousand-dollar phone club where AMOLED rules supreme. The Pixel 3 XL has a 6.3-inch AMOLED display, with all the HDR and colour-correct goodness especially when it comes to YouTube, Google’s own video streaming service.
In all fairness, Apple’s decision to stick to an LCD panel (which it maintains, in Trump-esque hyperbole, is the best LCD panel, ever) isn’t too difficult to fathom. The iPhone 8 series and all the previous iPhones before it had featured LCD screens, which were branded ‘Retina displays’ by the company. They were revolutionary then, and continue to be very serviceable even in 2018. They’re of great quality, and there’s no reason to expect otherwise on the XR this time around.
Yes, they’re both notched devices, but the iPhone XR retains the classic apple look, with an even edge-to-edge display all the way around and a modest (read: thin) notch up top. The Pixel 3 XL pulls out all the stops on this one. Although narrower, the notch intrudes about twice as deep as the one on the iPhone – a huge huge point of contention for many Pixel fans. I’ve been using notched smartphones for a little too long now, but it still catches my eye every time I power on the device. Not very cool. To make matters worse, the Pixel 3 XL has another bezel on the bottom, used to house a front-firing speaker. If this doesn’t bring us to aesthetics, I don’t know what would.
I thought I’d declare the iPhone the undisputed winner in this regard, but I realise the XR will be very different from the Xs Max I have been using and enjoying for the past few weeks. First, we lose the beautiful (and functional) stainless steel frame around the phone.
The iPhone XR will retain all the photographic goodness we enjoyed on the Xs and Xs Max, despite only sporting a single camera. This includes Apple’s fantastic portrait mode, which everyone absolutely enjoys. While the Pixel outshone the iPhone in terms of night performance especially with Night Sight, and had superior portrait mode rendition, I found the Pixel still harder to use as the Portrait mode did not include a preview of the defocus effect.
The iPhone, on the other hand, seals off most of the camera parameters in the settings menu, which means the native camera app did not offer much in way of manual control. Third party apps like Filmic Pro solves this in large part.
We begin with unlocking the phones. The iPhone XR will feature Face ID, while the Pixel 3 XL only has a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner. Since you’ve got to pick up the phone to unlock (with biometrics) anyway, Face ID wins. It’s so simple, so intuitive, that I stare down the Pixel for a split-second until I realise it has no face recognition. Point to Apple.
The UI on both phones are impeccably designed. These are extremely subjective and I’ll keep out of it. It is worth noting that the AMOLED display on the Pixel 3 XL allows it to have an always-on display. Apple users, you scoff but you don’t know how useful it is. Point to Google.
Navigating around the phones with the iPhones gestures is much more instinctive, and requires less thought. Motions are more deliberate and haptics are coordinated with actions, they just seem more fluid. There’s no force touch on the iPhone XR, which, to me, is a solid minus. It made interacting with my phone a more three-dimensional experience. Android Pie on the Pixel looks fantastic. But before we get to its looks, the navigation system seems a little less intuitive – I would very much have preferred the three-button deal of yore.
You see, going “home” is done with a tap on the centre bar, summoning all my open apps requires a swipe, but the back button disappears in some contexts. I very much prefer the Xiaomi/Huawei-style of navigation, which maintains the swipe-from-bottom gestures for home and multitasking but utilises a swipe-from-side gesture to go back – an option that remains no matter the context.
I actually prefer the way it’s designed a whole lot more, especially when it comes to customisation.
For most, the choice between the Google Pixel and the iPhone XR is simpler than price, feature sets and performance. As two top-performing devices in their domains, the real choice remains personal preference and investment into respective ecosystems. While the Pixel tries to bring the best Android has to offer, while proving to be very optimised for its operating system, the iPhone goes above and beyond, with a full-fledged complement of tailor-made services, gadgets and peripherals to bring your personal tech experience to the next level.