Apple did something interesting with the iPhone XR: it released a phone that (mostly) looked like its iPhone XS flagship, but skimped on some specs to deliver a comparable experience at a lower (but hardly cheap) price.
In classic Samsung fashion, the Korean giant has now done much the same with the Galaxy S10e. Released alongside the base Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, the Galaxy S10e keeps the powerful processor, colourful glass, and reverse wireless charging, but opts for a smaller, lower-resolution flat panel, and trims elsewhere as well.
They’re perfectly suited to be rivals, but which “budget” flagship truly deserves your large-but-not-as-large wad of cash? Here’s what we think, now that we’ve posted our Galaxy S10e review.
Design: Sleek numbers
The Galaxy S10e largely keeps the same kind of glass-and-aluminium design as the Galaxy S10, complete with the punch-hole camera cutout in the screen – but it doesn’t have the same kind of curves on the sides of the display. It also puts the fingerprint sensor in the home button on the side, but otherwise, this phone largely keeps its premium allure intact.
The iPhone XR, meanwhile, keeps the basic look of the iPhone XS but has thicker bezel around its screen. It also has aluminium for the frame and brighter colour options for the back. Both of these phones are lookers, so it honestly comes down to whether you prefer a sizable notch or a hole in the screen. We’re split here.
Screen: A clear win
This category is a decisive win for Samsung. The Galaxy S10e drops the resolution of its 5.8in display down to 1080p, but it’s still a very crisp and totally gorgeous screen at the size. It’s a Super AMOLED panel, too, and Samsung routinely has brilliant results with those. It has the kinds of punchy colours and brilliant blacks you expect.
Meanwhile, the screen might be the iPhone XR’s weakest element. The 6.1in 750p LCD panel is… distressingly fuzzy for a £749 phone in this day and age, even if it matches Apple’s age-old "Retina" standard. Honestly, it’s fine, but the Galaxy S10e looks much better.
Verdict: Samsung Galaxy S10e
Also Read › Samsung Galaxy S10e review
Camera: Sharp shooters
Both the Galaxy S10e and iPhone XR lose one back camera from their mainline models, but that means two cameras on the S10e and just one on the XR.
The iPhone XR is a pretty great point-and-shoot option. It has the same main sensor from the iPhone XS: a 12-megapixel (f/1.8) wide-angle lens with optical image stabilisation. You’ll routinely get stellar shots, plus it uses software tricks to deliver nice approximations of dual-camera tricks from other handsets.
On the Galaxy S10e, you get a 12MP wide-angle camera that switches between f/1.5 and f/2.4 aperture to deliver strong shots no matter your lighting, plus it has a 16MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide camera alongside. It’s an impressive duo, even if it’s not as versatile as the S10 or as proficient as nighttime shots as the even-pricier Huawei P30 Pro.
Up front, the iPhone XR has the 7MP TrueDepth camera that enables the impressive Face ID security and thinks like Animoji. It creates a 3D map of your face for advanced security, while the Galaxy S10e has a more common 10MP selfie shooter. It does facial and iris-scanning security, even combining the two, but isn’t quite as advanced due to the lack of the kinds of sensors seen on the TrueDepth system.
One wins the front, the other wins the back.
Performance: Pack a punch
There’s no more powerful mobile chip in the world right now than Apple’s A12 Bionic, and the very same chip from the iPhone XS is also in the iPhone XR. The XR has 3GB RAM alongside, and iOS 12 runs like a dream on it.
Samsung’s Exynos 9820 chip comes close to matching the A12 Bionic in benchmark testing, but it falls a little short. Still, it feels plenty swift in everyday usage, and you can get either 6GB or 8GB RAM depending on model. Apple gets the nod for sheer processing grunt here, but the difference isn’t enormous.
Verdict: Apple iPhone XR
Also Read › Apple iPhone XR review
Battery and perks: Samsung’s edge
These battery packs aren’t far off in size: the Galaxy S10e has a 3,100mAh cell, while the iPhone XR comes up a little short at 2,942mAh. It’s the longest-lasting iPhone thanks to that lower-res screen, and can give you a strong day of uptime. The Galaxy S10e is really about the same, given the higher-res screen in play.
Both phones offer wireless charging, but only the Galaxy S10e has PowerShare "reverse" wireless charging, letting you charge another wirelessly-chargeable phone or device. In other words, you could charge an iPhone XR on the back of the Galaxy S10E!
The base Galaxy S10e comes with 128GB internal storage, although you can pay more to bump up to 256GB – or use microSD cards for external storage. Meanwhile, the iPhone XR’s base model has just 64GB RAM, with 128GB and 256GB options available. As always with Apple, you can’t use expandable memory.
Verdict: Samsung Galaxy S10e
Verdict: Close call
This is a tough call! If we go solely by review score, the 5-star iPhone XR comes ahead of the 4-star Galaxy S10e – but the reality is much more nuanced than that.
It’s fair to say that the scores reflect the competition, with quite a few other strong "budget flagship" options in the Android space and absolutely nothing except older iPhones on Apple’s side of things. Also, the iPhone XR represents a more significant departure in both price and features from the iPhone XS, while the Galaxy S10e doesn’t trim that much off of the feature set or price from the main Galaxy S10. All of that factors in.
Put head to head, it’s easy to recommend either of these. Even with that low-res screen, the iPhone XR is a brilliant phone with a great camera and easy-to-use operating system. The Galaxy S10e feels a little more premium in some respects and benefits from microSD expandable storage, too, not to mention the second ultra-wide camera.
Stacked up against each other, we’d lean towards the £669 Galaxy S10e given the £80 discount compared to the iPhone XR, not to mention those beneficial extras. But if you’re an Apple fan through and through and don’t want to shell out £999+ for the iPhone XS or XS Max, then you still get a lot of that experience with the £749 iPhone XR.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S10e