Apple and Samsung are the two biggest phone makers in the world, and their latest flagship phones are some of the best you can buy. As the starting point for their latest lines, Apple’s iPhone 11 and Samsung’s Galaxy S20 are also the least expensive models, starting at $699, £729 and AU$1,199 (64GB) and $999, £899 and AU$1,499 (128GB with 5G — though there are cheaper 4G Galaxy S20 models sold in the UK and Australia), respectively.
Depending on whether you’re an iOS or Android user will largely influence your preference between the two, but if you’re OS agnostic or you’re just curious about each phone’s advantages and disadvantages, we discuss their cameras, design, performance, software and extra features to see how they compare. And for more, check out CNET’s.
It’s not every day that an iPhone comes in as the “cheaper” phone, but compared to the Galaxy S20’s starting price, the iPhone 11 is more affordable. (Even if you spring for the $749 128GB model, it’ll still be cheaper than the Galaxy S20, at $749, £779 and AU$1,279.) Keep in mind, however, that it doesn’t have as many goodies as the Galaxy S20 — like expandable memory, 5G and a high-refresh display. Nevertheless, it’s a fast and elegant phone with a top-notch camera that takes brilliant photos and captures exceptional video.
Read our Apple iPhone 11 review.
Yes, the Galaxy S20 is expensive. But this beautifully designed handset comes packed with features that aren’t just nice-to-have, but actually useful and keeps the phone ready for future technologies and trends. That includes 5G connectivity, a 120Hz screen and 8K video recording. As for the basics, like a fast processor and a fantastic camera, the Galaxy S20 also has that covered.
Read our Samsung Galaxy S20 5G review.
How we tested
Camera: iPhone’s grab-and-go approach vs. Galaxy’s feature-rich camera
Both phones are equipped with excellent cameras and you’d be rightly satisfied if you chose either device for all your picture-taking needs. But each phone has features that make it excel in different ways.
The iPhone 11 has two rear cameras, which includes an ultra-wide lens. This allows you to take sweeping landscapes shots, or creative closeup images that look just as dramatic. The iPhone 11’s Night Mode brightens and captures low-light scenes in impressively clear detail.
Another camera upgrade on the iPhone 11 is Deep Fusion, which improves photo quality and optimizes details for pictures taken in medium-light settings, like inside a building or room. (To see this in action, read CNET’s iPhone 11 vs. iPhone XR comparison.) Video quality is smooth and you can capture slow-motion video on the iPhone 11’s selfie camera, which Apple has regrettably branded as “slofies.”
The Galaxy S20 has a triple-rear setup, which includes a telephoto camera. This, along with its 30x zoom, means you can zoom in much closer on objects while retaining clarity. (Though, based on CNET’s Galaxy S20 review and camera comparisons, the 10x zoom is about as close as you want to go for taking photos).
The Galaxy S20’s lowlight mode also works great and it has a countdown clock so you know how long you have to hold the handset still to take a shot. Another tool, Single Take, lets you use several different camera features in one go. Just tap the shutter once and the Galaxy S20 will capture a 10-second video. From there, you’ll get a bunch of curated photos and videos, like wide-angle and an animated live-focus picture and smartly cropped image. Though gimmicky, it can come in handy when you don’t have much time and want to get the most out of a scene.
What makes the S20 standout, however, is its ability to capture videos in 8K resolution. While you can only directly benefit from this if you have an 8K screen to view content on, or (if you’re a video editor) you want to crop in on 8K video. Regardless, 8K is the way devices and platforms, like TVs and YouTube, respectively, are heading. Keep in mind though that 8K video files are humongous. A one-minute video will take up about 600MB of storage.
Winner: Both phones take beautiful pictures in all types of settings. But what phone suits you best depends on what kind of photographer you are. If you want to take great shots and video without having to think too much about it, the iPhone is your best bet. But if you want a phone that’s packed with features and tools you can tweak, the Galaxy S20 is the way to go.
Design: Galaxy S20’s display is bright and smooth
One of the more notable design differences between the iPhone 11 and the Galaxy S20 is their displays. The iPhone 11 has an LCD screen, while the Galaxy S20 has an AMOLED display. Though watching videos and flipping through photos on either phone will look great, colors displayed on the Galaxy S20 have a higher contrast, are more vibrant and blacks are inkier. The Galaxy S20’s display also has a higher resolution and more pixel density, meaning details are more refined. The Galaxy S20 also has a small hole-punch notch for its front-facing camera. The iPhone 11, meanwhile, has a much larger, more obtrusive notch, that holds the camera and various sensors for Face ID.
The best thing about the Galaxy S20’s display is its 120Hz refresh rate. While most phones, including the iPhone 11, refresh at 60 frames-per-second, the Galaxy S20 refreshes 120 times. That means scrolling through Twitter and webpages, or playing graphics-intensive games look and feel smoother.
As for durability, both phones are rated IP68 for water resistance. In practical terms, it means they are water resistant in up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) of water for 30 minutes. When we dunked the iPhone 11 back in December, it survived a submersion of 39 feet (roughly 12 meters) in salt water, which is more corrosive than freshwater. FYI, the Galaxy S20 has yet to undergo our extreme water tests.
In our drop tests, the iPhone 11 largely survived a three-, six- and eight-feet drop unscathed (for the last test, the iPhone 11’s back got a small scuff on its bumper and a scratch on the housing of its camera). At a height of 11 feet though, the iPhone 11’s screen didn’t crack, but its rear camera stopped working. The Galaxy S20 is more fragile. At a three-foot drop, the back of the S20 broke, with cracks running alongside its metal frame and around its camera module. At five feet, the phone’s screen shattered underneath the screen protector, which is pre-applied straight from Samsung.
What’s great about both phones is that you’re not stuck with the just black or grey color options. The Galaxy S20 comes in pastel blue and pink, and you can buy the iPhone 11 in green, yellow, purple and red. They don’t have headphone jacks either.
Winner: Though the Galaxy S20 needs a case more so than the iPhone 11, its vibrant and smooth display is what gets the phone to win this round.
Performance: iPhone 11 is faster
Both phones are equipped with top-of-the-line processors and the phones are super fast and reliably smooth. The iPhone 11 has a proprietary A13 Bionic processor from Apple, while the Galaxy S20 has a Snapdragon 864 chipset from Qualcomm. For daily tasks like launching apps, firing up the camera and surfing the internet, both phones performed quickly and there shouldn’t be any discernible difference between the two. However, on paper, the iPhone 11 did edge out the Galaxy S20, as these benchmark results show:
As for battery, during our lab tests for continuous video playback, the iPhone 11 streamed 13 hours and 52 minutes. On Airplane mode, it lasted 15 hours and 24 minutes. Anecdotally, the iPhone 11 has been lasting about a day and a half with normal, everyday usage. We haven’t finished testing for the Galaxy S20 yet and we will update this comparison once the tests come through. So far, observations show that the phone can last from day to night on a single charge, though with the 120Hz setting turned on, battery will drain notably faster.
Winner: While battery is still anyone’s game, the iPhone 11 wins for now due to its higher benchmark scores.
Software: Digital assistants, file sharing and biometric security
As always, when comparing phones from Apple and Samsung you’ll have to decide which OS works better for you: iOS or Android. Each of them have their own advantages — iOS is secure and simple to use, but can be limiting to users. Android is highly customizable with several tweakable features, but the software can be buggy at times and isn’t as user-friendly.
Both phones have digital search assistants: the iPhone has Siri while the Galaxy S20 has two, Google Assistant and Bixby. (For more on the differences between the three, read CNET’s comparison, Siri vs. Google Assistant vs. Bixby). Because the phones don’t have physical home buttons, their interfaces rely on swiping gestures instead to switch between apps.
New to the Galaxy S20 is Quick Share, which is Samsung’s answer to Apple’s AirDrop. It lets you quickly transfer photos and files from one phone to another. But unlike AirDrop, which works on many iPhone models, Quick Share only works right now on the Galaxy S20, S20 Plus and Ultra.
For security, both phones employ elegant, biometric solutions so you can unlock your phone without typing in a PIN. The Galaxy S20 has an in-screen fingerprint sensor, while the iPhone 11 uses facial scanning.
Winner: Toss up; both phones have their own unique attributes and the one you choose likely depends on what you’re already comfortable with.
5G and other goodies
The Galaxy S20 has 5G, though in some countries like the UK and Australia, a cheaper 4G-only model is available. But before you get too excited, know that the speeds you observe might not be as fast as you were anticipating. As CNET editor Jessica Dolcourt reported, “With the exception of an unreleased Verizon model, the Galaxy S20 will support the type of 5G known as Sub-6, which results in slower peak speeds. Download speed will still be faster than 4G, but not as fast as the (theoretical) peak speeds of the approaching tech known as millimeter wave.” And while the fact that none of the iPhone 11s have 5G shouldn’t be a dealbreaker, you’ll have to wait at least until later this year or next to see a 5G iPhone.
When comparing the 128GB models of both phones, the iPhone 11 is still cheaper, at $749, £779 and AU$1,279. But the Galaxy S20 also has expandable memory up to 1TB via a microSD card. That may not matter to users who don’t plan on taking a lot of photos/videos, or rely on a cloud service to back up their phones (Apple’s iCloud service, for example, costs $10 for 2TB). But for those who like to save their content locally, external storage is useful.
One of the more handful Galaxy S20 features is reverse wireless charging. That means it can charge other phones and accessories, like Galaxy Buds or a Galaxy Watch, by directly placing the items on the phones back. In a pinch it’s super useful, and it means carrying one less charger around.
Winner: The Galaxy S20 packs tons of extra features, but that makes sense given its higher price.
iPhone 11 vs. Galaxy S20
|iPhone 11||Samsung Galaxy S20|
|Display size, resolution||6.1-inch LCD Liquid Retina; 1,792×828 pixels||6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X|
|Dimensions (Inches)||5.94×2.98×0.33 in||2.72 x 5.97 x 0.311 in|
|Dimensions (Millimeters)||150.9×75.7×8.3 mm||69.1 x 151.7 x 7.9 mm|
|Weight (Ounces, Grams)||6.84 oz; 194g||5.75 oz; 163g|
|Mobile software||iOS 13||Android 10|
|Camera||12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide)||12-megapixel (wide-angle), 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide)|
|Processor||Apple A13 Bionic||64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5 GHz + 2.0 GHz)|
|Storage||64GB, 128GB, 256GB||128GB|
|Expandable storage||No||Up to 1TB|
|Battery||Not disclosed, but Apple claims it will last 1 hour longer than iPhone XR||4,000mAh|
|Fingerprint sensor||No (Face ID)||In-screen|
|Special features||Water resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging||5G enabled; 120Hz refresh rate; water resistant (IP68), wireless charging, reverse wireless charging|
|Price off-contract (USD)||$699 (64GB), $749 (128GB), $849 (256GB)||$999|
|Price (GBP)||£729 (64GB), £779 (128GB), £879 (256GB)||£799 (4G), £899 (5G)|
|Price (AUD)||AU$1,199 (64GB), AU$1,279 (128GB), AU$1,449 (256GB)||AU$1,349 (4G), AU$1,499 (5G),|