iPhone 11 vs Pixel 4: Here's how Apple and Google's newest phones compare

CNET Technology 3 weeks ago

This year's Apple iPhone 11 and Google Pixel 4 are the cheapest flagship phones from either company, starting at $699 and $799 respectively. While those who are loyal to iOS or Android may want to stick with their current phones' natural successors, it's easier than ever to switch between the two operating systems. So whether you're actively deciding which phone to get, or you're just curious about which is the better device, read on to see how we weighed the iPhone 11 and Pixel 4 against each other in terms of design, camera, battery, performance and software. And if you want to save even more money, check out CNET's iPhone XR vs. Pixel 3 comparison.

How we tested

Design: iPhone 11's polished look or Pixel 4's silky display?

Neither the iPhone 11 nor the Pixel 4 flaunt radically different looks from their predecessors. Despite their familiar designs, the phones are at least comfortable to navigate with one hand (the Pixel 4's smaller frame make it the slightly more comfortable phone to hold), and they're both water resistant.

Aesthetically, the iPhone 11 looks better. Its glossy glass backside is elegant and refined. The phone comes in a variety of colors besides black and white, including lavender, mint and red. (Meanwhile, the Pixel 4 just comes in orange in addition to the standard B&W.) And while both handsets have noticeable camera bumps, I like how Apple handled the iPhone 11's dual-camera setup in a neat, translucent layout, compared to Google's unseemly black square, stamped so severely on the Pixel 4's back.

The Pixel 4 does have a trick up its sleeve, however, and that's its display. It has a higher pixel density, so it's technically sharper, and it's an OLED screen, which makes black hues a tad inkier and deeper than the iPhone 11. In the same vein though, whites look more "pure" on the iPhone 11 than on the Pixel 4. Overall though, colors are as vibrant and highly contrasted on both phones, and you won't notice much of a difference between the two unless you held them both side-by-side. Lastly, the Pixel 4's display refreshes at a rate of 90 times a second, while most phones, like the iPhone 11, refresh 60 times a second. By refreshing more often, things like playing games and scrolling through webpages and apps feel fluid, as if there's a spring in the Pixel's step.

Winner: The Pixel 4's 90Hz display makes viewing content liquidy smooth. But the iPhone 11's refined design and cheerful colors make it more attractive of the two.

Camera: The iPhone 11's unsurprising hold on video

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 there are certain aspects where one phone edges out the other.

Angela Lang/CNET

The Pixel 4, for instance, takes sharp and vibrant pictures with a strong HDR effect, making some photos appear more cinematic and dramatic. It's digital zoom is also excellent, closing in on faraway objects while keeping them sharp. At the same time though, colors aren't as true-to-life as on the iPhone 11 and images can end up looking overly processed. 

The iPhone 11's portraits also look softer than the Pixel 4, which can look look digitized. It handles the fallout between the fore- and background more naturally. Skin tones are warmer and more flattering. That being said, the Pixel 4's portraits comes off more crisp and detailed -- so it really is a matter of personal preference.

In addition, both phones have specific night modes for low light situations. Again, the HDR effect makes photos from the Pixel 4 appear hyper-real, but it does an amazing job at lighting up dark scenes. The phone's nifty astrophotography mode also takes impressive shots of starlit skies. 

When it comes to video though, the iPhone 11 really shines. Though I like how smoothly the Pixel 4 stabilizes video, the overall picture quality on the iPhone 11 is simply better, even in timelapse videos. Objects are sharper and the transitions between different light exposures is handled more artfully. For more details, check out photos from the iPhone 11 and photos from the Pixel 4.

Winner: With the iPhone 11's Night Mode holding its own against the Pixel 4, the iPhone 11's superior video recording ultimately wins the day.

With ample, outdoor lighting, both phones take excellent photos. The iPhone 11 is on the left and the Pixel 4 is on the right.

At max zoom, the iPhone 11 (left) is blurrier than the one on the Pixel 4 (right).

Portrait mode on the iPhone 11 (left) looks more natural and soft than on the Pixel 4 (right), though the subject matter on the Pixel is sharper.

Longest battery life and performance: iPhone 11 wins

The iPhone 11 and Pixel 4 are equipped with an A13 Bionic and Snapdragon 855 processor, respectively. Even though they have different chipsets, you don't really notice any differences in speed with daily tasks like launching apps or firing the camera shutter. But on paper, the iPhone 11 has the edge over the Pixel 4 on benchmark tests. Check out both scores below.

Both phones conveniently have wireless charging, but the Pixel 4 has a much shorter battery life than the iPhone 11. Its 2,800-mAh battery not only is a lower capacity than last year's Pixel 3 (which had a 2,915-mAh battery), but it clocked in only 10 hours for continuous video playback on Airplane mode. The iPhone 11, in contrast, lasted 15 hours and 24 minutes. 

CNET is currently running a streaming video battery test on the phones. In our initial result, the iPhone 11 lasted 13 hours and 52 minutes. However, we're still tweaking the test and will post final battery life results when we have them. 

Winner: The iPhone 11 pulls ahead with faster benchmark tests and a longer battery life.

Software and UI: Both have gestures and face recognition

As always, when comparing phones from Apple and Google you'll have to decide which OS works better for you: iOS or Android. Both phones have Dark Mode and digital search assistants (Siri and Google Assistant). Because the phones don't have physical home buttons, their interfaces rely on swiping gestures instead to switch between apps.

New to the Pixel 4 is face recognition, which the iPhone added in 2017 with the iPhone X. By scanning your face, you can unlock the phone and authorize payments. It's part of a suite of features Google calls Motion Sense. The feature can sense my hand when I reach for the phone to unlock it using radar (the face unlocking itself is carried out by an infrared camera, just like Face ID on the iPhone). This combo of readying and then firing up the tech makes face unlock faster. I don't have to tap-to-wake the screen or press any buttons beforehand, nor do I have to swipe after to use my phone. Because it's all just one fluent, cohesive process, the Pixel 4 is faster than the iPhone 11 at face unlock, though they both actually unlock the phone at about the same speed.

Skipping a song by waving my hand over the Pixel 4.

(Note that face unlock isn't 100% infallible. Google acknowledges that someone who looks like you, such as a twin, can unlock your phone. Face unlock also works if you have your eyes closed or when you're sleeping, which is a big vulnerability, but Google has promised to fix the problem with a patch. Face ID on the iPhone 11, on the other hand, only works if your eyes are open.

Motion Sense also introduced some hands-free gestures for the Pixel 4. I can wave my hand to skip songs and silence timers and alarms, for instance. It works surprisingly effortlessly and I liked that alarms quieted down as I reached for the phone, which is intuitive and less disruptive. 

Lastly, the Pixel 4 has voice transcription, which transcribes audio recordings and video recordings in real time. It's super useful for people who may be hard of hearing or for those who transcribe for work (i.e. yours truly).

Winner: Toss up. I like the Pixel 4's useful software goodies, but as far as which OS is "best" highly depends on the one you're already comfortable with.

Other phone features to consider:

Both phones have dual-SIM. In addition to your regular nano-SIM, both phones use e-SIM technology that supports multiple phone numbers. This is useful if you want to keep your personal and work phone number on the same device.

The iPhone 11 has Wi-Fi 6. Devices with Wi-Fi 6 speak that same Wi-Fi language to talk to each other, and compared to Wi-Fi 5, it's faster and more battery efficient. But Wi-Fi 6 isn't officially certified yet. Instead of regarding it as an immediate benefit, think of Wi-Fi 6 as readying your phone for the future. 

Angela Lang/CNET

The iPhone 11 has a chip just for 'spatial awareness.' Called U1, this new chip helps iPhones find other iPhones more precisely when they're in close proximity. Apple says this improves AirDrop, but many believe the U1 chip is laying the groundwork for a long-rumored Apple tile tracker.

Neither phone has expandable storage, but there are options. The iPhone 11 has a third 256GB model, for instance, in addition to the 128GB and 64GB options both phones have in common. Though it's the most expensive iPhone 11, it might be better value for you to have on-device storage. Especially since Apple's iCloud only gives you 5GB for free and it costs $10 a month for 2TB. 

Google, on the other hand, changed its policy so that Pixel 4 users don't have unlimited photo storage at original quality anymore. Instead, you can upload content at "high" quality, which is a lower resolution with less detail. Though it won't matter much when you're viewing photos on a phone screen, having a higher resolution is great for printing out physical, blown out copies.

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