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Apple iPhone SE (2020) vs. Apple iPhone XR: Which ‘budget’ iPhone is better?

The new iPhone SE is here, offering arguably the best performance in a phone under $400 — along with a range of high-end features like a great camera and solid display.

But if you’re looking for an inexpensive iPhone, you might be tempted to turn towards older models instead, especially if you can get one second-hand or refurbished. Last year’s “budget” model, the iPhone XR, offers a more modern design and a huge 6.1-inch display.

Which device really represents better bang for your buck? Should you save your cash and go for the 2020 iPhone SE, or spend a little extra and buy the iPhone XR? We put the two phones head to head to find out.

Specs

iPhone SE (2020)
iPhone XR
Size 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm (5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches) 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3mm (5.94 x 2.98 x 0.33 inches)
Weight 148 grams (5.22 ounces) 194 grams (6.84 ounces)
Screen size 4.7-inch Retina IPS LCD 6.1-inch Retina IPS LCD
Screen resolution 1,334 x 750 pixels (326 pixels per inch) 1,792 x 828 pixels (326 pixels per inch
Operating system iOS 13 iOS 13
Storage space 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB
MicroSD card slot No No
Tap-to-pay services Apple Pay Apple Pay
Processor Apple A13 Bionic Apple A12 Bionic
RAM 3GB 3GB
Camera Single 12MP rear, 7MP front Single 12MP rear, 7MP front
Video 4K at 60 frames per second, 1080p at 240 fps 4K at 60 frames per second, 1,080p at 240 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports Lightning Lightning
Fingerprint sensor Yes, front-mounted No
Water resistance IP67 IP67
Battery 1,821mAh, 18W fast-charging, Qi wireless charging 2,942mAh, 15W fast-charging, Qi wireless charging
App marketplace  Apple App Store Apple App Store
Network support AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon
Colors Black, white, red Blue, White, Black, Yellow, Coral, Red
Price $400 $600
Buy from Apple Apple
Review score 4 stars 4.5 stars

Design, display, durability

The design of these two phones is one of the biggest points of difference between then. The iPhone XR offers a similar overall design to the iPhone X, including an edge-to-edge display with a relatively large notch at the top. The device does offer a fun look, thanks to the range of colors that it comes with — so you should be able to find a color that you like, even if its the black model.

The iPhone SE’s design is a bit more understated. The device looks almost identical to the iPhone 8, including with the relatively large chin and forehead, and even the Touch ID fingerprint sensor under the display. Sure, the design is iconic, but in a world of edge-to-edge displays, and when most Android manufacturers are launching bezel-less devices in this price range, the iPhone SE does look dated.

The display is a little different, too. Because of its design, the iPhone SE‘s display is quite a bit smaller than the competition, coming in at 4.7 inches, with a resolution of 1,334 x 750 pixels, which equates to 326 pixels-per-inch. The iPhone XR steps things up to a 6.1-inch display size — but while the resolution is higher, the pixel density is the same. The displays look equally sharp.

Both of these phones are built with glass, so if you’re worried about breaking them, you should use a case. And, they both have an IP67 water-resistance rating, meaning they should survive accidental dunks, but don’t take them swimming.

The iPhone XR has a more modern design, and while the display isn’t better, it is bigger. It’s the winner here.

Winner: Apple iPhone XR

Performance, battery life, charging

iPhone SE
Matthew Smith / Digital Trends

The iPhone SE has been getting rave reviews since launch, and a lot of that comes down to excellent performance. The device offers Apple’s latest-and-greatest processor, the Apple A13 Bionic. That’s the same chip that you’ll get in the iPhone 11 Pro, the company’s flagship phone, and the result is that you’ll get blazing fast performance that either beats or comes close to even the most expensive flagship Android phones out there.

The iPhone XR has a high-end chip too — but it’s the last-generation high-end chip. With the A12 Bionic, the iPhone XR will still be able to handle everything that you can throw at it, including mobile gaming and multitasking, but it might take a split second longer to load apps, and it likely won’t get updates as far into the future.

The battery life of the iPhone SE is fine, and it should get you through a day of normal use, but it’s not amazing. The iPhone XR, on the other hand, has a much larger battery, and while the fact that it has to power a larger display does offset some of that extra juice, the device will still frequently end the day with a good 40% to 50% battery left. Both devices support wireless charging and fast charging.

The iPhone SE is the better performer, but only by a little — and considering how much better the iPhone XR’s battery is, it’s the winner here.

Winner: Apple iPhone XR

Camera

iphone xr lens
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

On paper, the camera specs look very similar. Both devices offer a 12-megapixel rear-facing camera, with a 7-megapixel front-facing camera. That said, the sensor on the iPhone XR is newer — while the sensor on the iPhone SE is the same as the iPhone 8.

Still, Apple says that the A13 allows for better camera processing than the A12 — so the gap between the two devices is likely pretty small. This one’s a tie.

Winner: Tie

Software and updates

iphone xr instagram
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

These are both iPhones — and they’re both compatible with iOS 13, Apple’s latest mobile software. The experience on the two phones is likely similar, except for the special features that we’ll get into later.

It’s hard to say which device will get software updates for longer. While the iPhone SE is newer, Apple is known for supporting devices for as long as it can — and if we had to guess, both phones will likely still be getting software updates in four years. Because we can’t predict the future, this one’s a tie.

Winner: Tie

Special features

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The overall experience on these two phones will be similar, but there are a few key differences. Notably, the iPhone XR has Apple’s Face ID, which allows you to unlock your device, pay for things with Apple Pay, and more — with only your face. If you can call it a special feature, the iPhone SE has a fingerprint sensor, which might be easier to use when your device is on your desk.

Winner: Apple iPhone XR

Price and availability

The iPhone XR has been available for around a year and a half now, and it’s still available from the Apple website for around $600. That said, you can probably find one for cheaper refurbished if you’re willing to not have a completely new device.

The iPhone SE, on the other hand, is available now from the Apple website for only $400 — making it easily one of the best phones in its price range.

Overall winner: iPhone XR

Which device is ultimately better? Well, the iPhone XR. It has a more modern design and a better battery, making it an excellent option.

However, the iPhone SE is quite a bit cheaper, and as a result, it’s easily the best option in its price range. Choosing the iPhone XR over the iPhone SE means you’re paying an extra $200 for a larger display and Face ID.

If you’re willing to pay a little extra, then the iPhone XR is the way to go, but if you’re strapped for cash, or performance is the most important thing to you, the iPhone SE remains a great choice.

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