Which new flagship smartphone should you buy?

Array of upgrades to Samsung Galaxy Note 10+, iPhone 11 Pro and Huawei P30 Pro

The Huawei P30 Pro has expandable memory, but with one caveat: the memory card is a Nano card, rather than a micro SD.

The Huawei P30 Pro has expandable memory, but with one caveat: the memory card is a Nano card, rather than a micro SD.

 

Considering a new phone? There are plenty to choose from, and with Apple now opting to release three new devices – the iPhone 11, the 11 Pro and the 11 Pro Max – choosing between the flagship phones may have just got a little more difficult.

Android or iOS, there are options. But which is the top choice? We pit the iPhone 11 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ and the Huawei P30 Pro against each other.

Design

The iPhone 11 Pro keeps a similar design to the Xs and X before it. Stainless steel bands, a matt glass back and a new colour with midnight green. The notch remains, which may be a controversial point for some, and the camera array on the rear has been changed to a square for all iPhone 11 models. The triple camera has been the cause of controversy though, with some people complaining it triggers trypophobia – an aversion to clusters of small holes.

The iPhone 11 Pro is quite compact, especially compared with its bigger sibling the Pro Max. The good news is that you don’t lose out by opting for the smaller device as the basic specs are the same. So if you want a more compact phone, you’ve got it.

Huawei, meanwhile, has gone for a tried and tested design. The rounded edges on the screen are a nod to the previous smartphones, but Huawei has managed to distinguish itself from the pack with gradient colours, which are certainly eye-catching. The glass back though means you’ll be forever wiping away fingerprints.

The notch on the front is much smaller than the iPhone’s, containing only the front-facing camera, with the earpiece for the phone completely absent. Huawei has gone for vibrations through the screen instead. It actually works, although it’s hard to tell if that makes it more private than the standard earpiece.

There’s no headphone jack either, as with its rivals, so bluetooth headphones are the best option if you want to listen to music.

The Note 10+ ditches the idea of the notch and goes for a small hole punched out of the display. On one hand, Samsung has upped the design stakes with the “aura glow” colour, a rainbow effect that changes depending on how the light hits it. But it suffers from the same problem as the Huawei handset: fingerprints spoil the party. The phone itself is quite big when lined up alongside the other phones. You can bump it down to the Note 10, but you sacrifice a few other things in addition to size – the Note 10 has less RAM, no micro SD slot to expand storage and a triple camera, as opposed to the quad camera of the Note 10+.

This one is completely subjective though, and will ultimately come down to personal preference.

Winner: iPhone 11 Pro

Performance

The iPhone 11 Pro includes a new A13 Bionic chip, which gives speedy performance and puts up stiff competition to any of the Android phones out there. That includes the Note 10+, which does admirably against the iPhone, and there is very little difference to be seen by the average users. Benchmarking tests reveal a different story though, putting the Apple system ahead of the pack.

Battery life on the iPhone 11 Pro has been improved over the previous Apple models. You get on average fours more out of the iPhone 11 Pro and five out of the Pro Max compared with the Xs and Xs Max respectively. With heavy use that translated into almost a full day; for the average user, the iPhone 11 Pro battery will easily last the day without needing a charge.

However, there is tough competition. The Samsung Note 10+ has a huge battery, but an equally huge screen to power. Still, it does a good job, and easily lasts the day with average use – although heavy video use could reduce that.

Huawei used to be king in the power stakes, and while it still does well, it’s no longer far out in front.

Winner: iPhone 11 Pro

Display

Out of the three phones, the Note 10+ has the largest display at 6.8 inches. But when it comes to the difference in quality, you’d be hard pressed to find much of a discernible difference between the iPhone and Samsung. That’s because Samsung supplies both displays, so you are getting high quality regardless of your choice. The one thing that might swing your vote is that Samsung allows you to mess with the resolutions, going from quad HD to full HD and back again. That has an impact on battery life, so if you are trying to eke out some power, the Note has the settings you need.

Out of the three phones reviewed, the Note 10+ has the largest display at 6.8 inches.
Out of the three phones reviewed, the Note 10+ has the largest display at 6.8 inches.

The P30 Pro performs well, with a bright display and good colour reproduction. It’s also got the curved edges, though that can cause problems when you are holding the phone, accidentally activating things on the screen.

It’s full HD+ resolution, so not quite up to quad HD standard, but you will be hard pressed to pick that out in day-to-day use. Zoom right in and you might notice a few flaws.

Winner: Samsung Note 10+

Camera

The Note 10+ takes all the good things from the Samsung S10 camera and brings them to the Note 10+.

The photographs from the Note 10+ tend to be detailed and saturated, although the colours don’t feel quite as natural as they could be.

Huawei has been doing triple cameras for a while now, offering users a way to get up close with their subjects without getting too personal. The P30 Pro is no exception, adding a fourth camera to the line-up.

Meanwhile, Apple has added the third camera to its 11 Pro, giving us an ultra-wide lens to join the wide-angle and telephoto lenses. And you certainly get some fabtastic shots with that new lens. There is some distortion at the edges, as you might expect, when you use the ultra-wide setting but, by and large, the new iPhone camera is a resounding success.

The portrait mode on the iPhone 11 Pro is fantastic too, and the high-key mono setting (a software feature not exclusive to the iPhone 11) makes your simple photos look like studio portraits. Night mode is now automatic, and you can see just how long you need to keep everyone still with a counter that assesses how long the shutter will stay open to capture the necessary light.

All of the flagships have excellent cameras. It’s hard to argue with Huawei’s zoom lens though, although the iPhone camera comes very close.

Winner: Huawei P30 Pro

Software

Android or iOS? That’s a contentious question. Both have their fans, and a sure way to start an argument is to say one is better than the other.

Apple’s phone ships with iOS 13, the latest version of its software. That means you get all the bells and whistles out of the box. There have been a couple of updates since the software was released last month, which is irritating, but installing them is necessary.

The beauty of iOS is that it’s quite user-friendly. Yes, it has its foibles, and you can do a lot more without official sanction with an Android phone. But likewise, that brings security risks, so many people feel safer trusting their devices to the App store rather than installing unofficial Android software packages from the internet. Obviously Android has the official Play Store, but the malware count there isn’t great either.

Apple’s iOS software looks the same across the board no matter what phone you have running the latest version of the software; Android has to deal with each manufacturer’s particular spin. Samsung has its own software loaded on, as well as its own user interface. It’s more tolerable than the Emotion UI that Huawei has and the bloat that comes with it.

Both phones ship with Android 9 rather than the latest software, putting them behind Apple out of the starting gate.

Winner: iPhone 11 Pro

The rest

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ has expandable storage, which gives you more options. You can choose between 256GB and 512GB base capacity and then stuff a memory card in for more space if you need it.

The Huawei P30 Pro has expandable memory, but with one caveat: the memory card is a Nano card, rather than a micro SD, which means you will have to stump up for the new format and it can’t really be used anywhere else yet.

Going password-free, the P30 and the Note 10+ stick with fingerprints for access to your phone; the iPhone has long since ditched TouchID in favour of a facial scan. The face scan is easier to use and is very accurate, which gives Apple the edge over its rivals here. Samsung comes second in this respect with an under-screen ultrasonic fingerprint reader and the potential to use iris scans for access, while the P30 Pro has an under-screen fingerprint reader but it isn’t quite as fancy as the Note 10+.

One thing the Samsung has that the others don’t is the S Pen. Yes, we aren’t supposed to need styluses, but if you have been using your phone for work you might appreciate the usefulness of this. The air gestures allow you to control your phone without touching it – for presentations, camera control and so on – and you can use it to scribble down some notes before turning them into text that you can share using the handwriting recognition feature.

Winner: Samsung Note 10+

iPhone face-off

When Apple announced the iPhone 11, it also unveiled its new Pro range of phones. But how do the iPhone 11 and the 11 Pro differ? And if you are planning on buying a new iPhone, which version should you buy?

Design

The iPhone 11 and 11 Pro are similar in design. The back of the phone is made from a single piece of glass, to help with water resistance, with the cameras contained in a square array. Gone is the glossy glass; in its place is a matt finish, which certainly helps with fingerprints.

On the front, both phones keep the notch for the selfie camera, and both versions have the metal band around the edges. But the 11 has aluminium, and the Pro gets a slick stainless steel band.

Two things to note, though. One, you likely won’t notice much difference on the metal composition unless you look really closely. Two, most people will put it into a case anyway to avoid an expensive repair bill, which means you are even less likely to notice the difference.

The most noticeable difference is in the sizes. The iPhone 11 Pro comes in two sizes: the 5.8 inch 11 Pro and the 6.5 inch Pro Max. The iPhone 11 sits in between the two, with a 6.1 inch display.

There are also a wider variety of colours in the iPhone 11. While the Pro gets the standard ‘space grey’, silver, gold and a new midnight green, the 11 gets yellow, mint green and a lilac purple to add to black, white and the Product Red version. If you want a bit more colour in your life, the 11 certainly has the edge.

Display

Speaking of displays, there is another subtle difference between the iPhone 11 and the Pro version. The displays may be different sizes but they are also different technology. While the iPhone 11 has an LCD display, the Pro and Pro Max have OLED. Apple has its own standard – Retina – for its display, and within that there are some variants. The iPhone 11 has a Liquid Retina display, which is 1,792 x 828, while both 11 Pro models have Super Retina XDR displays. The Pro has a resolution of 2,436 x 1,125, and the Pro 268 x 1,242.

Apple has opted to release three new devices – the iPhone 11, the 11 Pro and the 11 Pro Max.
Apple has opted to release three new devices – the iPhone 11, the 11 Pro and the 11 Pro Max.

Why does OLED versus LCD matter? With OLED you get deeper blacks and more vibrant colours. But LCD will still do an excellent job, so the iPhone 11 doesn’t miss out too much on that score.

Camera

The front-facing camera has been upgraded across the range, with all three phones getting an improved 12 megapixel camera. You will also be able to take slow-motion video selfies if the mood grabs you – a fun addition, though not essential.

Turn the phones over and you’ll immediately spot the difference between the 11 and the 11 Pro. While the Pro gets the triple camera array – telephoto, wide angle and the new ultra-wide angle – the 11 has only two cameras. It ditches the telephoto lens in favour of the ultra-wide angle. Given that the 11 is a replacement for the XR, the dual camera is a good upgrade.

Performance

All three models have the same chip, the new A13 Bionic, which means there is very little to choose from when it comes to performance. Apple doesn’t officially reveal the RAM on the tech specs for each phone, but third-party sites have it pegged at 4GB for all three models too.

Battery life is another thing though. Each phone has a different capacity, but the Pro Max is the standout on battery life, giving you more talk time, standby and video streaming than the other models, by a couple of hours.

The upshot though is all three phones should give you generally all-day battery life – at least for now.

The rest

All three models are IP68 rated, which means they are water-resistant up to two metres for up to 30 minutes.

They are also fast-charge capable, which means you get up to 50 per cent charge in 30 minutes. The catch? You have to use a specific charger, an 18W one. For the iPhone 11, that means buying an extra charger. But the iPhone 11 Pro is the first Apple has released with the 18W fast charger in the box.

However, it’s a lightning-to-USB C cable – great if you are a MacBook user with the USB C connection on your laptop, not so much if you are relying on standard USB connections in your car, on your computer or in your spare plugs. Our advice? Hang on to your functional older cables. You won’t get the same speedy charge, but as a back-up for when you are away from the fast charger it will be far more convenient.

The verdict

If the best camera you can buy is your priority, then the iPhone 11 Pro or Pro Max will be the best choice, if you can justify spending a few hundred euro more for the phone. But with most other specs being close, the iPhone 11 offers more colour choices at a cheaper price. If aesthetics and price are more of an issue, the iPhone 11 is the version you should buy.