Selfie battle: iPhone 11 vs Galaxy Note 10 vs iPhone XR vs Pixel 3

Selfie battle: iPhone 11 vs Galaxy Note 10+ vs iPhone XR vs Pixel 3
Selfies — the trend that everyone loves to hate. But judging by how much effort manufacturers put into upgrading their selfie camers — they are here to stay. And some selfie cameras out there are no joke — despite only having a tiny sensor and lens to work with, they are capable of pulling every little unflattering detail and document it in our digital album.

It's time to see how a bunch of the more... reasonably-priced flagship phones out there do in the selfie department. After all, you don't want your next purchase to literally make you look bad, right?

Here is a 4-way battle between the iPhone 11, iPhone XR, Pixel 3, and Galaxy Note 10!

Scene #1

Wide lens needed

Wide lenses on the selfie camera have been a contentious topic. Yes, they let you get more people into the shot, but they also tend to distort heads and facial features. Ultimately, however, the customers have spoken — they want those wide cameras and they don't mind the banana heads. Even Apple has caved in and added a wide-angle selfie lens on the iPhone 11.

iPhone XR: 8/10

The iPhone XR's narrow field of view doesn't allow us to comfortably fit both subjects in the shot. The upside is that the faces come out proper, with no distortion or big-nose-effect. The details are a bit on the soft side and the whole image has a yellow-green-ish cast over it, which is not great. On the other hand, there seems to be an impressively wide dynamic range, keeping both highlights and shadows at bay.

iPhone 11: 8.5/10

OK, with the iPhone 11 we have the benefit of a wider-angle lens, letting us take a group selfie more comfortably. Not much has changed in terms of colors — we still have the sickly green caset all over. But details appear a bit sharper here and the dynamics range is still very impressive. And hey — our models' heads don't even look distorted! We would assume Apple employs some digital correction magic here.

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Pixel 3: 8/10

That lens is wide! A lot more fits into the frame, though you can see how our models' proportions have sort of changed. If someone was present towards the edge of the photo, that would've been an instant banana head.

The details in this photo are great, if only a bit oversharpened. Colors also appear to be much closer to reality, with natural skin tones and good contrast. The dynamics range is a bit narrower, as we can see the shadows behind our subjects turn to complete blackness.

Galaxy Note 10: 7/10

Well, this photo looks a bit more... artsy. With a narrower dynamic range and really stark contrasts, it can definitely look impressive, but not very realistic. It's nice to see that there is plenty of detail in the photo without much oversharpening. But there's an unpleasant green cast and way too much of a contrast for our tastes.

Scene #2

The self-portrait

Ah, how the definition of "self portrait" has changed... Nowadays, it simply means that your phone can digitally blur the background behind you and attempt to make it look like you've taken a selfie with a DSLR camera.

Anyway, let's see how our phones did:

iPhone XR: 9/10

Apple's iPhones are among the pioneers of the Portrait Mode and they are still holding strong. For the slefies, they use the Face ID sensor to help them with edge detection and depth perception.

In this challenging scene, the iPhone XR did pretty well at separating the subject from the very busy background. Still, some strands of hair were lost and some edges look very iffy, making it obvious this is digital fakery. The skin tone might be slightly green-ish, but it stays within believable norms. The whole composition has nicely balanced colors, dynamics, and details.

iPhone 11: 9/10

The iPhone 11 looks very similar. Some strands of hair are lost, some edges are slightly botched up. But, in general, a very good job. In terms of colors, details, and dynamics, the cameras do an identical job here.

Pixel 3: 8/10

The Pixel's colors are closer to reality as the skin returns to normal and the green cast is gone. There is also an impressive amount of detail, great dynamics range, and a contrast, which veers over the edge of being "too dramatic" but hits the sweet spot of "just right".

The edge detection, while not the most terrible thing we've seen, is kind of all over the place. On the left side, it lets a bit of the background slip through unblurred. In the right side, it eats right into our model's jacket. Also, you may have noticed that her head shape is slightly different — that's the job of the wide-angle lens.

Galaxy Note 10: 8/10

The Note 10 did OK with edge detection save for one spot on the left. The whole image looks more sterile, as the color intensity has been dialed back. The crushed dynamics range shows its head again, making shadows cut to black rather abruptly. Good for dramatic effect, not great for realism.

Scene #3

The night is still young

Shots in the dark have been a challenge for smartphone cameras for ages now. Small sensors and small lenses don't do well when there isn't a lot of light to illuminate them. And eventhough main cameras have grown, the selfie cameras are still tiny and afraid of the dark. Or are they?

iPhone XR: 7/10

The older iPhone manages to expose the photo well enough for us to see, which is an impressive feat. However, colors are dolled down and while the photo isn't very noisy, details are soft or entirely lost. It's a passable photo, but not a "Wow"-inducing one.

iPhone 11: 8/10

The iPhone 11 does a much better job at breathing some life back in the photo thanks to more saturated colors. Its details are still soft, but it will do a good job conveying the mood at a party. You know — so you can spend time taking a selfie that you can share to others so they know what they are missing.

Pixel 3: 9/10

The Pixel 3 totally blows the competition out of the water with a bright and detailed photo with realistic colors. There's still some noise present, but it's by far the least noisy sample of the four.

Galaxy Note 10: 7/10

The Galaxy Note 10 does great with exposure and colors, but its details are by far the worst. It looks like a very aggressive noise-reducer went wild on clearing up the grain and we ended up with this extra-soft selfie that kind of wants to be a pastel drawing.

Scene #4

Ramp up the challenge

Another dark in the setting with a bunch of decorative lights that are behind our subject. How will the selfie cameras do here?

iPhone XR: 6/10

Not doing great with the exposure there, our subject's face is in the dark. Still, it's impressive that it's visible while the lights in the back are also not burned out. The amount of noise we see on the face means that it'll be hard to use an editor to enhance this picture and turn it into something nice. Looking at the rather interesting background, the colors seem dull and lifeless, making this a somewhat boring selfie.

iPhone 11: 7/10

A much better performance when it comes to exposure and colors. But that noise is definitely not a desirable effect. At least the background is much more interesting this time around, with saturated colors and balanced exposure. Though, don't try to zoom in on the details, as they are rather soft.

Pixel 3: 9/10

Great job from the Pixel here, which managed to expose our model's face and even show off some detail without that much noise. The hair, the shirt, and even the background are sharp and nicely detailed and the colors pop out to make for an interesting shot.

Galaxy Note 10: 8/10

The Note 10 rebounds with a photo that's not as good as the Pixel's but certainly a bit better than the iPhones. We can see that the Samsung was about to have as much noise on the model's face as the iPhones, but it did clear it up rather aggressively. As a result, it's not a super-detailed face shot, but at least it's OK to look at. The details across the photo are not as sharp as the Pixel's but they are OK, especially considering the challenging shot. Colors and exposure are also on point.

Scene #5

Inside with the fuzzball

Indoor shots are also a thing where cameras with small sensors struggle. Artificial, lamp-generated light might look fine and bright to you, but it is, in fact, not amazing according to our cameras. So, it's a good idea to have the obligatory indoors shot with normal house lights around us.

iPhone XR: 7/10

We have great exposure here and everything in the photo is visible. However, details are pretty much lost to what seems to be lots of noise that later passed through noise reduction. The colors are also dull and there's a yellow cast over the whole photo. So, while it does get the point across, it doesn't do so in the prettiest of ways.

iPhone 11: 7/10

More of the same here: good exposure, details and colors are not great. Sure, the iPhone 11's lens gives us more to look at but more is not always better.

Pixel 3: 9/10

The Pixel 3 just runs circles around the competition here: skintone is great, details are on point, there's a good amount of contrast that gives the photo a bit of a dramatic look, but not too much as to make it look fake. All around great results.

Galaxy Note 10: 8/10

The Galaxy Note also does not disappoint indoors. Its details are not as sharp as the Pixel, but not as muddied up as on the iPhones. Its colors are not exactly true to life, but they are saturated and make the whole image pop. So, the Note 10's selfie sits happily in the middle, between the Pixel 3 and the two iPhones' results.


So, what do we have? A final score that says:

iPhone XR: 7.4
iPhone 11: 7.9
Pixel 3: 8.6
Galaxy Note 10: 7.6

While none of these front-facing cameras is perfect, we can definitely see that the Pixel 3 — which is a generation old by now — is still going strong with Google's HDR+ tech ensuring we get great colors and details in most situations. Samsung's selfie camera is hit-and-miss, depending on current lighting, scene composition, and the phone's mood. But, in general, its shots are far above average. And the iPhones are still the leaders when it comes to selfie portraits, with their incredibly convincing bokeh and mostly accurate edge detection. But they are the first to get yellow-ish and start blurring details as the light begins to fade.

So, what matters to you? Portraits? Wide-angle view? Or night-time shots?

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