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iPhone SE vs iPhone XR: What should you buy?

iphone SE vs iPhone XR
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

An iPhone SE vs iPhone XR comparison makes a lot of sense for shoppers trying to decide between Apple’s two most affordable iPhones. With the $399 iPhone SE and the $499 iPhone XR, Apple now makes two of the best phones under $500. So which iPhone is right for you?

The cheaper and newer iPhone SE exceeds the iPhone XR in some ways. The iPhone SE 2020 packs a newer and faster processor, and it offers more max storage. But the iPhone XR strikes back with a much larger screen, Face ID and a beefier battery.

Yes, the new iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 are worth a look, but they start at $699 and $799, respectively. If you're looking to save some money, here’s how the iPhone SE and iPhone XR stack up.

iPhone SE vs iPhone XR: Specs

iPhone SE (2020)iPhone XR
Price$399/£419$499/£499
ColorsBlack, white, redYellow, white, coral, black, blue, red
Display4.7 inches (1334 x 750)6.1 inches (1792 x 828)
CPUA13 BionicA12 Bionic
Storage64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB
Rear camera12MP (f/1.8)12MP (f/1.8)
Front camera7MP (f/2.2)7MP (f/2.2)
Video recording4K video up to 60 fps4K video up to 60 fps
SecurityTouch IDFace ID
Water resistanceIP67IP67
Battery life9 hours 18 mins11 hours 26 mins
Wireless chargingYes (Qi)Yes (Qi)
Fast chargingYes (via optional 18W adapter)Yes (via optional 18W adapter)
Size5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches5.94 x 2.98 x 0.33 inches
Weight5.22 ounces6.84 ounches

iPhone SE vs iPhone XR: Price and storage options

iPhone SE 2020

iPhone SE (2020) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone SE starts at $399/£419 with 64GB of storage. You can upgrade to 128GB of storage for $449/£469 and to 256GB for $549/£569. Check out our iPhone SE deals page for the latest sales and discounts. 

The iPhone XR costs $499 / £499 to start for the 64GB model. A 128GB model is available for $549/£579. Unfortunately, you can’t get 256GB of storage on the iPhone XR as you can on the iPhone SE.

Winner: iPhone SE

iPhone SE vs iPhone XR: Design

One of the biggest differences between the iPhone SE and iPhone XR is their sheer size. With its 4.7-inch display, the iPhone SE is all about having a compact design that’s easy to use with one hand, while the iPhone XR delivers a much bigger 6.1-inch screen. 

iPhone SE 2020

iPhone SE (2020) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone SE measures 5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches and weighs 5.22 ounces compared to 5.94 x 2.98 x 0.33 inches and 6.84 ounces for the iPhone XR. So you’ll definitely notice the difference in size and heft in your hands and in your pocket.

iPhone XR

iPhone XR (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone XR has a more modern look overall, because it has narrower bezels than the iPhone SE and uses Face ID for unlocking the device. The iPhone XR is closer to a full-screen design. The iPhone SE has a Touch ID/home button underneath its display.

Both the iPhone SE and iPhone XR have glass backs and aluminum bands around the sides. They’re also both IP67 water resistant, so they can get splashed or even submerged for up to 30 minutes.

iPhone XR

iPhone XR (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

If you prefer more color options, the iPhone XR is the way to go. The iPhone XR is available in six colors, including yellow, white, coral, black, blue and red. Apple keeps it simple for the iPhone SE with just black, white and red.

Winner: iPhone XR

iPhone SE vs iPhone XR: Display

There are a number of benefits to the iPhone XR’s larger 6.1-inch LCD versus the 4.7-inch panel on the iPhone SE, including a more immersive experience when watching videos and playing games. Plus, a bigger screen can be easier on your eyes when surfing the web or viewing documents, and it’s easier to type on a 6.1-inch display.

iPhone XR

iPhone XR (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

However, in terms of resolution, the iPhone SE’s 1334 x 750-pixel display has the same 326 pixels per inch as the iPhone XR’s screen, which has a resolution of 1792 x 828.

iPhone SE 2020

iPhone SE (2020) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Both the iPhone SE and iPhone XR screen share several other features, including True Tone for adjusting the color temperature of the display on the fly and 625 nits of brightness.

Winner: iPhone XR

iPhone SE vs iPhone XR: Cameras

In terms of specs, the iPhone SE and iPhone XR are equals in the camera department, but they’re not identical overall. Both phones feature a 12MP main wide camera with an f/1.8 aperture and a 7MP TrueDepth camera up front with an f/2.2 aperture.

iPhone XR

iPhone XR (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In addition, both the iPhone SE and iPhone XR are capable of capturing portraits with both the front and rear cameras and let you adjust the Depth Control, so you decide how much of a bokeh effect you want. However, while the iPhone XR is limited to three Portrait Lighting effects, the iPhone SE ups that to six, including Stage Light, Stage Light Mono and High-Key Light Mono.

iPhone SE 2020 review

iPhone SE (2020) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone SE also also benefits from the image signal processor that’s unique to the A13 Bionic chip inside that phone. For example, you get a Smart HDR feature that’s smart enough to recognize people and deliver better highlights to faces.

On the video front, the iPhone SE and iPhone XR are both capable of shooting up to 4K video at 60 fps, but only the iPhone SE has extended dynamic range, which delivers better highlights and shadow details (albeit only up to 30 fps). Think of it as HDR for video.

Just keep in mind that neither the iPhone SE nor iPhone XR feature a Night mode for taking pictures in low light or a ultra-wide angle lens. Both of those features are reserved for the pricier iPhone 11 and iPhone 12.

Winner: iPhone SE

iPhone SE vs iPhone XR: Performance

This round is no contest. The iPhone SE houses Apple’s fast A13 Bionic processor, the same chip found inside the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. So you should expect faster app load times as well as smoother gaming when playing more demanding titles. You should also benefit from less latency when using augmented reality apps. 

iPhone SE 2020

iPhone SE (2020) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance, the iPhone SE scored 3,226 in the multi-core portion of the test, compared to an average of 2,575 for the iPhone XR. The iPhone SE also beat the iPhone XR on the single-core test, reaching 1,337 vs 1,108 for the iPhone XR.

It’s not that the iPhone XR is slow by any stretch; it should have the performance you need for most tasks. But the iPhone SE simply delivers more speed for less money.

Winner: iPhone SE

iPhone SE vs iPhone XR: Security and unlocking

In this round it’s all about Touch ID vs Face ID. The iPhone SE has a Touch ID sensor for unlocking the phone, authorizing App Store downloads, using Apple Pay and entering passwords. And the iPhone XR uses Face ID for all of those tasks.

iPhone XR

iPhone XR (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In general, Face ID is more secure than Touch ID because it uses a 3D model of your face. It’s also fairly convenient, and you don’t have to worry about which fingers you have registered to your device. It just works, even in the dark. 

There are some benefits of Touch ID, however. You can power on and unlock your device with a single tap, and Touch ID works even if you’re wearing a mask, which many people are now doing. But overall Face ID is a little more convenient and secure.

Winner: iPhone XR

iPhone SE vs iPhone XR: Battery life and charging

If you believe the leaks and teardowns, the new iPhone SE has a battery capacity of 1,821 mAh, compared to 2,942 mAh for the iPhone XR. So the iPhone XR clearly has the larger battery.

On our web surfing battery test, the iPhone XR lasted a much longer 11 hours and 26 minutes, compared to just 9:18 for the iPhone SE. Handsets that last longer than 11 hours make our best phone battery life list.

iPhone SE 2020

iPhone SE (2020) (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Both the iPhone XR and iPhone SE support fast wired charging but neither offer that charger in the box. You’ll need pay $19 for an 20W USB-C power adapter and another $19 for a USB-C to Lightning cable if you want to get to 50% power in 30 minutes.

If you prefer charging without cords, the iPhone SE and iPhone XR both support the best wireless chargers with up to 7.5W of power.

Winner: iPhone XR

iPhone SE vs iPhone XR: Overall winner

Deciding between the iPhone SE and iPhone XR comes down to a few key factors. If you prefer a smaller phone and the lowest possible price for a new iPhone, the iPhone SE is the best phone for you. Plus, even though the iPhone SE costs $100 less than the iPhone XR, the former offers more speed and better cameras, thanks to the A13 Bionic chip.

iPhone SEiPhone XR
Price and storage (20)2017
Design (10)68
Display (15)1112
Cameras (20)1614
Performance (15)1512
Security (5)45
Battery life and charging (15)1013
Overall (100)8281

The iPhone XR loses this face-off by just 1 points, but it could be the right phone for you if you prefer a larger 6.1-inch display and like the idea of using Face ID to unlock your phone. It also offers longer battery life than the new iPhone SE and less bezels.

So may want to wait to see what the $699 iPhone 12 mini has to offer with its 5.4-inch display, which is right in between the iPhone SE and iPhone XR. But if you want to spend under $500 you can't go wrong with either of these two phones.