iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR: What Should You Buy?

Sept. 19 Update:This story has been updated per performance and battery life testing from our iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max reviews.

It's time to meet the new iPhones.

Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/GettyCredit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/GettyApple unveiled its 2018 iPhone lineup, and if you're anything like me, you're looking at the differences between the assorted models, deciding which you want to pre-order. Do you just need the fastest processor? Do you want biggest screen and battery? Or are you looking for something more affordable, with a more colorful shell? 

iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR


iPhone XS
iPhone XS Max
iPhone XR
Starting Price
$999
$1099$749
Processor
A12 Bionic
A12 BionicA12 Bionic
Screen
5.8-inch OLED (2,436 x 1,125 pixels)
6.5-inch OLED (2,688 x 1,242 pixels)
6.1-inch LCD (1,792 x 828 Pixels)
Storage
64GB, 256GB, 512GB
64GB, 256GB, 512GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Face ID
Yes
YesYes
Rear Camera
Dual 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8) and telephoto (ƒ/2.4)
Dual 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8) and telephoto (ƒ/2.4)Single 12MP (ƒ/1.8)
Front Camera
7MP, ƒ/2.27MP, ƒ/2.27MP, ƒ/2.2
Battery Life (claimed)
9:41 (tested)11:30 (tested)
Up to 15 hours (claimed)
Metal frame
Stainless steel
Stainless steelAluminum
ColorsGold, Silver, Space GrayGold, Silver, Space GrayBlack, White, Red, Yellow, Blue, and Coral
Weight
6.2 ounces7.3 ounces6.8 ounces
Size
5.7 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches
6.2 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches5.9 x 3.0 x 0.3 inches

Design

2018 finds Apple believing that bigger is better when it comes to iPhones. The nearly bezel-free design and stainless steel frame of the iPhone X in the 5.8-inch iPhone XS, which is the smallest model the company introduced. The 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max is the biggest iPhone ever, and its split-screen mode gives Apple enough reason for a design that some will likely call excessively huge.

But if you're looking for a design that sits in between, one that Goldilocks would call "juuuust right," consider the 6.1-inch iPhone XR. This handset also features a different material, dropping stainless steel for aluminum. And while XS models come in the boring options of gold, silver and space gray, the iPhone XR is available in black, blue, coral, red, white and yellow.

In terms of what these phones have in common, Tim Cook put on his best Oprah impression today, giving every new iPhone that familiar notch that Apple debuted with last year's iPhone X. Also, none of these phones have a home button, so it's time to get familiar with our popular story How to Close Apps on the iPhone X.

MORE: Apple Event Highlights: iPhone XS, iPhone XR, and Apple Watch 4

Display

Not all new iPhone screens are equal. Yes, the 5.8-inch iPhone XS and 6.5-inch XS Max contain the vivid Super Retina OLED panels that first hit iPhones in the iPhone X, but the 6.1-inch iPhone XR features an LCD panel, which Apple dubs the Liquid Retina display. If you've never upgraded to an iPhone X (or seen one in public) you'll likely be OK sticking with the LCD-based XR and its less vibrant colors.

The iPhone Xr's 6.1-inch screen measures Liquid Retina LCD 1,792 x 828 pixels, which makes it less sharp than the Super Retina screens in the 5.8-inch iPhone XS (2,436 x 1,125 pixels) and the 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max (2,688 x 1,242 pixels).

Cameras

The iPhone XS and XS Max feature the same dual 12-megapixel cameras, with a wide-angle (ƒ/1.8 aperture) lens and and telephoto (ƒ/2.4) aperture. The iPhone XR has a single 12-megapixel wide-angle (ƒ/1.8 aperture) sensor.

Those dual sensors give the iPhone XS and XS Max 2x optical zoom, and up to 10x digital zoom. The iPhone XR offers up to 5x digital zoom.

In terms of tricks, though, these phones are pretty similar. Both provide Smart HDR, which will mean greater detail and color in your photos. The XS and XR iPhones both also give you improved Portrait Mode, with Apple's Depth Control adjustment option, so you can adjust the depth of field after you shoot a portrait mode photo.

Battery Life

To keep its 6.5-inch screen aglow, the iPhone XS Max packs the largest smartphone battery Apple's ever shipped. And that endurance showed during the Laptop Mag Battery Test, where we saw 11 hours and 30 minutes of web-surfing over LTE at 150 nits of brightness. The smaller XS lasted for less, with a time of 9:41. 

Apple says the XR (which we've yet to test) should provide up to 16 hours of video over wireless and up to 25 hours of talk time. Yes, that's right, the "low-end" model provides enough battery life to compete with the model you may need a loan to afford. Apple also notes that the iPhone XR will last 1.5 hours longer than the iPhone 8 Plus.

Each is fast-charge capable, and all refuel half of their battery in 30 minutes (tested with Apple's 30-watt and 87-watt USB-C power adapters).

Performance

If speedy performance is your highest priority, each of the new iPhones will be just as intriguing for you. The XR, XS and XS Max all feature the same A12 Bionic processor, the industry's first 7 namometer chip (since it's beating Huawei's Kirin 980 to market) with 6.9 billion transistors.

The phones feature 6-core CPU and a 4-core GPU, and the CPU will feature dual performance cores, and four efficiency cores. Apps will launch uo to 30 percent faster, and feature enhanced, real-time machine learning, and better AR apps, with 60 frames per second performance, and improved low-light performance.

In our testing the iPhone XS and XS Max demonstrated world-beating speeds. For example, the XS and XS Max transcoded a 2-minute 4K clip to 1080p in 39 seconds, while the Galaxy S9 took 2:32 and the OnePlus 6 finished in 3:45. Also, the XS opened Fortnite in 20.8 seconds, while the Note 9 needed 35 seconds.

The iPhones XS and XS Max also dominated in the Geekbench 4 general performance benchmark, with scores of 11,420 and 11,515, respectively. The Note 9 lagged behind with a score of 8,876, while the OnePlus 6 did a little better, at 9,088.

Apple didn't note how much memory is in each phone, but a note from Apple prognosticator Ming-Chi Kuo claimed that the iPhone XS and XS Max will pack 4GB of RAM, while the iPhone XR will include 3GB of RAM. If true, the iPhone XS handsets will have snappier multitasking.  

Value

If you're thinking of an XS, get ready to cough up a ton of money. The XS (just like the X before it) starts at $999 for the 64GB model, which still seems like a lot of money for a phone with barely any storage. (The 256GB model costs $1,149.) The XS Max is even pricier, with a starting price of $1,099 for 64GB, and $1,249 for the 256GB version. Both those phones also offer a 512GB model which costs $400 more than their respective base models.

The iPhone XR starts at a more affordable (but not cheap) $749 for a 64GB model, and you'll spend $799 to bump it up to 128GB.

Outlook

In terms of their performance and cameras, the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR appear to be more similar than their prices might suggest. The biggest difference, come in both in price and size, where you're paying a pretty penny for having the biggest, boldest display.

We look forward to putting each phone through the rigors that come in our full reviews, so we can find out how super these Super Retina displays actually are, and how high the A12 Bionic processor sets the bar for every phone to come. Did you pre-order one of these iPhones (XS orders began on Sept. 14 and XR orders start on Oct. 19)? Let us know in the comments below, so we can commiserate about the high pricing.

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  • jar1945
    I have an iPhone 7 Plus. My 2-year contract is up next month. I love the 2 lens camera. What do you recommend for my next phone? The XR, or the now old X or just keep the 7 Plus?