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

Henry T. Casey

It's time to compare the latest iPhones.

The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max got good reviews, but the iPhone XR (which goes as low as $449 with trade-in deals) is more affordable and includes a lot of the same features. Both the iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR made our list of the best phones. So what's the best iPhone for you? Let's take a closer look with our iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR face-off.

Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty

(Image: © David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty)

News and Updates (July 2019)

iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR



iPhone XS
iPhone XS Max
iPhone XR
Starting Price
$999 / £999 / AU$1,629 $1099 / £1,099 / AU$1,799 $749 / £749 / AU$1,229
Processor
A12 Bionic A12 Bionic A12 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, 512GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Face ID
Yes
Yes Yes
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/2.2 7MP, ƒ/2.2 7MP, ƒ/2.2
Battery Life (tested)
9:41
10:38
11:26
Metal frame
Stainless steel
Stainless steel Aluminum
Colors Gold, Silver, Space Gray Gold, Silver, Space Gray Black, White, Red, Yellow, Blue, and Coral
Weight
6.2 ounces 7.3 ounces 6.8 ounces
Size
5.7 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches
6.2 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches 5.9 x 3.0 x 0.3 inches

Design and Size

2018 saw Apple believing that bigger is better when it comes to iPhones. The 5.8-inch iPhone XS is the smallest new phone in Apple's lineup. The 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max is the biggest iPhone ever, and yet it doesn't feel too big in the hand because this handset is the same size as the iPhone 8 Plus. Apple just got rid of the bezels.

Credit: Tom's Guide

(Image: © Tom's Guide)

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 gold, silver and space gray, the iPhone XR is available in black, blue, coral, red, white and yellow. If you expected to get a case that would cover up your colorful iPhone, Apple now makes and sells its own clear protective case for the iPhone XR.

MORE: iPhone XR Review: The Best iPhone for the Money

In terms of what these phones have in common, every new iPhone has 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 how to close apps on the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR.

Display

Not all new iPhone screens are equal. The 5.8-inch iPhone XS and 6.5-inch XS Max boast vivid Super Retina OLED panels, and based on our testing, their even brighter than the screen on the iPhone X. The 6.1-inch iPhone XR features an LCD screen, 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. But you will notice the more perfect blacks from the OLED iPhones and wider viewing angles.

Credit: Tom's Guide

(Image: © Tom's Guide)

The iPhone XR's 6.1-inch screen is 1,792 x 828 pixels, which makes it less sharp than the Super Retina screens in the 5.8-inch iPhone XS (2436 x 1125 pixels) and the 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max (2688 x 1242 pixels), though we doubt you'll notice this at a glance.

If your hands prefer a smaller iPhone, though, you're probably looking at this face-off with a bit of frustration, as the smallest iPhone here (the 5.8-inch XS) is still pretty big. We think that Apple's new 2019 iPhones (rumored to be called iPhone 11) ought to include a more compact model, as releasing such a phone would please an underserved segment of the market.

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. 

Credit: Tom's Guide

(Image: © Tom's Guide)

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 means greater detail and color in your photos. The XS and XR iPhones both also give you an 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. You can also adjust this setting as you shoot.

See how Apple's camera stacks up with Google's and Samsung's flagships with our iPhone XS vs Pixel 3 camera face-off and iPhone XS vs Galaxy S10 face-off, as well as where it sits on our list of best camera phones.

Battery Life

To keep its 6.5-inch screen aglow, the iPhone XS Max packs the largest smartphone battery Apple's ever shipped. The XS Max lasted 10 hours and 38 minutes on our web surfing test. The smaller XS lasted only 9:41, which is a bit below the category average of 9:48. For the best battery life, you'll want the iPhone XR, which lasted 11 hours and 26 minutes on our battery test, landing it on our list of smartphones with the longest battery life. Yes, that's right, the "low-end" model provides enough battery life to compete with the model you may need a loan to afford.

Each new iPhone 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). Note that those accessories aren't included, and cost extra.

If that's not enough, though, Apple's now selling Smart Battery Cases for the the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR. Apple claims the XR case will extend your talk time to up to 39 hours, while the XS Max case will raise talk time to a maximum of 37 hours and the XS case is rated for adding enough juice for up to 33 hours.

Performance

If speedy performance is your highest priority, it will be hard to find a winner of our iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR face-off, as these handsets are just as compelling (except in one facet). The XR, XS and XS Max all feature the same A12 Bionic processor, the industry's first 7 namometer chip (since it beat Huawei's Kirin 980 to market) with 6.9 billion transistors.

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

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 XR, was very close behind, with a 11,312. The Note 9 lagged behind with a score of 8,876, while the OnePlus 6 did a little better, at 9,088. The newer Galaxy S10 Plus, which has Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 855 processor, hit a very good 10,732.

In other 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 OnePlus 6 finished in 3:45. The Galaxy S10 Plus took 2:26.

Also, there's a notable download speed difference between the iPhone XR and its pricier XS/XS Max siblings. Wireless network testing showed that the iPhone XS and XS Max offer cellular download speeds of 21.7 megabytes per second, while the XR topped out at a slower 17.6 MBps.

Apple didn't note how much memory is in each phone, but an iFixit teardown says the iPhone XS and XS Max each feature 4GB, while a research 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 could have snappier multitasking. 

Oh, and one more performance-related reason to upgrade today, rather than waiting, comes from cellular data speed news. A new report from Fast Company, which cites "a source with knowledge of Apple's plans," states that the 5G iPhone won't ship in 2019. You'll likey have to wait until 2020 or perhaps even longer.

Value

The largest disparity in our iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR face-off comes at the checkout counter. The XS (just like the X before it) starts at $999 | £999 | AU$1,629 for the 64GB model. (The 256GB model costs $1,149.) The XS Max is even pricier, with a starting price of $1099 | £1,099 | AU$1,79 for 64GB. (You need to add $150 | £150 | AU$250 if you want a 256GB iPhone XS and $350 | £350 | AU$450 for the 512GB version.)

The iPhone XR starts at a more affordable (but not cheap) $749 | £749 | AU$1,229 for a 64GB model, and you'll spend a lot more to bump it up to 128GB.

But for those who want a new iPhone for even less, Apple's got a limited-time offer for those who can trade-in an older model. Apple's knocking another $100 off the iPhone XR for a limited time for those users trading in an iPhone 7 Plus or iPhone 8 get $300 off their iPhone XR, lowering its price to $449. While some may have expected this deal to expire along with the holiday season, I'm surprised to report it's carrying along into 2019.

iPhone 11 Rumors

If don't see yourself slipping the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max or iPhone XR into your pocket or bag, then we bet you'd like to hear about the iPhone 11 (2019) rumors. The biggest news so far is that an increasing amount of leaks point to a trio cameras coming to the backs of the next iPhone XS Max and iPhone XS as well. Also, expect a larger battery on the next iPhone XR.

Credit: @OnLeaks and CashKaro.com

(Image: © @OnLeaks and CashKaro.com)

Apple may also shrink the notch, and give the new iPhones larger batteries, reverse wireless charging (similar to the Galaxy S10) and finally fast charging in the box.

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 (except in mobile data speeds for the slower iPhone XR). The biggest difference, come in both in price and size, where you're paying a pretty penny for having the biggest, boldest display in the iPhone XS Max. The other big difference is that the iPhone XR's camera doesn't offer optical zoom.

The other huge difference is in battery life, where the iPhone XR beats both the iPhone XS and XS Max. If you want a modern iPhone design without splurging, it's definitely the phone to consider.