Apple iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR: Which should you buy?

Three phones, three price tags, and many differences between them

Another year, another tough decision for iPhone fans – and Apple made this year's choice perhaps the hardest one to date.

This time around, Apple unveiled three different iPhones, and all three are plenty compelling in their own right. Granted, all three look about the same at a glance, but it's the little (and bigger) differences that'll really drive your decision between the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR.

What sets these phones apart and which is the one best suited for you, assuming you're on the hunt for a pricey new iPhone? Here's what we think based on the initial reveal and specs.

iPhone XS vs XS Max vs XR: Specs

Apple iPhone XS

Screen: 5.8in OLED, 2436x1125 (458ppi)

Rear cam: Dual 12MP, f/1.8 + f/2.4, Dual OIS

Front cam: 7MP

Video: 4K @ 60fps; slo-mo 1080p @ 240fps

Processor: A12 Bionic chip

Storage: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB

Wireless charging: Yes

Waterproof: Yes (IP68)

Battery: 14 hours (video)

Colours: Silver, Space Gray, Gold

Dimensions: 144 x 71 x 7.7 mm; 177g

Price (GBP): from £999

 

Apple iPhone XS Max

Screen: 6.5in OLED, 2688x1242 (458ppi)

Rear cam: Dual 12MP, f/1.8 + f/2.4, Dual OIS

Front cam: 7MP

Video: 4K @ 60fps; slo-mo 1080p @ 240fps

Processor: A12 Bionic chip

Storage: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB

Wireless charging: Yes

Waterproof: Yes (IP68)

Battery: 15 hours (video)

Colours: Silver, Space Gray, Gold

Dimensions: 156 x 77 x 7.7 mm; 208g

Price (GBP): from £1099

 

Apple iPhone XR

Screen: 6.1in LCD, 1792x828 (326ppi)

Rear cam: 12MP, f/1.8, OIS

Front cam: 7MP

Video: 4K @ 60fps; slo-mo 1080p @ 240fps

Processor: A12 Bionic chip

Storage: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB

Wireless charging: Yes

Waterproof: Yes (IP67)

Battery: 16 hours (video)

Colours: Black, White, Blue, Yellow, Coral, (Product)Red

Dimensions: 151 x 76 x 8.3 mm; 194g

Price (GBP): from £749

Design: The X factor

As mentioned, the phones are nearly identical upon first glance. All three are clear successors to the iPhone X, packing in the same kind of screen-centric, edge-to-edge design on the front, glossy glass on the back, and plenty of premium polish and punch.

But there are differences, and they're a little more significant than you might expect. The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max are seeming doppelgangers aside from size: the Max is larger, to accommodate the bigger display, but otherwise they come in the same colours and pack in stainless steel.

The iPhone XR is different, however. Size-wise, it falls between the two XS models, but it's a little thicker than both. But instead of stainless steel, the XR uses aluminum for the frame, and it offers a wider array of frame and backing colours – including blue, yellow, and coral. The end result seems to exude less a sense of luxury, but the colour options are certainly more playful and pack more personality.

The iPhone XS and XS Max are both IP68 rated for water and dust resistance, with the ability to survive a drop in up to 2 meter of water for up to 30 mins, while the iPhone XR sticks with IP67 and 1 meter for 20 minutes.

Screen: Clear differences

When it comes to the screen, all three phones have large displays – but there are big differences in panel quality and resolution.

The iPhone XS and XS Max both use Super Retina HD OLED panels, much like the iPhone X, which provide brilliant contrast and true backs – and this year's displays offer 60% more dynamic range than before, which should look fantastic. Both phones also sit at 458 pixels per inch, with a 2436x1126 resolution for the XS and 2688x1242 on the XS Max. The larger Max can also handle apps in landscape view, with a split look allowing dual panes in supported apps.

On the other hand, the iPhone XR sticks with an LCD panel, although it's a new Liquid Retina panel that Apple claims is more advanced than any smartphone LCD to date. That said, the 1792x828 resolution is deeply underwhelming – it matches the 326ppi count of the iPhone 8, which looked fuzzy last year and will look fuzzy now.

Also, the iPhone XR has a fair bit more bezel around the display, seemingly due to the different panel tech in play, plus it lacks the 3D Touch pressure-sensitivity still found in the iPhone XS and XS Max.

Camera: One or two?

More is better when it comes to smartphone cameras, right? Sure, usually, and it's true that the dual-camera setups of the iPhone XS and XS Max pack some perks. But the iPhone XR also seems pretty well-equipped with its single shooter.

All three have a 12-megapixel (f/1.8) wide-angle camera with optical image stabilisation on the back. Likewise, all three boast the new Smart HDR feature that uses a faster sensor and improved processor to snap several concurrent photos and then immediately stitch them into one brilliant result. That's the plan, at least.

The iPhone XS and XS Max benefit from the second back camera, a 12MP telephoto (f/2.4) lens, which enables 2x optical zoom and extended digital zoom, as well as Portrait shots and bokeh effects. You can also adjust the focal depth after taking a shot, letting you tweak the background blur.

The iPhone XR can also now do Portrait photos via smart software rather than a second back camera, although it remains to be seen whether the results will be as strong.

They all pack the TrueDepth front-facing camera system from the iPhone X, as well, with a 7MP camera flanked by sensors that can scan your mug for Face ID security and Animoji. It also includes the depth slider functionality for selfies. There are no differences between the front cameras on these three iPhones.

Performance: True powerhouses

Based on what Apple has announced so far, all three of these phones are identically equipped when it comes to performance – and collectively, they represent what will surely be the most powerful smartphone on the market.

That's because last year's A11 Bionic chip is still the fastest out there, and now the A12 Bionic chip promises notable gains, including two performance cores that are up to 15% faster than the A11 and four efficiency cores that use up to 50% less power than in last year's chip.

It's the first 7nm chip to reach a production smartphone, and it includes a massively enhanced Neural Engine that is up to nine times faster than before, capable of 5 trillion operations per second. It'll learn from your usage, recognize patterns, empower augmented reality experiences, and plenty more.

The only difference might come down to RAM. Apple hasn't said anything officially, but rumours suggested 3GB in the iPhone XR and 4GB each in the XS models – and a whole lot of rumours proved to be dead on this year. We may have to wait for a teardown on that front.

Battery and perks: Surprise leader

All three new iPhones promise more battery life than their predecessors… and the iPhone XR, surprisingly enough, is the best of the bunch. It claims up to 15 hours of internet usage and 16 hours of wireless video playback.

Meanwhile, the iPhone XS suggests 12 hours of internet browsing and 14 hours of video, while the iPhone XS Max bumps up to 13 hours of internet and 15 hours of video. Looks like that lower-resolution screen is paying dividends for the iPhone XR. They all offer wireless charging, plus they're fast-charge capable.

The XS models come in 64GB, 256GB, and 512GB storage sizes, while the iPhone XR aims a bit lower with 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB editions. No support external storage, as usual.

None have 3.5mm headphone ports, either, like the last couple iPhone releases… and this time around, Apple won't give you the little dongle adapter to plug your headphones into the USB-C port. Boo, Apple.

Initial verdict: Tough decision

Three iPhones (shown with the Apple Watch Series 4), three price points, and three target buyers. Which is for you?

The iPhone XR is clearly the new "entry-level" iPhone at £749+, if you're on the hunt for cutting-edge internals. It's not as premium or high-end as the XS models, but the £250 savings is hard to ignore, plus the colours are plenty alluring. If you want all the key benefits of the iPhone X's revamped design without spending a grand, then this is the phone for you. Likewise, if you put punchy style over top-end tech, this is your new iPhone.

Meanwhile, the iPhone XS is a straight-up iPhone X replacement at £999. Same size, same look, new tech. If you loved the size and feel of last year's phone and just want the feature enhancements, or if you coveted the iPhone X but weren't ready to upgrade before now, then this might be the phone for you. Given the edge-to-edge design, this large-display phone can't help but feel pretty comfortable in most hands.

And if you have larger hands or just love an enormous display, then you might consider spending the extra scratch for the 6.5in iPhone XS Max. It seems huge, but really, it packs that massive screen onto the approximate body size of the iPhone 8 Plus. Granted, £1099+ is an absolutely incredible amount of money to spend on a smartphone. It's mad, really. But if you could justify the iPhone X's price (or can justify the XS' price), what's another £100 for a larger screen and bonus battery uptime?

And if all of these phones sound ridiculously overpriced, Apple is still offering the iPhone 7/7 Plus and iPhone 8/8 Plus at solid discounts. They might seem like an even better deal now compared to the XS/XR price points.