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iPhone Comparison: The iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max & iPhone XR

Jonathan Wylie is a digital learning consultant who has a passion for helping others get the best out of their technology.


A New Generation of iPhone

The waiting is over, and they're finally here. The iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR are Apple's latest realization of their ambitious vision for the future of smartphones. As you would expect, the new iPhones are faster and more powerful than the devices that preceded them, but this time, the differences between the low and high-end models are much smaller. In fact, the new iPhones actually have a lot more in common than you might expect. Here's why.

Compare iPhone Prices & Storage

Let's start with pricing. No iPhone comparison would be complete without these important numbers because price has an important role to play when choosing a new smartphone. Apple has never really made a cheap iPhone. They make some that are cheaper than others, but this product is very much pitched at the higher end of the market. Here's what it costs to but one of Apple's new iPhones. (Prices are listed in USD).

  • iPhone XR - $749 (64Gb), $799 (128Gb), $899 (256Gb)
  • iPhone XS - $999 (64Gb), $1,149 (256Gb), $1,349 (512Gb)
  • iPhone XS Max - $1,099 (64Gb), $1,249 (256Gb), $1,449 (512Gb)

Of course, if the prices of the new iPhones are too rich for your blood, remember that you can still get a good deal on previous models because Apple is continuing to sell the iPhone 7, 8 and 8 Plus at discount prices.


iPhone Screen Size Comparison

This year was an interesting year, in terms of screen sizes, because the least expensive iPhone, the iPhone XR, actually has a bigger screen than the iPhone XS which costs $250 more. So, here's what you can expect.

  • iPhone XR - 6.1-inches, 1792 x 828 pixels (326ppi)
  • iPhone XS - 5.8-inches, 2,436 x 1,125 pixels (458ppi)
  • iPhone XS Max - 6.5-inches, 2,688 x 1,242 pixels (458ppi)

Of course, screen size is just one part of the equation here. What's more important is the type of screen. The iPhone XS and the XS Max use an OLED screen which is a much higher quality screen than the one in the iPhone XR. It has a higher resolution, the colors are more vibrant, and the screen is easier to view in direct sunlight. An OLED screen also has better viewing angles, can be more power efficient, and has a much higher contrast ratio.

However, the LCD screen in the iPhone XR is no slouch. In fact, Apple will tell you that it is the best LCD screen that has ever been put in a phone. They call it a Liquid Retina screen, which is likely just marketing speak, but it includes the same P3 wide color gamut that you find on the XS and XS Max. The Liquid Retina screen has less resolution than the iPhone 8 Plus, but if you are coming from an iPhone 6s or even an iPhone 7, you will likely still experience a notable upgrade in quality should you decide to opt for the iPhone XR.


Compare iPhone Cameras

There's no doubt about it. Smartphones rely upon the quality of their camera. There are some great smartphones for sale today that just never quite made the cut because their camera failed to impress. Consumers consistently put camera quality at the top of their list when shopping for a new smartphone, and Apple knows this. All three of the new iPhones have great optics, but the XS and XS Max take it one step beyond with their dual camera setup.

  • iPhone XR - Single 12MP camera, f1.8 wide angle lens
  • iPhone XS - Dual 12MP cameras, f1.8 wide angle, f2.4 telephoto zoom
  • iPhone XS Max - Dual 12MP cameras, f1.8 wide angle, f2.4 telephoto zoom

All three phones can shoot 4K video at up to 60 fps, and they all share the same 7MP f2.2 front-facing camera. Portrait mode, portrait lighting, and depth control are also available on all three iPhones; however, the 2x optical zoom is only available on the iPhone XS and XS Max because of the additional telephoto lens.

Battery Life on the iPhone XR, XS, & XS Max

These iPhones all get great battery life; however, the surprise package here is the iPhone XR, which manages to beat the larger and more expensive iPhone XS Max. It doesn't beat it by much, but it does beat it. Here are some statistics based on Apple's own battery tests.

  • iPhone XR - 25 hrs talk time, 15 hrs internet use, 16 hrs video playback
  • iPhone XS - 20 hrs talk time, 12 hrs internet use, 14 hrs video playback
  • iPhone XS Max - 25 hrs talk time, 13 hrs internet use, 15 hrs video playback

iPhone Performance Comparisons

Every year, the iPhone is faster and more powerful than the one it replaced. This year is no different. However, there is usually at least one phone that is faster and more powerful than the others. Not so this time. The iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max all share the same processor, and because they all run the same software, the performance differences between each model will be negligible, at least until someone works out how much RAM is in each one.

  • iPhone XR - A12 Bionic chip with next-generation Neural Engine
  • iPhone XS - A12 Bionic chip with next-generation Neural Engine
  • iPhone XS Max - A12 Bionic chip with next-generation Neural Engine

This is a bold move by Apple and one that makes it much harder to choose a device when doing any kind of iPhone comparison. However, it's great news for consumers who are buying a new iPhone because they all have the same fast and efficient mobile processors.

Comparing iPhone Color & Finish Options

It's not a competition, but if it were, the iPhone XR would win hands down. There are six color options for iPhone XR buyers and only three for the XS and XS Max, at least at launch. In the past few years, Apple has released Product Red versions of its iPhones in the Spring, so you may see an extra color option appear later. Until then, the options are as follows.

  • iPhone XR - Blue, White, Black, Yellow, Coral, Red
  • iPhone XS - Silver, Space Gray, Gold
  • iPhone XS Max - Silver, Space Gray, Gold

The iPhone XR may win out on color choices, but the finish on the XS and XS Max is more premium thanks to the surgical grade stainless steel band that surrounds the phone, and a glass back that Apple says is the strongest glass on any smartphone.

Common Features: iPhone XR, XS, & XS Max

By now, you are probably starting to see a theme. There are a lot of similarities between these phones. I've already mentioned some of the camera and performance similarities, but there's more that's worth mentioning.

All three iPhones have wireless Qi charging and fast charge capabilities. They all use Face ID, (which is even faster than on the iPhone X), they have dual-SIM capabilities, and they all still use a Lightning port for charging. The iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max are also splash and water resistant. The XR can survive 30 minutes in water that is up to 1 meter deep, while the XS and XS Max can do the same in up to 2 meters of water.


The iPhone XR looks like a very competitive model in this year's lineup. It lacks the amazing OLED screen, stainless steel construction, and dual cameras found in the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, but it keeps up in nearly every other metric, and even surpasses them in battery life.

However, as their price tags will attest, the XS and XS Max are still better phones, and they can be bought with as much as 512Gb of internal storage. They also retain 3D Touch, a feature that Apple chose to drop from the iPhone XR. The screens on the iPhone XS and XS Max will still dazzle your friends, and the premium finish will be hard to resist for those buyers who insist on having the best that money can buy.

In the end, I suspect that it will come down to pricing and carrier deals, but whatever iPhone you choose, you can be safe in the knowledge that these are undoubtedly the best iPhones that Apple has ever made.

iPhone Comparison Poll

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Jonathan Wylie