iPhone XS vs. XR vs. XS Max: iPhone buying guide for 2018

September 20, 2018

We help you break down which iPhone phone to get.

The iPhone XR brings a welcome splash of color to iPhone’s lineup.

So you’d like to buy either an iPhone XS, XS Max or iPhone XR and you’re not sure which one to get. Fair! This year’s iPhone line is arguably the most confusing ever, because the three new models are so closely matched. The 5.8-inch iPhone XS and 6.5- inch iPhone XS Max have almost identical hardware (the Max has a larger battery), but the 6.1-inch iPhone XR is just different enough to throw a monkey wrench into your buying plans.

The iPhone XR has a single rear camera instead of two (no 2x optical zoom here), a comparatively lower resolution LCD screen instead of OLED, and it lacks the 512GB storage option of the XS models. But before you cross it off the list, note its many comparative advantages: Its 6.1-inch screen is bigger than that of the standard iPhone XS (and last year’s iPhone X), and Apple says it has the longest lasting battery life of the three.

It’s got the same speedy processor, and that single rear camera has a new software version of portrait mode, that fancy SLR-style camera effect that blurs the backgrounds of headshots. The XR also comes in some fun, exclusive color choices.

Best of all, the iPhone XR starts at $250 less than the iPhone XS, making it the most affordable new iPhone of 2018. But here’s the rub: While the XS models will hit store shelves on Friday, Sept. 21, the iPhone XR won’t arrive until Oct. 26. That’s why we strongly advise iPhone shoppers to wait until reviews of that model are out– as you want to make sure it’s as great a value in real world tests as it sounds like it is on paper.

That said, we know many of you just can’t wait, so we’ve answered some of the “which should I buy” questions here.

If you want…

• The absolute biggest screen: iPhone XS Max
• 2x optical zoom and no-compromise camera: iPhone XS or XS Max
• Most affordable new iPhone: XR
• Touch ID home button: iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 phones are still around, with price cuts

If you feel tempted to save money on the now-discounted iPhone 8 Plus and it’s not because you love the home button, resist! Spend $50 more for iPhone XR, at the very least. You’ll get a much faster processor, better photography, longer battery life and fast Face ID.

If you have a really old iPhone and want the best budget iPhone option

A factory refurbished iPhone 7 will save you hundreds. Its software is just as secure and up-to-date as the iPhone XS, and this 2016 flagship is still an above-average phone. (Pro tip: Spend up for the 128GB version. You’ll thank us later.)

You could also get an iPhone SE, which is downright dainty compared to the iPhone XS and XS Max. Keep in mind that you’ll have to buy it through carriers and other retailers. Apple has pulled it — and the iPhone X — from the Apple store. It’s also got a comparatively restrained price, selling for $350.

If you’re not sold on the iPhone and want alternatives

The best Android phones right now include the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9. There’s also the terrifically-priced One- Plus 6. If you live outside the US, Huawei’s P20 and P20 Pro are excellent phones on par with Samsung’s finest.

For the budget-minded, the Motorola G6 and Moto E5 families deliver outstanding value for price. And if you want a small phone, the Sony Xperia XZ2 Compact is really the only diminutive way you can go.

Still Android-curious? You’re in luck

We have no fewer than four major global phone launches in October alone. These are all premium handsets with the latest and greatest specs, likely in the camera department. The Pixel 3 especially has the opportunity to make some striking gains over last year’s impressive Pixel 2. It’s worth waiting to see if Google’s able to repeat its photo magic, especially compared to Apple’s iPhone XS camera gains.

• LG V40 ThinQ: Oct. 3
• Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3
• XL (expected): Oct. 9
• OnePlus 6T: October
• Huawei Mate 20: Oct. 16