Unlike previous iPhone launches, it’s not immediately obvious which iPhone you should buy if you want the best. Or rather, the iPhone XS is clearly the flagship model, but the iPhone XR, launching a week later, has some features which are better than its sibling.
So, what are the important differences to know before you choose which new iPhone X is right for you?
iPhone XS vs. iPhone XR
For this post, I’ll leave out the iPhone XS Max. It’s exactly the same as the iPhone XS, only bigger, and with a slightly longer battery life. Instead we’ll compare the iPhone XS and XR.
These are the important differences between the two new regular-size models:
The iPhone XS has an OLED screen, with amazing colors and 3D Touch, Apple’s tech that lets the display discern “how deeply users press the display.” The iPhone XR gets a new LCD display, which ditches 3D Touch. Hands-on reports say the iPhone XR has the best display of any LCD iPhone to date.
Weirdly, the cheaper iPhone XR has a larger screen than the iPhone XS — 6.1 inches versus 5.8. That makes the $999 XS the smallest of the new lineup, but not by much.
The iPhone XR weighs 6.84 ounces, 194 grams, and the iPhone XS is lighter, at 6.24 ounces, or 177 grams. Compare that to 4.87 ounces (138 grams) for the iPhone 7.
Aluminum versus steel
The iPhone XR has an aluminum band surrounding its perimeter, whereas the iPhone XS has steel. Both devices bear a glass back.
Both the XS and XR can hold out for up to a half-hour underwater, enough for a few quick submarine selfies. But the XS can do this at a depth of 2 meters, versus just 1 meter (3 feet, 3 inches) for the XR.
The iPhone XS gets less battery life than the cheaper XR: 20 hours talking versus 25 hours. The other guidelines — internet use, video playback and so on — are all similarly better on the cheaper iPhone.
This is the big difference. The XS boasts two cameras in the back (one wide-angle with an ƒ/1.8 aperture, one telephoto with ƒ/2.4 aperture). The XR gets just one, but it’s the exact same unit as the wide-angle camera in the XS. Despite this, the iPhone XR can pull off Portrait mode, previously only available in iPhones with two cameras. The full name for this feature in the new iPhones is “Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and depth control.” The iPhone XR Portrait Mode does suffer one key limitation, though: It only works on people. Also, on iPhone XS, the Portrait Lighting feature offers five effects (Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, Stage Mono). On iPhone XR, you only get three (Natural, Studio, Contour).
The iPhone XS comes in gold, space gray and silver. The iPhone XR comes in white, black, blue, yellow, coral and Product Red.
XS vs. XR: Which iPhone should you get?
It’s hard to choose which model you might buy. If you want the very best camera and display, go for the XS. But the XR is a little big bigger, and still has a great screen and the new advanced bokeh and Depth Control features. Both have edge-to-edge screens, both have Face ID and Animoji, and both have the new A12 Bionic chip, which powers all the 2018 iPhones’ new photo features as well as their advanced AI capabilities.
It’s not an easy decision. The “cheap” iPhone this year is as good — relatively speaking — as the flagship models of previous years.
In the end, most folks will be happy with the iPhone XR. But there’s one other difference. You’ll have to wait a month longer for the XR, and that may be enough to make many people drop the extra $250 on a high-end model they don’t really want or need.