Apple iPhone XS vs. iPhone XR: Take a bite of an older Apple

They may be devices from 2018, but Apple iPhones age extremely well, and netting an older iPhone can save you hundreds of dollars. The iPhone XS and iPhone XR are two such devices that combine Apple’s high-powered specs, incredible cameras, and a beautiful design.

It used to be that either of these devices would set you back a pretty penny, Thankfully, the release of the latest iPhone range means price drops for the older phones. You can only get the iPhone XS from third-party sites now, but it’s still seen some small price drops. The iPhone XR is still available from Apple, and it’s been reduced to under $600. Which of these two excellent, cut-price iPhones is the best choice for you? We took a look to find out.

Specs

iPhone XS
iPhone XR
Size
143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm (5.65 x 2.79 x 0.30 inches)
150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3 mm (5.94 x 2.98 x 0.33 inches)
Weight
177 grams (6.24 ounces)
194 grams (6.84 ounces)
Screen size
5.8-inch Super Retina HD OLED True Tone display
6.1-inch Liquid Retina HD True Tone display
Screen resolution
2436 x 1125 pixels (458 pixels per inch)
1792 x 828 pixels (326 pixels per inch)
Operating system
iOS 13
iOS 13
Storage space
64GB, 256GB, 512GB
64GB, 128GB, 256GB
MicroSD card slot
No
No
Tap-to-pay services
Apple Pay
Apple Pay
Processor
Apple A12 Bionic
Apple A12 Bionic
RAM
4GB
3GB
Camera
Dual 12MP (with dual OIS) rear, 7MP TrueDepth front camera
12MP (with dual OIS) rear, 7MP TrueDepth front camera
Video
4K at 24, 30, or 60 fps. 1080p at 30, or 60  fps. OIS.
4K at 24, 30, or 60 fps. 1080p at 30, or 60 fps. OIS.
Bluetooth version
Bluetooth 5.0
Bluetooth 5.0
Ports
Lightning connector
Lightning connector
Fingerprint sensor
No
No
Water resistance
IP68
IP67
Battery
2,658mAh

Fast charge capable (Additional charger needed)

Qi wireless charging

2,942mAh

Fast charge capable (Additional charger needed)

Qi wireless charging

App marketplace
Apple App Store
Apple App Store
Network support
T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint
T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint
Colors
Silver, space gray, gold
White, black, blue, yellow, coral, (Product) Red
Price
$899
$599
Buy from

Walmart | Amazon (renewed)

Apple | Walmart

Review score
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There’s little to split these two on performance grounds, since they both use Apple’s A12 Bionic processor. While not Apple’s latest hardware, this powerful processor will still provide smooth performance and run the most demanding of games available right now. The iPhone XS has an advantage with an extra 1GB of RAM, but it’s only likely to be noticed by the most hardcore of multitaskers. There are larger storage options available on the XS too, which is worth keeping in mind if you take a lot of pictures and videos.

Both phones come with support for Apple’s fast-charging — just not with the charger in the box — and have wireless charging, so both will recharge at about the same rate. There’s a slight difference in battery size though, and the iPhone XR’s larger battery has a well-founded reputation for a long-lasting life. While the iPhone XS is no slouch and will easily last you a full day, you’ll get a touch more from the iPhone XR.

There really aren’t enough differences here for us to split the two. It’s a draw.

Winner: Tie

Design and durability

  • 1.
    Apple iPhone XS
  • 2.
    Apple iPhone XR

There’s a clear difference here and it’s size. The 5.8-inch iPhone XS is the smallest iPhone offered in the 2018 range, and it’s probably the perfect size for most people to use one-handed. But if a slightly larger iPhone appeals to you, the mid-sized 6.1-inch iPhone XR is hard to pass up. While it’s harder to use if you have small hands, most shouldn’t have an issue. It’s an excellent choice if you find the XS too small.

There are more differences where build materials and durability are concerned. While both phones use glass as a primary material, the premium iPhone XS has a stainless steel frame, putting it a level above the iPhone XR’s aluminum frame. Still, the iPhone XR wins back some points with its range of beautiful colors, including the bright yellow variant. We recommend you buy a protective case no matter which phone you pick, but even with that in mind, the iPhone XS with its stainless steel frame is likely to prove the more durable. It’s also more water-resistant than the iPhone XR, with an IP68-rating compared to the XR’s IP67-rating.

With a stronger, more premium-feeling build and advanced water-resistance, it has to be the iPhone XS that picks up this round.

Winner: iPhone XS

Display

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

While the notch may divide opinion, both phones still have great displays. The iPhone XS’s 5.8-inch Super Retina HD OLED panel runs a 2436 x 1125-pixel resolution, and it’s gorgeous. Blacks are deep, colors are vivid, and the resolution is crisp. Can the iPhone XR’s 6.1-inch Liquid Retina HD LCD display compare? While it’s still a good looking screen, LCD panels rarely match up to OLED panels in direct comparisons, and that’s true here. The blacks just aren’t as deep, and the colors aren’t as vibrant. The iPhone XR’s 1792 x 828-pixel resolution is a little low for a modern smartphone, and while it looks fine from a distance, look closer and you’ll see more pixels than you would with the iPhone XS. The iPhone XS wins this pretty easily.

Winners: iPhone XS

Camera

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There’s only a single 12-megapixel lens on the back of the iPhone XR, but it’s still a great camera. It takes excellent portrait mode shots despite the lack of a telephoto zoom lens, and comes with optical image stabilization and Apple’s Smart HDR feature. The 7-megapixel TrueDepth selfie lens around the front powers the phone’s facial recognition software, and it takes great selfies too. The iPhone XS inherits the dual-lens system from the iPhone X, with two 12-megapixel lenses, one of which is a 2x optical zoom. It’s equipped with the same features as the iPhone XR, but delivers a slightly stronger experience overall, thanks to the versatility of the two lenses.

While it’s a fairly close contest, thanks to the iPhone XR’s strong portrait mode, the iPhone XS’s twin lenses win out in this category.

Winners: iPhone XS

Software and updates

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

You’ll find iOS 13 on both of these iPhones, and thanks to Apple’s update record, it’s likely both will receive a few more years of iOS updates before being cut off. Outside of 3D Touch — which the iPhone XR lacks — you’ll find a similar software experience on both of these thanks to the identical software and hardware. It’s a tie.

Winner: Tie

Special features

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Since both have the same software, it should come as no surprise there’s relatively little to part the two phones where special features are concerned. You’ll find Face ID and Animojis on both phones, powered by the TrueDepth selfie lens around the front. We have to go really deep to find any real differences — but they are there. As mentioned already, the iPhone XR ditched 3D Touch in favor of a more basic version called Haptic Touch. The iPhone XS also has a few more Portrait Lighting options than the XR. The differences are extremely slim, but they are there — and they win the iPhone XS the round.

Winners: iPhone XS

Price

The iPhone XR is one of the cheapest iPhones you can still buy from Apple, and prices start from just $599. It will work on all major U.S. carriers, and you’ll be able to pick it up from most retailers as well. The iPhone XS is a tougher phone to buy, as Apple has discontinued it in favor of the iPhone 11 Pro. Still, you can pick it up from third-parties and prices start from $899. That’s for a new unit, but if you’re willing to save some cash, then you can grab it refurbished for a lot less. Like the XR, the iPhone XS will work on every major U.S. carrier.

Overall winner: Apple iPhone XS

Looking at the numbers, it’s pretty clear this was the only real outcome. Despite sharing hardware and software, the iPhone XS‘s premium design, dual-lens camera, and gorgeous OLED display really push it ahead of the iPhone XR. If you’re looking to pick between these two phones and don’t mind spending the extra, then the iPhone XS is definitely the stronger of the two — and this applies doubly so if you’re able to grab a refurbished iPhone XS.

However, it’s hard to argue against the iPhone XR’s value proposition. You’re sacrificing a higher level of water-proofing, an extra camera lens, and the OLED display, but saving hundreds of dollars. Is that worth it? We would argue so. The iPhone XR represents one of Apple’s best options for pure value-for-money right now.

If you’re happy to spend the money on a brand-new iPhone XS, why not spend it on a brand-new iPhone 11 Pro instead? Apple’s latest range of top-flight iPhones is an upgrade in every way, and for just a few hundred more, you could bag Apple’s latest and greatest instead.