There’s a saying in the world that when you buy a more significant product, you are getting something better. When looking at smartphones like Apple’s iPhone lineup, you might think this, but don’t let the size fool you. In this article, we will attempt to solve the dilemma that many people experience when looking at which iPhone to buy. Is bigger, really better? For instance, what’s the difference between the larger and less expensive iPhone XR and the iPhone XS?
From my findings and breakdown of Apple’s specifications, I have found the iPhone XS outperforms the larger iPhone XR. However, the even larger iPhone XS tops the list. Who would have thought? Sometimes, good things do come in small and more significant packages!
Let’s start this three-way comparison by comparing every aspect between each phone model. Throughout the article, I will highlight why I think the iPhone XS Max is the better phone. However, if you lack time to read the full article, here is a quick list of some of the advantages:
A Summary of Four Advantages of the iPhone XS and XS Max over the iPhone XR.
- A better sharper display that’s more vivid and shows greater color range due to HDR functionality (compared to no HDR functionality on the XR)
- Stronger water resistance with an IP68 rating up to 2 meters for 30 minutes (compared to IP67 and 1-meter rating on the XR).
- A secondary camera that can zoom in twice as close and offers double the amount of digital zoom (compared to no secondary camera on the XR).
- A smoother, faster performance thanks to 4GB of RAM (compared to 3GB of RAM on the XR).
- Stronger construction materials.
- Better video playback thanks to High Dynamic Range with Dolby Vision
To begin with, let’s first look at the construction of each phone to see if there are any differences.
Construction Materials on the iPhone XR vs the XS and XS Max: How Do They Differ?
Looking at all the iPhone’s; the XR, XS and XS Max, you may think they are the same. For the most part, you are right; they almost look identical. Apple uses the same front and rear glass across all devices, which is good to see. Users do want the same feel despite how much they end up paying. But when looking at the side of the XS/XS Max compared with the XR, you will notice a difference in materials.
Comparing the materials which surround the iPhones is almost like chalk and cheese. The XR features a less expensive machine grade aluminum. There is plenty of demonstrations online showing the downfall of what can be a malleable material (in rare or forced circumstances), which is why the XS/XS Max is the clear winner in this category. What you will find on both of these devices is stronger stainless steel which isn’t as prone to bending or noticeable scratches.
Summary of Materials
- The same glass on the front and rear of all three iPhones.
- iPhone XS/XS Max uses premium stainless steel to wrap the iPhone.
- XR uses a less expensive aluminum frame which is prone to bending and scratches.
Size Between the Larger iPhone XR, the Smaller iPhone XS and the Largest iPhone XS Max
Comparing all three phones, there are some significant differences. Physically all the devices differ in size. If we were to put them in order from smallest to largest it would go, iPhone XS, iPhone XR, and iPhone XS Max.
Here is a breakdown of the size comparisons between all the models.
iPhone XS Dimensions (Smallest)
143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 (mm)
iPhone XR Dimensions
150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3 (mm)
iPhone XS Max Dimensions (Largest)
157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7 (mm)
Due to the larger size and more materials, the weight between the two smaller phones differs. The XR amounts to 194 grams, 17 grams heavier than the 177 gram iPhone XS. The iPhone XS Max, on the other hand, increases in weight above the XR to 208 grams.
With only 17 grams between the XS and XR there isn’t too much to worry about, however looking at the XS Max the difference quickly stacks up to 31 grams. Being a larger device this can lead to some fatigue if you are holding the phone for more extended periods like watching movies or playing games. Also ergonomically if you have smaller hands, then one hand holding the device might be out of the question. The only real advantage is the display size, which we will look at right now.
Displays Between the iPhone XR, XS and XS Max
When reviewing only two models at once, the XR and XS, the display differs significantly. The XS has a much better screen due to the OLED technology which allows you to view easily from any angle. Also if you plan on reviewing photos, reading, playing games or watching movies, the XS has a brighter screen than the XR. The reason why is due to the OLED tech in the XS and a greater Pixels Per Inch (PPI) specification of 458 PPI compared to 326 PPI.
Without trying to confuse you here, bringing in the third model, the XS Max, the screen real estate is much greater. So you have to ask yourself is it better than the smaller XS display (we now know the XS has a better screen than the XR)?
The answer is yes; the XS Max does have a better display. Let me explain why.
The resolution of the XS Max is higher than the XS. At a larger 2688 x 1242 resolution, you might expect the PPI to drop significantly like on the XR which has a larger screen than the XS. But, that’s actually far from the truth. You see, what the engineers at Apple were able to achieve is quite groundbreaking. The PPI for the iPhone XS Max is actually the same as the XS at 458 PPI. In summary, you can expect to see the same quality on both the XS and XS Max, but the XS Max will display everything larger.
Inches vs Resolution. A Detailed Look.
When looking at the differences between screen sizes, while you might be getting a more prominent display on the XR at 6.1 Inches, bigger is not always better. With a slightly smaller screen of 5.8 inches, the XS trumps the XR in terms of resolution. 2436 x 1125 resolution outperforms the larger screen on the XR, which only rates at 1792 x 828 resolution. The advantage is you will see a sharper image on the XS compared to the XR. The same is also true between the XS and XS Max. 5.8 inches in comparison to 6.5 inches is quite a lot. However, the PPI is actually the same as we previously discussed.
In saying this, if photography and gaming are going to be the main event on your device, consider the XS or the XS Max. The only reason: HDR (High Dynamic Range). Being able to see a broader gamut of brightness and color will result in a better viewing experience for both photographers and gamers. As a viewer, you will see much more vivid whites and deeper blacks resulting in more realistic colors. The XR doesn’t offer HDR due to limits with its screen in comparison to both OLED displays on the iPhone XS and XS Max.
3D touch is also a welcome new feature on iPhones; however, not all models have the functionality. The advantage of 3D touch is you can press an app with slightly more pressure, and a shortcut menu will appear. As an example, if you were to push the camera app somewhat harder on the XS or XS Max, you would see an additional four options including; taking a selfie, recording a video, scan a QR code or taking a portrait. The iPhone XR fails to perform the same action, which is disappointing for those XR Apple fans.
Summary of iPhone XR Screen Size, Resolution and Features
- 6.1 inch LCD at a resolution of 1792 x 828.
- 326 PPI
- No HDR
- No 3D Touch Functionality
Summary of iPhone XS Screen Size, Resolution and Features
- 5.8 inch OLED at a resolution of 2436 x 1125.
- 458 PPI
- 3D Touch Functionality
Summary of iPhone XS Max Screen Size, Resolution and Features
- 5.8 inch OLED at a resolution of 2688 x 1242
- 458 PPI
- 3D Touch Functionality
Water Resistance Performance
Something many people don’t want to test is how their phone performs in a wet or dusty environment. While I’m not an advocate of dunking an expensive phone underwater, I’ll let the specifications speak for themselves here.
Hypothetically, if you accidentally drop your iPhone XR into a river or pool, then your phone will be okay to a depth of one meter for thirty minutes. This is because Apple rates the water-resistance of the XR to IP67. On the other side of the coin, both the XS and XS Max can withstand a rating of IP68. In layman’s terms, this means that if you drop your XS or XS Max into the water, the depth can double to two meters for thirty minutes.
So, in summary, it will be okay if both iPhones receive the odd splash of freshwater or dust storm. But don’t expect your phone to work if it sinks to three meters!
Summary of Water Resistance across iPhone Models
- iPhone XR IP67 to 1m
- iPhone XS IP68 to 2m
- iPhone XS Max IP68 to 2m
iPhone Speakers: How Many Speakers are in Each Phone?
The speakers between all the devices are the same. Each extends to five speaker grills in a stereo arrangement and sits on the right-hand side of the built-in microphones and the lighting connector. If you hold any of the phones with your right hand, you should not cover any of the grills. However, if you are left-handed, keep an eye out for where your pinky finger lies as it might be over the speaker.
Software: The A12 Bionic Chip
Apple has come along way in terms of performance. With chips getting smarter due to higher workloads of computing, Apple went back to the drawing board to develop what they call the A12 Bionic Chip. Across all three phones, the A12 Bionic Chip opens up a new world of possibilities.
One of these possibilities is TrueDepth a technology which works in tandem with the Neural Engine to recognize your face. The advantage over other iPhones is the functionality now available with FaceID. Users can use FaceID securely when needing a quick resolution in the following scenarios — unlocking the iPhone, making a purchase using iTunes or App Store, using Apple Pay or even when requiring password autofill to make their life easier.
What Can You Expect From the Cameras on the iPhone XR, XS and XS Max?
I have previously written in-depth about which phone cameras have the best cameras, so when it comes to comparing, Apple knows what they are doing. All of the following iPhones perform well for both photography and video. So is there really any difference in quality between the phones in question?
To answer this, first, we must look at the rear primary cameras. You may notice there is a significant difference between the XR and the XS/XS Max? The difference is in what camera system they use. The iPhone XR uses a single camera on the rear of the device whereas the other two-pack double cameras. Why has Apple done this?
Looking into why further, the majority of people with a smartphone tend to want to get closer to their subjects. I think this is why Apple chose to include a second camera on the rear of the XS and XS Max. For instance, with either of these phones, the user can now utilize an optical zoom to get twice as close as what the XR can offer. What’s more, using the digital zoom photography subjects can enhance up to ten times compared with five times on the XR as shown below.
Rear Primary Cameras
- Single Camera System
- Aperture of f/1.8 (primary wide angle)
- Video: 4K at 30 fps (frames per second) or 60 fps
- 5x Digital Zoom (photo mode)
- Digital zoom at up to 3x (video recording)
- Optical Image Stabilization
- Portrait Lighting with three effects (Natural, Studio and Contour)
iPhone XS/XS Max
- Dual Camera System
- Aperture of f/1.8 (primary wide angle)
- Video: 4K at 30 fps (frames per second) or 60 fps
- 10x Digital Zoom (photo mode)
- 2x optical zoom; digital zoom at up to 6x (video recording)
- Dual Optical Image Stabilization
- Portrait Lighting with five effects (Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage and Stage Mono)
Two other features that differ between the XR and XS/XS Max are the optical image stabilization. In the lens, all elements on the more expensive devices include stabilization. This is especially useful when zooming in with the XS/XS Max. On the other hand, if you were to use the digital zoom on the iPhone XR to get closer when you most likely take a blurry photo. This is especially true in low light, as there will be no stabilization.
Also, due to the Dual Camera System on the XS and iPhone XS Max users have additional options for portrait lighting, which include stage and stage mono.
Rear Secondary Camera with 2x Optical Zoom
iPhone XS/ iPhone XS Max
- An aperture of f/2.4 (secondary telephoto to get you closer)
Looking at the front cameras of each device, there isn’t any difference. Considering this, you will have to ask yourself whether getting in twice as close is worth the upgrade on the rear secondary camera.
Front Cameras on All Devices
iPhone XR, XS and XS Max
A Comparison of Battery Life
One of the only advantages of having a bigger phone is battery life. If you are a heavy user of your phone throughout the day and evening, then the XR or XS Max might be the better option. The reason for this is because, at 2942 mAh, the XR overshadows the iPhone XS at 2658 mAh. Realistically this difference in mAh rating equates to around one to two hours more life on your phone. If this still doesn’t sound like enough, step up your game and opt for the iPhone XS Max. As Apple’s largest iPhone, the XS Max packs in 3174 mAh of battery extending the life to around an extra hour on top of what the XS can offer.
A Look At Real Life Scenarios and How Long the Battery Lasts
To break it down even further, between the devices, here are some interesting expectations on how long the battery will last. Keep in mind the iPhone XR does have a less superior screen so it will use less battery to power the display.
Talk time (wireless):
- iPhone XR: Up to 25 hours
- iPhone XS: Up to 20 hours
- iPhone XS Max: Up to 25 hours
- iPhone XR: Up to 15 hours
- iPhone XS: Up to 12 hours
- iPhone XS Max: Up to 13 hours
Video playback (wireless):
- iPhone XR: Up to 16 hours
- iPhone XS: Up to 14 hours
- iPhone XS Max: Up to 15 hours
Audio playback (wireless):
- iPhone XR: Up to 65 hours
- iPhone XS: Up to 60 hours
- iPhone XS Max: Up to 65 hours
- iPhone XR: Up to 50% charge in 30 minutes
- iPhone XS: Up to 50% charge in 30 minutes
- iPhone XS Max: Up to 50% charge in 30 minutes
As you can imagine, when Apple develops an iPhone, there’s a lot of planning on the product, technology, and design. Sometimes the company gets it right, and other times people are left scratching their heads. With the case of the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max, the release timing and announcement left many people wondering why there were so many phones on offer. Are they all that different?
As we found out in this article, there are many differences, but not as many as you might have thought. For one, the cameras are very similar between the different price points. The Apple community did hound the company for this as there wasn’t enough differentiation between the devices; I would also have to voice their concerns. Cameras aside, when considering what iPhone is right for you. Reconsider the size of the screen, how long you want the battery to last from one charge, and whether you would like 3GB or 4GB of RAM. Considering these three areas will quickly come to a solution. From my findings, being a heavy user of a mobile device, battery life and performance are important. This is why my pick is the iPhone XS Max over the iPhone XS or