iPhone XS vs. iPhone XR

iPhone XS and XR introduction

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The iPhone XS series and the iPhone XR may seem similar, but when you look closely, there are some key differences that set them apart. Understanding what those differences are and how they'll affect using the phones is crucial to understanding which you should buy. Here's a comparison.

Apple discontinued the iPhone XS in September 2019 after the announcement of the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. The device can still be found pre-owned or refurbished via various retailers.

Overall Findings

iPhone XS
  • 5.8-inch screen

  • Better camera

  • Lighter

  • More expensive

iPhone XR
  • 6.1-inch screen

  • Has a 128GB model

  • Better battery life

  • Better color customization options

The iPhone XS and iPhone XR are both very good phones. Their screens look fantastic, they both have plenty of storage, and they come in a variety of fun colors. The iPhone XS definitely has a better camera, while the XR has a better battery life. The XS wins in a few other areas as well, like water protection, while the XR is the clear winner when it comes to price.

Screen Size

iPhone XR Screen
Apple Inc.
iPhone XS
  • 5.8-inch screen

  • OLED

iPhone XR
  • 6.1-inch screen

  • LCD

You can tell just by looking at them that screen size is one key difference between the XS, XS Max, and XR. But, more than size is different here.

The iPhone XS has a 5.8-inch screen, the XS Max a 6.5-inch screen, and the XR a 6.1-inch screen. The technologies used to create the screens matter a lot. The XS series uses OLED screens compared to an LCD screen for the XR. Because of how they generate light in the pixels that make up the screen, OLEDs are brighter and provide a much wider dynamic range and contrast ratio for blacks and colors. They look fantastic, and the picture quality of OLEDs is much better than that found in LCDs. That's not to say an LCD screen doesn't look good. OLEDs are the future, though, and if you want the best-looking screen possible, you want an XS.

Camera

Portrait Lighting on iPhone
Apple Inc.
iPhone XS
  • Dual camera

  • More portrait options

iPhone XR
  • Single camera

  • No optical zoom

The iPhone is the most widely used camera in the world, and with good reason. It's pretty terrific, but when it comes to comparing the XS series and the XR, the XS comes out on top.

Each phone's camera specs are mostly the same, but there are some key differences:

  • Single vs. Dual Camera: While all of the phones take 12-megapixel photos, the back camera on the XS series is actually two cameras combined into a single system. This gives the XS series the ability to take better photos, to use a telephoto lens in addition to a wide-angle lens, and more. The single-camera system on the XR can't offer these features.
  • Fewer Portrait Lighting Options: The iPhone X series' signature Portrait Lighting feature is more complete on the XS series. There, you have five Portrait Lightning styles to choose from, whereas the XR, with its more-limited camera, only offers three.
  • No Optical Zoom: Both phones offer a zoom feature for images, but only the XS uses optical, or hardware-based, zoom. The XR performs the zoom in software, which can result in a lower-quality, more grainy image.

While these differences make it seem like the XR's camera isn't good, that's not true. It's a terrific camera for most people and will take terrific images and videos. It's just that the XS' cameras are nearly professional grade.

Storage Capacity

RAM
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iPhone XS
  • 512GB available

  • Also comes in 64GB and 256GB models

iPhone XR
  • Tops out at 256GB

  • Also comes in a 128GB model

The XS series marks a first for the iPhone: it offers 512GB of storage. That huge figure means those models can store a couple hundred thousand photos, along with all kinds of other data, according to Apple. The XS also comes in 64GB and 256GB models. The iPhone XR, on the other hand, tops out at 256GB, but it also offers a 128GB model the XS doesn't. It's hard to imagine most people needing a phone with 512GB of storage (on my 256GB iPhone X, which is packed full of music and photos and other data, I still have over 150GB of free space), but almost everyone will be well served by 128GB or 256GB of storage.

Battery Life

plugging in low battery phone
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iPhone XS
  • Call time: 20 hours

  • Internet use: 12 hours

  • Audio: 60 hours

  • Video: 14 hours

iPhone XR
  • Call time: 25 hours

  • Internet use: 15 hours

  • Audio: 65 hours

  • Video: 16 hours

You might expect—especially given all the differences so far—that the iPhone XR would have a shorter battery life than the iPhone XS. It's a fair assumption, but it's not correct. In fact, the XR's battery lasts longer than the XS in all cases and matches the XS Max in most. That's because some of the components used in the XR—notably the screen—use less battery life. Plus, the XR has more physical space for the battery than the XS.

Weight

The iPhone XR
Apple Inc.
iPhone XS
  • 6.24 ounces

iPhone XR
  • 6.84 ounces

The difference in weight between the two phones is less than an ounce, but that may be enough to make a difference for some people. The iPhone XS weighs in at 6.24 ounces, while the XR is 6.84 ounces. Half an ounce may not seem like much, but that weight can add up if you're holding your phone for a long time. If you think you could be sensitive to the weight differences, try holding the phones in the store before buying.

Waterproofing

iPhone XS
  • IP68

iPhone XR
  • IP67

The iPhone X introduced in 2017 brought IP67-class waterproofing to the lineup. That level of protection allows an iPhone X to be safely submerged in up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. The iPhone XR offers the same level of protection. The XS series improves on that protection by adopting the IP68 standard. Both XS models can be submerged in up to two meters of water for 30 minutes and not be damaged. In some ways, it's a small change, but it also makes it more likely that the XS can survive a soaking.

Colors

iPhone XR colors
Apple Inc.
iPhone XS
  • Silver, gold, space gray

iPhone XR
  • Black, white, blue, yellow, coral, and (Product)RED

The higher-end iPhones like the XS series tend to come only in restrained colors like silver, grey, and gold. The iPhone XR is the first model since the iPhone 5C back in 2013 to bring some bright colors back to the iPhone. The XR also comes in red, yellow, blue, and coral (plus black and white). If you want to brighten up the look of your phone with some color, the XR is the better option.

Price

Making a purchase at the Apple Store
Sean Gallup / /Getty Images
iPhone XS
  • 64GB: $999

  • 256GB: $1,149

  • 512GB: $1,349

iPhone XR
  • 64GB: $749

  • 128GB: $799

  • 256GB: $899

No iPhone XS or XR model is easily affordable. They're all expensive, but the XR will set your wallet back less.

Final Verdict: The XR Is Enough Phone For Most People

While it has several disadvantages, the iPhone XR is an excellent phone that will be more than suitable for most people. It has a better battery life than the XS and more customization options. The 128GB storage option, not available on the XS, should comfortably hold all of the music, movies, photos, and games most people want to download. But, if you're an avid mobile phone photographer, or you consume an excessive amount of media on your smartphone, you should look at the XS instead.