iPhone XS vs. iPhone XR

Some key differences set them apart

The iPhone XS series and the iPhone XR may seem similar, but when you look closely, some key differences set them apart. Understanding what those differences are and how they affect using the phones is crucial to understanding what you should buy. We compare screen size, cameras, and more below.

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 from various retailers.

iPhone XS vs iPhone XR

Overall Findings: Better Camera vs. Better Battery Life

iPhone XS
  • 5.8-inch screen.

  • Better camera.

  • Lighter.

  • More expensive.

iPhone XR
  • 6.1-inch screen.

  • Has a 128 GB model.

  • Better battery life.

  • Better color customization options.

The iPhone XS and iPhone XR are both very good phones. The screens look fantastic, both have plenty of storage, and come in a variety of fun colors. The iPhone XS 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, and the XR is the clear winner when it comes to price.

Screen Size: OLED Can't Be Beat

iPhone XS
  • 5.8-inch screen.

  • OLED.

iPhone XR
  • 6.1-inch screen.

  • LCD.

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

The technologies used to create the screens matters 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 wider dynamic range and contrast ratio for blacks and colors. They look fantastic, and the picture quality of OLEDs is 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: The XS Is Nearly Professional Grade

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 the phones take 12-megapixel photos, the back camera on the XS series is 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 doesn't offer these features.
  • Fewer Portrait Lighting Options: The iPhone X series signature Portrait Lighting feature is more complete on the XS series. There, there are 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, 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 takes terrific images and videos. It's just that the XS' cameras are nearly professional grade.

Storage Capacity: The XS Offers More

iPhone XS
  • 512 GB available.

  • Also comes in 64 GB and 256 GB models.

iPhone XR
  • Tops out at 256 GB.

  • Also comes in a 128 GB model.

The XS series marks a first for the iPhone: it offers 512 GB 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 64 GB and 256 GB models.

The iPhone XR tops out at 256 GB, but it also offers a 128 GB model that the XS doesn't. It's hard to imagine most people needing a phone with 512 GB of storage, but almost everyone will be well served by 128 GB or 256 GB of storage.

Battery Life: The XR Lasts Longer

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 the differences so far—that the iPhone XR has a shorter battery life than the iPhone XS. The XR battery lasts longer than the XS in all cases and matches the XS Max in most. That's because some components in the XR—notably the screen—use less battery life. Plus, the XR has more physical space for the battery than the XS.

Weight: Less Than an Ounce of Difference

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, hold the phones in the store before you buy.

Waterproofing: Yes, Please!

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: The XS Is More Restrained

iPhone XS
  • Silver, gold, and space gray.

iPhone XR
  • Black, white, blue, yellow, coral, and 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: Neither Is Affordable

iPhone XS
  • 64 GB: $999

  • 256 GB: $1,149

  • 512 GB: $1,349

iPhone XR
  • 64 GB: $749

  • 128 GB: $799

  • 256 GB: $899

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

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 128 GB 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.

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