iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR: all Apple's 2018 iPhones compared

What you need to know after the big reveal

2018 iPhones

Well what a show Apple had for us in California today – three new iPhones and a whole bunch of other stuff besides. Here we're going to focus on the smartphones, the three handsets that Apple has launched for 2018, and how exactly they compare with each other.

We're talking of course about the iPhone XS, the iPhone XS Max, and the iPhone XR. While they all might look pretty similar on the surface, there are actually some key differences between them, so read on to decide which iPhone is the right one for your next purchase.

iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR: pricing and release date

iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max

iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max

The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max are going to be available in the same three configurations: 64GB, 256GB and 512GB. Across those three configurations, the iPhone XS will set you back £999/$999, £1,149/$1,149 or £1,349/$1,349. The prices for the iPhone XS Max are a little higher, at £1,099/$1,099, £1,249/$1,249 or £1,449/$1,449.

Pre-orders are open for business on 14 September and then the phones officially go on sale and start getting delivered on 21 September.

As for the iPhone XR, you get a choice of 64GB, 128GB or 256GB of storage. The pricing for those three levels are £749/$749, £799/$799 or £899/$899, so you can see your saving quite a bit of cash when you compare them against the iPhone XS varieties.

You will have to wait longer for the cheaper model though – pre-orders don't open until 19 October, with shipping and in-store sales starting on 26 October.

iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR: design

iPhone Xr

iPhone Xr

Of course these three different phones have three different sized screens: 5.8 inches for the iPhone XS, 6.1 inches for the iPhone XR, and 6.5 inches for the iPhone XS Max. The XR gets a special designation because its screen is LCD (like the iPhone 8) rather than OLED (like the iPhone X), which makes it cheaper to produce.

Apart from the sizes, the phones are very similar in terms of design, at least from the front – you'd be hard pressed to say which was which if you didn't have the screen size to refer to. Note though that the iPhone XS handsets are fashioned from stainless steel, while the iPhone XR sticks with aluminium.

Speaking of the screens, the resolutions are different: 2,436 x 1,125 pixels for the iPhone Xs (458 pixels-per-inch), 2,688 x 1,242 pixels for the iPhone Xs Max (458 ppi), and 1,792 x 828 pixels for the iPhone XR (326 ppi). The Xs phones are sharper, and have better contrast ratios as well, thanks to the OLED technology.

Then there are the colours – your choices are silver, space grey and gold for the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max. For the iPhone XR, however, you've got white, blue, black, yellow, coral and red (definitely harking back to the days of the colorful iPhone 5c).

iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR: specs

iPhone XS

iPhone XS

Inside the phones you've got a lot of similarities to consider. All three are carrying the A12 Bionic chip from Apple, which apparently opens apps 30 percent faster than average, with improvements to both the CPU and GPU. Apple isn't saying how much RAM these phones have, but we suspect the iPhone XR will be getting by with less.

There are differences in the cameras: the two iPhone XS models go with a dual-lens 12MP+12MP camera, while the iPhone XR settles for a single-lens 12MP camera (we reckon it's still going to take some rather good photos though). Both the Xs phones and the Xr can adjust depth of field after a photo has been taken, which is a neat trick.

All three phones have a 7MP TrueDepth camera on the front of the unit to enable Face ID, which will work the same across the board. We've already mentioned the storage higher up, a maximum of 256GB on the iPhone XR and all the way up to 512GB on the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max (if you can afford it).

In terms of raw performance at least, these three phones should be very similar, running as they do on the same chipset. If you're wondering about how to choose between them, look more closely at the camera configuration and device size to see which one you might prefer.

iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR: features

iPhone Xr

iPhone Xr

All three of the 2018 iPhone models come with wireless charging, Apple Pay and all the usual iPhone staples. Note though that the iPhone XR doesn't have 3D Touch – instead you need to use what Apple is calling "haptic touch", which sounds like a long press instead of a hard one. Confused? So are we, a little.

The iPhone XR also sticks with the IP67 water and dust-proofing rating of previous iPhones, which means it can survive up to 30 minutes in 1 metre of water. The iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max up that to 30 minutes in 2 metres of water (IP68) – so your precious handset can fall into a deeper pool.

Of course all of these new iPhones are going to arrive with iOS 12 on board, which we've already heard plenty about. You can look forward to smarter Siri, more Animoji and Memoji, better notifications management, enhanced augmented reality features, and plenty more refinements and tweaks across the board.

Hopefully you're now a little clearer to understanding the differences between these phones, and maybe which one you're going to be better off buying. As for us, we're going to turn our attentions to 2019...

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.