iPhone XR vs XS: Should you spend $250 extra?

iPhone XR vs XS: Should you spend $250 extra?
Which one should you buy: the $750 iPhone XR or the $1,000+ iPhone XS?

We take a closer look at two of the hottest iPhones out there a few months after their release, when we've had time to actually use them and get a full understanding of the differences, as well as the advantages and disadvantages that each model has.

Let's break down the major differences right here, before looking in the details. Those major differences are the screen, OLED vs LCD, which is the big one, then, the lower resolution of the XR display, the larger bezels, the single camera, as well as the differences in design and battery life. All the rest is the same: same iOS, same gestures, same amazingly fast Apple A12 Bionic processor, so those are things that we will skip in this comparison. With this in mind, let's get started!


We love the colors on the XR

The first thing you notice when comparing the XR against the XS is the pure difference in size: the XR is noticeably bigger, while the XS is definitely the device to use if you want a compact phone that you can easily use with one hand. Consider that most of you will also put a case on top, which would make the XR even bigger and it's the width that is more worrisome as this phone is as tall as other max-sized phones out there. We should also note that the XR is also a bit thicker than the XS, something to consider for those who appreciate more compact phones.

And then come the colors: we love the vibrant, energetic colors that the XR comes in. They are truly a breath of fresh air in a world of black and gray phones out there. The XR comes in a selection of six colors in total, a red, coral, blue, yellow, white and black, while the XS is available in silver, gold and space gray.

The other thing that comes out as different is the side of the phone. The frame in the XR is made of aluminum, with a brushed matte look, while the XS features a shiny stainless steel frame. The shiny sides on the XS look glitzy, but you will probably never notice if you put the phone in a case.


OLED on the XS vs LCD on the XR, and those big bezels don't help

You can use the fancy names that Apple likes to attach to its gadgets, things like Liquid Retina on the XR and Super Retina on the XS, but of course that does more to confuse rather than provide meaningful information to those looking to find it. So here is what the difference in display technology is between the XS and the XR: the XS uses an OLED display, while the XR features an LCD screen.

And yes, you can say that both look very good, but once you actually take them side by side and look at those screens, it's immediately obvious that the LCD screen on the XR looks nowhere nearly as vibrant and lively as the XS. And it's not as much about the resolution as it is about the saturation of the colors that appear much more impressive on the XS. It is a noticeable difference!

There is one more thing to note here: the bezel size on the XR! Sure, you get used to it after a while, but when you compare it against the XS... it's noticeable. To be perfectly exact, you have a 5.1mm bezel on the XR, vs a 4.0mm bezel on the XS and XS Max, so the bezel on the XR is 27.5% larger. The story goes that since the Apple chose to use an LCD screen for the XR, it could not trim down the bezels to achieve a look with no "chin" bezel, so it went with this look. Many other phones these days come with LCD screens and much thinner and more elegant bezels, with only a very tiny chin, so the big bezels are definitely one thing that makes the XR look a bit... well, compromised.


Does the extra 1GB RAM on the XS make a difference?

There is one small difference in the hardware under the hood of these two phones and it's the amount of RAM they come with. The XR features 3GB of RAM, while the XS has 4GB. So does the extra 1 gig make a difference?

The overwhelming majority of users will never notice this. The only time you can see this is when you are multitasking and switching between many different apps. Then, you would see that apps have to reload more often on the XR, but since the A12 processor is so fast with loading, that's barely even noticeable.

Right below, you can find our performance benchmarks that show that indeed, the processor and performance you get with these phones is identical:

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JetStreamHigher is better
Apple iPhone XR265.47
Apple iPhone XS267.92
Samsung Galaxy S961.834
LG V40 ThinQ65.759
GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 on-screenHigher is better
Apple iPhone XR59.7
Apple iPhone XS59.7
Samsung Galaxy S943.33
LG V40 ThinQ23
Geekbench 4 single-coreHigher is better
Apple iPhone XR4819
Apple iPhone XS4806
Samsung Galaxy S93709
LG V40 ThinQ2007
Geekbench 4 multi-coreHigher is better
Apple iPhone XR11529
Apple iPhone XS11416
Samsung Galaxy S98814.66
LG V40 ThinQ8310


The only considerable difference is in portraits and the single XR camera often does better at night

The iPhone XR and XS have the same main camera on their back, which means there is no difference in the photos or videos. It's the same 12-megapixel camera with support for Smart HDR and up 4K60 video recordings.

Right below you can find a few shots that just showcase that the photos on these phones are identical:

What the XS has is a secondary telephoto camera that you can use to squeeze more detail out of pictures when you zoom in two times, and it's also the camera used for portrait mode shots on the XS. The XR, on the other hand, relies on the main shooter, which has a much faster aperture and it consistently shoots much brighter pictures. And at night this often means that you simply cannot get a usable portrait shot on the XS, while the XR captures a photo that you can actually share with friends, plus it was also easier to focus with the XR.

Take a look at a few portrait mode images shot at night for comparison, as this is where you can spot the biggest differences:

Battery Life

iPhone XR beats the XS easily

When Apple unveiled the iPhone XR it mentioned that it has the best battery life of any iPhone, and our tests confirm that. The iPhone XR has a 2942 mAh battery, just slightly larger than the 2659 mAh battery cell on the iPhone XS, but in reality the difference is bigger. It is probably the lower screen resolution that is less taxing on the processor coupled with the larger battery size that allows us to get nearly two days off the charger on the iPhone XR quite often, while on the iPhone XS daily charges are a must.

Both phones also support wireless charging, which is a nice extra.

What we are not that happy about is that you don't get a fast charger in the box with either phone, and that's just shameful for premium devices that cost so much. In the charts below you can see that it takes more than three hours to charge the battery on both these phone from 0 to 100% using the charger provided in the box. These charging times are much faster if you use a fast charger like the one that comes with an iPad, Macbook, or a third-party one.

Battery life(hours)Higher is better
Apple iPhone XR11h 1 min(Excellent)
Apple iPhone XS8h 37 min(Good)
Samsung Galaxy S97h 23 min(Average)
LG V40 ThinQ6h 21 min(Poor)
Full Charge(hours)Lower is better
Apple iPhone XR3h 12 min
Apple iPhone XS3h 5 min
Samsung Galaxy S91h 47 min
LG V40 ThinQ1h 49 min

Final Words

$250 of a difference

So... should you spend $250 extra and get the iPhone XS?

For most people the answer to that question is 'no'. The XR is just as fast, has the same camera and actually takes better portraits at night, its battery lasts a bit longer, and it's a phone that will serve you well for years. What the XS brings to the table is mostly a more refined design and that OLED screen with its more lively colors that add a bit of extra flare to everything on the screen.

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