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Which iPhone Should I Get?

August 24, 2018

12:27 pm

For Apple devotees, the iPhone is the only phone that matters. The biggest choice fans have to make is whether they need to get the newest iPhone, right now, grab a bargain on an older model, or hold off in the hopes of a new iPhone being launched.

However, simply going for the newest iPhone doesn’t always mean you’ll get the best deal. Often, the older iPhone models are just as slick and feature-packed as the newer ones. Put simply, there’s no bad iPhones out there if you go for a model from the past couple of years.

You could buy any of the six iPhones currently on sale, including the new iPhone XS, and bag a great phone. You could even hold on for the cut-price iPhone XR, coming late October, and still have one of the best phones on sale.

But how do you know you’re getting the right iPhone for you? We’ve taken an in-depth look at all the iPhones on sale so you can quickly and easily find out which one is right for you.

Which Is The Best iPhone?

These are the best Apple iPhone models you can buy. Though it’s still possible to track down older ones second-hand or refurbished, we’d advise sticking to one of the iPhones below:

    1. iPhone XS – Takes the iPhone X and turns it up to 11: The iPhone XS is the best iPhone you can buy at the moment. Its smaller size makes it more usable than the XS Max and its OLED screen is streets ahead of the XR. It’s the iPhone to buy. Read our full iPhone XS review to learn more.
    2. iPhone XS Max – The biggest, priciest and newest: The XS Max is, simply, the iPhone taken to the max. It’s huge 6.5-inch OLED screen means its sheer heft can occasionally be an issue, but overall it’s still a good, if crazy expensive phone. Read our full iPhone XS Max review to find out more.
    3. iPhone XR – A decent cut price option: The new baby iPhone borrows the iPhone X’s design, but adds a splash of colour not seen since the 5c. It doesn’t have the dual cameras or the OLED screens found on the XS or XS Max, but costs just $750 – a $250 saving on its bigger brothers. Read our full iPhone XR review to learn more.
    4. iPhone X – The first of the new iPhones: Featuring the edge-to-edge screen and notorious notch, the X was the first in a wave of new iPhones. You can’t get it direct from Apple anymore, but it’s still available from carriers and unlocked, so you can expect some discounts.
    5. iPhone 8 Plus – A good X alternative: The iPhone 8 Plus is big in every way. It has a large 5.5-inch screen, dual rear cameras, stands at nearly 6.3-inches tall and weighs over 200 hundred grams. It’s no longer new, but it’ll get the job done for most users.
    6. iPhone 8 – The newest ‘old’ iPhone: The iPhone 8 is the last iPhone to stick with a design that goes back some four years to the iPhone 6. It’s small, handy, and remains as slick as ever. It’s now available for $600 unlocked, but it isn’t particularly exciting any more.
    7. iPhone 7 Plus – A big screen on a budget (sort of): The cheapest iPhone you can buy with a screen bigger than 5-inches, the 7 Plus still works well, despite being over two years old now. If you want an iPhone with a big screen for as little as possible, it’s the way to go.
    8. iPhone 7 – The cheapest new iPhone: The 7 was the first iPhone to ditch the headphone jack, and now costs just $449 from new. It’s starting to feel its age, though, with no wireless charging, a less-than-HD display and just 32GB storage.
iPhone XS MaxiPhone XSiPhone XR
iPhone XS Max battery lifeApple iPhone XR blue
Overall Tech.co rating4.5 stars5 stars4 stars
Screen size (in)6.55.86.1
Screen typeOLEDOLEDLCD
Storage sizes (GB)64, 256, 51264, 256, 51264, 128, 256
ProcessorA12 BionicA12 BionicA12 Bionic
FaceIDYesYesYes
Rear cameraDual 12MpDual 12MpSingle 12Mp
Front camera7Mp TrueDepth7Mp TrueDepth7Mp TrueDepth
Design4 stars5 stars3.5 stars
Cameras5 stars5 stars4 stars
Ease of use3 stars4 stars4 stars
Value3 stars3 stars4 stars
Performance5 stars5 stars5 stars
Find out moreFull reviewFull reviewFull review

In this guide:

iPhone XR Review

The XR is the only new iPhone that offers something a bit different. It follows the same design language as the X and XS: A big edge-to-edge screen, a large, protruding notch and a glass back. And you get the latest A12 Bionic processor, which means it’s just as speedy and smart as the XS and XS Max. However, the XR offers a choice of six colors which are nowhere to be seen on the other iPhones.

Another crucial point of differentiation is the price: The XR costs $750, much more reasonable than the $1,000+ price tags of the XS and XS Max.

Find out more: iPhone XR full review

However, there are some drawbacks with the XR. For a start, you get an LCD display, rather than an OLED. This means you won’t get the same level of contrast on the screen – colors simply won’t jump out on the XR in the way they do on its bigger brothers. You’ll also have to make do with one rear camera. By losing the wide-angle snapper, the XR is unable to replicate the detail found in the photos from the XS or XS Max, and will struggle more in low-light situations. It’s still a good camera, and you get access to Portrait Mode, but it’ll never be quite the same.

Verdict: A very good phone, but its LCD screen is a let down.

Pros

  • Better value than iPhone XS
  • Beautiful screen quality
  • Powerful processor
  • Premium design
  • Range of color options

Cons

  • Single camera, rather than dual camera of the XS
  • ‘Notch’ screen design is divisive
  • LED, rather than OLED display

iPhone XS Review

The iPhone XS is a very, very good phone, oozing quality from its hardware right through to its software and AI smarts. However, it doesn’t feel like a major step forward from last year’s iPhone X. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, really, as Apple tends to launch new phones every other year.

Find out more – iPhone XS Review

Having said that, the XS still has some welcome upgrades over the X. For a start, it has an improved processor, making everything from gaming to switching apps or unlocking the phone via FaceID even faster and even more seamless.

The processor also improves its AI and machine learning capabilities. This means you get better AR experiences, from games to tools like Measure or apps like IKEA Place.

Verdict – If you already own an iPhone X, it’s probably not worth upgrading. However, if you own any other iPhone, it’s well worth it.

Pros

  • Great cameras
  • Incredibly powerful
  • Fantastic screen

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Not a massive upgrade over the X
  • Might be a touch too big for some

iPhone XS Max Review

Taking everything that was good about the iPhone XS, and there’s a lot which is good about it, and making it bigger. A bigger screen, bigger battery, and naturally, a bigger price tag. It is, on paper at least, the best iPhone.

However, for a lot of people, the XS Max will be simply too big to handle. Reaching to the top corner of the XS is already a struggle at times, and with an extra 0.7-inches of screen real estate, the XS Max is akin to using a small tablet. It doesn’t use the extra screen well, either: Icons and notifications, for example, are simply bigger, rather than more numerous or more information-rich. It feels like a missed opportunity.

Learn more – iPhone XS Max full review

To get the extra screen size, you have to pay a $100 premium over the iPhone XS. But as you don’t see any other improvements other than the larger screen, it’s difficult to wholeheartedly recommend. It’s still a great phone, but the XS seems like the smarter choice.

Verdict: Big, bold, but lacking the subtleties needed to make it a great phone.

Pros

  • Huge screen
  • Great cameras
  • Speedy processor

Cons

  • The screen might be too big
  • Enormously expensive
  • Fails to make the most of its big screen

iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XS

The two most expensive iPhones going head-to-head. Frankly, if you want the best iPhone experience, the XS Max is the phone for you. Its screen is significantly larger, with a higher resolution but no loss of sharpness. You also get better battery life across the board – likely due to the XS Max’s larger case being able to accommodate a larger battery.

However, both phones feature the same camera tech, the same processor and the same software. So, is the XS Max’s bigger screen and longer battery life worth the extra $100? Well, lets put it this way. You’re already spending a grand on a phone – if price is an issue, should you really be looking at the XS? There are loads of good, cheap phones out there.

There is one more caveat, though. The iPhone XS Max is significantly larger than the XS. Dimensions of 6.2x.035×0.3 inches play 5.65×2.79×0.3 with the XS Max and XS respectively. So, if you’ve got small hands, the XS Max might a touch too large.

Verdict: The iPhone XS is fantastic – read our iPhone XS review for more – but if you’re already breaking the $1,000 mark, go big or go home. Get the XS Max.

iPhone X vs iPhone XR

The XR is Apple’s new budget iPhone, coming in at a surprisingly low $749. Given its similarities to the controversially and extravagantly-priced iPhone X, one wonders whether the iPhone XR represents a bit of a bargain proposition.

The XR gives you a larger, but slightly less sharp screen than the X, although the XR’s screen would still be the envy of many non-iPhone users. The iPhone XR only has the one rear camera compared to the X’s wide-angle and telephoto combo, but you get the same 7Mp front camera with FaceID tech. However, as would be expected, the camera tech has been improved on the XR compared to the X, with improved bokeh and depth control features (this should help the foreground stand out in your pictures). You also get smart HDR (high dynamic range) on the XR, compared to the auto HDR on the X – this should, according to Apple, bring more highlight and shadow detail to your photos.

Beyond that, there’s very little to separate the XR from the X. Consequently, the iPhone XR might be the better option for most people.

Verdict: The XR may not have a dual camera, but this cheaper 2018 model is a better value option than the 2017 iPhone X

Which iPhone Has the Best Camera?

iPhones nearly always have good cameras, so we’re pretty confident that whichever iPhone you get will be able to take decent pictures. However, might the introduction of two new dual camera models in the XS and XS Max, as well as the single camera XR, have made the choice more difficult?

Rear cameras

On first glance, the iPhone XS and XS Max seem to have pretty much the same camera hardware as the iPhone X. Meanwhile, the iPhone XR seems to be a bit left behind with its single lens.

iPhone XS MaxiPhone XSiPhone XR
iPhone XS Max Camera BumpiPhone XS Camera Bump SmalliPhone XR Camera Bump
Tech.co camera score5 stars5 stars4 stars
Camera types2x 12Mp wide-angle and telephoto cameras2x 12Mp wide-angle and telephoto cameras1x 12 Mp wide-angle camera
ApertureWide-angle: f/1.8, telephoto: f/2.4Wide-angle: f/1.8, telephoto: f/2.4Wide-angle: f/1.8
StabilzationDual optical image stabilizationDual optical image stabilizationSingle optical image stabilization
Optical zoom level2x2xN/A
Digital zoom level10x10x5x
Find out moreFull reviewFull reviewFull review

However, the iPhone XS and XS Max have more improved camera software than the iPhone X. This new tech works behind the scenes to give you better pictures all the time, and often without you knowing. The standout camera changes are the improved bokeh and depth control features. These will help the foreground of your images really stand out from the background, doing so by sharpening the foreground and blurring the background – without looking unnatural.

There are also improvements to the HDR, or high dynamic range capabilities of the XS and XS Max’s cameras. The new Smart HDR, as Apple is calling it, improves on the Auto HDR offered on the iPhone X by bringing more highlight and shadow detail to your photos. This new tech applies to the iPhone XR as well as the iPhone X, so despite not having dual cameras, the XR is still able to produce top-notch photos.

Front cameras

The differences between the front cameras, though, are even less pronounced. On paper, all the models offer the same 7Mp resolution with the same f/2.2 aperture. Again, though, software improvements give the XS, XS Max, and even the XR the edge over the X. The same smart HDR tech found on the rear cameras is present on the selfie snapper, while the XS, XS Max and XR get improvements to front-facing videos with cinematic video stabilization.

Which iPhone has a Dual Camera?

The dual rear camera was introduced in recent years to the iPhone line-up, but not all models have it.

Dual cameras:

  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6s Plus

Single cameras:

  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone SE

Which iPhone has the Best Battery Life?

iPhones normally get slandered for their battery life compared to leading Android models. Given that Apple recently landed itself in hot water for throttling processor speed to preserve dwindling battery life, this isn’t exactly surprising.

Having said that, iPhone battery life is far from bad. Each phone continues to improve, if only slightly, on its predecessors. As battery life varies with how you use the phone, it’s difficult to state which iPhone actually has the best battery life. However:

iPhone XS MaxiPhone XSiPhone XRiPhone X
iPhone XS Max battery lifeApple iPhone XR bluewhich iphone should i get thumbnail
Battery size (mAh)3,1742,6582,9422,716
Wireless charging
Talk time Up to 25 hoursUp to 20 hoursUp to 25 hoursUp to 21 hours
Internet useUp to 13 hoursUp to 12 hoursUp to 15 hoursUp to 12 hours
Video playbackUp to 15 hoursUp to 14 hoursUp to 13 hoursUp to 13 hours
Audio playbackUp to 65 hoursUp to 60 hoursUp to 65 hoursUp to 60 hours

Confusing, right?

The iPhone X has a longer talk time than the XS, but a shorter video playback time. This is probably due to the screen and processor tech, rather than the iPhone X having a better battery life.

The iPhone XR claims a longer battery life for talk time, internet use and audio playback than the supposedly superior iPhone XS. However, the XR has a larger battery than the XS, but the XS’ smaller screen means that it lasts longer for video playback.

If battery life is the defining factor in your iPhone purchase, the XS Max (with its larger case and consequently larger battery) is your best bet. But should you not want to shell out nearly $1,100, the XR is a good option.

Which iPhone is the Best Value for Money?

If you want an iPhone and want to pay as little as possible, the aging iPhone SE, launched back in March 2016, is the way to go. The iPhone SE costs just $350. But, we would recommend going for one of the newer iPhones instead.

It’s hard to recommend the iPhone XS or XS Max as value-for-money, given their $1,000+ price tags. However, there’s a good chance that they’ll hold their value for longer, and depreciate slower than the 8 or 8 Plus – so if you come to sell your phone, you’ll have a bit more cash to play with when the next iPhone arrives on the scene.

The iPhone XR probably represents the best value iPhone from new for a while. Costing $749 – which in the grand scheme of things is a lot, but in the scheme of iPhones isn’t very much – the XR is only $150 more expensive than the 8 and looks to be a much better device.

For starters, you get a sizable 6.1-inch screen, a huge upgrade over the 4.7-inch display offered on the iPhone 7 or 8. You also get the new A12 processor, which promises to be speedier and smarter than the A11 unit in the 8, or the A10 unit in the 7. This should keep your phone running quickly for at least the next four years.

The iPhone 8 Plus has, frankly, been usurped by the XR. Only the 8 Plus’ dual-cameras prevent it from becoming obsolete. But if iPhone cameras really matter to you, get the XS.

Verdict: All told, the XR is almost certainly the best value iPhone on sale today. However, you can still pick up the 8 and 8 Plus for less, so these are decent options if you’re looking to get an iPhone on the ‘cheap’.

Is a Refurbished iPhone Worth It?

The only iPhones currently available on Apple’s certified refurbished scheme are the 7 and 7 Plus, and they seem like pretty good value:

  • iPhone 7 32GB – $499
  • iPhone 7 128GB – $589
  • iPhone 7 256GB – $679
  • iPhone 7 Plus 32GB – $599
  • iPhone 7 Plus 128GB – $689
  • iPhone 7 Plus 256GB – $779

We’d steer clear of the 32GB variants of either the 7 or 7 Plus. It simply isn’t enough storage space by modern standards. iOS 11 requires nearly 10GB, while the Facebook app, for example, takes up nearly 300MB – and that’s before it’s cached any data.

The 128GB 7 Plus is the pick of the bunch, but for that price, we’d get a new iPhone XR.

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Tom Fogden is a writer for Tech.Co covering everything from website builders to mobile phones. He also loves soccer, probably too much.