As expected, Apple unveiled three new iPhones at its annual launch event, alongside a redesigned Apple Watch 4.
You can read all our Apple launch round-up for an overview of everything, but here we’re taking a closer look at the new iPhones and the differences (and similarities) between the three.
In a nutshell, the new iPhone range amounts to a little and large upgrade to the iPhone X – that’s the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max – and a slightly cheaper version that shares a similar design, but loses a few features, called the iPhone XR.
To put it another way, the iPhone XR is what the top-of the-range iPhones used to cost, while the iPhone XS and XS Max push prices (and features) to a new level. You can see how that breaks down in the table below, but read on to understand what that means in practice.
iPhone XS Max is 20 per cent larger than the XS
Choosing which iPhone to buy often comes down to size and the three new models fit neatly into three categories: big, bigger and biggest. You can see how this looks below.
The iPhone XS is exactly the same size as last year’s iPhone X at 143.6mm tall and 70.9mm wide. The iPhone XR is next and is around 8mm taller and 5mm wider. The Max model is a whopping 20 per cent larger than the iPhone XS at 14mm taller and over 7mm wider.
If you’re coming from an iPhone 8 Plus, or a previous ‘Plus’ model, the iPhone XS Max is the same size, so you’ll feel right at home. It’s worth pointing out, though, that the iPhone XR is slightly smaller and has marginally better battery life than the Max.
For those coming from older models, such as iPhone SE and the iPhone 7 or 8, the above shows them in comparison to the iPhone XS. The jump from the 4-inch iPhone SE is pretty significant, but the difference between the iPhone 7/8 and iPhone XS is negligible.
Only the iPhone XS and XS Max have dual rear cameras
It’s normal for most flagship smartphones to have at least two rear cameras these days, but they’re increasingly common in mid-range phones like the Honor Play. That’s not the case with the new iPhones, however, with the extra camera reserved for the two more expensive models, the iPhone XS and XS Max.
On these two models, you get two 12MP cameras. As before, one is a wide-angle camera while the other is a telephoto lens and they both have optical image stabilisation. The main wide-angle camera has an f/1.8 aperture and the telephoto is f/2.4.
As for the iPhone XR, while it lacks the second camera, it shares the same wide-angle camera as its two more expensive cousins, so it’ll work just fine.
The iPhone XR has an LCD screen, the XS and XS Max have OLED
For years, Apple kept the faith with LCD screens, but last year’s iPhone X was the first iPhone to have an OLED display – much to Samsung’s delight, no doubt, as (for now at least) it supplies Apple’s OLED phone screens. Both XS models retain that feature, but the iPhone XC makes do with LCD.
How big a deal is this? OLED screens are richer and more colourful, and they’re famous for their infinite blacks that lend them their signature high-contrast look. This is particularly evident when watching video as the iPhone XS and XS Max support both of the main standards for high dynamic range video, Dolby Vision and HDR 10.
But if Apple’s history with LCDs is anything to go by, the screen in the iPhone XR will still be excellent. Apple has spent years fine-tuning the screens in all its products so, while OLED undoubtedly delivers that extra punch, the iPhone XR won’t suffer too much for this omission. Indeed, Apple says it’s the best LCD screen it’s ever had. No surprise there.
The notch is here to stay (and they all look alike)
Most people have probably got over the notch-hate by now – it’s so widely copied, it’s hard to buy a phone without one anyway – and all three new iPhones have the notch.
As a result, all three phones share the same design language inherited from last year’s iPhone X. The screens push right to the edge, the corners have a delicate curve and there’s glass front and back.
The iPhone XS is the smallest of the three thanks to its 5.8-inch screen – the iPhone XR is next at 6.1-inches and the XS Max is a massive 6.5-inches.
In a welcome throwback to the iPhone 5C, the iPhone XR will come in a more eclectic range of colours. Whereas the iPhone XS will come in the traditional grey, black and gold options, the iPhone XR has black, white, red, yellow, coral and blue to choose from.
The iPhone XR also has an aluminium band around the sides, whereas the XS models use stainless steel.
The fingerprint scanner is dead
While the iPhone X ditched finger scanning in favour of FaceID, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus kept the old design and features. Unsurprisingly, none of this year’s phones have space for a fingerprint scanner so it’s FaceID all the way.
Many hoped Apple might adopt new under-screen scanning technology as seen in some new phones from China, but – as we explained in our feature on what not to expect from the new iPhones – it’s likely the tech was deemed too immature for Apple’s exacting standards.
Given the relative success of FaceID, it’s possible Apple will never adopt the technology, though it’s rumoured the Samsung Galaxy S10 might. In any case, if you prefer TouchID to FaceID then you’re out of luck with this year’s phones.
They all have the same Apple A12 Bionic processor…
While the iPhone XR is seen as the cheaper iPhone (spoiler: it isn’t that cheap), all three phones have Apple’s latest A12 processor. Apple has proved itself a dab hand at creating fast and efficient mobile processors and the A12 is no exception.
The A12 Bionic features a quad-core graphics chip, six-core CPU and the second generation of Apple’s Neural Engine for powering machine learning features. The A12 is the first ever 7nm mobile chip, which means Apple can squeeze more performance from its phone while using less power.
The result, claims Apple, is the CPU is 15% faster while using 40% less power, and the graphics chip is 50% faster than the A11 in the iPhone X and iPhone 8.
… but the iPhone XR might have less memory
This is hard to confirm because Apple doesn’t talk about memory in its phones, but it’s widely presumed that the iPhone XS and XS Max have been upgraded to 4GB of memory, up from 3GB on the iPhone X, but the iPhone XR has remained at 3GB. This would make sense given Apple’s previous history in this area, but we’ll have to wait for confirmation. More memory means the iPhone XS would hold previous apps and web pages open for longer without reloading, which can make your experience a little smoother and hassle-free.
The bigger the iPhone, the better the battery life
As noted earlier, the iPhone XS (5.8-inches) is the smallest new iPhone, with the iPhone XR (6.1-inches) in the middle and iPhone XS Max (6.5-inches) the largest. And, unsurprisingly, the bigger phones last longer thanks to their larger batteries.
Apple hasn’t divulged the exact capacities yet, but it did say the iPhone XS will last 30 minutes longer than the iPhone X did. Apple says the iPhone XS Max has the largest battery it’s ever used in an iPhone and that it will last up to 90 minutes longer than the iPhone X.
It’s a similar story with the iPhone XR, which Apple claims will last 90 minutes longer than the iPhone 8 Plus it replaces. However, it’s worth pointing out that, on paper at least, the iPhone XR has the best battery life of the three, with Apple quoting up to 16 hours of wireless video playback, compared to 15 hours on the iPhone XS Max and 14 hours on the iPhone XS.
These are the first ever dual SIM iPhones
Arguably the most significant thing about the new iPhones are their support for two SIMs: the first iPhone to do so. It’s a common feature on many phones, particularly cheaper ones, but Apple’s never done it. So, why now?
It’s not, primarily, for people who want a personal and business number on the same phone, though you can use it for this. It’s because dual SIM phones are hugely popular in emerging markets, especially India. There are numerous reasons for this, but a reliance on ‘pre-paid’ phone deals that encourages multiple numbers to get the best rates on phone calls and data is one of the most common.
OnePlus, the Chinese company whose ‘flagship killing’ smartphones aim to undercut big rivals on price, is very popular in India because its phones support two SIMs.
Apple has achieved this in two ways. For most markets, like the US and the UK, it’s using the eSIM technology it introduced for the iPad. However, in markets where the eSIM isn’t available, such as China, Apple is producing a region-specific model that supports two normal SIM cards.