iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max next to box

Best Small iPhone iMore 2020

While all of Apple's current-gen offerings for the iPhone are not exactly what you'd properly call "compact" (that's what the iPhone SE was), we think the iPhone XS is the best middle ground for a small current-gen phone that's still jam-packed with amazing features.

Our pick

iPhone XS

The most bang for your buck while still being a manageable size

With a screen bigger than the iPhone 8 Plus, but in a small body, the iPhone XS gives you the most screen real estate while keeping the phone at a manageable size. Powered by the A12 Bionic chip, it also contains Apple's most advanced mobile technology.

Who should buy the iPhone XS

You should get the iPhone XS if you are looking for an iPhone that is fairly small in size (nothing is quite as small and compact as the outdated iPhone SE) without sacrificing the feature set. The price tag may be a bit high for a mobile phone, but considering all of the features that you're getting, it's well worth it. Plus, you can also finance the iPhone XS through carriers or even Apple's own iPhone Upgrade Program.

Is it a good time to buy the iPhone XS?

The iPhone XS came out in September 2018, so it's been more than half a year since it was released. With iPhones always coming out each fall, it may not be the best time to purchase an iPhone XS if you want the latest and greatest. However, since it is a few months old, there are always deals on the iPhone XS. So it would be a good time to buy if you like sales, and also don't mind holding on to the iPhone XS for at least two or more years.

Reasons to buy

  • Small size but large OLED screen
  • Dual 12MP rear cameras with Portrait Mode depth control
  • Front-facing camera can also take Portrait Mode images
  • Incredibly fast with the A12 Bionic chip and Neural Engine
  • Face ID

Reasons not to buy

  • Fairly expensive
  • Will be "outdated" in just a few months
  • Not as small as the iPhone SE

Not the most compact, but the smallest offering that packs a big punch

iPhone XS

Again, the current offerings from Apple are not the most compact options available, as that would have been the iPhone SE. However, the iPhone SE is outdated and only available as refurbished through various retailers who still carry the device. That's why we're going with the iPhone XS as the best current-gen iPhone that is still pretty small and packs in a lot of amazing features.

With the iPhone XS, the device itself is as big as the screen on the iPhone 8 Plus (5.5-inch). So it offers a larger (length-wise) 5.8-inch OLED screen for your viewing pleasure, while still being much smaller than the Plus size phone. The OLED Super Retina HD display is also stunning to look at, offering the truest blacks and most vivid colors with wide color gamut and True Tone. And for the 3D Touch fans, it's still available on the XS.

The dual 12MP wide angle and telephoto cameras on the iPhone XS also mean you get the best camera system that Apple is offering, since it's the exact same as the iPhone XS Max. You also get Portrait Mode, even for inanimate objects (not available with iPhone XR), as well as Depth Control, so you can adjust the amount of bokeh in Portrait Mode images. The iPhone XS also has all of the Portrait Lighting effects, which are: Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, and Stage Mono.

The front-facing camera on the iPhone XS integrates TrueDepth (necessary for Face ID), so you also get Portrait Mode selfies, complete with Portrait Lighting and Depth Control. And for those who can't get enough emoji, the Animojis and Memojis are available with the iPhone XS, making FaceTime calls even more...interesting.

And since the iPhone XS is packing Apple's A12 Bionic chip with next-generation Neural Engine, you won't have to worry about lack of power. The A12 is incredibly fast and snappy, and it can handle pretty much anything you do on your iPhone. And with the Neural Engine for things like Face ID and machine learning, the overall experience just continues to get better over time.

The iPhone XS is Apple's latest offering that offers the right balance of small size and power without making any sacrifices.

I've been using the iPhone XS since launch because I wanted to go down to a smaller phone (coming from an iPhone 8 Plus) without sacrificing the features that would normally only be in the largest phone. I personally think that the iPhone XS is the best compromise in terms of small size while still having a lot of features that you'd only expect from the top-of-the-line flagship model (iPhone XS Max).

Of course, those who truly want a compact phone that's about the same size as the iPhone SE (the 4-inch screen) will need to wait for Apple to revive it with some modern silicon, if it will ever happen to begin with.

But for what it's worth, the iPhone XS is a good option if you just want the smallest iPhone that Apple's currently offering that isn't outdated. It packs in a lot of great functionality, but it definitely doesn't come cheap. Fortunately, since it's been out for a while, it won't be too hard to find some good deals for it.

Alternatives to the iPhone XS

iPhone XR

If the iPhone XS is a little out of your price range, there are two other great options to consider.


iPhone XR

Slightly bigger, mostly same features, more affordable

The iPhone XR is a good alternative to the iPhone XS. It's slightly bigger with a 6.1-inch screen, but it can do Portrait Mode shots with the rear and front-facing cameras. It also comes with Face ID, but does not have 3D Touch.

The iPhone XR is a good, colorful alternative to the iPhone XS if you want a small iPhone offering but for less. The iPhone XR is a tad bigger than the XS since the screen is 6.1-inches instead of 5.8-inches, and it's also a Liquid Retina LCD display, so you won't be getting the truest blacks like with an OLED display. The back camera is also limited since it doesn't use a dual camera system, so Portrait Mode only works with humans, and not pets or inanimate objects. The front-facing camera has TrueDepth, so you get FaceID, Portrait Mode selfies, Animoji, and Memoji. Unfortunately, you only get three Portrait Lighting options with the rear camera, and there's a lack of 3D Touch.

Value pick

iPhone 8

The last of its kind

The iPhone 8 is fairly small with a screen that clocks in at only 4.7-inches. It's still relatively fast and snappy with the A11 chip, and the 12MP rear camera takes good photos, along with the 7MP front-facing FaceTime HD camera. It's also the last iPhone to have Touch ID, and you still have 3D Touch.

The iPhone 8 is a bit old at this point, but it's still a very capable device that's actually the closest we're going to get to the SE size. The 4.7-inch Retina HD screen is still vibrant and beautiful, and Touch ID is still available with it if you prefer it over Face ID. While the cameras do not allow for Portrait Mode, you'll still be taking some amazing shots with it, and the A11 chip is still pretty snappy. Plus, it's super easy to find this phone for fairly cheap, considering the age.

Bottom line

The iPhone XS is still the best option if you want a small device with modern day features. It's the right balance of size and power, but it does come at a price. However, since it's not super new at this point, you should not have an issue finding a good deal going on for it.

Our pick

iPhone XS

The most bang for your buck while still being a manageable size

With a screen bigger than the iPhone 8 Plus, but in a small body, the iPhone XS gives you the most screen real estate while keeping the phone at a manageable size. Powered by the A12 Bionic chip, it also contains Apple's most advanced mobile technology.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Christine Chan gets a new iPhone every year for a decade, so she's tried them all. She's an expert on how iPhones work, and which iPhone is the best for your needs and budget.

Lory Gil is a renaissance woman who knows the ins-and-outs of iPhones and iPads. She's an iPhone SE advocate who yearns for the day Apple will revive the true compact iPhone.

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