iPhone XS vs iPhone XS Max: Which should you buy?

iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max next to box
iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max next to box

If you're looking to pick up either the iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max, you should ask yourself what you really need from your iPhone. Save for a couple of significant differences, these are very much the same phone. So, unless you need the screen size or additional battery life of the iPhone XS Max, I'd actually recommend the iPhone XS for most people. That being said, if you do find yourself needing more battery, or you just want the biggest display that Apple's ever used on an iPhone, you'll love the iPhone XS Max.

Breaking it all down

One of the great things about Apple's flagship iPhone lineup is that both phones are mostly the same, except for battery life and screen size. If you get the iPhone XS, for instance, you won't be missing out on any extra performance that the iPhone XS Max might have, because they have the exact same A12 Bionic system-on-a-chip.

The single biggest advantage that the iPhone XS Max has over the iPhone XS is the battery life. While factors like size, weight, and screen size often come down to personal preference, battery life is fairly concrete. I don't know a person who would say "I wish my phone had less battery life." While some differences in battery life between the phones are relatively minor (the iPhone XS Max should get up to an hour of additional internet use and video playback, for instance), some are not. The iPhone XS Max gets up to an additional five hours of talk time and audio playback each compared to the iPhone XS.

Meanwhile, the iPhone XS's advantages come down more to personal taste. Some people would rather have an overall smaller phone, even if it meant giving up the iPhone XS Max's larger display, but others wouldn't make that trade-off. The same goes for the size and weight (it should be noted that, while the extra weight of the iPhone XS Max is noticeable, it's not a massive increase over the iPhone XS). If you have smaller hands and like to use your phone one-handed, the iPhone XS is probably best for you. The same goes if you have smaller pockets. But if you have bigger pockets, or you keep your iPhone in a bag or purse, you might be just fine with the larger iPhone XS Max.

Here's how the specs of each phone break down. As you'll see, they really are mostly the same phone.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 iPhone XSiPhone XS
CostFrom $999From $1099
ColorsBlack, White, GoldBlack, White, Gold
ChipA12 BionicA12 Bionic
Storage capacity64GB, 256GB, 512GB64GB, 256GB, 512GB
DisplaySuper Retina OLEDSuper Retina OLED
Pixels-per-inch458 PPI458 PPI
3D TouchYesYes
Fast chargingYes, with 18W adapter or higherYes, with 18W adapter or higher
Face IDYesYes
Rear cameraDual 12MP/4KDual 12MP/4K
Front camera7MP TrueDepth7MP TrueDepth
Portrait ModeYesYes
Depth ControlYesYes
Gigabit-class LTEYesYes
Wireless chargingYesYes
Water resistanceUp to 2m for 30 minUp to 2m for 30 min

Despite the fact that it's advantages are mostly down to personal taste, I'd still recommend that most people get the iPhone XS over the iPhone XS Max. If you know you need the battery life and either want or will deal with a bigger phone and an additional $100 to get it, by all means, pick up the iPhone XS Max. If you're not sure you need either more battery life or a larger screen, get the iPhone XS.

I say this as someone who uses the iPhone XS Max everyday without regret. But I wanted the larger screen, and so I knew exactly why I was getting the iPhone XS Max, and what the trade-offs would be. Generally, unless the larger iPhone has something specific that you want, I'd recommend getting the smaller one. Overall, you're going to have a better experience in day-to-day use, from just pulling it out of your pocket to using it with one hand. And when there are no sacrifices in performance, that's even better.

Joseph Keller

Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.