Another year, another batch of new iPhones. Last week Apple revealed its 2018 flagships as the iPhone XR, XS and XS Max, which all build on the precedent set by last year's iPhone X. So is it worth the upgrade, or should you stick with an older model? To help you decide, New Atlas compares the specs and features of the new iPhone XR, XS and XS Max to the last few generations of iPhones.
For this comparison, we've chosen last year's iPhone X, 8 and 8 Plus, as well as 2016's iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. That's because these are the phones you can still buy today, with the surprising exception of the iPhone X. Apple has decided to axe the X before its first birthday, perhaps to help the new models stand out. Whatever the reason, we've included it here in case you have one and are thinking of upgrading – or you're considering picking up a second-hand iPhone X from someone chasing a shinier version.
Of this year's models, the iPhone XS is the closest to the iPhone X, encased in a shell with the exact same dimensions. That makes it the smallest of the new lineup, with the XR stretching out to be comfortably bigger than most, and the XS Max falling just short of the largest iPhone ever made, the 8 Plus.
The base model iPhone 7 and 8 look positively tiny by today's standards, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
It may not be the biggest, but at a beefy 208 grams the iPhone XS Max is the heaviest iPhone ever, and may just be the heaviest mainstream phone full-stop. The iPhone 8 Plus isn't too far behind, and in third place comes the new XR, while the iPhone 7 and 8 again bring up the rear with their smaller form factors.
Still, we're talking differences of a few dozen grams here. Unless you're holding them together you probably won't notice day-to-day.
Gold, silver and "space" gray are the order of the day for most of these phones. The iPhone 8s sport a bright red number, while the iPhone 7 range offers black and rose gold versions. The XR meanwhile seems to be positioned as the quirky colorful one, offering blue, yellow, red and an orangey/peachy color Apple calls coral.
Most of these iPhones have glass front and back, ringed with metal frames – aluminum for the iPhone XR, 8 and 8 Plus, and stainless steel for the X, XS and XS Max. The older iPhone 7s have aluminum unibodies, which made them lighter and sturdier but unable to use wireless charging.
The iPhone XS and XS Max are the first Apple devices to be rated IP68 for water and dust resistance. That means they can apparently survive up to 30 minutes submerged in water to a depth of 2 m (6.6 ft). All the other models are rated IP67, which means the same to only half that depth.
While you're better off not putting those ratings to the test yourself, there's peace of mind in knowing that your shiny new iPhone should shake off a quick accidental dip in a pool or bathtub.
"Phablet" is kind of a meaningless word nowadays – it used to mean anything with a screen bigger than about 6 inches, but that's basically the new normal now. That said, if anything is going to bring the term back, it's the iPhone XS Max with its massive 6.5-in screen.
Most of the other phones hover around the 6-in mark, while the 4.7-in screens on the iPhone 7 and 8 are looking pretty small and dated by modern standards.
Taking this wide a snapshot of iPhones really shows how trends change over the years, and there's no better example than the ratio of how much space the screen takes up on the front of the phone. The iPhone 7s and 8s all have large gaps between the screen and the edges, a style that's looking very outdated now. In fact, it already did last year when the iPhone 8s were released.
By comparison they made the iPhone X look very sleek, and it's no surprise that Apple continued that design philosophy with this year's models. The most notable comparison is between the iPhone XS Max and 8 Plus – they're almost the same physical size but the newer device crams a whole extra inch of screen on there by pushing it right to the edges.
On the other hand, all three new phones bear the "notch" in the top of the screen, which has been very divisive over the past year.
The resolutions of Apple's screens are all over the shop. At 1080p Full HD, the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus are the only ones with a standardized resolution. The rest fall in the murky middle ground between 720p, 2K, QHD and higher. iPhones generally have lower pixel densities (pixels per inch, or ppi) than their competitors, but make up for it in other ways.
The iPhone X was the first iPhone to be built with an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display, which rivals like Samsung and Google have used for years. The iPhone 7s, 8s and XR all use In-Plane Switching Liquid Crystal Displays (IPS LCDs).
Both technologies have their pros and cons. OLED variants generally have more vivid colors and better contrast, while IPS LCD devices can look sharper and clearer. Overall though, you'd need an eagle eye and devices side-by-side to really notice the difference.
Fingerprint sensors have been the baseline biometric system for years, but since the iPhone X Apple has been moving away from it. Instead, the company is focusing on facial recognition systems to unlock the newer devices, made possible by the depth-sensing camera on the front.
This year's models are all powered by Apple's latest processor, the A12 Bionic. This new chipset has a CPU that's apparently 15 percent faster than last year's iPhones, and a GPU that's 50 percent faster. The company says this should mean apps open up to 30 percent faster on the new phones.
The iPhone 7s are using an older processor, but it should handle most jobs just fine.
Apple has always gotten by with less RAM in its devices, thanks to its tight control over the ecosystem that allows it to streamline processes. The iPhone XS and XS Max are the first iPhones to boast 4 GB of RAM, which has been the standard for everyone else for years, so that should contribute again to those faster-loading apps.
Given how many things we use our phones for, built-in storage is increasingly important. The 32 GB on the iPhone 7s is starting to look a bit small, but if you're not a heavy user they should do the trick.
Most new phones now are offering 256 GB as the higher end of the scale, which should be more than enough for most people. But not content to stop there, the iPhone XS and XS Max have the option of a capacious 512 GB, if you need it.
Whatever amount you choose, do so wisely: iPhones don't have a MicroSD card slot to expand that storage later. But really, with storage options like those on offer it's not really a problem.
Unlike other companies, Apple never publicly releases its battery capacity figures. Normally those come out later when tech enthusiasts get their hands on the devices, but because the iPhone XR, XS and XS Max are so new, that hasn't happened yet.
What Apple does tell us is that compared to the iPhone X, the iPhone XS's battery will last about 30 minutes longer on average, while the XS Max will last 90 minutes longer. The iPhone XR will apparently last an hour and a half longer than the iPhone 8 Plus.
Strangely enough, the ability to quickly top up your phone's battery only came to iPhones last year. Stranger still, it isn't a software setting that can be turned on right out of the box, like it is on basically every other phone, but requires a different charger, sold separately.
Wireless charging also came to iPhones last year. Again, that requires another separate accessory, but that's less of a slap in the face – not only does that always need a different device, but wireless charging is a far less "vital" function.
With the plug now pulled on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, Apple has officially severed ties with the headphone jack. That leaves the Lightning port alone on the bottom of its phones, which is neater in theory but might be cumbersome in practice if you're using an adapter for headphones.
With this latest generation, Apple obviously wants you to switch to Bluetooth if you haven't already: it no longer includes the 3.5 mm adapter in the box with your new phone. Instead, the included earbuds have a direct Lightning plug, which is a much better solution. But honestly, it's time to go full Bluetooth. You'll never look back.
All eight of these iPhones come equipped with an NFC chip, allowing them to make mobile payments through Apple Pay.
For the front camera, the same basic specs remain the same across the board: a 7-megapixel resolution, with an aperture of f/2.2.
Starting with the iPhone X, Apple kitted out this camera with depth-sensing capabilities, which can take an accurate scan of your face. In a practical sense, that enables the Face ID unlock system. In a more fun sense, it can turn you into a cartoon animal or animated version of yourself with Animoji and the new Memoji feature.
The new generation of iPhones continues an ongoing trend with its main cameras. The base models are equipped with a 12-megapixel camera with an aperture of f/1.8, while the premium models sport dual 12-MP lenses, one telephoto and one wide-angle.
All eight of these iPhones can take photos with High Dynamic Range (HDR), can shoot video in both FHD and 4K resolutions, and have Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) for videos.
Slow-motion video up to 240 frames per second is also an option across the board. The iPhone 7s can only shoot at 240 fps at 720p resolution, while the later models can manage that in 1080p.
Other modes only available to models with TrueDepth 3D cameras are Animoji and Memoji. The former, introduced on the iPhone X last year, lets you scan your face and send clips of animated characters mimicking what you're saying and what faces you pull. Memoji, which was just released with iOS 12 today, is much the same but it creates a cartoon version of yourself, kind of like Nintendo's Mii characters or Xbox's Avatars.
As mentioned, iOS 12 was just released today. The iPhone XR, XS and XS Max will all come with this newest version preinstalled, and owners of the older models can do a software update anytime.
Apple stalwart Siri is, of course, still front and center on all eight of these iPhones. One of the main new additions with iOS 12 is a feature called Siri Shortcuts, which lets users set custom commands made up of multiple steps, which can be triggered with one phrase.
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are just hitting their second birthday, while the 8 and 8 Plus are turning one this month. Those who wanted an iPhone X had to wait until November last year.
Interestingly, this new generation has turned the tables, with the premium models releasing first and the basic edition, the iPhone XR, held off until October.
With the release of the new iPhones, the 8s and 7s have taken a price cut, which could make them enticing for those who don't need all the fancy bells and whistles.
If you are in the market for the latest and greatest, be warned that these are also the most expensive iPhones Apple has ever released. The iPhone X attracted a lot of ire last year as the first mainstream phone to break the US$1,000 barrier, but the XS Max (true to its name) sails right on past with the 512 GB version ringing up for almost $1,500.
With many of the same features at about two-thirds the cost, the iPhone XR might be the way to go if you want to have your shiny new cake and still afford to eat, too.
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