If you're in the market for a new phone, most of your attention is probably being drawn towards Apple's newly-launched 2018 flagship phones. But if you're balking at the idea of forking over upwards of a grand, don't forget that there are plenty of other options out there, with similar specs at a much less eye-watering price. We've already taken a look at how Apple's new offerings stack up against the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+, now it's time to compare the specs and features of the new iPhone XR, XS and XS Max to three of the year's best underdog phones: the LG G7 ThinQ, the HTC U12+ and the OnePlus 6.
Yet again, the iPhone XS Max holds onto its title of biggest phone of 2018, just pipping the HTC U12+ in height but being quite a bit wider. The other Android phones aren't too far behind, bookended by the rest of the iPhones.
Unsurprisingly, the iPhone XS Max is also the heaviest phone of the bunch. It's a full 20 grams heavier than the U12+, which translates to a difference of four US nickel coins. In the grand scheme of things, that's not a whole lot, but might be something to keep in mind.
As for the rest of the pack, the iPhone XR is the second heaviest, followed by the U12+, while the iPhone XS and OnePlus 6 would perfectly balance a seesaw. Coming in as the featherweight is the LG G7 ThinQ.
Whatever fancy names the companies want to give their phone colors, there are a few common themes here. Blacks and grays are always a safe bet, while silver, gold and white can be a nice change of pace. For those who want a splash of color, blue and red are also available on a few of these phones. If you want to really stand out, LG's offering this year comes in the pinkish Raspberry Rose, and the iPhone XR's unrivaled color list includes yellow and coral, a kind of peachy-orange color.
Glass front and back is in vogue at the moment, with pretty much all major phones opting for that design. That holds true for these six phones, with most of them ringed in an aluminum frame for support except for the iPhone XS and XS Max, which go for stainless steel.
All six of these phones are built with decent water resistance. The iPhone XR has a rating of IP67, which means it can survive submersion down to a depth of 1 m (3.3 ft) for up to 30 minutes, while those rated IP68 extend that down to 1.5 m for the same amount of time.
Although they're labelled IP68, Apple has bragged that the iPhone XS and XS Max can descend to 2 m for half an hour, if you ever needed them to.
Although OnePlus says its latest phone is water resistant, it doesn't give an official IP rating, so proceed with caution. The company says it'll shake off a splash of rain or a dip in the sink, but warns not to take it swimming with you – which is pretty good advice for any phone really, no matter its claimed water resistance.
The average phone nowadays sports a screen that measures a respectable 6 inches or so diagonally. Most of these hover around that number, from 5.8 in on the iPhone XS to the 6.1-in screen on the iPhone XR, G7 and OnePlus 6.
The obvious standout is the iPhone XS Max, with its 6.5-in display that towers over not just the other phones here but most other mainstream phones. This is beginning to blur the lines even between "phablet" and "tablet."
Phones with bulky bezels are looking pretty outdated by today's standards, and with its new generation Apple has basically ditched the style it's run with for a decade and gone all-in on the iPhone X school of design. That means stretching that screen as close to the edges as possible – and it also means carving a notch in the top. Whether that's a good or a bad thing is up to you.
Apple isn't the only company guilty of this potential phone faux pas. The devices from LG and OnePlus also have the notorious notch, although both also offer software settings that let you effectively hide it by drawing black bars on either side of it. These can then be used to show icons like notifications, signal strength and the clock.
None of these phones can fit neatly into one of the basic resolution classes, like Full HD or 4K. In pure numbers, the sharpest screen can be found on the LG G7, cramming 564 pixels per inch into its 6.1-in display. HTC isn't far behind, with slightly fewer pixels vertically and the same horizontally. Although Apple touts its Retina displays, the three iPhones have generally lower resolutions than the norm.
But numbers alone don't tell the whole story – UI design, brightness, the display type and many more all being factors. After a certain point it takes a pretty well-trained eye to notice much difference between them all.
The display types on these phones are split right down the middle. The iPhone XR, LG G7 and HTC U12+ are all built with LCD screens, while the iPhone XS, XS Max and OnePlus 6 have OLED displays.
There's no clear winner between the two, with each technology having its own pros and cons. OLED (including variants like AMOLED and POLED) displays generally have more vibrant colors and better contrast, while LCD should be sharper and clearer.
For the last few years, the standard way to unlock your phone has been to tap your finger to a fingerprint sensor, and the three Android phones stick to that tried-and-true method. Facial recognition through the selfie cam is becoming increasingly common too, and the One Plus 6 offers both options.
The three iPhones meanwhile have ditched fingerprint sensors altogether and gone all-in on the Face ID system. Hopefully that doesn't mean fingerprints will soon go the way of the headphone jack.
The three new iPhones are built with Apple's latest processor, the A12 Bionic. The three Android devices are running on Qualcomm's latest, the Snapdragon 845. Both of these are supposed to be faster than their previous iterations.
Over the last couple of years 4 GB has been the baseline for RAM, although the iPhone XS and XS Max are the first Apple devices to hit the mark. That's just in time for the rest of the phones to start moving on, with both the U12+ and OnePlus 6 running on 6 GB, and in the latter case even cranking things up to 8 GB.
The iPhone XR on the other hand is languishing behind on 3 GB. Still, that doesn't necessarily mean it'll be too much slower – Apple's authoritarian control over its own ecosystem means it usually does a decent job of squeezing more out of less.
The smallest built-in storage option is 64 GB, which is pretty generous for most people. For the heavy users – maybe those who are going to be shooting heaps of photos or videos, or carrying around huge playlists – you can double that with the iPhone XR, HTC U12+ or OnePlus 6.
Still not enough? The three iPhones and the OnePlus 6 also have a 256 GB option.
Still want more? We're not sure what you're doing with your phone to need that much space, but Apple has you covered: the iPhone XS and XS Max are the first mainstream phones to break the 512 GB mark.
If you realize down the track that you need more space, the LG G7 and HTC U12+ let you expand the built-in storage with a MicroSD card. With the other four phones, you're stuck with what you're given, so choose wisely.
Apple usually keeps the exact capacity figures of its batteries under wraps, but benchmark tests by other companies suggest that the iPhone XR has a 2,942 mAh battery, the XS has 2,658 mAh and the XS Max 3,174 mAh.
Those numbers are generally lower than the industry average – which hovers between about 3,000 and 3,500 mAh – but in practical terms you're still likely to get a day's use out of the phone.
All six of these phones can be fast charged, which is a particularly handy feature if you need just a quick top-up before heading out. But the iPhones come with a unique caveat – you need to go out and buy a USB-C to Lightning cable and a 30 W USB-C charger, which will run you an extra US$70.
That's not cheap, considering the premium you're already paying for iPhones and the fact that basically every other company (including LG, HTC and OnePlus) can just throw one in the box.
Wireless charging isn't quite as ubiquitous as fast charging yet, but it's making in-roads. Here, all three iPhones and the LG G7 can be charged wirelessly, but you will need a separate accessory.
That said, it's easier to swallow that extra purchase in this case. No phone has yet included a wireless charger in the box, and honestly we don't really feel that wireless charging tech is at the point where it's particularly useful yet anyway. Maybe one day, when you can charge a phone anywhere in a room, we'll change our tune.
As of this year, Apple has completely cut ties to the poor old headphone jack, leaving just a Lightning port on the bottom of the latest iPhones. Interestingly, the company has now also swapped out the 3.5-mm-to-Lightning adapter it used to provide in the box, for earbuds with a Lightning plug.
Many other manufacturers have followed Apple's lead and axed the headphone jack too, but here LG and OnePlus still give you the option. That said, if you haven't already made the switch to Bluetooth headphones/earbuds, now is the time.
All six of these phones have NFC chips, which allows them to make mobile payments at certain terminals – through Apple Pay for the iPhones, and Google Pay for the Android devices.
In terms of resolution, the OnePlus 6 has the beefiest selfie cam, boasting 16 megapixels – in the range of what you'd expect from a phone's main camera nowadays. The U12+ gets points for sticking two 8-MP cameras on the front of the U12+ as well.
Still, the 8-MP camera on the G7 is plenty good enough for selfies. The iPhones are kitted out with what Apple calls TrueDepth 3D cameras, which allow the phones to take detailed three-dimensional face scans for the facial recognition system.
The iPhone XR's 12-MP rear camera is looking a little lonely, as the only phone on this list to have just one lens – a sign of the times perhaps, as companies are moving towards dual cameras as standard and are even beginning to tinker with three.
The iPhone XS and XS Max sport dual 12-MP cameras, with one being a wide-angle and the other a telephoto. Together they give you a good range of photo options, to capture more of the background behind your subjects or zoom right in on distant things without losing quality.
The U12+ has a similar setup, with one sensor ramped up to 16 megapixels. The G7 ups the ante again with two 16-MP cameras, dropping the telephoto lens for a standard angle instead. It also has wider apertures on both, allowing for better depth of field and better low-light snaps.
Not to be outdone, the OnePlus 6 cranks up one of its cameras to a whopping 20 MP, which is the highest resolution we've seen on a mainstream phone camera.
With all this advanced camera tech crammed into these phones, they're all capable of some great photo tricks.
All six can shoot in high dynamic range (HDR), to bring out brighter colors and deeper blacks in photos and video. All can shoot video in Full HD or 4K resolutions too, and have Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) to smooth out the jitters.
Slow-motion video is a common feature too, with all three iPhones, the G7 and U12+ able to shoot up to 240 frames per second at a Full HD resolution. The OnePlus 6 can do this too, but extends it to half the speed at 720p resolution.
Apple's Animoji – where the camera maps cartoon characters over a user's face – debuted last year on the iPhone X, and have carried across to the new generation. Alongside them are the new Memoji, which let users design animated versions of their own face to use as emojis.
The G7 is the first phone outside the Pixel 2 and 2 XL to use Google's AR Stickers, which allow users to place animated 3D characters in videos and photos, or just see them through the camera in real-time. HTC has added its own similar system, also called AR Stickers, which seem to act more like Snapchat filters.
Out of the box, the iPhones are all running iOS 12, the latest version of Apple's operating system. The three other phones are running versions of Android 8 Oreo. The LG G7 is running a more-or-less vanilla version of the operating system, while HTC and OnePlus have equipped their phones with modified versions.
The iPhones, of course, come with Siri installed. All three Android phones can run the Google Assistant, while HTC has buddied up with Amazon to get Alexa onto its phones.
All six of these phones were (or will be) released in 2018. The OnePlus 6 was the first to come out, back in May, followed by the G7 and U12+ the next month. The iPhone XS and XS Max were released in September, and the iPhone XR is due out later this month, on October 26.
The cheapest phone of this bunch is the OnePlus 6, ringing up for less than half the price of the iPhone XS and XS Max. And that's without any significant loss in specs.
The 64 GB model iPhone XR is the next cheapest, coming in at $50 less than the 128 GB version and the 64 GB models of the G7 and HTC U12+.
On the top shelf is the iPhone XS and XS Max, which will set you back at least a grand and, in the case of the 512 GB XS Max, pushes new boundaries on how much phones cost.
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more