iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR – How Are They Different?

By Michael Grothaus •  Updated: 02/08/21 •  10 min read

In this face off, it’s the iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR. In 2018 Apple had come out with a bit of a confusing lineup. It’s introduced the new iPhone XS and XS Max, as well as the iPhone XR. The new iPhone XR was designed to be a cheaper version of the XS for those people that want a full-screen device but couldn’t shell out the cash for the most premium handset.

MORE: Apple’s iPhone 5G Takes Shape For 2020

That’s not to say that the iPhone XR is a bad phone. Matter of fact, it was almost identical to the XS in many respects. That’s not to mention also that, even though the iPhone XR came out in 2018, Apple still has it on sale. That same can’t be said for the iPhone XS Max, which Apple discontinued in 2019. However, the iPhone XS Max can still be bought from third-party resellers online, either as new or refurbished. But even though the iPhone XR is still sold by Apple and the iPhone XS Max is not, the iPhone XR is not superior in all aspects. So just how is the iPhone XR different than the XS Max? Let’s take a look.

iPhone XR vs iPhone XS Max Specs (Quick Comparison)

iPhone XRiPhone XS Max

Display: 6.1in LCD Liquid Retina display with a 2436×1125-pixel resolution at 458ppiDisplay: 6.5-inch 1242 x 2688 OLED 
Dimensions: 150.9mm x 75.7mm x 8.3mm (194g)Dimensions: 157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7mm (208g)
Storage Options: 64, 128, or 256GBStorage Options: 64/256/512GB
RAM: 3GBRAM: 4GB
Camera: Single lens 12MP wide-angle camera, optical image stabilisation. 4K video.Camera: 12MP + 12MP, OIS, Wide-Angle Lens
Battery Size: 2942 mAhBattery Size: 3174mAh
CPU: A12 Bionic CPU: A12 Bionic
Wireless Charging: YesWireless Charging: Yes
Water Resistant: Yes - IP68Water Resistant: Yes - IP68
Price: 
Price: 

Is The iPhone XS Max & iPhone XR Still Worth Buying In 2021?

The iPhone XR and iPhone XS Max both came out in 2018. That’s a pretty long time ago in the tech world. Apple is now on the iPhone 12–so two generations ahead of the iPhone XR and iPhone XS Max. That being said, as we’ve mentioned, the iPhone XR is still sold by Apple at a pretty big discount. Apple is keeping it on sale to have a super low-cost iPhone for those who can’t afford the pricier options. As for the iPhone XS Max, if you want to buy it in 2021, you’ll need to find one at third-party resellers.

But are either phone still worth it? Technically speaking, yes. Both phones still run the latest iOS operating system and both phones have CPUs, displays, and cameras that are still pretty good. All that being said, the iPhone 12, which is the entry-level 2020 iPhone, is way better than the iPhone XR and iPhone XS Max. It’s not that much more expensive than the iPhone XR either. So if you’ve got the cash, always opt for an iPhone 12 over the iPhone XR and iPhone XS Max.

Now, let’s look at how the iPhone XR and iPhone XS Max compare…

Design

iPhone xr vs iPhone xs max
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The immediate differences between the iPhone XR and iPhone XS Max are the display and design. The XS Max is made of stainless steel and glass, while the XR series is made of aluminum and glass. Obviously, stainless steel is the better material. It just looks sleeker.

Where the XR outperforms, so to speak, the XS Max is in the color options available. The XS Max comes in the standard Silver, Space Gray, and Gold, while the XR comes in new refreshing colors: Yellow, White, Coral, Black, Blue, and Product Red. For this matter, you may find yourself thinking that a particular color of the iPhone XR looks better than all of the iPhone XS Max’s.

Winner? iPhone XS Max – It looks much more polished than the iPhone XR. That steel frame is gorgeous, especially in silver.

Displays

Best iPhone
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As for the display, both models differ in size. The iPhone XS Max has a 6.5in OLED display, while the iPhone XR features a 6.1in “Liquid Retina” LCD display. The “Liquid” moniker truthfully means nothing; it’s just how Apple brands the display on the XR.

In this respect, the XS Max wins hands down. OLED displays will give you much more vibrant colors and deeper blacks than LCD displays. Case in point: the display in the XS Max has a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, while the display in the XR series has only a 1400:1 contrast ratio.

Another display point: the XR lacks is 3D Touch. Again, Apple eliminated it here to keep the cost of the XR down.

Winner? iPhone XS Max – Its Display Is Bigger And More Beautiful.

CPU/Processor

Apple A12
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As far s the CPU is concerned, both models are identical. Both have the A12 Bionic chipset. It’s a 7nm chip with 6 cores. The CPU is 15% faster and 40% more energy efficient than the previous A11. The GPU now has 4 cores and is 50% faster. Finally, the Neural engine now has 8 cores for machine learning and is almost 10 x faster. Apps launch 30% faster on the Max and Machine Learning runs nine times faster on 1/10th the energy. The A12 Bionic absolutely flies.

Winner? Draw – Each phone has the EXACT same processor.

Camera

iphone 7 vs iphone xr
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What’s interesting is Apple uses the exact same front-facing camera in both the XS Max and XR series. Both models feature the same 7MP TrueDepth camera system with Face ID. There is literally no difference between the XS Max and XR when it comes to the front camera.

But things are radically different when it comes to the rear camera. The XS Max features a dual-lens 12MP system with wide-angle and telephoto cameras, dual optical image stabilization, 2x optical zoom, and 4K video recording.

On the other hand, the rear camera system on the XR is only a single-lens 12MP wide-angle camera. It does feature optical image stabilization and 4K video recording, as with the XS Max, but lacks the 2x optical zoom.

Winner? iPhone XS Max – That Dual-Lens Camera Can’t Be Beat By The Single-Lens Found On The XR.

Storage Options

And as for storage, the XS Max offers more: 64, 256, or 512GB compared to the XR’s 64 and 128. It should be noted that Apple originally sold the iPhone XR with a  256GB storage option, but it has since discontinued that model.

Battery Life

Battery life is also almost identical between the phones. Both the iPhone XS Max and the iPhone XR will get 13.5 hours of mixed usage off a single charge. Truthfully, this level of battery life is pretty dismal compared to today’s iPhone models.

Winner? iPhone XR – It Has Slightly Better Battery Life Than iPhone XS Max, but not by much.

Price

Winner? iPhone XR – it is the best value iPhone around right now.

iPhone-XR
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Verdict?

Normally it’s easy to choose Apple’s costliest and most advanced device as the winner–that is, which one you should buy. But honestly, it’s not that clear cut this time. If you don’t need a dual-lens camera system (found in the XS Max), the iPhone XR might be the best choice – it’s certainly the best option for value for money. 

Sure, the XR doesn’t have the OLED display, but it’s not like the LCD display is shoddy. It’ll look fine if that’s what you are used to looking at. Also, from a processing power perspective, the XR and XS Max series are identical, making it harder to fork out that extra dough for the XS Max if you don’t need the better camera and the best display tech as well as the slightly bigger screen. Still, if you’ve got the cash, the iPhone XS Max is the winner.

Another option worth considering, however, is picking up a newer refurbished iPhone – something like the iPhone X or iPhone XS, which you can get for 40% less than retail via Gazelle, our #1 pick for refurbished iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, and iMacs.

MORE: What’s The Best iPhone Right Now? Read Our Definitive Guide

iPhone XS Max vs iPhone XR: Specs

iphone xr
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Here are the specs for the iPhone XS Max:

And here are the specs for the iPhone XR:

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Michael Grothaus

Apple expert and novelist, Michael Grothaus has been covering tech on KnowYourMobile for the best part of 10 years. Prior to this, he worked at Apple. And before that, he was a film journalist. Michael is a published author; his book Epiphany Jones was voted as one of the best novels about Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Michael is also a writer at other publications including VICE and Fast Company.
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