The Apple iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max in three finishes.
The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max in three finishes.
Photo: Apple

Apple is launching a trio of new phones that it hopes will lure consumers who sat out last year's introduction of the iPhone X, which was the company's most significant new phone in several years.

The tech giant also rolled out a new, pricer version of its Apple Watch, featuring a bigger screen and more health and fitness capabilities, including an electrocardiogram function, and a feature that will call for help if a user has fallen and is unresponsive.

The new phones include the iPhone XS—essentially a new version of the X—along with the XS Max, which offers all the same features on a larger 6.5-inch display. Those phones, which start at $999 and $1,099, respectively, feature top-of-the-line OLED displays and are geared toward the super-premium phone customer. (There's no longer an iPhone X in the Apple lineup.)

For those interested in a still-fancy phone at a comparatively cheaper price, Apple introduced the iPhone XR. That phone, which features a 6.1-inch LCD display, will cost consumers $749—making it a relative bargain in the Apple universe but still one of the most expensive phones you can buy.

No matter which of the three consumers choose, they’re going to have to say goodbye to the Home button. The introduction of the new lineup marks the first time that Apple hasn’t included a model with the once-iconic feature since the invention of the iPhone more than a decade ago.

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As the entry-level model in the new iPhone X series, the XR doesn’t include all the same technology as its pricier siblings. Though LCD screens can be very high quality, the generally more expensive OLEDs are known for their blacker blacks and nearly unlimited viewing angles.

In addition to the different screen, the XR has just one rear camera, and the other new phones feature dual rear cameras. The combination of wide-angle and close-up cameras make taking fancy portraits with blurred backgrounds—an effect known in photography as bokeh—much easier, though Apple says this effect will still be possible with the XR through the use of software.

We'll be evaluating the cameras, screens, and other features of all these new phones once they are available to the public. Consumer Reports buys all the phones we test at retail, just as any consumer would.

Here’s a closer look at the new phones, their features, and when they’ll be rolling out.

Key New iPhone Features

Is bigger better? The iPhone X will have exactly the same size body and 5.8-inch display as the iPhone X introduced last year. However, the XS Max, true to its name, has a whopping 6.5-inch display. Not only is that the biggest iPhone display to date but it’s also just a hair bigger than the 6.4-inch display of the recently released Samsung Galaxy Note9.

That screen fits into a body that's smaller than that of the iPhone 8 Plus, which was also introduced last year. The 8 Plus, which is still available starting at $699, has just a 5.5-inch screen because it has to leave space for a Home button and large bezels.

The XR, which has a 6.1-inch display, has a body size that falls between the XS and XS Max.

The diminutive iPhone SE, with its 4-inch screen, is dropping from the iPhone stable, as is the 4.7-inch-screen iPhone 6s.

New camera features. The cameras on the XS and XS Max have pretty much the same specs as those of the departing iPhone X. There are dual 12MP rear cameras, along with a 7MP front, or selfie, camera.

As mentioned before, the XR has just one rear camera. It still does the bokeh effect, but with the help of software. Other phones on the market, notably the Google Pixel 2 phones, take this approach, too. But some do it better than others.

As with the X, all three new phones can record video in 4K, both at regular and slow-motion speeds, but the new phones let you record that with stereo sound. And the front camera on the new phones will now let you shoot slow-motion video in HD.

OLED or LCD? Last year, Apple launched its first OLED display on the iPhone X. Now, both the XS and XS Max will have OLED displays. Both new phones cram the same number of pixels into each inch as the display on the original iPhone X.

As for the XR’s screen, it’s just as bright as the OLEDs, but its HD screen resolution is lower than the screens found on the XS and XS Max. Also, the XR doesn’t support Apple’s 3D Touch, a feature that can display additional content based on how hard you press the screen. In general, LCDs don't match the inky black shadows in dark scenes that OLEDs can produce. For some consumers, this might be a sacrifice they’re willing to make to save money.

We look forward to lab testing all of the new screens when we get retail models of the phones later this month.

Battery life. In Consumer Reports' testing, iPhones have frequently lagged other premium models when it comes to battery life. But Apple claims that the XS will go 30 minutes longer on a charge than the X does, and the XS Max will last 90 minutes more.

Meanwhile, Apple says the XR will go an additional 90 minutes past the battery life of the 8 Plus.

Battery life is very important to many consumers, and we'll be testing the new phones once they arrive in the lab. We conduct the test using a robotic finger that simulates what a person might do with a phone throughout an average day—without taking a break. The robot browses the internet, takes pictures, uses the GPS navigation, and—of course—makes phone calls.

Faster processor. All three phones will feature Apple’s A12 Bionic chip, which the company promises will speed up operations while also reducing power consumption. We’ll test that out in the lab, too. 

The iPhone XR will start at $749 and come in six finishes.
Photo: Apple
new iPhone XS and XS Max
The new iPhone XS and XS Max have dual rear cameras.
Photo: Apple

Pricing and Timing

Preorders for the XS and XS Max start on Sept. 14, and you'll be able to find the phones in stores a week later. Preorders for the XR begin on Oct. 19, with the phone set to hit retailers a week after that.

Both the XS and XS Max will come in 64GB, 256GB, and 512GB versions. The XS will start at $999, just like the X did, and the Max will start at $1,099.

The iPhone XS Max will top out at $1,449 for the 512GB version—just $50 shy of the price of a 13-inch MacBook Pro with the same amount of storage.

The XR version will come in 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB versions and have a starting price of $749.