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Six Months with the iPhone XS: It’s Absolutely Worth the Extra $250

Last year, Apple announced two new iPhone models; the iPhone XS and the iPhone XR. While the XS costs $250 more, it’s entirely worth spending that extra cash to get the XS instead of the XR. Here’s why.

Despite the price difference and the resulting connotation that the iPhone XS is the luxury model over the iPhone XR, the XR is only the more practical iPhone for most users in the financial sense, not the functional sense—although, to be sure, we found the XR to be a really solid value.

I don’t consider myself a luxury-focused user at all and even I bought the XS without hesitation for a number of reasons. Mainly, the telephoto camera is actually really useful, the size is perfect for my tiny hands, and the OLED screen is really awesome.

The Telephoto Camera Is Actually Really Useful

I’ve heard so many people talk about the comparisons between the iPhone XS and the XR, and how the XR is a fine phone for the price, especially since the display still looks awesome and it has better battery life. But the one thing that gets left out in these arguments is the camera. Specifically, the second telephoto camera on the XS tends to go unmentioned.

If you’re unfamiliar with the telephoto camera, it’s a second camera on certain iPhone models that lets you zoom in up to 2x without distorting the image quality. It’s a natural zoom (“optical zoom” is the technical terminology) rather than a fake, digital zoom created by the camera’s software.

The telephoto camera was first introduced on the iPhone 7 Plus and continued to be a feature on all Plus models of the iPhone. It’s now been a default feature on all new iPhones since the iPhone X.

So why does it seem to go unmentioned most of the time? Perhaps users see it as a trivial feature or just for portrait mode? If so, I’d say that’s really underutilizing the feature. The telephoto camera on the iPhone XS is actually very useful, and I don’t consider myself a photographer or even a photo enthusiast to begin with.

It turns out that a lot of photos that I take with my iPhone XS are taken with the telephoto camera, and it’s not just when I need to zoom in on a far-away object. Here’s a simple, non-zoomed shot taken in my living room using the standard wide-angle lens on the iPhone.

iPhone XS photo sample
Taken with the traditional wide-angle camera on the iPhone XS. Pretty boring, huh?

Taking even just normal pics with the telephoto camera lets you get in tighter on a subject and capture more detail, rather than deal with a general overall wide shot that doesn’t really provide much detail of the subject. Plus, photos taken with the telephoto camera look more akin to what you would normally see with the human eye.

iPhone XS photo sample
Taken with the telephoto camera on the iPhone XS from the same distance. Look at that tight framing.

Furthermore, even if you would need to still use the digital zoom to zoom in even further on an object, the extra oomph that the telephoto camera provides makes the resulting image sharper (as you’re zooming with actual optics and not with software).

Here’s an example of a simple (albeit dreary, thanks to the winter) outside shot that shows the exact same tree in two photos. On the left is the regular wide angle shot and on the right is the telephoto. Both photos are cropped just to show the tree and you can see, even here, the difference between the quality. Even with less than ideal shooting conditions the telephoto example is sharper with better contrast.

But my little living room sample shot and a bare tree are hardly indicative of just how cool the setup is in the wild. If you want to see more photos taken with the iPhone XS, PetaPixel has some great samples. You can also browse a ton of photos on Flickr that were taken with the iPhone XS. It’s the same great camera I’m in love with, but in the hands of people with a wee bit more photography talent.

The iPhone XS Is Slightly Smaller

This sounds like a downside, but I think the smaller iPhone XS is more desirable than the larger iPhone XR. I don’t mean to say that the XR is too big, but there are still some iPhone users who prefer smaller iPhones, and I’m a part of that camp. Since the XS is the smallest of the newer models, it’s naturally the most-desirable model for those wanting the newest, but smallest iPhone.

Of course, the size difference is a bit negligible, and the XR does squeeze in a slightly larger battery on the inside that a lot of XR users are very happy with. So there’s definitely some advantages to a larger phone other than a bigger screen.

However, the iPhone XS is just the right size for me, and I wouldn’t really want it any larger.

The OLED Display Is Great for Nighttime Reading

Perhaps the biggest arguments I’ve heard about the iPhone XS vs. the iPhone XR was whether or not the OLED display on the XS was worth it over the traditional LCD on the XR. It seems like kind of an irrelevant argument for most casual users, but as someone who isn’t a big display nerd myself, I have to say that the OLED screen is really nice, especially for nighttime viewing.

I know that it’s rather unhealthy to be using my phone at night before bedtime, but alas, I do it anyway (and I’m definitely not alone in that). Enabling Night Shift certainly helps, but when viewing an app in dark mode (if available) the OLED display makes it so much easier on the eyes, as the black pixels don’t light up on OLED screens. Thus, the display appears a bit dimmer.

It’s not just a bedtime thing though. That black-is-truly-black OLED effect is just so sharp looking. If you’ve only experienced displays with muddy and imperfect blacks, looking at a display where the black portions of the image are inky jet-black is pretty awesome.

The Bottom Line

The iPhone XR is definitely the model aimed at most everyday users, while the iPhone XS is seen as a “luxury” model of sorts. However, the features you get with the XS can actually be really useful to a lot of different users, not just those that want luxury.

There’s no one single feature on the iPhone XS that makes it worth spending an extra $250 on over the iPhone XR, but all of the smaller, better features of the XS combined absolutely make that $999 price tag well worth it over the XR. And, finally, it’s easy to make the jump to the nicer phone when you think about it as something you’ll use a lot over time. Assuming you keep the phone for two years, framed as “Would I pay around $10 extra a month to have a phone with a better camera and a beautiful screen?” it’s an easy sell.

Craig Lloyd Craig Lloyd
Craig Lloyd is a gadget expert with nearly ten years of professional writing experience. His work has been published by iFixit, Lifehacker, Digital Trends, SlashGear, and GottaBeMobile. Read Full Bio »