The iPhone Xs will be available for preorder in just a few short hours on September 14th. While we haven’t had the chance to actually review the thing yet, we’re pretty sure a lot of people have already made up their minds that it’s time for a new phone.
This week’s big iPhone event confirmed many rumors but one sticks out: Apple will no longer sell the original iPhone X. In its place are three new devices that looks a lot like the iPhone X: the iPhone Xs, the iPhone Xs Max, and the iPhone XR. On top of that, Apple is going to keep selling the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 8.
That’s a lot of iPhones! Which one should you buy? Which carrier should you choose? Why does all of this seem suddenly, needlessly complicated? Let me help.
Buy the 256GB iPhone Xs in space grey on Verizon.
Why iPhone Xs?
The iPhone X was already a great phone. It was almost confusingly good, when it came out, and the thing has held up over time. By any account, the iPhone Xs is better. It comes with a faster, smarter A12 Bionic processor. It comes with better sensors on its already terrific camera, not to mention a few new software tricks that make Portrait Mode even more useful. Face ID is also faster on the iPhone Xs, which is gravy because Face ID was already awesome.
Then there’s the size factor. With its 5.8-inch screen, the iPhone Xs also features the most compact design out of all the new models. That makes the whole device marginally larger than an iPhone 8 with a screen that’s larger than the one on the iPhone 8 Plus. Of course, the iPhone Xs Max’s 6.5-inch screen and iPhone Xr’s 61.-inch screens are larger, but so are the devices. Not everybody wants a big phone.
The iPhone Xs does start at $1,000, as did the iPhone X before it. That’s a lot of money to spend on a phone, but it’s safe to say that this is a device that won’t need replacing, especially if Apple’s claims that it has the “most durable glass ever in a smartphone.” You also use your phone more than your laptop, so why not spend nearly as much on it. (Tim Cook told me to say that.) (Just kidding, Tim and I no longer speak.)
Apple actually made this decision easier that it used to be when it got rid of the 128GB option. It’s remarkably easy to fill up a 64GB device, and the next biggest option is now 256GB. As Apple has done in the past, forcing people to upgrade from a little to a lot more storage actually makes that storage cheaper. In this case you’re gaining 192GB for $100 more.
It’s nice that Apple will now sell you a more expensive 512GB iPhone to enable your digital hoarding tendencies. By the same dollar-per-GB calculus, this might seem like a good deal, since the extra storage gets even cheaper as you buy even more. More than half a terabyte on a smartphone seems a little too extra. 256GB should be more than enough for most people.
This one has a simple answer: coverage. Verizon consistently tops the rankings for most best 4G and 4G LTE. It’s the nation’s largest carrier and keeps building more towers, so you can expect coverage to get even better. Verizon also offers an unlimited data plan for $75 a month (plus taxes and fees), although we’ve pointed out before that Verizon’s definition of “unlimited” doesn’t really mean unlimited. You might get throttled if you habitually use more than 26GB of data per month. If you’re not a data hog, you can get a 5GB plan for $55 a month from Verizon. You get the good coverage no matter what.
Obviously, not everyone is the same. You’re special! Here are some thoughts for those special circumstances.
Why iPhone Xs Max?
If you really like big phones, you might absolutely love the massive iPhone Xs Max. It’s so jumbo. It’s 6.2-inches tall with a screen that stretches to 6.5 inches diagonally. It’s bigger than a Samsung Note 9. It’s bigger than a Pop Tart. Big big big.
One meaningful hardware improvement you get with this big phone is a bigger battery and better battery life. Apple says the iPhone Xs battery holds a charge “an-hour-and-a-half longer than the iPhone X.” But seriously, you should try holding one of these things before you buy it. There’s a chance your fingers will be too small to do basic stuff.
Why iPhone XR?
If you don’t want to spend a grand on a new phone, you might like the iPhone XR, which starts at $750. This is $50 cheaper than the original price of the iPhone 8, which seems like a nice gesture on Apple’s part. It’s still a lot of money, but it’s a lot of money for what appears to be a very good phone.
The iPhone XR comes with Face ID and an edge-to-edge display, making it look a lot like an iPhone Xs. However, there have been some cost-cutting measures in terms of materials and construction. The case is made of aluminum rather than stainless steel, and the display is LCD rather than OLED. It also has lacks a second lens on the rear camera as well as 3D Touch on the screen. Perhaps more relevant for some is the fact that the iPhone XR is medium-sized with its 6.1-inch display. The iPhone XR also comes in six colors.
So, for $250 less, the iPhone XR gives you fewer features than the iPhone X, but you get a little more display, albeit a lower quality Liquid Retina display rather than the Super Retina display. Without testing either, it’s hard to say how the iPhone XR measures up to the pricier iPhone Xs. Does the screen look all that different? Does the camera perform that much worse? Does the aluminum frame feel that much less durable? You might not care about questions like these as much as you care about price. In which case, the iPhone XR might be for you. Also, if you want a bright yellow or blue or red or coral phone, the iPhone XR might be for you.
Why a silver or gold iPhone Xs?
By all means get the silver or gold iPhone Xs if that’s your thing. The bezel on all three devices is black now. If you use a case, however, most people will never know what color your phone is.
Why iPhone 8 or iPhone 7?
If everything above sounds way too expensive, and you really want a brand new iPhone, consider both of these. Here’s our review of the iPhone 8, which is a perfectly good, year-old iPhone. Here’s our review of the iPhone 7, which is a perfectly good, two-year-old iPhone.
Why the Apple Upgrade Plan?
Apple really wants you to buy a new iPhone and then it wants you to buy another new one in a year. That’s why it offers the Apple Upgrade Plan, which is really just an interest-free, 24-month loan with the price of AppleCare+ included. Carriers also offer similar loan programs, although those don’t come with AppleCare+ tacked on. The 256GB iPhone Xs we recommend above will cost $56.16 a month with the Apple Upgrade Plan. By comparison, you’ll pay $47.87 a month through the Verizon Device Payment Plan, and you will not get AppleCare+.
Speaking from experience, the Apple Upgrade Plan is very easy, likely because of that whole Apple-wants-you-to-buy-a-new-iPhone thing. If you want to upgrade after a year, you just order a new iPhone online. Then, you either take your old one into a store and pick up a new one, or you get the new phone delivered to your house and mail back the old one. If you don’t want to upgrade, you’ll own the iPhone free and clear, after you make all your loan payments.
In other words, you should go with the Apple Upgrade if you like convenience and agree that AppleCare+ is worth paying for.
AppleCare+ pays for itself, if anything ever happens to your phone. If you break your iPhone Xs screen, Apple will replace it for $30, if you have AppleCare+. An iPhone Xs screen replacement will cost you $280. AppleCare+ costs $200. Let’s look at the math. If you pay that $200 upfront and $30 for a broken screen, you’re out $230. Otherwise, it’s $280. Apple also covers two accidental damage incidents, so the saving will just keep adding up for clumsy people.
There are a lot of reasons to pick T-Mobile over Verizon, but the main one is value. For $70 a month (with no taxes or fees), you can get the T-Mobile One plan. That’s just a few bucks cheaper than the Verizon plan, but you get perks like Netflix, Go-go in-flight wifi, unlimited service in Mexico and Canada, as well as free texting and data abroad. You also won’t get throttled unless you use 50GB of data or more. T-Mobile might not make sense if you live in a more rural area, as its network isn’t as big as Verizon’s, though.
Good question. Here are some alternatives.