iPhone 11 vs iPhone XS: we compare the new, and the old, Apple flagships
Apple has shaken things up for its 2019 iPhones, with naming if nothing else. The iPhone 11 sounds like an upgrade to the iPhone XS. But this is really the successor to the iPhone XR, the most popular iPhone of the 2018/2019 range.
The aim is to get away from the suggestion the iPhone 11 is in any way 'cheap', even though it comes at a substantially lower cost than the new iPhone Pro phones.
- Check out our hands-on iPhone 11 review
- And here's our hands-on iPhone 11 Pro review
- Read our in-depth review of the iPhone XS
It may all be a trick of semantics, but will the iPhone 11 seem like a true upgrade over the iPhone XS? In many ways it will, but this comparison is a little more complicated than you might expect. Let’s dig in.
iPhone 11 vs iPhone XS design
The iPhone 11 is more striking than the iPhone XS in a few ways. First, it’s slightly larger. Also, it comes in six colours instead of three subdued ones.
These shades include purple, white, “Product Red”, green, black and white.
The iPhone 11 also has a new milled glass back. Its camera housing sticks out slightly, and Apple added contours to a singe piece of rear glass rather than taking the 'easy' route. Most companies would simply use a separate piece of glass for the camera cover.
Both phones are a metal and glass sandwich. Glass panes sit on the front and back, a band of metal runs around the sides holding them together.
The metal used is different, though. Apple uses aluminium in the iPhone 11, steel in the iPhone XS. This is a classic case of ultra-high-end meeting simply 'normal' high-end design clashing. The bezel surround the screen is also slightly thicker in the iPhone 11, just as they were in the iPhone XR.
There is one practical design benefit to the iPhone 11, though, as it has tougher glass than the iPhone XS. Both phones also have water resistance tested at 2m depth for 30 minutes.
iPhone 11 vs iPhone XS display
The displays of these phones are very different, even if they do look similar at arm’s length. Both have the classic iPhone notch style, which doesn't help comparisons.
Apple’s new iPhone 11 has a slightly larger screen, at 6.1 inches to the iPhone XS’s 5.8 inches. And the tech behind the surface is completely different.
The older iPhone XS has higher pixel density, with 1125 x 2436 pixels to the iPhone 11’s 828 x 1792.
Panel technology is different too. Apple’s iPhone XS features an OLED panel with effectively perfect blacks and very deep, rich colour. The iPhone 11 has an LCD screen with a universal backlight, which means blacks won’t look perfectly black in a very dark room. Phone LCDs can’t reach the colour depths of OLED, either.
However, Apple uses some of the best LCD panels around, so don’t think this is a reason to turn your nose up at the iPhone 11. Brightness should be similar too. Apple rates the iPhone 11 at 625 nits, and most readings say the iPhone XS manages slightly over 600 nits.
Side by side the iPhone XS will likely look a bit bolder than the iPhone 11. But equally you could argue the extra size makes the iPhone 11 better for both video and games, even if they aren’t always quite as sharp when you look critically.
iPhone 11 vs iPhone XS camera
The iPhone generation camera comparison is a little challenging. Both phones have dual rear cameras, but where the iPhone XS’s second camera has a telephoto lens with 2x magnification, the iPhone 11 has an ultra-wide lens.
All four of these phones’ rear cameras have 12-megapixel sensors, but is an ultra-wide better than a zoom? It depends on context. If you want to capture a big group of people or emphasise the scale of a building, you want an ultra-wide. Want to get closer to the action without moving? You need a zoom.
A zoom is likely more important in making people’s images 'better', as so many of us still use digital zoom rather than moving to compose with a standard 26mm-ish lens.
The iPhone 11 does have some real advantages, though. It has Apple’s new Night mode, which merges nine exposures to get the same kind of bright, high dynamic range shots you might get from a Huawei P30 Pro. Low-light image quality has been an iPhone weak point for several years now.
Its camera app also lets you see a some of the area around the main camera view, handy when you’re not quite sure if you need the wide view or not. The wide has a 120-degree view of the scene, which Apple likes to call a “2x zoom out”.
Both the rear cameras can also shoot video at 4K, 60 frames per second, with dynamic range enhancement. The iPhone XS’s main camera can shoot at 4K/60 too, but we can’t be sure yet if it’ll get all the same processing upgrades in a software update.
The iPhone 11 also has the upper hand for selfies. Its sensor has been upgraded to 12MP, from 7MP in the iPhone XS. And Apple has had a hand at making up its own term, “slofies”. These are slow-motion selfies, essentially short slow-mo videos you’ll likely share on social media or WhatsApp with friends.
iPhone 11 vs iPhone XS battery
As the iPhone 11 is actually based on the blueprint of the iPhone XR, 2018’s longest-lasting iPhone, it’s the obvious choice for battery life too. Apple says the new phone lasts even longer than the iPhone XR.
Want the official times? The iPhone 11 should last for 17 hours of video, to the iPhone XS’s 14. It is good for 65 hours of audio, the iPhone XS 60 hours.
Apple also usually publishes stats for internet and call time, but it hasn’t at the time of writing. But there’s no real contest here, as the iPhone 11 is likely to have great battery life, while most power users find the iPhone XS’s stamina OK at best.
Both phones will also reach 50% charge in 30 minutes, but the iPhone 11 doesn’t actually come with a charger. That Apple is slightly stingy here should surprise no-one.
iPhone 11 vs iPhone XS power
Apple makes its own processors. And that means a quick read-out of the CPU names of these two phones is entirely opaque. The iPhone 11 has an Apple A13 Bionic processor, the iPhone XS an A12 Bionic. But what’s the difference?
Apple is always ready for a bold power claim. But this year the gains are slightly more conservative than usual.
Both CPU and GPU sides of the A13 Bionic are around 20% more powerful than those of the A12 Bionic. This is a very solid boost that gives weight to Apple’s claims that this is the “fastest CPU in a smartphone” and “fastest GPU in a smartphone". It’s just not quite as impressive-sounding a figure as the 40 per cent it has been able to boast about in some previous years.
Apple also claims to have improved the processor’s machine learning abilities, which should help with speeding up camera processing and AR.
iPhone 11 vs iPhone XS price
The iPhone 11 has booted the iPhone XS off of Apple’s shelves. It’s now a legacy model, as only the iPhone XR made the leap across generations. But we can compare the iPhone 11 prices to what the iPhone XS cost the day before it arrived.
Apple’s new iPhone 11 starts at a (relatively) tantalising $699 / £729 / AU$1,199. This is far more affordable than the $999 / £999 / AU$1,629 launch price of the iPhone XS.
While a great many Androids come in at price tags far lower than this, the iPhone 11 may have a chance of converting some new devotees. In the usual Apple fashion, the cost increases significantly as you add more storage.
The base model has 64GB. You’ll pay an extra $50 / £70 / AU$80 for the 128GB version, and the 256GB iPhone 11 is $849 / £879 / AU$1,449.
Apple has cleverly shifted its iPhone marketing this year. Where some thought of the iPhone XR as the “affordable” iPhone, as perhaps found it less desirable as a result, there’s no R-rated stigma to the iPhone 11. And it even launches at $100 less than the iPhone XR.
This phone is destined to be very popular, and it deserves to be. It has much of the same hardware as the Pro models, at a much more sensible price.
Compare it to the iPhone XS and what you miss from a true top-end iPhone becomes evident. There’s no ultra-high resolution OLED screen, no steel sides, no telephoto camera lens and the screen surrounds are thicker in the iPhone 11.
However, we’ll only really miss the telephoto camera, and the extra power and longer battery life of the iPhone 11 makes up for it. Most of the time.