For those attracted to the XS Max, the competition gets even tougher. Samsung’s Galaxy S9 Plus is a no-brainer since it packs a fantastic camera and an arguably sleeker design. The Galaxy Note 9 is probably the XS Max’s biggest rival, though, if only because it lets you do a lot more with all that screen space. If that wasn’t enough, Google is also gearing up to launch a pair of new Pixels in just a few weeks. Both will run the elegant Android 9.0 Pie right out of the box, and if history is any indicator, they’re going to bring the heat when it comes to camera performance.
Now here’s the really odd part: it may well be that the iPhone XS and XS Max’s biggest competitor might be, uh, another iPhone. The iPhone XR is set to launch some time in October, and it packs the same A12 Bionic that powers its more expensive cousins. It is, however, much cheaper — prices start at $729, mostly because of its cheaper aluminum frame, LCD (sorry, Liquid Retina) display and its single rear camera. I appreciate Apple wanting to make cutting-edge iPhone features available to as many people who want them, and I suspect Apple’s going to sell a lot of them.
To say that these are Apple’s best iPhones ever isn’t really saying much — that’s true of just about every iPhone release. With that said, the iPhone XS and XS Max subtly improve on the important work Apple started last year with the iPhone X in just about every way that matters. These aren’t just worthy successors, they’re fantastic smartphones in their own right. And thanks to Apple’s growing focus on machine learning and the A12 Bionic’s Neural Engine, both of these phones have been set up for success as our smartphone software continues to become more sophisticated.
But we need to circle back to our original question: Are either of these new iPhones must-own devices? The answer really depends. If you splurged on an iPhone X last year, you could easily skip out on this generation — and maybe even the next one — and not feel bad about it. To be clear, Apple has done some fine work here, but once you’ve installed iOS 12, I don’t think you’re missing out on enough to justify the costs. If you’ve been using an older iPhone, though, or mulling a switch from Android, the XS line’s value becomes much more clear. Even so, most of you reading this should consider waiting until the iPhone XR launches next month. Until we get a clearer sense of how Apple’s cheap new iPhone X stacks up to these premium options, it’s hard to say if the company’s best iPhones ever are actually the best iPhones for you.