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iPhone XR vs. iPhone 8 Plus: Which iPhone should you buy?

Now that the iPhone 11 is out, you can nab an older iPhone for cheaper and they still work great.

Available in retail stores today, Apple's's newly launched iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max feature the latest A13 Bionic processor, multiple rear cameras and plenty of updated camera and video tricks. But just because the 2019 iPhones are finally out, that doesn't mean previous models are obsolete. Now starting at the lower price of $599, £629 and AU$1,049, the iPhone XR is one of the few options you have if you want a big-screen iPhone, but don't want to pay upward of $1,000 for the latest models. Its key features include last year's A12 Bionic chip, vibrant color options and a camera that's on par with the iPhone XS  -- without an extravagant price tag. 

But 2017's iPhone 8 Plus, which starts $50 less than the XR at $549, £579 and AU$949, is also a fantastic phone. It sports a classic iPhone design, complete with the familiar physical home button. Indeed, despite being an older model, the phone has many of the same advantages as the iPhone XR.

To help decide which phone is right for you, I dive into the two phones' designs, cameras, hardware features and prices to see what phone fits what needs the best.

Note that these products are independently chosen by our editors, based on hands-on testing. CNET may get a share of the revenue from the sale of products from the links.  

Apple iPhone XR

The most modern choice

Josh Miller/CNET

With its gesture navigation, animated emojis and face unlock, the iPhone XR ensures that you'll be more acclimated to the latest lines of iPhones than with the iPhone 8 Plus at just $50 more. It's also a great phone in and of itself. Clocking in the longest battery life of the 2018 iPhones, the iPhone XR lasted a fantastic 19 hours and 53 minutes. It also has an excellent big screen in a comfortable body, fast performance and wireless charging, as well as a camera that's mostly as good as the iPhone XS.

Apple iPhone 8 Plus

The better deal

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple knocked off $250, £220 and AU$280 from the launch price of the iPhone 8 Plus, which means that the phone is now $50, £50 and AU$100 cheaper than the iPhone XR. But is going with the 8 Plus worth saving that extra money with a shorter battery life, a less advanced processor and camera, and no dual-SIM capabilities? My short answer is no, but that may not be true for everyone. 8 Plus has a second 12-megapixel camera and a physical home button. While that may just be delaying the inevitable, we understand that it's a user-friendly and familiar feature to have. 

How we tested

Design: iPhone XR's vibrant colors or iPhone 8 Plus' home button?

Of the two phones, the iPhone XR has a bigger 6.1-inch display. Despite this however, the XR's slimmer bezels mean that the physical footprint of the phone is actually smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus, and it's lighter as well.

The iPhone XR also comes in six colors, including a vibrant red, blue, yellow and coral on top of the standard black and white. The iPhone 8 Plus, on the other hand, only comes in three color variants: white, black and gold.

iPhone 8 Plus

The iPhone 8 series retains the home button.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But even if it lacks extra color options, the iPhone 8 Plus has a few design advantages. Its smaller 5.5-inch display is actually sharper than the iPhone XR: It has a higher resolution and more pixels per inch (for the exact specs, check out the spec chart below). And unlike the iPhone XR, there's no notch on the iPhone 8 Plus, and it retains a classic home button, which doubles as a fingerprint scanner.

Whether or not the iPhone 8 Plus' home button is considered an advantage is up to your personal preference, though. The button is familiar, and lets you easily tap to return home and double-tap to call up recent apps. Without the home key, the iPhone XR integrates swiping gestures for navigation instead. This may take some time to learn, but it's easy to adapt to after a while.

Camera: Face ID vs. dual rear cameras

The iPhone XR has a front-facing camera that can sense depth and map your face. Because of this, you can unlock your phone or authorize saved passwords with Face ID instead of a fingerprint and you can make animated emojis that mirror your facial movements.

Unlike other iPhone X-series phones, the XR doesn't have a secondary telephoto rear lens as well. That means there's no 2x optical zoom (it uses a digital zoom instead) and Portrait photos are rendered through software; not enhanced with the telephoto lens.

iPhone 8 Plus

The iPhone 8 Plus has two cameras on the back. But does it take better photos than the XR?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Though I expected the 8 Plus to take better photos given its dual-camera setup, photos taken with the XR looked sharper and more vibrant. That doesn't mean the 8 Plus is a slouch, but I can noticeably see details in the XR that the 8 Plus managed to smudge out a bit.

And even though it renders its Portrait photos with a single lens, the effect looks just as good, if not better on the XR than it does on the 8 Plus. On the XR, the fallout between the fore- and background is smooth, skin tones are more realistic and the blur effect looks natural.

Zooming 2x on a scene with the XR also worked just as well as the 8 Plus' telephoto zoom. Objects clear and small details, like the lines of tree bark or individual leaves that fell on the ground, had finer lines and focus.

Also note that while both phones have studio lighting effects for the rear camera(s), the 8 Plus doesn't have it for its front-facing camera.

Performance: The iPhone XR's processor and battery are better

My day-to-day handling of both iPhones didn't show any discernible differences in speed, and when it came to daily tasks like launching apps and firing up the camera, both phones appeared to perform as swiftly as the other.

But the iPhone XR is indeed faster on paper, thanks to its more advanced A12 processor (the iPhone 8 Plus has 2017's A11 chipset). Check out the benchmarks below:

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 single-core

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 multicore

Apple iPhone XR
11,392
Apple iPhone 8 Plus
10,394

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Clocking an average of 19 hours and 53 minutes in our lab tests for continuous video playback on Airplane mode, the iPhone XR had the best battery life of this year's iPhones. In comparison, the iPhone 8 Plus lasted 13 hours and 45 minutes. This discrepancy is likely due to a bump in battery capacity for the XR. Though Apple does not confirm these specs, the iPhone XR has a larger 2,942mAh battery compared to the iPhone 8 Plus' 2,675mAh battery.

Other things to consider: Capacity, dual-SIM and 3D Touch

Capacity: Both the iPhone XR and 8 Plus still have 64GB models available. At launch, they had 256GB memory capacities and the iPhone XR had a third memory option of 128GB. However, now that the iPhone 11 devices are out, the 256GB option has been discontinued and currently, the iPhone XR and 8 Plus come in 64GB and 128GB. This is not bad per se; 128GB is commonly considered to be the "sweet spot" as far as storage goes. That's because 64GB may not be enough to hold all your photos and 4K videos, 256GB may be too extravagant. 

42b1098

You can have two numbers on the iPhone XR.

Angela Lang/CNET

Dual-sim capabilities: Newer iPhones have dual-sim capabilities. That means you can manage two different phone numbers on the same iPhone XR, using a nano-SIM and e-SIM. For more information, check out CNET's dual-SIM and eSIM FAQ here.

3D Touch: The iPhone 8 Plus' screen is pressure-sensitive, and has a feature called 3D Touch. By tapping a tad harder with your finger, you can preview links, apps and messages before opening them. Aside from a few things that you can long-press (like the camera and flashlight shortcuts), the iPhone XR, as well as the iPhone 11 devices, do not have this feature for the most part.

iPhone XR vs. iPhone 8 Plus specs


iPhone XR iPhone 8 Plus
Display size, resolution 6.1-inch LCD Retina Display; 1,792x828 pixels 5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 326ppi 401 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.9x3.0x0.33 in. 6.24x3.07x0.30 in.
Dimensions (Millimeters) 150.9x75.7x8.3 mm 158.4x78.1x7.5 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.8oz.; 194g 7.13 oz.; 202g
Mobile software iOS 12 iOS 11
Camera Single 12-megapixel Dual 12-megapixel
Front-facing camera 7-megapixel with Face ID 7-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K
Processor Apple A12 Bionic Apple A11 Bionic
Storage 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 256GB
RAM Not disclosed 3GB
Expandable storage None None
Battery 2,942 mAh (Apple doesn't confirm this) 2,675 mAh (Apple doesn't confirm this)
Fingerprint sensor None (Face ID) Home button (Touch ID)
Connector Lightning Lightning
Headphone jack No No
Special features Water resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging; Face ID; Memoji Water resistant (IP67); wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD) $599 (64GB), $649 (128GB) $649 (64GB), $599 (128GB)
Price (GBP) £629 (64GB), £679 (128GB) £579 (64GB), £629 (128GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,049 (64GB), AU$1,129 (128GB) AU$949 (64GB), AU$1,029 (128GB)