Apple will happily sell you a new iPhone 13 for $US800 ($1,105), $US1,000 ($1,382), or even $US1,100 ($1,520). But unless you’re desperate for a 120 Hz display or the latest and greatest smartphone camera money can buy, you might find more value in the used iPhone market. While you can find any iPhone ever made for sale online, there’s one that’s particularly enticing this year; the iPhone Tennis (excuse me; the iPhone XS).
The history of the iPhone XS (and friends)
Apple released the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR back in 2018. It was Apple’s first smartphone release following the massive design change of the iPhone X, and the first time every new iPhone sported that same design language; an edge-to-edge display, complete with the controversial notch for Face ID.
At the time, it didn’t seem like a big upgrade; the design of the XS was virtually identical to the X (save a new colour), and the rear cameras — while technically improved — didn’t blow the previous year’s images out of the water. The biggest change was the processor, which greatly boosted machine learning and graphics capabilities, while adding modest CPU upgrades.
Really, the phones seemed meant for people who were upgrading from a much older device; you could save some money and get a colourful XR, or drop some dollars on the XS Max to get the largest display ever in an iPhone.
Why isn’t another iPhone the best value on the market?
There are plenty of great iPhone deals out there; the iPhone X is still going strong, and looks just like a relatively new iPhone from a distance. Even the iPhone 6S runs iOS 15; you could snag one of those on the used market for cheap and still receive the latest updates from Apple.
The thing is, even though iOS 15 supports a long list of iPhones, the software doesn’t treat all iPhones equally. Apple went ahead and trimmed some features out of its latest update for older iPhones; Live Text; Portrait mode in FaceTime; AR walking directions in Apple Maps; the ability to look up places inside of photos; unlocking Home-kit smart locks using Wallet; and on-device Siri support.
What hardware does iOS 15 require for these features?
These iOS 15 features require Apple’s A12 chip or newer. That means that the iPhone 6S, 6S Plus, SE (first-gen), 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus, and X all miss these fun new options, because their processors just aren’t powerful enough to handle them (at least, so says Apple).
The A12 chip just so happens to be the one found inside the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR (as well as the fifth-gen iPad Mini, third-gen iPad Air, eighth-gen iPad, and second-gen Apple TV 4K, in case you wanted to know). All three of those iPhones support those aforementioned iOS 15 features, as well as all the other new changes found in Apple’s big update, making them the oldest iPhones that offer a complete iOS 15 experience.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear “oldest iPhone,” I hear “cheapest iPhone.” That’s what makes these used phones so appealing.
Why the iPhone XS over the XS Max or XR?
Really, it comes down to value. According to Swappa, the average iPhone XS goes for around $US309 ($427). The XS Max and XR, on the other hand, run $US365 ($504) and $US287 ($397), respectively. Of course, if you want to spend the least amount of money as possible on an A12 iPhone, you go with the XR. If you want a huge display, and don’t mind spending the extra cash, it’s XS Max for you.
But the XS is for those in the middle; it’s for those who want the dual camera setup and OLED display the XR can’t give you, but don’t care about a 6.5-inch screen. You spend a little more to get a little more, but save on the things you don’t really need. For most people looking for a high-quality iPhone experience without breaking the bank this year, you really can’t go wrong with the iPhone XS.