Home : Smartphones

Apple iPhone XS Max vs SE 2: Which iPhone Should You Buy?

author Luis Silva (August 2020 Updated: August 2021 - 6 min. reading time)

The iPhone XS Max will cost you more, but it also is the better device of the two considering their specs.

It has a better display and better battery life. But the iPhone SE 2 brings better performance (+22%) and more OS updates (2 additional years).

What else stands out?

The iPhone XS Max also has an AMOLED, larger (+1.8") display, a telephoto lens (+52 mm), and more RAM (4GB vs. 3GB). But the iPhone SE 2 also brings a lightweight body (60 g./2.12 oz less).

But how much more will I have to pay for the iPhone XS Max?

If you're going off-contract, you're going to shell out an extra amount of about $200.

Is the iPhone XS Max still worth buying in 2021?

The iPhone XS Max is still a great phone, even in 2021, and while it isn't the best device out there, at least it's more affordable now. Nevertheless, you should also check other phones like the iPhone 12 because it has better performance, better cameras, more security updates, and faster charging.

Is the iPhone SE 2 still worth buying in 2021?

The iPhone SE 2 isn't the latest release anymore, but you'll still be happy with its good performance and good cameras. If you can find a great deal, it does make sense in 2021, but you'd be better off with (again) the iPhone 12 as a daily driver because it has better performance, better cameras, better battery life, more RAM, and better display.

Read on so you can learn more about their differences, how they compare to similarly priced rivals, and you'll know what the industry thinks about their specs.

Check prices on Amazon Check prices on Amazon
Click here or scroll down to check prices on eBay, BestBuy, and Walmart.

I earn a small fee from qualifying purchases. It doesn't affect the price you pay nor my opinions.

Apple iPhone XS Max, Apple iPhone SE 2

Photo by Wolfgang Eckert from Pixabay


Click on one of these
shortcuts and then tap
"back" to return here


In April of 2020, Apple launched its iPhone SE 2. The iPhone XS Max, however, saw the light of day in September 2018.

With this article, you'll be able to compare every feature of the iPhone XS Max and the iPhone SE 2. Then, you can decide what model better suits your needs. Let's start.

The weight of each section

For additional information regarding our smartphone comparisons, check this FAQ.

to check who their rivals are.

Device iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2
Release Date 2018, September 2020, April 2y.
OS Updates 6 years 6 years 0y.
Security Updates 6 years 6 years 0y.

*Reference: 100: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

Which One Has The Best Performance?

Geekbench 5 scores the iPhone SE 2 22% ahead of its sibling in the multi-core ranking. On a day-to-day basis, it won't be that noticeable.

The iPhone SE 2's performance does stand out for its price range. It got a score of 3237, compared to the usual 2188, or close to that.

We can label the iPhone SE 2 as high-end.

Features iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2
SoC Apple A12 Apple A13
Graphics Apple GPU Apple GPU
Geekbench 5 Score 2655
OS iOS 12 iOS 13

*Reference: 100: Apple iPhone 12.

Which Phone Has The Best Display?

Apple iPhone XS Max front transparent png Apple iPhone SE 2 front transparent png

The iPhone XS Max has the best screen, and you'd be able to tell the difference.

If you prefer a smartphone with a small display, the iPhone SE 2 is your holy grail. It really is short compared to most similarly priced phones.

The iPhone SE 2 has one disadvantage over almost all of its competitors: Its display density is 112 DPI below the usual.

If your next device can't do at least 450 nits, it isn't your best option for HDR content and outdoor readability. Speaking of HDR content:

If you're leaning towards the iPhone XS Max, 89% of its rivals can play HDR content. Plus, all have an AMOLED screen, and 93% have an Always-On display.

Considering the iPhone SE 2, 84% of its rivals can play HDR content and have an Always-On display, and 97% have an AMOLED screen. Then again, only 23% of them feature Gorilla Glass 6 or Victus.

Display Density (DPIs)*
Features iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2
Size 6.5
Screen Type AMOLED LCD
Resolution (px) 1242x2688
Refresh Rate 60hz 60hz 0
Dots per Inch 455.55
Always-On-Display No No
Notch Wedge -
Peak Brightness 530 nits
530 nits
Sub Tek-Score
Protection Corning toughened glass Ion-strengthened glass

*Reference: 100: Sony Xperia 1 II.

Which Phone Has The Best Cameras?

Apple iPhone XS Max back transparent png Apple iPhone SE 2 back transparent png

By DXOMARK's standards, the iPhone XS Max is also roughly 40% above other smartphones with comparable prices. So it should be your option today.

About the iPhone XS Max: DXOMARK gave this shooter a score of 118. Then, if you consider its telephoto lens, you'll end up with a score of 126**. If you click here, you can check what they think of it.

I hope this helps: you should know that all of its rivals can record videos in 4K or more and have an ultra-wide-angle lens, and 93% feature Optical Image Stabilization. On the other hand, only 15% of them feature a macro lens.

About the iPhone SE 2: DXOMARK has rated this camera with a score of 108. By adding its digital zoom abilities, we end up with a score of 112 points. Just click here to read about it.

Finally, if you must know, all of its rivals can record videos in 4 or 8K and have an ultra-wide-angle lens.

If you're not a numbers person, we can tag the iPhone SE 2 as an upper mid-range.

**You should give this score a margin of error of up to 6 points, particularly on mid-end cameras with less than 40MP and no zoom lens. These guys recently updated their test protocol, and I need more reviewed devices to fine-tune older scores.

Picture Quality*
Primary Camera iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2
Megapixels 12
Aperture 1.8
Lens 26mm
Lens Type Wide-Angle Regular
Flash 4 4 0
HDR Yes Yes
OIS Yes Yes
Video 2160 2160 0
Score 126

*Reference: 100: Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra.

Extra Camera(s) iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2 vs.
Megapixels 12
Aperture 2.4
Lens 52mm (2x zoom)
Lens Type Telephoto lens -
Score 8 4 -4
Selfie Camera iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2 vs.
Megapixels 7
Aperture 2.2
Lens 32mm -
iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2 vs.

Who has the best frame?

There isn't a clear winner, so don't worry too much.

In addition to that, the iPhone SE 2 is approximately 19% smaller than most phones from this price range.

The iPhone SE 2 weighs 148 g. (5.22 oz), while the other is 60 g. (2.12 oz) heavier. If you're curious, I've created an adapted score for a "weight to display size" ratio. The iPhone XS Max got 3.2, meaning it's kind of weighty for its display size. The iPhone SE 2, in its turn, has 3.5, which suggests it's considerably hefty too.

The iPhone XS Max truly is water-resistant. It can be submerged 1 to 3 meters deep, while the iPhone SE 2 can dive in up to 1 meter. That shouldn't last over half an hour, and it's freshwater in standby mode only.

Body iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2
Size 157 x 77 x 7 mm
(5.54 x 2.72 x 0.25 in)
138 x 67 x 7 mm
(4.87 x 2.36 x 0.25 in)
Weight 208 g. (7.34 oz)
148 g. (5.22 oz)
Build Front and back glass Front and back glass
Colors Space Gray, Gold, and Silver Black, Red, and White
Screen To Body Ratio 85.85%
Disp.Size To Weight Score 3.2 3.5 0.3
Looks 8.9/10
Waterproof IP68 IP67
Biometrics Face ID Front Fingerprint

*100% = 4+ colors + front and back glass + S2BR: 86+%.

Which has the best battery?

The iPhone XS Max features a 3174 mAh battery, while the iPhone SE 2 has 1821 mAh. And according to GSMArena's tests, the iPhone XS Max does have an advantage here.

OK, it still isn't winning any battery contest. Apple could've done much better, as other devices of this size have way better battery life. That's the conclusion that we take from its "battery to phone size" rate of 2.1.

Clearly, the iPhone SE 2's battery capacity is well below other similarly priced devices. These results show that it lasts about 19% less.

Features iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2
Capacity (mAh) 3174 1821 -1353
1h Talk + 1h Web + 1h Video 78% left
72% left
1h Talk + 3h Web + 1h Video 60% left
57% left
1h Talk + 1h Web + 3h Video 64% left
50% left
Bat. To Phone Size Score 2.1 6.9 4.8
Sub Tek-Score
Fast Charging 15w
Wireless Charging 5w

*Reference: 90: Samsung Galaxy A31.

Which has more storage?

None of them has.

The iPhone XS Max features 64GB of internal storage and 4GB of RAM. You should know that at this price level, its rivals offer more RAM and more storage. They have 8GB of RAM and 135Gb of storage on average, but you can find better options.

The iPhone SE 2 offers 64GB of storage and 3GB of RAM. Again, you can effortlessly get more storage and more RAM on most of its rivals. They usually get close to 7Gb of RAM and 116Gb of storage.

Storage shouldn't be an issue on any of these phones. However, if videos or big games are your thing, you'll soon figure out that 64 GB is too short for you.

Features iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2
Internal (GB) 64GB
Micro SD No No

*Internal Storage + 256GB Memory Card (Max: 512GB).

Which is the most connectivity-friendly?

They also don't stand out on any of these features.

You can connect them to LTE networks. Is 4G good enough for you? If you want 5G, you should look at the iPhone 12 or the iPhone 12 Mini instead.

Features iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2
Network LTE LTE
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC Yes Yes
3.5mm jack No No

Which is more affordable?

Here's what we've found out:

Apple iPhone XS Max

Reference: $650

Apple iPhone XS Max

Apple iPhone SE 2

Reference: $450

Apple iPhone SE 2

I earn a small fee from qualifying purchases. It doesn't affect the price you pay nor my opinions, but it will mean a lot if you click on one of these buttons before purchasing your next phone (or whatever else you end up buying). You'll be helping to take this to the next level.

Prices on eBay are in $US but Europe-based. You can click to check the prices in your country.

Prices marked with ! are from renewed/refurbished/carrier-locked phones (except eBay prices that, as a last resort, can be from bids or used devices).

How much of a "phone" can your money buy?
That's how much "score" you can get with $100 based on the global score that you'll see in the next section (higher is better).

Have you found better prices elsewhere? The formula is simple: score/price*100.

Value for money iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2 VS
Amazon 1.33 ! - ! -
eBay 0.83 1.34 0.51
Best Buy - - -
Walmart - ! - -

Also, don't forget to check the latest deals from these four stores, and the state of the art on mobile technology, if you don't want to overpay on your next smartphone.

Related articles:

Best smartphone deals

The Best Unbiased Smartphones For All Budgets

Smartphone Specs Statistics: The State Of The Art (Q1 2021)

Are you ready for that final score? We're almost there. Just so you have an idea, take a look at where its adversaries average. They're in the ballpark of 7.0 for the iPhone XS Max and 6.3 for the iPhone SE 2.

Verdict: What Makes the Apple iPhone XS Max Stand Out?

These two aren't that far off in terms of their price. That means you'll get to decide if you want a big screen with OK battery life or a smaller old-style display that performs exceptionally well but may not last you the entire day on a single charge.

Aside from that, there isn't much to consider. You do get a better overall display with the XS Max, better cameras (with optical zoom), and an extra GB of RAM, but you'll definitely lose on weight and software updates.

Pros iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2
#1 Performance Performance
#2 AMOLED Cameras
#3 Cameras Fast Charging
#4 Fast Charging Wireless Charging
#5 Wireless Charging Glass Protection
#6 Glass Protection
Cons iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2
#1 Always-On-Display Screen Resolution
#2 MicroSD Slot AMOLED
#3 Weight Always-On-Display
#4 3.5mm Jack Battery Life
#5 Price MicroSD Slot
#6 3.5mm Jack
#7 Price
Relative Score*
Global Score iPhone XS Max iPhone SE 2
Gaming Score
Your Score

Scroll the sliders down below to get your own personalized score. Let's suppose you value performance and battery life, and you don't really care about anything else. Then, just set the "Performance" and the "Battery" sliders up to 5 (5+5=10), and then the other sliders down to 0. You'll know what's the best phone for you.

Performance 1.9
Display 1.7
Cameras 1.4
Frame 0.9
Battery 1.9
Storage 2.0
Connectivity 0.4
Total Should be 10 or as close as possible: 9.6

*Reference: 100: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

For suggestions and bug reports, click here. Your help is appreciated. Thank you.

If you want to know more about them, click here:

About me


My name is Luis Silva, and I have a degree in computer management. Ever since I was a teenager, I've loved everything to do with tech. Music, pictures, video editing, I've done it all! This site is a place for me to share some of the knowledge I have, as well as keep up-to-date with current trends. This is a wonderful place for tech-geeks and everyone else that just want to learn more about tech and smartphones in general.

Keep in touch

pinterest logo Follow us on Pinterest

facebook logo Join our Facebook group

No spam, I promise. You can unsubscribe at any time and I'll never share your email without your permission.

Apple iPhone XS Max Related Comparisons

Apple iPhone SE 2 Related Comparisons


"Display size to phone weight" ratio explained

This indeed is a "display size to phone weight" ratio, but because every phone ended up somewhere between 0.0272 and 0.0421, I've amplified (adapted) those values so they would fit in a 0-10 scale. As of now, the best smartphone is the Samsung Galaxy A40, with 140g. (4.94 oz) for a 5.9 inch display. It got a score of 9.92. While the worse device is the iPhone 8 Plus, which weighs 202 g. (7.13 oz) and has a 5.5-inch display. It ended up with a score of 0.75.

Please, be aware that this score is subject to change if and when a new smartphone comes along that ends up being outside of this scale.


"Battery to device size" ratio explained

This score should give you an idea about the energy footprint of the devices you're considering. It reflects not only the hardware and the energy that it requires but also the amount of energy that the battery can deliver.

The major spenders on any device should be the display and the SoC. But everything from a notification led to its modems need to be optimized, or else, the OEM should simply include a bigger battery as a compensation. Unfortunately, it isn't always possible due to size limitations. But in the end, if a particular OEM can do a good job and give you excellent battery life on a small device, so should everyone else. That's why I've added a "battery to device size" ratio. But since the real scale went from 119 (for the Galaxy S10e, Snapdragon variant) and up to 164 (for the iPhone 7 Plus), I've decided to convert them so they would fit in a 0-10 scale, being 0 the worst device, (the iPhone 7 Plus) and 10 the one every OEM should look up to.

As an example, Apple did an excellent job on the iPhone 7. It has a score of 8. Despite having a small capacity, the hardware is well optimized, and it still gives you decent battery life considering its size. The iPhone 7 Plus, on the other hand, with those bezels shrinking its display size, clearly could've been the #1 in our top 10 list of best battery devices if Apple simply filled all that empty space with a bigger battery.

As a side note: I haven't included the dept of the devices in this formula because even if a device ended up being 1mm/0.03 inches thicker, it wouldn't matter that much to those who really value battery life.

Please, be aware that this score is subject to change if and when a new smartphone comes along that ends up being outside of this scale.



As of now, these are the rivals that were considered for each of them. They may change every time its prices are updated.

These are the lowest prices found on Amazon, eBay, BestBuy, and Walmart.

 Apple iPhone XS Max 
  • ApplerivaliPhone 12
  • SonyrivalXperia 1
  • SonyrivalXperia 5
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy Note 10+
  • ApplerivaliPhone X
  • ApplerivaliPhone 11
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy Note 9
  • ApplerivaliPhone 11 Pro
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S10 Plus
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S10+ EX
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S20 EX
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S20 SD
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S20+ SD
  • HuaweirivalP30 Pro
  • GooglerivalPixel 4 XL
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S20
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S20 Plus
  • HuaweirivalP40
  • XiaomirivalMi 10 Pro
  • GooglerivalPixel 5
  • ApplerivaliPhone 12 Mini
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S21
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S21 Plus
  • OnePlusrival8T
  • XiaomirivalMi 10
  • OpporivalReno4 Pro
  • SonyrivalXperia 1 II
  • XiaomirivalMi 11
  • OnePlusrival9
  • OpporivalFind X3 Lite

 Apple iPhone SE 2 
  • ApplerivaliPhone 8
  • ApplerivaliPhone XR
  • OnePlusrival7
  • XiaomirivalMi 9T Pro
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy Note 8
  • ApplerivaliPhone 8 Plus
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S10e
  • ApplerivaliPhone XS
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy Note 10
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S9
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S10e EX
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S10+ SD
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S20+ EX
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S10 EX
  • OnePlusrival7T
  • OnePlusrival7 Pro
  • HuaweirivalP30
  • GooglerivalPixel 4
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S9 Plus
  • HuaweirivalMate 20 Pro
  • XiaomirivalMi 9
  • XiaomirivalMi 9 Lite
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy A71
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy Note 10 Lite
  • OnePlusrivalNord
  • GooglerivalPixel 4a
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S20 FE
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy S20 FE 5G
  • OpporivalFind X2 Neo
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy M51
  • XiaomirivalMi 10T Lite
  • XiaomirivalMi 10 Lite
  • XiaomirivalMi 11 Lite
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy A52
  • SamsungrivalGalaxy A72
  • XiaomirivalMi 9t Pro

Formula deviation

Since the guys at DxoMark don't review every camera out there, I've come up with a formula based on the ones that they do rate, so I could get an equivalent score for the ones they don't review. After testing it against these cameras, I got the deviation between that and their DxO score.

Device: DxOScore Deviation
Samsung Galaxy A50: 88 -1
Apple iPhone XR: 104 1
Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro: 108 -7
Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro: 87 1
Sony Xperia 1: 99 -1
Sony Xperia 5: 101 1
Samsung Galaxy Note 8: 100 0
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus: 126 2
Apple iPhone 8 Plus: 96 -3
Xiaomi Pocophone F1: 92 -1
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 90 -1
Apple iPhone X: 101 3
Apple iPhone 11: 112 -1
Samsung Galaxy Note 8: 100 0
Samsung Galaxy Note 9: 107 1
Apple iPhone XS Max: 110 -2
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: 124 1
Samsung Galaxy S10: 124 2
Apple iPhone XS: 110 -1
Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus: 120 -2
OnePlus 7 Pro: 122 0
OnePlus 7T Pro: 122 0
Huawei P30 Pro: 125 -1
Google Pixel 4: 117 0
Google Pixel 3: 103 0
Google Pixel 2: 100 0
Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus: 127 -2
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: 132 2
OnePlus 6: 100 0
OnePlus 6T: 101 1
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus: 105 -1
Huawei Mate 20 Pro: 120 0
Xiaomi Mi 9: 115 0
Huawei Mate 30 Pro: 132 0
Huawei P40 Pro: 140 -1
Apple iPhone SE 2: 101 0
OnePlus 8 Pro: 126 0
Xiaomi Mi 8: 105 1
Samsung Galaxy A71: 89 1
Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro: 134 0

As you can see, most cameras sit between 1 and -1, while a few of them go up to 2 or -2. That means it's reasonable to assume other similar cameras that they don't review to, in the worst-case scenario, be anywhere from -2 to 2 points from the score that the formula gets.

For example: Given that the Pixel 4 got 117 points and that the Pixel 4 XL share the same year and camera specs, it's reasonable to expect a score of 117 too. But in reality, if they do review that camera, it may end up anywhere between 115 and 119.

Be aware that at DxO, they give a score based on their opinion, not based on any formula. That's why I think there's an odd difference of 6 points between the iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X. In theory, they should have the same camera.

I'm guessing that the Mi 9T Pro got a deviation of 7 points because they tested its Chinese variant (the K20 Pro).

Update: They just changed their protocol to include preview image evaluation and trustability. I'm keeping the old table (for now) for reference purposes, and I'll be adding a new one as soon as they review at least a couple of new mclass-range cameras.

You can expect the same (or a bit bigger) deviation for high-end cameras, but anything with a score below 100-110 should be taken with a grain of salt.

This is valid for all cameras tested with the previous protocol. For those that they dclassn't test, the deviation may be up to twice as much.


About GeekBench 5

This is just a quick note to let you know that, if, by any chance, the smartphone you're looking for isn't on the GeekBench site yet, you can check on GsmArena.com, as they also usually test smartphones with that benchmark tool.

Top 10 Smartphones