iPhone XS is here, and it is a modest upgrade on an already great phone.
Pronounced ‘10-S’, not ‘excess’ as you might think, this phone is identical to last year’s iPhone X, and you might think that not a lot has changed – but it’s inside where the differences lie. If you want the best iPhone Apple has created, the iPhone XS is surely it – but do the tweaks inside really justify the price tag, and are they enough to fend off the ever-improving competition?
Also, do not forget the coming of the iPhone XR which might come with even more improvements.
The iPhone XS does not have that many new features, with Apple resolutely sticking to the strategy of launching an ‘S’ phone with little changed other than speed improvements and a few other performance bumps.
That’s not to say it isn’t impressive, and useful, new hardware in the iPhone XS, but most of the benefits won’t be instantly discernible to the average user.
One change that is easy to spot is the new color: the gold variant is more mocha than anything else, with a touch of copper in the shade, and brings another option in addition to the Space Gray and silver options.
Apple is proudly talking up its new chipset, and with good reason: it’s one of the most powerful on a smartphone, created as it was using a 7nm process. That may not mean much to most people, but essentially it means that it is faster.
One might question whether this much power is really needed – and sure, if you’re just browsing the web and sending messages it’s utterly wasted. However, if you want to explore the world of augmented reality, then these extra transistors are on hand to help out.
There’s also a new ‘Neural Engine’ in the mix, enabling your phone to become more intelligent, learning as you use it. It adds a ‘smart layer’ to proceedings, allowing the handset to recognize things on the screen, whether that’s appending an Animoji to your head in real time during a FaceTime call, or working out what’s needed to improve the quality of a photo as you’re taking it.
The A12 chipset brings a step up in graphical performance too – gaming is getting ever closer to console-level graphics.
Design and screen
The design of the iPhone XS is familiar because it is exactly the same as the iPhone X from last year. The same shape, frame, and footprint are used.
It is one of the best-designed phones on the market right now.
The iPhone XS Max is a much larger phone, and the stretch across the palm makes it feel a little thicker, but the smaller XS model fits more comfortably into the hand and the curved exterior is decent to hold.
Apple’s also made the iPhone XS IP68-rated, meaning you can plunge it into the water for deeper or longer if you’re that way inclined. It won’t make a huge amount of difference if you’re just someone that likes to play music in the shower, but Apple has also made the screen easier to stab with wet fingers.
The iPhone XS screen builds on the OLED panel from last year’s iPhone X, bringing the same resolution (2436 x 1125) and same pixel density (458 pixels per inch) as the screen from the iPhone X. However, things have been improved in terms of the dynamic range of the display (dynamic range is the amount of color spectrum emitted), boosting it 60% to make the HDR 10 and Dolby Vision effects more impressive.
It’s also not quite got the quality levels of some other devices – for instance, the OLED panel on the Sony Xperia XZ3 is slightly more natural-yet-vivid looking – but that doesn’t stop this being one of the best phones to look at.
The camera on the iPhone XS has been a tough one to review when comparing it to last year’s iPhone X, as the two seem very similar indeed. Both offer a dual 12MP sensor on the rear, with one a telephoto lens for lossless zooming and the other a ‘standard’ wide-angle affair.
There’s optical image stabilization on both for improved video, so the top-line specs feel fairly similar.
Below that is where the changes lie, though. For instance, the size of the pixels has been increased to allow greater sensitivity to light, for better low-light photography. The sensors are still f/1.8 and f/2.4 (wide angle and telephoto, respectively) so you won’t be able to zoom in as well in darker scenes, but those numbers are pretty acceptable for a top-end smartphone, if not mind-blowing.
The iPhone XS is precisely the same as the phones before it – better than the previous year, but a long way from the best on the market. The easiest way to describe it is: just a touch below average, but far better than any other (non-Plus / Max) iPhone we’ve tested.
The iPhone XS continues the Apple tradition of making new phones with little upgrades but just enough to entice their lovers.
If the iPhone XR didn’t exist, we’d suggest that you go out and get the iPhone XS as the cost doesn’t really plummet that much over the course of the year – so if you can afford it now, then go for it. However, the iPhone XR offers a lot if similar features: large display, A12 Bionic chipset, iOS 12, TrueDepth camera on the front – and it’s much cheaper (without still being that cheap). If you just want a good and powerful iPhone, the sleekest you’ll be able to buy this year, then go for the new iPhone XS (or think about boosting up to the iPhone XS Max).
But just make sure it’s in your price range first.
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