Apple iPhone XS Smartphone Review
My preciousss. Apple has stuck with its “S” nomenclature even after its anniversary iPhone and has consequently followed the iPhone X with the iPhone XS. As with previous “S” models, the iPhone XS is more a technical refinement of its predecessor than a fundamental departure. The iPhone XS should do everything better than its predecessor without reinventing itself. Read on for our iPhone XS review and to find out whether the device can match expectations. Update: Added PWM video.
Daniel Schmidt. Daniel Schmidt (translated by Alex Alderson), Published 09/22/2018
Every year a new iPhone comes fluttering into Apple Stores at the beginning of fall. This remains the same this year too. In this review, we are focusing on the smaller of Apple’s new flagship devices, the iPhone XS. Apple still insists that the device is pronounced the iPhone 10S and not XS. Powering the device is Apple’s new A12 Bionic chipset and 4 GB RAM, the latter of which is a considerable jump in RAM and one which Apple has previously reserved just for its iPad Pro devices. The iPhone XS retains the iPhone X’s 5.8-inch display, but Apple should have improved things like the maximum luminosity and color accuracy.
The device comes with a new camera sensor too, which has larger pixels for improved photosensitivity than its predecessor. The iPhone XS also comes with up to 512 GB of storage and even dual-SIM support. A word of caution on this, practically all iPhone XS devices are equipped with one physical nano-SIM slot and an eSIM slot. Few carriers currently support eSIMs though, the limitations of which are reflected by Apple releasing a version of the iPhone XS with two nano-SIM slots for the Chinese market. Apple has also improved the XS’ IP rating over its predecessor too.
Apple’s pricing for the iPhone XS is breathtakingly high. The entry model with 64 GB of storage costs 1,149 Euros (~1,347) at launch, while the 256 GB and 512 GB models cost 1,319 Euros (~1,547) and 1,549 Euros (~1,817), respectively. The iPhone XS Max costs an additional 100 Euros (~117) across all three models. What’s more, Apple has replaced both the iPhone 8 and X series with the 10S series, effectively increasing the cost of an Apple flagship device by 350 Euros (~410).
We have chosen to compare the iPhone XS against its predecessor and other Android flagship devices like the Google Pixel 2 XL, HTC U12, Huawei P20 Pro, LG G7 ThinQ, OnePlus 6, Samsung Galaxy S9 and the Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium.
Update: First impressions, display measurements (PWM), Wi-Fi performance and initial benchmarks.
Update II: Further benchmarks, battery tests and sections on Communication, Accessories, Connectivity and Speakers have been added.
Update III: Sections added for GPS, Display and Cameras.
Update IV: Sections added for Software, Input Devices, Performance, Temperature and further Battery tests.
Apple A12 Bionic Apple A12 Bionic GPU
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5.80 inch 2.16:1, 2436 x 1125 pixel 463 PPI, Capacitive, 10-point multitouch, OLED, HDR10, Dolby Vision, True Tone, Anti-grease coating, 3D Touch, P3 colour space, glossy: yes
Audio Connections: Lightning, NFC, Brightness Sensor, Sensors: Face ID, Barometer, Digital Compass, Accelerometer, Proximity sensor, Positional sensor and three-axis gyroscope, Lightning, eSIM, Galileo, QZSS
802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (a/b/g/n = Wi-Fi 4/ac = Wi-Fi 5/), Bluetooth 5.0, GSM/GPRS/Edge: 850, 900, 1,800 and 1,900 MHz; UMTS/HSPA:850, 900, 1,700/2,100, 1,900 and 2,100 MHz); LTE Cat. 16: Band 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 32, 66, 34, 38, 39, 40, 41 and 46, LTE, GPS
Primary Camera: 12 MPix Wide angle: f/1.8, 1.4 ?m, FOCUS pixel, six-lens elements, OIS. 12 MP telephoto lens: f/2.4, six-lens elements, OIS, 2 x optical zoom. True Tone Flash, UHD videos at 60 FPSSecondary Camera: 7 MPix f/2.2, Full HD videos at 60 FPS
Speakers: Stereo Speakers, Keyboard: Virtual keyboard, Power supply, Lightning cable, Headphones, Quick Start guide, sticker, SIM tool, 12 Months Warranty, SAR values: 0.99 W/kg, IP68 rated, Qi wireless charging, fanless, waterproof
Note: The manufacturer may use components from different suppliers including display panels, drives or memory sticks with similar specifications.
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The iPhone XS looks broadly the same as its predecessor save for a new color option. The XS comes in black, white or a new gold finish, the latter of which offers reflections in a pearlescent fashion depending on the viewing angle. The XS shares the same dimensions as its predecessor but is 3 g heavier according to Apple; we could not confirm this during our tests. Contrary to Apple’s documentation, our test device is slightly thinner than its predecessor at 7.65 mm. Additionally, Apple has thickened the camera array, which now protrudes by 1.5 mm from the rear case.
The XS has a stainless-steel frame while the front and back of the device are made from the same unspecified glass. Apple insists that this glass is the most durable of its kind; naturally, we would expect nothing less from Apple.
The XS has excellent build quality with tight and even gaps between materials across the entire device. over, the XS is stiff as a board and made no cracking noises during our best attempts to twist our test device. Our test devices feel good in the hand too and not particularly heavy. However, it is worth pointing out that the gold version is vulnerable to fingerprints. Additionally, while the glass is relatively easy to clean, cleaning the stainless-steel frame requires a lot more effort.
The iPhone XS is dust and water-resistant like its predecessor, but Apple has increased the IP rating to IP68, which should mean that the device can survive up to 30 minutes submerged in water. However, strictly speaking, the rating is IPX8 and not IP68, as Apple does not provide a time limit for submerging the device. The XS is also beer, chlorine, salt water, tea and even wine resistant according to Apple’s keynote. Pleasingly, liquid damage does not invalidate a warranty claim.
The SIM slot continues to only accept one nano-SIM, except for in China where Apple is releasing a true dual-SIM variant. The rest of the world gets dual-SIM functionality from an eSIM rather than a traditional nano-SIM.
Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium HTC U12 Plus Apple iPhone XS Max OnePlus 6 Huawei P20 Pro LG G7 ThinQ Samsung Galaxy S9 Apple iPhone XS Apple iPhone X Apple iPhone 8 DIN A6 ❌
The Lightning port remains the only way to connect the XS to a computer or an accessory with a wired connection. Officially the device supports USB 3.0, but Apple has only included a USB 2.0 cable in the box as evidenced by the length of time it took to complete a large data transfer on iTunes. You will need to buy a Lightning cable to USB-C if you want faster data transfer. Apple also offers numerous Lightning adapters to Thunderbolt, card readers, and video connections like HDMI.
The XS retains the same short-range wireless communication that the iPhone X supported. The XS also supports Bluetooth 5.0 and NFC, the latter of which is restricted just to read mode.
The sensors remain the same too. Face ID is still the only biometric security method, and no new iPhones have Touch ID support.
The eSIM function is not yet active and will be activated in a forthcoming update.
A new iPhone release is always synonymous with a new version of iOS. The iPhone XS runs iOS 12, which contains numerous changes from previous iterations. Apple stresses that iOS 12 is much faster than previous versions and should run faster on older devices. Apple is so sure of this that it is pushing iOS 12 out to even five-year-old devices like the iPhone 5S and the iPad Air. Other manufacturers should take note as few of Apple’s competitors currently support their devices for as long as Apple.
iOS 12 brings new features to FaceTime including calls with up to 32 simultaneous participants. Likewise, iMessage has new text effects, emojis, Animojis, and Memojis, the latter of which allows users to create Animojis of their faces. Notifications and the Do Not Disturb feature have been enhanced and further optimized too. over, iOS 12 brings new Siri features and allows the virtual assistant to learn things like routines that are triggered by voice commands among others. Face ID can now also unlock the device with up to two scanned faces.
A completely new feature is the screen time option. The feature serves to better control the device’s usage behavior on the one hand and act as a way for parents to limit children’s time on Apple devices on the other hand, like Google’s FamilyLink. The Apple app is better thought out though particularly for child-focused customization options. While FamilyLink can limit only individual apps, Apple’s equivalent can limit entire app categories. So, a parent could limit a child to spending 30 minutes cumulatively on all games and not 30 minutes on each game. Unfortunately, iOS 12 only allows time restrictions by app categories and not individual apps; these apps can only be defined as exceptions to wider rules. iOS 12 even allows for cross-device configurations.
Users of iOS 11 will also quickly notice a change in multi-tasking. Apps can now be closed faster by simply swiping them up and away from other background apps.
Please see our iPhone XS Max review for a detailed list of changes with iOS 12.
Almost nothing has changed regarding mobile data connectivity according to the datasheet. The maximum data transfer rates correspond to LTE Cat. 16, which has a maximum download rate of 1,024 Mb/s. However, the XS supports three more LTE bands: 14, 32, and 46. The first two are FDD bands while the latter is a TDD Band. These additional bands mean that the XS supports an impressive 27 LTE bands, which should be enough for good LTE connectivity in most countries. Equally, older mobile networks continue to be supported with a wide range of frequencies. Apple has shifted from Qualcomm to Intel modems, which may explain why the XS transfer speeds are the same as its predecessors. However, mobile network communication has improved thanks to the XS’ 4×4 MIMO antenna. We have had no issues so far with mobile network coverage with our XS.
The Wi-Fi module supports IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac standards and has a 2×2 MIMO antenna that works with 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi networks. Our test device has lower downlink transmission speeds than both the iPhone X and iPhone 8 when measured with our Linksys EA8500 reference router. Overall, transmission speeds are impressive though. over, the transmission power has improved; our test device maintains a stable 2.4 GHz network connection over 10 meters, but we noticed connection dropouts when further than 12 meters from our reference router on a 5 GHz network.
The XS uses A-GPS, Galileo, Glonass and QZSS for location services. There is no BeiDou support though. Our test device quickly finds an accurate satellite fix in the GPS Test app even when used inside buildings.
We took the XS on a bike ride to test its location accuracy against a professional navigation device, the Garmin Edge 500. Our test device recorded the course well but deviated by 270 meters over a 9.5 km ride. The Garmin is not free from errors either but does a better job at recording the bike ride than the XS. Overall, the XS should be suitable for all general navigation tasks like running and other fitness activities.
Telephone Function Call Quality
The phone app is unchanged in iOS 12 and is arranged with several tabs at the bottom of the screen. eSIM integration is new though, but we could not test this at the time of writing as Apple had not released the update activating the XS’ eSIM functionality. We will update this review accordingly when Apple releases this update.
The loudspeaker has better clarity and dynamic range that is noticeably better than the iPhone X’s loudspeaker. Voice quality is good over 3G calls too, but the loudspeaker tends to reverberate. Equally, we had to keep our test device close when making a call over the loudspeaker otherwise voices quickly became too quiet for our call partner.
The XS supports Wi-Fi calling and voice over LTE (VoLTE).
The XS has a 7 MP front-facing camera just like its predecessor, which has an f/2.2 aperture and supports automatic HDR, retina flash and electronic image stabilization (EIS) for Full HD videos. The front-facing sensor now supports Smart HDR and has better dynamic range than its predecessor, the latter of which helps with taking clearer low-light photos and videos. The front-facing camera can also shoot videos in up to 60 FPS.
The TrueDepth camera works better too and now recognizes outstretched tongues when creating Animojis or Memojis. Likewise, the portrait mode has improved thanks to the better depth of field optics and helped create better bokeh effect photos than the iPhone X. The background of portrait photos appears better exposed on the XS than the X too.
Apple has improved the dual rear-facing cameras as well. The main sensor now has an f/1.8 aperture and 1.4 μm pixels, both of which should take better low-light shots than the iPhone X. By contrast, the secondary sensor has an f/2.4 aperture and 2 x optical zoom for better depth of field effects in portrait photos. Both sensors are optically stabilized and support Smart HDR. Smart HDR is essentially a marketing term and represents nothing more than what other smartphone cameras currently do. Smart HDR is a fusion of the work that the sensor, the ISP, the neural processor unit and software algorithms do. However, the XS’ rear-facing cameras have better dynamic range than those on the iPhone X, to Apple’s credit. Equally, the rear-facing cameras take better portrait photos and do a better job of correctly exposing background imagery than the iPhone X does.
Overall, the main camera has impressed us. Photos have good dynamic range and plenty of detail. While the XS takes better low-light photos than its predecessor, it struggles to capture fine details as demonstrated by the lack of pattern on the rabbit’s shirt in scene 3. The Google Pixel 2 XL falls short in this regard too though. The XS’ telephoto lens does a worse job in these conditions too, with the resulting photo lacking the same sharpness and intensity of color as the one taken with the main camera.
The XS can record videos at numerous resolutions and frames per second. The device can record in 720p at 30 FPS, 1080p at either 30 or 60 FPS and 2,160p at 24, 30 or 60 FPS. While the iPhone X could also record videos at the combination of those resolutions and frames per second, the XS has better low-light exposure for videos recorded in 30 FPS and automatically reduces the frame rate to 24 FPS when the sensors need more light. The XS is also Apple’s first device to record video audio in stereo without the need for an external microphone. Stereo video-recordings work wonderfully in practice and sound good too.
Likewise, our test device takes impressive videos. The OIS enables the camera to take clean tracking shots even when just holding the device and compensates well for minor hand movements. We would recommend choosing lower FPS when filming at night as videos taken at 60 FPS lack the same level of exposure in low ambient light as videos shot at lower FPS.
Overall, the iPhone XS takes impressive photos, particularly in portrait mode, and it offers arguably the best video recordings of any current smartphone.
Choose a scene and navigate within the first image. One click changes the position on touchscreens. One click on the zoomed-in image opens the original in a new window. The first image shows the scaled photograph of the test device.
We also tested the quality of the XS’ dual rear-facing cameras under controlled lighting conditions against the reference colors of ColorChecker Passport. Our test device captures colors brightly, with rich saturation and a warm white balance. By contrast, the telephoto lens’ color reproduction is considerably duller, darker and with greater saturation while lighter skin tones have a visible red tint to them.
The photos of our test chart highlight the differences between the XS’ two rear-facing camera sensors. While the main camera does a good job at reproducing many fine details at the centre of the image and sustaining a consistent degree of sharpness across the entire image, the telephoto lens is at least a class below its sibling. Areas of color lack uniformity and have a degree of graininess to them while the sensor also struggles to reproduce black text on dark backgrounds accurately. Even lines in the middle of the image lack detail. It is a shame that Apple has not equipped the XS with two rear-facing camera sensors of the same quality.
Unfortunately, the amount of accessories that Apple includes in the box has been reduced. The XS comes with a USB Type-A to Lightning cable, a pair of Lightning headphones, a SIM tool, a quick-start guide and a set of stickers. Frustratingly, Apple has omitted the Lightning to 3.5 mm jack adapter that was included with the iPhone X, and the included charger is only 5 V and 1 A, so it is not strong enough for fast charging even though the iPhone supports it. Helpfully, Apple sells stronger chargers or Qi wireless chargers should you wish to charge your XS faster than the standard charger does.
The XS comes with 12 months of manufacturer’s warranty, which is separate from any supplier warranty. Apple continues to offer AppleCare, which still costs 229 Euros (~269) and covers two accidental damage repairs. Even with AppleCare, Apple charges a 29-Euro (~34) service fee for a display replacement and 99 Euros (~116) to repair any other damage to the device. In theory, the latter should also cover a total loss of the device too. AppleCare is valid for two years from the date of purchase and can be acquired up to 60 days after the device has been bought. Please see our Guarantees, Return policies and Warranties FAQ for country-specific information.
Input Devices Operation
The XS has no home button and operating the device is all done with gesture controls just like with the iPhone X. iOS 12 refines the gesture controls, but it will still take new users some time to adjust to operating their smartphone entirely with gestures. The touchscreen is easy to use while reacting both quickly and precisely to inputs. We only encountered issues with small input areas within apps that have not been optimized for the X or the XS series’ notches. The one-handed mode works well too, but it must first be activated in Settings.
The XS has Apple’s keyboard preinstalled, but other Android-first keyboards like Google Gboard or SwiftKey can also be downloaded in the App Store should you prefer a change of keyboard. The XS supports 3D Touch too.
Face ID is the XS’ only biometric security feature, but Apple insists that it will unlock your XS faster than an iPhone X can. We believe Face ID is currently the best facial recognition technology in any smartphone, particularly with its accuracy when unlocking the device in the dark.
The XS has a 5.8-inch OLED panel just like its predecessor. over, the display still operates at a native 2426×1125 resolution with a pixel density of 463 PPI. Other flagship smartphones have higher pixel densities, like the Galaxy S9 or the Xperia XZ2 Premium with their 568 PPI and 760 PPI displays. However, the human eye cannot detect the difference beyond 400 PPI; the higher pixel density is only useful in VR applications where the display is much closer to your eyes.
The XS uses pulse-width modulation (PWM) to regulate brightness control, which is common for OLED displays. We measured the PWM frequency at 240 Hz, which is relatively low. Equally, the amplitude curve is so shallow that it should not cause problems for even those who are PWM sensitive.
Apple has equipped the XS with a brighter display than its predecessor and one which is one of the brightest OLED panels we have seen. The XS’ display is brighter than all our OLED-equipped comparison devices and is only second-best to the LG G7 ThinQ, which has an incredibly bright display. Our test device achieves an average maximum brightness of 637 cd/m² as measured by X-Rite i1Pro 2 and has a 94% uniformly bright display. These values are only with the ambient light sensor activated though, without which our test device only achieves 366 cd/m² at the centre of the display. In other words, the display is over 40% darker at maximum brightness with the ambient light sensor turned off than when it is activated. By contrast, the more realistic APL 50 test determines that our test device has a maximum luminosity of 675 cd/m² at the centre of the display. This is considerably less than the 987 cd/m² that the Huawei Mate 10 Pro achieved under identical conditions though. APL 50 determines maximum brightness by measuring luminosity across uniformly distributed light and dark areas.
The XS’ display is also true-tone, which adjusts the luminosity and the color temperature of the display to changing lighting conditions. In practice, this is most noticeable when using the XS in a dark environment as the display will reduce the blue light that is emitted to reduce the strain on your eyes. The XS still supports Night Shift, Apple’s implementation of a night mode, which can further intensify this blue light reduction effect.
over, OLED panels can also individually turn off pixels to create black tones, so the XS’ display effectively has an infinite black level and contrast ratio. The device also supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision too.
Maximum: 659 cd/m² (Nits) Average: 637.4 cd/m² Minimum: 3.03 cd/m²Brightness Distribution: 94 % Center on Battery: 639 cd/m² Contrast: ∞:1 (Black: 0 cd/m²)ΔE Color 1 | 0.55-29.43 Ø5.1ΔE Greyscale 2.2 | 0.57-98 Ø5.498.8% sRGB (Calman 2D)Gamma: 1.9
Screen Flickering / PWM (Pulse-Width Modulation)
To dim the screen, some notebooks will simply cycle the backlight on and off in Rapid succession. a method called Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). This cycling frequency should ideally be undetectable to the human eye. If said frequency is too low, users with sensitive eyes may experience strain or headaches or even notice the flickering altogether.
The display backlight flickers at 240.4 Hz (Likely utilizing PWM) Flickering detected at a brightness setting of 99 % and below. There should be no flickering or PWM above this brightness setting.
The frequency of 240.4 Hz is relatively low, so sensitive users will likely notice flickering and experience eyestrain at the stated brightness setting and below.
In comparison: 53 % of all tested devices do not use PWM to dim the display. If PWM was detected, an average of 18940 (minimum: 5. maximum: 3846000) Hz was measured.
We also checked the color accuracy of the XS’ display with a photo spectrometer and CalMAN software analysis. Unfortunately, it became quickly apparent that we faced the same problem with assessing color accuracy as with the iPhone X. While the XS should be able to display the DCI-P3 color space, we cannot even get our test device to show the smaller sRGB color space. We will contact SpectraCal to find out the reason for these issues.
CalMAN and photo spectrometer issues aside, we can still somewhat measure the XS’ color accuracy. Our test device is impressively color accurate, albeit gray levels are relatively poor, and the color temperature is slightly too warm at 6,364 K. We noticed a golden tint to the display during testing, but we could not replicate this in daily use. The continuing reduction in gamma from mid-grays onwards means that light grays and whites are reproduced too brightly as well. In contrast, the XS does a fantastic job at reproducing mixed colors and is so good that only the trained eye would be able to notice the difference between the XS’ color reproduction and the reference color. No other smartphone does so well in this regard.
Additionally, we measured the display in the evening with the True Tone function activated to visualize its effects more clearly.
Display Response Times
Display response times show how fast the screen is able to change from one color to the next. Slow response times can lead to afterimages and can cause moving objects to appear blurry (ghosting). Gamers of fast-paced 3D titles should pay special attention to fast response times.
Typically, the display of the XS is easy to read outdoors, particularly on cloudy days. We did not have a chance to use our test device outside on a sunny day, but if the XS performs anything like the iPhone X does, then you should have no problems with using the device outside on sunny days. Equally, the XS does not have a particularly reflective display, and it also gets brighter than the X’s too.
It is also worth noting that the iPhone X struggled in air temperatures hotter than 30 °C, at which point the display dimmed drastically and meant that we could see practically nothing on the display in direct sunlight. It remains to be seen whether the XS will also do the same thing.
The XS has strong viewing angles thanks to its OLED display. We noticed no color distortions and only minor reductions in brightness even at acute angles. Additionally, our test device does exhibit a shimmer at acute angles that are common with OLED displays. However, most OLED displays have a green shimmer to them while the XS’ is somewhat cooler.
Apple has equipped the iPhone XS and XS Max with its new Apple A12 Bionic SoC, which is the first consumer-level 7 nm processor. The A12 Bionic has 6.9 billion transistors with two power cores and four energy-saving cores. The A12 Bionic should have up to 40% more power efficiency than the A11 Bionic while still being up to 15% faster too. The A12 Bionic’s power cores clock up to 2.5 GHz and are complemented by both 4 GB of LPDDR4x RAM and an Apple-designed GPU. The latter should be up to 50% faster than its predecessor while the dedicated neural processor unit now has eight cores and can manage up to a huge five trillion processes. By contrast, the A11 Bionic could only manage a measly 600 billion processes.
The A12 Bionic performs well in benchmarks and noticeably better than its predecessor. The A12 Bionic is 13% faster than the A11 Bionic in Geekbench, while the physics scores in 3DMark have improved by between 25% and 42%. Equally, the XS leaves the competition in its wake in GFXBench. The XS struggles against its Adreno 630-equipped counterparts in visual benchmarks though like 3DMark Sling Shot and Sling Shot Extreme. The XS’ GPU is up to 46% slower than the Adreno 630 in these benchmarks.
The XS’ memory is extremely fast and performs on par to that of the 256 GB iPhone X. We expect that the 64 GB iPhone XS variant will have slower transfer speeds than its higher volume siblings. However, this should not be noticeable in daily use as the 64 GB variant still performs above the level of most UFS 2.1 memory.
The XS sits at the top of our comparison table in most browser benchmarks, albeit in WebXPRT 2015 our test device finished 3% and 4% short of the iPhone X and the iPhone 8, respectively.
The default Safari browser feels snappy in everyday use but struggles when rendering complex websites like the Typo3 backend. However, this seems like more of an OS issue than a browser one as both Chrome and Edge equally struggle. By contrast, these two browsers do not struggle to load Typo3 on Android smartphones.
The XS has excellent system performance. We did not notice any stuttering during our testing.
The A12 Bionic coped with any game that we threw at our test device. There are minor flaws though, particularly that GameBench currently will not work on the XS, but the developers are planning on rectifying this in the next few days. We will update our benchmark tables when they have done so. The main issue we have with the XS and playing games is the notch. Most games run as if the screen has no notch, so parts of games are obscured by the notch. This is particularly frustrating when menus are obscured by the notch. Additionally, PUBG Mobile has a few graphical artefacts when playing the game in full details.
Games run smoothly in general though and the improved speakers heighten the gaming experience. The sensors and touchscreen worked without issue throughout our testing.
The XS is a relatively cool device at idle with surface temperatures remaining below 30 °C. Our test device reaches a maximum of 39.9 °C on the front of the device and 43.4 °C next to the rear camera housing under sustained load, which we simulated by running the Relative Benchmark. Above 40 °C surface temperatures will feel warm to the touch, but they are not dangerous to either the user or to the device.
We also tested the behavior of the SoC under sustained load with the GFXBench battery test, which uses the Metal API on iOS. Our test device consistently performed well during the 30 rounds of the older T-Rex benchmark that we subjected it to, but it is a different story in the more-demanding Manhattan benchmark. During the latter, we noticed performance drops of 10% after three rounds of the benchmark. Performance leveled out until the 11th round where it then dropped again and continued to do so until the final round. By the end of the benchmark performance had dropped by around 24% compared to our test device’s initial score.
(±) The average temperature for the upper side under maximal load is 36.2 °C / 97 F, compared to the average of 32.7 °C / 91 F for the devices in the class Smartphone. The maximum temperature on the upper side is 39.9 °C / 104 F, compared to the average of 35 °C / 95 F, ranging from 21.9 to 55.8 °C for the class Smartphone. (±) The bottom heats up to a maximum of 43.4 °C / 110 F, compared to the average of 33.8 °C / 93 F In idle usage, the average temperature for the upper side is 29.2 °C / 85 F, compared to the device average of 32.7 °C / 91 F.
The XS has dual speakers just like its predecessor. The more powerful speaker is located on the underside of the device next to the Lightning port while the secondary speaker is integrated behind the earpiece grille. Subjectively, Apple has improved the sound quality, and audio sounds more spacious, but this is only noticeable when playing the XS next to an iPhone X. Our pink noise curve confirms this and demonstrates that the XS’ speaker reproduces both mid and high tones linearly. However, the two tonal ranges sound far apart from each other so audio sounds somewhat tinny at maximum volume. We would recommend setting the speakers to medium volume for the best audio experience.
Alternatively, you could use Bluetooth 5.0 for audio playback over wireless headphones or speakers. Bluetooth audio worked well during our tests, and we did not experience any interference even when the device and our headphones were separated from each other.
You could also use a wired connection for audio playback. The included Lightning headphones will be enough for most users, but they will not sound good enough for audiophiles. Apple has removed the Lightning to 3.5 mm jack adapter from the XS’ accessories, but you can buy it as an optional accessory. Higher quality headphones will have more detailed sound and a lower noise profile than the included headphones though.
Apple iPhone XS audio analysis
| speakers can play relatively loud (87.3 dB)Bass 100. 315 Hz (-) | nearly no bass. on average 16% lower than median (±) | linearity of bass is average (10.7% delta to prev. frequency)Mids 400. 2000 Hz (±) | higher mids. on average 5.6% higher than median | mids are linear (5.7% delta to prev. frequency)Highs 2. 16 kHz (±) | higher highs. on average 10.5% higher than median | highs are linear (3.8% delta to prev. frequency)Overall 100. 16.000 Hz (±) | linearity of overall sound is average (20.2% difference to median)Compared to same class» 29% of all tested devices in this class were better, 10% similar, 61% worse» The best had a delta of 11%, average was 23%, worst was 65%Compared to all devices tested» 54% of all tested devices were better, 9% similar, 38% worse» The best had a delta of 3%, average was 20%, worst was 65%
Samsung Galaxy S9 audio analysis
| speakers can play relatively loud (86 dB)Bass 100. 315 Hz (-) | nearly no bass. on average 23.1% lower than median (±) | linearity of bass is average (11.5% delta to prev. frequency)Mids 400. 2000 Hz | balanced mids. only 3.1% away from median | mids are linear (3.8% delta to prev. frequency)Highs 2. 16 kHz | balanced highs. only 4.8% away from median | highs are linear (4.3% delta to prev. frequency)Overall 100. 16.000 Hz (±) | linearity of overall sound is average (17.1% difference to median)Compared to same class» 8% of all tested devices in this class were better, 6% similar, 86% worse» The best had a delta of 11%, average was 23%, worst was 65%Compared to all devices tested» 32% of all tested devices were better, 8% similar, 60% worse» The best had a delta of 3%, average was 20%, worst was 65%
Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium audio analysis
| speakers can play relatively loud (83.6 dB)Bass 100. 315 Hz (-) | nearly no bass. on average 34.5% lower than median (±) | linearity of bass is average (9.2% delta to prev. frequency)Mids 400. 2000 Hz | balanced mids. only 4% away from median | mids are linear (6.3% delta to prev. frequency)Highs 2. 16 kHz | balanced highs. only 3.5% away from median | highs are linear (3.5% delta to prev. frequency)Overall 100. 16.000 Hz (±) | linearity of overall sound is average (23.8% difference to median)Compared to same class» 58% of all tested devices in this class were better, 11% similar, 31% worse» The best had a delta of 11%, average was 23%, worst was 65%Compared to all devices tested» 74% of all tested devices were better, 6% similar, 19% worse» The best had a delta of 3%, average was 20%, worst was 65%
Apple has improved the power consumption of the XS when compared to the iPhone X. Power consumption remains relatively high at idle with the display set to minimum luminosity. Power consumption levels stayed broadly the same when we set the device to maximum brightness, but the display only got truly bright when we shone a light on the device, which caused the ambient light sensor to ramp up the display brightness. When we did this power consumption increased to 1.94 W, which is still relatively economical given that we were running the device at maximum brightness.
We determined the average power consumption under sustained load by running Asphalt 9. Our test device averaged 4 W during this test, which is 26% higher than what the iPhone X achieved. However, this is on par with our other comparison devices except for the Huawei P20 Pro.
Please note: The P20 Pro appeared to power throttle significantly during our power consumption tests, so our results are not an accurate reflection of how much the device will consume in daily use.
We used the Relative Benchmark to determine the XS’ maximum power draw. Our test device consumed up to a maximum of 6.54 W during this test, which is higher than the capacity of the 5 W power supply that Apple includes in the box. This means that the included charger cannot recharge the device when it is operating under a sustained load. We suspect that the XS may consume more power in daily life but that our method of measuring power consumption from the 5 W power supply fails to adequately measure how much the XS could consume under sustained load.
The XS supports fast charging and Qi wireless charging, for which you must buy additional chargers. A quick charger could recharge the XS up to 50% in 30 minutes while the included charger takes about 15 minutes longer. Our test device takes 2 h 15 m to recharge fully with the included charger.
iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max review: It’s time for older iPhone owners to jump on the X bandwagon
Long-time iPhone users should be familiar with the iPhone product release cycle by now. Usually, it works like this: Apple releases a major product, then the following year is the “s” generation of iPhones that offer incremental upgrades. In this case, the new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max are the incremental upgrades to last year’s iPhone X.
The iPhone X was an exciting release, so what can the iPhone XS do to follow it up? It does plenty, but if you currently own an iPhone X, you’ll probably be fine with sitting this model out and waiting to see what happens next year. If you own an older iPhone, now’s the time to upgrade. You’ll be glad you did.
Faster is always better
You can never have too much speed in an iPhone, and the XS is the fastest yet, thanks to the new A12 Bionic processor. It’s a 64-bit processor with six cores; two performance cores and four efficiency cores, the same number that the iPhone X’s A11 Bionic had. But Apple says that the A12 Bionic’s two performance cores are up to 15 percent faster, and the four efficiency cores use up to 50 percent less power.
CPU and graphics speed
To gauge the processing and graphics speed to compare against past iPhones, we ran several benchmarking tools on the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. You can read our complete benchmark analysis of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, but we’ll sum them up here.
Results with Geekbench 4 showed about a 13 percent boost in single-threaded performance with the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max over the iPhone X, which is close to the 15 percent increase Apple claims. The multi-core increase was a more modest 10 percent.
In graphics-based benchmarks, Geekbench results with its Metal-based compute test showed a 40 percent increase over the iPhone X; Apple states that the iPhone XS is capable of up to a 50 percent graphics improvement. When we tested with the 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme test, we saw results that were the same across the old and new phones, but we saw an improvement in the 3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited test. The Sling Shot Extreme test probably hits a memory and cache bottleneck that affects performance.
Cellular and Wi-Fi speed
To test the connectivity performance of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, we used the Speedtest app. Granted, there are a great many variables that affect wireless connectivity, so your experience may differ from ours. You can read our complete analysis of iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max networking performance, but our summary is as follows.
In our Wi-Fi tests, we saw an improvement in download speeds, sometimes as high as a 45 percent increase. Our upload speed saw much smaller boosts, if any.
With cellular, we were able to test two carriers, Verizon and T-Mobile. We saw a boost in download speed with T-Mobile-as much as 77 percent from the Macworld San Francisco office, but a less-dramatic-but-still-impressive 26 percent increase in suburban Sacramento, California. Compared to an iPhone 7 Plus, Verizon’s download speed was 40 percent better on the iPhone XS Max when we tested in a hilly, residential part of San Francisco.
Not long after the iPhone XS release came reports of Wi-Fi and LTE connectivity problems. We haven’t experienced reduced or dropped coverage, but it’s a situation worth watching.
Anecdotal speed impressions
Besides all the benchmarks, there’s the feeling of performance while you’re using the phone, the subjective impressions that you can’t really measure with numbers. For example, the improved Neural Engine in the iPhone XS (designed for machine learning algorithms) provides a much faster and smoother experience with Face ID, Animoji, and augmented reality apps. Turning on the phone and launching apps both seem as fast as with the iPhone X. Graphics performance felt the same, too, whether it was watching videos saved to the phone, scrolling, switching screens, etc.
The iPhone XS and XS Max have the same back cameras, which have the same specifications as the iPhone X: 12-megapixels resolution, dual lens system, 51mm telephoto with a ƒ/2.4 aperture, 2x optical zoom, 10x digital zoom, and optical image stabilization. There is a difference in the wide-angle lens: it’s 26mm with a ƒ/1.8 aperture, while the iPhone X had a 28mm lens with the same aperture. The result is that you get wider shots with the iPhone XS. It also has a larger sensor that captures more light.
I was happy with the results of the iPhone X camera, and the iPhone XS fortunately is a good improvement. It produces very pleasing results with great color, and it seems to do a better job at fine detail. The iPhone XS camera also seems like it is more capable of handling different lighting situations than the iPhone X.
That seems especially true with pictures in extreme low light. Pictures from the iPhone XS had better sharpness and a lot less noise than those from the iPhone X. In many pictures I took, the differences were dramatic. The new Smart HDR feature probably has much to do with the better results. Since Smart HDR relies on the A12 Bionic processor, it’s new to the iPhone XS, and will be on the upcoming iPhone XR.
Another new camera feature is Depth Control, which allows you to adjust the depth of field in portrait mode shots.
When you edit a portrait mode shot, a Depth Control adjustment tool appears below the picture. The tool provides ranges from ƒ/1.4 to ƒ/16, and you can preview the results as you adjust the tool. This are simulated f-stop values; the actual lens apertures are always fixed at f/1.8 and f/2.4.
Depth Control is a great tool to have, and it can increase the impact of your foreground subject. But the challenge with tools like this one is to use it properly. It’s quite possible to overdo the effect, resulting in a picture that doesn’t quite seem right or even look fake—of course, if that’s the look you’re going for, then the power to do it is in your hands.
TrueDepth camera and over retouching
The TrueDepth camera (a.k.a the selfie cam) on the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max is the similar to that on the iPhone X. It has a 7-megapixel resolution with a ƒ/2.2 aperture, and it supports Smart HDR, Portrait Mode, Portrait Lighting, and 1080p HD video. There’s one significant difference: it can record 1080p video at 60 fps, up from the 30 fps maximum on the iPhone X.
Several reports have appeared on the internet showing that the iPhone XS is not only automatically retouching skin tones, but it’s going to the extreme with softening and smoothing out skin a point where the results can look artificial. Some Macworld editors were able to produce iPhone XS selfies that displayed some retouching when compared to older iPhones; this article shows an example where a selfie taken with an iPhone XS Max displays more skin smoothing than a selfie from the iPhone X. As for me personally, I haven’t been able to produce selfies that obviously looked retouched, and I’m not sure why.
Apple hasn’t commented on what’s going on here, and since it’s been reported that the over retouching happens even if you turn off Smart HDR, one of the theories that attempts to explain what’s happening is that Apple is over doing it with noise reduction. Sebastiaan de With, the design of the Halide iOS camera app, wrote in a blog post that he believes that the iPhone XS’s “aggressive noise reduction” causes the effect that people are seeing. The good news is that this is the kind of problem that can be adjusted in software, so don’t be surprised if Apple adjusts this.
The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max have the same video capabilities as the iPhone X. The rear camera can shoot 4K video at 24 frames per second, 30 fps, or 60 fps. If you want to shoot at 4K at 60 fps, you should consider the 512GB storage capacity, so you shoot without worrying too much about space. You can also shoot at 1080p and 720p, or slow-motion at 1080p resolution and either 120or 240 fps.
Since the iPhone XS has a slightly wider wide-angle lens, your videos will be recorded at a wider angle than with previous iPhones.
A major difference with video recording on the iPhone XS is actually with audio. The XS now records sound in stereo, and audio played from the XS is overall much improved over the iPhone X, with better clarity and volume. If you use your iPhone to record a lot of videos and care about sound quality as much as video quality, this upgrade alone is worth serious consideration. (I’m the family documentarian, so quality counts and this is an upgrade that’s exciting.)
The matter of size
Measuring 5.7 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches, the iPhone XS has the same dimensions as the iPhone X. At 6.2 ounces, the new phone is 0.1 ounce heavier. If you’re used to an iPhone X, you’re not going to feel a difference with the iPhone XS.
The iPhone XS Max measures 6.2 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches, which is a tiny bit different than the iPhone 8 Plus, and at 7.3 ounces, the iPhone XS Max is about.2 ounces heavier. But if you’ve used an iPhone Plus in the past, the iPhone XS Max is practically the same size.
If you like big phones, you have a couple of choices here. But if you like small phones, you don’t have a choice anymore. Apple has discontinued the iPhone SE, and there’s no official word from Apple if a follow-up to the phone with a 4-inch screen is in the works. The upcoming iPhone XR, with its 6.1-inch display, falls between the iPhone XS and XS Max in terms of size. If you want the smallest iPhone available, you might be able to find an iPhone SE with your carrier, but otherwise, you’ll have to opt for the iPhone XS, iPhone 7, or iPhone 8. (The iPhone 7 and 8 have 4.7-inch displays and their overall size is only marginally smaller than the iPhone XS.)
Glorious OLED displays
Tied to the size of the new iPhones are the displays, which are organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays. The iPhone XS’s measures 5.8-inches on the diagonal, the same as the iPhone X. In my review of the iPhone X I said that that display was the best I’ve been on an iPhone. Coming up with negatives about the iPhone XS display is difficult, because it looks so damn good. Colors are great, text is sharp, and blacks are rich. Maybe that’s not surprising, because it’s the same display, but my thoughts about iPhone X—and thus, the iPhone XS—being the best display I’ve seen on an iPhone have changed. It’s not the best anymore.
The best display on an iPhone belongs to the iPhone XS Max. There’s nothing technically different about the iPhone XS Max’s screen, it’s just bigger, and that means it leaves a bigger impression on anyone who looks at it. When I first started to really use the iPhone XS Max (not just look at it, but really use it), it was thrilling, as silly as that may sound. The sight of the 6.5-inch screen taking up practically the whole front of the device, the rich colors, the deep black, the sharp detail, put me in awe for a while. Phones this size aren’t for everyone, but the impression the iPhone XS Max’s screen makes could change a few minds.
When the iPhone X made its debut, there was a little bit of concern about the possibility of screen burn in, the “ghost” effect where you can see of elements that are often on the screen. This is more likely to happen with OLEDs, but after almost a year of owning the iPhone X, I haven’t noticed any burn-in at all. So that sets up my expectations for the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max; I don’t expect to see burn-in any time soon. Apple does have a knowledgebase article about burn-in and how to stave it off as much as possible.
To test for battery life, we used Geekbench 4’s battery test. Granted, this test is more about running processes to drain the battery than it is about replicating real-world usage. People use their phones differently, so battery life varies per person. But by running the same test on all phones, we can at least get an idea of the improvement you’ll see.
Apple says that the iPhone XS offers 30 minutes more battery life than the iPhone X, even though the XS has a slightly smaller battery–the iPhone’s XS battery has a size of 2,658 mAh, while the iPhone X is 2,716 mAh. Our Geekbench 4 results show that the iPhone XS lasted 7 minutes longer than the iPhone X. Again, Geekbench 4 is closer to a torture test than a real-world example, and with that in mind, it’s not much of a stretch to think that the iPhone XS could actually reach the 30 minutes extension that Apple states.
The iPhone XS Max has the biggest battery we’ve seen in an iPhone, with a size of 3,174 mAh. The large battery in the iPhone XS Max lasts 1.5 hours longer than the iPhone X, according to Apple. In our Geekbench 4 test, the iPhone XS Max lasted 57 minutes longer than the iPhone X. Reaching Apple’s stated 1.5 hours of extended battery life under real-world conditions shouldn’t be a problem for the iPhone XS Max.
As for my experience in everyday use, I should first say that I tend to be harder on battery life than the average user, because I’m an avid Pokémon Go player. If I’m walking during my commute or with my dog, I have the game running, and it takes its toll on battery life. With the iPhone XS Max, I’ve been ending the day with 47 percent left on the battery, and on the iPhone XS, it’s 40 percent. That’s pretty good.
Some users report that they’re having problems charging the new iPhone, where the phone doesn’t respond when the Lightning cable is plugged in. Some reports say that the problem is also happening with older iPhones, which leads to the speculation that the problem is with iOS 12. At Macworld, we haven’t experienced problems charging our new iPhones, or older iPhones and iPads. This could be another issue we see fixed in an iOS 12 update.
The notch and gestures
If you didn’t upgrade last year, and this year you’re contemplating a move from an iPhone 8, 7 or older phone, you might be wondering about the notch, gestures, and how it affects how you use the iPhone. Much of what I said about the notch and gestures in the iPhone X review still applies. But in case you don’t feel like looking up that article, I’ll summarize here.
A lot has been said about the notch and it intrusion into the screen layout. It was a distraction for me at first, but I quickly got over it, and I don’t notice it anymore when using the iPhone in portrait mode, which is most of the time. Sometimes it bothers me when I’m watching a video in landscape orientation, but in everyday use, it’s not an issue.
In case you don’t know, the notch is there because it houses the TrueDepth camera system for Face ID, and if you’re new to Face ID and wonder how it works, I’ll refer you to the Face ID section of the iPhone X review. Its implementation hasn’t changed, except that with iOS 12, you can now set up Face ID with an Alternative Appearance, which can be used to register a second person to Face ID.
As for gestures, you’ll need to learn new ways to access the phone without a Home button. Prepare yourself for an adjustment period—the length of that period is different for everyone. I leaned them quickly, and we have a list of the new gestures you’ll need to learn. But it’s really not that difficult to get used to swiping up from the bottom of the screen to get to the Home screen, or swiping down from the upper right corner of the screen to get to Control Center.
The iPhone X design works well, so Apple didn’t deviate from it for the iPhone XS. Next to each other, the two phones are identical. Both the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max have glass fronts and backs and support Qi wireless charging.
There is one issue with the iPhone XS, however. Even though it’s the same size and shape as the iPhone X, the camera bump on the XS is different; it’s slightly wider and a tad longer. If you have an iPhone X case with a back-camera cutout that’s flush or very close to the camera bump, it may not fit the iPhone XS properly. I have an iPhone X case with a camera cutout that fits the X’s camera perfectly, and with the iPhone XS, the cutout didn’t fit properly. Time for a new case.
Apple offers three colors: space gray, white, and gold. I have a space gray iPhone XS, and a gold iPhone XS Max, and the gold is absolutely stunning. It has a delightful shimmer to it, and the accents that the stainless-steel Band provide compliment it nicely. It’s my favorite color combination.
The iPhone X was a smartphone that re-energized the iPhone line after what seemed like a long period of stagnation. So the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max have a difficult job following up a tough act. But the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max do a great job on their own and they do not disappoint.
If you already have an iPhone X, you probably won’t find a super compelling reason to upgrade to an iPhone XS. The main difference is speed: is a CPU boost of up to 15 percent (according to Apple) over the iPhone X convincing enough? Maybe not. The graphics and AR performance boost is more substantial, so if you’re heavily into iPhone games or AR apps, you could seriously consider upgrading. The iPhone XS takes better pictures than the iPhone X, but the improvements are situational and may not necessarily feel like a big payoff for most people. All things considered, you’ll be fine sticking to your iPhone X for at least another year, when the upgrade payoff will be greater.
If you’re thinking about an upgrade from an iPhone X to an iPhone XS Max, however, the story is more convincing. The bigger screen leaves a bigger impression than I imagined, and I still get a bit of a thrill just using the iPhone XS Max.
The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max are most compelling for users of iPhones that are older than the iPhone X. The improvements to the processor, camera, and display have more impact for owners of the iPhone 7 and older (or even an iPhone 8, which is only a year old). This is the way of the iPhone going forward, and if you didn’t get the iPhone X, the XS is a good place to jump on the bandwagon.
If the price is a big consideration—at with starting at 999, it probably is—you might considering waiting a few days for the iPhone XR, Apple’s upcoming less-expensive model. It has the same processor as the iPhone XS, but it has a single-lens back camera instead of a dual-lens one, and it also uses a lower-resolution LED display. At 749, its price is a more friendly.
If you don’t want to wait—either for the iPhone XR or next year’s phone—go for the iPhone XS. You’ll be very happy.
Macworld’s Jason Cross managed the benchmarks for this review.
iPhone XS Review
The iPhone XS is easily the most iterative update to a previous iPhone we’ve ever seen but it’s still worth considering, provided you can swing the high asking price.
By Alex Walker-Todd Contact via Contact via linkedin December 4, 2018 2:00 pm GMT
Not a huge upgrade over the iPhone X, but a good choice if you’re stuck on an older iPhone and fancy something new.
Picking a new iPhone in 2018 is hard. There’s the iPhone XR at £749/749 and then the two models of the iPhone XS. The regular iPhone XS, that’s the one we’re reviewing here, and then the larger iPhone XS Max.
The iPhone XS starts at £999/999 (£1099/1099 for the Max) and has a better screen, an extra camera and slightly more ‘premium’ design when compared to the iPhone XR.
Related: read our iPhone 12 review
It’s a very iterative update for Apple, but that’s hardly a surprise considering how much of a jump the iPhone X was. Is this phone good enough to force people against picking up an Android device like the Samsung Galaxy S10, Huawei P30 Pro or Google Pixel 3?
iPhone XS – Design
If you’ve seen the iPhone X then the iPhone XS steps in as a dead ringer. Last year the X showcased a bold new design compared to iPhones of old. Gone was the aluminium frame of its predecessors, replaced with a polished stainless steel alternative. The screen now reached the fringes of the phone’s front and a glass back facilitated the phone’s new wireless charging feature.
All of this fresh design DNA has been spliced onto the iPhone XS and I’m a fan, just as I was with last year’s phone. Some might have complained that the polished steel and glass form could have been made less slippery between generations but this is an issue I only really pin on this year’s larger iPhone XS Max.
The XS looks undeniably premium, sits comfortably in the hand thanks to the pillowed glass and rounded metal frame, and can still be considered one of the best-looking smartphones out there.
It’s fractionally heavier than its predecessor and just as with every glass-backed handset, holds onto fingerprints like nobody’s business, but this didn’t come as a shock to me and will only bother those who don’t plan on sticking it in a case.
If you do plan on rocking the phone naked, firstly, you’re a braver soul than I, and secondly you’ll appreciate the option of the new gold colour, which extends to the iPhone XS Max too. Alongside the existing silver and Space Grey options from last year this new finish sports a shiny gold frame and a flat coloured back that I’d say is closer to a ‘warm peach’ than actual gold. It’s not to my taste but I can certainly see it being popular.
A small but nonetheless important upgrade is the iPhone XS’s IP68-certification (up from IP67 on last year’s iPhones). This means better protection against dust ingress and the phone is now happy in up to two metres of water for up to 30 minutes without springing a leak. Such an enhancement brings it in line with big rivals like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Sony Xperia XZ3 and should provide more peace of mind to prospective owners too.
The headphone jack has been absent from iPhones for a few years now but previously Apple has at least had the courtesy to include a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter in-box. With the iPhone XS, that trend stops.
Now, if you want to add a physical headphone jack onto this thing, you’ll have to pay Apple an extra £/9 for the privilege; or find a cheaper (but importantly, supported) alternative elsewhere.
I hate the dongle nightmare that Apple tends to force on its customers and I’m lucky enough to own a pair of wireless Airpods, but for those who want to keep it wired, having to pay even more on top of this phone’s already steep price tag for something as trivial as a headphone jack is a low blow.
iPhone XS – Screen
The iPhone XS sports a stunning display, practically unchanged from the one on last year’s top iPhone, and that’s no bad thing. It almost reaches to the edge of the phone’s front, packs rounded corners and a notch.
A rarity when the iPhone X launched, the notch was one of the handset’s biggest talking points and it unapologetically makes a return here. Almost as wide as the screen itself, the notch plays host to Apple’s own TrueDepth sensor technology, along with the phone’s front-facing camera.
Related: read the latest about the upcoming iPhone 11
With so many alternatives now sporting a notch of their own, its appearance on the iPhone XS seems far less jarring than it was a year ago and while Apple’s notch is still one of the biggest out there, I’m far more comfortable with its presence than I was on the iPhone X.
It also serves a dual purpose, offering (fractionally) faster Face ID face unlocking than last year’s phone, and a means of tracking your facial expressions when using Animoji and the new Memoji feature built into iOS 12. This lets you create your own visage in Animoji’s same cartoony 3D style to insert into messages or overlay onto your own face in recordings. Fun? Undoubtedly, but the feature will only hold your interest for so long, like a Nintendo Wii or fidget spinners.
As for the panel of pixels beneath the notch, it’s a thing of real beauty – quite possibly the best smartphone screen out there right now.
Dubbed a ‘Super Retina Display’, the iPhone XS’s OLED panel is seemingly unaltered from the one found on last year’s phone. You again have an 1125 x 2436 resolution, 19.5:9 aspect ratio display that boasts up to 625 nits (according to Apple) of brightness and therefore competently supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR standards, as well as the full DCI-P3 wide colour space.
On paper, the 458ppi pixel density is below that of its Android flagship rivals but in real-world use, you’ll forgive this one shortcoming as content still looks so good. Whether you’re scrolling through Instagram or watching high dynamic-range content on supported apps like Netflix or YouTube, as I’ve already said, this is one of the nicest smartphone displays available right now.
If you want more pixels then most rivals, such as the LG G7, will bring something to the table and if you want more of the same, the iPhone XS Max features all the same strengths at a larger 6.5-inch size, with an extended Full HD resolution in tow too.
Apple’s TrueTone technology is also on hand to offer automatic colour temperature adjustment and there’s Night Shift to filter out disruptive blue light in the evenings, but unlike most other handsets nowadays, the XS forgoes any form of manual colour calibration. so make sure you’re happy with the out-of-box look, because that’s pretty much all you’ve got to work with.
iPhone XS – Performance
Huawei was keen to shout about its new Kirin 980 processor; the first mobile chipset announced to utilise an impressively small 7nm manufacturing process, however, Apple is the first company to get a 7nm chip onto a market-ready device in the form of its new A12 Bionic SoC.
It’s what powers the iPhone XS, XS Max and the upcoming iPhone XR, and it is an absolute beast. Unlike previous years, where ‘plus’ model iPhones have benefitted from additional oomph in the form of more memory, this year both the iPhone XS and XS Max enjoy the same 4GB; meaning performance is near-enough equal between the two.
Apple’s official line highlights that the A12 offers a 15% CPU performance increase over last year’s A11 Bionic chip and brings a 50% boost to graphical performance on top of that. There’s also a beefier neural engine for AI-related tasks (like image post-processing) toting more cores and a few other benefits such as Gigabit-class LTE (think faster web browsing and video streaming).
As is often the case with new iPhone processors, it’s effectively too early to really reap the benefits of the A12’s extra grunt, at least until developers create more demanding apps in the coming months. In the meantime, the only discernible differences over iPhone X and its A11 chip are in mildly reduced app-load times and (as mentioned earlier) fractionally faster Face ID unlocking.
Benchmarking also confirmed my suspicions that the A12 was a solid performer through and through, trumping every previous A-series chipset and most of the other big players from 2018’s flagship smartphone contingent.
Another feature that Apple said it worked to improve in the move from X to XS was the phone’s loudspeaker setup. The iPhone X offered stereo with its earpiece working in tandem with the downward-facing loudspeaker, but it was essentially just upping the volume, resulting in a louder, tinnier sound.
Apple has supposedly balanced things out this time around using a more robust speaker in the earpiece that more closely matches that of the existing loudspeaker at the bottom of the phone. I’d argue that the promise of a wider soundstage is markedly less pronounced on the iPhone XS compared to the XS Max, but I will concede that the sound out of that earpiece is both clearer and richer than it was before when enjoying media and when taking calls, even if the difference is only slight.
iPhone XS – Software
iOS 12 – the newest iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system – landed just a few days ahead of the iPhone XS hitting store shelves and as such, is the software experience that all of Apple’s latest iPhones run out of the box.
Notifications and how iOS handles them has long been an annoyance for many iPhone users, myself included. Placing individual notifications in a chronological timeline running down the lock screen isn’t ideal, especially when it skips and jumps between the various apps vying for attention.
With iOS 12, notifications are now grouped by app and it makes managing them so much easier. I found myself taking particular delight in dismissing a stack of Instagram notifications in a single go and what’s more, the ability to silence notifications from specific apps directly on the lock screen is another great enhancement.
Screen Time is part of the company’s efforts to improve your ‘digital wellbeing’, monitoring how much time and where your attention is spent whilst using your iPhone. At the end of each week, it spits out a report to help you identify any unhealthy usage habits you might have picked up.
I used this feature to lock off social media apps after 6pm each night and it’s undoubtedly proven its worth.
Screen Time shows a weekly breakdown of your usage
While I didn’t make use of this feature all that much, Siri Shortcuts (born out of Apple’s acquisition of automation app Workflow) adds a host of functionality to the company’s digital assistant. It doesn’t really elevate Siri’s overall intelligence, which is still lacking when compared to the likes of Google’s offering, but it’s closer in styling to Amazon Alexa’s Skills.
As the list of apps that support Siri Shortcuts grows, the feature will become far more powerful, but right now functionality still feels limited outside of Apple’s own first-party applications.
Beyond these new features, one key aspect of the iOS experience that still needs work is interaction. Like the notch, I’ve grown accustomed to how to get around iOS on iPhones with extended displays, such as the iPhone X and XS, but it still feels rather unintuitive.
Long-time users of any iPhone older than the X may wonder why Notifications Centre and Control Centre both rely on a top-down swipe to be summoned and I honestly can’t tell you. It’s awkward enough having to stretch your hand to the top of the XS’s extended display when using it one-handed, but then having to reach even further to get at a separate feature leaves you with a high chance of dropping the thing. The problem is even more pronounced on the larger XS Max.
Swiping Control Centre up from the bottom, either side of the on-screen home bar, would have made a lot more sense and made for a more seamless transition for users moving between older and newer iPhones like the XS.
The rest of the gestures unquestionably take some getting used to but require fewer brain gymnastics, and if you’re new to iPhones in general, the Tips app is on-hand to educate you on the nuances of the phone’s virtual home bar 3D Touch and some of the other interaction quirks I’ve mentioned.
Since it was released the iPhone XS has been updated to iOS 12.1 This update introduces Group FaceTime, Dual SIM support and a load more emojis.
How we test phones
We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Our devices are available in three conditions and we are confident you will be delighted with whichever you choose.
A fully tested certified refurbished device which is in excellent cosmetic condition and perfect working order.
A fully tested certified refurbished device which is in very good cosmetic condition, has light signs of wear and in perfect working order.
A fully tested certified refurbished device which is in good cosmetic condition, has signs of wear and in perfect working order.
Refurbished iPhone XS
Available in three colours: Space grey, silver and gold
Available with three storage options: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB
Available in three conditions: Excellent, Very Good and Average
Refurbished iPhone XS overview
Released in 2018, the iPhone XS now looks like amazing value as a second hand buy. Place an iPhone XS side by side with an iPhone X and it really can be quite hard to tell the two apart. However, that’s not such a bad thing. The iPhone XS has a lovely 5.8-inch OLED screen with no home button to get in the way either. Yes the iPhone XS uses Face ID for device security and if you are using a Touch ID phone at the moment you really are missing out.
iPhone XS camera
One particular highlight of the iPhone XS is the excellent dual lens rear camera setup. It features two 12 megapixel rear cameras – one with a wide-angle lens and the other a 2X telephoto zoom lens. The front 7 megapixel selfie camera is also very good – probably better than the rear cameras on previous generation iPhone models!
Top reasons to buy the iPhone XS
There’s a whole world of choice out there with refurbished iPhones of all sizes, colours and available. The iPhone XS sits somewhere in the middle of the range, but critically has the newest features you’d hope to find on the latest model. We love Face ID, we love the dual rear facing camera that handles low light brilliantly. The iPhone XS is fast, really fast and 64GB should be enough storage for most users. Colour choices are fairly conservative, but for most they can style it up with a funky third party protective case.
Brand Apple Model iPhone XS Network Unlocked Screen Size 5.8-Inch Screen Type Super Retina HD display Operating System Type iOS Processor Type A12 Bionic chip Network Type 4G Height 143.6 mm Width 70.9 mm Depth 7.7 mm Weight 177 grams Front Camera Resolution 7 Megapixel Rear Camera Resolution 12 Megapixel Battery 2658 mAh Memory Options 64GB=4GB 256GB=4GB 512GB=4GB