iPhone XS review: The best iPhone yet, but not for everyone
Apple traditionally alternates major iPhone updates with more minor upgrades, and so in 2018 we have the arrival of the more modest iPhone XS after last year's game-changing iPhone X. We've been testing out Apple's new flagship iPhone for the past week, and here are our thoughts.
Like the iPhone X before it, and as you would expect from Apple after all these years, the iPhone XS is a stunningly crafted phone. The display, the glass back, the stainless steel sides all feel of a level of quality you just don't get with, say the Google Pixel phones.
It may be an almost exact copy of the iPhone X – right down to that 5.8-inch OLED screen – but there's really no reason to mess with a winning formula. We're not surprised Apple has taken the iPhone X off sale, while the iPhone 8 and iPhone 7 phones remain available, because the differences between the XS and its immediate predecessor aren't huge.
Inside there's a new A12 Bionic chipset that Apple says is a significant upgrade over the A11 from last year, particularly in terms of graphics and artificial intelligence (think recognizing faces in pictures, calculating augmented reality scenes, and so on). We can report that the iPhone XS is indeed very, very fast and responsive, but in day-to-day operation the speed improvements over the iPhone X aren't particularly noticeable.
That might change as better games and more demanding apps appear. With the A12 inside, this is a phone that's going to stay lag-free for years.
Something that does feel faster right away is Face ID. If you're used to unlocking an iPhone X with your face, you'll notice the difference, even though it's slight. If you're coming to Face ID for the first time, you'll be impressed with its snappiness.
The dual-lens 12 MP + 12 MP camera gets slight upgrade too, in terms of the internal optics if not the overall megapixel count. The sensors and pixel sizes are larger, which means more light gets let into the lenses, which means better photos in difficult lighting. We couldn't test the phone's snaps directly against the iPhone X, but this is a phone that's going to take some superb photos for you.
And the A12 Bionic processor helps with that too – there's now more behind-the-scenes processing to get pictures looking as good as they can be. We were particularly impressed with the detail the phone can pick out in night-time shots with only a little artificial illumination, probably the trickiest scenario a phone camera can come across.
You might notice two new antenna lines around the iPhone XS, which amount to improved LTE upload and download speeds. Add this together with slightly better speakers and better battery management, and there are a few reasons to upgrade from the iPhone X – though probably not enough for most current iPhone X owners.
This is a phone that does just about everything superbly well. Apps are slick and speedy, videos look gorgeous on the OLED display, photos and video recordings are eye-catching, and it's the sort of device you just want to keep getting out of your pocket again and again to take another look at it.
At 0.39 lbs (177 g) – that's just a shade heavier than the iPhone X – it feels just the right weight in the hand too, solid without being heavy.
When it comes to battery life, Apple says the iPhone XS should be able to last around 30 minutes longer than the iPhone X – up to 12 hours of web browsing, in other words. We usually scraped through most days with around 10-20 percent of our battery left, so bearing in mind this is a new phone with a fresh battery, over time the battery life should be about par for the course for an iPhone: a day's use, more or less.
Put the phone under serious stress with gaming, GPS, and the like, and you might well need to hunt out a charger before the day is out – especially once the phone gets to a year old and beyond. It's one of the few features that isn't stellar.
There's wireless charging here, as there was last year, plus an IP68 rating that means the phone can be dunked in up to 2 meters of liquid for up to 30 minutes. That's extra peace of mind if you tend to be clumsy with your iPhone.
Let's not forget iOS 12, bringing with it improved notification management, ways to manage your screen time more responsibly, cute Memoji avatars, extra Siri actions, and more. The upgrade is coming to a whole host of iPhones though, not just the iPhone XS – you can read more about the software here.
We really should talk about the other iPhones that Apple has launched this year too. The iPhone XS Max is identical to the phone we've reviewed here, only with a larger 6.5-inch screen and a bigger battery to power it – so you pay slightly more for more display space.
As for the iPhone XR, industry watchers are predicting it'll be the biggest seller this year and with good reason. It's significantly less money (starting at US$749 rather than $999) for an LCD display instead of an OLED one, and a slightly inferior single-lens rear camera. At 6.1 inches, it hits the sweet spot in terms of display size too. Considering the A12 Bionic processor is inside the iPhone XR as well as the XS phones, it looks like a great deal.
Even though we love the iPhone XS a lot, we can't wholeheartedly recommend it for everyone, not with those other two options around – and if you're already using the iPhone X, there's maybe not enough new stuff to convince you to upgrade.
If you're not already using an iPhone X, however, then the iPhone XS Max or the iPhone XR could perhaps suit you better, depending on your budget and how much you like large screens. We suspect those who want the very best Apple phone on the market will plump for the iPhone XS Max, while those who want most of the benefits of an iPhone while also saving a bit of money will settle for the iPhone XR.
That leaves the iPhone XS in the middle, appealing to those who want the best iPhone specs in the smallest form factor, or at the lowest price point – which might not be a whole load of people. There's no doubt about it though, the iPhone XS is a stunning smartphone that excels in almost every department.
The phone is available now, direct from Apple, in silver, space gray, or gold. It'll cost you $999 SIM-free with 64GB of storage, $1,149 with 256GB of storage, and $1,349 with 512GB of storage. It's another solid step forward for Apple, but it looks like we'll have to wait until next year for some real innovation again.
Product page: iPhone XS