iPhone XS and XS Max review So here it is, the iPhone XS. Wait, that’s the X. Here is the iPhone XS. Now, there’s gonna be a lot of that in this video. But just go with me. I think it’s gonna make this review better.
So this is a weird year for iPhones. Usually Apples puts out anew iPhone in September, it drops the price of the oldmodel and it keeps selling it for a few more years. This year Apple didn’t do any of that. The iPhone X, which cameout last year in a flurry of hype, is gone. Instead, there’s the iPhone XS and the new mid-range iPhone XR. A
pple really wants iPhone Xto be its new brand of phones. The letters, S or R,telling the models apart. But let’s be honest. These are horrible names. Especially iPhone XS Max, which looks ridiculous nomatter how you write it. And to be perfectly honest,steals the name of my child for which I will never forgive Apple. Anyway, if you’re shoppingfor a phone this year, that means that you have two Apple phones to
look at not just one. We don’t have a XR yet but we’ll review it when it comes out in about a month. So, the iPhone XS. It comes in two sizes,the 5.8 inch regular size and the new 6.8 inch XS Max. (Correction: 6.5 inch XS Max not 6.8 inch) The phones are identicalapart from the size, the same A12 Bionicprocessor, same cameras, same basic designs, sameOLED display tech with 458 pixels per inch.
The Max also has a largerbattery but I think the only real reasonyou should get the Max is if you really, reallywant a big screen. And that’s really the main question I got. How big is the Max? Is it too big? Is it worth it? And I think the answeris that it’s both bigger and smaller than you expect. Don’t get me wrong, it’s big,as big as the iPhone 8 Plus and the Pixel 2. From the back it sharesthe same
surfboard quality as Apples previous plus sized phones. But the front is atotally different story. Because the edge to edgescreen fills the entire front of the phone, it doesn’t seemas huge as the plus phones. And when you’re watchinga video, it’s killer, a huge gorgeous display. It’s great. But the Max’s size also gets away from it. With the older PlusiPhones, you never really had to reach the very topor bottom of the phone because of those huge bezels. But to pull down notificationsor control
center on the Max, you have to reachthe very top of the device. I have big hands and Ibasically can’t do it. I end up having to usetwo hands every time. You can use Apple’s reachabilityfeature to pull down the UI and then swipe. But that’s two swipes for one thing. It just kind of makes me sad. The Max also doesn’t reallydo anything in software to take advantage of that big display. No, there’s not an extra row of icons. No, you can’t watch videoin Picture in Picture. Apps have to be updatedfor the new display. Instagram just look broken right now.
And apps like Slack and Gmail and Twitter show you the exact amount of information, just bigger. In fact, everything is mostly just bigger. Check out how huge the statusbar is in control center. It’s huge, so yes, if you want a really big screen get a Max. It’s a beautiful displayand I’ve enjoyed looking at it a lot. Nothing about it is easier to handle than the old plus phones. And in some cases it’s harder.
In every other way, theMax is identical to the XS, which is almost identical to the X. From the outside you wouldnever know the difference except that you can get the XS in this interesting gold color which has cool copperyiridescent effects in the light. Here’s where I want you to go with me. The iPhone X introduced so much new stuff into the phone world that reviewing the XS gives us the chance tocheck in on it a year later since so much of it is the same. Take the display.
The XS has the same OLED display as the X with curved corners and the notch. It’s still one of thebest displays out there with excellent colorreproduction, brightness and touch response. Last year we were wonderinghow Apple would handle burn in on this displayand this year we know. There are basically noproblems with burn in on the iPhone X display. And I’d expect the XS to keep it up.
It’s also been a full yearof this physical design and while it’s beautiful,I can tell you the iPhone X scratches way moreeasily than you’d expect. Apple says the front andback glass are more durable this year, so we’ll see. I can also tell you thatgetting rid of the home button and moving the screen shotfeature to wake plus volume up means I’ve taken 10,000accidental screen shots. Apple please change thisto
wake plus power down so they’re not directlyacross from each other. Or have the neural enginedetect that it’s seven am and I’ve accidentally takenanother photo of my lock screen. Just do something, I’m begging you. It’s also been a full yearsince Apple introduced Face ID and we know thatit works pretty well most of the time. Face ID on the XS isever so slightly faster than the X. It’s noticeable
side byside but it’s really just an extra beat. It still won’t workwith glasses that block IR light and it doesn’t work in landscape or upside down or anything like that. You still have to adapt to it instead of it adapting to you but overall for mostpeople, I think it’s easier to turn on Face ID and forget about it than it Touch ID. And that is a very good thing. So what’s really new here? You’re basically looking at two things, the camera and the processor. Let’s start with the processorsince that’s pretty simple.
Last year there was the A11 Bionic and this year there’s the A12 Bionic. Pure CPU performance-wise,the A12 isn’t really that much faster. Apple only quotes a 15 percentperformance improvement and I didn’t see a noticeablespeedup over my iPhone X. The GPU is 50 percent faster but as usual that feels like headroom for the future since these devices tend tostick around for so long. Last year’s
A11 GPU was 30 percent faster than the A10 and it’snot like we’re maxing that out after a year. The big change the A12 isreally the vastly bigger neural engine whichaccelerates machine learning. As more and more appsrely on machine learning that’s gonna be a huge deal. But right now, you’re lookingat a bunch of AR demos and some new camera features. Speaking of those new camera features,
the camera upgrades on the XS over the X are significant. But I’m just gonna come out and say it. I don’t think the iPhoneXS has a better camera than the Pixel 2. And the Pixel 3 comesout in just a few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, it’sa really good camera. And I think people are gonnalike the photos it takes. But the Pixel 2 is the standard to beat and the iPhone XS doesn’treally do it for me. Let’s dig in.
The iPhone XS has threecameras, two in the back and one in the front. That front camera is thesame as the iPhone X, a seven megapixel sensorwith an F2.2 lens. Of the two rear cameras,the telephoto camera is the same as the iPhone X. It’s an optically stabilizedF2.4 lens with the same 12 megapixel sensor as last year. But the wide angle thatyou’ll use most often has been seriously updated. It’s still an F1.8 lenswith a 12 megapixel
sensor but each of those 12 megapixelsis physically bigger now. Which means that theycan collect more light. There’s also twice as many focus pixels which is what Apple callsits autofocus system. The cameras and sensors work in tandem with the new A12 processor. Its integrated image processorand the neural engine in a new system Apple calls Smart HDR. The iPhone X also did HDR, but with the XS the effect is way more obvious. It works similarly to whatGoogle does on a Pixel 2.
It takes a series of imagesat different exposures and combines them. Like the Pixel 2 the iPhoneXS starts a rolling buffer of four images the secondyou open the camera app which allows for zero shutter lag. The image has already beencaptured the shutter button. But unlike the Pixel 2 which combines several underexposed frames, the iPhone XS also captures an overexposed image for each shot in the buffer
which picks up additionaldetails in the shadows of your image. Then it looks at all of theother frames in the buffer to see if they can add additional detail merging at least threeimages together to generate the final picture that you see. But side by side with the Pixel 2 iPhone XS still doesn’t quite hold up. You can see it prettyclearly in this photo when you zoom in. The iPhone aggressively smooths images.
The whole thing is just way softer. This loss of detail is the thing that bothered me the mostabout the iPhone X camera and while the iPhone XS is better the smoothing still disappointsme every time I see it. Apple used to talk a big game about having a more accurate camera than Samsung which has done these aggressivesmoothing tricks for years. But I think those days are over. Apple knows that most ofthese images will only ever be viewed on mobiledisplays and it feels like it’s
really starting tocompete with Samsung’s tricks because it knows that no one’sreally looking that closely. Loss of detail is one thing, but there are some subjective things I preferabout the Pixel 2 as well. The XS shoots really warmphotos while the Pixel is more true to life, if alittle muddier in the reds. Pixel 2 photos are alsoextremely contrasty and evocative which I like, but some people find harsh. I can’t tell you what styleof the images to prefer. But I can tell you that
thesecameras are very different. And I can also definitelytell you that you want more detail in your images, not less. The other big new featureon the iPhone XS camera is the new portrait mode,which lets you adjust the blur after you take the shot. Samsung’s phones have letyou do this for a while now but I think the iPhone looks a lot better because the phone isdoing a lot more work. When you pick up an iPhone XS and shoot a portrait mode photo anumber of things happen.
First the phone does facial recognition and splits apart theforeground from the background. Then it creates a depthmap of the entire scene, particularly the subjectin the foreground. Then it progressivelyapplies blur from foreground to background, simulating how a real lens on a full frame camerawould smoothly transition from front to back. I think it’s nicer thanphones of the Pixel and S9 can do.
Although it stillstruggles around the edges and sometimes it makes big mistakes like cutting these glasses off entirely. Apple says it modeledthe portrait mode blur against prime lenses on full frame cameras which we happen to havea lot of in our studio. And it looks reallydifferent to be honest. Here’s a 50 mil lens on aCanon 5D Mark IV on the left and the iPhone XS on the right. iPhone XS and XS Max review
The big cameras and reallenses produce different shapes inside the blur becauseof the way the physical aperture in the lens closes. The iPhone doesn’t really do that. It just looks like apretty standard blur to me. Of course, most people don’thave full frame cameras and expensive lenses andportrait mode will do a lot for all of those people. But in the past yearof having the iPhone X, I’ve shot nearly 5000 photos. And just 207 of them havebeen in portrait mode.
I don’t think this new version is gonna make me use it much more. There’s also a bunch ofupdates to video recording. The front camera, whichI’m using right now has all new stabilization. The rear cameras have allnew software stabilization. And you can record instereo audio which is cool. So those are the two main upgrades, the processor and the camera. Let’s talk about some of the
little stuff. First, battery life. I mostly tested the Max and it did great, better than even Apple’sclaim of 90 minutes more than the X. In fact, I got a full12 hours of battery life out of the Max withoutusing low power mode and that’s even under mypretty heavy daily use. The smaller XS is ratedto get 30 minutes more than the X, which hasrun about 8 hours for me this past year. It’s solid. Second, the iPhone XSships running iOS 12. I didn’t dive into iOS12 too much in this video because
we already madeanother whole video about it. But here’s the quick version. It’s a lot like iOS 11but a little faster. There’s Mimoji and thoseneat screen time limits that get you off your phonewhen you’ve used it too much. And needing two taps to sendphotos from the camera roll and messages is a huge pain. Please, iPhone XS and XS Max review
please go back to the old way. Apple made a big deal out of wide stereo during the Keynote andsome of you asked me about it, so here’s the deal. The iPhone X also had stereo speakers. But really, it was justmaking the earpiece speakers super loud to serve as the other channel. This year, both speakersare more evenly matched so Apple can do more signalprocessing to achieve a wide stereo feel.
Is it super noticeable? Only kind of. Is it really loud and clear? Yes. Apple’s also improvedwireless charging times. I’m told the XS will get to a full charge around 30 minutes fasterand that it’s less sensitive to placement. You don’t need to get a newcharging pad or anything. The internals of the iPhoneXS are just improved. That’s cool. Yes, the iPhone XS has 3-D touch support so use it while you still can, I guess. There is gigabit LTE supportwhich is carrier dependent. iPhone XS and XS Max review
So we weren’t able to test it. There’s that top of theline 500 gigabyte model and there’s new IP68water and dust resistance, which is better than IP67 onthe iPhone X and the iPhone XR. So let’s talk about price andwhether you should buy one. First, these are expensive phones. The XS starts at 999 andthe top of the line XS Max with 512 gigs of storage is 1449. That’s a lot of money. And just like last year,some of you are gonna find that ridiculous and others of you have already pre-ordered. For those of you that already pre-ordered, I think you’re
gonna bereally happy with this phone. It is indeed more iPhone. It’s Apple’s top of the line with everything thecompany can put into it. And I think it’s gonnahold up for years to come. Apple’s fallen behind thecamera rates, but not by much. And that camera is stilla significant improvement over previous iPhones. I’m sure all of you are gonna let me know how you feel about that in the comments. iPhone XS and XS Max review
For everyone who hasn’t pre-ordered, I think it’s worth waiting to see how the iPhone XR turns out. It’s got the same processor,the same main camera, and a big screen for $750. In fact, that was thebiggest question I got. Is the iPhone XS worththe premium over the XR? And right now, I just don’t know. We’re gonna have to review the phone when it comes out next month. But for right now I can tell you that the
iPhone XS is anupdate to the iPhone X. And if you like the iPhone X, you’re gonna really like the XS. Hey, so there’s one big featurewe were not able to test which is dual sim support. That won’t arrive until asoftware update later this fall. So we’ll be on it when it comes out. In the meantime, we’re gonnabe working on a big camera deep dive when the Pixel 3 comes out. So let us know what you want us to test and we’ll get right on it. iPhone XS and XS Max review