iPhone XS Review: The Best iPhone Ever?

The iPhone XS launched earlier last month to huge fanfare, as is usual for an iPhone launch, and to nobody’s surprise it looks pretty much the same as the iPhone X (apart from one physical difference). I’ve been using the iPhone XS (starts at Rs. 99,900) over the last couple of weeks as my daily driver, and this here is an iPhone that has really impressed me in more ways than one. Let me take you through an in-depth review of the iPhone XS, the various changes, the good and the bad about everything Apple has done with this ultra-premium Rs. 1 Lakh flagship.

iPhone XS Review: Specs

Apple might not be a fan of talking about the specs of the iPhone, but everyone else is, so here’s a quick rundown of the hardware inside the brand new Apple flagship.

Display 5.8-inch OLED
2436×1125 pixels at 458ppi
Processor 7nm Apple A12 Bionic
RAM 4GB
Storage 64GB, 256GB, 512GB
Rear Cameras 12MP f/1.8 + 12MP f/2.4 with Dual OIS
Front Camera 7MP f/2.2 True Depth Camera
Battery 2,658 mAh
Operating System iOS 12
Sensors Face ID, accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer
Connectivity WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac; Bluetooth 5.0;
Gigabit LTE with 4×4 MIMO
Price starts at Rs. 99,900

Alright, with that all done and dusted, let’s move on.

What’s In the Box

The iPhone XS comes in a regular iPhone box, no unusual shindigs, just the iPhone and Apple logo printed on the sides (in a nice golden color for our Gold iPhone XS, I’m assuming it’ll be black and silver for the other two). Inside, you’ll find the following things:

  • iPhone XS (because you paid for it)
  • A whole bunch of manuals and pieces of paper you don’t need.
  • Apple stickers
  • SIM ejector tool
  • Lightning earpods
  • USB Type-A to Lightning cable
  • Charger (not a fast charger, even though you really did pay for it)
  • No headphone dongle (because a $9 free accessory with a $999 iPhone, nah, no way!)

I don’t even use my headphones in their wired mode very often and I still hate that there’s no headphone dongle here. Anyway, let’s move on.

Design and Build Quality

The iPhone XS is a gorgeous phone alright? There’s no argument there, and in the gold color that we have, it looks simply stunning. Believe me, I’m not really a gold-phone kind of person, but the iPhone XS pulls it off in style, and looks beautiful while it does.

I’m not really a gold-phone kind of person, but the iPhone XS pulls it off in style, and looks beautiful while it does

The glass and stainless steel build looks great, adds a lot of class, and while I don’t have the heart to test its durability, it’s great to know that it’s more durable than the iPhone X was. Plus, judging by the drop tests I’ve seen on YouTube (I don’t know how people do those, my god!) it does look like the iPhone XS can hold its own if you do end up dropping it.

The glass back here means this phone is most definitely a fingerprint magnet, which isn’t really a problem on the gold variant, but will very much be an eyesore on the black, so you’ll have to clean it far too often. Also, yes, it supports wireless charging, which is great, but you know what’s not great? Fast Qi charging that’s still slow. I’ll talk more about that in a later section.

The iPhone XS feels great in the hand, and while I didn’t notice it much, Rupesh at least felt as if it’s slightly more grippy than the iPhone X — maybe it’s because of the new color process Apple uses on the Gold and Black variants, I’m not certain, but either way, it’s a great phone to hold.

To be perfectly honest, the iPhone XS is almost exactly the same on the outside as the iPhone X. It has the same vertically oriented dual rear camera, the same glass and steel body, the same display, the same notch, the same lack of a headphone jack.

The only thing this phone changes (and it’s not even a really good-to-look-at change) is the fact that the microphone and speaker grilles on the bottom are not symmetrical any longer. There are 3 holes on one side of the lightning port, and 6 holes on the other — it looks weird, and isn’t very “Apple.”

The speakers though are pretty great. The iPhone XS has stereo speakers, same as the iPhone X, however Apple has made the speakers louder and widened the soundstage quite significantly this time around, so even if you’re listening to music on the phone’s speakers, you’ll like it quite a lot. I was skeptical when, during the launch, the company claimed you could enjoy games like Alto’s Odyssey without headphones on the iPhone XS, but they weren’t kidding, the speakers are really good, although I still wouldn’t use them for Fortnite or PUBG Mobile. There are also the lightning earpods for times when you need in-ear earphones with the iPhone XS, and as usual, they are nothing great. They’re not bad, obviously, but there’s nothing remarkable about them either — you get the usual earpod quality audio which is usually sufficient for calls and light music, but it’s nothing great.

There’s also an IP68 rating this time, as compared to the IP67 rating on the iPhone X, so technically, the iPhone XS can stand immersion under 2 meters of water for 30 minutes — that doesn’t mean you start taking the iPhone XS diving with you, by the way.

Over all, the iPhone XS doesn’t disappoint in terms of build and design. It’s a great looking phone that exudes class from every angle.

Display

The iPhone XS comes with a 5.8-inch OLED display with a resolution of 2436×1125 pixels, and it is a stunning display. It’s pretty much the same display as the iPhone X, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

The display is bright (it can get extremely bright), and thanks to the fact that the air-gap here is basically non-existent it looks simply perfect in usage. Sunlight legibility is great, and I didn’t face any problems using the iPhone XS outdoors even in direct sunlight.

Obviously, since this is an OLED display it brings all the good things about OLED to the table — the colors look stunning, the blacks are absolute black, and even though OLED panels are prone to burn-ins, the iPhone X never had that problem, and I’m fairly certain that the iPhone XS won’t either.

Also, at the launch Apple said that the display is a 120Hz touch display, which has left a lot of people confused. Let me clear that up here — the iPhone XS display is not a 120Hz display, it just samples touch inputs at 120Hz, but the display itself refreshes at the regular 60Hz. So if you’re wondering what difference would sampling touch inputs at 120Hz make if the display is still a 60Hz display, well, it’s all got to do with the phone’s touch-responsiveness; or at least the perceived touch responsiveness, and that can make a big difference in how you feel about the iPhone while you’re using it. For the sake of clarity, the iPhone X also had a 120Hz touch sensing display, so there’s really nothing new here.

There’s also the notch, but let’s be honest, almost every single phone out there has a notch right now, and as it turns out it really isn’t that big an issue in everyday usage. I know what you’re thinking, I was pretty stubbornly against the notch on the iPhone X last year, but my opinions about it have changed since. In fact, the iPhone’s notch is probably one of the few that make sense (alongside phones like the Mi 8 Explorer Edition) — it adds Face ID which is more than just a simple facial recognition system, and it removes the bezels from everywhere else, which is pretty great, so no complaints there.

The iPhone XS display also comes with HDR10 support, and Dolby Vision certification, and Apple claims a 60% higher dynamic range on the new display. I did test that out with Deadpool 2 from the iTunes Store in 4K HDR on both the iPhone X and iPhone XS, but honestly, it’s not a mind-blowing difference — that’s not to say that this display isn’t great, because it is. Even DisplayMate said that the iPhone XS has the best display on any smartphone ever.

Cameras

In terms of cameras, the iPhone XS comes with a 12MP f/1.8 + 12MP f/2.4 dual rear camera set up with dual OIS for stabilisation, and I know what you’re thinking — that’s the same as last year’s iPhone X. However, that’s not exactly true. Apple has made some changes to the camera hardware in the iPhone XS — most importantly, the pixels on the sensor are now bigger and deeper, which means you can bet on better low light performance from the iPhone XS as compared to the iPhone X.

Good Lighting

In actual usage, images from the iPhone XS are definitely a lot better than those from the iPhone X. Objects are sharper, and Apple’s new Smart HDR definitely makes a difference in bringing out details in the shadows. It’s a pretty great camera set up. In good lighting, the images are pretty great with ample lighting, and a lot of detail. However, in comparison to the Pixel 3, I found that while the iPhone XS performs really well in good lighting conditions, the Pixel 3 is undoubtedly better. That said, iPhones have always leaned towards warmer color tones, and with the iPhone XS it looks like Apple has doubled down on that preference. I’m not sure why that is, it could be to make the images look more pleasing on the iPhone’s screen, or it could just be what Apple engineers think are better looking pictures, but the warm leaning tendency is definitely there.

Portrait Mode

In portrait mode too, the iPhone XS is awesome, but once again, it’s outdone by the Pixel 3 which is just a lot more consistent with portrait mode shots. Portrait mode photos from the iPhone XS usually have better light, but the Pixel 3 has better edge detection, and more details than the iPhone XS and is just more consistent in clicking better portrait shots than the iPhone XS, which just goes to show Google’s software prowess.

While Portrait Mode on the iPhone XS is definitely pretty great, I did notice that sometimes in artificial lighting, the iPhone XS started putting a weird color tint on the photos that it doesn’t do otherwise. I’m not sure why that happens, but it only seems to happen in artificial yellow lighting.

There’s Depth Control here as well, and if you think it’s basically Live Focus from Samsung phones, or any other similar implementation, it’s actually quite different. The iPhone XS doesn’t simply adjust the background blur when you’re using Depth Control. Instead, the phone creates a segmented map of the photo to figure out the distance of various objects from the subject, and when you adjust the blur, it changes the blur in a way that’s similar to how a DSLR bokeh would change on adjusting the aperture.

That’s something not a lot of people will notice, I suppose, but it’s a big difference, and it shows just how advanced Apple’s A12 Bionic chipset, and its new ISP is.

Low Light

In low light, even though the iPhone XS has bigger and deeper pixels, and dual OIS, it struggles to compete against the Pixel 3 and even the Pixel 2. Images from the Pixel 3 almost always have better detail as compared to ones from the iPhone XS, which is really surprising since the iPhone XS camera was so much better in good lighting. Giving credit where credit is due, the Pixel 3 is definitely a pretty damn amazing camera and is clearly better than the iPhone XS which tries too hard to get more light sometimes. While there are definitely times when the iPhone XS clicks a better low light photo, I just find that the Pixel 3 is a more consistent performer.

Front Camera

Similar things happen in selfies as well. Whether it’s a regular selfie, or a portrait selfie, the iPhone XS does come out with pictures that look softened and beautified. There can be many reasons behind this, and everyone seems to be leaning towards one or the other, however, the simple fact is that details in photos from the iPhone XS’ front camera are lacking when compared to the Pixel 3, and even the Pixel 2 and iPhone X. In fact, we have a detailed test of the iPhone XS ‘Beauty Gate’ that you can check out. That said, if you’re only ever going to look at your selfies on your iPhone screen (or another smartphone screen), this lack of details won’t be very apparent to you and you might end up actually liking the iPhone XS selfies more, because they do look great on a smartphone display.

Videos

The iPhone XS is also capable of shooting 4K video at up to 60FPS, and thanks to Dual OIS the videos are pretty stable. Plus, they have excellent colors, sharpness, and overall just look stunning. Add to that the stereo sound recording and you can have some pretty great memories recorded in 4K60 videos. There’s really nothing to complain about here.Pixel

Moving away from images, but still remaining within the realm of cameras, the iPhone XS comes with Animojis as well, and I still stand by my thoughts last year with the iPhone X, that Animojis are nothing but a novelty that you’ll use, maybe for a couple of days, and then never touch again.

Performance

The iPhone XS comes with the brand new 7nm A12 chipset from Apple with a custom built GPU and neural engine, 4GB of RAM, and 64/256/512GB of on-board storage. I know what you’re thinking, 4GB RAM on a phone that costs Rs. 99,900 is kinda stupid, and it does sound stupid for sure, but that thing people say about iOS optimisations, and the fact that Apple’s control over hardware and software is great for the iPhone, they’re all true. 4GB of RAM on an iPhone XS is never going to leave you wanting.

In my extensive usage of the iPhone XS (and believe me, it was extensive) not once did the phone lag out on me, hang, drop frames, or even stutter slightly. I played games on it, I watched movies and videos on it, I clicked a truckload of pictures with it, and it breezes through everything. Oh, and I ran benchmarks, where it just blew me away.

iPhone XS Benchmarks

For benchmarking the iPhone XS, I used Geekbench 4, and AnTuTu, and I also compared the results against the iPhone X, the Galaxy Note 9, and the OnePlus 6, just to get a general idea about the performance of the iPhone XS as compared to other flagships, and its immediate predecessor.

It’s pretty obvious that the iPhone XS is an extremely powerful smartphone. It demolishes every other phone in both Geekbench 4, and AnTuTu, scoring 4820 in the single-core test and 11060 in the multi-core test in Geekbench 4, and a whopping 342949 in AnTuTu. It’s a very impressive set of results.

Real World Performance

While benchmarks are great to get a general idea about the performance of a phone, the real world performance is really what matters. In my everyday usage of the iPhone XS, I didn’t come across any issues whatsoever. The phone is snappy, apps load up quickly, and everything works perfectly fine. There’s no lag anywhere, and I never found myself wanting for more performance. It’s great.

I also played a lot of games on the iPhone XS. In casual (but amazing) titles like Alto’s Odyssey the most impressive aspect of the phone was the audio quality, and the display that made the game look downright stunning. Obviously there weren’t any performance issues playing Alto’s Odyssey.

Fortnite performs like a charm. The graphics look great (and much better than on any Android phone, including the Note 9), and the game works really well. Whether I was gliding around in “Soaring 50’s” or running from gunfight to gunfight in solos, the iPhone XS handled everything perfectly.

PUBG Mobile ran smoothly without any hiccups on the iPhone XS. The game ran on Ultra with HDR, and the iPhone XS didn’t even break a sweat through long hours of gaming. However, it definitely looks like PUBG Mobile isn’t optimised for the display on the iPhone XS because a lot of the UI elements are get hidden under the notch, the map is obscured partly by the curve of the screen, and the left side fire button is almost half hidden, so it’s difficult to play, but that’s not so much the iPhone XS’ fault as it is the developers’.

A similar problem appears in Mortal Kombat. That game doesn’t have any icons hidden under the notch, but it does add huge bezels on the sides to fit inside what I can only assume is a 4:3 display. It definitely doesn’t feel 16:9, so I’m not sure what the game is going for here.

I also played Asphalt 9 on the iPhone XS and it was perfect. Asphalt 9 isn’t really as intensive as PUBG, but it has a lot of animations, and they looked great on the iPhone XS.

If you’re using an iPhone X, the performance difference won’t be that noticeable to you; after all, the iPhone X is a very snappy phone in itself, and the A11 Bionic is one of the most powerful chips out there, even now. However, the iPhone XS definitely does have performance improvements over the iPhone X, and huge performance gains over older iPhones like the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus.

User Experience

User experience and interface is probably one of the things that almost every iPhone shares across the board, thanks to fact that they’re all running the same OS, with just a few features here and there depending on hardware differences. The iPhone XS runs iOS 12, and as usual, I have my feelings about iOS — both good, and bad.

On the one hand, iOS is a very smooth operating system for the most part; the animations are very well thought out (no, really. If you carefully observe the way app icons behave when you’re swiping home from recent apps, you’ll see how the animation varies depending upon a number of factors, it’s really cool), and since I’m using a MacBook Pro, iOS affords me a bunch of cool features that you’ll never know you needed or wanted until you’ve used them — including AirDrop and Handoff.

However, iOS has its limitations, and especially as an Android user myself, I notice a lot of these. For starters, notifications on iOS are improved with iOS 12, but they’re nowhere near what Android offers. Customisation options are so few they might as well not be there. Lock screen action buttons need to be pressed instead of tapped to go to the camera, or enable the flashlight. There’s no option to change default apps. You get my point right?

Overall though, the user experience on the iPhone XS is really good, and I have no major complaints with it.

Audio

When I was planning this review out, I didn’t have a section about audio there. However, the stereo speakers on the iPhone XS really do deserve a section dedicated to them. I know what you’re thinking, the iPhone X had stereo speakers too, so why all the humdrum over the iPhone XS’ speakers? Well, that would be because this time the stereo speakers have been improved beyond recognition.

Apple is still using the earpiece as the second channel for the stereo speakers. However, the company made it a lot louder this time, and matched it better with the speaker on the bottom to make a stereo pair that does justice to whatever it is you’re listening to on the iPhone XS. Games like Alto’s Odyssey sound great on the stereo speakers, and watching videos, movies, or even listening to music is a pretty great experience.

Battery

Talking about the iPhone’s battery is almost as difficult as its specs because on paper the iPhone XS has a tiny battery that’s under 2,700 mAh. That’s well below any Android flagship out there, and yet, the iPhone XS will easily last you through the day.

In my usage, which is somewhere around intensive, the iPhone XS has successfully lasted me through the day, every day. That’s all down to iOS’ optimisations, and it leaves very little to be desired. On a regular day I spend a lot of time on Twitter, Instagram, and some time on WhatsApp. I also play a couple of games of Fortnite, and sometimes PUBG Mobile. I take pictures, listen to podcasts or music on my way to and from work, and answer the bare minimum number of calls that I can. I’ve always simply charged my iPhone XS to a 100% in the morning at around 7:30-ish and used it throughout the day without touching the charger, and after a long day of around 14+ hours at work, the iPhone is somewhere around 10-20% when I reach home, usually around 10 pm. To me, that’s more than what I need from the phone.

One complaint that I do have with the iPhone XS’ battery is the amount of time it takes to charge this thing. From around 10% charge to a full 100%, the in-box charger takes a full 3 hours to charge the iPhone XS. That sucks.

What’s worse is that the iPhone XS supports fast charging with USB Power Delivery at 30W, and it reportedly charges up to 50% in 30 minutes with that. Now, if only Apple would’ve bundled a fast charger with the iPhone XS, this wouldn’t have been a sore point for anyone, however, the Cupertino giant seems to think that no one cares about fast charging, and if they do, they can shell out an additional $70 to get the fast charger, and the USB-C to Lightning cable. I didn’t, and I’m not willing to, but fortunately there are third party chargers and cables that you can buy for fast charging the iPhone XS.

Speaking of slow charging phones, the iPhone XS also supports faster wireless charging on the Qi standard, but it looks like it doesn’t use all of what Qi charging mats can support. In my tests, I found that wirelessly charging the iPhone takes the same 3 hours to go from around 10% to 100%, and again, that’s ridiculous. I’m not a fan of wireless charging anyway, so this isn’t something I’m banging my head on the table for, but if you were expecting fast wireless charging to actually be fast, you’re in for a surprise.

Connectivity

The iPhone XS is the first iPhone in the world to support dual SIM, but if you pop out the SIM tray on an iPhone unit for any country other than China, there’s only space for one SIM there. That’s because the iPhone XS uses one eSIM and one SIM card to enable Dual SIM support.

Now this may be a bit of a problem, but fortunately Airtel — India’s largest telecom operator, and Jio both support the iPhone XS eSIM, so if you’re looking to get on the eSIM bandwagon, and you’re an Airtel or Jio subscriber, this is great news for you. In China, however, the SIM tray supports two physical SIMs, which, let’s face it, is just easier than going for the eSIM.

Anyway, as far as calling and connectivity is concerned, I have faced absolutely no issues with the iPhone XS. Voice quality is crystal clear, noise cancellation on the iPhone XS mic is amazing, and everything is great. Yes, there are reports that certain iPhone XS and XS Max units are having issues with connectivity, but I didn’t come across any such problem with LTE or with WiFi, so I’m not entirely sure what that’s about.

Speaking of WiFi, the iPhone XS supports WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, and of course it comes with support for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, so no issues there if you’re using 5GHz bands.

The phone also comes with Bluetooth 5.0, so if you do lose your temper about the headphone dongle and end up buying a pair of Bluetooth headphones instead, this will ensure better connectivity and more range so that’s definitely great.

Pros and Cons:

So, the iPhone XS is a pretty great smartphone. However, it does have its pros and cons as well. Here’s a quick look at all the good things, and the bad about the iPhone XS.

Pros:

  • Great cameras
  • Stereo speakers are loud and amazing
  • Beautiful display with HDR10 and Dolby Vision
  • Powerful performance
  • Dual SIM
  • Excellent build quality

Cons:

  • Extremely pricey at a starting price of Rs. 99,900
  • No fast charger in the box, and the bundled charger is an atrocity beyond words.
  • Some apps are still not optimised for the notched bezel-less display.
  • Beauty Gate
  • Notch (but that’s subjective, I guess)

SEE ALSO: iPhone XS Brings Live Previews for Portrait Lighting Effects in the Camera App

iPhone XS Review: A Powerful and Gorgeous Device That’s Simply Too Heavy on the Pocket

The iPhone XS is a compelling smartphone that brings the best of Apple together. It has awesome cameras, mind-blowing performance, a beautiful display, amazing sounding speakers, and a battery life that will easily get you through the day. However, the biggest issue here is the price of the new iPhone XS, and whether it is worth that price tag for the stuff it brings.

Obviously, if you want an iPhone, and only an iPhone, then the iPhone XS is the phone to get. You can also wait for the iPhone XR that is scheduled to arrive later this month, and which looks like it’ll be a pretty great phone as well. Anyway, if you’re confused about upgrading from an older iPhone to the iPhone XS, or if you’re thinking of switching from Android to iOS, here’s what you need to think about before taking the plunge.

If you’re using an iPhone X, the iPhone XS is not worth the upgrade unless you absolutely want the better cameras and are willing to spend another $999 on it. However, if you’re using an iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus, or something older, you can consider getting the iPhone XS. You’ll appreciate the new design, the gestures — everything.

For people thinking about switching from Android to iOS, here’s what you need to understand. The iPhone XS (or any other iPhone) isn’t really meant to be a one-year device. If iOS 12 is an example, my old iPhone 5s is completely usable even now — that’s a five year old device. So if you’re looking for a phone that will last you as long as you want it to, the iPhone XS will not let you down. However, if you’re looking for a phone that you’ll change in a year, the iPhone XS isn’t the phone for you.

Buy the iPhone XS from Flipkart (starts at Rs. 99,900)

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