iPhone XS Review: Dial S for Superb!
Still powerful, still premium, still pricey, still not perfect
It is that year when the new iPhone is distinguished from its predecessor by an initial – and in keeping with past tradition, that initial is an S. And just like many in the past that came with the “S tag” in their names (4S, 5S, 6s), the new iPhone XS is more about performance enhancements than design ones. Which is totally evident.
S be for “Soooo like the iPhone X”
No matter how you look at it, the iPhone XS is pretty much a carbon copy of the iPhone X – which is not a bad thing, considering how premium the X looked. Still, they are so similar that if both are kept on a table, you might not be able to tell which is which by just looking at them, unless the iPhone XS came in the new gold color that is exclusive to the new iPhones (take a look at our first impressions here). The front is heavily dominated by the display, which comes with the famous notch and thin but visible bezels. That notch, in case you did not know it, carries the front facing camera along with a bunch of sensors that work together on the Face ID feature of the smartphone. The iPhone XS, like the X, sports a 5.8 inch Super Retina HD, all-screen OLED multi-touch display of 2436×1125‑pixel resolution, but while the specs are the same, the display seems significantly better than that of the iPhone X – the colors seem richer and contrast feels better. It is bright and responsive and definitely among the best we have seen on a smartphone. No, it is not as poppy and spectacular as the Super AMOLED ones on Samsung’s S9 and Galaxy Note series but delivers far more realistic colors, which in our opinion, is every bit as important.
The glossy shiny back of the iPhone XS (made of the strongest glass used in a smartphone, according to Apple, stronger even than the X) adds another layer of premium to the mix – yes, it will pick up scratches and smudges (put a case on it already), but it looks very good indeed. The new gold shade is especially notable, because it is not bling, shining gold but has a more bronze-like shade. Just like the iPhone X, the cameras on these two are also placed on the top left side in a vertical, capsule-like arrangement. The stainless steel frame not only provides structure to the phones but also counterbalances all that glass, giving it a very elegant, yet sturdy feel. It handles water and dust better as well too – the iPhone X was IP67 certified while the newcomer comes with an IP68 rating! Measuring 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm and sitting at 177 grams (slightly heavier than the iPhone X which weighs 174 grams), the iPhone XS feels exactly like the iPhone X. It sits perfectly in the hand and is compact enough to be used one-handed. There are not too many phones about whom you can say that – and that includes the Plus range from Apple itself!
S be for Speed
One of the biggest changes in the iPhone XS the processor – the device comes with Apple’s latest A12 Bionic chipset with a next-generation Neural Engine. The company claims that the chip is the smartest and the most powerful one from Apple and it is supposed to be 15 percent faster than A11 Bionic present on the iPhone X. We do not know if the phone is exactly “15 percent” faster than the iPhone X but it certainly feels a lot more snappy and smooth, bridging gaps that we did not know existed, and even making the X look a little sluggish. The difference will not be apparent in general tasks but become obvious when you push the device to work with 15-20 applications running in the background – games load faster, video editing is very smooth and so on. The experience is not totally glitch free – there were a few lags and crashes while using applications like Facebook and WhatsApp, but these could be the result of software bugs. To be honest, we are surprised at even this, accustomed as we are to iOS running incredibly smoothly right out of the blocks (we have already had one update even as this review was being written).
But all in all, the performance is incredibly smooth. The gaming experience is simply amazing – we did not face any lags, crashes or heating issues even while playing super high-end games. The speaker quality of the phone has also been improved – it now comes with stereo sound, which we think is about the best we have heard on a smartphone, better than the Galaxy Note 9.
S be for Super Cameras
Of course, one of the most asked about features on any new iPhone are the cameras. We have discussed the camera performance in detail in our camera review of the iPhone XS and XS Max (unlike in the past where the iPhone with the bigger display generally got better cameras, the cameras on both new iPhones are exactly the same), and you can check it out here. But here is a quick repeat – the iPhone XS sports two 12-megapixel cameras on the back, one wide angle with f/1.8 aperture and one telephoto which offers 2x optical zoom with f/2.4 aperture, with True Tone flash. There is also a 7-megapixel camera in front for selfies, video calling, and Face ID. All these numbers are very similar to the cameras of the iPhone X, but there are differences – the cameras on the new iPhone come with bigger sensors, allowing them to capture more light and detail.
And this is evident in the results. There is no doubting the fact that the photo quality on the iPhone XS is exceptional. The new chipset makes them among the fastest out there – you will be taking snaps in a snap with these. The cameras also adapt to different shots and angles faster and can move from close-ups to landscapes in no time. Thanks to optical image stabilization in both the lenses, the camera also takes better images of moving objects – you can capture cars and bikes moving at a decent speed easily. The larger pixels in the sensors also gather more light, resulting in much better low light pictures than on the X. The company has also added Smart HDR in the iPhones which takes a number of pictures at different exposures and combines them together – in simple English, it produces much better quality images with a great balance between light and shadow. And thanks to the processor, it works incredibly fast – you can turn off the feature if you want more realistic images, but we would recommend leaving it on, as you get much more detail.
The 7-megapixel selfie shooter is one of the best selfie cameras present out there in the market right now. Unlike many other smartphones that tend to go a little overboard with softening and clearing up your skin, the new iPhones tend to deliver more detail and realistic colors, even though there is a slight bit of skin smoothing. The video quality is right up there with the best as well, with very good detail and clarity – optical image stabilization means you get clear videos even when your hands tremble a little.
There are few negatives in the camera zone, though. While Apple has improved the Portrait Mode – where the subject is in sharp focus with the background blurred out – it is still not perfect. The bokeh seems deeper and now Portrait Mode comes with depth sensing which means one alter the intensity of bokeh in Portrait Mode shots while editing, but parts of the subjects sometimes get blurred out as well. Similarly, low light performance is better than on the iPhone X, but still has problems. I think the Pixel 2 still takes better pictures in low light, but all in all, these are perhaps the best cameras you can get on a smartphone today.
S for software that’s secure and simple…but oddly buggy
Both phones run on iOS 12, which is notable for being uncomplicated, secure and simple. There might not be too much new on the surface (a good thing as too many features can intimidate users), but many new additions are nestled away in different apps. The Memoji feature which lets you create an emoji that mimics your facial features has been improved (although it still works only in messaging), and you have Live Listen that allows you to use AirPods as hearing aids. The two phones can also be used as dual SIM phones with the help of an eSIM, although that facility has not been activated at the time of writing. Face ID works brilliantly in most scenarios, even in low light and it is rather cool to be able to unlock your phones and carry out transactions by just looking at it – yes, it can fail occasionally, but by and large, it just works. That said, we must repeat that of late, we have been seeing lags and crashes in apps, which is something that used to be a rarity. No, it is nowhere near deal-breaking proportions, but it certainly is unusual.
When it comes to battery, Apple claims the iPhone XS can last 30 minutes more than the iPhone X. And that claim comes pretty close to reality. The XS can see you through a busy day of work but you would have to charge it by the evening, just to be on the safe side – good by iPhone standards, but not really in the class of some of the competition. Turning on Low Power Mode on the devices makes a massive difference in the battery performance, adding a few hours easily. Support for wireless charging is there, of course, but it remains a little sluggish. Speaking of which, we do wish Apple would bundle a fast charger in the box, as well as a lightning to 3.5 mm adaptor – at that price, especially. Which of course, brings us to…
S for still expensive…and still super
Of course, all this costs a fair bit of money. The iPhone XS starts at Rs. 99,900 (for the 64 GB model) and goes up to Rs 1,34,900 for the 512 GB one, making it one of the most expensive smartphones out there. That said, the price is not as much as shocking or extreme as it once seemed when you consider that the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note and Google’s own Pixel range are not exactly far behind. And while those two are very good devices in their own right, neither of them comes even close to matching the premium aura that the iPhone carries. So should you be shelling out that sort of cash on the iPhone XS? Well, if you want (and can afford) one of the best smartphones in tech town in general and the latest and best iPhone in particular, the iPhone XS is a no-brainer. It might look like a dead ringer for the X, but its performance is very much on another level. In fact, we think that the choice that might confront most people is the one between the iPhone XS and its larger Max brother (yes, its review is coming up too), rather than between the iPhone XS and its predecessors or maybe even most of the Android competition. That does tell the story. Speaking for ourselves, we think the Max is the better option for gamers, binge video watchers and those looking for slightly better battery (yes, yes, it’s review is coming up soon), but for normal users, who want a great looking phone with great performance, the XS more than suffices. Yes, it looks like the iPhone X. But it totally outperforms it. And if that familiarity bothers you, buy the gold one. It remains expensive, but it remains in a (premium) zone of its own.
It might seem like a page out of the (iPhone) X-files, but that S makes the new iPhone super.