iPhone XS

Price: £999 from fave.co/2zMwHKC

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This is a ‘tock’ year for the iPhone (or, in Ap­ple lingo, an ‘S’ up­date) and many of us ex­pected a rel­a­tively quiet and mi­nor re­fresh for 2018 af­ter the fire­works of 2017’s iPhone X.

Of course, Ap­ple doesn’t re­ally do quiet phone launches, and two of its late-2018 new­bies are fas­ci­nat­ing: if noth­ing else the XS Max (read our re­view on page 24) and XR have enor­mous screens (the big­gest

and sec­ond-big­gest Ap­ple’s ever of­fered) and the lat­ter’s price tag of­fers a com­par­a­tively af­ford­able en­try point to the new gen­er­a­tion of all-screen iPhones.

But where does that leave the third new hand­set, the iPhone XS? Rather out­shone. Phys­i­cally, it’s the same de­sign as the iPhone X, and the 5.8in edge-toedge screen that looked so fancy last au­tumn has now got big­ger (and in one case cheaper) al­ter­na­tives to com­pete with.

The iPhone XS, then, is not this year’s glam­our up­date. But you know what? Glam­our is over­rated. And in this re­view, cov­er­ing the XS’s de­sign, new cam­era fea­tures, speed test­ing, pric­ing and more, we’re go­ing to ar­gue that this is a ter­rific choice for those up­grad­ing from an iPhone 6s Plus or 7s Plus.

Price

Don’t let com­par­isons with the (truly eye-wa­ter­ing) XS Max fool you: the XS is a se­ri­ously ex­pen­sive phone in its own right. It starts at a cool grand and you can spend more on it than a MacBook if you get the high­est stor­age ca­pac­ity.

iPhone XS (64GB): £999

iPhone XS (256GB): £1,149

iPhone XS (512GB): £1,349

De­sign

The iPhone XS is in most re­spects phys­i­cally iden­ti­cal to the X from last year. That will make X own­ers less likely to up­grade, but for the rest of us it shouldn’t be taken as a crit­i­cism: the X was a beau­ti­ful and

con­ve­nient de­vice to hold, use and look at, and the same things are true of its suc­ces­sor. The phone is slim, light­weight and cleanly de­signed: it’s all about the screen, and the rest of the hard­ware gets out of the way.

There’s no Home but­ton, and al­most no bezel around the edge of the dis­play: this is a nearly allscreen hand­set. Com­pared to older-style phones, you’re get­ting far more screen for your chas­sis vol­ume/ weight, although there is a pay­off in no longer hav­ing ac­cess to a hard­ware but­ton, and there­fore hav­ing to learn new ges­tures for many com­mon func­tions, from screen­shots (easy – now it’s the side but­ton and vol­ume up) to Reach­a­bil­ity (re­ally fid­dly – swipe down on the ges­ture bar).

In a lot of ways the XS makes most sense as an up­grade model from the 6s Plus or 7 Plus. It’s a fair bit smaller than those de­vices, but in the same ball­park; it has a big­ger screen that those de­vices, but again it’s in the same ball­park. Size-wise, the tran­si­tion is smooth. You just have more space in your pocket, more space on screen, with­out re­ally be­ing con­scious of it.

The rear of the XS, as on all of the iPhones re­leased in 2017, is made of glass, thereby en­abling wire­less charg­ing. But Ap­ple tells us the glass has been re­in­forced, and is now less prone to crack­ing and scratch­ing. We haven’t tested our sam­ples to de­struc­tion just yet, but can at least re­port that we haven’t no­ticed any scratches in our first week of use – then again, the same was true of iPhones we’ve used in the past. It’s worth not­ing that some X cases might not fit the XS.

Wa­ter and dust re­sis­tance

We’re also, for that mat­ter, re­luc­tant to ex­am­ine too closely Ap­ple’s claim that the XS is dust- and wa­ter­re­sis­tant to the (ef­fec­tively max­i­mum) IP rat­ing of IP68, up from IP67 on the iPhone X. (The firm boasts, in­deed, that you don’t even need to worry about spills from tea, cof­fee and fruit juice.) But we’re in­clined to take the com­pany’s word for it, since it seems that it may have been un­der­re­port­ing its de­vices’ ca­pa­bil­i­ties in this area. We’ve heard nu­mer­ous anec­dotes of sub­merged iPhones (var­i­ous mod­els) cop­ing bet­ter than ex­pected ac­cord­ing to their rat­ings, and none at all of them cop­ing worse.

Early tear­downs sug­gest lit­tle has changed this time around in terms of in­ter­nal seal­ing, and our sense is that the firm sim­ply prefers not to make claims un­til it is ab­so­lutely cer­tain it can back them. The iPhone X was prob­a­bly IP68 too, in other words, but if any­one asks we didn’t tell you that.

Colour op­tions

The last phys­i­cal change is that there’s a new gold fin­ish that wasn’t avail­able on the X last year. That’s on top of the sil­ver and Space Grey op­tions. As you can see in our photo (above), it’s a sub­dued gold, but has the faintest touch of pink on the back. And while the sheer shini­ness of the band may put off some (Space Grey is less blingy), we rather like it.

Dis­play

It feels apt to be­gin with the screen, since that dom­i­nates the de­vice so ut­terly, but be warned that here too not much has changed from the X. Once again, that isn’t a bad thing (un­less you’re look­ing for rea­sons to jus­tify an up­grade from 2017’s flag­ship), since it’s an ex­cel­lent dis­play.

It’s a 5.8in OLED screen at a res­o­lu­tion of 2,436x1,125 and a pixel den­sity of 458ppi, and while those fig­ures can be bet­tered by other phones out there (in­clud­ing the XS Max, of course), they’re good enough to be go­ing along with.

The dis­play is big enough for com­fort­able im­mer­sion in games and films – the notch can dis­rupt this a lit­tle, although we found we learned to zone it out quite early on – while the OLED tech­nol­ogy means richer blacks and bet­ter colour fidelity at wide view­ing an­gles (as well as im­proved power ef­fi­ciency). The pic­ture is bright and sharp, and the colours vivid and ac­cu­rate.

Colour re­pro­duc­tion will be aided by the in­clu­sion of True Tone (again, as on the X), which ad­justs screen out­put to ac­count for en­vi­ron­men­tal light­ing con­di­tions.

Ap­ple has re­tained its 3D Touch tech, so you can hard-press on app icons to ac­cess quick func­tion short­cuts and on emails and web links to see a pre­view – even though the omis­sion of 3D Touch on the still­rel­a­tively-ex­pen­sive iPhone XR hints that the com­pany might no longer be fully com­mit­ted to the con­cept.

Pro­ces­sor, me­mory and stor­age

The iPhone XS is a fast and pow­er­fully spec­i­fied smart­phone, and we should say be­fore we start that it

is vastly faster than nec­es­sary to run any and all of the apps on the App Store, and that real-life use (thanks partly to the smooth ef­fi­ciency of iOS 12) is al­most im­pos­si­bly slick. All that’s in ques­tion is fu­ture-proof­ing – how long is the XS likely to last be­fore we be­gin to no­tice a slow­down? A good while, we’d say. The XS has a new (Ap­ple-de­signed) A12 Bionic pro­ces­sor chip with six CPU cores and what Ap­ple calls the Neu­ral En­gine, backed up by 4GB of RAM (up from 3GB RAM in the X and 8 Plus, and 2GB in the 8). The lat­ter might not sound much, and An­droid phones of­ten in­clude 6GB or even 8GB, but Ap­ple’s op­ti­miza­tion be­tween its phones and their iOS soft­ware is so slick that it can get by with less with­out com­pro­mis­ing on per­for­mance.

You can choose from 64-, 256- or 512GB of stor­age with, as usual, no op­tion to add more with an SD card.

Ap­ple keeps mum about the pre­cise specs of its chips (even the RAM is not an­nounced of­fi­cially), so the best way to as­sess those num­bers is to put the XS through our rig­or­ous bat­tery of lab tests.

We be­gan by as­sess­ing gen­eral pro­cess­ing speed in Geek­bench 4’s CPU bench­mark: the XS av­er­aged 4,815 points in sin­gle-core and 11,082 in mul­ti­core. The lat­ter is up 6 per­cent from the iPhone 8 Plus, which scored 10,456 (once we up­dated it to iOS 12 to make the com­par­i­son fair).

The JetStream on­line JavaScript bench­mark eval­u­ates how well a de­vice can han­dle web ap­pli­ca­tions. The XS recorded an ex­tremely high score of 265, com­pared to 233 for the 8 Plus.

Graph­ics

Fi­nally we moved on to graph­ics per­for­mance, where we hope for great things: the GPU in the A12 has four cores, com­pared to three in the A11.

Across GFXBench Me­tal’s four long-stand­ing on­screen tests (T-Rex/Man­hat­tan/Man­hat­tan 3.1 and Car Chase), the XS recorded scores of 60-, 58-, 49-, 32fps – ex­tremely solid ef­forts through­out – while the new Aztec Ru­ins test saw scores of 40- and 25fps in Nor­mal and High. It pro­duces playable frame rates in even the most de­mand­ing graph­i­cal tests. How­ever, while im­pres­sive, this does not ap­pear to be no­tice­ably bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion. For com­par­i­son, our (iOS 12) 8 Plus scored 60-, 58-, 54-, 32-, 39-, 28fps across the six tests, although hav­ing a lower-res screen would usu­ally give it a small ad­van­tage. And we ac­tu­ally saw higher scores when we tested the XS Max, which has the same GPU as the XS, plus a higher-res­o­lu­tion screen.

What’s hap­pened to our ex­tra core of per­for­mance? Col­league Ja­son Cross made sim­i­lar find­ings with the 3DMark bench­mark (see fave.co/2IAh­nDs), which showed al­most no improve­ment in graph­i­cal per­for­mance us­ing the high-end Sling Shot test. Our col­leagues the­o­rize that the large as­sets of high-stress graph­ics tests mean me­mory band­width and cache are the bot­tle­neck, rather than GPU per­for­mance. Sure enough, the sim­pler Ice Storm Un­lim­ited test showed an 18 per­cent improve­ment com­pared to the X.

Cam­eras

The XS’s cam­eras are largely the same as on the X: the front lens re­mains 7Mp with an aper­ture of f/2.2;

the dual 12Mp rear lenses are f/1.8 (wide-an­gle) and f/2.4 (tele­photo). Op­ti­cal zoom still tops out at 2x, and there’s dual OIS (op­ti­cal im­age sta­bi­liza­tion) and 4K video at up to 60fps.

It’s a ter­rific pho­to­graphic setup, and our stan­dard test shots show good de­tail and faith­ful colour re­pro­duc­tion. That’s what we ex­pect from iPhone cam­eras these days.

Also as on the X, you get Por­trait Mode on the front­fac­ing cam­era, thanks to the TrueDepth cam­era used for Face ID. We find this messier around the edges than the crisp bokeh ef­fect you get from the rear cam­eras, but selfie shots taken in stan­dard mode are good.

(We didn’t no­tice this in our test­ing, but there have been com­plaints that the selfie cam­era on the XS ap­plies an ex­ces­sive ‘smooth­ing’ beauty fil­ter in or­der to ap­peal to the Asian mar­ket. The com­pany says

it’s now work­ing on a fix, but it didn’t strike us as a sig­nif­i­cant is­sue.)

In terms of ma­jor changes, Ap­ple says, a lit­tle vaguely, that the pix­els are deeper and larger for bet­ter im­age fidelity and low-light per­for­mance. Sure enough, a heavy zoom on our stan­dard low-light test shot re­vealed a cleaner, smoother im­age with less noise. (Some­thing ap­pears to have been lost in colour fidelity, how­ever; the X has got closer to the cor­rect yel­low of this nov­elty case.)

But most of the changes are to do with the in­tel­li­gent pro­cess­ing made pos­si­ble by the Neu­ral En­gine men­tioned ear­lier. This gives ben­e­fits when shoot­ing in com­plex light­ing con­di­tions.

Hav­ing the sub­ject’s face in shadow and a bright light source be­hind, for ex­am­ple, would or­di­nar­ily be a recipe for dis­as­ter, but the de­vice’s new Smart HDR

mode is much clev­erer about as­sess­ing the var­ied con­di­tions and ap­ply­ing the cor­rect set­tings where ap­pro­pri­ate: our tests con­firmed that the XS is ca­pa­ble of show­ing un­ex­pect­edly de­tailed shad­owy ar­eas and bright light­ing in the same shot.

In the be­low shot, for ex­am­ple, the sun is peep­ing through the branches of the tree so di­rectly that we’re get­ting lens flare, but we can still make out good de­tail on the shad­owed leaves.

These are im­prove­ments that will hap­pen be­hind the scenes – in clas­sic Ap­ple style – and lead to bet­ter

pho­tos with­out your nec­es­sar­ily know­ing why. But one as­pect of the XS’s clever im­age pro­cess­ing calls for more of your in­put.

If you take an im­age us­ing Por­trait Mode, it’s now pos­si­ble to ad­just the de­gree of bokeh (depth ef­fect or in sim­ple terms, blur) af­ter­wards. Open the shot in Pic­tures and hit the Edit but­ton, and you’ll now see the op­tion to fine-tune the fo­cal length from f/1.4 up to f/16, the blur­ring ef­fect ad­just­ing in real time as you do so.

What you can’t do is add bokeh ret­ro­spec­tively to shots that were not taken in Por­trait Mode, so you still need to plan ahead. But it’s nice to have more con­trol over this highly artis­tic – and there­fore sub­jec­tive – ef­fect.

Bat­tery life

The XS comes with a 2,658mAh bat­tery, which is a lit­tle smaller than the 2,716mAh one you’ll find in­side the X. Yet, thanks to the im­proved power ef­fi­ciency of the A12 chip, Ap­ple claims it will last 30 min­utes longer. The es­ti­mates are 12 hours of In­ter­net use and 14 hours of

Com­pared to older mod­els, you get far more screen for your chas­sis

The gold ver­sion is more sub­dued than on pre­vi­ous mod­els

Por­trait mode on the iPhone XS

Com­par­i­son of low light shots taken on the iPhone X and XS

If you take an im­age us­ing Por­trait Mode, it’s pos­si­ble to ad­just the de­gree of bokeh af­ter­wards

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