With last year’s iPhone X, Apple introduced the most significant redesign to the iPhone since the iPhone 4. All three of the phones Apple announced this fall—the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR—are modeled after that blueprint.
That means near-edge-to-edge displays. It also means they have the TrueDepth sensor array, which powers Face ID, the facial recognition feature that replaces the Touch ID fingerprint authentication method used on iPhones since the iPhone 5S in 2013. There’s no home button either, which had been part of the iPhone since the very first one back in 2007.
Today, we’re reviewing the iPhone XS and XS Max. This might be the smallest year-over-year iteration Apple has ever done for the iPhone. Yet somehow, there’s a whole lot to talk about, from wireless bands to performance to ambitious, under-the-hood camera tech.
The iPhone X has been the best-selling smartphone for most of the time since its launch just under a year ago. So how do you follow up the most popular new phone in the world? And how do you convince previous iPhone owners who didn’t jump for the iPhone X, and who were happy with the way iPhones were before, to spend more than $1,000 to upgrade?
As always, we start with the specs.
|Specs at a glance: Apple iPhone X and XS Max|
|Screen||2436×1125 5.8-inch (458PPI) pressure-sensitive touchscreen for the XS, 2688×1242 6.5-inch (458PPI) pressure-sensitive touchscreen for the XS Max|
|CPU||Apple A12 Bionic (2x high-performance cores, 4x low-power cores)|
|GPU||Apple-made A12 Bionic GPU|
|Storage||64, 256GB, or 512GB|
|Networking||802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5, NFC|
|Camera||Dual 12MP rear cameras, 7MP front camera|
|Size||5.65″ x 2.79” x 0.30″ (143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm) for the XS, 6.20” x 3.05” x 0.30” (157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7mm) for the XS Max|
|Weight||6.24oz (177g) for the XS, 7.34oz (208g) for the XS Max|
|Battery||2716 mAh for the XS, 3174 mAh for the XS Max|
|Starting price||$999 unlocked for the XS, $1099 unlocked for the XS Max|
|Other perks||Wireless charging, OLED, HDR, Face ID, augmented reality sensors, computational photography features|
The iPhone XS measures at 5.65 inches (143.6 mm) by 2.79 inches (70.9 mm), with a thickness of 0.3 inches (7.7 mm). Its bigger sibling the iPhone XS Max comes in at 6.2 inches (157.5 mm) by 3.05 inches (77.4 mm), but it is also 0.3 inches thick. The iPhone XS weighs 6.24 ounces; the iPhone XS Max weighs 7.34 ounces.
Apart from the size and price, there is no significant difference between the iPhone XS and XS Max. A teardown by iFixit found that the XS uses a new, notched, L-shaped single-block battery design, while the XS Max uses a dual battery configuration similar to that in the iPhone X, but that’s about it.
In terms of battery life, Apple says iPhone XS owners should expect up to 20 hours of wireless talk time, up to 12 hours of Internet use, up to 15 hours of video playback, and up to 60 hours of audio playback. Overall, the company promises “up to 30 minutes longer” than the iPhone X. The iPhone XS Max promises up to 25 hours of talk time, 13 hours of Internet use, 15 hours of video playback, and 65 hours of audio playback—up to 1.5 hours longer than iPhone X. The XS has a 2716 mAh battery and the XS Max has a 3,1754 mAh battery.
Wireless changing is included via the Qi standard, and wired fast-charge when connected to a computer or beefy power adapter over Lightning/USB is an option too.
Both models have stereo speakers, which Apple claims offer wider stereo sound than previous iPhone speakers. And, of course, there are microphones. They also sport a barometer, a three‑axis gyro, an accelerometer, a proximity sensor, and an ambient light sensor.
Obviously, the iPhones support Wi-Fi and LTE cellular as well as GPS. They also both support dual SIMs via eSIM in a few markets, as well as actual dual physical SIMs on select models in China. However, software support for eSIMs is still forthcoming. We’ll list new supported bands and some other added wireless features in a bit.
For information on accessibility features and ratings, refer to Apple’s own specs page for the devices.
The iPhone XS’s screen measures 5.8 inches diagonally, compared to 6.5 inches for the iPhone XS Max. Both have the same pixel density at 458ppi (pixels per inch). That means a resolution of 2,436 x 1,125 pixels for the iPhone XS and 2,688 x 1,242 pixels for the iPhone XS Max. Both have OLED screens, which means their black levels are absolute, so traditional contrast ratio measurements are kind of nonsense. Regardless, Apple arbitrarily claims a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. The company could have reasonably said “infinite” instead, like some OLED TV makers do.
Both displays support Apple’s new-ish True Tone technology, P3 wide color, and 3D Touch. Apple claims the displays have a maximum brightness of 625cd/m2, but we actually measured it at around 670 on both phones.
CPU, GPU, and RAM
Both handsets contain Apple’s new A12 Bionic chip, the successor to last year’s—you guessed it—A11 Bionic. This chip contains a CPU, GPU, and the machine-learning-focused Neural Engine, all designed and developed internally at Apple.
Like the A11, the A12’s CPU has two high-performance cores and four efficiency cores. Apple claims that the high-performance cores are up to 15 percent faster than those in the previous chip and that the efficiency cores use up to 50 percent less power than their predecessors.
The A12 also has an improved ISP (image signal processor) and a secure enclave for data from Face ID and other functions.
The GPU has four cores, and Apple claims it is up to 50 percent faster than the one we saw on the A11 in the iPhone X and iPhone 8. But the Neural Engine is where Apple claims the biggest year-over-year gains. The A12’s Neural Engine has eight cores while the A11 only has two. Apple says the Neural Engine can handle up to 5 trillion operations per second, a big boost over the A11’s 600 billion.
Machine learning powers everything from Face ID to palm rejection to Siri searches. It’s a ubiquitous focus of iOS 12, which is the operating system update that Apple introduced alongside these new phones.
Both phones have 4GB of RAM, up from 3GB in the iPhone X.
And then there are the cameras—this is where these phones have changed the most from last year’s iPhone X. Each phone has dual 12-megapixel rear cameras—wide angle at an ƒ/1.8 aperture and telephoto at ƒ/2.4. You’ll get optical zoom up to 2x and digital zoom up to 10x, along with dual optical image stabilization. There’s also a quad-LED flash that Apple says is slightly changed from last year, with a different tone for more natural and desirable color.
You can record 4K video at 24, 30, or 60fps (frames per second), plus 30 and 60fps at 1080p, and just 30fps at 720p. Extended dynamic range is available for videos up to 30fps. You can shoot slow motion video in 1080p at either 120 or 240fps. Stereo audio recording is also possible with videos, and you can take 8MP still photos while shooting a video. For video zoom options, it’s up to 2x optical and 6x digital.
That’s the rear camera. On the front, you have a 7-megapixel camera—ƒ/2.2. It supports 1080p video at either 30 or 60fps, and extended dynamic range up to 30fps is also available here. The front camera housing also includes the TrueDepth sensor array, a 3D IR camera that can map your face and facial expressions, among other things. It’s most known for driving Face ID and Animojis, but it can be used for more than that by app and game developers.
Many of the camera improvements Apple is touting this time around have to do with what the company called “computational photography” (though Apple didn’t coin that phrase). That means enhancements and features driven not by the optics of the cameras, but by machine learning and other support from the A12 chip. That includes Smart HDR, portrait lighting, and so on.
Storage configurations, and what’s in the box
Last year’s iPhone X was available in 64GB and 256GB storage configurations. This time, we get 64GB, 256GB, and 512GB on both the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max. Beyond that, you’re just picking aesthetic finish (Space Gray, Gold, and Silver) and carrier. Both phones are packaged with EarPods, Apple’s mediocre, wired, in-ear headphones that connect to the phone’s Lightning port. They also come with a Lightning-to-USB charging and data cable, and a 5-watt USB wall power adapter that is not quite up to the task of expediently charging these phones.