iPhone XS

These are our early impressions of the new device from Apple - check back in a few hours (or keep an eye on our Twitter feed) to see when we've had time to deliver some more in-depth findings.

Last year, the launch of the iPhone X was something that the phone-buying public sorely wanted: the chance to get their hands on a new style of handset from Apple.

That need was filled, so this year we weren’t expecting anything as impressive - and that’s been the case with the new iPhone XS. 

Confusing name aside, the new phone is largely similar to last year’s model, but with some key upgrades: there’s now 512GB of storage, an all-new A12 Bionic chipset to improve the speed and camera performance and an enhanced display too.

Price and release date

The iPhone XS will launch in most countries around the world on pre-order from September 14, with the actual handset offered for sale globally from September 21 if you want to pick it up from a store.

In terms of price, the good (ish) news is that the cost won’t have risen over last year’s incredibly expensive iPhone X with the 64GB model coming in at $999 (£999, AU$1,629). 

The 256GB iPhone XS price is $1,149 (£1,149, AU$1,879) and the 512GB iPhone XS price is $1,349 (£1,349, AU$2,199).

However, despite the average cost of smartphones going up, the iPhone XS is still going to be one of the most costly phones you can buy (apart from the iPhone XS Max, which will have the eye-watering price tag of $1099).

Design

As we said, the main thing that excited people last year was the all-new design, and Apple’s staying true to form and making this an ‘S’ year - that means the same design with only a few design tweaks inside to mark this out as a different phone.

The main change is to the color scheme - this year we’ve got a gold shade thrown into the mix, which we have to say looks rather striking in the flesh.

Beyond that, the same frame as last year is present: a steel frame around the edge, a 5.8-inch display encapsulated by thin bezels all the way around, and (unsurprisingly) no home button, with the notch at the top of the display housing all the components required for the Face ID facial recognition for unlocking the phone.

The glass front and back are here once again too, and despite not really changing anything year on year, Apple has still delivered one of the more striking smartphone designs on the market - and that glass is more durable too.

That’s not in looks - there are an absolute slew of iPhone copycats on the market now from Asian firms, and many offer a similar design - but in the build quality. The feel of the iPhone in the hand still conjures a premium idea in the mind, going some way to offsetting that sky high price.

In the hand, it’s very hard to feel there’s much different between the iPhone X and iPhone XS from last year - the gold coloring aside - but you still get a real feel that this is one of the most premium smartphones on the market, and that durable glass on the back doesn’t diminish the feeling at all.

At least the rumors of Apple not bringing a headphone adaptor in the box were false - while many will still be irked at the need to have to attach another dongle to their headphones, at least they’ll be able to listen to music of higher quality out of the box - although we need to get the box to check that’s true.

The iPhone XS obviously comes with the bundled Lightning connector earbuds too, which many people will choose to use and therefore won’t need to worry about the dongle.

On the left-hand side of the phone (and, for that matter, the right-hand too) things are much as expected: the volume buttons and silencer rocker switch remain on the left, and the larger lock / Siri button sits proudly on the right of the phone, jutting out just enough to be used effectively without ruining the flow of the rim.

Unlike last year, the iPhone XS is water-resistant to IP68 rating, meaning you can slosh it about in the bath or shower without a care in the world, and there are dual speakers on the top and bottom of the device.

They don’t both fire forward (the bottom one spits sound downwards from the edge of the phone), which is still a shame when trying to watch a film without headphones, but they’re still impressively loud - Apple has improved the output this year to make them even more dynamic and rich-sounding, and although it was hard to fully test this out in the demo area there does seem to be a definite improvement in sound quality.

Screen

Again, the iPhone XS hasn’t really changed much in terms of the screen it’s offering. The 5.8-inch OLED option is back once again (and that was already one of the best screens we’ve seen on a phone in the last year) meaning rich colors, deep blacks and strong contrast ratios.

There’s still the aggravating notch at the top of the phone, housing the front-facing cameras and speaker, and while you’ll probably get used to this in a week or two there are some films or YouTube videos that you’ll want to expand to fill the whole screen, but will lose a touch of information there.

Apple has improved the performance of this screen by adding 60% better dynamic range to the already-offered HDR 10 and Dolby Vision movies - this basically improves the quality even further by managing to make both bright and dark elements of the scene rich and clear, without just driving the brightness right up and ruining the overall quality.

Watching HDR video on the screen didn’t instantly feel like it was miles better, but it was engaging and deep - we just remember having the same kind of reaction last year. Just scrolling around the device was clean and enriching - and the speed was phenomenal.

Apps opened and closed at rapid rates, the camera fired up instantly and while we took an age to load a Bethesda game (Elder Scrolls Blaze) the overall quality when we got into it was great and really does offer the feeling that you’re getting console quality on a smartphone (despite it being a touch juddery to run through - although this is an unreleased game).

Camera

While there are some minor refinements to the camera on the iPhone XS, there’s nowhere near as many as some might of expected, once again highlighting how this is very much an ‘S’ year for the iPhone range.

It’s good to get dual cameras on the ‘normal-sized’ iPhone - last year’s iPhone 8 only had a single sensor - but perhaps there could have been more added to the mix.

There are two 12MP sensors, both with optical image stabilization we believe, although one is a wide-angle lens with higher-quality low-light performance, and the other a telephoto lens that allows for two-times zoom on a subject.

The two can be used together to create Apple’s Portrait Mode, bringing the DSLR effect of blurring out the background and allowing you to change the lighting or add effects to the subject with a few simple swipes.

What has been upgraded is the iPhone XS’ capability to understand and improve photos through its onboard smarts: it can now dynamically work out scenes and enhance overall photo quality algorithmically, as Apple strives to catch up to the photographical prowess of the Google Pixel 2 and Huawei P20 Pro.

Overall, the quality is enhanced with the new chipset taking in the capabiity of the A12 Bionic’s Neural engine - as you can see in the photos we saw, the quality is incredible.

Testing the camera in the demo area, things were super crisp and clean, but we’d expect that in bright conditions. We need to spend more time in a more challenging environment to find out more.

Battery

As ever, Apple doesn’t announce the size of its battery on stage, more talking about what the phone can actually do -  the iPhone X last year had a capacity of just over 2,700mAh but could generally last the day pretty well.

Apple is claiming that the iPhone XS, with its new, more efficient A12 Bionic chipset inside, is capable of lasting 30 minutes longer than the iPhone X - which doesn’t seem that much and makes us inclined to believe that it’s the chipset doing so much more that’s reason for the low jump.

There’s wireless charging in the mix too (we assume, although Apple never mentioned it), based on the Qi standard, and we’ve found with any phone that’s capable of wireless charging if you head out and buy a couple of power pads for work and home we doubt you’ll actually run out of battery very often at all. The back is still glass so there’s no worry that the charging signal couldn’t get through.

There’s no fast charger in the box from Apple it seems as it wasn’t mentioned, which is a missed opportunity when you consider rivals like Samsung and OnePlus have been offering the same functionality with the cost of the phone for years.

There aren’t many huge strides forward in battery life on the iPhone XS, but that’s hardly surprising given it has the same frame with little room to shove in more battery capacity.

Early verdict

There’s always something so disappointing about the ‘S’ years of the iPhone - sure, it makes business sense for Apple given it can still command sales without having to redesign the phone every time, but without a new shape it’s not as easy to explain to buyers why it’s worth buying.

There are some decent improvements in the mix - notably the capacity, the louder speakers and the more colorful screen -  but beyond that, many will likely be torn between last year’s iPhone X that will now be cheaper and having the latest iPhone as we can’t say the upgrades we saw were many and overpowering. The iPhone XR seems more of an impressive feat from Apple, to be honest.

There’s a real snap to using the iPhone XS in the hand, and it’s capable of being held easily with one palm indeed. The edges still being steel make us worry that it’ll scratch like the X managed to, so you certainly may want to consider a case as they were already hoovering up fingerprints in the demo area.

We’re looking forward to getting our teeth into this handset over the next few weeks, and will bring you our full iPhone XS review with all the details you need before buying.



from TechRadar - Technology Reviews http://www.techradar.com/reviews/iphone-xs