Conclusion & End Remarks

While the iPhone XS and XS Max in one sense are just another iteration on last year’s iPhone X, they’re also a big shift for Apple’s line-up. Rather than being actual successors to the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus they're closer to next-generation replacements, but with some significant differences. In that respect I do regret missing out on the iPhone XR for this review, as I think it’s going to be an incredibly attractive alternative to the XS models.

Design wise, there’s not much to talk about the XS: the smaller variant is nigh identical to the iPhone X, with the only visual differences between the phones being the added antenna lines on the XS, virtue of the new 4x4 MIMO cellular capabilities of the phones.

The XS Max sports Apple’s biggest screen, and in a sense I do like the design more because it does have a bigger screen-to-body ratio. Apple’s bezel design is intentional, but I did hope they had shaved 1-2mm off the sides, as I’ve gotten used to other, more full-screen devices. One thing to consider about the XS Max, is that’s it’s really heavy for a phone, passing the 200g mark at 208g.

The screens of the XS and XS Max are the best displays among any devices on the market: While Samsung still has a density advantage, the Apple phones just outgun competing phones in terms of colour accuracy and picture quality. The 10-bit panel allows seamless colour management between sRGB and Display P3 modes depending on content, and Apple’s still the only vendor able to do this without having significant drawbacks.

The Apple A12 is a beast of a SoC. While the A11 already bested the competition in terms of performance and power efficiency, the A12 doubles down on it in this regard, thanks to Apple’s world-class design teams which were able to squeeze out even more out of their CPU microarchitectures. The Vortex CPU’s memory subsystem saw an enormous boost, which grants the A12 a significant performance boost in a lot of workloads. Apple’s marketing department was really underselling the improvements here by just quoting 15% - a lot of workloads will be seeing performance improvements I estimate to be around 40%, with even greater improvements in some corner-cases. Apple’s CPU have gotten so performant now, that we’re just margins off the best desktop CPUs; it will be interesting to see how the coming years evolve, and what this means for Apple’s non-mobile products.

On the GPU side, Apple’s measured performance gains are also within the promised figures, and even above that when it comes to sustained performance. The new GPU looks like an iteration on last year’s design, but an added fourth core as well as the important introduction of GPU memory compression are able to increase the performance to new levels. The negative thing here is I do think Apple’s throttling mechanism needs to be revised – and by that I mean not that it shouldn’t throttle less, but that it might be better if it throttled more or even outright capped the upper end of the performance curve, as it’s extremely power hungry and does heat up the phone a lot in the initial minutes of a gaming session.

On the camera side, Apple made some very solid improvement all-around. The new sensor’s increased pixel size allows for 50% more light sensitivity, but the improved DTI of the sensor also allows for significantly finer details in bright conditions, essentially increasing the effective spatial resolution of the camera. SmartHDR works as promised, and it’s able to produce images with improved dynamic range. The telephoto lens is the one use-case where the XS really stands out over the iPhone X as exposure and colour rendition are significantly improved, one of the weak points of many telephoto cameras nowadays. Overall in daylight, the new iPhone is easily among the best smartphone cameras on the market.

In low light the iPhone XS also sees a big improvement, however it’s not enough to quite match Samsung’s hardware and Huawei’s processing. I do hope Apple will make use of the newfangled computational photography in more use-cases, as we’re seeing some great innovation from the competition in this regard.

Video recording of the iPhone XS is also a major improvement of the phone. From better dynamic range, better stabilisation, to better and now stereo audio recording, Apple makes a significant leap in the video performance of the new iPhones.

In terms of battery life, it was surprising that the iPhone XS wasn’t much of an upgrade over the iPhone X in our test. I’m still not sure if this is something related to some sort of hidden inefficiency of the A12, or maybe something to do with the new WiFi or cellular modem. For the latter, we’ll be revisiting the topic shortly, and to also re-validate the battery life numbers of this review.

For the iPhone XS Max, I wasn’t surprised to see battery life be less than on the iPhone 8 Plus – the OLED screen is less efficient than the LCD display of last year’s phone – and the increased battery capacity is not enough to counter-act this. It’s just something to keep in mind for the big-phone users out there eyeing the iPhone XS Max in particular.

Overall, are the new iPhones worth it to upgrade to? If you’re an iPhone X user, I think my answer is no. If you’re coming from an older device, then my answer is… wait it out. When having a hands-on with the XR at the keynote event, my first thought was that this would be the model that would see the most success for Apple this generation. The problem here is that Apple is asking for a lot of money – if you’re entrenched in the iOS ecosystem, I think it’s best to evaluate the individual pros and upgrades that the new iPhone XS brings over your current device.

The value proposition aside, the new iPhone XS and XS Max are, as always, extremely polished devices, and the best phones that Apple has released to date.

Camera Video Recording & Speaker Evaluation
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  • name99 - Saturday, October 6, 2018 - link

    If you're going to count like that, you need to throw in at least 7 Chinook cores (small 64-bit Apple-designed cores that act as controllers for various large blocks like the GPU or NPU).
    [A Chinook is a type of non-Vortex wind, just like a Zephyr, Tempest, or Mistral...]

    There's nothing that screams their existence on the die shots, but what little we know about them has been established by looking at the OS binaries for the new iPhones. Presumably if they really are minimal and require little to no L2 and smaller L1s (ie regular memory structures that are more easily visible), they could look like pretty much any of that vast sea of unexplained territory on the die.

    It's unclear what these do today apart from the obvious tasks like initialization and power tracking. (On the GPU it handles thread scheduling.)
    Even more interesting is what Apple's long term game here is? To move as much of the OS as possible off the main cores onto these auxiliary cores (and so the wheel of reincarnation spins back to System/360 Channel Controllers?) For example (in principle...) you could run the file system stack on the flash controller, or the network on a controller living near the radio basebands, and have the OS communicate with them at a much more abstract level.

    Does this make sense for power, performance, or security reasons? Not a clue! But in a world where transistors are cheap, I'm glad to see Apple slowly rethinking OS and system design decisions that were basically made in the early 1970s, and that we've stuck with ever since then regardless of tech changes.
    Reply
  • ex2bot - Sunday, October 7, 2018 - link

    Much appreciate the review! Reply
  • s.yu - Monday, October 8, 2018 - link

    Great job as always Andrei!
    I would only have hoped for a more thorough exploration of the limits of the portrait mode, to see if Apple really makes proper use of the depth map, taking a photo in portrait mode in a tunnel to see if the amount of blur is applied according to distance for example.
    Reply
  • Mic_whos_right - Tuesday, October 9, 2018 - link

    Thanks for this comment--Now I know why nothing last year. Great Anandtech standard of a review! Always above my intellect of understanding w/ info overload that teaches me a lot of the product. Reply
  • Moh Qadee - Thursday, November 1, 2018 - link

    Thank you for this great detailed review. I have been coming back to this review before making a purchase. Please make an comparison article of Iphone XS gaming vs other smartphones in market. How much does thermal make difference over longer periods before it starts to throttle or heat up. Would be able to give an approx time before you noticed heat while gaming on XS? I don't mind investing in an expensive phone as long as thermals doesn't limit the performance. There are phones like Razor 2 or Rog out. People make an comparison with an iPhone as it doesn't require much cooling. I wonder if gaming for above 20+ mins makes it challenging for Iphone to heat up enough that you should be worried about? Reply
  • Ahadjisavvas - Monday, November 19, 2018 - link

    And the exynos m3 had 12 execution ports right? Can you elaborate on the major differences between the design of the vortex core in the a12 and the meerkat core in the m3? I would deeply appreciate it if you could. Reply
  • Ahadjisavvas - Monday, November 19, 2018 - link

    And the exynos m3 has 12 execution ports right? Can you elaborate on the main differences between the design of the exynos m3 and the vortex core,that'll be really helpful and informative as well. Also,are you planning on writing a piece about the a12x soc, it'll be really interesting to hear how far apple has come with the soc on the 2018 ipad pro. Reply
  • alysdexia - Monday, May 13, 2019 - link

    "Now what is very interesting here is that this essentially looks identical to Apple’s Swift microarchitecture from Apple's A6 SoC."
    This comparison doesn't make sense and it seems like you took the same execution ports to determine whether the chips are identical, when the ports could be arbitrary for each release. Rather I took the specifications (feature size, revision) and dates of each from these pages: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_ARMv7-... and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_ARMv8-... to come up with these matches: Cortex-A15-A9 A6, Cortex-A15-A9 A6X, Cortex-A57-A53 A7, Cortex-A57-A53 A8, Cortex-A57-A53 A8X, Cortex-A57-A53 A9, Cortex-A57-A53 A9X, Cortex-A73 A10, Cortex-A73 A10X, Cortex-A75 A11, Cortex-A76 A12, Cortex-A76 A12X. For exemplum 5 execution ports could be gotten (I'm no computer engineer so this is a SWAG.) from the 3 in Cortex-A9 subtracted from the 8 in Cortex-A15 but the later big.LITTLEs with 9 and 5 ports could be split from 7 or 8 as (7+2)+(7−2) or (8+1)+(8−3). You need to correct the Anandtech and Wikipedia pages.

    faster -> swifter, swiftlier
    ISO -> iso -> idem
    's !-> they; 1 != 2
    great:small::big:lite::mickel:littel
    Reply
  • RSAUser - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    I still don't like iOS tendency towards warmer photos than it is irl. Reply
  • DERSS - Saturday, October 6, 2018 - link

    It is weird because it is warmer in bright light and bleaker in dim light.
    Why can not they just even it out, make the photos less yellowish in bright light and less bleak in dim light?
    Reply

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