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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  • patel21 - Saturday, October 6, 2018 - link

    Exactly. In India we have a new Carrier service called Jio doing exactly the same. They built their network group up on VoIP and only sell data. Calls and SMS are totally free.
    And man can you imagine I am using their plan of 2GB data per DAY for 90 days at just USD 8 !!!
    Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    You mean Qualcomm, not 3Com. :) Reply
  • bull2760 - Sunday, October 7, 2018 - link

    Yes thank you sorry meant Qualcomm, my bad. Reply
  • varase - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    I just downloaded 12.1 Developer Beta 2 and in my 2 bar AT&T household, I went up from about 11 mbps to 38 mbps.

    My local cell tower probably doesn't have 4x4 mimo, though my Orbis are pushing 298 mpbs through wifi and saturating my internet link.

    It's a little early to jump ship - there's bound to be a few rough edges that'll have to get filed down :-).
    Reply
  • Speedfriend - Monday, October 8, 2018 - link

    What, your mobile data speed has been only 11mbps, where do you live? How on earth do you use your phone like that! I regularly get over 100mbps where I live in London, with the highest I have recorded being 134mbps Reply
  • bull2760 - Sunday, October 14, 2018 - link

    Little early to jump ship. Do you remember antennagate? Steve Jobs answer to a design issue, “you are holding the phone wrong”. Sorry not forming out 1500 for a phone that has cellular as well as network related issues. How this ever passed inspection in testing is beyond me. I’m an Apple fan, have owned every iPhone since they started making them. This is without a doubt the worst performing iPhone I ever purchased. Yes it was snappy and apps flew open. But if I can’t use the phone aspect or wireless networking at home, I may as well hold a paperweight to my ear. I’m heavily entrenched into the Apple ecosystem. Watches, TV, iPads and MacBook Pro. Not to mention all the movies, music and apps that I’ve purchased. This pisses me off. 1500 for a piece a shit phone that was not properly tested before being released. Reply
  • Marlin1975 - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    The thing that jumps out to me is the power usage and performance gains at the same time. TSMC's 7nm process looks really good. I wonder if this will also play out on CPUs/GPUs on the same process coming soon. Reply
  • melgross - Saturday, October 6, 2018 - link

    It’s hard to say how much of what Apple gets out of these processes others will get. Apple has bought a lot of equipment for TSMC, as they’ve done for other companies, including Samsung, over the years. What they get out of it is early access to new processes, as well as some more specialized features that they have often developed themselves, as well as extra discounts. Reply
  • KPOM - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    Intel should be worried. Reply
  • varase - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    I still think the star of the show may end up being the neural processor, up from 660 billion ops/sec to 5 trillion (9x the speed at a tenth the energy usage) - now available to developers via Core ML 2, and now pipelined through the ISP. Reply

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