Camera Video Recording

In terms of video recording, the iPhone XS promises an improved dynamic range in modes up to 30fps. What this likely means is that the phone’s able to capture in HDR mode in the 30fps modes, doing the same kind of processing we also see in SmartHDR still pictures.

Also something I’ve dreaded on iPhones for years; the new iPhone XS finally introduces stereo audio recording. Why it took Apple such a long time to finally introduce stereo recording is something that boggles the mind, but, let’s not complain, as we now finally have it on the new generation.

 

iPhone XS:      iPhone X: 

Comparing the iPhone XS video to the iPhone X, there’s one thing that is immediately very evident: the new XS is able to produce much better image stabilisation than last year’s flagship. Indeed, it looks like Apple vastly improved the OIS/EIS on the new phones, as the wobble that happens when walking is gone on the XS.

Audio recording finally is up to par, and we can hear the wind and rustling leaves of the trees around us. I think Apple might still have to work a bit on the wind noise cancellation, as in some parts the audio sounded as if it was inside a tube.

In terms of image quality, Apple’s claims of the improved dynamic range are very much verified. The phone showcases a lot more brought down highlights in the scene, and in darker areas, show better shadows. It’s unfortunate that this is limited only to the 30fps modes, but it’s understandable.

Switching over from the main lens to the telephoto lens happens relatively fast, although with a short exposure flash and a slight delay on the first zoom. 4K60 recording doesn’t allow for the use of the telephoto lens.

All in all, the video recording quality of the new iPhone XS is massively improved in all areas of stabilisation, picture quality, and audio. 4K30 recording on the XS is probably the best I’ve seen on any smartphone – a definitive applause to Apple for the improvements here.

Speaker Evaluation

Apple claimed to have improved the speaker audio quality on the new iPhone XS, allowing for more stereo separation and filling sound. I had introduced a new speaker evaluation method a few months ago because this year’s efforts by smartphone vendors to improve speaker quality has been very pronounced, and I wanted to have a way to objectively convey these improvements.

Starting off with speaker loudness, we’re measuring the phones at maximum volume, both in one-hand portrait mode, as well as two-handed mode where the palms are cupped towards the user. These two use-cases are what I find myself most often using the phone’s speakers in, so hopefully that also represents how most users use it as well, please let me know otherwise!

Speaker Loudness

Using a pink noise signal, the iPhone XS pretty much falls into line with the results of the iPhone X, coming in at a very loud 82.8dBA in portrait mode and 87.6dbA in two-handed mode. Apple’s sound directionality on the iPhone X and XS is among the best, most likely due to the fact that the stereo earpiece is among the loudest of current generation smartphones.

Measuring the frequency response of the speakers, we see the iPhone XS closely following the measurement of the iPhone X, however there’s a major difference in the mid-range where the XS is around 5dB louder, raising instrumental frequencies and voices. This difference is what I think Apple is referring to when talking about better “fullness”, as it is evident when playing back media.

To better demonstrate the difference between the phones, I’ve attempted to capture them with a binaural microphone setup. Now I know my environment isn’t perfect as I don’t have the necessary sound dampening equipment, but I hope it does serve as an overall adequate A/B comparison between the phones. I’ve tried to calibrate the sound as much as possible recorded by the setup to a flat frequency response, although I’m sure there are improvements to be made. As a comparison, I also included calibrated speakers as a baseline to get an idea of the microphone setup.

The audio is meant to be listened to with headphones, or even better with IEMs, as this will give the intended playback of the binaural recording.

The iPhone XS’ improvements in the mid-range are quite evident as voices sound deeper and more pronounced on the new phone. Stereo separation is also quite good – resulting in a filling audio experience.

I included the S9+ and G7 as comparison devices. Samsung still does a significantly better job at the low-mid ranges which gives the phone more overall presence than the iPhones, also has an advantage in the very high frequencies giving more clarity, however the new iPhone’s XS strength point in the mid-ranges is the S9’s weakness, and vocals sound a lot less present than on the XS.

As for the G7, I just wanted to showcase a mono speaker device, and just how huge the audio difference is. Unfortunately the G7, even though it promises to have a good speaker, fails in practice.

Camera - Low Light Evaluation Conclusion & End Remarks
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  • FreckledTrout - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    Pretty typical with any high end products. The top 10% pave the way for the rest to have these products at a reasonable price a few years later. You can get an iPhone 7 pretty cheap now. Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    It’s still cheaper than my first PC, a 486sx2 running at 50mhz. RAM and hard drives were still measured in megabytes, and the internet made noise before connecting and it tied up your phone line when you used it. There has also been about 20 years of inflation. Flagship smartphones are expensive, but they sure do a lot. That doesn’t mean I’m buying one, but we’ve come a long way in my hopefully-less-than-half-a-lifetime. Reply
  • keith3000 - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    OMG! Exactly what I was thinking as I read this review on my $225 T-Mobile Rev VL Plus. I may not be able to afford such a technological marvel as the iPhone XS MAX, but I bet I get anywhere from 80-to-90% of the overall functionality for one-fifth the price. I've bought many premium smart phones over the years, starting with the HTC EVO 4G LTE many years ago, followed by Samsung Galaxy S3, then the S4, and even the gigantic Asus Zenfone 3 Ultra. Each phone was better than the one before, and yet each were major disappointments to me for various reasons which I won't go into here. Suffice to say that the ever increasing cost of each phone raised my expectations about what they should be able to do, and thus contributed to my sense of disappointment when they failed to live up to the hype. So when the Zenphone 3 crapped out on me after less than a year of use and I saw this cheap Rev VL Plus, I decided to stop wasting so much money on these overpriced devices and buy something that wouldn't leave me feeling robbed or cheated it it didn't turn out to be the "next best thing". Now, after almost a year of use, I feel like it was a good decision. And if something better comes along in a few months at a similar price point, I can buy it without feeling remorse for having wasted so much money on a phone that didn't last very long. So all you 10-percenters - go ahead and throw away $1,200 on a phone. I'm quite content to have a 2nd rate phone and save a thousand dollars. Reply
  • ws3 - Sunday, October 7, 2018 - link

    You say you spent $225 on your phone less than (but almost) a year ago and then say that you would be willing to replace it immediately if some other phone interested you. So you are apparently willing to spend around $225 for one year of ownership of a phone.

    By this metric you should be willing to spend $1000 on a phone provided you keep it for 4 years or more.

    Now it may the the case that you don’t want to keep any phone for four years, and so the iPhone X[S] is not for you. But here I am with an four year old iPhone 6+, that still works great (thanks to iOS 12). I similarly expect the iPhone X[S] to be good for four years at least, so, although I am not a “10%er”, I am seriously considering purchasing one.

    It’s simply a fallacy to assert that only the wealthy would be interested in the latest iPhone models.
    Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Sunday, October 7, 2018 - link

    "Now it may the the case that you don’t want to keep any phone for four years, and so the iPhone X[S] is not for you. But here I am with an four year old iPhone 6+, that still works great (thanks to iOS 12). "

    ergo, Apple's problem. unfulfilled TAM for iPhones is disappearing faster than kegs at a Georgetown Prep gathering. keeping one longer than a cycle is a real problem for them. they will figure out a way to stop such disloyalty.
    Reply
  • ex2bot - Sunday, October 7, 2018 - link

    They’ll find a way, like supporting the 5S and later with iOS 12. /s Reply
  • icalic - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    Hi Andrei Frumusanu,
    Thanks for extraordinary review of iPhone Xs!

    in page one you said A12 GPU 4-core "G11P" @ >~1.1GHz, i have several question.
    1. how do you estimate that clockspeed?
    2. if you know that clockspeed can you estimate how many GFLOPs FP32 and FP16 on A12 GPU?
    Reply
  • syxbit - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    Great review of the SoC.
    Please, when you review the Pixel 3, or (in 2019), updated Snapdragons, hold them to this bar.
    I get really frustrated when I see your (or other) reviews complimenting the latest Snapdragon even though they're miles behind the Ax.
    As an Android user, I find it very unfortunate that to get my OS of choice I must get inferior hardware.
    Reply
  • edzieba - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    Phone reviews are a review of the phone, not just the SoC. Reply
  • syxbit - Friday, October 5, 2018 - link

    I know that, but the SoC is the area where Apple are completely dominant. Reply

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