Apple iPhone XS Hands-On: Incremental Upgrades
October 1, 2018 Andrew Cheng

Apple’s brand new iPhones are here, and the Cupertino company is finally streamlining the design of its smartphones. Gone are the huge bezels found on the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, and all three iPhone models this year – regardless of price point – now sport the iPhone X’s design.

Today, we’re gonna take a look at the iPhone XS; essentially the direct successor to the iPhone X. While both of these devices are almost identical to each other, the iPhone XS does bring some notable improvements – even though some of them are incremental.

Much like the iPhone X, the iPhone XS also comes with a 5.8-inch 2436 x 1125 Super Retina HD display, and it’s as gorgeous as ever. Because it is an OLED panel, the XS’ display has very deep black levels. On top of that, colours are also vibrant, and viewing angles are great too.

While the display notch is a polarising design, there’s no denying the stunning screen of the iPhone XS. It’s definitely one of the best displays in the market, even when compared to the screens of other notable flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Huawei P20 Pro.

Although Apple didn’t make much changes to the iPhone XS’ display from its predecessor, the company did introduce a large improvement under the hood: the A12 Bionic chip. Said to be up to 15% faster than the A11 Bionic, the XS feels very fast and responsive. Apple also claims that the A12 is up to 50% more power-efficient than the A11 – the latter is a smaller 7nm chip – so you can expect to get better battery life on the iPhone XS.

What’s even more impressive is the new quad-core GPU of the A12 Bionic, which promises up to 50% improved performance. The A11 Bionic’s GPU was already considered to be one of the best in the market right now, so if the A12’s GPU can indeed deliver 50% better performance than its predecessor, it will certainly be the GPU to beat.

In my testing, PUBG Mobile did feel very, very smooth on the iPhone XS, which is really expected from a device as powerful as it is. I’ll definitely try out a wider range of games on the XS in a full review of the phone – especially the massively popular Fortnite.

Performance aside, the iPhone XS feels just like the iPhone X when held, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the latter was a well-designed phone in the first place. The XS is thick enough to comfortably grip, the stainless steel frame feels very premium, and the glass back is nice to the touch. However, like most glass back panels, it is a fingerprint magnet. Nothing a quick wipe can’t solve though.

And finally, we have the camera performance of the iPhone XS. Despite the fact that the phone’s rear cameras are still made up of two 12MP sensors like its predecessor, the primary shooter now packs larger pixels for improved performance. Compared to the iPhone X, the XS can definitely take better-looking shots consistently.

However, I only managed to take daylight shots with the iPhone XS. It’ll be interesting to see how it performs in more challenging lighting situations, though I’m quite optimistic it’ll be a great performer even in low light conditions.

Now, let’s address the “beautygate” of the new iPhones. Basically, images taken with the iPhone XS and XS Max’s 7MP front-facing camera are automatically applied with some form of beauty filter. I took a selfie with the iPhone X and XS for comparison, and it’s quite evident that there’s skin smoothing on the XS’ shot. Plenty of other iPhone XS and XS Max users have reported this issue too.

Selfie shots taken with the iPhone X (top) and iPhone XS.

Personally, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal – I even prefer the iPhone XS’ selfie shot, even though my skin tone doesn’t look particularly natural. Nonetheless, it would’ve been great if there’s an option to remove this “feature.” For what it’s worth, Apple is rumoured to be looking into this, so there’s a chance the company will change how the selfie camera’s beautification – if any – work in a future update.

The iPhone XS is a great follow-up to the iPhone X. Although it retains the design of its predecessor, there are meaningful upgrades under the hood, including improved camera performance and a more powerful processor. But is it worth upgrading to?

For now, I’d say it’s not worth it for those who already own an iPhone X. Those who are still on older iPhones, however, will be very happy with the iPhone XS. And if you want a bigger display and better battery life, there’s also the XS Max, though it’s more costly than the XS.

We always say the latest iPhones are the best ever made every year. While I can’t say that with confidence yet without spending more time with the iPhone XS in a full review, I can say this with conviction: it’s a really, really good iPhone. But it will also cost you a pretty penny.