K E Y P O I N T S
Apple’s new flagship phone comes in two screen sizes: the 5.8-inch iPhone XS and a larger iPhone XS Max with a massive 6.5-inch display.
The models are identical aside from their screen size and the size of their batteries.
The iPhone XS is more of an update to the iPhone X as opposed to a completely new phone.
New features include Apple’s new A12 Bionic processor, a faster Face ID facial recognition system and a new camera system.
The camera on the back now lets in more light, which when combined with Apple’s new Smart HDR mode means images look significantly better than those taken on the iPhone X.
Both iPhones are now more waterproof, surviving a dunk in 2m of water for up to 30 minutes.
The iPhone XS Max sets a new benchmark for iPhone pricing with the 512GB model costing £1,449. That’s more than a MacBook Pro.
V E R D I C T
Apple’s ‘S’ phones are always much more interesting than they first appear.
More often than not, they’re the embodiment of answers to questions consumers have and in solving them they highlight the direction that the industry is heading.
This year is no different and while the iPhone XS and XS Max might be two of the worst-named products Apple has ever released, they’re far from boring. For starters they’re almost identical. This is a big departure for Apple, which until now has reserved the best features for its larger smartphones.
The only difference is the size of the screen and the battery. The iPhone XS has a 5.8-inch screen while the XS Max has a massive 6.5-inch display. Both are OLED Super Retina displays, both offer 458ppi and both are absolutely stunning.
Until the arrival of the X, Apple had stubbornly refused to adopt OLED displays and as a result its screens were great, but nothing on Samsung’s own flagship phones. The X changed all that and now the XS builds on it with the arrival of the XS Max.
Thanks to iTunes’ now impressive array of HDR and Dolby Vision content, watching films like The Martian on the 6.5-inch XS Max is a genuinely surprising experience. The inky blackness of space, pickpocketed by flares of lights are flawlessly recreated on its display.
When it comes to size, I’m happy to report the XS Max is not the lumbering behemoth it sounds like. Thanks to the display that now covers the entire front of the device, the phone maintains its 6.5-inch screen while still being around the same size as an iPhone 8 Plus, perhaps even a little smaller.
This comes with positives and negatives. Whereas on the smaller XS one can easily navigate the iPhone’s menus even with its larger screen, it becomes considerably harder on the XS Max. For example, bringing down the control centre on iPhone X/XS/XS Max requires a swipe down from the top right-hand corner. This is literally impossible one-handed on the XS Max.
Similarly the top two-rows of apps are truly beyond reach, requiring either some deft hand-based acrobatics or Apple’s Reachability mode which was designed specifically so you can actually reach them on larger displays.
The problem here is that Apple has built an incredible 6.5-inch display and then done absolutely nothing to maximise its usefulness or make it easier to navigate. It’s literally just Apple’s operating system, but bigger. This is a real shame, especially considering how intuitive it all feels on the smaller iPhone X and XS.
Inside both phones is Apple’s new A12 Bionic chip. Not only is it considerably more powerful than last year’s processor but it also contains something called a Neural Engine.
In plain English, this is effectively a tiny brain that can make augmented reality experiences look incredibly realistic or allows you to search for specific objects or people within your photos.
But while this is Apple’s most powerful smartphone yet, I get the feeling that it will take a few months before we see the apps and games that can truly take advantage of this increased oomph.
The iPhone XS and XS Max both have an improved dual-camera system. There’s an f1.8 wide-angle and a f2.4 telephoto lens, both sound identical to the iPhone X except for one difference. The f1.8 wide-angle lens now has larger pixels which means that it can let in more light.
The new camera combined with the iPhone’s more powerful processor now means you can take more accurate Portrait Mode pictures. Not only is the bokeh effect (background blur) better defined but you can even adjust how much it blurs after you’ve taken the shot.
Finally there’s a new feature called Smart HDR. Again in plain English this means that when you press the shutter the iPhone will take multiple versions of the same picture at difference exposures. It will then blend those using the iPhone’s new processor and create what it thinks is the best possible image based on the environment.
The best example I can give of this is that the iPhone is now a LOT more forgiving of my poor photography skills. So if you want to take a picture with the sun facing you, the XS will actually compensate for that and give you an image that’s not only usable but even shareable on social media. It’s actually really really good.
Finally Apple claims that both phones have slightly better battery performance. This has never been an exact science at the best of times but I will say that despite its enormous screen I’ve never once worried about having to charge the XS Max during the day, even if I know I’m going out in the evening. For those of us that remember having to panic charge an iPhone 6 this will surely be welcome news.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
Display: XS 5.8-inch / XS Max 6.5-inch OLED Super Retina Display
Processor: A12 Bionic Processor
Camera: 12 MP f1.8 wide-angle lens / 12MP f2.4 telephoto lens
Connectivity: WiFi, Cellular, Bluetooth and NFC
Software: iOS 12
Pricing: iPhone XS: 64GB/£999 256GB/£1,149 512GB/£1,349
iPhone XS Max: 64GB/£1,099 256GB/£1,249 512GB/£1,449
T A K E H O M E M E S S A G E
Apple has improved on the iPhone X in numerous ways; the camera is better, the processor is faster and the battery life is slightly longer. Years ago this would have been more than enough of a reason for me to say that it’s absolutely worth the upgrade.
These are different times though. Last year the iPhone X set a new benchmark by costing almost £1000. This year the most expensive iPhone XS Max costs almost £1,500. That’s more than a MacBook Pro. These are serious financial investments then, not least if you smash them without insurance.
Both phones are truly excellent, in particular the XS Max manages to combine a large incredible display with a still pocketable design. They’re not casual purchases though, so unless your phone is now several years old it’s hard to justify the price tag these iPhone’s now currently command. If you must upgrade, wait for the cheaper iPhone XR and the subsequent reviews that will then follow.