The Good The iPhone XS has a much improved dual camera that delivers better photos than the iPhone X in dark and high contrast conditions. It has a faster processor, faster face ID, adds dual SIM card support, and is now available in gold and 512GB versions.
The Bad Its battery life is the shortest of three new iPhones and is just a step better than last year. Despite its still high price, memory gains, fast USB-C chargers and headphones make you spend even more.
The Bottom Line While we still recommend the iPhone XR initially, the XS has some additional things to look out for.
Too many iPhones. Or maybe there is only one new iPhone in several enhanced flavors.
IPhone XS and XS Max , along with the iPhone XR , are the three new 2018 iPhone iPhones. But looking back on them now, in December, they have much more in common than you might think. Same new processors, same updated camera sensors, and same image signal processors. Know that the XS is no longer the starting point for any iPhone X buyer: it’s just a bit of a gradual model.
The iPhone X was a unique design in 2017. This year, the iPhone X trio ranges from $ 749 to almost $ 1,500, if you decide to pay the full amount of storage. When I first reviewed the XS, I considered it a modest upgrade over the X, and wait for the XR (which was released more than a month later). That feeling is coming true now that I’ve reviewed the XR.
The iPhone XR is Apple’s “affordable” Model X, and the best iPhone to buy right now. Starting at $ 749, it has a Face ID and a depth-sounding front-facing camera instead of the home button, like the rest of the iPhone X gang. There is also a notch at the top of the screen. It’s faster and has a better battery life than the iPhone X 2017, but has only one rear camera (equipped with its own portrait mode that simulates depth-of-field effects) and an LCD screen with a lower resolution than OLED. But for the vast majority of people, they are far from abusive. In fact, this is the first choice you have to make when buying a new iPhone.
So where does that leave the XS and XS Max? Luxurious updates. Everything the XS has to offer still stands out if you look hard enough.
- An added 2x telephoto rear camera really does help frame shots better, and can make for more versatile portrait mode photos.
- The OLED display is more vibrant, higher-resolution, and has much better black levels, but it won’t always be something an average eye will spot.
- The XS has a more durable construction: The rear glass doesn’t crack as easily, and the stainless steel body won’t ding as easily as the XR’s aluminum.
- The XS has bit faster cellular connectivity with gigabit LTE and improved 4×4 MIMO Wi-Fi antennas versus the XR, too.
- The XS display has smaller bezels than the XR — but the screen is smaller, too.
iPhone XS prices
|iPhone XS (64GB)||iPhone XS (256GB)||iPhone XS (512GB)|
Do any of you matter? Professional users and anyone who uses their phone as a camera for their work should choose the XS to get the added benefit of a camera and a perfect display. Although someone else should just get the XR.
Yes, it’s that simple. Apple may have flooded the area with many iPhones, but if you think of it as “how much to pay for your phone,” XR is a clear utility, and XS is a trendy phone upgrade that you may or may not be able to convince yourself of in the spring.
Everything you need to know about this year’s iPhones:
- iPhone XS vs. XR vs. XS Max: iPhone buying guide for 2018
- iPhone XR review: The best iPhone value in years
- iPhone XS Max review: Gigantic-screen phone for a gigantic price
- Back up: How to prepare for your new iPhone
- 9 things to set up on your iPhone XS or XS Max
- iOS 12: Best new iPhone features
- Best iPhone XS and XS Max cases
This review was originally published on September 18.Update, Dec. 7: Adds definitive battery comparisons and XR observations.
This HDR OLED display looks very good
The iPhone X OLED screen already looked great, but the XS OLED does a little better. I noticed significant improvements to the iPhone XS compared to the X while watching Blade Runner 2049 and other HDR movies. The new display looks subtly brighter and richer at maximum brightness compared to last year’s iPhone X, which already looked great. It’s a great display and better than the lower contrast LCD screen of the iPhone XR. However, in normal everyday use it is sometimes difficult to tell OLEDs from LCDs to a casual look. The XR display is great. Fans of perfect displays or pros who need the highest detail can want the XS or XS Max.
Advantage of one iPhone XS camera: dual rear camera
The telephoto lenses on the XS and XS Max have 2x optical zoom and operate in telephoto portrait mode, as do the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus cameras. This extra zoom can be useful and many times it takes great pictures for me. It’s not really necessary either, but if you take the best photos regardless of price or use your phone as a pro camera tool, it’s an overkill.
The iPhone XR also takes portrait photos, but in wide-angle mode using image processing that mimics the effect of depth. It only works for humans (AI literally doesn’t recognize anything else to activate mode), and you need to get close to objects when shooting. But it’s good enough that it’s one less reason to want XS.
In-depth camera comparisons:
- Camera iPhone XS vs iPhone X
- IPhone XS vs Google Pixel 3 Camera
- IPhone XS Camera vs Samsung Galaxy Note 9
iPhone XR vs. iPhone XS: Photo samples
Smart HDR: This year’s key iPhone camera upgrade (it’s also on XR)
Comparing the performance of the cameras for the iPhone X 2017 and the new iPhone XS, you might think that almost nothing has changed: the same dual cameras, the same aperture settings, the same megapixel ratings, the same 2x optical zoom. But Apple has done a lot of work under the hood. The iPhone XR, XS and XS Max have a brand new image sensor that really enhances the quality of photos. You can use any of these phones and take similar snapshots.
The best sensor and new image processor on the A12 Bionic chip are combined to give Apple the name “Smart HDR”. In practice, this means that my photos look better in low light and extreme contrast situations, so you can take better photos taken outdoors at night, in dark areas or in bright sunlight.
The bright lights in my living room now show more detail and do not turn into bloated bright spots as before. I see more details around windows and street lights. I also find less blur and noise in most shots. Sometimes it almost seems too lots of light. The color and brightness of some shots are amazing. Now I’m much happier with my photos.
According to Apple, a larger sensor allows you to get more light, and I can tell. The focus is also faster. But keep in mind that the cheaper iPhone XR can do it all the same way.
Photos shot on iPhone XS Max and iPhone XS
CNET has made in-depth photo comparisons between the iPhone XS and iPhone X and TL; DR: Photos are better, but not always sharp. For some shots, the difference is significant, with clear detail enhancements and much less overvoltage. But for others, the benefits may be subtle. And, in some cases, we find that the colors of the iPhone XS photos may look a little less saturated, resulting in slightly less vivid images. But without a doubt, the iPhone XS takes enhanced photos, and it’s noticeable.
But again, for the front camera and the rear wide-angle camera, you can buy an XR and get the same impact.
Also note that if you want the best shared camera on your smartphone right now, you need to upgrade to Android and check Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL . With the addition of it Night Sight function , it can shoot in dark environments where iPhones (and just about every other phone) offer little more than a blurry blur.
Adjustable bokeh depth effect for portrait shots
Great camera update for iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus 2017 ($ 699 on Amazon) was a portrait mode that provided DSLR-style shots: a focused face in the foreground, with a background out of focus. This effect, known as the “bokeh”, has since been a mandatory feature in every phone camera.
For 2018 models, Apple also uses software that allows you to adjust the focus of the background after taking a photo. Third-party applications already offer similar manipulations and other phones, such as Samsung Galaxy S9 and LG G7 initially come with blur adjustment. Apple Bokeh looks sharp after shooting – it gets better by degrees due to software tuning since Apple introduced it in beta last year – but you have to be in portrait mode to get it, which I don’t often do by default due to specific needs in the distance. However, those of you who want even more customization by getting the perfect shot of your loved one – or pet! – there will be something to play with.
The effects of portrait lighting, which digitally shoot backgrounds and transform selfies into head shots, now look a little less artificial, but still fall and miss. Head shots taken in portrait lighting still look at the edges.
A12 chip: seriously fast, but not always a big jump over the past year
The faster Apple A12 Bionic chip, as is often the case with new iPhone chips compared to last year, is hard to compare on a daily basis. It feels fast, but new phones often feel this quick feeling before apps and wear and tear take their toll. Programs load a little faster in random use. Early landmarks do not always show significant benefits in direct speed: Geekbench 4 showed a modest hit, but Ice Storm Unlimited 3DMark showed about a 50 percent improvement.
Augmented reality experiences can see the biggest leap in this phone in terms of speed, quality and performance. I can tell the difference, even before most of the apps were updated for iOS 12 and ARKit 2. The AR apps I tried on both X and XS had better, smoother videos and higher resolution backgrounds on my new phone. Apple says it is due to the much-improved Neural Engine chip for machine learning and computer vision.
All I know is that virtual dinosaurs looked better on the grassy mountain I laid them on. The puzzle boxes felt more realistic as I forced them to sprout from the ground. And the AR shoes sometimes looked so real through the phone screen that I really reached out and tried to move them with my hands.
Best covers for iPhone XS and XS Max
Other improvements for the 2017 iPhone X
- Better water and dust resistance: These iPhones can stay water-safe an extra meter under water, up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) of immersion for up to 30 minutes. Last year’s iPhones already survived up to 1 meter. This phone, according to Apple, will also better handle salt water, chlorinated water and various liquid spills. As always, the iPhone isn’t expected to be an underwater camera, or a scuba companion — but if this means it’s more resistant to accidental dunkings, I’ll take it. It passed CNET’s tests perfectly .
- So far, these phones can handle drops better: CNET’s iPhone XS drop tests show how durable the XS is compared to the X, which shattered really easily last year. That’s great news. But by all means, put a case on your $1,000 phone… you’d be crazy not to.
- Advanced LTE and 4×4 MIMO could offer speedier connections in some cases: Apple didn’t include 5G on the newest iPhones — no current phones have adopted it, and it’s not available from carriers yet anyway. (Expect it on more phones in 2019 , and possibly in the 2020 iPhones .) In the meantime, these phones promise faster Gigabit LTE, at last — something other phones have offered, but these faster speeds are new to the iPhone. On the test Verizon account I used, the iPhone XS delivers. I got download speeds of 250 Mbps in New Jersey, versus 170 Mbps using the same SIM in the iPhone X. My home broadband, by contrast, is only about 85 Mbps. The iPhone’s now my fastest home internet device. The XS antennas could also help pick up signals better in borderline-coverage zones, but FYI: My NJ Transit commute still has dead spots on AT&T.
- Face ID on the new phones is a bit better. When I first reviewed the XS, I saw somewhat faster Face ID log-in speeds. Now that iOS 12 is available for all phones, it seems like Face ID’s advantages on the XS versus the X are marginal. Face ID still has moments where it doesn’t recognize my face, or makes me use a physical passcode.
- Dual SIM support: The ability to handle two SIM cards in the XR and XS lets you use a physical nano-SIM plus an eSIM, which means you can have two different phone lines at once. But it’s taking time for carriers to offer dual-SIM , and keep in mind that carrier-locked phones won’t be able to add service on another carrier. Go with unlocked if you want the freedom to SIM-swap.
- Slightly improved wireless charging: Apple says the phone’s wireless charging coil has improved so there’ll be fewer misses when you place it on a charge pad. This could also mean faster charging in some conditions, but 7.5 watts is still the limit. I still notice that you have to make sure the iPhone is placed just right to charge up (as is the case with other phones, too). Apple promised its own fast wireless charging tech called AirPower in 2017, but that’s still MIA. Meanwhile, Apple only includes a 5-watt basic Lightning iPhone charger in-box — and yes, that’s pretty annoying in a $1,000 phone, especially since it can charge faster if you buy separate accessories. (The XR also has wireless charging.)
- NFC can be scanned without launching an app: A new NFC chip in these iPhones means you can take an iPhone XS near an NFC tag, and it’ll prompt launching a web page or app. But you won’t be able to use the iPhone to instantly swipe into turnstiles or open doors yet.
- Gold returns: The iPhone X shipped in only two colors, a stainless steel and white-backed silver model, and a nearly black space gray version. In the new gold version, the stainless steel rim is gold colored, but the back glass looks a subtle beige. If you want a more radical color lineup — including coral, yellow and red — go for the iPhone XR.
- Video recordings look impressive: The added HDR (better auto contrast, as with the still photos) and extra stabilization made even my more casual videos look more vibrant, even at 1080p and 30fps. Walking with the camera in hand, shots often looked like I was using a stabilizing Steadicam device like a gimbal — there was less shake and stutter. The microphones now record in stereo, too, but I didn’t notice the difference in casual use. But in head-to-head tests versus the Galaxy Note 9 and versus the Pixel 3 , the iPhone XS won out as a better video camera.
- Speakers sound better: As with the iPhone X, the iPhone XS pumps out some solid stereo sound in landscape mode, but the XS takes it up a notch. I don’t listen to things on my iPhone without headphones if I can help it.
How deep can the iPhone XS and XR go? by Lexy Savvides06:38Replay videoLarge play-pause toggle How deep can… AutoplayOnOff 00:00 06:38 Settings
What I would like to see
A lower price
These 2018 iPhones are the most expensive assortment in Apple history. And on the XS side we’re now in $1,000 phone land like it or not. Many people I know do not like it at all. Some people believe that the growing choice of midrange Android phones is more than good. The iPhone XR is a much better deal, but at $ 749, it’s still not close to the budget.
For these people, Apple is pleased to offer their still great old models – iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 (and their Plus siblings) range from $ 450 to $ 700. However, almost everyone needs to spend an extra $ 100 to get to 128 or 256 GB from 32 or 64 GB entry level. Add an additional $ 9 to connect the headphones now out of the box to all new iPhones, and $ 49 for Apple’s 29-watt USB-C charger and $ 19 for a USB-C-to-lightning cable. Or go the “affordable” route and get at least a 19-watt iPad charger for the iPad $ 19. The bottom line is that the box should have faster charger.
Apple may include more default memory and toss some of these enhancements into the box. Let’s consider Galaxy Note 9 : It costs the same steep starting price of $ 1,000, but at least you get 128GB to boot – along with a stylus and a real headphone jack tossed for free. Oh, and you can double your memory with a microSD card for only $ 30.
These new phones are also rising in price at the top end because of a whole new level of 512GB storage that only professionals and videographers need to consider.
Best battery life
According to Apple, the XS lasts for 30 minutes more than the X. So far, daily, it feels the same in everyday use. In our offline video playback test, CNET XS played 13 hours 17 minutes, which is better than the 11 hours, 27 minutes that X managed last year. The larger XS Max lasted much better at 17 hours 28 minutes. I still had to charge the XS midway to make sure I wasn’t going to run too low on the train home. More gentle users can handle the XS battery, but I would sacrifice a millimeter of thickness for longer battery life.
XR beats them all for the battery: 19 hours 53 minutes.
Unboxing the gold iPhone XS by Scott Stein05:01Replay videoLarge play-pause toggle How deep can the iPhone XS and XR go? AutoplayOnOff 00:00 06:38 Settings
IPhone X owners do not need this
The XS is a gradual step up from the iPhone X. Speed improvements are hard to evaluate, and at first it is not as dramatic as the X’s compared to the previous year’s iPhone 7. The camera is definitely better, but X is already taking great pictures. Battery life is pretty close and the overall design of the XS is the same. There is no compelling reason to go from X to XS.
The exception to this rule may be XS Max. IPhone X owners who want to get more screen real estate can find a 6.5-inch screen that costs money, but that is purely personal.
For everyone else. Get the iPhone XR if you don’t want dual cameras and OLEDs
The XS and XS Max are more polished, more sophisticated versions of the iPhone X. It’s hard to imagine what I’d like more, except for the two notes I gave above. And although the phone landscape has created many great devices, the iPhone XS (and Max, which is basically just a larger screen that has the same intrinsic features) at the top. Only for their processors do they deliver potential. As a hub for the world, the iPhone XS feels like the perfect engine for which you will pay money for a laptop.
But these step-by-step models are gorgeous tiers. Now, the phone to consider first is the iPhone XR. With less price, faster performance, and still a large set of features, I would offer just about anyone. For those who want that extra 2 lens and that more intricate OLED and a piece of steel … be sure to do it. But if you see the iPhone XR and want to save money, don’t say I didn’t warn you.