The iPhone XS is the logical successor to last year’s iPhone X. The X ushered in the new era that the iPhones embarked on. It was all about building on the blend of some tried and tested blueprint, some modern touches and a whole lot of personality. This year’s iPhone XS takes that and moves further. And to great effect, if we may add. There are the expected improvements across the board, as a “S” generation device would, some more profound than others, and all of which make this better in every way. All this does come at a great cost though. The 64GB variant of the iPhone XS will set you back by Rs99,900, the 256GB option will cost Rs1,14,900 while the highest-spec 512GB variant will be worth Rs1,34,900.
But, what is the question, again?
Therein always crops up one question that Android phone users and critics often ask—But, what is new? The answer is—a lot. Even though it may not seem that way. Hint: most Android phones are now also doing away with the 3.5mm headphone jack. And whom do they follow? We leave you with that thought, as we delve deep into the detailed review of the iPhone XS.
Design: Modernity, a notch ahead
At a first glance, it may be hard to distinguish between the iPhone X and the iPhone XS. Unless you have in your hand the new Gold colour option. Complete with the new glass adorning the back, this gold colour has a very subtle personality. Quite frankly, this is our new favorite, among the troika of colours available with the iPhone XS. The other two colours are Space Grey and Silver. In terms of the dimensions—143.6mm x 70.9mm x 7.7mm—the iPhone XS is on paper the same as the iPhone X. However, not all accessories may work, because the camera design at the back is slightly different in the iPhone XS, which may mean that certain really tight fit cases would not sit perfectly around the curves. The iPhone XS is 3 grams heavier than the iPhone X—177 grams as compared with 174 grams.
The Android justification—Let us start with the notch. Yes, the Essential phone first introduced it, but it took the iPhone X last year to make it popular. And since then, every single phone maker is following that template, as if a rule is etched in stone. Expect a lot of new golden colored Android phones to launch over the next few months. After all, isn’t it only logical?
Power: There can never be enough
The iPhone XS takes advantage of the A12 Bionic chip, purring away under the hood. This replaces last year’s, and in our opinion a very excellent A11 Bionic chip, which powered the iPhone X. The A12 Bionic is a 7-nanometer architecture chip, and this is quite a rare sight in the world of smartphones. In terms of claimed numbers, the A12 Bionic is 15 percent faster than the A11 Bionic, is up to 40 percent more battery efficient and the gaming as well as graphics performance is up to 50 percent better than before. That is before we get to the neural engine, which is 8 times faster than the iPhone X. And it is not as if the iPhone X was standing still, was it? Till now, the iPhone X pretty much set the experience benchmarks for gaming, running Augmented Reality (AR) apps and was also a very capable 4K video editing device. Now with an even more powerful processor, all this just takes the potential a couple of notches higher.
The Android justification—Android’s torchbearer at the moment, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 is a 10-nanometer chip. Yes, Huawei had announced the 7-nanometer Kirin 980, but the first Huawei phones running it will only arrive by the end of the year. And it’ll only be on Huawei phones. Last year’s A11 Bionic was faster than the Snapdragon 845 in quite a few use cases, and this year’s A12 Bionic has simply driven off into the distance, leaving even the fastest Android phones far behind.
Artificial intelligence: When the smarts become even smarter, and faster
Apple has reserved a lot of grunt for the artificial intelligence algorithms that will form the foundation for a lot of experiences with your iPhone XS. Last year’s A11 Bionic chip could do 600 billion computations per second—that was a lot. Fast forward to now, and the A12 Bionic can compute as many as 5 trillion operations per second. The net result is that Face ID facial recognition feature does face scans significantly faster than even iPhone X, which while consistent most the time, did occasionally take a second longer than usual if the lighting or the viewing angle weren’t optimal. While the iPhone X flatly refused to authenticate your credentials if you were looking at the phone at an angle, the iPhone XS does seem a bit more flexible in that regard. Camera also gets a big boost with the new AI prowess.
The Android justification—most Android phones, including many of the flagships, still rely on software to do the face recognition, whereas Apple has used very sophisticated optical hardware in and around the front facing camera for the face recognition system. And that is even before we get to the silicon capabilities for AI computations.
Camera: Photographers will love this, and simply AirDrop
Over the years, iPhones have always been very consistent camera performers. Android phones, from time to time, caught up with them or indeed even bettered them in some instances. The Google Pixel 2 comes to mind. But the sheer consistency of an iPhone’s camera is pretty much unmatched. That also has a lot to do with the software and the image processing which works behind the scenes. The dual 12-megapixel cameras in the iPhone XS take advantage of a new image signal processor, which will also work with the neural engine to do facial detection and implement editing tweaks depending on the photo you have clicked. Your iPhone XS can do as many as a trillion artificial intelligence led operations in every photo, in the fraction of a second it takes from the time you tap the shutter button to the time the photo is saved in the Photos app. No user intervention is needed at all. The hardware itself is better. Larger pixels (1.4 microns as compared with 1.22 microns earlier) mean better sensitivity to light.
The camera app itself has seen the addition of a bunch of new features. The first is the Smart HDR feature. The way this works is that when you press on the shutter button in the camera app, it shoots a four-frame buffer when the camera app is opened, which means that the moment you press the shutter is the exact moment the photo is taken. The advantage of this is there is almost zero lag. The camera then joins together multiple frames of the same shot that it captured at the same time, each with different exposure, and cobbles together the best elements of each of the frame to make up the final photo that you see. Then there is the ability to adjust the depth of field after you have taken the photo. Daytime shots are beautifully exposed with the finer details being well reproduced. This includes elements in shadows in an otherwise sunny frame, or little clouds on a bright and sunny day or even blades of grass gleaming under the sun. However, the real highlight of the iPhone XS’s camera is the quality of photos that it can capture in fading light. Unlike a lot of phones which struggle with noise and distortion at this point, the iPhone XS doesn’t
The Android justification—The Google Pixel 2 series, and its computational photography pitch, offered serious competition in the photography space. The former relies on a lot of AI computation via Google Photos to get the most out of the single camera setup. The fear is that beyond a point, software may not be able to compensate for the lack of a second set of optical hardware, and while some of that already comes true in low -light or tricky lighting scenarios, it could be the virtual ceiling for the next Pixel update. The P20 Pro does very well in terms of combining powerful optical hardware and AI—and photography is where the iPhone still gets seriously challenged. The Portrait mode gets the boost from the adjustable background bokeh. After you capture a portrait photo, you can now adjust the aperture to increase or decrease background blur. This is quite unlike how Android phones do it, which is to simply increase the blur. The iPhone XS increases or decreases the bokeh effect using the data captured by the sensor at the time of taking the photo. In a nutshell, it gets very close to how a much larger DSLR camera would do it.
Display: Prime real estate, all about subtle accuracy
The iPhone XS retains the 5.8-inch OLED display size as before, but this one is anything but the same. It is what is called as the Super Retina Display. Compared with last year’s iPhone X’s screen, this has 60 percent more dynamic range. That means it can distinguish between, and therefore reproduce correctly, even the finest of colours. The contrast ratio has been improved as well. Blacks look considerably darker, and that means all other colours look more vibrant as a result. The iPhone XS display supports the Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range (HDR) standards. The richness and the vibrant visuals that you see here, make this one of the best smartphone screens you will ever get to use—and the balance, keeping all things considered, is the highlight.
The Android justification—The Google Pixel phones have screens that are considered too dull, the Samsung AMOLED screens are generally too rich to be able to accurately judge any colour and that is pretty much that. Each phone’s display has its own unique points, but none have the balance of the iPhone XS’s display.
Authentication: A hit and a miss
In terms of security and authentication options, there were great hopes that the iPhone XS (and indeed the iPhone XS Max) may also get an in-display fingerprint sensor. That hasn’t happened though, at least not this year. Not a big miss, but there are times, such as when sleepily peeking at messages while the phone is kept on the bedside table, when Face ID won’t work. But we shall persist on hope, for next year. In the meantime, more Android phones are expected to have that feature.
The Android justification—a big miss on Apple’s part. A fingerprint sensor is missed at times, and we admit, we miss it too from time to time.
Dual SIM: This is the future, not the past
This is the first iPhone with the dual-SIM feature. However, this dual-SIM feature doesn’t isn’t exactly replicating what you may have seen in many dual-SIM phones till now—the iPhone XS will not accept two physical SIM cards—unless you are living in China. One cellular connection will be activated on a physical SIM card, while the secondary connection will be active on what is known as an eSIM. Apple calls this the Dual SIM Dual Standby (DSDS) technology, and is reliant on cellular operators to have the infrastructure in place for eSIM activations. On paper, this is quite convenient—you don’t need to buy a physical SIM card and go through the hassle of getting it changed if it goes bad. The provisioning of the account is done wirelessly. This is exactly the same technology that Apple sells the Watch Series 3 with Cellular in India, and the iPad line-up in certain other countries. At this time, Reliance Jio and Airtel will be supporting eSIMs in India.
The Android justification—The big one. Some Android fans, a minority nonetheless, tend to believe that the dual SIM feature has been around since the time fire was discovered. As things stand, the lack of the dual SIM has not hurt iPhone sales in all these years. Apple is now a trillion-dollar company. For perspective, how important is the dual SIM feature anyway? Finally, the iPhone has joined the dual SIM bandwagon. But in a different way. Too soon to expect Android phones to adopt the eSIM technology. The accountants will step in at some point, claiming it’ll drive up the cost.
It is all about the money
The reality, we will freely admit, sees a rather premium price tag on an iPhone XS. In India more so, compared with some other countries. We can perhaps blame the currency valuation volatility to a certain extent. But it is still a lot of money. It is certainly a significant improvement over the already excellent iPhone X. iPhone users will probably want to consider what they current have before rushing to the nearest Apple reseller to buy. If you already have an iPhone X, trust us, it is still a great phone and you could do well to hold on to it for the time being. But if you are using an iPhone older than the iPhone 8 Plus, at least in terms of performance, camera, battery life and the modernity of the design, the upgrade should get on your and you bank account’s to-do list.