Though the iPhone XS lacks a single bold feature, the phone is an improvement and refinement of its iPhone X predecessor. It's faster, with better camera hardware and offers dual SIM support. Read on for a closer look at Apple's latest flagship.
The new X line now has three models, all with Face ID, all with large screens. One notable improvement with the iPhone XS is the new A12 Bionic chip, which steps up the speed for AI technology, AR, machine learning and overall graphics.
Apple doesn't make claims on these being "drop resistant," and the iPhone X shattered really easily. But with the new XS, Apple claims it's better at handling scratches. Stay tuned when we test this for ourselves with a formal scratch test.
The iPhone X shipped in only two colors: a stainless-steel-and-white-backed "silver" model, and a nearly black "space gray" version. This year, there's a gold version. The stainless steel rim is gold-colored, but the back glass is a subtle beige.
The new display looks subtly brighter and richer at maximum brightness over last year's iPhone X, which already looks lovely.
The phone features a 5.8-inch Super Retina OLED display with a 2,436x1,125-pixel resolution and a 458 pixel per inch density.
Apple says the phone's wireless charging coil has improved for fewer misses when placed on a charge pad, which could also mean faster charging in some conditions, but 7.5 watts is still the limit.
Take a look at a few other photos of the iPhone X from all angles.
The left edge, which houses the sound/vibration toggle and the volume rocker.
A closer look at the volume rocker.
The bottom edge includes the audio speakers and lightning port.
On the right is the sleep/power button and the SIM card slot. The ability to handle two SIM cards (i.e. two different phone numbers) won't arrive until later this fall, but these XS models can use a physical nano-SIM plus an eSIM, which means you can add two different phone lines at once.
A closer look at the SIM card slot.
According to Apple, carrier-locked phones won't be able to add a service on another carrier, but unlocked iPhones will be able to swap out from a service. Go with unlocked, if you want the freedom to SIM swap.
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.
Apple didn't include 5G on the newest iPhones (no current phones have adopted it yet, and it's not available yet anyway). In the meantime, these phones promise faster gigabit LTE than their predecessors.
Compared to 2017's iPhone X, the XS has the same dual cameras, same aperture settings, same megapixel ratings and same 2x optical zoom. But Apple's done a lot of work under the hood: The XS has a totally new image sensor that really does improve the quality of photos.
The better sensor and the new image processor on the A12 Bionic chip combine to enable what Apple calls "Smart HDR."
In practice, Smart HDR means photos look better in low light and extreme contrast situations, making for nicer pictures whether shot on a nighttime street, in a dark bar or in bright sunlight.
Bright lights in, say, a living room show more detail now and don't turn into blown-up bright spots like they used to. I see more detail around windows and street lights and find there's less blur and noise in most shots.
With the second 12-megapixel telephoto lens, you'll still get a 2x optical zoom.
Zooming onto the boat with the camera's digital and optical zoom.
The big camera upgrade for 2017's iPhone X and iPhone 8 Plus was portrait mode, which delivered dSLR-style headshots: focused face in the foreground, with an out-of-focus background. Known as "bokeh," the feature has carried over to the iPhone XS as well.
For the 2018 models, Apple now also uses software to let you adjust background focus after you've shot a photo.
Third-party apps already offer similar manipulation, and other phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and LG G7 have shipped with blur adjustment first.
Portrait Lighting effects, which digitally remove the background and turn selfies into headshots, look less artificial but are still hit-and-miss.
Another black-and-white option under Portrait Lighting.
As for video recording, Apple added HDR (better auto contrast, as with the still photos) and extra stabilization that made even my more casual videos look more vibrant, even at 1080p at 30fps.
I still find myself monitoring the battery life more than I'd like.
Apple's facial recognition works, often uncannily well. But when the technology debuted last year, there were many moments when Face ID didn't recognize myself as a user. Face ID on the new phones is faster, although sometimes not as fast as I'd have liked.
I can now unlock the phone nearly as fast as a finger swipe. (You still need to swipe to finish the unlock process, versus just staring at your phone.)
I've come to find the XS works pretty well, but I still think the gestures and navigation learning curve for navigation is more confusing than before Face ID and remains weird for anyone moving from a home-button iPhone.
In addition to unlocking the phone with FaceID and face mapping, you can also send Animoj or Memoji (custom avatars).
Last year's iPhones already survived up to 1 meter underwater. These iPhones can stay water-safe for up to 2 meters underwater for 30 minutes.
This iPhone XS and XS Max, according to Apple, will also better handle salt water, chlorinated water and various liquid spills.
The new iPhones will run Apple's latest mobile OS, iOS 12, right out of the box.
The phone will still have the contentious onscreen notch at the top of the display.
Click for more photos of the phone's iOS interface.
Donut County (which is a great game) on the phone.
The XS display is great, but it's a subtle upgrade.
For a bigger impact, go for the Max.
The XS lasts, according to Apple, 30 minutes more than the X. So far, in everyday use, it feels the same. On paper, it has the shortest battery life of the three new iPhones.
The iPhone measures 5.7x2.8x0.3 in (or 143.6x70.9x7.7 millimeters) and weighs 6.2 ounces (177g).
Here, you can see the size comparison between the 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max (left) and the 5.8-inch XS. Click through to see more photos of these phones side by side.
Hand feel? I prefer the XS. The Max is fine, if you're used to the iPhone Plus phones.
Both XS and XS Max in gold, from the back.
And from the front, using Safari. The difference isn't all that big, but can be noticeable when reading.
We color-coded the wallpapers so we wouldn't lose track (it's easy to get the phones confused).
Despite the iPhone XS's high price tag, key extras like more storage, USB-C fast chargers and headphone dongles will have you spending even more.
In general, the iPhone XS adds some impressive camera improvements to the already-great iPhone X. But you should seriously wait and see what the lower-priced XR coming in October is like.