iPhone XS and XR: What Apple didn't give us

With mostly incremental updates to the new iPhones, Apple leaves the door open for competitors to up the ante in the next 12 months.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
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David Carnoy
6 min read
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The new iPhones didn't get some wished-for features.

James Martin/CNET

In the months leading up to the launch of the new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR, there was the usual chatter -- some of it based on potentially credible leaks -- about what features we might get in Apple's next-generation iPhones.

Many of the rumors proved accurate. As predicted, we indeed got three new iPhones, including two larger models, one with an LCD screen that costs less. And we got some nerdy additions like dual SIM support and broader NFC compatibility. But some rumored and wished-for features never materialized. Here's a quick recap of what we didn't get. Maybe it will all turn up in the iPhone 11 (or iPhone XI, or whatever the 2019 model line will be called). 

Three rear cameras, better 3x or 4x optical zoom


The Huawei P20 Pro has three rear cameras and 3x optical zoom.

Juan Garzon/CNET

The camera is one of the main reasons people upgrade to a new phone, and Apple listed a handful of interesting improvements to the 2018 iPhone XS line versus the 2017 iPhone X : a new image sensor and new image signal processor, improved True Tone flash, Smart HDR and the addition of "advanced bokeh and Depth Control" to portrait mode, which allow you to manipulate the background after you've shot the photo. But the basic camera specs -- two rear lenses, the apertures, 2x optical zoom, the megapixel ratings -- are all the same, year over year. 

Meanwhile, competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Note 9 are upping the ante with variable aperture, and the impressive Huawei P20 Pro added a triple-lens camera array and 3x optical zoom. We would have liked to have seen 2018 iPhones match at least some of those features -- if not something truly radical, like the 5-lens configuration rumored for an upcoming Nokia phone.

In-screen Touch ID

The iPhone X was the first iPhone to leave off a physical home button, but in the process, Apple also removed the Touch ID fingerprint scanner.


Vivo's in-screen fingerprint sensor.

John Kim/CNET

Face ID is impressive, but Touch ID is arguably faster and works at any angle. There was hope that Apple would bring it back, maybe as an optional biometric choice along with Face ID. But Apple seems to be doubling down on Face ID instead. 

We'd still like to see Touch ID behind the screen, a la phones made by Vivo. OneTouch (its sister brand) has already confirmed that its upcoming OnePlus 6T will also include an in-screen reader, and Samsung is thought to be working hard on incorporating Qualcomm's ultrasonic fingerprint reader technology behind the screen of its Galaxy S10, presumed to be coming in early 2019.

Significantly better battery life

OK, so Apple was able to say that its new iPhones offer improved battery life. But the truth is it's only nominally better. Without getting into specific numbers, Apple says the iPhone XS will last 30 minutes longer than the iPhone X while the iPhone XS Max will last 90 minutes longer than the iPhone X. The iPhone XR, which claims to have the best battery life of all the new iPhones -- and of every iPhone ever -- can run 90 minutes longer than the iPhone 8 Plus, which (by our math) means about 30 minutes more than the XS Max.

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Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, touts the new iPhones slightly improved battery life at the iPhone launch event on Sept. 12.

James Martin/CNET

We'll be performing our own battery tests in the coming days and weeks, and will let you know how the numbers shake out when we post our full reviews of the new iPhones. But what we'd love to see on the battery life front is enough power to get us from dawn to bedtime, even with lots of photo, video, gaming or binge watching, without needing to top off throughout the day.

USB Type-C fast chargers in the box

Plenty of people would get upset if Apple switched from its Lightning port to a USB Type-C connection, which is gradually becoming the standard for other phones and laptops , including Apple's own line of MacBooks . But swapping out the rectangular USB-A connector on the iPhone charger that comes in the box -- while leaving Lightning on the phone -- would mean that Apple users could charge their iPhones from their new MacBooks without needing an adapter. 

Watch this: iPhone XS and XS Max: Bigger, faster, plus better battery life

And with the right USB-C power adapter, charging can be faster. If you go to Apple's website, you can find a page that talks about fast charging. Here's how Apple describes it:

Fast charging gives you a quick and convenient way to recharge your iPhone X, iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus. Your iPhone fast charges up to 50 percent in 30 minutes when you use an Apple USB-C to Lightning cable and one of these adapters:

  • Apple 29W, 30W, 61W or 87W USB-C Power Adapter
  • A comparable third-party USB-C power adapter that supports USB Power Delivery (USB-PD)

Apple already sells these cables and chargers, but you have to pay extra for them -- $25, £25 or AU$35 for the cable alone. It would be nice if Apple included these upgrades in the box, especially if you're paying up for the iPhone XS and XS Max, which start at $999 (£999, $AU1,629) and $1099 (£1,099, $AU1,799) respectively. The rumor of a default USB-C charger picked up steam in the months leading up to the launch of the new iPhones, but it was just wishful thinking.  

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Apple's Lightning-to-3.5mm headphone jack adapter ($9, £9, AU$15) is no longer included with its $1,000 phone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Lightning-to-3.5mm headphone jack adapter in the box

Not only did Apple kill the last iPhones with headphone jacks, it won't even ship the Lightning-to-3.5mm audio jack dongle with its new 2018 iPhones, like it did with previous headphone jack-free iPhones. Instead, you can buy the dongle separately for $9, £9 or AU$15. That's a bummer. (Lightning EarPod headphones are still included, however.)

5G support for futureproofing

OK, this was a stretch, but one could dream, right?

Current iPhones work on 4G LTE networks. Upcoming 5G cellular data networks promise blazing-fast speeds. But outside of some new "fixed wireless" cable broadband offerings like Verizon's 5G Home, we probably won't see mobile-friendly 5G networks -- and 5G phones -- until 2019 at the earliest. Still, it sure would've been nice if Apple slipped a 5G chip in its 2018 iPhones.

Read: Why Apple's in no rush to sell you a 5G iPhone

Stylus support


The Galaxy Note 9's stylus makes for easy notetaking.

Angela Lang/CNET

In March, Apple added support for its Apple Pencil to its entry-level iPad. That delivered the exact same on-screen drawing and writing features to the baseline iPad that had previously only been available on the Pro models. But maybe Apple would reverse that formula for phones: If Apple was making its largest, most expensive iPhone ever, the thinking went, why not differentiate an "iPhone Pro" with stylus support -- and maybe a new mini Apple Pencil, to boot? 

Unfortunately, it wasn't to be -- at least, not for 2018. Maybe we'll see this one day, but in the meantime, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 remains king of the stylus phones. 

TBD: Shatterproof screen

Back when the iPhone 6 came out in 2014, there was talk that it would sport a shatter-resistant sapphire screen, but that never came about. Last year, we managed to crack the iPhone X's screen with just one drop (Apple charges $279, £286 or AU$419 to replace the iPhone X's OLED screen). The back of the iPhone X, which is also made of glass, didn't fare any better. 

For 2018, Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, announced on stage at the Steve Jobs Theater that the new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max use the "most durable glass ever in a smartphone." Apple hasn't said whether it's Gorilla Glass 6, but Corning is an Apple partner. 

Does "most durable" mean "shatterproof"? We're guessing not, because Apple would've undoubtedly given that a fancy new name and highlighted it accordingly. We'll be drop-testing the new iPhones once they're released, so we'll see how they fare. In the meantime, we'd love to see an iPhone that's as shatter-resistant as the Motorola Z2 Force.

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