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Review: iPhone XS features under-the-hood refinements, but it won’t come cheap

Like clockwork, Apple unveiled the latest iteration of their flagship smartphone, iPhone, on Sep. 12 in front of a packed audience at Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, Calif. Unlike previous years, however, the tech giant came out with not one, not two, but three smartphones—iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. Tech enthusiasts applauded as CEO Tim Cook and team revealed the tech; but, is it worth the investment?

This review will focus on iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max—the devices Citytv had a chance to review ahead of the Sep. 21 launch in Canada, alongside Apple Watch Series 4. iPhone XR will go on sale later this year.

Hardware

On the exterior, iPhone X and iPhone XS are almost identical. The immersive screen remains at 5.8-inch, no home button, the same top notch you either love or hate, and IP68 water resistance up to two metres for 30 minutes—which Apple is quite proud of boasting through promotional videos. They also come in a new gold finish (in addition to space grey and silver), which I’m quite a fan of. Storage will be available in 64GB, 256GB, and 512GB configurations.

In all three models, you’ll notice Apple has done away with the iconic home button, foreshadowing a slow death of the physical switch. As with iPhone X, there is a slight learning curve, but from personal experience, you get used to the shift in habit.

As for the larger iPhone, it seems the company has nixed the ‘Plus’ naming convention, opting for ‘Max.’ iPhone XS Max comes with a 6.5-inch screen—and it’s gigantic. Both XS and XS Max are great for media consumption, but XS Max is immersive but large for pockets—think watching YouTube videos with the new wide stereo speakers. Or my latest obsession—Ignite TV PVR downloads on the airplane.

Do you need the larger screen? No.  Is it nice to have? Yes.  Can it be a pain to carry in your pocket? Certainly, but having the option is great.

Bionic chip for bionic speeds

When migrating my data from my iPhone X, I could notice speed and power from the get-go. This iPhone houses an A12 Bionic and Neural Engine—what Apple calls ’the smartest and most powerful chip in a smartphone.’ The power is best noticed in resource-intensive applications like video editing, augmented reality, and gaming.

Coupled with iOS 12, it’ll unlock new consumer-friendly functionality, like Memoji and every selfie-taker’s new favourite feature: Smart HDR. Using the two 12-megapixel wide and telephoto lenses, Smart HDR means you can, using a slider, control F-stop or depth-of-field appearance in Portrait mode photos. This puts the power of pro photography in a consumer-grade smartphone—perfect for the ‘gram.

Battery life

In comparison to iPhone X, Apple claims iPhone XS will get you 30 minutes longer than iPhone X. iPhone XS Max will beat iPhone X by 90 minutes, according to Phil Schiller.

In real-life, I got a 12-hour day of consistent use out of iPhone XS Max.

Dual SIM support

New to any iPhone is support for two SIM cards through eSIM technology. It’s reliant on carrier adoption—however, it’s the same technology used for cellular connectivity in Apple Watch Series 4—now on all major carriers in Canada.  Traditional SIM cards will still work, but there is only one slot. The variant to be sold in China which will have two SIM trays.

This means that eventually consumers can still have two phone numbers (say, one for personal use and one for work) and receive calls and texts on one iPhone.

Pricing

In terms of pricing, iPhone XS won’t come cheap. At $1,379 CAD for iPhone XS and $1,519 CAD for the iPhone XS Max variant, these phones aren’t cheap. Carriers will subsidize—for example, Rogers is launching an Ultra tier, where for $10 a month, customers can get up to $250 off the upfront cost of ‘iconic’ devices on a term.

Additionally, later this year, Apple is launching iPhone XR, the third device announced at the Cupertino event. It features a ‘Liquid Retina’ LCD display, 12-megapixel camera, and a wide-array of colours, reminiscent of the iPhone 5C. iPhone XR rings in at just over $1,000.

Bottom line

So why would you want this device? You’re likely using an older iPhone—perhaps a 7—and it’s time for an upgrade. As a former iPhone 7 Plus user, iPhone XS Max is a nice option—albeit the hefty price tag.

If you’re an iPhone X user, there’s plenty to love about it still. iPhone XS brings a lot of new under the hood, but might not be worth $1,379.

Lastly, there’s a lot to be intrigued about iPhone XR, from the colour options to battery life. For the average consumer, it may be worth considering it when it comes out later this year. Let the games begin.

Rogers Communications is the parent company of Citytv and this website.