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iPhone X Review: A Breath of Fresh Air


“The iPhone X is the iPhone to buy this year.”

  • Jawdropping OLED screen
  • Unsurpassed speed
  • Top-tier camera
  • Innovative industrial design
  • Wireless charging
  • Awkward notch can break immersion
  • Expensive

Apple’s 10th anniversary iPhone X sets a new gold standard for the next decade of iPhones. Coming hot on the heels of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, the iPhone X stole the show despite sharing nearly identical internal hardware. The X (pronounced “ten,” like the Roman numeral) is a beautiful, modern sculpture, and iPhone owners finally have a reason to show off their phones again.

As we’re now about four months from Apple’s next iPhone launch, we’re revisiting the iPhone X to see if this smartphone is still worth the high price tag.

A stunning display

Turn on the iPhone X, and it’s easy to forget almost every other phone released over the past year. Apple didn’t kick-start the “bezel-less” smartphone design trend, where the edges around the screen melt away to offer an immersive all-screen experience, but it certainly helped popularize it. Other phones may have slightly smaller bezels, but we do like the approach Apple took here.

Most of the time, anyway. The controversial notch cut out at the top of the screen accommodateing the front-facing camera continues to split opinion, especially as it’s now on more phones. The notch on the Essential Phone is smaller, but doesn’t contain the same depth-sensing sensor technology as the Apple phone. It all becomes inconsequential after using the iPhone X for more than a few days, just as with any other notched display.  It takes some getting used to, but it’s not the irritation many want to believe it is. It helps that iOS gracefully splits the top status bar in half around the notch, and many native apps also tailor their designs to it, but it’s easy to feel a break in immersion when watching YouTube videos and movies on Netflix.

When the iPhone X first launched, many apps did not support the full display. More than a month after its release, most popular apps support it, but even six months in, there are still many that don’t. Developers continue to update apps, but definitely not at the pace we want.

The OLED display goes a long way in making amends for these quibbles. The 5.8-inch screen has a 2,436 x 1,125-pixel resolution (458 pixels per inch), and it’s razor sharp. Colors are vibrant, blacks are finally as pitch-dark as many other OLED Android phones, and it’s easy to read in direct sunlight.  You’ll have a hard time pulling your eyes away from this screen.

The X is a beautiful, modern sculpture, and iPhone owners finally have a reason to show off their phones again.

As on the iPhone 8 and iPad, Apple’s True Tone technology detects the lighting condition you’re in, and adjusts the screen’s tint to make it more readable. It works extremely well, and made the screen warmer — and easier on the eyes — in our harsh office lighting. Over time, its alterations are almost unnoticeable until you stare at a screen without it. It’s the definition of an invisible technology that just does its job really well, without any fuss.

The phone’s all-glass rear is almost the same as the iPhone 8 Plus, except the dual-camera setup has turned to a vertical orientation. Apple says the front-facing depth sensors and cameras took up a lot of space up top, and the rear camera wouldn’t fit sideways. With only the Apple and iPhone logo printed on the glass, the back looks minimal and sleek. The vertical orientation is a dead giveaway you have the iPhone X, but other manufacturers including Huawei are adopting a similar style, making it less unique as time passes.

One noticeable difference is the power button, which now perhaps should be called the “lock button.” Still situated on the right edge, it’s more elongated than before, which makes it easier to find and press. We say lock button because to turn off the iPhone X, you need to press the lock button and the volume up or down buttons. Tapping on the lock button just wakes or turns off your screen, but you can double tap it to activate Apple Pay, or press and hold it to launch Siri.

The mute switch is on the top left, and the volume rocker sits below. There’s still no headphone jack, and the only port is for your Lightning cable at the bottom edge, between the bottom-firing speakers. For music, you’ll either have to pair wireless headphones, either with the Bluetooth 5 technology on board or not, or you can embrace the dongle life with the included Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter.

What may surprise many about the iPhone X is its size. It feels compact — it’s slightly larger than the 4.7-inch iPhone 8, but it has a bigger screen than the 5,5-inch iPhone 8 Plus. The X is comfortable in the hand, and it feels remarkable to have so much more screen real estate than a cumbersome “plus-sized” phone. However, despite the larger screen size the iPhone X doesn’t feel as big as the iPhone 8 Plus, as the additional screen real estate is all vertical, rather than adding horizontal space too. It’d be unfair to call the iPhone X’s screen too small; but many will welcome a larger iPhone X Plus in the future.

Speedy and a gesture-based iOS

You’ll find the same A11 Bionic processor from the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus powering the iPhone X. Performance is excellent — the interface is fluid, and switching between apps is fast. Games like Monument Valley 2, Transformers: Forged to Fight, and the augmented reality game The Machines ran smoothly. This has not changed after six months with the iPhone X. Our iPhone X benchmark scores reaffirm our experience.

  • AnTuTu: 206,010
  • Geekbench 4 CPU: 4,231 single-core; 9,877 multi-core

The AnTuTu score is slightly less than what we’ve seen on our iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, which received respective scores of 214,492, and 222,462. At the time of release, it was higher than any other Android smartphone we’d tested, including the Google Pixel 2, which scored 146,876. Since then, the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus received 263,517, while the Huawei P20 Pro just beat the iPhone X with a score of 210,342. Geekbench scores were nearly identical against the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, and even today absolutely eclipses the Android competition. None of these Android phones are slow, as many of them offer excellent performance.

The iPhone X also introduces a new way to interact and navigate with iOS. If you noticed, we didn’t mention a home button earlier — it’s officially no more. What replaces it? Gestures. Access the Control Center by sliding down from the top right shoulder, and pull down the Notification Center from the center notch area. If you’re in an app, you’ll see an elongated bar at the bottom: Swipe it up to go back to the home screen.

If you swipe it up and pause, you will see all your previous apps for some quick multitasking. You can also switch between apps by sliding your finger from the bottom left to the bottom right, kind of like drawing an upside down U. All the animations are beautiful and responsive. There is a learning curve, especially if you’ve used iOS before; but you soon speed up, and the gestures become very natural. It’s not really suited to one-hand use in all situations, and it’s frustratingly easy to open the Notification Center rather than the Control Center if you’re not using two hands.

Hardware actions are also different. Trying to quietly activate Siri? Just tap and hold the lock button. Taking a screenshot is easy too — tap the lock and volume up buttons at the same time. Actually too easy, and we often take screenshots when changing the volume as we pick up the phone. We do like the fast access to mark screenshots up, which is performed just by tapping the image that appears in the bottom left of the screen. You can press and hold the lock and volume down button to turn off the iPhone, or to access SOS emergency services, and double-tapping the lock button brings up Apple Pay.

These gesture-based interactions are a thoughtful way of navigating the home button-less iPhone X. The animations are slick, fluid, and futuristic. iOS 11 also brings a whole lot more customization, such as the redesigned Control Center, and you can check out our in-depth iOS 11 review to see what’s new.

Face ID and Animojis

Face ID is the hallmark of the iPhone X, and a huge gamble for Apple, since it completely replaces Touch ID. Instead of swiping a fingerprint, just look at your phone, and it unlocks.

In our initial review, we didn’t think it worked well and found it slower to be Touch ID. It has since improved greatly, and Apple told us there’s a quicker way to use Face ID. Rather than raising the phone, waiting for the padlock to unlock, and then swiping up to go to the home screen, simply swipe up the lock screen when you want to go to your home screen. You’ll see a quick Face ID animation — if it recognizes you — and voila, you’re through.

That’s fine, but it doesn’t help when you want to glance at lock screen notifications, which are hidden until the phone “sees” your face. If Face ID misses you the first time, it doesn’t look again unless you sleep and re-awaken the screen, adding a frustrating extra step to just seeing your messages. Alternatively, you can swipe to unlock, and then dig into the Notification Center. Annoying if you only wanted to see if a notification was worth your time.

Apple said Face ID gets better over time because it’s continually updating its model of you, which is why it recommends to never reset your Face ID profile, and we’ve been impressed with its ever-improving speed.

It works incredibly well in the dark, which is surprising, but you’ll always want to make sure you aim the front camera towards your face and don’t hold it too close. It can get a little tricky with certain angles, and so it’s likely better to use a pass code when it’s lying flat on a desk. We also find that using it with Apple Pay requires extra care to let the phone see your face. You either have to loom over the screen while it’s held close to a reader, or activate Apple Pay, move the phone so it can see you, then move it back to the reader. The iPhone X prompts you at every step.

We like it over Touch ID. It’s convenient — you don’t need to take your gloves off to access your phone in the winter, for example. It’s also still the most secure facial recognition system available on a phone. Almost all Android phones using some type of “Face Unlock” have stressed that it’s purely meant for convenience, and not security.

The other big feature you can use Face ID’s 3D-mapping sensors and cameras for is Animoji. Open the Messages app and you’ll find a new option to send an animated emoji to a friend, or an Animoji. It tracks your facial expressions — with surprising accuracy — and records whatever you say, kind of like motion capture used in movies. You can send this to anyone, on Android or iOS, and they’ll be able to see it because it’s a standard video file. It’s a fun feature, but it’s not necessarily a reason to buy the iPhone X.

It would be great if you could send Animojis to people through different messaging apps; but other companies are introducing their own versions. Samsung introduced AR Emojis with the Galaxy S9, but they’re not as accurate or cute as Animojis, proving how much difference the depth-sensing technology makes on the iPhone X.

Another great camera

The iPhone X has a very similar camera to the iPhone 8 Plus: Both feature a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens with an f/1.8 aperture, but the 12-megapixel telephoto lens has a wider f/2.4 aperture over the 8 Plus’ f/2.8 aperture. This helps in low light situations with 2x optical zoom, as well as Portrait Mode as it uses the telephoto lens.

Both cameras also have optical image stabilization, a first for Apple. It helps prevent blurriness with shaky hands when you’re zooming in on objects with the optical zoom. It also can improve photos taken in Portrait Mode, as it relies on the telephoto lens.

The rear camera is undoubtedly stellar. It offers great color accuracy, lots of detail, and best of all, virtually no shutter lag. Launch the camera, tap the shutter icon, and the iPhone X will take photos faster than you can say “Cheese!” In brief comparisons with our favorite camera phone, the Google Pixel 2, we did find Google’s Android phone to feature better dynamic range and slightly more detail. You can check out our large-scale camera test to see how the iPhone X stacks up against the competition.

You won’t see much of a difference between the iPhone X against its predecessors, namely the iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone 7 Plus. We’ve added some comparisons below.

iPhone X:

iPhone 8 Plus:

iPhone 7 Plus:

Overall, we liked the iPhone X’s photos the most, though you’ll really have a tough time telling them all apart. In low-light scenarios, the iPhone X edged out with sharper images and less grain — especially in Portrait Mode. The iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus dealt with dynamic range better than the iPhone 7 Plus; for example, the iPhone 7 Plus’ photo with the cars on the road is too dim overall, whereas the iPhone 8 Plus and X brighten the foreground without overexposing the background sky. We did like the color accuracy on the iPhone X and the 7 Plus more than the 8 Plus (except in low light), which made photos look a littler more reddish than normal.

Portrait Mode adds a blur behind a subject, offering a DSLR-like look, but the star feature is Portrait Lighting, which lets you fake different studio lighting options. This was first introduced with the iPhone 8 Plus, but our eyes are on what the iPhone X brings — Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting to the 7-megapixel front-facing camera. You can finally make those selfies look far more professional, and the iPhone X does a solid job. It works just as advertised, but the output isn’t as good as the rear dual-camera setup, especially when it’s trying to detect hair. Take a look:

The iPhone X’s blur is strong, and it looks very natural like a DSLR. It has trouble dealing with dynamic range, such as in the last Portrait Mode selfie photo in the park, where the background is overexposed; as well as in the photo of the fence. Hair, especially with the selfie camera, gets messed up easily and is often blurred. The rear camera can make mistakes too, of course, as seen in the photo with the leaves of the tree. Some of these subjects are complicated, though, so it’s understandable when it does trip up.

iPhone X
Portrait Mode Selfie

Overall, the iPhone X’s cameras let you do so much more than ever before, and the results are almost always still impressive. Our favorite part still remains the ease, accessibility of using the camera — it’s incredibly quick, and we’ve hardly ever seen any shutter lag. However, camera technology inside smartphones has seen dramatic improvements over the past months, especially in lowlight, and although the iPhone X is great, its ability has been surpassed by the Galaxy S9 Plus and the Huawei P20 Pro. See our iPhone X, P20 Pro, Galaxy S9 Plus, and Pixel 2 camera comparison to see by how much.

Battery

Battery life on the iPhone X has been fairly average, and its ability to last the day greatly depends one what you’re doing. Under general use, most days end with 30 percent remaining, based on taking photos, app use, browsing the web, and responding to notifications. General use with Bluetooth music streaming, and an hour or so of Google Maps use, will see the battery die well before the end of the day. The iPhone 8 Plus returns better battery life.

Just as with the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, the iPhone X’s glass back makes it compatible with the Qi wireless charging standard. Just plop your phone down on a charging pad and you’re juicing it up — no cables needed. We’ve experimented with wireless charging using different phone cases, and have not experienced any problems. However, it does require quite careful placement on the charging mat, and the slightest nudge can stop it charging. Again, this varies depending on your choice of case and wireless charger; but it’s something to be aware of.

Apple iPhone X Review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

All three new iPhones support fast charging, but not with the included charger. If you own a modern MacBook, the included 29w charging block and a USB-C to Lightning cable will do the job; but if not you’ll have to buy the charging block from Apple too. It’s a pricey endeavour, but Apple promises a 50 percent charge in 30 minutes, so it’ll be worth it for some. However, we’re disappointed it didn’t include an adequate fast charger in the box.

Price, availability, and warranty

The iPhone X is expensive. The 64GB model starts at $1,000, and the 256GB variant will set you back $1,150. They’re available for purchase now. Too rich for your blood? Check out the best iPhone deals for savings.

We’ve also rounded up the best smartphone deals if you’re looking for other affordable alternatives.

Apple offers a standard warranty that protects your device from manufacturing defects one year from the date of purchase. You can grab AppleCare+ insurance, which includes two years of technical support and accidental damage coverage. We recommend using a case and a screen protector as the display can be quite costly to replace.

Our Take

The iPhone X is the iPhone to buy. It’s well worth the high price tag, and there’s no doubt Apple fans will love the entire ownership experience.

Is there a better alternative?

For iOS users, your best alternatives are the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. They’re a little more affordable, and they pack nearly identical specifications as the iPhone X. You’re largely missing out on the new design, Face ID, and Animojis of course. If you’re willing to spend close to $700 for the iPhone 8, we think it’s worth splurging a little more on the X.

Keep in mind Apple is still selling older iPhones. If you don’t need the latest design, fun camera, or Face ID, and just want an iPhone that works, you should consider the iPhone 6S and iPhone 7, which start at low prices from Apple. We should note, the older the iPhone, the fewer years of updates you’ll have left.

If you’re willing to swap to Android, there are plenty of good choices. We recommend the Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, because you won’t find comparable hardware and software integration, like Apple, anywhere else. The 2018 line-up of Android smartphones is very tempting, especially the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus — which we recommend over the Galaxy S9 for the dual-lens camera — and the Huawei P20 Pro, if it’s sold where you live.

How long will it last?

The iPhone X is IP67 water-resistant, meaning it can stay underwater up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes. Apple said the rear and front glass is incredibly durable and strong, but it’s still glass. It will likely shatter after a drop on concrete.

Unlike with most Android phones, you’ll get fast version and security updates with the iPhone X. The device will also be supported for four to five years before it stops getting software updates. We expect the iPhone X to last four to five years.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you’re an Apple fan, this is the phone to buy. We can’t peel our eyes away from the gorgeous OLED screen, and using gestures to move around iOS is pure bliss.

Updated on May 9 by Andy Boxall: Revised various sections to include iPhone X impressions after six months of use. No change to score.

Editors’ Recommendations






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iPhone XS review: A solid upgrade to a great phone


Verdict

Not a huge upgrade over the iPhone X, but a good choice if you’re stuck on an older iPhone and fancy something new.

Pros

  • Top-notch performance
  • Phenomenal cameras
  • Outstanding display
  • Attractive design

Cons

  • Hard to spot some of Apple’s improvements
  • Starting price is far too high
  • No fast charger in-box
  • Scratches easily

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £999
  • 5.8-inch HDR OLED display
  • Apple A12 Bionic processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB/256GB/512GB (non-expandable)
  • Dual 12-megapixel camera w/ Smart HDR and OIS
  • Face ID
  • IP68 certified
  • Dual SIM (eSIM)
  • Wireless charging support

What is the iPhone XS?

Picking a new iPhone in 2018 is hard. There’s the iPhone XR at £749/$749 and then the two models of the iPhone XS. The regular iPhone XS, that’s the one we’re reviewing here, and then the larger iPhone XS Max.

The iPhone XS starts at £999/$999 (£1099/$1099 for the Max) and has a better screen, an extra camera and slightly more ‘premium’ design when compared to the iPhone XR.

It’s a very iterative update for Apple, but that’s hardly a surprise considering how much of a jump the iPhone X was. Is this phone good enough to force people against picking up an Android device like the Samsung Galaxy S10, Huawei P30 Pro or Google Pixel 3?

iPhone XS – Design

If you’ve seen the iPhone X then the iPhone XS steps in as a dead ringer. Last year the X showcased a bold new design compared to iPhones of old. Gone was the aluminium frame of its predecessors, replaced with a polished stainless steel alternative. The screen now reached the fringes of the phone’s front and a glass back facilitated the phone’s new wireless charging feature.

Related: Best smartphones

iPhone XS 3/4 view on wood

All of this fresh design DNA has been spliced onto the iPhone XS and I’m a fan, just as I was with last year’s phone. Some might have complained that the polished steel and glass form could have been made less slippery between generations but this is an issue I only really pin on this year’s larger iPhone XS Max.

The XS looks undeniably premium, sits comfortably in the hand thanks to the pillowed glass and rounded metal frame, and can still be considered one of the best-looking smartphones out there.

It’s fractionally heavier than its predecessor and just as with every glass-backed handset, holds onto fingerprints like nobody’s business, but this didn’t come as a shock to me and will only bother those who don’t plan on sticking it in a case.

iPhone XS hardware controls closeup

Related: Best iPhone XS cases

If you do plan on rocking the phone naked, firstly, you’re a braver soul than I, and secondly you’ll appreciate the option of the new gold colour, which extends to the iPhone XS Max too. Alongside the existing silver and Space Grey options from last year this new finish sports a shiny gold frame and a flat coloured back that I’d say is closer to a ‘warm peach’ than actual gold. It’s not to my taste but I can certainly see it being popular.

A small but nonetheless important upgrade is the iPhone XS’s IP68-certification (up from IP67 on last year’s iPhones). This means better protection against dust ingress and the phone is now happy in up to two metres of water for up to 30 minutes without springing a leak. Such an enhancement brings it in line with big rivals like the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Sony Xperia XZ3 and should provide more peace of mind to prospective owners too.

iPhone XS 3/4 view Lightning port

The headphone jack has been absent from iPhones for a few years now but previously Apple has at least had the courtesy to include a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter in-box. With the iPhone XS, that trend stops.

Now, if you want to add a physical headphone jack onto this thing, you’ll have to pay Apple an extra £/$9 for the privilege; or find a cheaper (but importantly, supported) alternative elsewhere.

I hate the dongle nightmare that Apple tends to force on its customers and I’m lucky enough to own a pair of wireless Airpods, but for those who want to keep it wired, having to pay even more on top of this phone’s already steep price tag for something as trivial as a headphone jack is a low blow.

iPhone XS – Screen

The iPhone XS sports a stunning display, practically unchanged from the one on last year’s top iPhone, and that’s no bad thing. It almost reaches to the edge of the phone’s front, packs rounded corners and a notch.

A rarity when the iPhone X launched, the notch was one of the handset’s biggest talking points and it unapologetically makes a return here. Almost as wide as the screen itself, the notch plays host to Apple’s own TrueDepth sensor technology, along with the phone’s front-facing camera.

Related: read the latest about the upcoming iPhone 11

iPhone XS Memoji

With so many alternatives now sporting a notch of their own, its appearance on the iPhone XS seems far less jarring than it was a year ago and while Apple’s notch is still one of the biggest out there, I’m far more comfortable with its presence than I was on the iPhone X.

It also serves a dual purpose, offering (fractionally) faster Face ID face unlocking than last year’s phone, and a means of tracking your facial expressions when using Animoji and the new Memoji feature built into iOS 12. This lets you create your own visage in Animoji’s same cartoony 3D style to insert into messages or overlay onto your own face in recordings. Fun? Undoubtedly, but the feature will only hold your interest for so long, like a Nintendo Wii or fidget spinners.

As for the panel of pixels beneath the notch, it’s a thing of real beauty – quite possibly the best smartphone screen out there right now.

Dubbed a ‘Super Retina Display’, the iPhone XS’s OLED panel is seemingly unaltered from the one found on last year’s phone. You again have an 1125 x 2436 resolution, 19.5:9 aspect ratio display that boasts up to 625 nits (according to Apple) of brightness and therefore competently supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR standards, as well as the full DCI-P3 wide colour space.

iPhone XS screen closeup

On paper, the 458ppi pixel density is below that of its Android flagship rivals but in real-world use, you’ll forgive this one shortcoming as content still looks so good. Whether you’re scrolling through Instagram or watching high dynamic-range content on supported apps like Netflix or YouTube, as I’ve already said, this is one of the nicest smartphone displays available right now.

If you want more pixels then most rivals, such as the LG G7, will bring something to the table and if you want more of the same, the iPhone XS Max features all the same strengths at a larger 6.5-inch size, with an extended Full HD+ resolution in tow too.

Apple’s TrueTone technology is also on hand to offer automatic colour temperature adjustment and there’s Night Shift to filter out disruptive blue light in the evenings, but unlike most other handsets nowadays, the XS forgoes any form of manual colour calibration, so make sure you’re happy with the out-of-box look, because that’s pretty much all you’ve got to work with.

iPhone XS – Performance

Huawei was keen to shout about its new Kirin 980 processor; the first mobile chipset announced to utilise an impressively small 7nm manufacturing process, however, Apple is the first company to get a 7nm chip onto a market-ready device in the form of its new A12 Bionic SoC.

It’s what powers the iPhone XS, XS Max and the upcoming iPhone XR, and it is an absolute beast. Unlike previous years, where ‘plus’ model iPhones have benefitted from additional oomph in the form of more memory, this year both the iPhone XS and XS Max enjoy the same 4GB; meaning performance is near-enough equal between the two.

iPhone XS Antutu benchmark scores

Apple’s official line highlights that the A12 offers a 15% CPU performance increase over last year’s A11 Bionic chip and brings a 50% boost to graphical performance on top of that. There’s also a beefier neural engine for AI-related tasks (like image post-processing) toting more cores and a few other benefits such as Gigabit-class LTE (think faster web browsing and video streaming).

As is often the case with new iPhone processors, it’s effectively too early to really reap the benefits of the A12’s extra grunt, at least until developers create more demanding apps in the coming months. In the meantime, the only discernible differences over iPhone X and its A11 chip are in mildly reduced app-load times and (as mentioned earlier) fractionally faster Face ID unlocking.

Benchmarking also confirmed my suspicions that the A12 was a solid performer through and through, trumping every previous A-series chipset and most of the other big players from 2018’s flagship smartphone contingent.

iPhone XS Geekbench 4 benchmark scores

iPhone XS 3D Mark benchmark scores

Another feature that Apple said it worked to improve in the move from X to XS was the phone’s loudspeaker setup. The iPhone X offered stereo with its earpiece working in tandem with the downward-facing loudspeaker, but it was essentially just upping the volume, resulting in a louder, tinnier sound.

Apple has supposedly balanced things out this time around using a more robust speaker in the earpiece that more closely matches that of the existing loudspeaker at the bottom of the phone. I’d argue that the promise of a wider soundstage is markedly less pronounced on the iPhone XS compared to the XS Max, but I will concede that the sound out of that earpiece is both clearer and richer than it was before when enjoying media and when taking calls, even if the difference is only slight.

Related: Best iPhone 2019

iPhone XS – Software

iOS 12 – the newest iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system – landed just a few days ahead of the iPhone XS hitting store shelves and as such, is the software experience that all of Apple’s latest iPhones run out of the box.

iPhone XS in hand

Notifications and how iOS handles them has long been an annoyance for many iPhone users, myself included. Placing individual notifications in a chronological timeline running down the lock screen isn’t ideal, especially when it skips and jumps between the various apps vying for attention.

With iOS 12, notifications are now grouped by app and it makes managing them so much easier. I found myself taking particular delight in dismissing a stack of Instagram notifications in a single go and what’s more, the ability to silence notifications from specific apps directly on the lock screen is another great enhancement.

Screen Time is part of the company’s efforts to improve your ‘digital wellbeing’, monitoring how much time and where your attention is spent whilst using your iPhone. At the end of each week, it spits out a report to help you identify any unhealthy usage habits you might have picked up.

I used this feature to lock off social media apps after 6pm each night and it’s undoubtedly proven its worth.

iPhone XS screenshots - Screen Time

Screen Time shows a weekly breakdown of your usage

While I didn’t make use of this feature all that much, Siri Shortcuts (born out of Apple’s acquisition of automation app Workflow) adds a host of functionality to the company’s digital assistant. It doesn’t really elevate Siri’s overall intelligence, which is still lacking when compared to the likes of Google’s offering, but it’s closer in styling to Amazon Alexa’s Skills.

As the list of apps that support Siri Shortcuts grows, the feature will become far more powerful, but right now functionality still feels limited outside of Apple’s own first-party applications.

iPhone XS screenshots - Stacked notifications, 3D Touch and Memoji creation

Related: Google Assistant vs Amazon Alexa

Beyond these new features, one key aspect of the iOS experience that still needs work is interaction. Like the notch, I’ve grown accustomed to how to get around iOS on iPhones with extended displays, such as the iPhone X and XS, but it still feels rather unintuitive.

Long-time users of any iPhone older than the X may wonder why Notifications Centre and Control Centre both rely on a top-down swipe to be summoned and I honestly can’t tell you. It’s awkward enough having to stretch your hand to the top of the XS’s extended display when using it one-handed, but then having to reach even further to get at a separate feature leaves you with a high chance of dropping the thing. The problem is even more pronounced on the larger XS Max.

iPhone XS screenshots - Home screen, Today View, Control Centre

Swiping Control Centre up from the bottom, either side of the on-screen home bar, would have made a lot more sense and made for a more seamless transition for users moving between older and newer iPhones like the XS.

The rest of the gestures unquestionably take some getting used to but require fewer brain gymnastics, and if you’re new to iPhones in general, the Tips app is on-hand to educate you on the nuances of the phone’s virtual home bar 3D Touch and some of the other interaction quirks I’ve mentioned.

Since it was released the iPhone XS has been updated to iOS 12.1 This update introduces Group FaceTime, Dual SIM support and a load more emojis.

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Apple iPhone SE (2020) review




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iPhone 11 review | Tom’s Guide




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