The first batch of iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max reviews are out before the devices hit the retail store later this week. As usual, Apple has managed to set a new benchmark with its latest iPhones in many departments, though the devices do fall short in many aspects as well.
Below, we have compiled a roundup of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max reviews based on the various aspects of the handsets.
iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max Review Roundup
Apple knows the importance of a good display on a mobile phone. So it is unsurprising that the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max come with the best mobile displays around.
The iPhone XS has the same OLED display as the X, with curved corners and the notch. After a year of looking at this display, I’m confident in saying that it’s one of the best displays available, with excellent color reproduction and brightness. And Apple’s TrueTone and Night Shift features are terrific; it’s easy to look at this screen all the time. (I also think Apple’s claim that this display supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision is a little silly — sure, it gets brighter, but it’s nothing like HDR on a real TV.)
For a company as prone to hyperbole and Maximum Force Enthusiasm about its products, I think that they have dramatically undersold how much improved photos are from the iPhone X to the iPhone XS. It’s extreme, and it has to do with a technique Apple calls Smart HDR.
This is an important one since the iPhone X was the only flagship phone last year to not support Gigabit LTE. With the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max supporting Gigabit LTE, there’s a massive improvement in LTE speeds.
The result was blazing speeds on T-Mobile’s network using the Speedtest.net app. Downloads reached as high as 103 Mbps on the iPhone Xs and 96.9 Mbps on the iPhone Xs Max. The iPhone Xs Max averaged 58.2 down, and the iPhone Xs averaged a faster 67.2 Mbps.
Uploads on the iPhone Xs averaged 18.6 Mbps; the iPhone Xs Max pulled ahead here with 25.4 Mbps. By comparison, the older iPhone X averaged just 15.5 Mbps down and under 6 Mbps uploads.
Unsurprisingly, the iPhone XS and iPhone XS are absolute monsters in terms of performance thanks to their A12 Bionic chip. Couple it with the performance improvements introduced by Apple in iOS 12 and we are looking at the fastest phones on the market.
Last year’s iPhone X had an A11 Bionic chip, and this year’s iPhone XS has an A12 Bionic. In terms of CPU performance, the A12 really isn’t that much faster: Apple only quotes a 15 percent performance improvement, and I didn’t really see a noticeable speedup over my iPhone X.
The iPhone Xs and the iPhone Xs Max also shined in other real-world tasks, such as video editing. It took Apple’s phones just 39 seconds to transcode a 2-minute 4K clip to 1080p. The Galaxy S9 took 2:32, and the OnePlus 6 finished in 3:45.
How about opening apps? The iPhone Xs took 20.8 seconds to open Fortnite, 4.9 seconds for Pokémon Go and 6.17 seconds for the Asphalt 9 racing game. The Note 9 was slower across the board at 35 seconds, 7.2 seconds and 9.1 seconds, respectively. The older iPhone X was also slower than the iPhone Xs at 26, 7.2 and 10 seconds for the above apps.
The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max might lack a headphone jack but they have got a stereo speaker and this year, Apple has improved it even further.
The audio boost in the iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max is so good that you’ll think twice about connecting to a Bluetooth speaker. Apple says it widened the stereo sound to deliver more detail, and I immediately appreciated the difference when I put the iPhone X and the iPhone Xs side by side.
Like the X, the XS boosts the volume of the earpiece speaker to serve as the other stereo channel, but this year both the earpiece speaker and the bottom speaker are closely matched, which lets Apple do some processing on the audio for greater stereo separation. I don’t think it’s super noticeable, but any improvement to phone speakers is a good one, and this is a good one.
The speakers sound awesome. They’re louder than the iPhone X, and Apple also worked to tune the stereo sound so that audio sounds wider or more narrow, depending on the scene. This means movies, games and music will sound much better when you’re watching in landscape mode.
Now, this is an important one for many people. Apple says the iPhone XS can last 30 mins more than the iPhone X, while the larger iPhone XS Max lasts almost 90 minutes more than the iPhone X. Are these claims true? Yep. And the iPhone XS Max, in particular, is a battery life champion.
I mostly tested the XS Max, and it did great — better than even Apple’s claim of 90 minutes more than the X. In fact, I got a full 12 hours of battery life out of the XS Max without low power mode, and that’s even under my heavy daily use of constant Slack and email usage, video watching, photo taking, and browsing. The smaller XS is rated to get 30 minutes more than the X, which has run for about 8 hours for me this past year. It’s solid.
The iPhone Xs Max is the phone to get if you want longer endurance. On the Tom’s Guide Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over LTE on 150 nits of screen brightness, the iPhone Xs Max lasted a very good 11 hours and 30 minutes. That beats the Galaxy Note 9’s 11:16. The Pixel 2 XL lasted an even longer 12:09.
Despite a bevy of improvements, the iPhone XS does not make for a very compelling upgrade especially if you already own an iPhone X. Its worth an upgrade if you are coming from the iPhone 6s or iPhone 7. As for the iPhone XS Max, upgrade to it if you want that big display and better battery life.
I would not rush out to spend another $999 on the XS if you have an X, but if you’re already deep into a preorder, don’t worry: you will love the iPhone XS. It is indeed, more iPhone, and it will probably hold up for years to come. I definitely prefer the Pixel 2’s camera, but the iPhone XS isn’t that far behind, and it’s still a significant improvement over previous iPhones.
For everyone else, I think it’s worth waiting to see how the iPhone XR turns out before rushing in — it has the same processor and the same main camera for $750. The only major question is how good its 6.1-inch LCD will look in comparison to the OLED on the XS. But for that, we’ll just have to wait and see next month.
The iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max are among the best phones you can buy, and if you’ve been holding off on upgrading your iPhone 7 or iPhone 6s, either one of these handsets will feel like a huge leap forward. The cameras are miles better — especially in low light — and the A12 chip provides a big speed boost.
Look, these are the best phones Apple has made, but this was very much an “S” year, as you can tell by the modest upgrades.
If you have an old iPhone, like an iPhone 7, and want the best new iPhone, you should upgrade to the XS, or the Max if you want a giant screen. You might even consider upgrading if you have an iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus, since Apple is clearly moving away from the home button and these offer better cameras, stronger glass panels, faster processors and more.
Are you planning on buying the iPhone XS or iPhone XS Max? Or will you wait for the iPhone XR before taking a decision?