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Apple iPhone XS Review - What the X should have been!

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The original iPhone X shook the world with its polarizing notched near full screen design. Did Apple improve the the new iPhone XS enough for an upgrade?
Still the best iPhone for one-handed use!
Still the best iPhone for one-handed use

The new iPhone XS features the following changes over the original X: 120Hz touch sensing, Faster Face ID, the new A12 Bionic chip, IP 68 certification (from the original IP 67), 25 percent better stereo speakers, and new Gold color option.

For our review part 1: Apple iPhone XS Unboxing and First Impressions

Display Quality

The new OLED display is still one of the better ones out there!
The new OLED display is still one of the better ones out there!

The iconic super thin bezels from the original iPhone X returns in the XS with a 5.8-inch 2.5D curved OLED screen w/ 2436 x 1125 resolution at 463 ppi with an aspect ratio of 19.5:9. 

The notch is still there and after a while you learn to accept it but one concern I still have is how few icons fit on the notification bar on the left and right side of the notch. WiFi, Radio signal, battery and time have filled up most of it. 

Because of the OLED display, the colors are vibrant and the blacks are deeps that give this strong contrast and wide viewing angles that OLEDs are famous for.

The curve around the display is subtle and and beautiful which adds to the premium look and feel.

The display of the XS gets up to 710 nits of brightness while the XS Max gets up to 725. Both are the second brightest displays in the market next to the Mate 20 series. What makes it even better is that even at maximum brightness, the colors, blacks and contrast remains accurate and not washed out.

It comes with Apple's True Tone which detects the ambient light and adjusts the color temperature to either cooler or warmer depending on the situation.

It has a Night Shift feature that allows you to schedule or manually adjust the color temperature of the display. This is great for when you want to reduce the blue light in the evening.

Lastly, the display supports multiple touch simultaneously which makes it great for productivity and gaming.

Audio Quality

Stereo speakers but with no headphone jack!
Stereo speakers but with no headphone jack

The iPhone XS supports stereo speaker with one at the bottom and the other on the ear piece. Even at maximum volume, the clarity, depth and details remains full and realized.

The stereo adds to the overall feel and once you've had stereo speakers, you will never go back. This is a big surprise given that the iPhone XS is now IP 68 rated against the iPhone X's IP67 rating. Even though the Note9 is the better overall speaker, this isn't too far and most people will be happy with it.

When using the included lightning port to AirPods, the sound isn't the best. Though it maintains details, depth and clarity at maximum volume, the sound signature is too biased to bass which drowns the subtle mids and highs. The sound stage is big enough and this us being nit-picky, if you like the sound signature of previous Apple earphones or Airpods then you will like this one, if you never liked them from the beginning, then you still won't like them now.

If you do not like Apple's signature sound, we advise to get your own earphones. We used our trusty RHA 450i and the sound quality significantly improved when using a lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack dongle. The dongle however is no longer included with the iPhone XS unlike the iPhone X.

The microphone for calls is top notch. The ear-piece speaker is loud and clear. My audio for video recordings is one of the best out there. Apple still takes the cake in audio and video recording.

Battery

Good battery life
Good battery life

The iPhone XS has a 2,658mAh battery that is smaller from the previous 2,716mAh battery capacity of the iPhone X.

Our usual PCMark battery test isn't available for iOS so we don't have a benchmark for you but in our real world usage where in we had the 4G, LTE data usage turned on all day while using social media, Spotify, calling, texting, PUBG, Grab, Waze and E-mail, we were averaging around 5 hours of on-screen time. We would unplug the iPhone XS at 8AM and we would get 15 to 20 percent left at 8PM.

This is outstanding given that the iPhone XS has a slightly lower capacity than the original X! iOS 12's optimizations shines through.

However, when we used our iPhone XS as a hotspot, the battery significantly empties faster. We advise to use it sparingly or unless there is a big need for it.

There is a low power mode that reduces the background processes until the iPhone has been fully charged.

In the box is the 5W USB charger which charges the iPhone from 0 to 100 percent in 3 hours and 5 minutes. This is an atrocity in 2019. Apple Sells a faster 12W charger but it isn't included in the box and costs PHP 1,290. Given the SRP of the iPhone, the fast charging 12W adapter should have been the one included.

A nitpick is that the iPhone XS comes with a USB Type-A to lightning cable but all their new Macbook Air, Macbook, Macbook Pros only come with USB Type-C port so it can be cumbersome if you don't have a compatible cable.

Camera

iOS camera app
iOS camera app

The iPhone XS has a dual lens set up of a 12MP f/1.8 and a 12MP f/2.4 2x optical zoom. Both supports OIS, laser AF, PDAF, and quad LED flash.

Hardware-wise, not much has changed from the original X. Apple says that because of the new processor, it should be faster.

Software-wise, Apple says they've improved the overall performance of the camera especially the portrait modes.

When using either the main dual rear cameras or the selfie camera, the camera app allows you to switch from the Photo, Portrait, Square, Pano, Video, Time-lapse and Slo-mo. You also have controls for the LED flash, HDR, Live Photo, Timer and filters.

Only the main camera can have an optical zoom of up to 2x because of the telephoto lens.

There is a new Smart HDR feature that intelligently blends the best parts of the different exposures into a single photo which improves the standard HDR mode.

The portrait mode retains the Natural Light, Studio Light, Contour Light, Stage Light and Stage Light Mono.

One of our largest nitpick is that we have to go to the settings app just to change the resolution and frame rate of the video.

Flagship worthy camera!

The images from the iPhone are sharp with good contrast in both day light and low light. In daylight, the color reproduction and white balance is so good that the images come out somewhat dull because of how accurately it reproduces color.

The updated portrait mode shows improvement in edge detection and bokeh but it still is far from perfect. In some rare occasion, the edges are way off than we would like.

In low light however, the colors shine, it is vibrant and alive. The images from the iPhone XS are one of the best straight out of camera images for low light that doesn't use any form of night mode.

Rear Camera Samples

Daylight standard lens
Daylight standard lens
Daylight telephoto lens
Daylight telephoto lens
Indoor standard lens
Indoor standard lens
Indoor telephoto lens
Indoor telephoto lens
Indoor close-up
Indoor close-up
Standard portrait mode featuring Duey of team Unbox.ph
Standard portrait mode featuring Duey of team Unbox.ph
Stage lighting mono portrait mode
Stage lighting mono portrait mode
Low light standard lens
Low light standard lens
Low light telephoto lens
Low light telephoto lens

The selfie camera on the other hand is a 7MP f/2.2 with screen flash with the exact same features and menus as the rear camera in the camera app.

After the latest update, the Images from the selfie camera of the iPhone XS is one of the best in the industry. The sharpness, contrast, depth, and color reproduction are all spot-on. It isn't the best though, the Vivo V11 is far ahead with the Note9 edging it by a small margin in some areas.

In low light, the selfie images can get somewhat grainy but it remains to be sharper than most phones. There is little color cast and loss of contrast as well. The Vivo V11 is still better in every aspect. Otherwise, this up there as one of the better ones in the market.

Selfie Camera Samples

Daylight selfie
Daylight selfie
Indoor selfie
Indoor selfie
Low light selfie
Low light selfie
Low light selfie with portrait mode
Low light selfie with portrait mode

The iPhone XS is one of the few phones that can shoot up to 4K 60fps with stabilization using a High Efficiency codec. This means that it is using a file format that may not be compatible to all devices. It is however compatible with iOS 11 onwards and of course MacOS.

The selfie camera shoots up to 1080p 60fps with stabilization.

The 4K 60fps footage from the rear camera is the best footage you can get for a smartphone. The sharpness is unmatched. The color is vibrant and accurate while the contrast is wide. Even when walking vigorously, the footage remains in acceptable smooth levels. Even on auto, the camera app is able to control expose the footage well even with changing lighting conditions. Apple has nailed this one.

The selfie camera footage on the other hand isn't as sharp or as high resolution but the color, contrast and smoothness is nearly identical to the main camera. It struggles with exposing extremely bright areas unlike the main camera. Otherwise, the footage is stellar.

Video Samples


Performance

The iPhone XS's record breaking benchmarks
The iPhone XS's record breaking benchmarks

All three iPhones of 2018 are running on the A12 Bionic chip. It is a 7nm 64-bit ARM SoC with two high performance cores called vortex and four power-efficient cores called tempest with an integrated four-core GPU. It now has what Apple calls the Neural Engine that is made up of eight-cores that Apple says can handle up to 5 trillion 8-bit operations per second.


The result is the highest scoring smartphone in AnTuTu and GeekBench ever! In AnTuTu it got 334,319 while in GeekBench it got 4831 for the single-core and it got 11,525 in the multi-core test!

This translated into super fast operations even with just navigating through the home screen, launching apps, switching between apps, and the like. Touch taps, gestures, button presses are all responsive, quick and accurate.

In games, we were able to play PUBG without a hitch. The graphics looks great and the experience was smooth. We never had any slow downs or frame rate drops. Even if we were getting notifications, the gameplay was unimpeded.

The powerful hardware with the optimized iOS 12 has really maximized the experience.

The UI

iOS 12!
iOS 12!

The iPhone XS, XS Max and XR come with iOS 12 and Apple promises compatibility and improved performance from any device that can run iOS 11.

In our experience, iOS is a more polished version of iOS 12. It feels and looks similar but with significant changes under hood. So if you didn't like iOS 11, iOS 12 won't change your mind.

iOS 12 introduces the following: grouped notifications and deliver quietly, customizable Animojis called Memojis, Siri Shortcuts, improved third-party integration with Siri, Screen Time feature, App limits, Parental controls, Do Not Disturb mode, Voice Memos, overhauled iBooks, CarPlay third party navigation support, and updated ARK kit (Augmented Reality Kit).

Grouped notification is a welcome addition as it groups all notifications from the same app in one stack for a more organized look.

The new Memojis are now customizable and now support tongue and wink detection. It's nice at first but like the whole Animoji concept, it is a gimmick and we never used it again after trying it out.
The new screen time breaks down your daily and weekly usage
The new screen time breaks down your daily and weekly usage

Out of the new features, our favorite is the Screen time feature where it records the amount of time you spend on specific app categories. You can then set limits to each category to avoid spending too much time on any of the categories. There is also parental control that restricts content if you chose to. You can also share all these features across all your iCloud compatible device.

What I like about iOS is its seamless integration with other Apple products like the iPads, Apple Watch, iMac, Macbook Air, Macbook and Macbook Pros. Everything in the ecosystem works well and they have the largest selection of apps that have arguably better service than in Android. It is the iPhone's greatest strength and also its greatest weakness because it is difficult to work with if you are coming from another ecosystem like Android or Windows.

My biggest complaint is the File System wherein you can see the files inside your device but even if you attach any form of external storage, it doesn't detect it nor does it detect the files inside the external storage. This poses a problem for multi-ecosystem with multi-device workflows such as us in GIZGUIDE. We are faced with transferring files to and from multiple devices all the time and iOS makes it difficult. We have to do workarounds all the time wherein in Android, it can detect external storage and the "Share" button is always present and is compatible with most other devices.

A Do not disturb mode has been added if you wanted the notification sounds off like at bedtime or when in an meeting.

Other features

Because of the improved design, improved materials used and increased antenna count, the iPhone XS now supports Gigabit LTE and Dual SIM support. This means you will experience vastly faster data download and upload speeds if your carrier supports it. This also vastly improved our telephony experience. Voice calls are clear and uninterrupted even with 1 or 2 bars of service.

WiFi, Bluetooth and Tethering work fast and seamlessly. My only problem is that I have to go to the settings app then go to each setting to change which WiFi or Bluetooth device I want to connect to.

We wish Apple would do a similar approach from Android wherein you hold the WiFi or Bluetooth button to connect to where you want to.

Pros - The most powerful 7nm phone yet, improved camera performance, improved battery despite lower capacity, better build materials, size is a great one-hand phone
Cons - Expensive, iOS still needs to better integrate with external storage, no headphone jack/dongle included, you have to buy the fast charger separately

Apple iPhone XS Specs

Display: 5.8-inch 2.5D curved OLED screen w/ 2436 x 1125 resolution at 463 ppi
CPU: 2.49GHz 64-bit Apple A12 Bionic hexa-core processor
GPU: Quad-core 
RAM: 4GB 
ROM: 64GB/256GB/512GB 
Back Camera: 12MP f/1.8 + 12MP f/2.4 w/ 2x optical zoom, OIS, laser AF, PDAF, and quad LED flash 
Selfie Camera: 7MP w/ f/2.2 w/ screen flash 
Battery: 2,658mAh w/ 30W fast charging support and 7.5W wireless charging 
OS: iOS 12 
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 4G LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, A-GPS, GALILEO, QZSS 
Sensors: Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer 
Others: TrueDepth camera for Face ID 3D facial recognition, IP68 water and dust resistance, stereo speakers, Colors: black, silver, gold 
Dimensions: 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm 
Weight: 177 g
Price: PHP 67,990 (64GB), PHP 77,490 (256GB), PHP 90,490 (512GB)

Verdict

The iPhone XS is the best iPhone you can have if you want the smaller size and the easier to handle with one hand. Otherwise, get the bigger XS Max for its larger display and larger battery.

It improves upon the predecessor with improved build materials, improved radio reception, improved camera performance and significantly better CPU and GPU performance from the new 7nm A12 Bionic which single handedly left nearly all the other phones in its dust.

If you like or can live with the quirks of iOS and have the budget, then the iPhone XS is the best iPhone you can have right now.

You can also get the new iPhone XS via postpaid with Smart.

Build/Design - 4.5
Display - 4.5
Audio - 4.5
Battery - 4.25
Camera - 4.5
Performance - 4.75
Average - 4.5/5
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