REVIEW: Apple iPhone XS, XS Max

REVIEW: Apple iPhone XS, XS Max
The iPhone XS comes with a 5.8-inch display, similar to the iPhone X, while the iPhone XS Max dwarfs it with its 6.5-inch screen.

Dubai - We also get a first look at the new stuff found in iOS 12.



By Alvin R. Cabral

Published: Tue 18 Sep 2018, 10:42 PM

Last updated: Thu 20 Sep 2018, 5:59 PM

Let's face it: not a few were left hanging at Apple's 'Gather round' event on its turf in Cupertino. All of us that had the privilege to have a ringside seat at the event were expecting - wanting - more. (Personally, I was expecting at least some announcement on the iPad. But I think we knew immediately that as soon as Tim Cook started off with the new Watch, it was 'only' going to be a 'two-headed' event.)
But hey, it was iPhone Day. That's more than enough. (Personally, again, I think the new Apple Watch stole the show. But that's a story for another day.)
As expected, here we are with another trio of iPhones. Of course, the highlight of this is the new iPhone XS, the follow up to last year's 10th-anniversary iPhone X. (Again, for the record and once and for all, it's 'ten', not 'x'.)
Basically everything that was put out in the rumour mill came to fruition, save for the dual-SIM capability that was expected on the iPhone XR, which is coming out next month.
TALE OF THE TAPE

Those in bold are the new stuff . * - A little sad news coming in a bit

Let's go through those one by one.
But let's start with its build. The best way to sum up the iPhone XS is in one simple statement: it's the same 5.8-inch iPhone X with some upgrades in its innards. The iPhone XS Max, meanwhile, is the super-sized version of it: at 6.5 inches, it's now Apple's biggest smartphone out in the wild and pipping the Samsung Galaxy Note9, albeit by an almost-unrecognisable 0.1 inch; while it's practically the same size as the iPhone's 5.8-inch Plus models, it's technically smaller. 

The XS and XS Max 'dwarf' the 8 Plus' display
Both have a Super Retina OLED display; Apple only started using OLED panels in last year's iPhone X. And while the XS retains the same set of specs as the X, the XS Max gets a bump-up in resolution, which is in touch with its bigger screen. 
The iPhone XS and XS Max retain the rear glass casing, which first debuted on Apple devices in last year's iPhone X, 8 and 8 Plus, for the sake of wireless charging. One thing I immediately noticed when I first picked up one was that fingerprints were less visible, and that they were a bit easier to wipe off. 
There's also an additional colour option aside from the silver and black holdovers from last year: a lovely gold finish. Tip: if you're bent on getting a cover for your iPhone and want to flaunt any colour, get one with a transparent back - although the iPhone X line looks way cooler without it, thanks to its all-screen design, you still need to protect it, right?
As for its processor, the A12 Bionic replaces last year's A11 Bionic, which promises up to 15 per cent faster performance and up to 50 per cent lower power usage. A new GPU is also in the devices, with an additional core that is touted to have up to 50 per cent faster graphics performance.
Paired with the A12 is the improved Neural Engine, Apple's very own geeky component for real-time, advanced machine learning. It's so souped up that the number of operations it can perform per second is up from the A11's 600 million to a whopping five trillion.
There are many things the new chipset is capable of, including advanced FaceID, more expressive Memojis (more on that later), Smart HDR (ditto) and gaming (right now):

Preview of the upcoming 'Elder Scrolls' game at the launch event; it's really fluid
FaceID is now the unlocking method of choice for the iPhone (but there are still those who'd prefer PINs, and there are those who direly miss TouchID); it still works great even in darkness, except for the really occasional lags. FaceID, it must be noted, still works only if your iPhone XS is upright, meaning it won't recognise you if your phone is in landscape or upside-down.

You still get the good ol' stuff
Meanwhile, you'll get an additional gigabyte of RAM on the two new smartphones. And while it's 'only' at 4GB - iPhones typically have lower RAM values compared to its flagship peers, sometimes even against mid-rangers - it appears to mesh well with the overall architecture. Using the XS and XS Max against the X revealed that, if you observe really carefully, there is a notable speed-up in performance. Apps load up really quick, and I haven't experienced any app crash or lag in the few days I've been testing it so far.
The XS retains the same storage options of 64GB and 256GB, while its big brother added a monster 512GB - but that's as far as it goes; when the first rumours of Apple coming up with a dual-SIM phone first popped up, many speculated that the second SIM tray would also serve as an expandable memory slot. But, alas, Apple decided to go with an eSIM for the second chip. That would not be a problem, really: I've been using a 256GB device and there was only one time I breached the 100GB mark, despite yours truly being a heavy user. The half-terabyte model is for those who are trigger-happy with media and are either timid or forget to back-up/save their stuff elsewhere. 

The iPhone X (right, both photos) compared to the XS and XS Max
Now, for that little 'sad news' thingy we mentioned earlier: while indeed the eSIM service has been working in the UAE with the LTE version of the Apple Watch Series 3, it won't be available in the country right off the bat. Etisalat and du, according to statements sent to Khaleej Times for a story we ran a couple of days ago, say that they're working on it. For the China market - one Apple is hell-bent on expanding in more - they've made special editions of the XS and XS Max that use two physical SIMs.
As for battery, Apple promised that, compared to the X, the XS lasts up to half-an-hour longer, while the XS Max up to an hour-and-a-half. During our standard one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test, the battery meter on both the XS and XS Max dropped 10 per cent each, which is a very good number on any day. Here's one important thing to note: while indeed both devices had the same decline, the XS did so as a fresh iPhone - meaning only built-in apps are in it - while the XS Max did it with all my iTunes backup in it, meaning more apps with more background refreshing were enabled at that time; if it were a fresh device, I project a 9 or 8 per cent drop instead. That may not mean much, but it would mean something during the battery's full run; that slim difference could be critical in certain situations and save you. 
Pricing? Well, by now it should have sunk in to you that it doesn't exactly come cheap, as seen in the table above and in this more detailed piece I ran earlier. So much for my research-backed calculations for a projected max price (pun intended) of Dh5,580.
iOS 12 
Out of the box, the iPhone XS and XS Max come with the newest version of Apple's mobile operating system. And with it comes some improvements, some of which you could really use. 
Foremost, for me, is Screen Time. Basically, it shows you how much time you're spending not just on your device, but on which apps you frequently use, for the current day and up to seven days.
There are options to discipline yourself, including setting downtime (staying away from your iPhone), time limits for certain apps and restrictions, plus an option for keeping specific apps that would be always allowed: 
 
See, I told you I'm a nut for Angry Birds - plus not really a social media person
Oh parents will love this.
Go ahead and try to set a downtime, and you'll be greeted with these rather gloomy screens:

Yikes!
Yes, all affected apps will be disabled - not even your feeds will be spared. Try opening one of them and you'll be greeted by this:

Good luck testing your patience with this
First announced at June's Worldwide Developers Conference, this is Apple's 'cure' to what is being called an alleged 'addiction' to its products. Smooth move, really.
And - oh! - Animoji's back, this time with a new, more personalised touch: Memoji. You can now create an avatar of yourself that you can send in iMessages:

Looks like its easier to recreate Gamora than Casper
For those who'd rather use the standard Animojis, you may have noticed that there are four new cutesy things to choose from - a Tyrannosaurus Rex, koala, tiger and, a favourite of mine, ghost.
And aside from Animoji and Memoji, there's also a new strip in iMessages that allows you to send other fun stuff such as animated stickers:

I miss Sonic's original adventures
Here's something that caught my eye: there are 'specials' on that strip. One from Dubai Police, for example, lets you send special messages, which a recipient can use for rather serious purposes:

It's smarter in Dubai
Know someone who needs, for example, a police clearance? Just tap on one of those panels below - which, by swiping up, reveals more options - to that someone. Once he or she receives and taps the message, the screens at the centre and right appear. Smart move, huh? Remember, though, that this process will only work if both sender and recipient have the app involved installed on both their iPhones. If the latter doesn't have it, tapping on the message will prompt the user to download the app.
One last thing before we leave iOS 12, and this is probably a relief: when closing apps in the recent apps view, there's no more annoying need to tap on the red button atop each panel - you can just swipe up to instantly shut the app.

Thank you, Apple, really
Camera
Here we go.
Before we proceed further, keep in mind that the camera system in both the XS and XS Max are similar to the X. But while all three phones have the same 12MP sensors, those in the latest pair have sensors that are bigger physically, and bigger sensors mean better processing.
Two major standouts in the new devices: Smart HDR and Depth Control. Check these photos:

Snaps from the XS and XS Max are sharper and have more clarity



At night, here's what we got:

Notice the lamp post in the middle? The shot from the iPhone X captured a lot of glare; this has been significantly reduced in the XS and XS Max, as also seen in the next sample:

Notice that on the shot using the X, the light on the right spills over to the tree, thus creating some noise especially on the part where it's nearest. The XS and XS Max corrects that, giving a more natural and actual colour to its shots.
This is where Smart HDR goes to work: in layman's terms, HDR - high dynamic range - takes multiple layers of a shot, picks the best ones for highlights and shadows, then merges them into what would result in a 'perfect' shot. Apple says Smart HDR takes this a step further, as it picks from more layers that have been captured - including secondary ones with different exposures - which are then combined for the best possible outcome. The A12 Bionic and Neural Engine does much of the heavy lifting here.
Scenes - video included - that would benefit from this innovation include, among others, subjects with a lit background (told ya), indoor shots near a window, evening snaps at dusk or night and subjects in motion; indoor artificial lights bouncing off surfaces, walls or even skin will also maintain more detail. Here's more proof:

Meanwhile, Portrait Mode's got some improvement, especially in the lighting:

Not satisfied with the blur? Here's where Depth Control comes in: after taking a snap, you can adjust the bokeh effect:

Apple's also made some improvements to its augmented reality offerings, as evidenced by this remake of the classic 1980s game, Galaga:

Trust me, all of us wanted to jump on stage to get a go at it
AND SO...
Depending from where you look at it, it's either a hit or miss. Yet users tend to overlook the upgrades on Apple's S cycles, so pound-for-pound, the iPhone XS and XS Max would satisfy the need for those improvements people are looking for in its new-generations, especially in terms of speed and performance. We can't fault Apple for not having a design change, because (a) that's how the iPhone has always been and (b) it was just last year that a new look was unveiled.
Yet what could really hold this back is its price, and with the lack of a 128GB option, the best bet could be the 256GB model. But if it makes you feel any better, take the words of legendary investor Warren Buffett: the iPhone is 'enormously underpriced'. Think about that.
GOODIES - Improved speed, better anti-glare camera, more storage
BADDIES - 'Token' upgrades, price(!)
EDITOR RATING - 9.0/10
- alvin@khaleejtimes.com


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