Apple iPhone XS First Impressions

It may have one of the worst names in history, but, it turns out, Apple’s latest flagship, the iPhone XS, is actually quite the Smartphone. However, how does it stack up in this ever competitive world?

Design

If you’ve seen, or owned, last years iPhone X, you won’t find anything too surprising about the design of the new iPhone XS line of Smartphones, unless you go for the Max model (which we’re not using), in which case it’ll obviously be bigger.

The bottom of the iPhone XS is now uneven for the new antenna cut-out

That’s not to say the iPhone XS design isn’t ever-so slightly different. You’ll find two additional antenna lines, one up top right, and another bottom left, obstructing the usual symmetrical grills surrounding the Lightning port. The choice to avoid symmetry is very unusual for Apple, it doesn’t hamper the design too much, but it is rather distracting on the bottom, though, then again, who looks at the bottom of their phone that often. The reason for this, obviously, is the combination of Apple avoiding Qualcomm radios, as well as supporting Gigabit internet connections.

One final, very minor, change to the design is at the back. The already obscenely large Camera bump at the back of the iPhone X, is now bigger on the iPhone XS! Not to the point where it’s a problem, though, if you like your Cases, you might want to check compatibility as the Camera bump does run further down, so some Cases don’t fit.

Other than that, it really is the same exact design of the iPhone X. That’s not a bad thing, the design was very appealing, the same stainless steel borders, around a glass sandwich. The display, which we’ll get to, still supports the infamous notch, but overall a very attractive evolution in Apple’s Smartphone designs.

Feel in the hand

Probably our least favourite feature of the iPhone XS, the feel in the hand. This is quite an ironic thing, as the phone itself is a nice size, the sides feel smooth, the thickness of the phone is actually beneficial to many as it comfortably fits in your hand … however, this is unless you’re sat down, or using your phone whilst lying down! 

At first we thought this was something in relation to the XS, but this is true of last years iPhone X as well. The separation between the glass and the stainless steel is far from smooth at the edges of the phone, don’t get us wrong it’s not ready to cut a baguette, but it’s definitely there, and after a while of it resting on your hand, it can get fairly uncomfortable, something we’ve not said about an iPhone, well, ever?! When you’re stood up, it’s perfectly fine, and in that position it actually is more comfortable to hold than the 8, but, far from comfortable in a resting position. 

Display

Using the Black option in Safari Reader mode hides the notch, as does Apple’s promos for the XS. But don’t let that fool ya, it’s still here!

Resolution wise, technology used to create it, all the same as the iPhone X … to is it? Despite the fact the specs sheet indicate it’s the same display, if you squint you’ll miss it, but Apple claim they’ve improved upon the display with better colour accuracy and that the panel is improved upon the previous X.

Honestly? We’ve placed the iPhone XS next to last years iPhone X, couldn’t tell the difference! But, that’s definitely not a bad thing, the iPhone X display is beautiful, vibrant, all you’d expect from an OLED display and more, but it’s the fact that the XS display looks that similar to the iPhone X display, that we were quick to dismiss claims it’s the best display on the market, all of a sudden.

Is the display “better” than the Galaxy Note 9? Look, better is where we enter opinion territory. Is it better in terms of resolution, no, is it better in terms of colour accuracy, hell yeah. Despite the fact that Samsung has dumbed down their display, let’s be nice and call it, tuning, it’s still clear that Samsung displays are calibrated to exaggerate colours, especially the Reds and Greens, to give that pop illusion, which is why a lot of switchers claim the iPhone X, or XS, display looks very muted, whereas actually what is actually happening, you’re seeing the correct colours for the first time in a while on a Smartphone. Personally, we’d rather see the correct colours on a Smartphone, so this is perfect, but when we nail down the which display is better, the answer is neither. They both use the same technology, just tuned differently by software, the iPhone XS beats the Note 9, for us, due to colour accuracy.

The “notch”

Just like its predecessor, the iPhone XS does feature the same design, and, with it comes the infamous “notch” design. One thing we’ve found hilarious surrounding the “notch”, isn’t the fact that it’s a thing, but just how many Android phones have both either copied, or adopted it slightly different, since, which considering how much it’s supposedly hated is crazy to us.

We’ve had the iPhone XS for a week now, receiving our unit on the launch day, and we’ve definitely a number of things to say about that “notch”. For clarification, I, personally, didn’t own the iPhone X from last year, so this is my first experience working within Apple’s “notch” design, coming from an iPhone 8.

Do you still see it? Yeah, it doesn’t just go away, like the fanboys will tell you, but, is it something that’s having a major effect on my use of the phone? No. That’s probably the biggest key factor to the design. It’s a better design than the iPhone 8 (which let’s be fair shares the design followed since the iPhone 6), it looks more modern, and if this is the only thing that comes between having a much better OLED display, I’m there. One of the biggest reasons, I, personally, accept the “notch” on the iPhone, rather than other Android devices, is simple, the iPhone X, and XS, have a “notch” for a reason that’s impossible otherwise, Android devices don’t need to have the “notch”, in comparison, no better example of this than the Pixel 3 XL leaks going around. 

Probably the one part of the iPhone XS that’s both incredibly better, and, something to get used to, is of course video. The display on the iPhone XS, like the X, is capable of HDR video quality, which is to say, it looks really good watching video on the iPhone XS, however, if you stretch the video out, you either like and can deal with the “notch” there, or you’re probably best not doing that. Then again, like the 18:9 Android phones out there, you end up with cut outs at the top and bottom of videos anyway, so.

Long story short, the “notch” on the iPhone XS can be a little in your face, but at the same time, it’s far from a big deal to get what is some incredible technology hidden there. Speaking of which…

Face ID

Coming from iPhone of old, the two biggest noticeable difference when you touch an iPhone X, and now XS, is the display and of course Face ID. Face ID is definitely one of the scariest features of the iPhone XS when purchasing … that may sound really stupid, but there’s a very simple reason why, glasses. 

Whilst all Android devices use, what’s termed as “RGB scanners”, which essentially means they simply scan your face as a photo, which is the opposite of Secure, which is why no Android phone facial scanning is acceptable for use in authentication other than unlocking your phone. However, more secure facial recognition like Iris scanning, is slower, but obviously requires a clear view of your eyes, which, trust me, when you wear glasses is very hit or miss. I’m here to tell you right now, with confidence, the iPhone XS is the very first Smartphone, or technology in general, with facial scanning technology that’s worked reliably with glasses, seriously! (Glasses being everyday prescription, shades or tinted glasses obviously will have varying results)

TDLR: Is it better than Touch ID?

“Is it faster than Touch ID” is always the question people ask, but it’s really hard to answer that as you use both technologies completely differently. Just hear us out here, then you can understand why we think it is better, and why most misunderstand, especially those trying side-by-side comparisons.

When you use a Fingerprint scanner, nothing happens when you wake the phone, until you place your Finger on the scanner, meaning it’s a multiple step process. Wake phone, tap Fingerprint scanner, get in to phone. Now, obviously there’s many ways to speed up that process. You could enable, as it is by default, Raise to Wake, so then all you need to do is tap your Fingerprint scanner and get in to your phone, or tap the Fingerprint scanner with a registered Finger and get in to the phone that way.

When you use Face ID, as soon as your phone sees you, without you doing anything, you’re in. This is one of the biggest answers to why Apple have made it so you’ve to swipe up to get to the Home screen. Having your device automatically move you to the Home screen would be terrible, just checking the time and you’re jumped to the Home screen where you now need to check the corner instead, that’s not a good experience. The process to Face ID is actually no different in processes to Touch ID; Wake phone, swipe up from the bottom, get in to phone. See, it’s actually just as easy. Just like with Touch ID, you can make that process quicker with Raise to Wake, then you literally just swipe up from the bottom. Simple.

It’s even better than that. For apps that require Touch ID to open, you open them, then you’ve to tap the Fingerprint before you can continue, with Face ID, you open them, and without doing anything it sees you and you’re in! Obviously, it doesn’t do that for purchases, you must 3 click the side button for that, but it really is that seamless.

Camera

Whilst Apple make it seem like the Camera is the single most important feature in a Smartphone, to us, honestly, it’s really not, but that won’t stop us checking out the Cameras on the iPhone XS. As owners of the Pixel 2 XL, widely regarded as one of the best Smartphone Cameras around, it’s clear I knew what I was looking for from the iPhone XS, did it find it, well …

It’s not that didn’t find it in the iPhone XS, it’s just that I didn’t always find it. Even someone as less interested in Smartphone photography as myself, instantly noticed just how incredible shots were on the Pixel 2 XL, on the XS, I just don’t get that. The shots are great, colours are very accurate, sharpness is great, and it definitely is the best iPhone Camera to date, but we kind of already knew that. 

Where the iPhone XS really shines is Video. 4K 60fps is still a luxury in Smartphones these days, so to have it is still great, but now finally with Stereo audio recording really perfects what is, without a doubt, the best video recording from a Smartphone, that much can be confidently stated.

Front Camera … a different story

Whether this gets fixed in a software update, we certainly hope so, but it’s as clear as it gets that Apple is applying some kind of smoothening effect to all Selfie pictures. Easy way to prove this, place your hand over the Camera lens, let it focus on your hands, and you’ll see a much sharper version of your face between your fingers, remove your hand, you’ll be able to visually watch your face smoothen, incredibly odd.

Is it a deal breaker? No. Do I look like someone else? No, but I do look like I’ve been applied with some shading or make-up, which for a guy, ain’t a good look. These kind of affects aren’t new on Smartphones, but they’re typically a Setting, not the default that can’t be switched off. 

UPDATE: Apple has confirmed they’re “looking in to this”, so a fix in a software update may be possible, as it’s clearly software

Performance 

Is that an A12 Bionic I see, or are you just happy to see me!

If all a Smartphone came down to was how powerful its CPU was in synthetic benchmarks, or the level of graphical improvements over a devices predecessor, the iPhone would be, as it is in these, in a league of its own, sure it’s not massive CPU level improvement but GPU and Neural Engine improvements are massive … but, that’s not what makes performance!

App launch times, boot times, are all what you’d expect, the fastest you can get from an iPhone and it does those operations in a mostly smooth environment, which is, well, what you’d expect right! However, even with iOS 12 and it’s (alleged) improvements, even an iPhone XS experiences a number of UI stutters, lag in areas, which just wasn’t the case back in the good ol’ iOS 6 days, but alas, think we’re just going to have to accept Apple simply either don’t care, or, worse, don’t notice, to fix these things. That’s not to say Android is much better, even the Pixel devices lag, especially after a few months of use, where a factory reset is all you can do to return to out of the box performance.

But, most don’t notice. For the majority, as in the 99.9%, this is the fastest iPhone, this is the smoothest iPhone, and will be for a very long time, which is something you can’t say about every phone. But, that iPhone X from last year ain’t doing too bad with iOS 12, so bare that in mind.

Pros and Cons

The iPhone XS is a great iPhone, and, after 7 straight days of using, plus that eighth day I’m not including where you just set the thing up, I have to say it’s one of the best iPhone models we’ve used. 

But, it ain’t perfect, and here’s a few things we like and don’t, that we’ve noticed in this brief period of time;

PROS

  • That screen is beautiful, easily the best feature upgrading from an iPhone 8
  • The design looks great, whilst we’re no Gold fans, you can’t deny all options look great
  • The speakers are incredible. Seriously, even compared to the iPhone X, they’re louder, more bass to them, very impressed. Plus, they’re much more centre aligned. Hard to explain, but it’s very noticeable in a fantastic immersive way
  • Face ID has been fantastic, seriously, as surprised as you might be to read that. Reason why we never got the iPhone X last year was fears of it sucking, and, it just … doesn’t
  • We didn’t mention it much, but … yeah, we’re an Animoji sucker too, and Memoji is great
  • App and Game performance is about as good as you can get (ones that have been updated or coded well do anyway, looking at you Pokémon GO)

CONS

  • The Camera hump at the back is unforgivable and the worst feature of this, and last years X without a shadow of a doubt, not to mention it’s even slightly taller on this.
  • The notch will either bother you to no end, or be something you can accept and put up with, one thing you don’t do is forget it’s there. Everyone who say that are just wrong.
  • The edges where the stainless-steel frame separates from the glass is pretty sharp, which can make the phone very uncomfortable to hold sometimes.
  • It’s heavy! Okay, it’s not a literal brick, but this is easily one of the heaviest phones you can buy today, we don’t mind the thickness as it helps to grip in your hand better, but dat weight yo
  • The front facing Camera needs fixing in a software update, in photos we mean. It’s garish, and very noticeable.

Summary

So, what do we think of the iPhone XS after a solid week of using the device as our daily driver? Well, it may look like we’re rather mixed, based on the high number of Cons we listed, but those are kinks we don’t like, could add to the billions of people who complain that there’s no Headphone adapter in a phone starting at £999, but you know that already. The fact is, hardly anyone buys their Smartphones out right, and as I write this it’s cheaper to get the iPhone XS Max on Contracts than the Note 9, but if you do, yeah it’s pricey, but you do get one of the best phones for… a number of things, and that’s good.

Do we recommend the iPhone XS? Well, fall in to any of these categories and absolutely, it’s a fantastic phone, if not, then it’s probably not worth bothering for you, especially if you have last years iPhone X. So, if you have an iPhone 8 or earlier and you’re ready to take the plunge to the Face ID world and want the very best, not happy, or bored, with Android and want the best offered on iOS, this will be a great upgrade, but if the price is a bit much for you, or you want a bit more colour, or both, it might be worth waiting for the iPhone XR in October.

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