Three Weeks With The iPhone XS - My Review
It’s been three weeks since I picked up my iPhone XS. I feel this is enough time to answer the definitive question - is it worth your money? Or should you wait for the cheaper XR?
It was a bright-yet-windy Friday in Leicester, when I walked into the Apple Store for my iPhone XS. Contrary to my initial assumption this would be as dead as last year’s iPhone 8 launch, the store was lively and packed with excitement.
And in what must surely be an Apple Store first, I became an uncle in the middle of my iPhone purchase. Words can’t describe how proud I am of my sister - hope you join me in welcoming Oliver George into the world (I’ve snuck a picture of him into the slideshow demonstrating the camera down below).
But I digress, I’ve had my XS for two weeks now and all-but settled into life without a home button. Is it worth the money? Should you wait for the XR or the 11? Hopefully my review will help you make this choice.
Context: I upgraded to this from the iPhone 8 Plus. I opted for this last year because of Apple’s approach to generational tech - from the first iPod to the first iPhone - you should always wait for the second gen, so they can iron out the kinks.
iPhone XS - after three weeks of varied use
Kicking off with the hardware, you know exactly what to expect from the history of Apple - a high quality build that will just get covered up by a case anyway. The marriage of stainless steel and glass certainly makes this one of the more premium phones you will get your hands on. Living in a post 3.5mm headphone jack world is not as horrible as you think it is. Plus they are able to hit IP68 rating for 30 minutes use under 2 metres of water, without having one of those rubber jack covers.
As for the display, it takes me back to that one episode of Black Mirror, to have a mobile phone that is all screen on the front minus the notch - which personally speaking, I got used to within the first hour of use.
The fact I’m using a screen bigger than my iPhone 8 Plus in a device roughly the same size as the standard 8 is nothing short of refreshing. The OLED panel, based on historic comparisons of the same panel used in the iPhone X, won’t cause any burn-in and the colour reproduction + sharpness is akin to one of the best displays I’ve seen in a phone.
Of course, the differences are negligible to the human eye beyond the magical 300 pixels per inch and I’ve never quite understood the point of a hunt for a sharper and more beautiful display that we can’t actually appreciate, usually at the detriment of battery life. But nevertheless, a nice screen.
Speaking of battery life, we’ve fallen into the normal “s model” territory here - more tech packed in with the same size battery powering it. This leads to a slightly reduced life, which means you will 100% need to charge every day on casual use. Anything more hardcore and strenuous (looking at you, Pokemon GO users), either get a battery case or be near a charger for a middle-of-the-day power up.
Usability of said display feels a bit weird, coming from the home button era. The UI took me a while to figure out, but that’s not the problem here. In making the entire front of the phone a display, expect plenty of unintended touches leading you to random YouTube clips and other webpage links. It’s a small annoyance, which isn’t a game breaker by any means, but something to just keep in mind.
Camera-wise, I’m going to put my neck out here and say this is the best camera I’ve ever used on a smartphone. Understand that many tech reviewers in my field have preferred the more realistic colour-reproduction of the Google Pixel 2 (compared to the Pixel 3? Guess we’ll wait and see), but I would be urged to disagree. While its true the iPhone XS works very hard (sometimes too hard) to improve a picture, that’s what people are actually looking for from their phone camera.
They want something that will reliably produce amazing (if slightly hyperreal) shots with a simple UI and flexible editing tools of a high quality. This iPhone’s marriage of hardware and software in this respect is, quite frankly, unparalleled.
But of course, this is all just one side of the story. If you are looking for something more prosumer-ish in the smartphone camera department - the iPhone XS is not it. The results are (as I said before) hyperreal and not true to the colours you’re shooting. But I can’t see this being a problem whatsoever for most.
Is the iPhone XS worth your hard earned money?
Taking all of this into account, the question of whether this is worth your hard-earned money isn’t so clear cut. It’s totally dependent on what you’re looking for from a phone.
Upgrading from an iPhone X? Just don’t do it. Like any S model iPhone, the improvements here are not worth dropping at least another £1000 on.
From an iPhone 7 or older? Kind of worth it… If you don’t really care for an OLED display or the second telephoto camera, then save yourself a bit of money and get an iPhone XR. If photography is your thing and the super high-res display is important, get the XS.
What about from an iPhone 8/8 Plus? This is a difficult one. I made this upgrade and I’m happy with my decision, but one thing’s for sure - I’m not most people.
Most people would notice that the 8 Plus has the same camera as the iPhone X, and that you’re really just paying for the better screen + slightly improved camera here and scrapping the home button.
The iPhone 8 is still a perfectly good phone, so the vast majority of humans who own one may as well stick with it until next year. But if you care about having new stuff (or you’re on the Upgrade Programme), then the XS isn’t such a bad shout.
And so, dear reader, the choice is yours. For a PR-able line from the review - the iPhone XS is the first iPhone to actually feel “new” in a long time. May the full-screen smartphone live on.