Bill Thomas is a writer for Lifewire who covers technology, music, film, and gaming. Bill has also held editorial positions at Future and TechRadar.com.
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Lifewire / Jordan Provost
Have to be into the Apple ecosystem
The iPhone XS is one of the best phones on the market right now, featuring a beautiful display, fantastic sound quality, and one of the best cameras in the game. But the premium price tag creates a high barrier to entry.
We purchased the Apple iPhone XS so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
Love them or hate them, iPhones have been around for more than 11 years now, and so much has changed since the beginning. With the iPhone XS, the home button is gone, your face is now your passcode, and you can make awesome “Memojis” that let you truly express yourself in text messages.
We recently got our hands on the new iPhone XS for testing, to see if it’s a worthy successor to the game-changing iPhone X (released in 2017). For a phone that has such a steep asking price, the features, battery life, and experience have a lot to live up to.
For years, maybe since the original iPhone 3G hit the market way back in 2007, the iPhone has had a certain luxury appeal. It’s one of the reasons Apple has historically been able to get away with charging so much for its products, and this is definitely true for the iPhone XS, too.
Coated in glass—front and back—and bordered by stainless steel, the iPhone XS definitely has a premium design. Right out of the box it felt substantial in our hands, more so than other similarly sized phones. It has some heft to it, but rather than feeling taxing, it just feels right.
This all-glass design allows for one of the iPhone XS’s primary selling points: wireless charging. We wouldn’t trade that glass back for the world.
We didn’t actually drop-test the device, but seeing how the entire thing is made of glass, we’d advise purchasing a case for it. Thankfully, the iPhone XS carries an IP68 water resistance rating so you don’t have to worry about a spill or even a drop in the pool ruining your phone.
If you already have other Apple devices, the setup for a new iPhone XS is incredibly easy. All we had to do once we turned on the phone was point our iPad’s camera at a little ball-shaped graphic on the display and it did most of the setup automatically.
If you’ve never had an Apple device before, then you’ll have to create an Apple ID and go through a few extra steps, but the phone will give you step-by-step directions through that process.
The rest of the setup involved following a few button prompts, scanning our face for Face ID, setting up Apple Pay, and then we were done. Even updating to the newest build of iOS was a breeze. Apple has made its name by having an easy-to-understand operating system, and it certainly didn’t disappoint here. The fact that such a powerful device is so user friendly is part of what makes this phone feel so cutting-edge.
The iPhone XS is Apple’s flagship, and it definitely performs like one.
Apple’s A12 Bionic chip is an eight-core monster backed by a four-core dedicated GPU and 4GB of RAM. This might not sound like a lot (especially compared to the Snapdragon 845), but you have to consider that Apple designs both the hardware and the software. The iPhone XS is able to extract every drop of performance out of this chip, making it easily one of the fastest smartphones you can buy right now.
We installed both GeekBench and GFXBench to measure the performance of this phone, and the results are jaw-dropping. The iPhone XS managed a whopping 11,392 in the GeekBench Multi-Core test, and 59 fps and 49fps in the T-Rex and Car Chase GFXBench tests respectively. These results place the iPhone XS among the fastest phones out there.
And based on our testing, those numbers translated into tangible performance. We downloaded “Asphalt 9” and played a few games. There wasn’t a single hiccup or drop in frame rate—just smooth racing from start to finish. We’ve played this game on some lower-end devices before, and seeing “Asphalt 9” in all its glory was a sight to behold.
And when it comes to handling everyday workloads, the iPhone XS is a champ. We never had to wait more than half a second for this phone to load Facebook or our email app.
Right out of the box it felt substantial in our hands, more so than other similarly sized phones. It has some heft to it, but rather than feeling taxing, it just feels right.
Back when the iPhone XS first launched in September 2018, some users reported issues with low speeds and dropped signals. Either we were lucky or Apple patched the problem out, because we had solid service throughout our city and didn’t experience any issues with the connectivity.
We tested the iPhone XS through AT&T and ran multiple speed tests through the Ookla Speedtest app. We generally saw about 67.7 Mbps in our testing, even in low-signal situations. We didn’t have any problems streaming video or music through Apple Music, either.
Even if you’re in a place with spotty service, you should be able to get your browsing on with the XS’s support for dual-band Wi-Fi.
There’s no denying that the iPhone XS has a gorgeous display. Even Apple haters will have to admit that the 5.8-inch Super Retina display is a beauty to behold. Its resolution measures in at 2436 x 1125, which is a pixel density of 458 ppi, and supports HDR.
The display is also incredibly color accurate with support for a wide P3 color gamut, and the unique True Tone display technology changes the color temperature of your screen depending on your surroundings. It also has 625 nits of brightness.
Whether you’re browsing the internet or watching your favorite show on Netflix, your media and screen content always look their best. Text is clear and legible and colors pop off the screen.
[It's] easily one of the fastest smartphones you can buy right now.
If the fantastic display wasn’t enough to sell you on the iPhone XS, the sound quality probably will be.
Generally speaking, smartphone speakers tend to get extremely tinny or buzzy at high volumes. The iPhone XS does not fall into this trap. From YouTube videos to rock music, everything sounded crystal-clear—it even had audible, balanced-sounding bass. It actually packs more audio punch than some laptops we’ve used.
If speaker quality is a sticking point for you, you’re not going to be disappointed with the iPhone XS.
When the iPhone XS was announced, Apple made a pretty big deal about the camera, claiming that it was capable of professional-level shooting comparable to a DSLR. We don’t think it quite lives up to this claim (although pros could probably achieve some magical results with the right tweaks and manual control). It may not replace your DSLR, but it’s still one of the best phone cameras out there.
There are a ton of software features that make it a better shooter, like simulated bokeh, wide-angle shooting, and even slow-motion video capabilities. The photos we took were generally clear and sharp, but the camera struggled a bit in low-light situations.
The most standout feature, in our opinion, is the Portrait Mode – it’s miles ahead of many other devices. We took some headshots through both the front and rear camera, and the simulated bokeh was on point every time. It immediately picked up on the face in frame and made it the center of attention. (That speedy A12 Bionic chip likely helped out quite a bit here.)
The video quality is also pretty fantastic—it was able to record fast action without getting blurry. Slow motion similarly worked wonders.
Check out our guide to the best iPhones you can buy today.
While the battery on the iPhone XS isn’t quite as impressive as the iPhone XS Max, it was able to comfortably get us through the day without having to recharge. We even benchmarked the phone when the battery was low and it held on for quite a bit longer than we expected.
The iPhone XS is probably not going to get you through two full days of heavy usage, but if you forget to charge your phone overnight, you should have at least enough power to get you to work and charge up there. Considering how feature-packed this phone is, we think that’s pretty good performance.
We also love that the iPhone XS has wireless and fast-charging capabilities—set this on a Qi charging pad and it’ll power up with no cords attached, or plug it into an 18W or higher adapter for a faster charge. Unfortunately, the iPhone XS doesn’t come with either of these accessories in the box (even though it should), so you’ll be stuck charging your phone with the included 5W USB adapter and lightning cable until you buy yourself something different.
The iPhone XS runs iOS 12. Whether you love Apple’s operating systems or hate them, there’s no denying that iOS has never felt faster and more responsive than it does here.
All the default Apple apps are included: Messages, News, Calendar, Mail and more. Even when we downloaded a bunch of additional apps through an iPhone backup, we didn’t notice any kind of slow down—the home screen got a little busy, but that’s something you have to be willing to accept when going with an Apple mobile device.
Siri also feels more responsive on the iPhone XS, and thanks to recent improvements, it’s able to suggest different things depending on where you are or what you’re reading online. (Apple keeps all of that information stored locally.)
Apple has also improved the Face ID feature on the iPhone XS, and now it’s a breeze to get into your phone. We actually prefer this feature to the Touch ID since you can use it hands-free. And though we don’t really have the facilities to test this claim outright, Apple says that this iteration of Face ID is “the most secure facial authentication ever in a smartphone.” All we can tell you is that it worked as advertised in our testing.
Phone prices have been rising dramatically over the last couple of years, and the Apple iPhone XS is definitely no exception. It starts at $999 in the US, and for that price you’re getting a modest 64GB of storage. If you want to bump that up to 512GB, the price jumps to $1,349.
If you can handle the cost—and know for sure that you want a modern flagship—the iPhone XS is a truly top-tier device among $1,000 smartphones.
The iPhone XS is without a doubt one of the best smartphones around, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Android phones are also the best they’ve ever been, and devices like the Google Pixel 3 are stepping up the competition.
The Google Pixel 3 starts off $200 cheaper than the iPhone XS for the same amount of storage. This Android smartphone is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and 4GB of RAM, and includes a best-in-class camera.
That being said, the Pixel 3’s display isn’t quite as impressive as the iPhone XS (it has 443 ppi instead of 458 ppi) and it runs an Android OS, which is a dealbreaker for any iOS diehards.
A fantastic phone at an extravagant price.The iPhone XS is fast, beautiful, and has an amazing camera. But the price is incredibly high, and some might not like the closed-off nature of iOS. If you just want a cutting-edge flagship that makes no compromises, then you won’t be disappointed with the iPhone XS Max.
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