Update Oct 1: We've updated this comparison with the final battery life results for the iPhone XS and XS Max and other details from our review.
When taking the wraps off the latest iPhones at Apple's launch event, Apple executive Phil Schiller said the company's goal with the iPhone XS was to "take the iPhone X to the next level."
Now that we've had a chance to review both the iPhone XS and the larger iPhone XS Max, it's clear Apple's latest phones do more than just add some extra letters to the iPhone X's name.
Credit: Tom's GuideWhile the XS maintains the look of the original iPhone X, plenty of other features have undergone a noticeable change. From the display to the processor to the cameras, Apple has made adjustments big and small so that its latest iPhone X models stand out from the version that came before.
Here's a closer look at what's new with the iPhone XS, along with a few things that haven't changed from last year's iPhone X.
iPhone Xs vs iPhone Xs Max vs iPhone X
|iPhone XS||iPhone XS Max ||iPhone X|
|Processor||A12 Bionic||A12 Bionic||A11 Bionic|
|Screen||5.8-inch OLED (2,436 x 1,125 pixels)||6.5-inch OLED (2,688 x 1,242 pixels)||5.8-inch OLED (2,436 x 1,125 pixels)|
|Storage||64GB, 256GB, 512GB||64GB, 256GB, 512GB||64GB, 256GB|
|Rear Camera||Dual 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8) and telephoto (ƒ/2.4)||Dual 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8) and telephoto (ƒ/2.4)||Dual 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8) and telephoto (ƒ/2.4)|
|Front Camera||7MP, ƒ/2.2||7MP, ƒ/2.2||7MP, ƒ/2.2|
|Battery Life (Hrs:Mins)||9:41||10:38||10:49 (2017 test); 9:51 (2018 retest)|
|Metal frame||Stainless steel||Stainless steel||Stainless Steal|
|Colors||Gold, Silver, Space Gray||Gold, Silver, Space Gray||Silver, Space Gray|
|Weight||6.2 ounces||7.3 ounces||6.1 ounces|
|Size||5.7 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches||6.2 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches||5.7 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches|
What's new with the iPhone XS
The form factor may be unchanged from last year's distinctive iPhone X design, but there are some noticeable differences with the new phone, particularly under the hood.
Processor: Every year brings a new processor to the latest iPhone. In the case of the iPhone XS, it's Apple's A12 Bionic processor. This could easily be the biggest improvement to the iPhone XS, because it drives so many of the other changes Apple introduced, particularly enhancements to the cameras.
The A12 is the first 7-nanometer chip to hit the market. (Huawei's Kirin 980 was actually announced at the end of August, but that chip won't arrive in the upcoming Mate 20 until mid-October, a month after the iPhone Xs has been shipping.) The smaller-sized processor means more efficient performance.
The A12 delivers the requisite performance boost over its predecessor, of course. The A12's two high-performance cores are 15 percent faster while consuming 40 percent less power than the A11, while the four efficiency cores on the new CPU are 50 percent more efficient than the A11 inside last year's iPhone X. The A12's GPU is 50 percent faster, too.
We saw the performance gains when we tested the iPhone XS. The new phone topped the iPhone X's Geekbench 4 score by 11 percent while its performance on the 3DMark Slingshot Extreme graphics benchmark improved by 3 percent. The iPhone XS also was able to transcode a 2-minute 4K clip to 1080 p in 39 seconds, besting the iPhone X's time of 43 seconds. Those are solid gains, though not the big leap forward the A11 proved to be over the A10.
But the A12 delivers other noteworthy changes. There's an 8-core neural engine on the A12 that's 9 times faster. It supports things like machine learning and can process up to 5 trillion operations per second. The result is more immersive and more realisticAR experiences.
Camera: The new A12 processor also includes a new image signal processor (ISP), and that's going to drive a lot of the photographic improvements with the new iPhone. Like the iPhone X before it, the XS has a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens and a 12-MP telephoto shooter, while the 7-MP TrueDepth camera up front handles selfies.
However, the size of the sensor has gone from 1.2 to 1.4 microns on the iPhone XS and XS Max, and the pixels are deeper as well. The result is a 50 improvement in light gathering capability.
With Smart HDR, your iPhone can capture multiple exposures in a short time frame for a balanced shot. The iPhone XS is able to capture more exposures in a shorter amount of time, reducing shutter lag to the point where you shouldn't notice it.
Apple says the sensor on the main rear camera is larger, which should help the iPhone XS grab more light even in darker settings. That's a necessary improvement, as the iPhone X wasn't particularly adept at low-light photography when stacked up against other leading flagship phones. And we found the iPhone XS compared much more favorably to phones like the Pixel 2 XL when we tested those phones' cameras.
Other camera improvements on the XS and XS Max include the ability to adjust a portrait's depth of field after you've taken the shot — a feature you'll find on some Android smartphones, though not on the original iPhone X. Video capabilities are improved too, with the larger sensor helping capture sharp footage even in low light. The new phones also offer extended dynamic range in video modes up to 30 frames per second.
Display: Screen size hasn't changed from the 5.8 inches that the iPhone X offered, and the resolution on the OLED panel is still 2436 x 1125. But Apple insists you'll see improved color on the Xs screen in the form of 60 percent greater dynamic range than the original iPhone X.
MORE: iPhone Xs Max Hands-On
You're no longer limited to 5.8 inches if you want more screen real estate. In addition to the iPhone XS, Apple is also introducing the 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max, which in spite of its larger display isn't all that much bigger than an iPhone 8 Plus.
Face ID: Apple's face-scanning feature returns in the iPhone XS, which is good since there's no fingerprint sensor to unlock your phone or verify mobile payments. But the neural engine on the A12, combined with improved algroithms, should make Face ID go faster on the new phones than it did on the original iPhone X.
Water-Resistance and Durability: The iPhone X carried an IP67 dust- and water-resistance rating, meaning you could drop it in around 3 feet of water for 30 minutes without damaging your phone. The XS is a little bit more durable, with an IP68 rating. Now, the new model will survive a swim in around 6 feet of water, and Apple also says it can withstand splashes all sorts of sticky stuff like soda and beer.
Apple also claims that the iPhone XS and XS Max boast the most durable glass in a smartphone ever. In our own drop tests, the iPhone XS and XS Max easily held up to drops on the edge, face-down and on the back from 3 fee and 5 feet. Both phones even survived drops from 11 feet.
Battery Life: Apple is usually close-mouthed about the size of the battery inside its phones, and that tradition of "Who's asking?" continues with the iPhone XS. Teardowns by iFixit suggest the iPhone XS's battery has a capacity of 2,659 mAh, which would be smaller than the 2,716 mAh battery reportedly inside last year's iPhone X. The XS Max has the biggest battery ever in an iPhone; iFixit says that translates to a 3,179 mAh power pack.
Maybe those sizes explain our battery test result. The iPhone XS lasted 9 hours, 41 minutes when surfing continuously over LTE — about an hour worse than the 10:49 time we recorded when we tested the original iPhone X when it came out last year.
The iPhone XS Max, on the other hand, held out for 10:38. That's better than the average smartphone, though it doesn't match the best Android phones. It does beat the iPhone X's recent result on our battery test.
Storage Capacity: Last year's iPhone X topped out at 256GB, and since Apple doesn't include a microSD slot on its phones, that was the upper limit of your storage. There's still no microSD slot on the iPhone Xs, but Apple has boosted the capacity.
The base model of the XS starts out with the same 64GB of storage, but you can also opt for 256GB and 512GB models if you're willing to pay for the extra space. (Each bump in storage adds $200 to the price tag.)
What's still the same with the iPhone XS
That's a lot of changes, but some things have stayed the same — including one thing we wish was different.
Design and Size: As noted above, the iPhone Xs has the same screen and form factor as its predecessor. Both the X and the XS measure 5.7 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches, though the newer phone is a little heavier, at 6.2 ounces versus 6.1.
Price: If you dreamt of Apple possibly dropping the iPhone X's starting price, get ready for a rude awakening. The iPhone XS costs the same $999 as its predecessor if you buy the 64GB version. (Add $150 if you want a 256GB iPhone Xs and $350 for the 512GB version.)
If you prefer the iPhone XS Max, prices start at $1,099 for that super-sized model, and you'll pay as much as $1,449 if you want a 512GB version.
Other Features: Wireless charging, introduced with last year's iPhone updates, remains a feature with the iPhone XS. The new phone also retains 3D Touch, after rumors suggested that feature was headed out the door. (You won't find 3D touch on the new iPhone XR, however, as Apple is opting for something called "haptic touch" instead.)
Should you upgrade?
The better processing performance and improved cameras Apple delivers with the iPhone XS might make owners of the original iPhone X contemplate an upgrade. But the one thing that remained the same between the two phones — that $999 price tag — might be a big enough deterrent to make you hold onto last year's model. Unless you're part of an annual upgrade program, dropping $999 every year on a new phone isn't practical for most people.
If you skipped last year's iPhone X launch and held onto an older iPhone, it's a different story. Enough has changed from the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and earlier iPhonesl to make the iPhone XS a more compelling upgrade option, thanks to improvements to the processor and camera.