What People Who've Actually Used the New iPhone XS & XS Max Are Saying


Although Apple's unveiling of new iPhones has become about as routine as the changing leaves every fall, it's still tough to avoid having your eyes glaze over with the onslaught of fresh screen size stats, chip speed details, and jaw-dropping price tag info every time. All you really want to know is whether it's actually worth the upgrade, right? 

Ultimately, that's something you'll have to decide for yourself, but fortunately, a handful of industry experts have already had their hands on the new iPhone XS and XS Max for a few days, and have plenty to say about the flashy new devices that will hit shelves on Friday. So, if you're curious what the pros are thinking, we've rounded up some insightful blurbs from reviews that have published in recent days. 

The new screens are big, and truly impressive

The New York Times believes the new displays may be better for the phone addicts among us:
"As a self-diagnosed phone addict who is trying to cut down on screen time, I decided the XS also felt healthier for me. The XS Max screen was so good-looking that I wanted to keep reading articles and looking at photos on Instagram."

The Verge agrees, declaring them among the best on the market:
"Because the screen fills the entire front of the phone, the XS Max doesn’t seem as huge as the Plus phones. It’s absolutely killer for watching video or playing games on its huge, gorgeous display. I love it.

The iPhone XS has the same OLED display as the X, with curved corners and the notch. After a year of looking at this display, I’m confident in saying that it’s one of the best displays available, with excellent color reproduction and brightness."

CNET also thinks they're great, not that you'll necessarily notice:
"It's still a brilliant, colorful and sharp OLED display that supports next-gen HDR 4K video. It's one of the best screens on the market, up there with the display on the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. But some of the improvements, like its increased dynamic range, can only be spotted when viewing photos. And even then, I don't think most folks will notice. This isn't bad; it just means the screen is still really good and we're getting to a point where it's hard to distinguish upgrades."

The upgraded cameras are pretty spectacular, too

Wired describes them as a big step up from older models, even the iPhone X:
"The photos I captured on the new iPhone XS and XS Max are undoubtedly better than the ones I took on the iPhone 8 Plus, and slightly improved from the iPhone X photos. The new phones performed well in low light."

And the new Smart HDR (high dynamiic range) feature is great, according to Mashable:
"The improved camera hardware combined with a new automatic “Smart HDR” technology, powered again by the Neural Engine and the A12 Bionic’s ISP (image signal processor), mean you get the best of both the advanced camera optics and computational photography... I wasn’t entirely convinced of Smart HDR+ until I took a whole bunch of photos and compared them to the exact same shots from my iPhone X, Google Pixel 2 XL, and Galaxy Note 9."

CNBC also praised the new cameras' depth control ability to adjust the background blur after the fact:
"Apple said it upgraded the camera sensor that's over 30 percent larger, which means it lets in more light. Also, high dynamic range (HDR) photos can be snapped twice as fast, so there isn't the delay you see in other phones, and shadows are clearer. I also liked that I could take portrait pictures, like shots of my dog on the beach, and adjust the background blur after the fact."

Though The New York Times preferred the smaller of the two for shooting pics on the go:
"I also found the XS easier to use as a camera. While the XS and XS Max share identical camera systems, which produce excellent, clear photos with natural-looking colors in normal and lowlight conditions, the smaller phone worked better in a pinch because it was easier to pull out of a pocket and quickly stabilize to take a clear shot."

The new A12 processor brings noticeably faster functionality to core features and battery life

Wired found that both FaceID and app-switching has been improved:
"Unlocking the phone with FaceID seems slightly faster. App switching feels faster. And then there are the photos."

The Verge also noticed a slight uptick in speed, but found FaceID still lacking in certain areas:
"Face ID on the XS is ever so slightly faster than the X -- just an extra beat quicker. It’s noticeable side by side, but it’s not so much faster that you won’t find yourself pointedly staring at the phone to unlock it from time to time. iOS 12 lets you add a “secondary appearance,” which allows you to set up a second person if you want, which is nice.

Other than the minor speed increase and secondary appearance support, Face ID is still Face ID: it doesn’t work in landscape or upside down or anything like that. If you wear glasses like me, you’ll still have to enter your passcode every morning when you wake up because you’re holding the phone too close to your face for it to work. And sunglasses that block IR light will still prevent it from working -- Apple says it’s working with sunglass makers to ship new kinds of sunglasses that support Face ID. (Only Apple can get another entirely different industry to adapt to its phone, instead of the other way around.)

A year later, and it’s pretty clear that Face ID is easier for people to set up and forget about than Touch ID, which means more people are securing their phones. That’s a good thing."

But they were also very impressed with battery life:
"The A12 is also the industry’s first 7nm chip to ship at scale, which is a big deal for a variety of reasons, particularly battery life. I mostly tested the XS Max, and it did great -- better than even Apple’s claim of 90 minutes more than the X. In fact, I got a full 12 hours of battery life out of the XS Max without low power mode, and that’s even under my heavy daily use of constant Slack and email usage, video watching, photo taking, and browsing. The smaller XS is rated to get 30 minutes more than the X, which has run for about 8 hours for me this past year. It’s solid."

Tom's Guide also determined both are technically faster in some key areas;
"Before we even get to the benchmark scores, it's important to note that Face ID is faster on the iPhone Xs and the iPhone Xs Max than on the iPhone X. That's because of improved algorithms in iOS 12 and the speedier A12 chip. It's just a half-second difference or so, but it's noticeable, and I appreciate being able to unlock my phone faster than on last year's iPhone X.

The iPhone Xs and the iPhone Xs Max also shined in other real-world tasks, such as video editing. It took Apple's phones just 39 seconds to transcode a 2-minute 4K clip to 1080p. The Galaxy S9 took 2:32, and the OnePlus 6 finished in 3:45.

How about opening apps? The iPhone Xs took 20.8 seconds to open Fortnite, 4.9 seconds for Pokémon Go and 6.17 seconds for the Asphalt 9 racing game. The Note 9 was slower across the board at 35 seconds, 7.2 seconds and 9.1 seconds, respectively. The older iPhone X was also slower than the iPhone Xs at 26, 7.2 and 10 seconds for the above apps."

The XS Max is quite big, though perhaps too big for many

Wired found the XS to be slightly easier to use:
"For some, the iPhone XS Max’s big display -- the biggest ever on an iPhone -- will be worth the occasional fumbles and the times you just need two hands just to hold the thing. Personally, I still think the size of the iPhone XS is the way to go. And while I don’t really notice the “notch” at the top of the iPhone XS (the cut-out that houses the front-facing camera and 3D sensors), I find this same cut-out jarring when I’m using split-screen mode on the iPhone XS Max."

As did the The New York Times:
"I concluded I no longer had any real objection to the bigger size of the iPhone XS Max, but felt that the smaller XS was still a better mobile phone because it was just as capable but more portable and pocketable.

That means if you are a more casual technology user who wants a superb smartphone that is comfortable to carry, I recommend you go for the XS. If you plan to treat your phone as a primary computer, go for the XS Max."

Ultimately, the wisest choice may be to wait until the iPhone XR drops in late October before committing the top-of-the-line models

CNET thinks the XS and XS Max are great, but that doesn't mean the XR won't be a better bang for your buck:
"Both the iPhone XS and XS Max are great phones, fantastic refinements and incredibly promising hubs for your super-connected universe. As you'd expect, they're the best iPhones at the moment. But here's the twist: That third new iPhone, the iPhone XR, may be the best pick for anyone upgrading from any iPhone other than the 2017 iPhone X."

Tech Radar agrees:
"The iPhone XS is, obviously, the best that Apple’s ever created – that’s no surprise, as it’s the new flagship iPhone. However, the question is whether Apple has done enough to make this the most attractive to buy, and whether it’s enough to stop anyone moving to a competitor. The iPhone XS is good enough in many ways, but it’s not much of an upgrade over 2017’s X, and doesn’t redefine anything the way last year’s phone did – the main upgrade is the camera, with Smart HDR making a difference.

If the iPhone XR didn’t exist, we’d suggest that you go out and get the iPhone XS as the cost doesn’t really plummet that much over the course of the year -- so if you can afford it now, then go for it.

However, the iPhone XR offers a lot if similar features: large display, A12 Bionic chipset, iOS 12, TrueDepth camera on the front – and it’s much cheaper (without still being that cheap)."

As does The Verge:
"I would not rush out to spend another $999 on the XS if you have an X, but if you’re already deep into a pre-order, don’t worry: you will love the iPhone XS. It is indeed, more iPhone, and it will probably hold up for years to come. I definitely prefer the Pixel 2’s camera, but the iPhone XS isn’t that far behind, and it’s still a significant improvement over previous iPhones.

For everyone else, I think it’s worth waiting to see how the iPhone XR turns out before rushing in -- it has the same processor and the same main camera for $750. The only major question is how good its 6.1-inch LCD will look in comparison to the the XS’s OLED. But for that, we’ll just have to wait and see next month."

Obviously, as actual consumers get their hands on these pricey new devices in the coming weeks and months (and the XR hits the market), there will be countless more opinions to consider before taking the plunge. Still, hopefully this preliminary glimpse into the pros and cons can help you at least decide whether it's worth waiting in line to be among the first to claim one.

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. Follow him @jwmcgauley.