The iPhone Xs follows directly in the iPhone X’s footsteps. The two smartphones have similar designs, are the same size and cost the same amount, but the newer Xs has finely-tuned improvements that push it above and beyond its predecessor, while keeping the best parts of the X. Its beautiful design and spectacular performance are why the iPhone Xs is our pick as the best overall smartphone of 2018.
Besides color options, little has changed appearance-wise from the X to the Xs. The Xs still has the controversial notch crowning its 5.8-inch OLED display. The full-front screen showed colors beautifully and reached a peak brightness of 611 nits in testing, which is brighter than the iPhone X’s 574 nits in the same test. We appreciated the device’s TrueTone color adapting, which adjusts to ambient lighting conditions to make colors appear more accurate and consistent. With TrueTone settings on, however, we did notice a distinct color shift when viewing the phone from an angle.
The phone body itself is mostly glass with a color-matched band of stainless steel around the edge. The glass is stronger than that of the X, and the shiny steel adds a nice pop. Apple also released the iPhone Xs Max at the same time as the Xs, which has similar specs and features but with a larger screen and better battery life. It is available starting at $1,099. Both iterations of the Xs are IP68-rated against dust ingress and submersion in up to six feet of water for 30 minutes. The Xs phones have dual-SIM capabilities using nanoSIM and eSIM. The phone maintains the standard iPhone button array: one power button, volume buttons and a ringer on/off switch. Like the past several generations of iPhones, the Xs does not have a headphone jack or expandable storage.
On a technical level, most of the camera specs look the same between the iPhone X and iPhone Xs, but it has improved thanks primarily to software updates. The iPhone’s A12 Bionic chip and neural engine boost the phone machine learning skills, which manifest as better filters and Smart HDR to take better photos in tricky lighting situations. The back features two 12 MP shooters: one f/1.8 wide-angle lens and a f/2.2 telephoto lens that allows for optical zoom up to 2x. The Xs maintains the popular portrait mode and portrait lighting photography features, enhanced by improved technology. You can even adjust the depth effect or bokeh on your portrait shots.
On the front, the iPhone Xs uses a 7 MP TrueDepth camera array that remains one of our favorite smartphone features. The TrueDepth Camera uses an f/2.2 wide-angle lens, 3D imaging and infrared sensor to map your face and facial expressions. It also enables FaceID, which is even faster at unlocking your phone than before. It is also more secure than comparable face unlock options available on the Android OS.
The A12 Bionic is the first 7 mm smartphone chipset to hit the market. Its size is worth mentioning because the smaller chip is more efficient. Like the A11 Bionic before it, the A12 is faster than any Android-paired chip on the market, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, which powers phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9. A faster, more efficient processor helps open and load apps faster and runs the neural engine, which keeps your smartphone smarter. In practical terms, the neural engine aids with better photos and more immersive AR experiences.
The Xs comes with 4 GB of RAM and either 64, 256 or a whopping 512 GB of built-in storage. Of course, more storage costs more, but it’s worth the extra cash, since the device does not have expandable storage capabilities. The device runs on iOS 12.
Quickly after the iPhone Xs’s release, reports of charging issues for both the Xs and Xs Max began popping up. Many phones don’t charge if plugged in while in standby mode, most phones with this issue solve this by charging once the screen is turned on, but a minority of devices freeze when plugged in on standby. Apple hasn’t directly addressed this yet. For now, the best way to avoid the issue is to charge your Xs wirelessly.
At the September 2018 event, Apple announced the Xs could last up to 30 minutes longer than the iPhone X. In our continuous web-browsing test, however, this proved not to be the case. In the same test, wherein we set the phone screen to 150 nits brightness (about 50 percent) and continuously browsed the web over LTE until the phone died, the iPhone Xs lasted 9 hours and 41 minutes. The X lasted about 10 minutes longer when we recreated the test this year, and almost an hour longer when we tested it last year. Nine hours and 41 minutes is slightly below average for a flagship smartphone and doesn’t compare to the 11-hour battery life of the Google Pixel 2, but it isn’t terrible. The Xs also does not come with fast charging accessories, even though the device supports the technology.
The iPhone Xs is the best iPhone yet, which isn’t surprising since it’s the newest, but its high price tag and out-of-the-box charging issues may make the iPhone XR, which costs less, a more desirable option for some iPhone fans. Still, it’s a wonderful phone that’s a joy to use, it takes great photos and has a lightning-fast processor.