When Performance Triumphs
Apple’s 'S' lineup of its flagship iPhones may well recycle the design of the year prior, but each S model has pushed the iPhone forward in a meaningful manner, even if it’s just been some serious under-the-hood improvements. And so it is with the new iPhones, the XS and the XS Max – both phones are unquestionably the best, most powerful phones Apple has ever made…and also its priciest
Design: The iPhone X had ushered in a new era of all-screen iPhone design, and the XS duo follow the same design language, clad in glass and stainless steel for that jewel-like premium feel that is without a parallel in the smartphone segment. Save for the classy new bronze-ish gold colour, it is hard to tell the XS apart from the X, although the glass is more durable and the phone now comes with a higher IP68 dust/water rating. The XS Max is all of this, but bigger…a whole lot bigger. The really big deal is that the 6.5-inch screen has been squeezed into a body that isn’t that enormous (and not quite as heavy as one would expect), especially if you are considering an upgrade from one of Apple’s previous Plus-sized models. That said, it is still almost exclusively a two-handed phone, and the XS is a better form factor in almost every sense – everyday use, slipping into a pocket – unless you need the vastly bigger screen.
Display and Audio: No matter which XS you pick up, that OLED screen is simply sublime. With deep blacks, richer colours, increased brightness and the colour-adjusting True Tone feature, these are among the best in the business and full-screen video and games look incredible, particularly on the Max’s massive display. The audio department gets some love as well, with an improved soundstage and separation between the stereo speakers. That said, no headphone jack and no lightning-to-headphone-jack dongle – the XS duo are Apple’s ultimatum for owners to shift completely onto the wireless audio bandwagon…and fast!
Performance: For the past couple of years, Apple’s secret sauce for its iOS devices has been its custom-designed chips, and the A12 Bionic, the first commercially available 7-nanometer chip, delivers not only a performance boost but also power efficiency, which places these new devices in a league of their own, particularly for graphics-intensive apps. Besides blazing the benchmark apps scores, both the phones are super snappy on the new iOS 12, no matter whether you are pushing pixels in the latest game or exporting a movie in iMovie. Yet, faster performance has come to be expected with the latest iPhone, so it is really the embedded Neural Engine that showed the most promise on these two devices – Siri is a wee bit faster, the face-tracking for the new Memojis is more responsive and augmented reality apps render that much more live detail, in real-time.
Camera: The rear camera on the XS duo sees a bump up in pixel size – 1.4 microns versus 1.2 microns on the iPhone X. This allows the sensors to collect more light for sharper photos with greater dynamic range and better low-light results, which holds true for the most part if you are comparing to previous iPhones. There is even a new Smart HDR mode, which uses multiple exposures to push out images with better dynamic range and details, and the results, particularly in good light, are spectacular.
Compared to the current king of the hill (Pixel 2), the XS and Max photos stop a few steps short, particularly in low light. Redemption comes by way of a neat depth control mode in portrait (rear and selfie) shots. This lets you adjust the blurriness of the background after the photo is taken. In the videos department, the iPhone stands unchallenged, and the 4K/60fps footage has to be seen to be believed.
Everyday use: Battery life on both the models lasts a reasonably long day at work, with the Max giving you a little more freedom to go unplugged towards the end of the day. One nitpick – while the phones support fast charging, they come with the small, slow 5-watt charger, which is a bit disappointing. And while both iPhones come with dual-SIM support, the second number will have to go via the eSIM route (currently supported only on Jio/Airtel), not an actual SIM.
Verdict: Some may look at both these phones and shrug at their same-old-same-old design, but that would mean writing off some of the big changes under the hood that will perceptibly make a bigger difference to your everyday use. Let us be clear, these are not aimed at iPhone X owners – if you have an X, hang tight for another year or two, please. These are for iPhone 6/7/Plus owners who are looking to upgrade and want to buy something that will not be obsoleted, hardware or software-wise, for another 2-3 years. Yet, buying one of these isn’t an easy decision for most, given the stratospheric pricing, but if you are looking at an iPhone with bleeding edge tech, these are the ones to splurge on. Those on the fence may do well to wait for the iPhone XR, coming later this month.
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