The Apple iPhone Xs can essentially be summed up in one, fairly brief, sentence: it’s basically the same phone as the Apple iPhone Xs Max, but with a smaller screen and a smaller battery – and that’s pretty much all you need to know.
Let’s take it from the top. The Apple iPhone Xs is one of three phones launched by Apple in 2018, and it sits in the middle of the range in terms of features, performance and price. At the “bottom” of the 2018 iPhone range is the iPhone XR, which is the cheapest iPhone, then you have this phone – the iPhone Xs – while at the top of the range is the iPhone Xs Max.
To look at, the iPhone Xs is almost identical to last year’s now-retired iPhone X, but all the key changes are invisible to the naked eye. There’s an improved camera, faster 4G connectivity, better battery life and quicker performance.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the price. The version with 64GB of storage is £999, with the cost rising to £1,149 for the 256GB model and £1,349 for the 512GB variant. That makes it more expensive than all its Android rivals, even at its base price.
It’s more than 250 more expensive than the new Google Pixel 3, over £300 dearer than the Samsung Galaxy S9 and more than double the price of the incredible OnePlus 6. It’s also £250 pricier than the forthcoming iPhone XR – which also happens to have a larger display, and it’s ‘only’ £100 cheaper than the iPhone Xs Max, which has a considerably larger screen and all the same features.
Apple iPhone Xs: Design and key features
That’s not to say this the iPhone Xs is a bad phone. Just that there are other equally competent phones available at significantly lower cost. Still, for those who just want an iPhone, the Xs represents a decent step over the iPhone X in terms of features and performance, if not design.
Indeed, the only physical difference between the X and the Xs is the positioning of the plastic antenna bands around the edge. On the iPhone X these were positioned on each long edge at the top and bottom of the phone; on the iPhone Xs there are an extra two bands, one on the top edge towards the right-hand side and the other on the bottom towards the left-hand side.
Most won’t notice the difference but, for anyone who values symmetry, the bottom edge of the iPhone now sports a distinctly lopsided look, with three drilled holes to the left of the Lightning port and six to the right. It’s also clad in a slightly tougher, more crack- and shatter-resistant glass (so Apple says), on the front and back.
Otherwise, it measures and weighs pretty much the same as the iPhone X, with the extra bonus of being a touch more water-resistant. It’s still encircled with shiny, colour-matched “surgical grade” stainless steel, just in case you fancy doing a bit of open-heart surgery with it. And the screen still fills most of the front of the device, with a slim black bezel bordering it and the notch housing the phone’s “True Depth” and selfie cameras eating into your screen real estate at the top.
Alas, there’s no return to the fingerprint reader this year; more irritatingly, though, Apple hasn’t improved the mechanics for unlocking the phone in iOS 12. You still can’t simply look at the phone to unlock it straight to the homescreen; an extra upward swipe is required, which seems wholly unnecessary.
Apple iPhone Xs: Display
As with the iPhone X, the 5.8in display is excellent. It uses AMOLED technology, so each of the onscreen pixels has its own light source. This translates to perfect, inky black level response and essentially perfect contrast.
The screen’s colour reproduction is superb, too, striking a balance between eye-popping saturation and colour accuracy. In our technical testing, it reached 96.1% coverage of the sRGB colour gamut in the browser, and it peaked at 668cd/m2 brightness (166cd/m2 up on the iPhone X). The latter is a particularly impressive number for an AMOLED screen, ensuring the screen is readable in most conditions, even really bright sunshine.
The numbers might not mean an awful lot to you, but the fact the display has full support for HDR10 and Dolby Vision standards might well do. It won’t support these standards to the letter of the law, particularly when it comes to peak brightness, but we can report that videos of both types on Netflix and on YouTube look absolutely superb. Colours seem to leap from the screen, and highlights glint and gleam in an amazingly realistic fashion.
In short, the iPhone’s display is absolutely brilliant. It still has Apple’s excellent True Tone colour correction, which adapts the white balance of what’s shown on screen to the ambient light, and Night Shift, which reduces blue light. The one irritation, though, is that Apple has moved the automatic brightness toggle switch from the main settings to the Accessibility menu. It clearly doesn’t want its customers disabling this option and negatively impacting battery life.