Hands on: Apple iPhone XS review

Apple opts for evolution rather than revolution

What is a hands on review?
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For

  • Video quality appears impressive
  • Promising camera performance
  • Exceptional build quality

Against

  • The price
  • No headphone adapter in the box
  • Not a huge boost in battery life

Apple added another page to its smartphone history book with the iPhone X. It was the first iPhone for a while that you could describe as truly desirable, where you felt Apple really attempted to take the design of its smartphones to a new level.

In true Apple fashion, 12 months later we’ve arrived at an evolution of that model, the iPhone XS (pronounced ten-s). It doesn’t represent a seismic shift like its predecessor but it does still come with a smattering of upgrades. Our colleagues at Techradar have been hands-on with the new iPhone XS for some quick first impressions...

iPhone XS price and release date

The 64GB model costs £999 SIM-free, £1149 secures you the 256GB version while you’ll need to fork out a whopping £1349 for the 512GB model. You can pre-order from 14th September for the 21st September release.

Design and build

If you’re familiar with the iPhone X you’ll be familiar with the look, shape and feel of the new iPhone XS. The OLED display (complete with notch), the curved edges of surgical-grade stainless steel, the smooth glass covering its front and rear. Over a quick five second pawing it would be quite hard to tell the difference.

The XS gets the usual Silver and Space Grey variants but there’s now a Gold option for those who prefer their iPhone with a dollop of extra bling.

The rear glass panel has also been upgraded for the XS and XS Max (the bigger version). They now feature, according to Apple, “the most durable glass ever in a smartphone” - not that you’ll be keen to test out that particular claim.

Features

The iPhone XS uses a new 5.8in Super Retina OLED screen, which Apple claims offers over 60% greater dynamic range compared to the iPhone X’s display. It supports HDR video and wide colour. 

At the top you’ll see the infamous notch has been retained for Face ID, which Apple claims is now faster and more effective on the iPhone XS.

The handset is powered by an all-new A12 Bionic chip which Apple again claims is faster, more efficient and more powerful than anything the smartphone market has ever seen. 

During our time in the hands-on area at the Apple launch event, the processing certainly appeared to live up to that billing. The phone seemed extremely responsive and we found ourselves flitting between apps and other features without a moment's delay.

Battery life is one of the key areas of any smartphone and Apple was quick to say during its main presentation that the iPhone XS lasts 30 minutes longer than the iPhone X. Not a huge jump, but an improvement nonetheless.

Sound quality

The position of the speakers hasn’t changed with the new models, but Apple has introduced ‘wider stereo sound’ for both the XS and XS Max, which the company claims helps to deliver a richer sound experience.

During our brief time with the iPhone XS it was hard to tell just how effective this new feature is given the significant level of ambient noise, but the XS seems to go just as loud as the iPhone X and remains just as clear. We’ll have to save plugging in a decent pair of headphones for our full review.

Which reminds us. If you do go for the XS (or the XS Max or XR for that matter) make sure you've got a 3.5mm-to-Lightning headphone adapter (or a pair of Bluetooth headphones) close to hand. As rumoured, Apple won't be supplying one with any of the new iPhones.

Picture quality

We’re big fans of OLED screen tech in 4K TVs and we were suitably impressed when Apple used the screen technology for last year's iPhone X. And the new iPhone XS seems to pick up where the previous model left off.

The phone supports HDR content (HDR10 and Dolby Vision) out of the box and we felt images appeared every bit as inviting and immersive as we’d experienced on it’s predecessor.

Of course we’ll be able to put the screen properly to the test when we get our review sample.

Camera

The main camera gets two 12MP sensors on the rear, one wide angle and one telephoto. New for the XS is the Smart HDR mode, which Apple claims will improve the quality of your pictures, especially your low-light snaps.

The rear has a 7.2MP lens and boasts an improved Portrait mode.

Some of the stock images we saw looked stunningly clean and realistic, but the real test will come when it comes to the quality of those tricky-to-do low-light shots.

Early verdict

Of course, the Apple iPhone XS is a premium smartphone package that comes with a premium smartphone price tag. But if there's one thing we do know - Apple rarely struggles to sell new iPhones, no matter the price.

If you already own an iPhone X, does the iPhone XS do enough to warrant an immediate upgrade? The jury’s out. We’ll let you know our definitive verdict once we’ve spent some quality time with the phone.

See all our Apple reviews

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.