A few days ago, Apple provided select members of the press with an iPhone XS and an iPhone XS Max so that they could post a review yesterday, shortly before the 2018 versions of the iPhone officially go on sale this Friday. Review units were given to John Gruber of Daring Fireball (review), Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch (review), Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal (review), Nilay Patel (a former practicing attorney) at The Verge (review), Raymond Wong of Mashable (review), John Paczkowski of BuzzFeed (review), Brian X. Chen of the New York Times (review), Lauren Goode of Wired (review), Todd Haselton of CNBC (review), and Scott Stein of CNET (review). Here are my major takeaways from what these folks wrote after using the new iPhones for the last few days:
- Many people found the camera to be much better than the iPhone X. John Gruber was particularly impressed, and the photos that he provided as examples show that the iPhone XS produces noticeably better pictures than the iPhone X in situations in which HDR makes a difference — pictures in which you have both light and dark spots. If you are taking pictures outside on a nice day, this may not matter very much. But if you are inside with less light, this can make a big difference. Similarly, Matthew Panzarino provided some stunning sample pictures and said that he thinks Apple "dramatically undersold how much improved photos are from the iPhone X to the iPhone XS. It’s extreme, and it has to do with a technique Apple calls Smart HDR." And Nilay Patel says that the "camera upgrades on the XS over the X are significant. The XS makes the X camera look terrible most of the time." (Patel still prefers the pictures taken by the Google Pixel 2, but when I looked at his sample pictures, I preferred the iPhone XS picture over the Google Pixel 2 picture every time. Just goes to show you that there is certainly a subjective element to an art like photography.)
- On the other hand, some of the other reviewers were less impressed with the camera. For example, John Paczkowski said that the iPhone XS pictures were better than ones he took with the iPhone X, and yet it was still "pretty hard to tell" the difference. And Lauren Goode said that pictures taken with the iPhone XS were only "slightly improved from the iPhone X photos," although she did see a more noticeable improvement in portrait mode photos.
- Considering that you can actually see how much better the pictures are in the reviews posted by folks like Gruber and Panzarino, I find myself believing that the iPhone XS camera really is a big improvement over the iPhone X, but only some of the time, and perhaps other reviewers were taking pictures in conditions in which the improvement was less noticeable. As Joanna Stern noted: "The smart HDR feature and new sensors did make for a more even and clear photo when shooting almost directly into brighter lights—plus crisper, more colorful low-light shots—but overall my photos looked similar to the ones I’ve taken with the X." But she also found that autofocus and launching the camera is much faster.
- If you like the idea of a bigger phone, the iPhone XS Max is a very nice bigger phone. If you previously used a Plus model of an iPhone, then you know whether that type of size is too large for your hands. But many reviewers, such as Brian X. Chen, said that after trying both, they preferred the iPhone XS size. If you want an interesting perspective, check out the video at the top of the review by Joanna Stern in which she shows what an iPhone XS Max looks like in the hands of basketball player Gheorghe Muresan.
- Only one reviewer, Todd Haselton, tested the improved water resistance of the iPhone XS. He said that he put the iPhone XS "in a fountain about 1 foot deep for five minutes and it was totally fine after I took it out."
- The screen on the iPhone XS supposed to be more durable. Nevertheless, Joanna Stern reported that the screen on her iPhone XS Max cracked after “a minor fall onto wood."
- The built-in speakers are noticeably better. Raymond Wong says that there is more separation between the left and right channels. And many reviewers noted that the sound is noticeably louder.
- The iPhone XS is noticeably faster. Raymond Wong notes that complicated games like Fortnite play better on the iPhone XS. And Joanna Stern noted that even "[e]veryday actions are faster too — even just pressing the reply button in the Gmail app." Several folks noted that Face ID is also faster and thus works better.
- If you use a wireless charger, it will work better with the iPhone XS because the iPhone XS is more forgiving about where you place the iPhone on the charger.
My iPhone XS is supposed to be delivered this Friday. In light of these initial reviews, I'll definitely be taking lots of pictures this weekend to see what I think about the improvements. And I hope that I notice the speed increases in everyday actions, as Joanna Stern pointed out.