Apple iPhone XS review: Astonishment at a price

Full, in-depth, Australian review

Apple iPhone XS
  • Apple iPhone XS
  • Apple iPhone XS
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5


  • Incredible design
  • Snappy performance


  • Battery life still lags
  • Expensive

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, this is Apple’s best and most-expensive iPhone yet. Take it or leave it.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch

It might be pronounced “Ten-Ess”, but it's hard not to talk about - or even think about - the new iPhone XS and not think excess.

Whether you’re holding it in your hand or looking at the price-tag at your nearest Apple store, the iPhone XS screams technological gluttony. In the world of high-end consumer gadgets, that's far from a crime - but it is what it is. And whether or not that lavishness is going to work for you comes down to the usual caveats.

Like many previous iPhones, the sell for the iPhone XS isn’t a purely technical one. Sure, there's a lot to like about the camera, processor and display here. But the appeal of this device is so much more than what’s on the spec-sheet. Apple has a rich track record for making - and selling - technology that's as fashionable as it is cutting edge.

Are you happy with your current Android phone? The iPhone XS probably isn’t going to lure you into Apple’s walled garden. And if you’re happy with your iPhone X? The iPhone XS is definitely better but it’s hard to say it's better enough to be worth the costly upgrade.

At times, it feels the only thing you need to know before deciding whether you should buy the iPhone XS is that it’s this year’s new iPhone. After so many iterations, you can probably infer the rest.


The specs for the Apple iPhone XS review unit we were sent to review is as follows:

Display size: 5.8-inches

Display type: Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen

Processor: A12 Bionic

Operating System: iOS 12

Fingerprint Sensor: No

RAM:  4GB of RAM

Storage: 512GB

MicroSD slot: No

Durability: N/A

Ports: Lightning

SIM: Single SIM

Battery: 2658 mAh

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, CAT 11 LTE, Wi-Fi (802.11ac), NFC

Rear Camera:  12-megapixel (f/1.8) wide angle with OIS and PDAF + 12-megapixel (f/2,4) telephoto with OIS and PDAF

Front-Facing Camera:  7-megapixel (f/2.2)

Colors: Gold, Silver, Space Grey

Dimensions: 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm

Weight: 177g

Price:  Starts at $1629

Availability: Apple stores, JB Hi-Fi, Harvey-Norman

Design - Looks, Feel and Features

Even if it is a narrow revision on last year’s iPhone X, the iPhone XS still inherits a lot of the wow-factor of its predecessor. The unboxing experience is everything you expect, then the feel-factor ups the ante.

Like the iPhone X, stainless steel edges frame the device's OLED Super Retina display. It’s all-glass and it feels as premium to hold as it does to gaze upon. You get the deeper blacks, brighter colors and sharper contrast you’d expect. At times, it's livid in its luminescence.

Credit: Apple

I can’t say that you will feel like that same initial - and lasting - feel-factor, nor whether that "vibe" is really worth the every dollar of the lofty price involved. However, once I had it in my hands, the iPhone XS immediately felt like one of the most expensive phones you can buy. Which is good because it is. Even in the smallest size, the iPhone XS will cost you more than even the beefiest Android flagship.

[Related Content: Smartphone Notches Explained]

That said, the iPhone XS does come saddled with all the usual flagship frills and perks. Wireless charging. An IP68-rating against water resistance. Dual front-firing stereo speakers. Face ID login. Very little of this is new, but it is all appreciated and arguably entirely-necessary to justify the higher price that Apple are charging.

[Related Content: 3D Face Unlock vs 2D Face Unlock: Which is more secure?]

Again, the iPhone XS feels drop-dead gorgeous to hold and to behold. But I did encounter a fair bit of heat build-up with the device during my time with it. Even when I was doing fairly basic things like web browsing or reading emails, the body of the device would often contract a fever. I wouldn’t say these are the worst thermal issues I’ve ever had with a smartphone but it definitely felt like one of the worst in a good while.

Credit: Apple

Camera - How Does It Compare To The Competition

Of course, no iPhone would be complete without its cameras. And the iPhone XS features three in total: one on the front, two on the back.

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

Like Google’s Pixel range, Apple have offered feature and camera parity across both sizes of this year’s iPhone. In contrast to years past - where you’d have to opt for the larger or plus-sized device to get the better camera - both the XS and XS Max feature the same dual-lens setup.

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

And the results you’ll get out of that setup are really impressive, even if they don’t approach the incredible fidelity available in Huawei’s recent P20 and Mate 20 devices.

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

Still, for what it’s worth, both landscape photography and portrait shots both carried a desirable level of fidelity.

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

Unfortunately, we sometimes found the color balance a little off.

Apple make a damn fine smartphone camera - and the iPhone XS lives up to that expectation. However, like Samsung and others, they fall short of the new paradigm set by Huawei's recent photography powerhouses.

Credit: Fergus Halliday | IDG

This year has seen the bar for smartphone photography rise in ways that matter and if you’re expecting the iPhone XS to raise that bar further still, you’ll probably be disappointed. However, if you're just looking for a phone that'll up your 'Gram game, the iPhone XS remains a good enough option.

Next Page: Performance and The Bottom Line

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