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Apple iPhone XS and XS Max review: X evolved

By James Lu & Alvin Soon - 23 Sep 2018

Benchmark Performance, Battery life, and Conclusion

Benchmark Performance

Both the XS and XS Max are powered by Apple's new A12 Bionic chip, which is the first processor made on a 7nm process technology. The A12 Bionic packs a hexa-core CPU (two performance cores + four efficiency cores), a quad-core GPU, as well as a ‘next-generation’ octa-core neural engine (up from dual-core on the iPhone X) that handles all the machine learning and AI tasks.

Calling it the ‘smartest and most powerful chip ever in a smartphone’, Apple says the A12 Bionic’s neural engine can process 5 trillion operations per second, a huge leap compared to the A11 Bionic’s 600 billion. Apple also says the A12 Bionic enables apps to launch up to 30 percent faster.

  Apple iPhone X (256GB)
  Apple iPhone X (256GB)
Operating system
  • iOS 11.1
Processor
  • Apple A11 Bionic hexa-core
Built-in Memory
  • 3GB RAM
Display
  • 5.8-inch Super Retina HD / 2,436 x 1,125 pixels (458ppi) / OLED
Camera
  • Rear: Dual 12-megapixel, (f/1.8, 28mm & f/2.4, 56mm) with phase detection autofocus, OIS, and quad LED (dual-tone) flash
  • Front: 7-megapixel, f/2.2 FaceTime HD camera
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 4G+ LTE Cat 12 (up to 600Mbps), dual-band, hotspot, Bluetooth v5.0, A2DP, LE, GPS, GLONASS, Lightning connector
Storage Type
  • 256GB internal storage
Battery
  • 2,716mAh
Dimensions
  • 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm
Weight
  • 174g

SunSpider Javascript

SunSpider JavaScript measures the browsing performance of a device when processing JavaScript. It not only takes into consideration the underlying hardware performance, but also assesses how optimized a particular platform is in delivering a high-speed web browsing experience. 

Apple has always performed really well on this benchmark due to how well optimized Safari is for Apple's processors. That trend continues with the XS and XS Max, which are getting close to sub-100ms scores. No other phone is even under 200ms. In terms of actual user experience, the web browsing experience on the XS and XS Max is lightning fast, smooth and lag-free. 

 

Antutu

AnTuTu is an all-in-one benchmark that tests CPU, GPU, memory, and storage. The CPU benchmark evaluates both integer and floating-point performance, the GPU tests assess 2D and 3D performance, the memory test measures available memory bandwidth and latency, and the storage tests gauge the read and write speeds of a device's flash memory. 

The A12 Bionic proved just how powerful it is by absolutely crushing the competition in this benchmark. The XS and XS Max both scored about 30 percent better than last year's iPhone X, and about 25 percent better than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845-powered phones.

 

Geekbench CPU

Geekbench CPU is a cross-platform processor benchmark that tests both single-core and multi-core performance with workloads that simulate real-world usage. Geekbench 4 scores are calibrated against a baseline score of 4000 (which is the score of an Intel Core i7-6600U CPU processor).

The A12 Bionic was again impressive in this benchmark and was about 12 percent better than the iPhone X in both the single-core and multi-core benchmarks. Compared to the Exynos 9810-powered Samsung Galaxy Note9, the XS and XS Max were about 25 percent better in both categories.

 

3DMark Sling Shot

3DMark Sling Shot is an advanced 3D graphics benchmark that tests the full range of OpenGL ES 3.1 and ES 3.0 API features including multiple render targets, instanced rendering, uniform buffers and transform feedback. The test also includes impressive volumetric lighting and post-processing effects. We're running this benchmark in Unlimited mode, which ignores screen resolutions.

The A12 Bionic isn't limited to just processing power, its quad-core GPU packs a punch too, and the XS and XS Max were once again way ahead of the competition.

 

 

Battery Life

Our standard battery test for mobile phones has the following parameters:

  • Looping a 720p video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email and Twitter

The XS actually has a slightly smaller 2,658mAh battery than last year's X (2,716mAh) but Apple claims that it will still last about 30 minutes longer. The XS Max has the largest battery Apple has ever put in an iPhone with a 3,174mAh capacity, and Apple claiming it will give about 90 minutes more. In my daily usage, I found those estimates to be about right.

In our video looping benchmark, despite having a smaller battery capacity, the XS actually lasted 12 hours and 44 minutes, 17 minutes longer than the X, while the XS Max lasted 13 hours and 19 minutes, or 52 minutes longer than the X.

The XS Max fell just four minutes short of our current battery life champion, the Samsung Galaxy Note9.

Like last year's X, the XS and XS Max support wireless charging through the Qi wireless charging standard. Both phones also support fast charging through USB Power Delivery, but not with the charger bundled with the phone.

Like last year, you'll need to buy both a USB-C to Lightning cable, as well as a USB-C charger that supports USB Power Delivery such as the 30W power adapter that comes with the 12-inch MacBook, or the 61W or 87W adapter that comes with the MacBook Pro. Armed with one of these, both phones will charge to about 50 percent in just over 30 minutes.

 

Conclusion

The iPhone XS isn't the game changer its predecessor was. It's the iPhone X, but 'S'peedier, with a gorgeous new color and some notable but iterative upgrades - more storage, faster processor, louder speakers, better cameras, and a more colorful display. All of these are significant, but none of them are significant enough to make the XS a must buy, especially if you already own an iPhone X.

The iPhone XS Max, on the other hand, is a phone I know a lot of people have been waiting for. If you're a long-time iPhone Plus user, this is the iPhone X for you; the XS Max is everything you could possibly want. Unlike the XS, which sits in between previous iPhone sizes, the XS Max is exactly the same size as the 8 Plus, so there's no transition period as you get used to a new phone size. The Super Retina AMOLED display already looked amazing on the iPhone X, but the sheer size of the XS Max's 6.5-inch display really takes it to another level. HDR content on XS Max looks absolutely gorgeous - almost enough to make you forget about that notch. Even if you've never liked Plus-size iPhones, I highly recommend giving the XS Max a closer look. You might be surprised by how much you like it, I know I was.

Ultimately though, it doesn't matter which iPhone you pick, because for the first time ever, other than the screen size, there's no difference between them. In past years, the Plus was always a little better: it had the better camera setup, it had the higher resolution display, it had more RAM. But this year, the XS and XS Max have exactly the same specs, so there are no compromises to consider when choosing the display size that fits you best. Apple didn't mention this at all at the keynote, but it's one of the best changes they've implemented.

Finally, I have to mention the price. The iPhone XS has a starting price of S$1,649 for the 64GB model, and this goes up to S$1,889 if you want 256GB (these prices are in-line with the price of last year's iPhone X). If you want that 512GB model, you’re looking at S$2,199. The iPhone XS Max is priced at S$1,799 for the 64GB model, S$2,039 for the 256GB model, and S$2,349 for the 512GB model.

Those prices are insane for any smartphone, but if you're an Apple fan, you should already be used to premium pricing. Whether you're willing to shell out that much for a smartphone is up to you, but if you're on the fence, it's worth noting that the original iPhone X is now 10 percent cheaper (but only at the Apple Store), and don't forget, the much more affordable iPhone XR, which shares many of the same features as the XS, is coming next month.

  • Design 8.5
  • Features 8.5
  • User-Friendliness 8
  • Performance 9.5
  • Value 7
The Good
Gorgeous Display
Significantly faster performance
Great battery life
Improved cameras
Louder speakers
New 512GB storage option
The Bad
Same design as last year
Really expensive
Fast charging sold separately
Lightning-to-3.5mm headphone jack dongle sold separately
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