Apple has, after many rumours and some last-minute leaks, unveiled its iPhones for 2018. There are three upgrade choices this year: the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, which went on sale at Apple Stores around the globe on the morning of Friday 21 September.
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In addition to the XS and XS Max is the iPhone XR, which won't go on sale until 26 October, with pre-orders starting on 19 October.
Here we'll talk about the XS handsets here, and can find everything you need to know about the cheaper iPhone XR here.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Apple has built upon the iPhone X rather than updating the iPhone 8. So new and old models look the same at a glance. Check our iPhone XS Max versus iPhone X comparison so you can see just how much better the new phones are. We also have an iPhone 8 vs iPhone XS and an iPhone 8 Plus vs iPhone XS Max comparison.
You can consider the XS the direct upgrade from the X, but the XS Max adds a brand new option with the biggest screen yet seen on an iPhone at 6.5 inches.
Yes, you read that right: not XS Plus, but XS Max. We're into the second decade of iPhone now, so it's reasonable that Apple wants to change its naming strategy. It says it's because the screen is bigger than the 5.5 inch display on an iPhone Plus, but it's also because it is extending its vision of what the iPhone X started. Jonny Ive's words, those, not ours. Most people are likely to pronounce it "excess" rather than "ten ess", but the latter is the correct way of course.
Here are highlights of the new features:
- A12 Bionic processor
- IP68 rated
- Updated 12Mp cameras
- Adjustable depth of field in photos
- 512GB storage option
The UK Tech Weekly Podcast discuss the iPhone XS in episode 102:
There was much debate ahead of the launch about what the new phones would be called. You can see the results of our name poll below (and of course you can vote too).
iPhone XS and XS Max prices
What will they cost you? This table explains what you need to know about US and UK pricing.
iPhone XS (5.8-inch)
iPhone XS Max (6.5-inch)
US$999 / £999
US$1099 / £1099
US$1149 / £1149
US$1249 / £1249
US$1349 / £1349
US$1449 / £1449
Gold, Silver, Space Grey
Gold, Silver, Space Grey
Release date and pre-orders
The new phones, both XS and XS Max, began to ship to those who had pre-ordered their iPhone on 21 September.
Some people received their phone as expected on launch day, while others (in the US) have been disappointed to discover that their iPhone delivery has been pushed back from being delivered on Friday 21 September to Monday 24 September. It sees that UPS has pushed back some deliveries.
Pre-orders of the iPhone XS Mac sold out pretty quickly, so some Apple fans chose to queue up outside Apple Stores around the globe on Friday 21 September. The first Apple Store sales happened in Australia. There were the usual queues at Regent Street, Covent Garden and other Apple Stores in the UK, where the phone went on sale at 7am.
If you want to get your hands on a new iPhone but didn't fancy queueing and missed the pre-order, you may still be able to pre-order on Apple's website (although some models now have a delivery date three weeks away), or you could try your luck at one of the networks and resellers listed below. Also check out our article rounding up the best iPhone XS deals.
iPhone XS design and specifications
As this is an 'S' model, no-one will be surprised that the design is the same as the iPhone X. That means your existing cases will fit: buttons and ports are in the same places.
It's made from the same surgical-grade stainless steel, but the screen and rear glass has a new formulation of glass which Apple says is the toughest ever used in a phone.
Water-resistance has been improved to IP68, up from IP67, so you can leave it submerged at a depth of 2m for 30 minutes. And it won't just survive fresh water, Apple has also tested it in orange juice, tea, wine, beer and salt water.
- iPhone XS: 143.6x70.9x7.7mm, 177g
- iPhone XS Max: 157.5x77.4x7.7mm, 208g
The XS' screen is a minor upgrade to the iPhone X's. Resolution remains the same, as does the 5.8-inch diagonal, but contrast is improved to 1,000,000:1, which Apple says gives is a 60 percent greater dynamic range.
The iPhone XS Max is just.. bigger. It shares the same design but has a 6.5-inch screen in a body that's roughly the same size as the iPhone 8 Plus. That's a whole inch more, a real boon for those who can live with physically larger phone as this is now one of the biggest screens on any phone.
In order to maintain the same pixel density as the iPhone XS, resolution is higher at 2688x1242 pixels.
Both screens have the same list of features, though:
- 3D Touch
- Tap to wake
- True Tone
- Wide Colour
- 120Hz touch layer
- 625 nits max. brightness
The new A12 Bionic processor has a similar configuration to the A11 with a six-core CPU and a quad-core GPU. However, it's the first to be manufactured using a 7nm process and this is one of the reasons it's considerably faster than the A11.
Apple says the new Neural Engine is an octa-core chip that can process 5 trillion operations per second, considerably up from the 600 billion which the A11 could handle.
In practice this means apps launch up to 30 percent faster, but apps which use machine learning also benefit from this extra performance.
They can use real-time machine learning for better depth detection in Portrait mode and better mapping of Animojis in FaceTime.
FaceID is also quicker thanks to faster algorithms and it runs on a faster version of the secure enclave.
On the surface, specs look the same as the iPhone X, as do the cameras themselves, but the main sensor in the wide-angle camera is bigger and houses larger pixels.
Smart HDR is one highlight of the new camera features. With the extra power on tap, it takes 9 rather than a mere 4 photos simultaneously. The extra four "inter-frames" deliver even better HDR shots.
A more noticeable difference from the iPhone X's shots is that bokeh has also been improved to look more like the effect you get from a big-lens SLR camera. More importantly, you can now change the depth of field after the photo when you tap Edit.
Keen to appeal to those who want a dual-SIM phone, Apple is at last offering an eSIM alongside the physical SIM tray. This is new technology for iPhone, but eSIMs have been in Apple Watch and iPad for some time.
What's an eSIM? All your questions answered.
Only in China will you be able to buy a true dual-SIM iPhone which takes two physical cards. Both the Chinese model and those using an eSIM work using the dual-standby tech that many dual-SIM phones already use, letting you seamlessly switch between two numbers at any time.
Battery life has been improved, and Apple says the iPhone XS and XS Max have biggest ever batteries in an iPhone. Expect 30 minutes longer runtime from the iPhone XS than an iPhone X. The XS Max will last 90 minutes longer than the iPhone X.
We'll bring you reviews of the new phones as soon as we can.