The iPhone XS will hit store shelves soon, with pre-orders starting on Sept. 14, 2018. While the new handset is expensive, it packs some serious power into its 5.8-inch (or, in the case of new iPhone XS Max, 6.5-inch) frame.
These will likely be Apple’s only new iPhones for the foreseeable future, as the company typically introduces upgraded versions of each phone model in between major releases. It also indicates that the company will stick with the “X” family moniker, at least through 2019—and for dedicated Apple fans, it means you won’t need too many new accessories if you’re planning on updating.
The all-new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and Apple Watch Series 4 are here. #AppleEvent
— Apple (@Apple) September 12, 2018
Here’s everything we currently know about the new phones, along with a few suggestions for accessorizing. Strap in; there’s quite a bit of new info.
1. There are three new iPhones: the iPhone XS, the iPhone XS Max, and the iPhone XR.
We’ll focus on the iPhone XS and XS Max since the XR is basically a pared-down version of the XS.
Both phones are available in gold, silver, or space grey, and on the surface, they’re almost identical to the 2017 iPhone X. They’ll support Face ID—and the company has promised that the new phones will be able to use the feature more effectively, which should lead to faster unlocks—and the much-loved 3D Touch functionality is still intact.
Both models also feature an IP68 water-resistance rating, which essentially means that they’ll work for up to 30 minutes underwater at a depth of up to two meters. That doesn’t mean that you can go swimming with your phone, of course, but if you accidentally drop the handset in the shower (or, uh, the toilet), you’ll be in the clear. It’s a notable improvement on the iPhone X, which had an IP67 rating.
Apple reportedly tested the iPhone XS’s water resistance in chlorinated water, salt water, and even orange juice, which should give accident-prone iPhone fans some peace of mind. Just be sure to rinse your phone off after you’ve dropped it in your OJ, and you’ll be good to go.
We should also note that while the Xs looks similar to the iPhone X, there are a few material differences. The new phone will feature surgical-grade stainless steel bands (developed with a “special Apple-designed alloy,” per the website), and the glass on the back of the handset is the “most durable glass ever in a smartphone.” That new glass back should make wireless charging more efficient than ever.
The screen is an OLED Super Retina display with 2.7 million pixels and 458 ppi, the highest quality display on any iOS device.
While the iPhone is more durable than ever, we’d still recommend picking up a case.
For a lightweight case that shows off the iPhone XS’s brilliant screen, check out Spigen’s Ultra Hybrid, which is military grade certified with the brand’s air cushion technology. It’s slim, pocket-friendly, and sleek.
We appreciate that it offers access to all of the iPhone’s buttons without giving the volume controls a “mushy” feeling. It adds about 0.3 inches to your phone’s profile, which shouldn’t be too noticeable. Even so, it provides sufficient protection from falls, and the front extends far enough past the screen to give you some peace of mind. According to users, the case won’t get in the way of your favorite wireless chargers.
Of course, that case obscures the iPhone XS’s brilliant back panel. If that’s unacceptable to you, the Jaagd Hybrid Shock is another option. It also features a raised lip around its bezel to protect your screen in the (almost inevitable) event of a drop. The bumpers on the side offer additional protection.
Like the Spigen iPhone X case, this clear cover doesn’t add much bulk, so you’ll still be able to enjoy your iPhone XS’s ultra-thin design. If you keep your phone in your pocket regularly, this type of slim case is an absolute must-have.
2. The new iPhones will sound better, and new storage options open up possibilities for music lovers.
The iPhone XS series will also feature improved stereo sound with a wider stereo field than the original iPhone X. That should come as a welcome change for anyone who’s ever tried to show their friends their favorite YouTube video in a noisy restaurant (although it might be somewhat annoying to the people around you on the subway—remember kids, wear your headphones if you’re blasting tunes in public).
32 years old and I still wake up at 3am to pre-order the new iPhone.
— Don Willoughby (@dwill) September 14, 2018
If you always find yourself deleting apps to make room on your phone, you’ll appreciate the iPhone XS’s new memory options, which include a 512-gigabyte option for serious storage fiends. Of course, many Android devices offer expandable memory, which is significantly cheaper; unfortunately, Apple hasn’t come around on that point yet.
Music fans will want to make a few upgrades.
The good news: If you’re an audiophile, you’ll finally be able to upload your lossless music collection to the new iPhone without worrying about running out of space. Now, the (obvious) bad news: There’s still no headphone jack.
If you enjoy listening to music while charging your phone, you’re still out of luck, but third-party accessories can add some much-needed functionality. We’re big fans of Lotuyye’s Lightning adapter, which lets you charge your phone without unplugging your headphones.
Then again, you could just use Bluetooth headphones. We’ve got some issues with wireless headphone tech, since Bluetooth, by nature, reduces audio quality—but if you’re already listening to your tunes in a compressed format or on a streaming service, you probably won’t notice much of a difference.
MultiTed’s MX10 Bluetooth earbuds are the best inexpensive wireless headphones we’ve tried. There’s a built-in microphone (essential for telling Siri to play your next workout playlist while you tackle those hills), and they deliver decent bass response with a comfortable in-ear design. Since they pair with your phone via Bluetooth, they’re also compatible with any other computer or phone that uses the same tech. The only real issue is that they’re slightly bulky, so if you’ve got smaller ears, they might fall out of place during workouts.
2. The iPhone XS and XS Max will feature a new camera system.
Most of the advances here are on the software side, but since the new iPhone has a new A12 Bionic processor (more on that in a moment), those software improvements will be most noticeable with the new iPhone model. In other words, while the camera software is changing, you probably won’t notice those changes if you stick with an older iPhone.
“This is an amazing amount of power from our camera team,” Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller said, describing the camera technology. “In fact, when you take a photo, [the iPhone XS] is capable of doing a trillion operations on every photo you take.”
What do those “operations” actually accomplish? That’s a bit complicated, but we’ll try our best: Most modern cameras use a feature called HDR to provide the best possible shot. Essentially, the phone snaps a few different photos, then combines them to provide the best possible image.
Apple’s Smart HDR takes the idea further by recognizing when subjects are moving, capturing multiple photos and several “interframes” and long exposures, improving shadow detail while allowing for more faithful reproduction of fine details in natural light. You’ll see more highlights, better shadows, and more vibrant colors.
“This is a breakthrough in photography for a smartphone,” Schiller said. “It makes taking photos easier than ever, and to get beautiful results [sic].”
A new sensor will help to reduce noise in low-light shots, so the iPhone XS series will make the most of natural light sources without sacrificing color accuracy. There’s also an enhanced “bokeh” effect, which adds a sophisticated background blur to bring more attention to each photo’s subject.
Photographers will appreciate the all-new depth control, which allows photographers to change the depth of the field after shooting—a feature that’s only possible thanks to the new implementation of the smart HDR technology. Schiller showed off a few untouched photos during Apple’s event, and we’ve got to admit that they were breathtaking.
The iPhone XS is capable of taking 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, and its rear cameras include wide-angle and telephoto lenses. In short, the iPhone XS series might have the best smartphone camera on the market, which is certainly saying something. If you’re a photographer—or even a serious hobbyist—that might be enough of a reason to upgrade.
While we love looking at photos on the iPhone’s OLED, we’re still partial to printed shots.
Remember when you could take photos with that big instant Polaroid and hand them to your friends right away? We miss those days. Granted, we could just email photos around, but it’s not the same.
This is what photos taken with the new iPhone XS cameras look like, including photos taken with in portrait mode. pic.twitter.com/sHarcLePt3
— CNET (@CNET) September 12, 2018
That’s why we’re in love with HP’s Sprocket, a portable photo printer that allows you to quickly create 2 × 3 inch snapshots. It works via Bluetooth, so you don’t need to hook it up to a computer, and it’s wireless; charge with the included USB cable, and you’re good to go. There’s even a wrist-strap loop. Each photo has a peelable back, so you can turn your pictures into stickers if you’re so inclined. Just be sure to pick up an extra roll of the HP Zink photo paper—it’s pretty easy to print hundreds of snapshots.
While we love the HP Sprocket, it’s more of a fun toy than serious photo gear. If you want something slightly higher quality, Canon’s SELPHY CP1300 does the job nicely. Just don’t hold its ridiculously stupid name against it.
You can print in various sizes, and it supports Airprint technology for use with your new iPhone. There’s also a 1-year warranty, and while it’s not as simple as the Sprocket, it gives hobbyists plenty of cool print options.
3. The biggest change isn’t immediately noticeable.
The XS and XS Max use an all-new intelligent A12 Bionic chip, paired with Apple’s eight-core Neural Engine. That should mean 50 percent faster graphics performance, and perhaps more importantly for the average user, 50 percent lower power usage.
“[The A12 Bionic chip] uses real-time machine learning to transform the way you experience photos, gaming, augmented reality, and more,” Apple writes on the iPhone XS’s website. “Two performance cores tackle heavy computational tasks. And four efficiency cores take on everyday tasks. Our newest performance controller dynamically divides work across these cores, harnessing all six when a power boost is needed.”
To put that another way, Apple claims that the new CPU will assign tasks to different cores, reducing the effective workload and allowing for smoother performance.
The Neural Engine recognizes user patterns and makes reasonable predictions about what it’ll need to do next; while that sounds like mind-blowing tech, it’s basically what any decent phone processor should do, but Apple claims that it should allow developers to make cleaner augmented reality apps while giving iPhone users a better overall experience.
That sounds pretty good to us, although we’d like to actually try it out before giving it our full endorsement.
Here’s one thing that you’ll probably notice right away: Your iPhone XS should last longer than ever between charges, although you’ll still want to keep it above 50 percent whenever possible in order to maximize battery life.
Apple claims that their new processor will allow the iPhone XS’s battery to last all day.
Yeah, we know; we’ve heard that one before. If you use your phone all the time—and if you don’t, by the way, please teach us your ways—you’ll probably need to pick up a power bank.
Travel has a way of reminding you that if the new iPhone XS Max has 90 min more battery life, then that’s the model you have to get. 🤔
— Adam Nash (@adamnash) September 14, 2018
Our pick here is Anker’s PowerCore 10000. As its name implies, it has a 10000mAh battery, which should fully charge the iPhone XS several times. Anker’s excellent PowerIQ and VoltageBoost technologies provide a much faster charge than you’d find from one of those cheap power banks you see at the grocery store, and it comes with an 18-month warranty.
We can’t say this enough: Low-quality chargers put your phone at risk. If you’re going to use a power bank, spend a couple of extra bucks and get a unit that can actually do the job safely.
The iPhone XS should charge wirelessly fairly quickly, although you’ll still get the fastest possible charge by plugging it into the wall (since, well, air isn’t as good of a wire as an actual piece of metal).
With that said, wireless chargers can potentially extend the life of your phone by limiting wear on the Lightning port. Plus, they’re cool—once you’ve charged wirelessly a few times, it’s hard to go back. With that in mind, we’d recommend picking up Yootech’s 7.5W charger, which works with all Qi-enabled devices. It has high-quality induction magnets and a built-in LED that shows you when you’ve successfully set your phone in the right place.
If you’ve got a few Qi-enabled products in your home, you might want to get a slightly wider wireless charger. That will prevent your housemates from fighting over space on the charger—or, if you’ve got an Apple Watch, it’ll allow you to charge all of your stuff at once.
Facever’s 2-in-1 Qi charging pad should comfortably accommodate a couple of phones. Be sure to hook it up to a 10-watt adapter, or you’ll only be able to charge one device at a time. It supports fast charge, and while it’s slightly more expensive than Yootech’s charger, it’s still fairly cheap compared to Apple’s own charger pad (which still hasn’t hit stores yet).
4. Ready for the price point? You’re going to want to sit down.
If you were hoping that Apple would offer the new iPhone for slightly less than the iPhone X, prepare for some disappointment. Hey, this is Apple we’re talking about—they don’t really do “sales.”
The iPhone XS starts at $999, while the iPhone XS Max starts at $1099. There’s also an entry-level iPhone XR, which is slightly less expensive at $749. It features a 6.1-inch LED screen, which isn’t quite as brilliant as the OLED display of the XS and XS Max, but the phone’s hardware is comparable, so it should be just as fast as its more expensive cousins.
For comparison, the Samsung S9 costs $720 at retail (though the AT&T version costs slightly more), and the Galaxy S9 Plus costs $840. Still, those phones aren’t iPhones, and if you’re an Apple fanatic, you probably won’t bat an eye at shelling out a few extra hundred bucks for the iPhone XS’s awesome new features.
At the end of the day, the iPhone XS and XS Max won’t change the world, but they’re decent upgrades to Apple’s flagship product. We just hope that future iPhones add a few more practical features—we’re looking at you, headphone jack—to keep the Apple faithful coming back.