Why the iPhone XS Is More Than a Minor Upgrade

PRODUCT REVIEW: The iPhone X was a good phone for business. The iPhone XS and XS Max are even better.

iPhoneXS

While the new iPhone XS looks just like the iPhone X it replaced, there’s a lot inside that’s new, including better wireless technology.

When you take the iPhone XS out of the box, it’s a disappointment. The shiny new iPhone that you just spent all that money on looks just like the iPhone X that you’re trading in to your carrier. But this is one case in which the looks on the outside belie what makes up its innards. The new iPhone XS is much faster than its predecessor, both in terms of its processing power and its communications ability.

The iPhone XS comes in two versions, the XS, which I’m reviewing here, and the XS Max, which with its 6.5-inch screen can best be described as huge. Internally, the two devices are similar. They both use the new A12 Bionic chip, which has a new neural engine. This chip is said to be able to process 5 trillion operations per second in its neural processing. This speed is partly possible because it’s a 7-nanometer chip, a first in mobile computing.

This speed is immediately obvious in applications such as Apple’s Face ID, where a process that once took a second or two now takes no discernable time at all. This is especially noticeable when signing into the phone where you’d normally use your PIN. With the iPhone X, the Face ID took a second or two to work. With the iPhone XS, it flashes by so quickly you wouldn’t notice it if you weren’t looking for it.

Bionic Processor Uses Less Power Than Predecessors

Adding to the speed, the A12 Bionic processor in the iPhone XS is a six-core CPU with two high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. There’s also a four-core GPU and an eight-core neural processor. The result is a processor that uses much less power than its predecessor while outperforming it—this mean longer battery life, up to a half hour more with the XS and up to an hour and a half longer with the XS Max.

This level of performance won’t necessarily translate into everything happening faster on the iPhone XS, however. A great deal of what users see as performance is actually related to the performance of the phone’s wireless connection, the performance of its internet access and even outside interference that can degrade wireless performance.

The iPhone has a new four-way MIMO antenna system that should provide better and more reliable connections on both LTE and WiFi, and if you look carefully, you can see the lines in the case where the antennas are embedded. But MIMO needs antennas on both ends of the connection that are set up to handle it, which means that you may not be in a position to experience the performance it could bring if the cellular infrastructure isn’t set up to handle it.

It’s worth noting that carriers are upgrading cell sites with improved LTE, which includes MIMO capability, but there are a lot of cell sites that need to be upgraded as the networks work their way to a 5G world. While the iPhone XS isn’t a 5G-capable phone, most of the cellular networks are improving their 4G LTE infrastructure as well, because most devices will still use that even when they’re able to use 5G.

iPhone XS Not 5G Capable but With New LTE Frequencies

The iPhone XS will also handle T-Mobile’s new LTE frequencies at 600MHz, which won’t be able to provide the sheer data throughput of higher frequencies but will reach over far longer distances. The iPhone XS in this review is on the T-Mobile network, but so far there’s little if any 600MHz coverage in the Washington, D.C., area where the phone is being tested.

Apple says the new iPhone XS models can handle gigabit speed LTE, although so far such speeds are not to be found. It can also handle very fast WiFi, but once again, finding WiFi that actually produces such speeds is unlikely in the near future. Your best bet for getting that much speed out of wireless lies with 5G, which the iPhone XS won’t support. Look to next year’s iPhone lineup for that.

Much of the iPhone XS’ processing power is used by the phone’s camera system. The neural processor is put to work selecting the best photo out of a series of photos taken. Likewise, it’s used for the new advanced augmented reality capability of iOS 12, which takes full advantage of this phone’s hardware.

Larger, Better Sensors

The improved camera on the iPhone XS has larger sensors, more focus sensors and advanced processing to produce photos that rival what some SLRs can manage. The new cameras are still 12 megapixels but have faster sensors to go along with all that processing power.

Meanwhile, Apple has kept the iPhone’s security and privacy features, so your information is always encrypted, Ad tracking is kept to a minimum, and Apple has quietly added privacy features that prevent unlocking the phone through the Lightning port.

With the announcement of the new iPhones, Apple also announced new Siri integration with Salesforce, and it’s working on additional enterprise features for the digital assistant. The iPhone X was a good phone for business. The iPhone XS and XS Max are even better.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...