IPhone XS Max analysis

Every new generation of iPhone is important: since Steve Jobs and Apple revolutionized the world of telephony and smartphones with the iPhone in 2007, firm steps have been taken in every new model that extends the original concept. Product cycles were even adjusted on the fly, reaching the «S» iterations (of «Speed», speed) from the iPhone 3GS – which considering the generational change that the iPhone 4 brought about, is something to take into account.

From that moment on, Apple applies its particular tick-tock process to the staging of each new model: it presents a renewed generation as a base and the following year the power with the model S. There was an exception: last year the iPhone 8 filled the gap that the company should have reserved for the iPhone 7S, but for a reason called iPhone X – the precedent of a whole new concept of iPhone for the next ten years, as told us by Tim Cook in the keynote last year.

And of course it is doing so: this year Apple introduces us (after a summer with endless debates about the name, as we haven’t lived in a long time) the new iPhone XS: a generation that defines and powers the iPhone X model in the aspect that most innovated the previous year, artificial intelligence and the construction of its own chip that already outperforms some desktop systems. We could call it a refined model in every way that accentuates every important point of the surname X forwards.

-The iPhone XS was born with an internal revolution: the A12 chip manufactured in 7 nanometers and the improvement applied in artificial intelligence-

The OLED Super Retina display raised to the maximum

With the iPhone XS we come to a change even in the philosophy of the largest models, the so-called «Plus» until now. With that surname, Apple offered us not only a larger screen, but also new features that kept it away from the «base» device. In the case of previous generations, the Plus had a dual camera and allowed things as praised as the portrait effect – exclusive to these models.

The company has decided to leave these differences behind the two models, so the larger screen and the improvement in battery life (having more physical space) are the pivot points between the two models. The Max model features a 6.5″ super Retina OLED display, rated as the best display on a smartphone on the market. The resolution rises to 2688×1242 and maintains the 458 pixels per inch of density that the normal model also has.

The wingspan and size practically mimic the iPhone 8 Plus, but obviously the Max’s OLED display, the extra inch with the borderless design and even the pixel density (in the Plus is 401 p/p) are a huge improvement with this year’s model. The weight is practically the same (208 g against the Plus 202g) and in hand feels exactly like the Plus. Perhaps the loss of the Home button makes access to the top of the screen a bit complicated by one hand, which we previously reached by double-clicking on it. The way to do it now is by sliding down the bottom line, but being so on the edge isn’t always that intuitive.

As an improvement proposal, I miss a 120 Hz refresh rate like the iPad Pro, to further improve the transitions that on the tablet look amazing. By the way, you’ve probably read that this iPhone XS has a touch refresh rate of 120 Hz. It’s not the same: the Max’s display has a 60 Hz refreshment, but it has a touchscreen display as if it were 120 Hz to gain in speed with our actions. This means that the screen won’t move as well as if it were 120 Hz real, but it has the same enhanced touch response as it was and has gained in speed compared to last year.

iPhone Xs Max
iPhone Xs Max

-The size is almost identical to a Plus model, but the larger edge-to-edge OLED display changes the appearance and uses of this XS Max-

That’s what it’s like to wear the Max in everyday life

The screen is absolutely spectacular. The X’s design at a full 6.5-inch edge-to-edge wingspan is very useful for applications that retrieve landscape mode to display more information (such as Apple’s own Mail), view documents, or read magazines or digital books (the OLED screen here helps a lot). In certain situations it can even serve to lighten the weight on trips and almost use it as the legendary iPad mini: movies, work comfortably with a good screen and why not, take advantage of the extra hour and a half of autonomy in this model that we can squeeze even more. And it is that every day more, for some the iPhone has become the main computer.

The novelty in color this year is the gold color, which for the new design uses a special coloring mode in steam phase: this means that the exact same color is transferred to stainless steel as seen in the glass , providing a sense of continuity and a certain elegant touch. The presence certainly highlights that premium touch of the product and in hand remains how without slipping and a priori resistant, although you will have to see how those edges behave over time if you wear it without a cover. In my two weeks of testing, it has remained without scratches or stains of any kind even wearing it without a cover.

Another change in design that has curiously been losing strength since something similar was introduced in previous models, is water resistance. In the XS the permeability is improved making it compatible with the IP68 rating, which allows an immersion of up to two meters deep for a maximum of thirty minutes (one meter more than last year’s model). In the disarmaments that iFixit did every year ago, we have seen that Apple has improved the watertightness of the device, so we can take photos in the pool and although we can submerge it, the cameras are not ready to take quality aquatic photos.

The Chip A12 explained

One of the giant changes of this XS is the amazing A12 – which would rather qualify as a real engineering feat. This is one of the milestones of modern computing with the first chip manufactured in 7 nanometers, and we have it on a smartphone. Only this change has so many readings, that we should dedicate several articles to talk about it. What we need to know about this change is that Apple has put on the table a real monster capable of processing five billion operations per second, a barbarity in process capacity that materializes in many ways.

If the company wanted to scare the competition of course they have achieved it: a six-core CPU (two of them dedicated to performance, to be able to optimize energy efficiency to the maximum) 15% faster in addition to the A11 Bionic. It also has a quad-core GPU that runs twice as fast as the A11, optimized for the proprietary Metal 2 graphics drivers that will also become standard on the next macOS – eye that Apple warns us that on the Mac they will also be very serious with e processors designed by them when the time comes.

But in addition to all this, we have the crown jewel of this chip: the Neural Engine, an artificial intelligence engine that is able to learn from us and our actions to customize the way we interact with the device. And it also does so without taking the data out of our iPhone XS, since everything is processed locally. These three combined CPU + GPU + Neural Engine pieces give rise to one of the most revolutionary changes of this new generation of iPhone: what we carry in our pocket already has more computing power than some Intel MacBook Pro.

It is especially in monocore performance where the XS already surpasses MacBook Pro released in synthetic potency earlier this year and comes dangerously close to multicore performance where we will see the real inflection changes between platforms and possibly possibly let’s finally enjoy ARM technology on Macs. Until then, on the iPhone we are brought such incredible things as:

Artificial intelligence now allows you to use learning engines to detect situations, people and objects and be able to find them more easily. Detecting them also improves photography as portrait mode uses this differentiation in objects to highlight the close-ups of the rest. It is now able to detect better small details like hair, contrasts between colors and improves depth maps.

Developers have Core ML (Machine Learning) at their disposal that they can integrate it into their apps and make the most of the power of the Neural Engine. This means that you can program automatic recognition patterns, for example, passing multiple photos of a chair to it, create an app that recognizes chairs generically. That advanced learning pattern is now very simple to do and before Core ML had to be programmed from scratch, so developers have incredible potential when it comes to integrating AI into their apps.

Face ID has been improved by maintaining the same hardware on the sensors, using the capabilities of the A12 chip. Sincerely, unlocking an iPhone X and an iPhone XS the difference is so small (on the X it was already very fast) that it is hardly noteworthy. However, it should be noted that the more we use it, the faster it will be: and this chip learns even faster than the A11.

It offers better control over depth maps and allows the iPhone camera to natively use simple control to adjust the depth of the photo once taken, similar to what the Focus app did but more agilely. In my opinion the interface has been oversimplified in the Camera app, but any developer can use the A12 technology to design a more complete app.

Extended Reality is now more accurate and detects the real world and surfaces faster. The higher calculation speed also helps to process the position of each virtual object within the real one and multiplayer RA games will be a big point in the coming years thanks to this technology and this process capability.

Continuous learning in the operating system and Siri: with the Shortcuts app we can design our own workflows, but it is the Neural Engine itself that will be in charge of recommending things to us. For example, if you find that you have a meeting at 16:00, it will show you on the lock screen of the meeting phone or the time it takes to arrive. It will recommend that you mute your phone if you’re on an important appointment, or it will offer you options to intelligently disable this mode «when you get out of here». If you activate the same HomeKit lights every afternoon, it will create a shortcut for you and offer it to you. The more you use this XS, the more yours it will be, and the use of these Shortcuts by the apps is giving Siri even more interesting new features.

Artificial Intelligence Applied to Mobile Photography: Learning patterns not only work on the photos we take, but also on how we take them and under what conditions. The A12 chip learns from our preferences and also offers faster photography, as we’ll discuss later. The catalog of the photos we take and the recognition of objects and people has also been improved, not only to identify everything, but also to create videos that know what is in the photo and apply movement or transition effects taking them into account.

The overall performance of the iOS 12 interface maintains speed and stability dimensions (plus in this version of the Apple system it has accelerated many processes and that is evident in operating system navigation). The opening of the apps is almost instantaneous, and the loading times in games and so on has been reduced thanks to the addition for the first time of 4GB of RAM on an iPhone (both models). The optimization of the operating system along with the incredible hardware of this generation is an incredible tandem, where there is total absence of slowdowns or corruption with use over time.

Smart photography with the A12 chip

Another surprise of this iPhone XS is the camera. Not because it changed significantly from last year’s iPhone X, but because key aspects have been improved where the iPhone could still improve, such as photography in low-light conditions. The improvement in the sensor of the main camera causes the noise to be reduced in low light, further supported by intelligent HDR (again the A12 chip makes the presence).

HDR technology is something we have in the iPhone world since iOS 4.1, but it is a technology that required more than just filters to highlight certain parts of the image combining shots. That’s precisely what the new IPhone XS Smart HDR does: it takes many photos at once in the background of the scene we’re photographing, and then the Neural Engine selects which part of each shot can be used to compose the final photo. I have never been a fan of HDR photos, but I have to say that the planes backlit or with a lot of contrast between illuminated areas are now detailed and greatly improved. And we don’t have to do anything special for it: Apple has it activated by default, so you only have to aim and shoot to take such spectacular pictures (even in low light).

However, HDR displays unnatural results with close-up photography, for example, where too much noise reduction is applied and skin colors can become over-saturated. Many call this «the beauty filter,» which many manufacturers also have almost forced by a Chinese market obsessed with selfies. If you like it, perfect, if not, I recommend disabling it or check «Save the original image» to be able to choose after the shot you like the most.

In these two weeks, I have preferred to have it activated since the videos and photos without any kind of editing or retouching are really fantastic with the XS. If we also combine our photos with later retouching apps like Afterlight 2, or even the iOS 12 editor itself, the result is spectacular. The improvement in the sensor also applies to the speed with which the photographs are taken, which is significantly faster than on the X, so this XS will serve to aim and shoot better than ever. You can take really amazing photos as you can see in the latest Shot on iPhone advertising campaign, starring the photos that users themselves are hanging on social media.

You also have to keep in mind the learning engine that will improve with each photo we take, and how we take it. It is also fast at adjusting the sensor to the landscape, improving the speed of focus thanks to the more advanced object detection and a null shutter delay (supported no doubt by the best computational capacity). Portrait mode advances in leaps and bounds on the XS with the a posteriori depth selector even in selfies, using the cameras and depth maps offered by Face ID sensors and the improvement in the A12’s speed.

It is worth noting the speed of shooting: even from a moving train you can take perfectly sharp photos even with Smart HDR enabled that is capable of processing instantly. Stabilization remains very good, even in moving videos that also improve: if we record at 30 frames per second we will have HDR videos, stereo sound recording (for the first time on an iPhone, separated by channels). The videos improve substantially and the improvement in low light conditions are also applied here flawlessly.

Wireless charging and battery

The iPhone XS has a smaller battery than the X, but it still has the same battery life. How is this possible? The first culprit is called – again – A12 chip: its manufacture in 7 nanometers is decisive because it is incredibly more efficient than any other chip, but apple has also equipped this chip with four efficiency cores to distribute tasks more optimal and intelligent. This means that we have 50% less consumption than the A11, even though it is almost nine times faster. The normal model keeps 12 hours of Internet browsing, 14 hours playing video, or 60 hours listening to music.

In the Max, we have a larger battery that gives us according to Apple an improvement of hours and a half compared to the iPhone X. In my tests I have not managed to lengthen it so much since these theoretical values are debated between very specific tasks, but if it has lasted about an hour longer than the model of last year, using it in the same way: social networks, mail, web browsing and Music. Considering the power improvement, it’s a big step forward that they even back from Consumer Reports.

Apple has also improved the wireless charging system on the XS, as it has better distributed the charging circuit across the back of the device: this will prevent the iPhone from not charging when we misplace it on a wireless basis (especially on the Max model which is more gr ande), as it has a larger loading surface. In my tests with chargers of different brands, it is true that it is much easier to load the XS now than the X, without having to look too much as it is on it.

During my test days, you’ve been alerted to certain iPhone XSthat that didn’t charge when we connected the Lightning cable and the phone was at rest, or they weren’t responding. I have to say that in the test model that I’ve had, it’s always worked well and there hasn’t been any anomaly in this regard. However it seems to exist, and there is no specific pattern of devices where it happens so it has been very difficult to detect, it seems. Apple has gotten to work and in iOS 12.1 this bug seems to be fixed for good.

Something unforgivable however is the inclusion of a 5W charger and a Lightning USB-A cable even with the most expensive models: this device is way above this charging system and Apple should rethink what delivers with each of them. In my opinion, a 7.5W charger and a dual cable (or with adapter) Lightning/USB-C is the minimum that any iPhone should offer today.

To conclude

Like any «S» version, this new iPhone XS greatly enhances the concept raised by Apple with the iPhone X last year, bringing up virtually every aspect: the speakers are a good example, gaining in power very significantly with stereo sound (although they still do not reach the very impressive levels achieved with the iPad Pro). If we add it to the best water and dust resistance, it is perfect to hear while we are in the shower, or outdoors, for example.

XS has also included a new antenna system to improve coverage and now supports LTE Advanced, also known as 4G+, and will reach the incredible speed of 1 Gbps download and 500 Mbps upload maximum. In Spain it is starting to be implemented after summer, so it will gradually reach new cities. My operator still does not offer it to me and I have not been able to test it, but on the coverage and quality of the signal I have not noticed any change with respect to the iPhone X, either for better or for worse.

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