Three months with the iPhone XS

iphone

#1

Now that I’ve had my new iPhone XS for a few of months I feel like I’ve used it enough to have an informed opinion on it. Rather than burying the lede, I’ll start out by saying I really like this phone.

I’m coming from an iPhone 7, so many of the features that make me like the XS so much aren’t really “new”, though they are new to me. First and foremost is Face ID. This has been awesome. It really is like going back to the days of my iPhone 3G when I didn’t have a passcode on my phone: just slide to unlock.

Face ID has been pretty close to 100% reliable for me. The only situation where I consistently have issues is when I’m not wearing my glasses or contacts (at night in bed, for example). My vision is quite bad so when I’m operating without corrective lenses I end up holding the phone very close to my face; too close for the Face ID sensors to work correctly. Once I remember to hold the phone further away at a more normal viewing distance it will unlock. The only other time I had issues was one morning where it simple failed immediately every time I tried to authenticate (a reboot got it back to normal).

Contrast this with Touch ID, which was usable, but never great. I often had to put my finger on the sensor several times before it would unlock. If my hands were too wet or too dry, the fingerprint sensor wouldn’t read correctly. In particular, during a trip to Montana last fall the cold weather dried out my hands dried out so much that my success rate with Touch ID plummeted pretty much to zero. In contrast, when I went out there on a hunting trip this year just after getting the new phone I didn’t have any issues. The only time it failed to unlock was when I had my face covered on a very cold morning.

I’d been anticipating that Face ID would be a really big feature of the iPhone XS for me. The impact of Qi charging has been more of a surprise. Initially I was skeptical about the utility of wireless charging, but since it was a feature of my new phone I decided to give it a go. It’s surprising how much easier it makes it to top off my phone. Plugging in the cable was just one more point of friction that I don’t have to deal with any more.

At this point I’ve got three Qi chargers. One sits on my nightstand and charges my phone overnight. While this Anker charger isn’t the least expensive, it offers the ability to turn off the light that indicates the phone is charging, which is important to me in a bedside accessory.

I’ve also got Qi charging stands that hold the phone up at a nice viewing angle on my desk at home and at work. I initially bought an Anker charging stand for my desk at work. Unfortunately, the stand is tall enough that it contacts the camera bump so the phone sits somewhat unsteadily in it (this probably wouldn’t be a problem with the XS Max). I brought the Anker stand home and replaced it with this charger from Samsung. The circular design means the camera bump clears the top of the stand, making it much steadier (the rubberized material on the stand helps too). I use the one at work quite a bit. The one at home, not so much, in part due to the inferior stand, in part because I just don’t have as much call to constantly have my phone out on my desk when I’m at home. Both stands hold the phone at an angle that makes Face ID fairly easy to use.

The XS’ camera is definitely an upgrade from the iPhone 7. This is the first dual-lens phone camera that I’ve had, and I’ve found the 2x lens quite useful. On the other hand, I don’t really get much out of portrait mode, largely because I take few pictures of people. The front-facing camera on my phones has never gotten much use, and the one on the iPhone XS is no different (aside from FaceID).

Frankly, I thought going to the OLED screen would be a bigger deal. I’d heard lots of great things about the iPhone X screen. It’s a nice screen, but in day to day use I don’t really notice it. The notch doesn’t really bother me. I think part of this is because my phone spends the vast majority of it’s time in a portrait orientation.

I’ve always been a “small phone” guy. I really think the iPhone 5 was about the ideal size for a smartphone, largely because I primarily use my phone one-handed (if they made an iPhone X style phone in that size I’d be all over it). Like the iPhone 6/7 size phones the XS is a bit large for my taste, but workable. It’s still mostly a one-handed device for me, but I do find myself bringing up a second hand to help stabilize the phone more often. This is not so much because the phone itself is bigger than the iPhone 7, but because the larger screen means some things are a longer reach.

I’ve gotten used to the new gestures and the lack of a home button. Tap to wake is great and swiping to go home works well. I really like the ability to swipe right or left on the home indicator to switch between apps. It makes quick app switching much more accessible on the phone than it was on the iPhone 7.

Finally, this is a very nice looking phone. This is the first time since my original iPhone 3G that I’ve bought a white iPhone (all of my others have been space gray or black). I like the look of the pearlescent white back and the stainless steel outer band. Mine is currently careless (though I do have a screen protector on the front glass, as well as Apple Care).

Overall, I really like the iPhone XS. I know a lot of folks weren’t all that excited by it, but coming from the iPhone 7 it’s been a very worthwhile upgrade. Well worth the cost.


#2

Thank you for your impressions! I bought my XS on day 1 and agree with almost everything you say. Face ID works like a charm and it doesn‘t matter if I wear my glasses or not. But I have the same issues when lying in bed, especially in the morning after waking up. I hold it too close to my face… but still way more reliable than Touch ID. It always was a question of humidity for me. If I just had the slightest traces of sweat on my fingertips it wouldn‘t work reliably… so thumbs up for Face ID.

One little tip for portrait mode: You could experiment a little and take photos of objects with portrait mode enabled. I do this quite a lot an really like the results.


#3

Really great review. I’m an iPhone 8 holdout, and have yet to pull the trigger on any of the fullscreeen models as of yet.

One thing that I see referenced a bit with regards to OLED screens is eye strain due to flicker rate. Have you noticed any issues with regards to this?


#4

Great review, thanks for posting!

I went from a SE to the XS and I do miss the size still. However, force touch, the camera and design is nice. I agree about OLED, my iPad Pro screen seems just as nice, at least to me.

I hope one day they release a smaller, iPhone 5 size, all screen phone. I’d snap it up in an instant.


#5

I haven’t noticed anything like that and I’ve spent plenty of time staring at this phone.


#6

Thanks for taking the time to write up your thoughts, always interesting to hear views based on long term experience.


#7

Nice review! As a fellow launch day XS owner (came from SE) I think similarly. I really like the OLED, though; it’s not always perceptible how easy it is on my eyes but I definitely notice the difference when I use someone else’s phone. I haven’t noticed the flicker rate and don’t feel any relief when I look at a non-OLED screen. I only miss Touch ID when I’m trying to check my phone at 2am without bothering to lift my head off the pillow. :wink:


#8

I’d like to echo others here, I look forward to seeing an updated SE with Face ID. Now that winter’s here I no longer have fingerprints. Happens every year.

Is it just me? I swear Touch ID is stricter for unlocking the phone than it is with website passwords.


#9

I’d be shocked to see another SE, but the idea of a smaller form-factor iPhone with an XR-like bezeled screen would be amazing. I just don’t think that Face-ID would come to a smaller iPhone though.


#10

I‘m on the Xs Max and that’s my first plus sized phone. I got used to it so fast and now my wifes SE feels so unbelievably tiny!
I agree on Face ID, works very good.
I also want to point out battery life. I never had such a comfortable amount of battery left at the end of the day. If I end up with 45% I think: wow, I had a very busy day with that phone. Not once did I have to charge during the day.
I don’t mind the notch from a design point of view, but I really miss the extra information in the status bar. I turn bluetooth headphones on and off quite often and would like to see if they’re connected at first glance.
And me too, I find qi-charging much more convenient than I expected.


#11

Thanks Chris.

My wife and I have had our XS Max since launch and really like them. The Face ID is excellent. I rarely have issues with it and if I do it is normally an issue with me, not the phone. Otherwise, I really like having the plus size back after spending a year with the X.


#12

I’ve had mine since Xmas Day - so 4 weeks. I’d echo everything you said. I went from 7+ to 10S MAX - so a similar spec bump.

You haven’t mentioned NFC so I guess you haven’t played with it. I would say I’ve enjoyed using NFC - with Launch Center Pro. The only friction is the usual one of needing to tap on the notification it pops up.


#13

Well said. Thumbs up from here also for the XS. FaceID is awesome smart. And coming back down in size from 7 Plus, suddenly my thumbs can reach across the screen, and I can squeeze phone into girl-clothes pockets. Fantastic. Screen gorgeous. Never crashes. Camera amazing. Best phone yet. Having said all that, it would want to be. Especially in Australia, this phone is pretty indulgent. Not sure I’d get into spending that much on a smartphone device regularly.


#14

Coming from an iPhone 6S the thing I like the most is the absence of the Home button. Swiping up is much easier and has become second nature to me.

But I just don’t get all these so-called improvements to the camera. The photos I take now don’t look much different from the ones my 6S took and they don’t look anything like the photos in Apple’s marketing materials. I think they should dispense with all of these camera improvements for a year and just build a set of really good online classes to show you how to take good pictures.


#15

I had an SE (same rear camera, I think) and the XS photos are way, way better for me. I’m really proud of a few of them which is new. I’m not a photographer at all so I was probably under-using the previous phone’s camera, but if the XS can compensate for no skill, that’s still a benefit for me even if not for others.


#16

Great review! I’m on a 7 Plus and given that we’ve already started hearing rumors about the iPhone XI, I’m having second thoughts to upgrade now to or wait for the XI.


#17

If you’re willing to wait nine months for a new phone, wait.

I went from the 6S Plus to the Max in November and it’s a great experience. (I probably would have been almost as happy saving $900 with the XR though.)


#18

I also got the Max last November and absolutely love it. Face ID is wonderful. My wife got the Xs and also loves Face ID. Touch ID never worked for her…we think because she has really small fingers. Camera is amazing. I know it is a lot of money, but I am a bit of a geek for tech.


#19

I’ve found Face ID to be a pain in the winter. My local coffee shop is a no-cash establishment that takes Apple Pay, and I end up having to take off my hat/scarf/sunglasses when it comes time to pay. Same for unlocking when outside in the cold. At least with Touch ID I could unlock it with a finger before the phone left my pocket.

Other than that, the XS Max has been about as good as I could have hoped. (I probably still would have been fine with an XR though.)


#20

I’m glad I went with the XS because I really enjoyed the OLED. Apps that display Black theme such as Things 3, Twitterrific, movies really feel like a different apps/experience to me. I’m of an age where I’m starting to need reading glass. This is the time to appreciate a new screen because 10 years from now, I probably can’t appreciate it as much. OLED, Face ID and the camera are reasons enough for the XS.