While it may seem as though the iPhone X has been around a long time, it was introduced just last year. In fact, it has only been available for about 11 months. The iPhone X has radically changed the iPhone line. The biggest changes were the edge to edge screen, which necessitated the removal of the home button. With the home button gone, Touch ID is also gone. In place of Touch ID came gestures for navigation and the all new Face ID.

Face ID takes an infrared scan using a random pattern of infrared dots on your face. This pattern is unique to every iPhone. If the points taken match the same pattern as expected, Face ID will unlock the iPhone. Face ID also brought with it more security. Excluding having a twin, it is very unlikely that someone else will be able to unlock your phone. In fact, 1 in a million chances with Face ID versus one in a 50,000 chance while using Touch ID.

As you might expect, the successor to the iPhone X has been released, the iPhone XS. Here are my thoughts on the iPhone XS after having used it for just about 9 days. You may not think it would be enough time, but given the updates over the iPhone X, it is enough time. Let us look start with speed improvements.

Speed

Every year, Apple increases the speed of new devices. This is typically done through the inclusion of new processors. The iPhone XS has a new A12 Bionic processor. The processor itself is may not seem that much faster than the A11 Bionic, however it is much faster. There are a couple of features that do actually make it faster. The first is the storage speed. Similar to how the latest MacBook Pros have faster storage, the new iPhone XS has similarly fast storage. This increase in speed allows for faster reading and writing, which should make all applications faster.

The processor itself is up to 15% faster than the A11 Bionic. This is possible because the A12 Bionic has six-cores instead of the previous four cores. The processor includes two performance cores, which 15% faster, but consume 40% less power. The second aspect to the CPU are the four efficiency cores. These handle the less intensive tasks and even these cores consume 50% less energy.

iPhone X Speed Benchmark
iPhone XS Speed Benchmark
iPad Pro 2nd Generation Speed
iPad Pro 2nd Generation Speed Benchmark

Along with the CPU is the companion graphics processor unit, or GPU. This is the first Apple-designed GPU. The A12 Bionic GPU comes with four cores, and is 50% faster than the A11 Bionic. This will allow experiences like multiplayer Augmented Reality gaming to be even better. Let us turn to one of the larger improvements to the A12 Bionic, the Neural Engine.

Neural Engine

The biggest is change for the A12 is the inclusion of a “next generation” Neural Engine. The Neural Engine is a specialized processor that is used to handle machine learning. The Neural Engine in the A12 is able to do 5 trillion operations per second. That is 8.3 times as many operations per second than the A11; which was able to handle 600 billion operations per second. That is a significant increase. The next generation Neural Engine is used for processing machine learning algorithms including Face ID, Animoji, and some camera algorithms. The camera will be covered in a bit, but first let us look at the speakers and microphones.

Speakers and Microphones

The iPhone XS still consists of the stereo speakers that have been present since the release of the iPhone 7 in 2016. They also located in the same place, at the bottom right and in the true depth camera sensor housing. During my test of the speakers, they are actually louder than my second-generation iPad Pro at the same volume location on the slider. I do not use the speakers that often on my iPhone, as any audio is usually going through headphones, but it will be nice to have overall.

The iPhone XS has four microphones. These microphones are used for a couple of different functions. The first is to pickup voice and sound that you want. The second function is for noise cancellation, which should eliminate unwanted noise. The additional microphones allow for a new feature with the iPhone XS, the ability to record video in stereo sound. This will make it your videos that much better. Let us look at the most popular feature of any iPhone, the Camera.

Camera

One of the biggest reasons that users upgrade their smartphone is due to improvements with the Camera. For a vast majority o people their smartphone is their primary camera, myself included. While it was not clearly explained by Apple in its unveiling of the iPhone XS, the camera is a substantial improvement over the iPhone X. There are a couple of overall reasons for this. The first is that the camera itself is actually over 30% larger. It goes from a 4mm lens to a 4.25mm lens. While 0.25mm does sound like a lot, it actually is quite a bit in practice. The larger sensor means that the lens can pull in more light, which will make things brighter in low light situations, and your images look better in all situations. The biggest reason for this is that the camera has a new improved processing system, called Smart HDR.

iPhone X Low Light Non-HDR Photo
iPhone X Low Light Non-HDR Photo
iPhone XS Low Light Example
iPhone XS Low Light Non-HDR Example

Smart HDR

With the iPhone XS Apple is employing the use of a new technology they are calling “Smart HDR”. HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range”. High Dynamic Range is a technique that takes multiple pictures at different exposure levels and then processing combines them into the best overall picture. This is how HDR has worked for all iOS devices until the iPhone XS. What is different with Smart HDR is that it is not just one picture that is being taken, in fact it is a total of nine photos.

Four of the images are being taken simultaneously so that any movement in the subject of the photo can be minimized. The second set of four images are inter-frames that are taken between the first four images so that the details can be highlighted. The second set of two images use a different exposure level, which allows the details to be brought out. The last photo take is a long exposure which is used to gather all of the shadow detail. All of these photos are then passed off to the Neural Engine.

The Neural Engine and processor then take the best of all of the photos that were taken to create the best photo it possibly can. The result of the processing is the photo that you see when you snap a picture.

The capabilities of the Smart HDR system are all thanks to the new Neural Engine. As mentioned above, the Neural Engine is able to handle 1 trillion operations per second, which is how all of the Smart HDR is able to take and process photos so quickly. There is one new feature that comes with the camera that will allow you to get just the right look that you want and that revolves around the Depth of Field.

Editing Depth of Field

The camera system on the iPhone XS now allows you to do something you could not do before, you can edit the Depth of Field on a Portrait photo to be able to get the best background bokeh effect possible. In order to do this you can perform the following steps:

  • Open Photos.
  • Locate the Portrait Mode photo you want to adjust.
  • Tap on the Edit button.
  • Adjust the “Depth” slider at the bottom to your liking.
  • Tap the “Save” button to save the changes.

The slider for the Depth of Field can go from ƒ1.4 to ƒ16. The higher the ƒ-stop the clearer the background. Because the depth information is separated from the rest of the photo, it can be adjusted as often as you would like, which is helpful to be able to get just the proper look you want. Here are some examples of the different depth effects on a portrait photo.

iPhone XS Depth Editing with ƒ/1.4 Selected
iPhone XS Depth Editing with ƒ/1.4 Selected
iPhone XS Depth Editing with ƒ/4.5 Selected
iPhone XS Depth Editing with ƒ/4.5 Selected
iPhone XS Depth Editing with ƒ/16 Selected
iPhone XS Depth Editing with ƒ/16 Selected

Examples from the Camera

The best way to show the power of the camera, in comparison to the iPhone X is to show a set of photos.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, the iPhone XS is a fairly minor update, but it is still a solid upgrade. It is typical of what we have come to expect for an “s” year for an iPhone. While the processor changes may not show substantial daily usage improvements, for specialized cases they will be substantial. The biggest change is with the Neural Engine. The Neural Engine will help process the machine learning algorithms that developers deploy. Apple has its own algorithms. One of which is the processing of images. The new Smart HDR algorithms will allow your iPhone XS to be able to take the best picture possible. This all done through the use of Smart HDR, which is enabled by default. You can disable it, if you so choose, but a vast majority of the time this is not needed.

If you have an iPhone X or an iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus, it may not be a worthwhile upgrade, unless you are on the iPhone Upgrade Program, or if you take a lot of pictures. The iPhone XS comes in two screen sizes. The first is the same 5.8-inch screen as the iPhone X and the second size is a larger 6.5-inch screen, called the iPhone XS Max. The storage sizes are 64GB, 256GB, and 512GB, depending on your storage needs. The prices for the iPhone XS range from $999 to $1349 and for the iPhone XS Max it is $1099 to $1449.