Are the new iPhones still worthy ‘IT-phones’?

   Portrait mode is greatly improved, with fine-tuned blurred backgrounds that can be tweaked to your tastes. — Pictures by Erna Mahyuni
Portrait mode is greatly improved, with fine-tuned blurred backgrounds that can be tweaked to your tastes. — Pictures by Erna Mahyuni

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 12 ― “I think I might love my iPhone more than (I do) my husband,” said an iPhone XS user to me when I asked how she liked her phone.

Thing is, she’s been an iPhone user for a long time and it was just about time for her to upgrade.

My biggest problem with the iPhone is that it caters to those who aren’t going anywhere ― those already enconsed in the iOS universe.

What Apple needs is to win over new users but the shoulds, cans and whys are for some other story. This one is about the latest iPhones.

Supersizing it

The iPhone XS and XS Max are in a way a reward for the patient faithful who decided to wait, who passed over the iPhone X knowing at the very least an incremental upgrade would be ready the next year.

It would be easy for current iPhone X users to feel a little envious at the latest models, but that’s how it is, isn’t it? No matter how shiny our toys are the newer, shinier ones will still catch our eye.

If you do have the iPhone X, it probably isn’t worth the money to trade up. Unless of course you got a very, very good deal.

The iPhone XS and XS Max are basically the iPhone X but with a faster processor and a much better camera. If you’d been wanting an iPhone X in the body of an 8 Plus, the XS Max will appeal to those who just want a really big iPhone.

Choosing between the XS and XS Max is simple. Ask yourself: do you want that bigger screen and are you willing to pay for the price difference? If so, bigger phone it is.

Otherwise, the XS is a nice-ish size that offers a lot of screen for a fairly compact size.

Easily tired-out

The OLED Super Retina HD screen is gorgeous, whether it’s a 5.8-inch one on the XS or the larger 6.5-inch display on the XS Max.

One feature the larger phone supports is some apps (like Mail or Messages) displaying side-by-side windows. For instance I can open messages and texts in one pane while scrolling through the list of messages in the other.

Yet this capability is limited to only a few apps and if it were applicable to more, especially, third-party apps, there would be a greater demand for the XS Max.

While the new A12 Bionic processor is super-zippy (even said to be near-rivalling desktop CPUs) it would have been nice if the battery had been better optimised.

The cheaper iPhone XR bests both the XS and XS Max in the battery stakes, which is a pity. Rumour is Apple is coming up with phone cases with built-in batteries but the pity is that the phone needs them in the first place.

Not to say the phone’s battery is absolutely terrible ― it’s just that it doesn’t last much longer than the iPhone X. The iPhone X typically would need charging by late evening or, on heavy usage, by late afternoon/early evening.

   In low light, the wide-angle rear camera lens is impressive.
In low light, the wide-angle rear camera lens is impressive.

Saving grace

Though the display is certainly nice, and being actually waterproof this time and not just water-resistant are nice plus points, the real draw here is the camera.

Apple has boosted the camera’s capabilities in low light allowing for some beautiful shots. One caveat though ― the camera still works best with as much light as you can give it.

In a concert with the tricky lighting, I was able to take shots that were ridiculously good for a smartphone but the best results I got were while outside in a park near Washington DC, with clear skies and plenty of light.

The telephoto/optical zoom is a little better on the XS series but I always wonder just why Apple can’t improve on that when competing Androids can offer more than 3x optical zoom on their flagships.

Still in the right conditions, the iPhone XS series can offer some gorgeous portraits so long as you make the most out of the wide-angle lens as well as the new software tricks in portrait mode.

The best party trick has to be the ability to change the background blurring as well as lighting of portrait photos in real-time, even previewing them before applying them to a photo.

Apple still does some of the best skin tones around especially with the rear camera ― this time around, for some reason Apple applies a little too much smoothing on the selfie cam.

While it’s not as horrifyingly grotesque as the results on some East Asia brands I’ve reviewed, the software “face touch-ups” in selfie mode isn’t my favourite. I would also like at least a means of dialing that down if I wanted my unvarnished face.

Still got it

Ultimately like all its latest phones, if you wanted the absolute best iPhones you could get if money was no object: no question, it’s the iPhone XS line.

If you just want a new iPhone but don’t fancy paying that much more, the XR is a nice option that doesn’t compromise much especially if you don’t need telephoto or waterproofing. It also has a better battery, so there’s that.

Still here’s hoping that the next iPhone (that will hopefully have a better name) won’t just market to the faithful. As it is, the iPhone XS improves on its predecessor in every possible aspect but just falls short of being amazing.

For what it’s worth, if you do get an iPhone XS it will, like its brethren, be a solid phone that will last you through a few years’ worth of upgrades ― which is a lot better than most of its competition can claim.

The iPhone XS and XS Max are already on sale on the Apple online store as well as at authorised resellers for RM4,999 and RM5,399 respectively.