Apple iPhone and Apple Watch 4

First Look: Apple iPhone XS and Watch 4

There’s always hype surrounding an Apple release, and there’s no difference with the iPhone XS, the XS Max and the Apple Watch 4.


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Apple iPhone XS

This year all the talk is about the price.

Each phone has three different variations in storage size, and even the cheapest version of the XS is still just under $2000. The most expensive is the iPhone XS Max 512GB at $2799.

I trialled the 512GB, $2599 XS, and I couldn’t say if it’s worth that kind of money. It’s a high-end phone, and it’s not perfect but there’s little to complain about it. So I’m going to leave any cost-benefit analysis to the reader.

  • iPhone XS Max (512GB): $2799
  • iPhone XS (512GB): $2599
  • iPhone XS (256GB): $2399
  • iPhone XS Max (256GB): $2399
  • iPhone XS Max (64GB): $2099
  • iPhone XS (64GB): $1899

The iPhone XR (available at the end of October) is the cheapest option, with fewer features, but even this starts at $1400.

The XS is similar to last year’s iPhone X. Nearly all of the changes are inside the phone. An eagle-eyed consumer may notice a small change to the bottom edge, due to a new aerial, but beyond that, it’s the same phone.

So what’s new?

The XS has the updated A12 Bionic chip, which works with a “neural engine” (Apple’s version of AI). This engine uses the more powerful chip to run apps faster and more efficiently. The search feature has also been improved. While I didn’t notice any difference from last year’s model, using the XS was very smooth, no hiccups with apps or slowdowns.

What hasn’t improved is the battery life. The XS lags behind its Android competition. I worried so much about it lasting that I topped it up if I knew I was going to be out late.

The cameras are mostly the same as last year’s iPhone with some tiny changes. For example, portrait mode now making soft focus backgrounds look more like what you’d get from an actual camera, with the lights being not-quite-perfect circles. The phone also uses HDR smarter – the A12 chip and neural engine combine to assess each photo and determine the levels of contrast and colour required. HDR now works in video too (up to 30fps).

Left: Smart HDR off, focus on foreground. Right: automatic setting with Smart HDR

The iPhone still has the best selfie camera of any phone I’ve used. The XS’s front-facing camera has been given better image stabilisation, HDR, and portrait mode improvements as well.

Like any iPhone, it works best inside of an Apple eco-system as well. I used it as a remote control and keyboard for the Apple TV and could share photos between my MacBook and phone without using a third-party app.

So, battery life notwithstanding, the XS is excellent.

Specs: iPhone XS (512GB)

Price: $2599
Dimensions: 143.6x70.9x7.7mm
Weight: 177g
Screen: 5.8”, 2436×1125, OLED
Processor: A12 Bionic chip
Storage: 512GB
Rear: 12MP (f/1.8) and 12MP (f/2.4)
Front: 7MP (f2.2)

Apple Watch Series 4

Released at the same time is the Apple Watch Series 4. The new smartwatch is slightly thinner (0.7mm) with and comes in bigger versions (44 and 40mm compared to 42 and 38mm) than the previous model. The screen covers more of the watch face and has a higher resolution, making it easier to read.

The other physical changes are in the dial. It’s smaller and gives a little haptic (subtle vibration) feedback when you turn it. The watch has a cool feature: a built-in EKG (electrocardiogram) meter. Placing a finger on the dial will complete the circuit through your wrist and you can get an EKG saved as a PDF file that can be emailed to your doctor. However, this feature still needs US regulatory release, and will be enabled if this comes through.

Apple has also added another heart sensor to increase accuracy and fall detection. The latter will detect if you fall and remain motionless for a minute and will call emergency contacts.

I’m a sceptic when it comes to smartwatches, but all the improvements make this Apple Watch a great step up from the previous model and makes the iPhone a more useful device.

Specs: Apple Watch Series 4

Price: from $699
Dimensions: 44 or 40mm case. 10.7mm thick
Screen: 977mm2 or 759mm2
Processor: S4, 64-bit dual core

First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

This phone and watch were loaned to the writer by Apple.

By Hadyn Green
Technology Writer