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A couple of months ago, with its usual fanfare and welcomed by typical cheers and jeers, Apple pulled the cloth off its two latest top-of-the-line phones, the XS and XS Max.

While these two phones look nearly identical to the iPhone X that preceded them – the phone which killed the home button and ushered in Apple’s new edge-to-edge screen and slip ‘n slide gesture-based interface, not to mention the Face ID system and the (in)famous notch that housed it – both these new phones represent how Apple is, in ways both big and small, taking its own new interpretation of a smartphone forward, building on the groundwork laid by the original X.

The XS models, the 5.8-inch XS and the 6.5-inch XS Max, occupy the range-topping segment of Apple’s iPhone lineup. Their less expensive and more colorful sibling the iPhone XR arrives in Manila soon, and we’ll test that one as soon as it drops.

Some in the tech press have written how these models seem to be nothing more than the iPhone X with better specs. To be perfectly honest, that’s exactly what they are. Vis-a-vis their progenitor model, they have improved cameras, more powerful processors, and so on, including a whole set of “minor” updates. Taken as a whole, though, we found these updates to add up considerably. They make the XS and XS Max much more capable and compelling devices than the old X.

See what we mean – read this review!

Established design
Design-wise the XS and XS Max don’t break too much new ground; they definitely take after the X, what with their gorgeously curved metal sides, glass backs (and compatibility with wireless charging), and edge-to-edge displays.

The camera module is still the most visible element of the XS’ and XS Max’ rear, flaunting curves that ape those of the phones themselves. And the notch, well, is still the notch – but it’s sort of hard to criticize a design element that’s been so widely emulated across the industry.

The XS and XS Max can be had in your choice of Silver, Space Gray, and Gold.

Power and capability
Screenwise, these are by far the best iPhones yet. They mount Super Retina HD displays (5.8 in for the XS and 6.5 in for the XS Max; AMOLED, 2688 x 1242 pixels at 458 ppi) that also boast Apple’s True Tone technology for consistent and accurate color display unaffected by ambient light, as well as 3D Touch “super multitouch”. And of course they’re edge-to-edge displays and have neither the “forehead” nor the “chin” of the old 8 Plus’ screen. These screens are just gorgeous and a joy to watch videos on or play games on.

Both the XS and XS Max are powered by Apple’s most advanced mobile processor, the A12 Bionic chip. The A12 Bionic is a piece of work – it comes equipped with four efficiency cores that tackle everyday workloads and two performance cores that tackle heavier computational tasks, and can use all six if need be. Apple says the performance cores are up to 15% faster than those in the old A11 Bionic, while the efficiency cores use up to 50% less power than the older ones. The A12 Bionic also comes with a powerful new GPU for boosted graphics performance, as well as a advanced Neural Engine that enables machine learning. We were duly impressed by the performance of our test units, which were slick and satisfying to use whatever the task and never lagged, not even slightly.

Now let’s look at the XS and XS Max’ camera sets. Both are armed with Apple’s latest dual 12MP wide-angle snapper (wide-angle: f/1.8 aperture) and feature dual optical image stabilization, optical and digital zoom, quad-LED True Tone flash, and portrait lighting with special effects. However, some parts are retained, from the 7MP front sensor with f/2.2 lens to the 12MP telephoto lens (f/2.4 aperture). And its Smart HDR image-processing system is new.

Quite a word-salad of features, but suffice to say that they help ensure that the XS and XS Max can function pretty well as cameras – in many ways noticeably better than the old X. We found our test phones to take more detailed, brighter photos and videos than the X did, and they stumbled less in low-light situations. And we thoroughly enjoyed making Memoji of ourselves, thanks to the A12 Bionic and TrueDepth camera!

Last but not least, both the XS and XS Max are splash, water, and dust-resistant, and also come in 64GB, 256GB, and 512GB capacities. And the XS Max has a heftier battery and lasts longer than both the X and the XS. Apple says it can last up to 13 hours on a full charge, and we routinely got around 11 on a full day’s workload, which is impressive. For its part, a fully-charged XS lasted us around 9.5 to 10 hours, which is still not bad at all.

The verdict
When Apple introduced the iPhone X, it seemingly had to put up with a little more of the usual flak. Not only from the pro-Android/anti-Apple crowd, which is expected, but even from established Apple fans who loved the old iPhone’s style and how it worked and didn’t want to change it. The iPhone X thus represented quite a risk for Apple. But it was a risk the company had to take – and they pulled it off brilliantly.

Fast forward to today and the successful X has given way to a bunch of successors. The XS Max caters to those who want a larger screen, whereas the XS is geared towards users who might want something that sits a little easier in their pockets.

We’re happy to report that whichever of this two you end up picking, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed. They’re powerful, capable phones that shouldn’t leave you wanting. And they look fantastic to boot!

 

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