Today at Apples iPhone launch event, we saw the unveiling of three new iPhones as well as the Apple Watch Series 4. We go into more detail about the specifications of the new phones in our separate announcement article. Least to say, the new phones are a major upgrade in terms of their hardware capabilities, and also mark the across-the-board adoption of the iPhone X design for the entire iPhone product line.

I had a bit of hands-on time with the new phones at the event, and I was able to come away with a few impressions of the new models.

One thing that’s pretty evident is that the iPhone XS’ and the XR are pretty much successors to the iPhone X, as they adopt the same design language as their predecessors, along with Apple’s take on “edge-to-edge” displays and the notch design.

In terms of size, there’s quite a bit of a shakeup in the product line. The new iPhone XS replaces the iPhone 8 as the smallest phone available from Apple, and yet this "smallest" phone is actually identical in size to the iPhone X, which itself was closer to the iPhone 8 Plus in size than it was the standard iPhone 8. Essentially this means that Apple no longer offers a current-generation small form-factor phone; you'd need to go with previous generation phones (such as the now price reduced iPhone 8) to get something smaller than the X/XS.

Overall the iPhone XS is so close in design to the original iPhone X that in just looking at the exterior of the phones, you would be hard pressed to differentiate between the iPhone X and iPhone XS. And upon closer inspection there’s only two visible differences between the two units. On the bottom of the phone there’s now only three holes instead of six holes on the left side. As a reminder only the right holes actually output sound from the speaker, while the left ones hide the bottom microphone. Instead Apple added one more antenna line here, and this feature is mirrored at the top right corner of the phone as well. We don’t know yet as to what the two new antennas are for, other than they’re there for better reception.

Otherwise the front of the iPhone XS remains essentially identical to the iPhone X. I do find it a bit unfortunate that Apple decided not to iterate on the bezels and possibly make them smaller, as that would have been a great change and given a better “edge-to-edge” effect.

Apple put a lot of emphasis on the screen size of the iPhone XS Max – and I think it’s well warranted. The larger variation of the phone has the same physical footprint as the iPhone 8 Plus and prior Plus variants, however the XS Max just offers a lot more screen real estate thanks to the edge-to-edge design. This results in a device that’s a lot more fit among the 2018 competition than what we’ve seen last year.

The iPhone XS and XS Max otherwise don’t have any new external features differentiating from what we’ve seen in last year’s X. The camera housing is very much identical, even though the CMOS sensors have been upgraded.

While it was quite hard to evaluate this on-location with the very noisy crowd, the new speakers definitely sounded a lot louder and showcased better depth to them than what I’ve seen on the iPhone X. Here Apple seems to have done a lot to improve their speakers, and it seems 2018 will be remembered as a year where phone manufacturers tried in earnest to improve their external speaker sound quality.

The iPhone XR – What I think will be the most popular

Along the XS and the XS Max, Apple also introduced the iPhone XR, which is a lower priced phone that keeps an LCD display versus the higher end OLED found on the XS line. Here Apple actually introduced a new form-factor that’s in-between the XS and the XS Max. Unfortunately Apple didn’t have all three phones side-by-side, but here’s it showcased alongside last year’s iPhone X.

Overall I was a lot more impressed by the iPhone XR than I had expected, and I do think it gives the iPhone XS & XS Max a good run for their money.

Now make no mistake, it’s still very much an LCD screen and this can be seen by the inferior viewing angles. But for an LCD it was still excellent and I saw no faults in the panel itself. Though it did end up with a lower resolution than I was expecting from a phone of its size.

On the back of the phone we have a similar design to the iPhone 8 – a glass back which enables wireless charging and a single camera. Here the iPhone XR doesn’t adopt the secondary telephoto module that its siblings employ.

In terms of build quality, I found the aluminium band of the XR to be nicer than the steel band of the iPhone XS’s. Though perhaps it’s just my subjective opinion, as I’m not too great a fan of glossy frames (something I had also commented on with other devices this year).

Where the XR definitely beats the XS is in terms of phone body colour options. Reminiscent of the colour options for the iPhone 5C, I find the options offered for the XR to be a fresh breath of air for Apple. And the blue, yellow, red, and coral colours are definitely very attractive additions to the white and black variants that are traditionally available. Gold is the only version that the XS models are going to have to themselves in this regard.

Overall I suspect that the iPhone XR will be the phone of choice for the vast majority of people, especially as the $250 lower price tag is well worth giving up a few features.

The Apple Watch Series 4

The new Apple Watch was today’s first announcement, and it seems a positively great improvement in every aspect. The new variant comes in 40 or 44mm size variants, and the key feature of the new models is that they have a larger screen filling up more of the watch front – increasing the display-to-body ratio.

The screen seemed excellent and there’s definitely a lot more space, allowing for more information to be visible to the user.  

Among other design changes, the microphone has been moved to the right side of the watch, between the button and the crown dial. Apple did this to improve the speaker of the watch – making it a lot louder now – as well as to enable better separation of recorded audio and to avoid echos.

The crown has also been updated and now includes haptic (clicky) feedback. The crown itself is still a freely-spinning wheel, so the feedback isn’t caused by a mechanism in the crown itself, but instead it's achieved through a vibration motor (the Taptic Engine) in the watch. Still it’s very convincing and serves the watch well.

On the back of the watch we have a similar design to past Apple Watches – which actually is a positive as the new watch is fully compatible with existing bands. The heart-rate monitor has seen an upgrade, but the most interesting aspect of the new watch is its ability to measure electrocardiograms. Here the user just wears the watch normally, and just has to touch the crown to create a closed loop, formed with your arms across your heart.

Much of the same, but improved details

Overall the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR are very much the successors to the iPhone X. Here what Apple has done is to bring last year’s design to a wider audience. However the prices of the XS models are a bit of a concern, as Apple's pricing really raises the bar in terms of the most expensive phones. With this latest generation of phones, we're looking at a whopping $1449 for the highest priced version.

Consequently, thanks in particular to its lower $749 starting price, I expect that the iPhone XR is going to be a much more successful and accessible device.

But with all of that said, there was also plenty that we didn't get to do with the new iPhones during our limited hands-on time. A lot of the improvements in the new iPhones are in the actual hardware powering the phones, and as is usually the case, we weren’t able to run any benchmarks during the hands-on. So we’ll have to wait for the upcoming review to address matters such as the new 7nm A12 chip.  

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  • V900 - Thursday, September 13, 2018 - link

    Whoops, sorry about that! The last part is missing.

    Bezel less displays are just the latest attempts from OEMs to try and distinguish a phone that share 95% of the components with all the other phones on the market.

    Some people like the look of an “edge to edge” display. But the practical consequences are a phone with poor structural integrity, a display that’s more likely to crack, and usually a poor and uncomfortable grip.

    So no, bezels aren’t superfluous and backwards. They are a key ingredient in a solid, structurally solid phone.

    But then again, we all know that Android phones aren’t a durable, quality product. Unlike the iPhone 8, for example.
    Reply
  • SanX - Friday, September 14, 2018 - link

    You do know that only dumbest mention English spelling as an argument ? Congrats. And confirmation of that is your giving bad marks to Chinese displays based on tests while in real life 99,9999% Apple users at the best will not distinguish them from elcheapos or in some cases will even prefer cheapos ones.

    I like to do this trick with brainwashed: ones I owned cheapo Zopo now 5 years old phone and not used last couple years: I asked people in the Apple and Samsung showrooms to compare my phone to theirs and tell which screen was subjectively better and guess how much my phone costs. No single person found that big brother screens were superior and no one believed about 1/4 Zopo's price. And when I asked to do the same on the bright sun, the comparison were ended same second with Apple/Samsung salespeople escaped ashamed, their dumbphones on California sun were just totally black.

    Same tricks I like to do with "pros" who claim that they know the value of expensive wine asking them to find it among cheapo ones. Never lose.
    Too many clowns on this site lately, pity to lose my time
    Reply
  • SanX - Friday, September 14, 2018 - link

    Largest BoM differences between Apple and elcheapo phones are display and processor. Apple A12 will cost same $25 vs $10 for cheapos and screen price difference will be $40 max so where the rest $500 ? In brainwashed heads Reply
  • varase - Wednesday, October 3, 2018 - link

    You think you could make an A12 for $25?

    If that's the case, why does Apple's stuff constantly and consistently blow all Android devices out of the water performance-wise?

    Do you know why Apple's displays are rated better than Samsung's even though Samsung manufactures them? Every Apple display since the iPhone 7 has been individually calibrated, and they fold the OLED at the bottom along with the display controller to get it closer to the bottom of the phone.

    There are a *lot* of things that don't show up on a BOM, stuff you don't see like the cost of designing your own industry-leading chips.
    Reply
  • janus2010 - Thursday, September 13, 2018 - link

    700-800 for a phone with 720p screen... ONLY apple would ever do this ( and get away with it )
    so many Isheeps its sad.
    Reply
  • V900 - Thursday, September 13, 2018 - link

    The worst part about Apples September product launches?

    They bring out the two of Tech’s most loathsome and mindless creatures:

    The Hipster fanboy, who doesn’t think of himeself as neither a fanboy nor a geek. But still defends every move and decision by Apple, with the fanatical zeal of a religious convert.

    And

    The Android monk: His monastery is his basement, and his bible is the spec sheet. Judges everything by how many checks on the spec list it crosses. Has hated Apple with a religious passion ever since he found out the iPhone 4 didn’t take his precious Micro SD cards.
    Reply
  • darkich - Friday, September 14, 2018 - link

    This is absolutely true. Reply
  • Tams80 - Sunday, September 16, 2018 - link

    Creepily. Reply
  • Lau_Tech - Thursday, September 13, 2018 - link

    The pricing is completely out of whack with reality. Why should phones which are largely identical to last years Iphone X models still cost the same price?

    are all OEMs just going to +$50 to their flagships every year until they find the consumer breaking point?
    Reply
  • solipsism - Saturday, September 15, 2018 - link

    Maybe because it has plenty of updated, new tech, and that most buyers aren't just about superficiality regarding how it looks because their goal is how it functions not that others notice they have the latest iPhone? Reply

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