Review: The Apple iPhone Xs


As my iPhone 6s was nearing its third anniversary, I began to get the bug for a new phone. The battery is still fine on my 6s (reports at 87% capacity, not bad for 3 years old) and the latest version of iOS had improved its snappiness, but, it is still an older phone, and, it was time to jump to the latest and greatest.

I usually keep my phones for 2 years, and also go with the second iteration (hence the 6s, and the 5s before it) of a new design, so I sat out the 7 and 8 iterations (for whatever reason, Apple decided to not use the ‘s’ moniker for the 7 to 8 transition) and the initial iPhone X.

But, the release of the Xs was the trigger. I used my United miles to buy the Xs and the max storage. I expected it to take 2-3 weeks to ship, but a mere 4 days after ordering it showed up at my door.

Packaged, it looked just like my 6s. Side by side, it was a bit larger (a couple mm in length and width, as well as slightly thicker) and it is of course missing the home button.

Initial setup

When I removed it from the box, it greeted me with the new device “Hello” screen. It looked to be about 80% charged, so I swiped and began the process of setting it up.

In the past, it has always been somewhat of a struggle to move to a new device. How I had to move from my 5s to the 6s was convoluted. I had to do a basic setup, then update the iOS, then reset to factory default, and then use my iCloud backup to restore my settings and goodies. So, I was expecting something similar when I began the process.

I was wrong.

First thing it did was ask me if I was moving from a prior version, and if it was at iOS 11 (I think 11.2.something) just put it near the old device. Some handshaking, the old phone displaying a “cloud-like” code graphic that I needed to scan with the new phone, a confirmation, and low and behold, my settings were moved. In the process, it asked, and then upgraded to the latest iOS, and after requesting the password for my iCloud account, it just automagically restored to the new phone.

Pairing to my headset, and my wife’s stereo in her car was painless.

I was cringing at a few things, moving my MobilePass token (used for connecting to the VPN for work on my laptop) and all the third party 2FA via the Google Authenticator app. Both those were trivial. Less than a half hour to get it all setup and tested.

Yawn – but way cool.

It took about 6 hours (overnight) to get my photos, apps, and other media moved. I just put it on the charger and let it go.

Face ID

One of the big changes in the iPhone X series is the use of Face ID. As part of the setup, it walks you through the process of setting it up. It was a bit weird to get all the angles it wanted, but even the challenged tech person that I am got it done in a minute or so.

Face ID seems really solid. It just “works” and appears to be seamless. Pick up the phone, and the accelerometer / gyroscope notes that it is up, and you are looking at it, and boom, it is unlocked. A simple swipe up and you are in like Flynn.

It is also used for opening my 1password app, for confirming a store purchase, and the like.

The Hardware

It is a glass back phone, so it will work with a charging mat, and while I don’t yet have one, I am sure that will change.

It is a little larger, and definitely a little heavier than my old 6s. Not a lot, but noticeable. Of course, I put a Gadget Guard black ice + screen protector (a think glass cover), and an Incipio case to protect the phone. I am usually pretty cautious with my phone, but I also play the odds, and that means I buy a case and screen protector.

It is missing the 3.5 mm headphone jack. I know that this causes heartburn in the serious techies, but honestly, I have been using bluetooth headsets long enough now that it is really no big deal. In fact, while I will probably buy a lightning to 3.5 mm adaptor, I suspect I will rarely need it.

Cerbie drops “Magnum”

I have just started taking pictures with it, but I can say that it is noticeably better image quality than my 6s. I did some pics with Cerberus, my Kauai hound, and using portrait mode, it took this picture. Impressive, to do similar Bokeh on my 5D I can use my 50mm f1.4 lens, but really, I would need to spend a couple grand on a 1.2 lens to get the depth of focus that the dual camera is able to achieve on the iPhone Xs.

Apparently there are a couple of other phones that have better cameras, but honestly, to me, this is plenty good, and if I need “better” I will bring my Canon G12, or my bag with my 5D and lenses. The adage: “The Best Camera for the Job is the one you have”, and that is 90% of the time my phone.

I did opt for the biggest storage. Since I keep my phones a fairly long time, I like to err on the side of more storage. 512Gb of storage is as much as my laptop.

The bluetooth performance is better than the 6s. Fewer drop outs with my Plantronics headset, and it is just a no drama process to setup.

The OLED display is, for want of a better word, delicious. The colors are fantastic, it has amazing contrast, and it seems that the other promise of OLED displays, greatly reduced energy consumption, is realized.

Sidebar: Way back in the day, I worked at a company that did measurement instrumentation for a variety of applications, and in the mid ‘oughts I researched the OLED display makers. At the time, the technology was primitive, but promising (the challenge then was that the blue elements had < 1/2 the lifespan of the other elements). Clearly, in the decade since, they have become acceptable, and even superior performers.

But, its price…

One of the complaints I hear often (especially on sites that I should stop reading, like Slashdot) is that it is way too expensive for a phone. That there are a bevy of Android devices that are < $200 and “perfectly suitable”.

Sure, there are plenty of low end devices, and they do work, but the experience isn’t great. A few years ago, I thought about exiting the Apple ecosystem, to save a few bucks. At that time though, the cheap phones, sucked. To get something that felt comparable you needed to go to the higher end Samsung Galaxy series. And guess what… they were almost as expensive as the iPhone du jour.

Sure, $1300 is a lot of coin, but since I used miles, it wasn’t too painful. And, I arguably use my phone a lot more than my laptop. $1300 over a 3 year life is about $433 a year, not chump change, but less than a lot of people spend at Starbucks.

Seriously, it is about a buck a day.


Less than a week in, this new iPhone is living up to the hype. I knew it would be a quantum jump, but I hesitated as the last few migrations took some time to complete.

I look forward to spending more time fiddling with the camera and taking pictures. I know that there is far more under the hood than I have explored.

This is also the start of a 3 year upgrade cycle. My iPhone 6s was a worthy road warrior for nearly 3 years, a solid performer (that was rejuvenated by the iOS 12 update), and proof that a longer upgrade cycle will take some of the sting out of the upgrade price.

It is telling that Apple has changed their reporting to the street to no longer call out unit sales. Apple has been good at maintaining their ASP, and their dominance of their profitable sector (and no, the Android fanbois who tout the sub $300 segment as being just as good are fooling themselves) for over a decade now. While there isn’t the explosive growth, Apple is in the driver’s seat in the transition to a 3 year upgrade cycle, and keeping the hardware and software in balance to drive repeat business. Apple hs resisted the commoditization of their core product, and doing it with aplomb.

About the author


Product Manager in Tech. Guitar player. Bicycle Rider. Dog rescuer. Techie.

By gander


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November 2018

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