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iPhone XS: Why Apple’s smallest ‘S’ upgrade is also my favorite iPhone ever

iPhone XS Review

Apple’s new iPhone XS looks just like last year’s iPhone X. It has the same size 5.8-inch Super Retina display with the same 2436-by-1125-pixel resolution at 458 ppi. It has the same dual 12-megapixel wide-angle and telephoto cameras on the back and the same 7-megapixel TrueDepth camera on the front. In fact, it even has the same exact dimensions at 5.65 inches high by 2.79 inches wide with a thickness of 0.30 inches. It looks the same, it feels the same, and it runs the same iOS 12 software. But is the iPhone XS really such a minor upgrade, as plenty of people have been saying across social media?

The new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max were finally released this past Friday after a week of pre-orders that followed a year of leaks and rumors. We knew practically everything there was to know about the phones long before they were announced last week, and yet that didn’t stop Apple’s press conference from being the most hotly anticipated tech event of the year. Plenty of iPhone X owners have been waiting anxiously for a phablet version of the phone, and that’s exactly what they got on Friday with the new iPhone XS Max. But what about the smaller iPhone XS? Is that as exciting an upgrade?

I have seen complaints all over social media that Apple’s new iPhone XS is the smallest year-over-year upgrade in the history of Apple’s iPhone lineup. I’ve also seen countless arguments between people on opposite sides of the fence, both online on Reddit and Twitter as well as in real life. I’ve even had to endure lengthy debates between members of our own staff in BGR’s Slack.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but let’s take a step back for a moment because the simple truth is that no one is going to win this argument. Why? Because both sides are correct and they’re arguing the wrong points.

Apple’s new iPhone XS is without question the smallest year-on-year upgrade Apple has ever release. In fact, it’s the first iPhone since the iPhone 3GS way back in 2009 to launch without either a new design or at least one new marquee feature. The iPhone 4s had Siri, the iPhone 5s had Touch ID, and the iPhone 6s had 3D Touch. There’s nothing at all like that on the iPhone XS, and that seems to be the main problem people have with the phone. The specs are improved, performance is faster, the camera has been improved, the display is better than ever, there’s a new color option and 512GB of storage, and the phone is a bit more powerful than last year’s model. But there’s no exciting new feature for Apple to brag about, and some people came away from Apple’s iPhone event feeling let down as a result. The only big new feature is dual SIM capabilities with eSIM support, and that’s not terribly exciting even to people who plan to use it.

Then there’s the flip side of the coin: the iPhone XS is a massive update that is packed full of exciting new features… if you’re one of the people this phone is actually intended for. Simply stated, the iPhone XS isn’t meant for iPhone X owners, it’s meant for people with older iPhones or with Android phones. If you currently own literally any phone on the planet other than the iPhone X, the iPhone XS is a complete reimagining of Apple’s smartphone line with an all-new design, tons of new features, and a massive boost in performance. If you have an iPhone X, the iPhone XS is indeed the smallest update Apple has ever released and you should skip it unless you really want the larger screen on the iPhone XS Max.

I don’t want a larger screen, but I upgraded from the iPhone X to the iPhone XS anyway, mainly because my job requires me to have access to the latest available tech. After using the phone for four days, I can already say that it is by far my favorite iPhone to date, despite the fact that there aren’t any huge changes compared to last year’s iPhone X.

To me, the jump from the iPhone X to the iPhone XS can be likened to the jump from iOS 11 to iOS 12. Apple’s newest iOS update isn’t about flooding users with novel new features, which is what Apple’s updates typically do. Instead, the star of the show in iOS 12 is refinement. It’s better than iOS 11 in every way. It’s smoother and faster, and it irons out all the big wrinkles that people have been dealing with for the past year. Installing iOS 12 on any iPhone or iPad that had been running iOS 11 instantly improves the user experience, speeding up the device and extending battery life in the process.

That’s what the iPhone XS is to me. It’s an iPhone X, but everything is better. The display is more vivid, the interface is faster, the camera is dramatically improved, apps open and switch more quickly, it’s more resistant to water, Face ID is faster, the battery lasts longer, and so on. The iPhone X was the most significant update in the history of Apple’s iPhone line, by the way, so the fact that the XS is all about refinement is less of an issue. The only people who have ever experienced anything like this phone are people who bought the iPhone X last year. To the vast majority of iPhone users, the iPhone XS is a complete reimagining of the Apple smartphone.

I’ll reiterate this one last time. If you have an iPhone X, the only reason you should upgrade this year is if you want a plus size phone. The iPhone XS Max is significantly larger than the XS, and that’s why early adopters are all springing for it. But if you have any other iPhone model including the iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus, the iPhone XS is going to completely blow you away.

Zach Epstein

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content.

Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment. His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.