Apple iPhone Xs Review

October 22, 2018 | Amy Davies |


Announced in September 2018, the iPhone XS (and iPhone XS Max) made its debut roughly a year after the iPhone X.

It represents a fairly modest update from its predecessor, but in terms of the camera there has been some interesting improvements. Both models use the same camera, but the XS Max offers a larger screen size. For this review we have been using the standard iPhone XS.

The iPhone XS uses a dual 12 megapixel cameras, with one wide angle lens and one telephoto lens. It can record 4K video up to 60fps, and includes shooting modes including “Portrait” which can be used to create shallow depth of field effects.

A 5.8-inch Super Retina HD screen is found on the iPhone XS, with other interesting specifications including a new processor, the addition of a slider to control depth of field, and storage capacities up to 512GB.

At the time of writing, the iPhone XS can be bought for £999 / $999 for the lowest capacity option (64GB), up to £1,349 / $1,349 for the highest capacity (512GB). 

Ease of Use

In terms of phone design, the iPhone XS is very similar to its predecessor. It retains the controversial “notch” that allows the display to go right to the top edge of the phone, but still accommodate the front facing camera and face detection sensor.

You can unlock the iPhone using Face Unlock, or you can enter a passcode if you prefer. As is now standard for iPhones, there’s no fingerprint sensor at all.

If all you want to do is use the camera, you can hold down the camera icon on the bottom left of the lock screen to start up the native camera app. That means that the phone is not unlocked, so although you can shoot with it, you’ll only be able to see the images you’ve taken in a current unlock session in playback.

Apple iPhone XS
Rear of the Apple iPhone XS

As is common for iPhones, the native camera app is relatively simple and straightforward. This can be seen as either a positive or a negative thing depending on your point of view.

Along the bottom of the screen (or to the right if holding the phone in landscape orientation), you’ll see the different photo modes that are available to use. The standard mode is Photo, but by swiping to the left you’ll find Video, Slo-Mo and Time-Lapse, while swiping to right gets you to Portrait, Square and Pano (panorama).

In the standard Photo mode, the amount of control offered to a photographer is relatively limited. You can tap around the screen to select an autofocus point – when you do that you’ll notice a small sun icon appears which you can slide up and down to adjust exposure compensation. Along the top of the screen you can switch flash on and off, turn on and off “Live Photo”, enable the timer (3 seconds or 10 seconds), or add one of several filter options. You can also press and hold on the screen to lock exposure and focus to a particular point.

Apple iPhone XS
Rear of the Apple iPhone XS

You’ll also see a small circle with “1x” written inside it – you can tap this to jump to “2x” and use the telephoto zoom. If you pinch to zoom, you are engaging a digital zoom which goes up to 10x.

In the standard Photo mode, by default, images will be saved in the “HEIF” format (High Efficiency Image Format), which takes up less space on your phone, but is less compatible with certain programs. Images will appear with the file extension “.HEIC.” It is compatible with programs such as Photoshop, but you may run into problems with some other types of software. If you prefer, you can switch to shooting in JPEG – if you do that, the other photos stored on your device will also be switched to JPEG if you need to export one of your shots in the more versatile format.

Also by default, the phone will shoot in HDR (high dynamic range). From the main menu, you can choose to switch this off – once you’ve done that, you’ll see that an HDR icon is displayed in the top of the native camera app, giving you the option to quickly switch it on and off as necessary.

Apple iPhone XS
Front of the Apple iPhone XS

Portrait mode utilises the two cameras together to take shallow depth of field effect images. You can shoot other things aside from portraits, with it working best when there is a clearly defined subject. In this mode, you can choose different “lighting” options, including Natural Light, Studio Light, Contour Light, Stage Light, and Stage Light Mono. Each of these creates quite different effects, and you’ll probably find Natural Light is the one you use most commonly. You can change the Lighting Effect via the Edit option afterwards, so if you find you don’t like it, it’s very easy to change it for something else.

Once you’ve taken a picture in Portrait mode, one of the new functions of the iPhone XS is to be able to adjust the amount of background blur. To do this, you need to open the photo in playback mode and tap Edit. From here, you can adjust a slider to increase the amount of blur (or decrease it if you prefer).

In Square mode, the camera options are the same as in Photo mode, but you can’t use “Live Photos”. A Live Photo is a short video clip that accompanies a still image. In Panoramic mode, you sweep the phone across the scene in front of you to automatically create a very wide-angle landscape shot. It can be used with either the wide angle or the telephoto lens.

Apple iPhone XS
Front of the Apple iPhone XS / Image Displayed

To actually take a photo, or Video, you simply tap the on-screen shutter release button, or you can press the physical volume up or volume down button the left hand side of the phone.

A number of the camera settings can only be changed via the Main settings app – to get to this you need to unlock the phone. It’s not hugely user-friendly to not be able to get to certain extra settings without having to exit the native camera app, which is a shame. Luckily, the majority of the settings that you find away from the app are not those which you’re likely to be changing overly regularly.

Apple iPhone XS
The Apple iPhone XS In-hand

The iPhone XS can shoot in a number of different video frame rates and resolutions. To choose which you are shooting in, this is an example of what needs to be changed via the main menu, rather than the camera app itself. If you change it to 4K, it will display the text “4K” in the window of the app so you know you’re using it – you might want to switch to lower resolution Full HD for the majority of your videos to save space on the phone, especially if you go for the cheaper 64GB version.

It’s not possible to expand the storage of an iPhone, so if you think you’re likely to take a lot of photos and/or videos, it would be wise to invest in the largest storage option you can afford.