The Apple iPhone X and the XS that followed it in 2018 were a change of direction for Apple and the way it asked us to interact with our phone. Gone was the home button and in came a new swipe and gesture based system.

Two years on how has the experience and the iPhone stacked up? With keeping their phones longer and longer has the iPhone XS lived up to its promise?

Over the course of the year - two if you count the iPhone X before - what has the experience been like?

Premium materials mean great endurance

There were two big questions raised when Apple introduced the more expensive iPhone X: the increased price tag and the shift to more expensive materials. Using stainless steel for the iPhone X was seen as a luxury move, but it then flowed through to the iPhone XS too. 

Was Apple's new iPhone really worth the mouth watering £1000/$1000 price tag and could the steel and glass design stand the abuse we put our phone through?


All that glass and all those clumsy people surely spells disaster, but if you can keep yourself from dropping the iPhone XS, the result is that the phone looks as new today as it did the day you got it.

We've been using the gold model since the release in September 2018 without a case and for the most part the glass back and front display have stayed scratch and mark free. Any smudges the glass does pick up, which can be a lot, can be easily wiped clean to give you that "good as new" feel. There are a few marks, but nothing that would be noticed unless under close scrutiny. 

And those gold metal sides? They've remained shiny and polished as well. The gold hasn't been scratched off to reveal a cheaper silver underneath - like the chamfered iPhone 5S edges did - and while there are some scratches on the metal, these are hard to see due to the sheer shininess of it all.

A year on and we have to say we are impressed the phone still looks so clean. We can easily see this phone lasting another year and way beyond that - and that's really what these more expensive materials have brought us.


FaceID really is a game changer

The iPhone X also introduced the notch. It was widely ridiculed before being almost universally adopted on phones. While the notch is wider than many, that's not without good reason. Hidden in that notch is the FaceID system that means we rarely have to type in our pin code. FaceID works really well. It's much better than TouchID and in many ways is something that no one else has really rivalled.

We do find we have to pick up our phone more to be able to use it though and its here that Apple could make FaceID better. When the iPhone XS is on the desk you can't just reach out and touch it to unlock it. You have to physically pick in up and point it in your general direction to open it, or bash in the pin code.

That's a small bugbear, but with TouchID it would be so much easier to reach across the desk, press to unlock and then start calling someone. We miss the ability to do that and rumours say that making FaceID a little more dynamic is something that will be addressed in the 2019 iPhone.

Smile for the camera

For all the power and speed and capabilities of the iPhone XS it's the camera that continues to perform. The pictures are great, and for a lot of the time we've found ourselves defaulting to the iPhone even to take pictures to be used here on Pocket-lint. It's just so easy.

Apple's balance of making things look good without making the process too difficult is fantastic, although it is fair to say that Apple does seem to be lagging behind the competition, especially when it comes to low-light scenarios.


Portrait mode is good, but only in certain situations. The algorithm needs to get better, to be able to cope with the nuances of hair on busy backgrounds for example. In perfect conditions the results can be amazing, but they can also still be very bad as the internal AI systems try to work out what's actually happening in the picture.

There have been plenty of times over the year where compared to the likes of the Pixel 3 XL, or Huawei P30 Pro that we've felt slightly jealous. Others have been really aggressive in advancing camera performance with AI technologies. That's not to say the iPhone camera is poor - far from it - it's just the experience from other phones can make you feel like you are missing out.

That might be why Apple is rumoured to be adding a third camera to the rear of the new phone. The rumours currently suggest that the third lens that is being added will allow for ultra-wide photos and video. It's also said low-light images will improve, as will video recording capabilities. All of this is going to be welcomed and, in some cases, desperately needed. 

The Apple ecosystem

The ecosystem is hugely strong, however, and this is Apple's biggest advantage over Android. While the app experience on the whole is basically the same (although iMessage and Apple Wallet have never been matched by Android), it's when you pair an iPhone with an Apple Watch or AirPods or other devices like the iPad or MacBook that things really start to sing.

Save something on notes in one place and it's available elsewhere. Download a movie, or a podcast or anything really and it syncs with your other Apple gear. We've also found that works really well sharing apps with other family members or controlling children's devices to ensure they aren't spending too much time on their iPhones with systems like screen time

Apple has a huge advantage here, spanning a range of hardware and software with your Apple ID and removing barriers to make everything easy to use. While Google manages that across Android and Chrome, the simplicity of pairing your AirPods with your phone and having them automatically detected on your iPad just makes life so easy.

But Lightning really should go

The iPhone uses Lightning, but the iPad Pro and the MacBook use USB-C. The watch uses wireless to USB and if you use all of them the range of cables you have to take with you when you travel has grown not only over the years, but over this year. It feels there has to be a cable for every eventuality and that's becoming more and more frustrating.

Yes, a single wireless charging pad would have solved that, but Apple failed to launch AirPower, which could have solved this for mobile devices, but the disparity between Mac and iPhone is baffling. Yes, Lightning was brilliant when it launched, but it now seems to be holding things back.

Then there is the speed of charging with the faster charging being an optional extra and USB charging being incredibly slow. The world of charging and cables is moving quickly and given the iPhone's position as a premium device, surely the faster charger should be included?

As it is, the iPhone continues to live in its own connector and charger bubble - something that isn't as happy as the rest of the ecosystem promises. 

Summing up

The Apple iPhone isn't the cheapest phone experience, but it feels like the premium price will mean it lasts, and more so than the iPhones of earlier editions. It's a timeless design that hasn't dated and a build that doesn't age quickly either. 

By going with Apple you do miss out on a number of innovations touted by other brands, which always seem to be pushing the envelope. Launching in 2018 means the current 2019 crop of Android phones offer things like 5G, and currently have more advanced camera systems. While the iPhone will keep up, Apple isn't always leading the way.

But the one thing that stands out with the iPhone is the ease of use. It just works, and works in connection with other Apple devices so seamlessly. While the new experiences expected to come with the next iPhone will probably push all of this along a bit further, the iPhone XS is a simple to use device that hasn't really aged with time. 

Picking one up today is still as fun as it was in September 2018, but it would be amiss to say that we are not looking forward to what the 2019 models bring.