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The Wired Flyer

A Review of Apple's Newest iPhones

This has been a year of incremental growth for Apple.

New iPhones were recently announced. Three of them, actually. The two flagships, or super-duper-high-end, pull-out-all-the-stops phones, are the iPhone XS (pronounced “ten - s”) and the iPhone XS Max (pronounced with a little resignation). The XS is the same size as last year’s X, and is dwarfed in size by it’s bigger sibling, the Max. The Max has the largest screen (6.5”) Apple has ever put on a phone, in a form that is roughly the size of the iPhone 8+. These are enormous, fantastically beautiful phones. They are so, so, so powerful. They do everything you want a phone to do - and they just don’t seem like enough.

“It’s an ‘S’ year”. I heard that phrase a few times while reading reaction posts from writers and influencers who were at the unveiling keynote at Steve Jobs Theater in Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, CA. The term “S year” refers to the smaller update that occurs typically every other year for iPhones, such as 2011’s iPhone 4s, 2013’s iPhone 5s, and 2015’s iPhone 6s. These updates haven’t always been un-noteworthy, though. The 4s introduced us to Siri, the 5s brought reliable biometric security to smartphones with Touch ID, and the 6s brought 3D touch, adding a new layer of information to our interfaces. So what of the XS?

Comparing the XS to the X, there isn't really a noticeable new feature that makes the XS so much more compelling than the X. The XS comes in gold now, in addition to last year’s silver and space grey. It has a slightly improved camera, a slightly improved flash, and about an hour more of battery use.

Don't get me wrong; the iPhones revealed last week are fantastic phones, if not the best phones on the market. To compare them head to head with Android phones does not do them, or more so perhaps, Apple’s support system, justice. Samsung’s Note 9, which came out a few months before the new iPhones, is the top Android phone on the market, with a fantastic OLED screen, an enormous battery, and hardware that asks to be topped (and no notch). The issue with comparing it to the iPhone XS is that it is still running the Oreo 8.1 OS, a year old operating system that Samsung has no plans to update. In contrast, Apple’s iOS not only receives updates as needed, but supports phones as far back as 2013’s iPhone 5s - that continued support of older devices, which Apple says will actually work much faster on iOS 12, is a big asset for Apple.

The Note 9 is not dissimilar to the XS and XS Max in that it has been considered an incremental update to last year’s Note 8. For the most part, Samsung kept the design and, as I said above, the userface, the same. What they did do in that one year of time between releasing one flagship and its successor was majorly overhaul some of the internals on the phone. Samsung has crammed a 4,000mAh battery inside the phone - that is an enormous amount of power inside a phone. Software plays a large role in battery life, but 4,000mAh is at least a third bigger than the batteries inside this years iPhones - and Samsung has also squeezed their signature S Pen inside the phone as well, if that’s something that you want. It feels like Apple came to play and Samsung came to win.

At the end of the day, the iPhone XS and XS Max are incredibly expensive. They start at $1000 and $1100, respectively. Last year, Apple announced the X (as a more expensive flagship) as well as the 8 and 8 Plus, more affordable options targeted at the general user. This year, to reach that same “general user” demographic, Apple has also released the iPhone XR. The XR is the cheapest iPhone out this year. It is the default phone that most people will buy, and it is a good phone. It has all the same internals as the more expensive flagships - the new A12 Bionic chip for super fast Face ID, full screen edge-to-edge display, slim design, 4K video, portrait mode, wireless charging, 6.1” display (a good medium between the 5.8” XS and 6.5” XS Max)…This is the iPhone for the people. This is the phone I am going to buy to replace my 4 year old iPhone, which finally just cracked after years of productive use. If you are thinking about getting an iPhone and aren’t a professional Instagram influencer, this is the phone for you. And next year when Apple releases some amazing new phone with another weird name, let’s you and I just look away until the next S year.


Drake Dahlinghaus is a third year graphic design student and IT technician from Dayton, Ohio.

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