Last year’s iPhone X was an oddly out-of-cycle update for the iconic smartphone lineup. Apple still sold the boring and safe iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, but this year Apple is leaving the old iPhone design in the dust. Now, it’s all about the notch. The iPhone XS and XS Max (above) are an evolution of the iPhone X with faster internals, and one of them is by far the largest iPhone yet. Then there’s the iPhone XR, offering more modest specs with the same notch design.
The new flagship devices are S-series iPhones, so the upgrades are mainly internal. If you’ve seen an iPhone X, these new phones will look very familiar. The iPhone XS (pronounced Ten S, but I prefer “Excess”) has a 5.8-inch OLED display with a resolution of 1125 x 2436. That’s identical to the iPhone X last year. The XS Max has the largest display on any iPhone yet at 6.5-inches—even the massive Galaxy Note 9 is just 6.4-inches. The screen resolution is slightly higher for this model at 1242 x 2688, but the pixel density works out to be just a bit lower.
The iPhone XR differs in both resolution and display technology. It’s an LCD panel like older iPhones, and the resolution is just 828 x 1792. At 6.1-inches, that makes the pixel density somewhat lower than the XS devices. The back of this phone is also aluminum instead of glass, but it comes in more colors. The bezels look slightly larger than the XS phones, though. LCDs aren’t flexible, so Apple probably had to make room for the display drivers below the display on this phone.
All the new iPhones have a display notch on the front. This divisive design feature has wormed its way into a plethora of Android phones over the last year, but the iPhone notch is a bit larger than most thanks to the sensors included for Face ID—yes, the fingerprint sensors is well and truly gone now. Face ID is reportedly faster on these phones thanks to improved algorithms and a quicker secure enclave. Around back, the XS and XS Max have dual 12MP cameras, but the XR has a single 12MP sensor.
The primary upgrade in this year’s iPhones is the new Apple-designed A12 Bionic system-on-a-chip (SoC). Even the cheaper XR has this chip. Apple doesn’t license designs from ARM like most chip makers do, but it instead licenses the instruction set and designs its own ARM-compatible hardware. The new A12 is the industry’s first 7nm design, which shows how far Apple’s chip designers have come in just a few years.
The A12 includes six custom CPU cores, two of which are high performance. The remaining four are “efficiency” cores that will help keep background processes running smoothly. The high-power cores are 15 percent faster and use 40 percent less power than before, and the efficiency cores use up to 50 percent less power. There’s also a quad-core Apple GPU that’s about 50 percent faster.
Apple was slower than Google to jump on the machine learning bandwagon, but it’s making up time with the A12. This chip will also include a newly upgraded Neural Engine component. This custom-designed eight-core system can run AI code at 5 trillion operations per second. The A11 could do a measly 600 billion.
The new Apple phones are up for pre-order this Friday, and shipping starts on September 21st. The XS and XS Max are predictably spendy. The XS starts at $999 with 64GB of storage. The XS Max starts $100 higher. The iPhone XR is actually cheaper than you’d expect. It starts at just $749 with 64GB of storage. The iPhone 8 and 7 will continue on as cheaper options, priced at $599 and $449, respectively.
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