Apple strives to include high-end hardware in its flagship iPhone variants, but it can only do so much. Years back, it started designing its own ARM chips to boost performance, but it still has to go to other companies to get LTE modems. LTE performance in last year’s Intel-powered iPhone X was below the mark set by competing Android handsets with more advanced Qualcomm modems. However, this year’s iPhone XS brings its LTE A-game.
Last year, the iPhone X had an Intel XMM 7480 with 2×2 MIMO support, meaning the phone had two download antenna branches. Qualcomm modems at the time supported 4×4 on carriers with the necessary network infrastructure. Now, Intel’s new 7560 has 4×4, allowing for a more direct comparison with current Qualcomm modems.
According to PCMag’s testing, the new modem in the iPhone XS does dominate the old iPhone X. However, it still slightly short of the competition from Qualcomm. PCMag’s Sascha Segan compared the iPhone XS Max (identical modem to the XS) with the Note 9, Pixel 2, and iPhone X. The laboratory testing used band 4 LTE (1700/2100MHz), which is used by carriers like T-Mobile and Verizon.
In the lab, the new iPhone almost doubles the maximum speed of the iPhone X. It tops out around 400Mbps just like the Note 9 with its Qualcomm X20 modem. That’s thanks to the addition of 4×4 MIMO. Although, throughput for the iPhone XS falls faster than the phones with X20 and older X16 modems with even small signal drops. The iPhone XS still remains competitive down to almost no signal, though. The iPhone X is consistently behind the rest, and it drops connection completely before the others.
PCMag also looked at real-world speed data from Ookla Speedtest (disclosure: ExtremeTech’s parent company Ziff Davis also owns Ookla). The iPhone XS showed an average of 6.6Mbps faster downloads on all US carriers compared with the iPhone X. In Canada, that difference is a whopping 20.2Mbps. Anyone upgrading from the iPhone 7 would see an even larger 9.9Mbps increase in the US and 31.6Mbps jump in Canada.
The performance of Intel’s latest Intel modem is more important than usual because that’s all Apple is using now. The XMM 7560 is the first Intel LTE modem with support for all four big US carriers, so Apple doesn’t need to split its production with both Intel and Qualcomm modems — all iPhone XS units will include the Intel modem. Thankfully, that’s not a downgrade like it was in the past.
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