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S is for Superb

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So, of course, I got the new iPhone (XS) but for the first time ever, there were two opposing emotions at play prior to consummating the transaction:

Excitement: Entirely predictable and dependable whenever I get a shiny new gadget. That said, the level of excitement was a tad (emphasis on tad) lower.

Guilt: Now that’s a new one but perhaps understandable given my iPhone X (the Apple of my eyes) was still shiny, less than a year old, and our honeymoon period was not quite over.

The end result was that I didn’t pre-order the iPhone (like last time) and did not have it on Day 1. That I got it early on the second day has to count for a certain degree of restraint, no?

A week later, my better half got the Gold version of the same model, which meant that we finally had iPhone generation parity after a long time. Now, either of us can complain and or look at each other’s phone with a certain degree of envy. Oh, by the way, the Gold does look nice, nicer than Apple’s previous faux gold variations. I stuck with Space Grey.

The antenna line (top right and bottom left) is the only distinguishing factor between the X and the XS

My wife and I upgraded a week apart, yet our experiences at the Apple store were markedly different. It took me about 30 minutes while it took her about an hour even though we both had booked our respective appointments in advance. Besides being busier at the time my wife upgraded, the Apple store handled one aspect of my wife’s upgrade differently (much to my annoyance) compared to mine. With iOS 11 came the Automatic Setup feature that allows two iOS devices to share/transfer basic settings. This is not a full copy of data from one device to another, but rather, a quick way to transfer basic settings (Apple ID, WiFi, preferences, and iCloud keychain passwords) before restoring from your last backup. I asked my Apple Genius to take the following picture from his personal iPhone while my X was whispering words of wisdom to my XS.

iPhone X (left) transferring settings to iPhone XS (right). Note, unlike other OEMs, Apple takes your Data and Privacy very seriously.

The Genius who handled my wife’s upgrade had her enter in her settings manually before restoring from iCloud, robbing me of the opportunity to record the experience for this post. Sigh.

Eleven months ago when I reviewed the X, I covered multiple items including the feel, the OLED Screen and TrueTone, the infamous Notch, Face ID, Camera, and battery life. Most of what I said still stands true but let me offer up some updates:

Feel

As much as the phone feels (and looks) like a million bucks, the glass back is way too slippery to hold without a case. Using the iPhone naked is an accident waiting to happen. I have mine covered up in a case that has a built-in magnet, allowing me to prop it up on multiple surfaces with a self-adhesive magnetic strip — including the dashboard of my cars and the wall of my bathroom (for listening to music while I shower). As much as I adore my case, part of me cringes every time I see my phone enclosed in it — it takes away from the experience of seeing and handling the iPhone in all its shiny glory. But, practicality wins.

Face ID

Maybe I’m a nerd or a hopeless romantic (or both) but, boy, do I continue to love unlocking my phone (or notifications on my lock screen) with a mere glance. I was expecting my wife to be more expressive about how utterly delightful it is use Face ID but sadly I didn’t get any such reaction. That doesn’t mean she dislikes it — lack of emotion does not equal lack of appreciation. I find Face ID to be faster compared to the iPhone X. From unlocking my phone to authenticating my usernames/passwords, it’s become an integral part of my workflow. To appreciate what exactly is happening under the hood, read Apple’s explanation but allow me to highlight the following excerpt:

The technology that enables Face ID is some of the most advanced hardware and software that we’ve ever created. The TrueDepth camera captures accurate face data by projecting and analyzing over 30,000 invisible dots to create a depth map of your face and also captures an infrared image of your face. A portion of the A11 and A12 Bionic chip’s neural engine — protected within the Secure Enclave — transforms the depth map and infrared image into a mathematical representation and compares that representation to the enrolled facial data.

All of the above happens in a mere fraction of a second…

In a way, Face ID is less obtrusive compared to Touch ID. Look, I’m no Touch ID hater and in some cases, I do miss it such as when my phone is lying on a table and I feel too lazy to bring the notch across from my face. That said, no matter how crazy good Touch ID was, you always knew that you were ‘authenticating’. It was a very deliberate act. With Face ID, the time from ‘tap to wake’ or ‘raise to wake’ to swiping up to reveal your home-screen is so amazingly fast and simple, that you don’t even realize that you’ve just completed one of the most secure authentication protocols available on any mobile device. Technology melds into the background, allowing you to perform the simple task of opening your phone over and over again, multiple times a day, without purposefully thinking (worrying) about authentication. Magic, much?

Camera

During the iPhone XS keynote in September, Phil Schiller weirdly undersold (downplayed?) how much better the Camera is on the iPhone XS compared to the X (and the camera on the X was pretty solid). It was only when the reviews began to emerge that it became apparent how much of a leap it was — attributable to two major improvements:

  1. Improvements in Computational Photography a.k.a Smart HDR. How about having the image sensor, the Neural engine, and the CPU working in tandem (5 trillion operations per second) to give you the best picture possible? Check.
  2. Improved Hardware: How about a larger sensor letting in, say 50% more light? Great for those umpteen low light situations we find ourselves in. Check.

I obviously took some pictures to share, but I don’t have side-by-side comparisons as I gave up my X at the time of the upgrade. That said, you can read other reviews with a deeper dive in to how ridiculously good the camera is. This includes John Gruber’s iPhone XS review as well as Matthew Panzarino’s iPhone XS review.

The same day I got my iPhone, I took it to a trip to the Big Apple. Here are some of the first few shots I took:

Love the interplay between the sunlight and the shadows.
Entrance to the Ace Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The X might have blown out the sky completely.
My Horchata cold brew on top of an ancient double-headed fire hydrant.
Haandi needs no introduction but check out the penthouse in the background — looks like a villain’s den!

Back in Jersey…

A low-light image from inside a laser tag/arcade place where we had our son’s birthday party. I like the way the colors bounce off the floor.
Enjoying a firepit session in a friend’s backyard. Talk about extreme lighting conditions!

Coincidentally, my better half was leaving for Las Vegas for a work conference two days after getting her iPhone, so I enlisted her to take tons of pictures. Here are some select shots:

Daytime shot of the fountains of Bellagio with Paris Las Vegas in the background. Check out the rainbow!
Excalibur Hotel & Casino at Sunset looks majestic!
Paris Las Vegas
The famous fountains of Bellagio are taking a breather.
Amazing detail of both foliage and non-foliage.
This shade of pink (purple?) on the strip in front of Planet Hollywood really caught my eye.
There was virtually no light when I took a shot of these over-sized chess pieces in the small park in Palmer Square Princeton.
My favorite alley in Princeton. Standing by the entrance to Teresa’s looking down towards the lighted tree in front of Alchemist and Barrister.

You get the picture (no pun intended).

Battery

Battery life has never been a major problem for me and even less so with the iPhone X for the past 10 months. In my day to day usage, I almost never run out of battery. In fact, during weekdays, before I put my iPhone on its wireless charging base, I have on average, 20% juice remaining. With the iPhone XS, I

haven’t observed any noticeable improvements, so it’s on par with the previous generation.

That said, allow me to address a common myth w.r.t. charging iPhones overnight (it literally came up while I was writing this review). It will NOT harm your battery! And neither will charging it from 90% — in fact, it’s even better to do that vs. starting from 0.

Do yourself a favor and read this excellent post from Jesse Hollington posted on Quora dispelling common myths about charging and charging cycles. On second thoughts, I can’t leave this to chance (aka your laziness to commit to clicking and reading another article), so I screen-shotted his post below:

iPhone Charging Tips

Even Apple has a short primer on Lithium-Ion batteries that confirms the assertions in Jesse’s post (in case you were skeptical).

About the Notch

You know what they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery? Well, consider this fun fact. Since the launch of the much hyped (controversial) notched design of the iPhone X, several other handset manufacturers have (ahem) copied it without a compelling reason (at least Apple has a solid excuse). These include LG, Huawei, Asus, and Sharp to name a few. As I mentioned in my iPhone X review, I warmed to the notch almost immedietly — I think it gives the next decade of iPhones an iconic look, similar to how the home button did for the first ten generations.

Siri Shortcuts

Even though Shortcuts is not a function of hardware but a new workflow functionality in iOS 12, I can’t resist sharing my observations now. Well, that and I don’t trust myself to actually take the time to write a separate post about it.

So, Apple acquired the company that developed workflow, an automation app for iOS and while initially continuing to offer it in the App Store, eventually integrated it as part of iOS 12. In laymen’s terms, it allows multiple apps to talk to each other and automate a task or a series of tasks.

It can be a very simple shortcut such as a four minute steep timer I use for brewing my tea. I invoke Siri (either by saying her name or pressing the side button) and say ‘Chai’. Here’s a screen-recording:

Or it could be a more complex shortcut such as turning on your lights and TV, but before I demo it in my youtube video, a note for my fellow geeks:

Initially, I was going to demo two separate shortcuts:

1) Turn on my living room lights: Please note that while I do have smart lights installed, they are not HomeKit compatible. So, while I can control them with my echo dot, I haven’t been able to control them with Siri . However, with Shortcuts, I was able to connect Siri with IFTTT, which in-turn is connected to my smart lights over the Internet, thus allowing me total domination.

2) Turn on my TV with the default HDMI input set to Apple TV

However, in the midst of demoing the aforementioned shortcuts, I suddenly had an epiphany. Why not combine the two functions under one shortcut? It took under a minute to do just that and we now have the following (make sure your volume is on):

Sorry if I accidentally turned on your Siri

Here’s another cool shortcut for when you’re starting your day. With one command, Siri looks up my calendar, tells me what my first appointment is, estimates travel time and generates directions via Apple Maps and resumes playback of my podcast.

Again, note to fellow geeks: I initially downloaded the stock version of this shortcut from Apple and customized it for resuming my podcast vs. my Apple music playlist. I can also use Google Maps as my GPS of choice.

There are tons of other useful shortcuts and growing by the day. I highly recommend checking out Mathew Cassinelli’s (he used to work at Workflow and subsequently at Apple) primer on shortcuts and or subscribe to his Youtube Channel. Additionally, you can go to this subreddit for links to shortcuts other people have shared.

I’ll end this review by noting one thing that I don’t particularly care for — you know, to be fair and balanced.

What. is. up. with those names Apple? XS and XS Max — seriously? Please re-discover your product naming mojo fast since this particular naming convention is borderline ridiculous (on multiple levels).

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