A new series of tests have revealed that the Intel LTE modems in Apple’s latest iPhones fall short of the Qualcomm chips being used in competitors’ devices. PC Magazine reports on a set of both lab-based and crowdsourced tests that show that the iPhone XS sports significantly better LTE performance than last year’s iPhone X, but still doesn’t quite match the performance of the Qualcomm X20-powered Samsung Galaxy Note 9. The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max use a new LTE modem chip — the Intel XMM7560 — which is the first Intel chip to support all four U.S. wireless carriers, which has allowed Apple to drop Qualcomm entirely for this year’s models. However, in a lab comparison of hardware capabilities, PC Magazine had Cellular Insights measure the iPhone XS and competing devices using advanced Rohde & Schwarz measurement equipment, and then factored in real-world results from Ookla’s Speedtest database for the week of Sept. 24, 2018.
While last year’s iPhone X lagged behind competitors largely due to a lack of 4×4 MIMO antennas, this year’s models incorporate the new antenna technology, which PC Magazine notes should “put them closer to par with other leading flagships.” This was generally borne out by the testing results, which saw the iPhone XS Max gaining a significant boost over the iPhone X, but still slightly outmatched by competing Qualcomm-based phones.
The lab tests compared the U.S. iPhone XS Max, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, the Intel-based 2017 iPhone X, and the Google Pixel 2 (a Qualcomm-powered iPhone X running iOS 12 was not available to use as part of the test). A 20 MHz channel of LTE Band 4 was used, which is common to AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and all of the major Canadian carriers. The signal was attenuated from a strong -85 dBm down to the point of zero performance. The new 4×4 MIMO antennas effectively doubled the iPhone XS speeds over prior models, while also helping more in weak signal conditions, which as PC Magazine notes shows how “desperately needed” the new antenna array was.
While the two Qualcomm-based phones outperformed the iPhone XS Max at strong signal levels, when all were reduced to -120 dBm — the level where most phones barely show one bar of reception — the iPhone XS Max was “competitive” with the Qualcomm phones and “far superior to the 2017 iPhone X, although the Qualcomm-based phones were still able to maintain a connection from extremely weak signals after the iPhone XS Max simply gave up and began showing “No Service.”
Real-world tests from Ookla’s Speedtest database showed an average speed increase of 6.6 Mbps on all U.S. carriers on the iPhone XS as compared to the iPhone X. In Canada, that difference jumped to a much more significant 20.2 Mbps. Among the U.S. carriers, users on AT&T saw the biggest improvements, with an 8 Mbps increase, while Sprint users came in last, gaining only 2.3 Mbps over last year’s model. However, the data revealed that users upgrading from an iPhone 7 will see even more significant improvements, with a 9.9 Mbps increase in the U.S., and a staggering 31.6 Mbps jump in Canada.