iPhone XS Max first look: Big in just about every area
It’s an ‘S’ year for iPhone revisions. That means instead of complete redesigns we’ve got refinements and spec-bumps. Despite this the iPhone XS Max feels like a more significant revision than the smaller iPhone XS. This is because it offers users an iPhone X design in a larger ‘Plus’ size – in short, this is the device many wanted last year.
iPhone XS Max − Price
The 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max costs:
- £1099/$1099 for the 64GB model
- £1249/$1249 for the 256GB model
- £1449/$1449 for the 512GB model
iPhone XS Max – Design and Screen
Obviously the most noticeable part of the iPhone XS Max is the display. At 6.5-inches, it’s not only the biggest screen Apple has ever put on an iPhone, it’s also one of the largest available overall. It’s larger than the Galaxy Note 9 (6.4-inch), OnePlus 6 (6.3-inch) and an makes the 5.5-inch iPhone 8 Plus look relatively puny. Even though I hate the term, this is a true phablet.
A big screen is only useful if it’s high quality, and make no mistake, here it’s stunning. Like the iPhone XS (and numerous other flagships, to be fair) the iPhone XS Max uses OLED tech as opposed to LCD. OLED gives a much more vibrant, colourful picture and allows individual pixels to be completely turned off to give deeper blacks. Dolby Vision and HDR10 are both properly supported too. I’ve watched a clip of Ready Player One on the device and it looks utterly stunning: colours pop, dynamic range is excellent and the large screen makes for a truly immersive viewing experience. The experience is further improved by the louder stereo-speakers, which are way more powerful than the iPhone 8 Plus’ system.
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The iPhone XS Max has a slightly higher resolution than the regular XS, but both have the same 458ppi. The resolution bump does mean that some apps, Instagram for example, will need an update to properly utilise all the extra screen space.
Of course, the biggest controversy with the display remains the notch: a small-ish cut out at the top of the screen where the bevy of Face ID sensors and front-facing cameras sit. In the year since Apple first introduced a notched-style it’s become increasingly popular for Android makers to follow suit and many seem to be turning it into part of the design. I still don’t really like the notch, but it makes less difference when the screen is so big.
The iPhone XS Max is actually marginally smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus, but I think it feels bigger because of that edge-to-edge look. When I first took the phone out of its box I was immediately hit by how weighty it was – this is one of the heaviest phones I have ever reviewed at 209g.
I also think Apple’s very flat design makes the phone seem bigger than it actually is. Ask me whether I thought the XS Max or the Note 9 was thicker and I would have said Apple’s device every time, but it’s not. A bit of curvature of the sides wouldn’t go amiss here.
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The front and back of the phone are constructed from what Apple says is the most durable phone glass ever, while the sides are stainless steel. My review unit is the new coppery gold hue and I am a bit torn. I like the blushing back, but the shiny sides are just a tad too much for my tastes. At least there’s Space Grey and Silver/White options available too.
iPhone XS Max – Performance
Apple’s ‘S’ series updates are known for boosting performance, and that’s once again the case here. Inside the iPhone XS Max you’ll find the A12 Bionic SoC paired with 4GB RAM. This is the first 7nm chip on the market (yes, Huawei announced the Kirin 980 first but you can’t buy anything powered by it yet). The 7nm design means Apple can fit many more transistors into the silicon, thus boosting power and efficiency. It’s an impressive engineering feat.
But, performance isn’t one of the areas Apple needed to push forward. The iPhone X running iOS 12 is already a super-fast phone and so is the iPhone 7, the improvements here don’t really feel that obvious. Maybe I will feel differently when I have spent longer with the phone.
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Apple claims there’s a 50% boost to the GPU with the A12 Bionic and again it sounds great. It’s just there isn’t really anything on the App Store that can really push this hardware.
The A12 Bionic also supports Gigabit LTE speeds and the iPhone XS Max has dual-sim support too. This means you can pop your standard sim into the phone and still be able to use a secondary eSim when you’re roaming. You’ll only be able to use one sim at a time though.
Battery life, Apple said during its keynote, is about 90 minutes better than the iPhone X. That sounds good, but I still can’t believe there’s not a fast charger included here. For a phone that’ll cost you £1099, that is frankly unforgivable.
iPhone XS Max – Camera
There are three cameras on the iPhone XS Max; two on the back and one around the front. Each of these features noticeable upgrades over the iPhone X.
The dual rear cameras remain at 12-megapixels and they’re still f/1.8 for the wide-angle and f/2.4 for the telephoto, however these pixels are much larger and deeper, allowing more light into the sensor. Both rear sensors still feature OIS.
Apple’s also upgraded the way the cameras actually take the picture. Taking a page from Google’s book, the iPhone XS uses computational photography and a new feature called ‘Smart HDR’ to improve highlights and shadows. The phone will start capturing as soon as you open the app (that’s how it manages to avoid any sort of shutter lag) and combine multiple shots together to try and avoid overexposure.
I’ve only spent a few days with the phone so far and i’ll need more time to properly judge these photos against our current photography smartphone champ – the Google Pixel 2. What I can say is that it’s a big leap forward over the iPhone X.
Portrait mode has been a big feature on previous iPhones and it’s received a few updates here. The biggest one of note is being able to alter the strength of the bokeh blur after the picture has been taken. Other phones have done this before, but Apple’s implementation seems slicker and actually alters different parts of the blur rather than as a whole.
The front camera remains at 7 megapixels, however Apple claims it’s faster than before. It’ll also do a much better job at stabilising video it shoots.
I have to admit it: getting used to a phone this large is hard. The iPhone XS Max takes some adjustment and it certainly won’t be for everyone. If you’re coming from a previous Plus-sized iPhone though, then the benefits are obvious. The screen is glorious and there are huge camera improvements on offer. Hopefully the battery life claims will stack up too.