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iphone-xs-max

iPhone XS Max – The Review

iphone-xs-max

The iPhone XS Max is the biggest ever smartphone that Apple has made. Sporting a 6.5-inch display and with hardly any bezels along with the now almost iconic notch, the XS Max’s presence in hand is captivating.

It also is equally dominating in the pocket, both in terms of its size and price. As for being the biggest ever iPhone, the iPhone XS Max is also the most expensive to date. With this iPhone, Apple has delivered a handset that finally rivals most of the premium Android flagship devices in terms of screen size.

Earlier we often heard criticisms about the 5.8-inch screen of the iPhone X, about how it wasn’t big enough. iPhone lovers simply couldn’t get a top-spec big screen iPhone and had to make do with the Plus models. Until in September 2018 when the iPhone XS Max was launched by Apple and finally giving the fans a top-tier flagship on their preferred platform and device.

iPhone XS Max: In the box

in-the-box
Apple Stickers
SIM card ejector tool
Quick Start Guide
Charging Brick
Lightning Cable
Earphones

First up are the Apple stickers, Quick Start Guide and the SIM ejector tool. Next up is the actual iPhone XS Max itself and all its glass & stainless steel glory. Below that is a bog standard Apple charging brick along with a lightning cable, though we were at this point hoping to see a fast charger inside the box as standard or maybe a USB-C to Lightning port charger or both. But, Apple being themselves gives us none of those two in the box. Could Apple have included them? The answer is Yes, that the company sure could have afforded those two items in the box of such an expensive ultra-premium smartphone.  Anyway, putting that aside, next we have the earphones with a lightning connector. Again, here too the company has now excluded the Lightning-to-3.5mm dongle.

Now, if you are buying a $1000 phone or in this case a $1450 phone, you surely wouldn’t mind a teensy $9 adaptor or dongle, but it’s clearly done on purpose, that Apple excluding the dongle since Apple is pushing people towards wireless or lightning headphones. In fact, the best-selling accessory is the $9 adaptor/dongle. Also, if you are feeling bold with your wallet, you can always get the 18W/30W USB-C Power Adapters for $29/$49 respectively.

iphone-xs-max-in-box

Specifications

specifications

Apple ships its latest and greatest hardware on the newest iPhones. It’s the same for the XS and XS Max this year.

OPERATING SYSTEMiOS 12, upgradable to iOS 12.3
DISPLAY6.5-inches
1242 x 2688 (458ppi)
19.5:9 – 120Hz
OLED with HDR10
PROCESSORApple A12 Bionic (7nm)
Hexa Core
(2 x 2.5Ghz Vortex + 4 x 1.6Ghz Tempest)
RAM4GB
GPUApple GPU (4-core)
EXPANDABLENo
USB2.0, Lightning Connector
WLAN802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band
BLUETOOTH5.0
BATTERY3174mAh
PRICE$1099/$1249/$1449

Design

iphone-xs-max-design
Representative image
  • Same as the iPhone X, but bigger.
  • A bit shorter and narrower than the iPhone 8 Plus, but with a larger screen.

Overview

The iPhone XS Max is decidedly deceptive in its design. It’s big alright. Pick it up, and the rounded edges of the phone make it feel considerably thick. As a result, the phone doesn’t offer a more comfortable grip in the hand as it could. Considering the fact that the phone costs a sizeable portion of your income, it’s a phone you want to be able to securely hold. This is though only half the story.

Comparing the iPhone XS Max to some other flagships, including the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and the OnePlus 6T, the iPhone feels thicker and less planted in-hand than the lot. The funny part though is, the XS Max is thinner than all those smartphones at just 7.7mm.

Build

Coming to the build, the iPhone XS Max has an identical build as the iPhone XS, i.e., glass-on-glass design with a stainless steel frame in between. The similarity to the iPhone X is remarkable, at least that’s what the shape suggests. Although Apple did manage to sneak in a few notable upgrades with the launch of the XS line-up. The most important one though has to be the inclusion of Corning’s Gorilla Glass 6. Both Corning and Apple do have a long history of working together and last year Apple once again worked with Corning to create – “the most durable glass ever on a smartphone”.

Next up is the IP certification. The iPhone XS and XS Max are now IP68-rated which means they both are protected from dust and water ingress. Apple has said the XS phones have undergone and survived submerges in salt water, beer, coffee, etc. but you should still do best to remember that the warranty doesn’t cover liquid damage. So the IP rating is only there to give your phone a better chance of survival should anything accidental occur.

Apple has been known for applying an oleophobic coating to all its phones since the very beginning and the iPhone XS Max is certainly no exception. Both the front and rear are covered with this coating which makes the surface less susceptible to smudges and fingerprints.

Front

Another thing is the whole front being occupied by the bezel-less notched OLED screen. The XS Max’s screen is 6.5” inch diagonally, and content on it looks amazing! The notch houses all the Face ID sensors, the earpiece/speaker and the 7MP selfie camera. The top speaker is now more powerful compared to the iPhone X for better stereo sound.

Rear

The back/rear though looks very familiar – it’s perfectly flush and clean if the camera hump isn’t scrutinized. The iPhone XS Max just like its smaller brethren houses the new and improved 12MP wide-angle shooter, whereas the 12MP telephoto shooter seems to the same one as seen on the iPhone X. The Quad-LED flash too is here to stay.

Display

new-display
  • Huge 6.5-inch OLED display is the biggest ever on an iPhone
  • HDR support for an enhanced viewing experience

One of the main things, that is, literally the only main thing that’s different about the iPhone XS Max over its brother, the iPhone X is the screen. That screen has been extended to 6.5-inches as compared to the normal 5.8-inch XS. That screen size though makes all the difference,i.e., holding both the XS and XS Max side by side makes you feel like the larger model offers so much more screen space to meddle with.

Even though the XS Max fits roughly into the same footprint as the earlier iPhone Plus models, and considering that you are getting a lot of screen, it isn’t a massive phone by any means. While we are still not sure of the need for an HDR certified screen in a smartphone – consuming content on the iPhone XS Max was a pleasurable experience largely due to the presence of a larger display. We weren’t exactly amazed by the color reproduction or the contrast between light and dark scenes, but that’s not to say it wasn’t a flagship-grade OLED display.

The Panel

The OLED panel that makes up the iPhone XS Max’s Super Retina HD display is bright and colorful and has a resolution of 2688 x 1242 which in turn equates to a 458ppi pixel density. As a bonus, the screen also supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision along with a 120Hz touch input. Gone are the days when Apple’s smartphones used to be behind in terms of screen resolution.  And all those pixels equate to a super sharp display, with images and texts rendered clear and crisp. Apple has claimed that the display on the new XS line-up has about 60 percent more dynamic range as and when compared to the iPhone X, making the appearance of photos and videos more vivid.

Then there are the proprietary True Tone adjustments. They are available with automatic white balance correction enabled by a 6-channel ambient light sensor. This True Tone algorithm corrects the white balance according to the ambient light thereby making the rendition of whites and grays more precise.

It may not sport a QHD resolution boasted by some of its competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S10, Samsung Galaxy Note 9, Huawei Mate 20 Pro, but it is superior to the panels on most other top-tier phones, such as the OnePlus 6T, OnePlus 7 and Huawei P30 Pro. Apple did promise a maximum brightness of 625 nits, and 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, which is almost on par with some of the offerings from other OEMs.

Face ID

iphone-face-id
  • There’s no Touch ID, with Face ID your only biometric option
  • Not the fastest, but has great integration with banking apps

With the Touch ID fingerprint scanner gone, embedding itself in the notch at the top of the display is Face ID, the defacto choice for Apple these days, and with Apple backing Face ID, saying its more secure and slight faster, we still happen to feel it’s not quite perfect, yet. A lot of phones do face unlock these days, and Face ID does feel a little slow in comparison. It also does struggle a bit in direct sunlight – a problem that the fingerprint sensor didn’t face at all.

Camera

rear-camera

Based on the specs, it might seem at first as if though Apple hasn’t changed the camera from the iPhone X, but in reality, there are some significant under-the-hood improvements in the iPhone XS Max. It’s the same dual-camera system but with an all-new 12MP primary sensor sitting behind an f/1.8 aperture lens. A 12MP secondary sensor sits behind an f/2.4 aperture telephoto lens. Both lenses now have Optical Image Stabilization and now you can capture 4K 60fps videos. The image sensor is now larger with larger pixels – 1.4µm up from 1.22µm and double the focus pixels, which in turn helps with better low-light images. The telephoto camera though has the same 1.0µm pixels as before, no changes there. The primary sensor offers an equivalent FoV of 26mm lens (in 35mm camera terms).

The camera also benefits from the new ISP with 4-frame buffers for zero shutter lag, and there’s a new Smart HDR feature. Additionally to those 4-frames, the camera also captures interframes, plus a long exposure, all of which are then merged into a single photo that has a much improved dynamic range.

Portrait Mode

Apple finally steps into the Portrait game but with a different approach. Instead of using a secondary camera for depth sensing, it does away with the primary camera and the power of the ISP’s depth mapping along with the data collected from the NPU.

The iPhone XS Max also offers a new way of bokeh rendering, which according to Apple has been lifted straight out of the most expensive DSLRs. Alright. Alright. The XS Max and XS allow you to adjust the depth (DoF) in real-time and after the photo has been shot.

Selfie Camera

front-camera

The iPhone XS Max has the same 7MP f/2.2 front-facing selfie camera as the iPhone X, but now has improved speed thanks to the new ISP. The front camera can now do 1080p 60fps videos with EIS.

The iPhone XS Max brings one last and final improvement that the camera – stereo recording for video capture. Finally! Further sweetening the deal is the system employs not just regular stereo, but wider sound separation for richer sound and better listening experience.

For camera samples, check here.

Performance

performance
  • The latest OS from Apple comes with new features including Screen Time
  • You’ll want to enable ‘Reachability’ in Settings for better one-handed use

The new iPhone XS and XS Max are powered by Apple’s A12 Bionic – the company’s first 7nm chipset. Apple is famous for making chart-topping and power-efficient chips, and the A12 Bionic builds upon this legacy. It houses 6.9 billion transistors. Moreover, Apple says that it can deliver even stronger performance than the A11 Bionic while being more power-efficient. Then, there’s a Neural Engine designed into the chipset for machine learning tasks. According to Apple, the NPU now has 6 more cores – up from the iPhone X’s two taking the total count up to 8, allowing the new 8-core neural engine for a mind-boggling 5 trillion operation per second which is seriously a ginormous leap from the existing 600 million of the A11 Bionic!

THE CPU

Of course, the A12 Bionic has an even faster processor, even though it has the same Hexa-core design that was introduced with the A11 Bionic which consisted of 2 powerful cores and 4 efficient cores. The pair consists of two units called Vortex clocked at 2.49Ghz. While the quartets called Tempest are clocked at a more modest 1.6Ghz. Apple promises that the big cores are ‘bout 15% faster and 40% more power-efficient.

What this means is the faster Vortex cores benefit from a 15% jump in performance without hurting battery life, thanks to the new 7nm manufacturing process.

THE GPU

Coming to the GPU part, it wouldn’t be a new chip without a proper GPU upgrade. The A12 Bionic has that covered with an all-new 4-core GPU designed by Apple. It offers 50 percent higher performance and higher memory bandwidth thanks to lossless compression.

MEMORY

Now it wouldn’t be a proper upgrade without a memory upgrade and both the iPhone XS and XS Max pack 4GB LPDDR4X RAM. That is up from last year’s 3GB, which to us sounds like an upgrade from Apple. On an unrelated note, don’t go expecting 4/6/8 GB memory options from Apple though. They don’t do that, ever.

Lastly, the A12 Bionic comes with a brand new ISP (Image Signal Processor), which is one of the two major upgrades for the main camera. It allows the capture of larger amounts of data from the new sensors. It also allows for – Portrait Mode with just one camera, adjustable blur after the photo was shot, and there’s also Smart HDR and zero-shutter lag among other benefits.

SPEAKERS

The iPhone XS Max has two speakers for stereo playback, similar to the iPhone XS, X, and iPhone 8 series. There is an improvement though, which is the front-firing speaker/earpiece. It is way louder now, dare we say as such loud as the bottom-firing one. So much so that it’s now able to pull its own weight when it comes to loudness, instead of merely aiding in the stereo effect. The use of a full-blown speaker behind the earpiece grille results in a sound that is richer, deeper and fuller.

Software

  • iOS 12 from Apple comes with new features including Screen Time
  • You’ll want to enable ‘Reachability’ in Settings for better one-handed use

The iPhone XS Max has been launched with Apple’s new iOS 12 operating system on board. Useful little additions like grouped notifications, easier access, and management of multi-tasking windows – alongside bigger features like – Screen Time – track how often you use your phone and what you’re using it for. It’s worth noting that since launch, the iPhone XS Max has gained features like additional emojis and Group FaceTime.

Now, like the iPhone X, one noticeable absence from the new trio of Apple’s devices is the home button. That means, no Touch ID fingerprint scanner. Instead, you are required to use Apple’s new gesture navigation, that was introduced back with the iPhone X. While some of you will be disappointed with the lack of a physical button, the good news is that the gestures are easy to learn.

Presence of more screen real estate provides more space for applications of which Apple has taken advantage in a few of its own apps. Turning the iPhone XS Max to landscape will give you a split view of the Calendar and Messages apps. It’s useful but currently limited to a few apps. However, with more developers taking advantage of the screen real estate, it soon will have apps that support landscape mode.

And lastly, with iOS 13 Betas being around the corner, the likelihood of additional features being added is present. Although the most noticeable one is a system-wide Dark Mode and speed enhancements.

Battery Life

battery-life
  • Better battery life than the iPhone X
  • Lasts a whole day on a single charge

Battery life has long been a worrisome point for iPhones. But the iPhone XS Max does have a couple of things in its favor in this department.

The iPhone XS Max has the largest battery Apple has put into a smartphone till date – a Li-Ion cell of 3174mAh capacity. The iPhone XS Max ships with a rather silly and outdated 5V/1A wall brick that’s only going to replenish 18% of a dead battery in a 30-min charging session. That is indeed very very slow. Switching to a Qi-compatible Samsung wireless fast charger made for a slight improvement to 15 percent in 30mins.

The XS Max does support fast charging through USB-C. But Apple being Apple, you need to buy a proper cable, i.e., a USB-C-to-Lightning for $20 and use an 18W/30W or any other compatible MacBook, Pixel 3, or even a USB-C port on a Mac. That way you should be able to charge north of 50% from an empty battery in half an hour.

Pricing & Colors

oneplus-pricing

The iPhone XS Max at a starting price of $1099 is certainly not for everyone. Colorwise our favorite is the Gold variant. Pricewise the different variants are as follows:

The iPhone XS Max at a starting price of $1099 is certainly not for everyone. Colorwise our favorite is the Gold variant. Pricewise the different variants are as follows:

  • $1099 – 64GB
  • $1249 – 256GB
  • $1449 – 512GB
colors

Also, there are 3 available colors –  Silver, Gold, and Space Gray.

iphone-xs-max-colors

Conclusion

The iPhone XS Max is outselling the regular XS despite the heftier price tag. The people have spoken with their choice from the XS lineup. The iPhone XS Max, unlike the regular XS, has one big trump card to play – the large 6.5 inch OLED display. It’s like a wish come true for many Apple users and several casual users who have been wanting a large OLED display smartphone running iOS. It’s almost the perfect package from Apple till date. With the biggest battery, the largest screen, the fastest mobile-chip on the planet, the best stereo speakers and an all-rounder flagship-grade camera, the iPhone XS Max is the best upgrade many of the iPhone users have waited for.  

Sure, it’s expensive. with ridiculously overpriced storage options, and being forced into buying dongles is a little annoying, but those things really can’t stain the Apple iPhone XS Max. Maybe it’s probably breaking some records for Apple. The iPhone XS Max really does many things right for Apple and their users but does make do with some compromises such as – exclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack, a fast charger, and absurdly priced storage tiers.

The only concern is how this phone will affect the trends in phone pricing and be affected by the ever increasing competition from the likes of Samsung, Huawei, and OnePlus.

About Shraman Chakraborty

Shraman is an aspiring blogger, a gadget and smartphone geek, and a motorcycle enthusiast. He dreams of starting his own motorcycle and travel blogs and tech youtube channels someday.

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