Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) new iPhones — the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max — were available for pre-order starting September 13 and in stores on September 21. I received mine on Friday and had the weekend to test it out. So how was Apple’s new flagship with the super-sized display, and was it a worthy upgrade coming from an iPhone 7 Plus? Here’s my hands-on iPhone XS Max review.
iPhone XS Max Review: The Biggest iPhone (Display) Ever
The iPhone XS Max is frequently referred to as Apple’s biggest iPhone ever. And it is large, but technically, previous plus-sized iPhones were a fraction of an inch wider and taller. But with a 6.5-inch Super Retina OLED display, the new iPhone XS Max has by the far the biggest screen ever on an iPhone. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s super-crisp and it’s the star feature of this smartphone. That display makes everything from viewing photos to watching video, reading e-mail and web browsing better than ever.
Despite that big display, a virtual elimination of bezels means the iPhone XS Max doesn’t feel super-sized in hand. The glass and stainless steel design looks and feels premium, and offers the best water resistance yet in an iPhone at IP68 — good enough to survive 30 minutes in six feet of water, and certainly good enough that using this phone in the rain shouldn’t be a concern.
The new A12 Bionic chip, next-gen Neural Engine, a reported 4GB of RAM and iOS 12 make for zippy performance. That includes Face ID unlocking that is virtually instantaneous and portrait photos that offer the ability to change focus depth after the fact.
iPhone XS Max Review: Worthy Upgrade From an iPhone 7 Plus, but there are Tradeoffs
One of the big upgrade targets for the iPhone XS Max is owners of older, plus-sized iPhones who found last year’s iPhone X too small. If the company can convince iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 7 Plus and even iPhone 8 Plus owners to upgrade, that could move a lot of units and provide a big boost for AAPL stock.
And in many ways, the iPhone XS Max is a compelling upgrade. The processor is speedy so everything flies. The dual cameras both have optical image stabilization, and significantly larger image sensors that make for a real improvement in photos — especially in low light. The display is much larger thanks to the removal of the Home button, and the OLED panel has better color reproduction and a crisper image.
The glass front and back means the iPhone XS Max is slightly thicker and noticeably heavier than the 7 Plus. The rear cameras stick out a little further from the back. Battery life saw no improvement, and at least with my iPhone XS Max, WiFi reception in marginal areas isn’t as good as with the iPhone 7 Plus. There’s also the screen notch to get used to, and I’m still not overly fond of that.
And then there’s the big barrier: the $1099 starting price. Considering the last “Plus” iPhone — 2017’s iPhone 8 Plus — started at $799, sticker shock could well be an issue.
iPhone XS Max Review: Key Specs
- 6.5-inch Super Retina OLED display at 2688 x 1242 resolution
- A12 Bionic Chip with Neural Engine
- Dual 12 MP wide angle and telephone lens cameras
- 7MP True Depth camera with Face ID
- 64GB, 256GB or 512GB storage
- Battery rated up to 25 hours talk time, up to 13 hours internet access
- 6.20 x 3.05 x 0.30-inches, weighs 7.34 ounces
- IP68 water resistance
- Available in Gold, Space Gray and Silver
- MSRP $1099 and up
iPhone XS Max Review: Conclusion
I was mostly pleased with the iPhone XS Max, but I do wonder if Apple is going to sell all that many of them. Early indications were that the XS Max was the more popular of the two new XS series phones, but I placed my pre-order four days after they started — and still received mine on September 21, the first day of availability.
In contrast, I pre-ordered an iPhone 7 Plus on the morning of the first day, and it took a month after the official release date to arrive. Did AAPL have a bigger supply of the new iPhone on hand this time around, or was demand lower than expected?
The iPhone XS Max is a probably the best smartphone Apple has ever made, but it’s expensive. And while I didn’t find it felt big, for small hands it may be too much. Given that much of the same functionality and performance can be had in the much less expensive (and slightly smaller) iPhone XR, it’s looking more likely that the entry level iPhone will be the big hit this generation.
With iPhone XR pre-orders not starting until October 19, it will be a while yet before we get a sense of the big picture in terms of iPhone sales. But if you have the budget, don’t mind the notch and want the biggest and highest quality display available, the iPhone XS Max is the 2018 iPhone of choice.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.