How can Apple improve on the imposing and super premium 5.8-inch iPhone X on an “S” year and at a time when flagship smartphone competition is at an all-time high? Adding a larger size, a new color finish, improved processor and camera performance, as well as a slew of new exclusive features are all standard moves in the Apple playbook and they are all in effect here—but there’s also so much more. The iPhone Xs Max is the bigger, badder version and it improves on almost every aspect of Apple’s flagship smartphone.

Reinforcing the flagship class. The glass used in to cover the display and rear back plate has been improved for more resilience to drops and bumps. Apple’s improved water- and dust-resistance so iPhone Xs can survive drops and spills without any issue thanks to its IP68 rating (up to 2 meters for 30 minutes).

iPhone Xs Max is the larger variant with a whopping 6.5-inch display. This is nearly as much screen real estate as the discontinued iPad mini but in a size that’s smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus.

I see the iPhone Xs Max as more than just a smartphone but as pocket computer, now capable of managing more complex productivity and content consumption. For many users, this could be the only device they need.

That’s why it’s great that Apple offers a range in storage sizes from 64GB, 256GB, to a whopping 512GB. Personally though, 128GB is the sweet spot for most users looking to keep this device for three to four years, so I’m sad it isn’t an option.

For Apple, I think iPhone Xs Max effectively replaces two devices. The iPad mini as well as the iPhone 8 Plus.

A next-level supersized iPhone. In terms of dimensions, my iPhone Xs Max is the same size as my wife’s iPhone 6s Plus, the biggest difference is the entire front is a display with no bezel and no bottom lip needed for a home button.

There are other upgrades despite the larger display. An all-glass construction gives the iPhone Xs line a more premium look and feel while enabling wireless charging and improved wireless reception.

There’s now 4GB of RAM and a new 7-nanometer Apple A12 Fusion processor system on a chip, which also integrates a graphics card and the Neural Engine needed for Face ID and complex photography.

Apple didn’t just beat the industry to a 7nm SoC, it has put its silicon to good use by allowing it to power through complex games and apps as well as offer premium HDR+ video playback and AR experiences. A new eight-core design allows it to complete up to five trillion operations per second.

So, while on the surface, the iPhone Xs may seem as an iterative step up over its predecessor, I consider it to be the model which evolves the design and performance aspirations of the iPhone X yet at a larger form factor.

Stay gold. My iPhone Xs Max review unit came in the new gold color which offers a nice brassy patina that’s neither too feminine nor too masculine. There’s a complexity to the color and finish on this device that’s sometimes pearlescent and often slips between yellow and rose gold.

Personally, I prefer the smaller iPhone Xs size with a very pocketable 5.8-inch size. I’ll likely buy the Space Gray iPhone Xs when the time comes to renew my phone contract.

That said, I quickly adjusted to the larger size and began to relish the advantages of a larger display. I also noticed the stereo speakers are now louder than the iPhone X.

Aside from watching videos, streaming content and looking at photos iPhone Xs Max also makes an ideal device for reading e-books, documents, and notes. Having an iPhone with size display effectively elevates the smartphone closer to a full-fledged personal computer in your pocket.

What seems like a missed opportunity is that despite the larger 6.5-inch size (over the iPhone Xs’ 5.8-inch) the operating system or apps don’t take advantage of the larger screen size.

We don’t get an extra row of icons or additional screen functionality. On the contrary, some apps act weird on the iPhone Xs Max’s screen resolution and don’t scale properly.

These issues, like overlapping icons or disappearing text boxes, will likely be fixed soon but I want all that screen real estate to be put to good use and I hope developers update their apps to take advantage of this glorious display real estate.

A smarter smartphone camera. Apple improves the iPhone Xs camera in many ways. Apple says the camera sensor comes with “deeper and larger pixels for improved color fidelity and better low-light photos.” And that Smart HDR brings “more highlight and shadow detail” in your photos. It also has an all-new Depth Control that allows you to adjust the depth of field in your portraits after the fact.

I certainly noticed that the iPhone Xs Max takes better low light shots than the iPhone X. Some indoor food shots in dark restaurants reveal surprisingly detailed food with discernible colors.

Portrait mode is similarly more defined with better separation between foreground and background. There is notable processing or smoothing going on. Could this smoothing, which is akin to the “Beautification mode” on other smartphone be because the iPhone Xs uses a new camera processor or is this the software being a bit aggressive? It’s hard to say at this point. Clearly, the camera is making decisions for you and you just need to live with them.

Speaking of video, the iPhone Xs now has four microphones for stereo recording and improved optical image stabilization, which makes this a formidable video recording tool.

I shot a short video of myself running and walking through a corn maze and what should have been very shaky video is well handled by the iPhone Xs Max.

Directors and creatives have been shooting cinematic video with iPhones for years but the improved focus on video plus the larger storage capacity make this a video camera and studio that you can fit in your back pocket.

Living large. The iPhone Xs Max is the next level of Apple’s premium smartphone line. It brings the best features, design build, and functionality of the iPhone X to a larger and more immersive form factor. Granted, larger phones can be harder to manage and are not for everyone, I see the iPhone Xs Max as a viable replacement for a small tablet or even a touch-first 2-in-1 PC.

Consuming content, using social media, messaging, and playing games is so much more immersive on a larger display. For users who rely on their phones everyday all day, having the larger canvas makes more sense and is easier on the eyes. 


VERDICT

The amount of computing power behind the new iPhone Xs Max puts it in a class of its own. Especially considering iOS 12 is tuned for performance as well as battery life. The Apple iPhone Xs Max is the best smartphone for content creators and creatives on the go. The dual 12-megapixel camera array, advanced computational photography features, and vast selection of apps make this the gold standard. Anyone who needs to quickly shoot, edit, and share videos and photos will be well served by the iPhone Xs Max and its vast range of features.


SPECIFICATIONS

Display: 6.5” Super Retina HD OLED multi-touch HDR (2,688 × 1,242 resolution)

SIM: Dual (nano + eSIM)

Operating system: iOS 12

Processor: A12 Bionic chip

Storage: 64GB/256GB/512GB internal

Cameras: Rear – Dual 12MP wide-angle telephoto with f/1.8 aperture (wide-angle), f/2.4 aperture (telephoto), 2x optical zoom, 10x digital zoom, dual optical image stabilization, six-element lens, Quad-LED True Tone flash with Slow Sync, sapphire crystal lens cover, backside illumination sensor, hybrid IR filter, up to 4K video recording at 60fps, OIS for video, 2x optical zoom, 6x digital zoom; Front – 7MP with f/2.2 aperture, 1080p@60fps video, Smart HDR, cinematic video stabilization, backside illumination sensor, auto image stabilization

Connectivity & I/O ports: Gigabit-class LTE; Wi-Fi 802.11ac; Bluetooth 5.0; NFC; GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, QZSS, GALILEO; Lightning connector

Security: Face ID

Other features: IP68 dust-/water-resistant

Battery: Built-in rechargeable lithium-ion, wireless charging support (Qi standard)

Dimensions & weight: 157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7mm, 208g

Price:  P74,990 (64GB), P84,490 (256GB), P97,490 (512GB)

Test: Apple iPhone Xs Max
FORM FACTOR8.5
BUILD QUALITY9
EASE OF USE8.5
PERFORMANCE9.5
VALUE FOR MONEY7.5
8.6Overall Score

About The Author

Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

Gadjo is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. He has covered technology, business and lifestyle for a variety of publications. He currently a technology columnist for international magazines, newspapers and websites.