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Review: Apple iPhone XS Max 

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

How can Apple improve on the imposing and super premium 5.8-inch iPhone X on an `S` year and at a time where flagship smartphone competition is at an all-time high? Adding a larger size, a new colour 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 improves on almost every aspect of Apple`s flagship smartphone. Hit jump for our review.

Reinforcing the flagship class

The glass used in to cover the display and rear backplate 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 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, 256 GB to a whopping 512 GB. Personally though, 128GB is the sweet spot for most users looking to keep this device for 3-4 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 5 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 colour which offers a nice brassy patina that's neither too feminine or too masculine. There's a complexity to the colour 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 Grey 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 eBooks, 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 OS 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' 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 features deeper and larger pixels for improved color fidelity and better low-light photos. Smart HDR brings more highlight and shadow detail across all your photos. All-new Depth Control lets you adjust the depth of field of your portraits after you shoot."

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 colours. 

Impressive low-light indoor photography of scallop sashimi shot on iPhone XS Max

Portrait mode is similarly more defined with better separation between foreground and background. There is notable processing or smoothing going on.

A portrait mode photo of the author shows some cosmetic smoothing

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.

I do like the photos I am getting from the iPhone XS Max and I need more time to put together a comprehensive photography and video test which will follow I've had more time with the device.

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 handeld 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 me 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.


  •  More than a new iPhone, XS Max is a new platform replacing Plus iPhones and iPad mini
  •  New glass and stainless steel finish is less slippery and easier to hold
  •  Camera is profoundly better in low-light conditions
  •  Smooth Optical Image Stabilization on video



  • Large size is a challenge to handle
  • OS and interface do not take advantage of larger screen real-estate
  • Pricing is astronomical


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. 

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.

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