Apple iPhone XS Max review: Greatest iPhone ever, but Android flagships are way ahead

₹144,900

tech2 rating

4/5

avg. user rating

0/5

Build and Design

4

Features

4.25

Display

4.5

OS and Software

4

Performance

4.5

Camera

4.25

Battery

3.5

4/5

overall rating

the good

Brilliant display
Best video camera on a phone
Performance
Face ID

the bad

Exorbitant price
iOS 12 bugs
Battery life
Unreliable photo and video backup

the bottom line

Is this the best iPhone money can buy? Absolutely. Does it make sense to spend so much on a phone, even if it's an iPhone? Absolutely not.

Is this the best iPhone money can buy? Absolutely.

Does it make sense to spend so much on a phone, even if it's an iPhone? Absolutely not.

The Apple iPhone XS and XS Max finally started selling in India on 28 September. The last generation iPhone X did not manage to sell many units here and the overall market share of Apple actually declined. Some might argue that the price was too high, but Apple doesn't seem to think so. After all, the poor sales haven’t stopped the Cupertino giant from charging an even higher premium for its current generation flagship devices.

We have discussed in the past how the high price point would not be much of a bother for Apple, as previous generation iPhones will be the ones that would drive volumes and Apple’s inherent brand value will take care of the rest. At a starting price of Rs 99,000 (for a 64 GB iPhone XS) and going all the way up to Rs 1,44,900 (the iPhone XS Max I am testing), the pricing on the iPhones has reached unprecedented levels. This is the phone you want, more than the phone you need, because that need of having a flagship smartphone can easily be fulfilled by other Android (or older iPhones) devices which cost half or even a third of these new iPhones.

Apple iPhone XS Max. Image: Apple

Apple iPhone XS Max. Image: Apple

If you are a price conscious consumer, the iPhone XS/XS Max isn’t for you. If you are an iPhone X user, then the iPhone XS/XS Max isn’t for you. The XS/XS Max is the perfect upgrade, if you are coming from the iPhone 6/6s/7 generation and if you have money to burn. With iOS 12 breathing new life into older generation phones, there is little incentive for an iPhone 8/8 Plus/X user to make the switch. The ‘S’ upgrade years have always been about adding more finesse to the non-S iPhones, and the XS/XS Max don’t divert from that philosophy. So, most of the improvements have happened on the inside. Externally though, the XS looks identical to the X. Thus, if it's a phone you want to flaunt, the larger XS Max is the one you want.

With that out of the way, let’s take a more in-depth look at the iPhone XS/XS Max. I have used the iPhone XS Max as my primary device for a couple of weeks now and barring the larger display and the battery life, everything is identical on the two phones. So while the review will focus on the XS Max (512 GB), the same things apply to the XS as Apple hasn’t reserved its best features for the XS Max (as it used to do with its ‘Plus’ phones). The XS and XS Max are identical in all respects except for the display size and battery capacity. Wherever there are changes, I will explicitly mention them.

Build and Design: 8/10

Apple iPhone XS Max comes with the largest display ever seen on an iPhone/ Image: tech2/Prannoy Palav

Apple iPhone XS Max comes with the largest display ever seen on an iPhone/ Image: tech2/Prannoy Palav

As I said before, in the S upgrade, there are barely any changes in the design or form factor. The iPhone XS Max is just a larger iPhone X, which was the first major redesign of the iPhone. It also marked the 10th year anniversary of the iPhone. That design trend should, hopefully, continue for a few more years, if the iPhone 6 to iPhone 8 generations are any indicators. While the XS looks identical to the iPhone X, the large size display on the XS Max really stands out.

You get the sturdy Corning Gorilla glass on the front and the back, which sandwiches the stainless steel edges. These edges are rounded not just on the corners, but also in places where it meets the glass on either side so as to create a seamless transition. According to Apple, the Gold and Space Gray (the model under test) finishes “use an advanced physical vapour deposition process on the stainless steel bands.” In simple terms, Apple claims this will ensure the shine of the edges never reduces. Despite having used the iPhone X with a third party case last year, I noticed that there were scratch marks left on the steel edges. There was no corrosion per se, but there were marks that wouldn’t come off. The glass back is there to enable wireless charging.

The notch is present on the top of the XS Max housing all the necessary sensors for the Face ID. Image: tech2/Prannoy Palav

The notch is present on the top of the XS Max housing all the necessary sensors for the Face ID. Image: tech2/Prannoy Palav

Button placement is the same, the volume buttons and ring/silent switch is on the left-hand side and the power/standby button and the SIM Card tray are on the right-hand side. The top edge is clean, showing just one antenna line, whereas at the base you see a lightning port with an asymmetrical speaker grille arrangement on either side, which is asymmetrical to accommodate the antenna cut line on the base.

This visual oddity is strange to see on an Apple device, which are supposed to be meticulously designed. The antenna bands are necessary to take advantage of new features like 4x4 MIMO, but it still strikes a bit of a jarring note on such an expensive phone. You get used to it quickly enough, though.

The rear side has the dual camera setup which is a design that carries on from the iPhone X.

The antenna band on the base creates an asymmetrical design language. Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant

The antenna band on the base creates an asymmetrical design language. Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant

The device is sturdy and the massive 6.5-inch display means that you will need two hands to operate it. Even though the dimensions are similar to the 5.5-inch display toting iPhone 8 Plus, the edge-to-edge screen lets the display real estate extend all the way to the edges, thereby giving a 6.5-inch display — the largest on an iPhone. It weighs in at  208 gm and is 7.7 mm thick. The glass back makes it a tad slippery and the iPhone isn't likely to survive a fall from a height. Although Apple says that it has used a special variant of the Corning Gorilla glass to survive minor falls. If you want to put Apple's word to the test using a Rs 1.5 lakh device you just bought, be my guest, I certainly don't have the courage to test their claims. In fact, the first thing I'm going to do is pick up a nice case for the phone.

Features: 8.5/10

The iPhone XS and XS Max are identical except for the display size and the battery capacity.

The XS comes with a 5.8-inch Super Retina HD display with a 2436 x 1125 pixel resolution working out to a pixel density of 458 PPI. The XS Max comes with a 6.5-inch display with 2688 x 1242 pixel resolution with a similar pixel density. The notch is present on the OLED display which houses all the major sensors needed for Face ID to work, such as the infrared camera, the flood illuminator, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, front camera and dot projector. To find out how the Face ID mechanism works, do read this.

In terms of battery capacity, the XS has 2,658 mAh capacity (which is less than the 2,716 mAh seen on the iPhone X) whereas the iPhone XS Max come with 3,174 mAh battery. Barring these two feature sets, the iPhone XS and XS Max are identical in every respect.

Apple iPhone XS Max in the Space Gray colour. Image: tech2/Prannoy Palav

Apple iPhone XS Max in the Space Gray colour. Image: tech2/Prannoy Palav

Compared to other smartphone batteries, these are tiny, but Apple still bundles the mind-numbingly slow 5 W charger with all its phones, even the XS Max. Apple's argument for only bundling a 5 W charger is even stranger still. They claim that people prefer the 5 W adapter because it's small. Did Apple not ask those people what they thought of the 4-hour charging time for the XS Max?

So here’s the second accessory investment — a 10 W or higher charging adapter.

Both phones have the same camera setup. The primary camera (with f/1.8 aperture) comes with a new sensor featuring a larger pixel size and the secondary camera with the telephoto lens comes with an f/2.4 aperture. The cameras feature dual optical image stabilisation. On the front is the 7 MP selfie camera with an f/2.2 aperture. The rear camera is capable of shooting 4K video at 60 fps and it also supports slo-mo videos at FullHD resolution at 240 fps, and you can also click 8 MP images while a video is being recorded. The XS/XS Max cameras also support Smart HDR for photos, portrait lighting modes and the ability to store images either as JPGs or in the HEIC/HEVC format which occupies less space in the storage.

The Apple A12 Bionic chipset powers both phones. This is Apple’s in-house chipset which comes with a new generation neural engine to assist with all machine learning tasks. The processor break up is 2 high-performance cores + 4 efficiency cores. There’s also a 4-core Apple designed GPU with support for Metal 2. This is the first generation chipset where Apple has decided to go with its in-house GPU process and it certainly has a lot riding on it. There’s also an 8-core neural engine which supports CoreML and has the capability to perform up to 5 trillion operations per second to assist with tasks involving machine learning and immersive augmented reality. This is up almost ten times from that of the previous iPhone.

The front and rear cameras both support AR, with the front camera AR effects even available on third-party apps such as Snapchat.

Apple iPhone XS Max comes with a nano SIM + eSIM configuration. Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant

Apple iPhone XS Max comes with a nano SIM + eSIM configuration. Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant

The devices come with 4 GB RAM and the storage SKUs are 64 GB, 256 GB and 512 GB. Both the phones also support IP68 protection, which means it is splash, dust and water resistant (up to 2 metres for 30 mins). In terms of sensors, you have Face ID, a barometer, three-axis gyroscope and accelerometer.

Apple has bundled its Lightning EarPods with the phones, but you will no longer get a 3.5 mm jack to Lightning port adapter in the box. This seems to be Apple’s way of enforcing wireless audio standards. I mean, why else would they remove a Rs 699 adapter from its Rs 1.5 lakh iPhone?

The iOS 12 operating system is what the iPhone XS and XS Max come with. The OS adds a lot of new features, which we will elaborate on in the Software section. Some of the highlights include grouped notifications, Memoji, Screen Time and much more.

With the iPhone XS and XS Max, Apple has finally introduced dual SIM support. Unlike the many dual-SIM Android devices that we see around us, Apple makes use of a single physical SIM card and one embedded SIM or eSIM card. The eSIM as the name implies will be an embedded SIM, which will have to be activated by telecom service providers (Airtel and Jio, for now) for it to work.

Unfortunately, dual SIM support hasn't yet been activated and will arrive with iOS 12 later this year.

On the audio front, you get stereo speakers and four microphones which also help record a video in stereo sound.

Display: 9/10

Apple puts in a lot of thought behind the display of any of its products. With the iPhone X, Apple finally and fully embraced OLED. The display is made by arch-rival Samsung, but since Samsung is the only company that could make it to Apple's specifications, it's not like Apple had a choice.

The folded OLED panel introduced by Apple with the iPhone X is also seen in the XS and XS Max, making them the only phones to offer a truly chin-less display.

Both displays have similar pixel densities (458 PPI) but varying resolutions. The iPhone X and XS offer 5.8-inch screen at a resolution of 2436x1125, while the XS Max offers a 6.5-inch display at 2688x1242.

App scaling happens uniformly across the XS and XS Max. Only the asset sizes change between phones, ensuring that functionally, apps appear the same on both displays. On the home page, for example, you'll see the same number of icons per row.

Think of the XS Max as offering a zoomed in version of the XS's display. But thanks to the pixel density and higher resolution, there is no sort of pixellation noticeable at any given point in time.

Coming to colour balance and accuracy, I did a lot of my testing with TrueTone turned on. TrueTone basically matches the white-point of the display with ambient light. Paper in yellow light will look yellow, and that's what TrueTone tries to replicate. I've used the feature extensively on the iPhone X and I've found it to be quite pleasing. I tried turning it off on the XS Max and the display instantly took on a cool blue tinge.

The auto-brightness mode on the iPhone XS/XS Max is also the best among any smartphones I have observed.

While the display performed well on most movies and TV shows that I watched on the XS Max, there was some loss in shadow details noticeable when watching shows with dark scenes. When placed beside the Pixel 3XL, certain scenes in horror drama The Haunting on Hill House just did not show much details as compared to the Pixel 3XL. But do note that the Pixel 3XL shows an HDR10 version whereas the iPhone XS Max shows a Dolby Vision version of the show. The photo below gives a good idea. This show has a lot of dark scenes and it even employs a different kind of colour grading. This, paired with Dolby Vision’s dynamic rendering could be the reason for it or some issue with Netflix's encoding on this show. But otherwise, the display on the XS Max is excellent.

A scene from 'The Haunting of Hill House' as rendered on (from L to R) iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone XS Max and Pixel 3 XL.

A scene from 'The Haunting of Hill House' as rendered on (from L to R) iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone XS Max and Pixel 3 XL.

When I tried watching HDR 10 videos on YouTube, the issue seen above wasn't present on the iPhone XS Max display. In fact, it looked even brighter than the Pixel 3 XL.

As mentioned before, text sharpness and colour reproduction were on point. Thanks to the OLED display, the contrast ratio is great, black levels are deep and it’s a sheer joy to binge on your favourite series on this display, as well as play high-end games such as Shadowgun: Legends. The notch does interfere while playing games such as PUBG and Fortnite though. The level of detail and the colour reproduction on the iPhone XS Max easily rivals the best that Android has to offer. The Note 9 offers a great display, but having them side by side, I liked the colours offered by the XS Max.

Some apps do take advantage of the larger display on the XS Max by making use of the landscape mode unique to the Max. Native apps such as Mail, Messages, Photos, Calendar and Safari make better use of the 6.5 inches of real estate. The App Store and Apple Music did not really show any good use of the display real estate in landscape mode.

This is one area where the XS and XS Max differ.

OS and Software: 8/10

Last year, when the iPhone X had launched in India with iOS 11, there were bugs cropping up every other day and it was just a pain to use the device at times. Apple introduced a lot of features with the iOS 11, but the buggy OS paired with the time it took developers to adapt to the notch meant that the in-app experience wasn't that great on the X. My colleagues on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus didn't have half as much trouble with their phones as I did.

With iOS 12, Apple has decided to focus on the basics. You get fewer new features, but a more stable iOS experience overall. Some of the major features introduced with iOS 12 include the AR-focussed Measure app, a dedicated QR code scanner, grouped notifications (Finally!) Memojis and the biggest feature of all — Screen Time. The latter is a digital wellness feature that gives you a good idea of how long you spend on which kind of app, lets you set time limits on apps and much more. Each of the links explains those features in detail, so I wouldn’t want to repeat that here.

Memoji in iOS 12

Memoji in iOS 12 let you create your own avatar

The overall animations on the XS Max are fast, gestures are responsive and I am really glad that just a swipe up or down kills an app. The swipe up/down feature has cut down on an unnecessary step. The XS Max, thanks to its large size makes it uncomfortable for one-handed use, especially when you want to check notifications or make a quick change in Settings. The Reachability feature helps for sure here, but once you swipe down to check notifications, the display switches back to full-screen mode. One day I tried using it with just one hand and was left with a sore thumb.

Siri Shortcuts is a new feature that is part of iOS 12. This basically lets you perform a series of tasks with just one voice command. Go to Settings > Siri & Search and you will be presented some suggested shortcuts depending on your most common use cases. Here, you will be presented with preset shortcuts — mostly one-trick ponies. But if you want to create a routine with a whole bunch of things that should be done after you say the trigger word, then you will have to create such shortcuts in the Shortcuts app (formerly Workflow). This definitely involves a learning curve and you will have to be patient when setting up. The Shortcuts app has a Gallery section which has preset routines from which you can select. You can have a Shortcuts widget on your phone and they are also searchable system-wide. Also, you can either speak out the command for the Siri Shortcut or just tap on the shortcut for it to run.

The Screen Time data is divided mainly into Most Used, Pickups and Notifications

The Screen Time data is divided mainly into Most Used, Pickups and Notifications

The Battery section under Settings gives a nice graphical breakdown of the battery usage as well as the screen on time and off time along with the app-wise battery usage. It's a feature that's been on Android for years and it's a wonder that Apple has only now introduced it.

There are several features that have yet to be activated on the software front. For instance, Group FaceTime, which lets you FaceTime with up to 32 of your friends (Who does that, really?) and the activation of the eSIM module. At the moment you can only use a single physical SIM on the phone as the eSIM activation by supported service providers Airtel and Jio will take some time.

On the whole, the iOS 12 user experience is a much more refined experience than iOS 11 when it had first come out. Yes, there were a few bugs which got their own names, such as Charge-gate and Beauty-gate. While the Charge-gate issue has now been resolved thanks to the emergency iOS 12.0.1 update, there are other bugs which have been introduced by it.

Grouped Notifications are finally here on iOS 12

Grouped Notifications are finally here on iOS 12

I had mentioned in the title that Android phones are way ahead. Well, Android’s latest OS may not be on more than 1 percent of Android devices, but the features offered on Android Oreo have been far ahead of iOS on many fronts. Grouped notifications have been part of Android for ages. Variable aperture has been part of Android for a while now. Multi-tasking with split-screen is available on even affordable Android phones apart from the flagships. The iPhone XS Max could have implemented that in some way, but instead we only get a landscape mode use of apps. But there are two things which put Android at a significant advantage — Photos app and Google Assistant. Apple has nothing close to these two stalwarts from Android. Siri is still playing catch-up. The iCloud photo backup as compared to Google Photos backup is cumbersome. As I had noted during the WWDC announcement, iOS 12 was all about playing catch up with Android. One advantage that iOS has over Android is the quick adoption rate of the latest iOS version on Apple devices. Google can only dream of such numbers with Android’s latest operating systems. But if we are talking flagship segment, then Android flagships are surely offering as much and sometimes more than an iPhone flagship offering.

Performance: 9/10

Apple A11 Bionic chipset had set new standards when it came to raw performance. No chipset from rival brands such as Qualcomm, Huawei's HiSilicon, MediaTek and Samsung has managed anything remotely close to the performance of the A11 Bionic. With the A12 Bionic chipset, Apple has released the first set of smartphones to house a chipset based on TSMC’s 7 nm process. What this means is that more transistors can be packed in the SoC, thereby giving scope for improved performance and power savings.

Apple A12 Bionic is the secret that makes the iPhone XS Max perform better than any other chipset around.

Apple A12 Bionic is the secret that makes the iPhone XS Max perform better than any other mobile chipset around.

The benchmark scores observed on the A12 Bionic chipset are at least 20 percent higher than those seen on the A11 Bionic chipset. This leaves every current generation chipset lagging. The six-core CPU, four-core GPU and eight-core NPU (neural processing unit) paired with 4 GB RAM give enough headroom to the iPhone XS/XS Max to ensure things are always smooth. The performance levels are almost at par with some entry-level laptops, which speaks volumes about the strides in innovation on mobile SoCs.

Of course, benchmark numbers are just an indicator. In real-life usage, everything just ran smoothly. Any application, any game that was thrown at the XS Max ran without issue. The frame-rates on Shadowgun: Legends, which is a heavy game, were just wonderful and buttery smooth. The graphics were top notch with absolutely no jagged edges anywhere and excellent physics. I am not a hardcore gamer per se, but the fluid experience while playing Shadowgun: Legends, had me spending hours with the game. The battle royale scenes on PUBG and Fortnite looked detailed on the large XS Max display, but the notch was definitely covering some portion of the map, at times, even enemies were hidden. Yes, there are a few hitches here and there with regards to optimising the games for the notch and the larger display size, but it’s a matter of time before fixes start showing up.

While gaming and running benchmarks on the iPhone XS Max, the rear side of the phone does get warm, but not unpleasantly so. Using AR apps was another instance where I found the iPhone XS Max immediately starts getting warm. AR apps, in general, tend to warm up the iPhone XS Max as there is a lot of computing happening in the background. I don’t know if the developers can do anything to reduce heat generation. Even for something seemingly simple as using the Measure app, temperatures were hovering around 36-38 degrees on the rear glass. Barring benchmark runs, there were barely any instances when the temperatures crossed 40 degrees. Only while doing the 3D Mark Slingshot test did I notice an app freeze. But on most other tests, everything ran as expected.

The speaker on the XS Max is loud and clear. There were many instances when I prefered listening to the audio on the phone’s speakers when in a room. Stereo separation was observed more clearly with the XS Max. The earpiece speaker was loud and all calls received were clearly audible.

Camera: 8.5/10

Apple used to be the king of smartphone cameras till three-four years ago. But that crown has been taken away by the Samsung Galaxy Notes and now, by the Google Pixels. With the XS Max, Apple has stuck with the similar dual 12 MP rear camera setup and a 7 MP front camera setup. The primary 12 MP rear camera has a completely new sensor with a 1.4-micron pixel size and an f/1.8 aperture lens. The increase in the pixel size should enable it to collect more light than the iPhone X, something that we will see with the low light photographs. The telephoto 12 MP sensor comes with an f/2.4 aperture lens and has a 1-micron pixel size. Both the dual rear cameras support optical image stabilisation. The front camera has a 7 MP sensor with f/2.2 aperture. While the rear camera can shoot 4K up to 60 fps, it can also shoot 4K HDR video up to 30 fps. The front camera is capable of shooting 1080p at 60 fps. The camera setup is exactly the same on the iPhone XS as well.

I don’t want to talk much about daylight photography as the XS Max does an excellent job of it. Focusing speeds are fast, dynamic range is wonderful, details are there for all to see and the colours are mostly neutral, although in some cases you do see a slight warm tinge to the images shot during the golden hours. It’s very difficult to say if the dynamic range is significantly better than on the iPhone X, but the XS Max does employ Smart HDR and computational photography, so that really does help. This is the first generation of iPhone cameras which are using computational photography and AI in image processing.

The Smart HDR function on the iPhone XS Max take a series of shots and an extra shot with a lot more shadow details, and then all these photos are merged algorithmically to give you the best shot. The edge to edge sharpness was quite good. The XS Max is even able to resolve the foreground well if you are shooting against the Sun, which is a difficult shot to pull off. 

Here's a link to the Apple iPhone XS Max photo album on Flickr, in case you want to pixel-peep.

Apple iPhone XS Max

The portrait mode for the front, as well as the rear camera, gives you the option to adjust the aperture (background blur) after the fact. This feature has been seen on Android devices for many years now, especially on Huawei, Honor, Oppo, Vivo devices. Operationally, it is similar on the iPhone XS Max as well. While you can adjust the aperture setting, you cannot change the area of focus, after the fact, as you can do on most Android phones. The portrait lighting modes are still average and the stage light and stage light mono modes are still quite tacky, to be honest. The portrait mode was a hit and miss when shooting pets though. 

I did notice some amount of lens barrel distortion towards the extreme edges in a lot of photos where the subjects were far off. This is noticeable only when you zoom in all the way and observe the edges. It’s almost like the subjects are leaning inwards from the edges. Purple fringing though was very well controlled, and there were barely any photographs which showcased a strange coloured halo effect. Yes, when shooting with artificial light sources such as bulbs or car headlights in front of you, there will be noticeable ghost lights appearing in the frame. 

The Huawei P20 Pro (left) Night Mode just manages to capture a lot more detail than the iPhone XS Max (Right). Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant

The Huawei P20 Pro (left) Night Mode just manages to capture a lot more detail than the iPhone XS Max (Right). Image: tech2/Nimish Sawant

Low light photography is where the cameras are truly tested. Before I get into details, the Pixel 2 XL and now, the Pixel 3 XL offer a superior performance in low light than the XS Max. But the gap that was seen between the Pixel 2 XL and iPhone X low light photographs, has been significantly reduced when you compare the Pixel 3XL with the iPhone XS Max in low light. The one smartphone that outclasses the XS Max significantly in the low light department is the Huawei P20 Pro, thanks to its Night Mode which shoots a burst of images and then applies AI to combine them to give a detailed low light shot. 

From L to R: Google Pixel 3 XL, Apple iPhone XS Max, Samsung Galaxy Note 9

From L to R: Google Pixel 3 XL, Apple iPhone XS Max, Samsung Galaxy Note 9. Image: tech2/Sheldon Pinto

A close up of the shot above. Notice how the iPhone XS Max (centre) is able to resolve the details despite the tricky lighting situation. Image: tech2/Sheldon Pinto

A close up of the shot above. Notice how the iPhone XS Max (centre) is able to resolve the details despite the tricky lighting situation. Image: tech2/Sheldon Pinto

With that out of the way, I must say that the XS Max is a significant improvement over the iPhone X when it comes to low light photography. Thanks to the large pixel size on the new sensor, the overall scene captured by the XS Max had a lot more detail and there was a lot less noise as compared to the iPhone X. But when one compared it to the Pixel 3 XL and Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (f/1.5 aperture) low light samples, one realises that the latter two devices just light up the scene better, and Google uses its computational photography to deliver a noise-free image. The XS Max in most instances is not able to resolve as much of the detail as these two Android flagships.

From L to R: Google Pixel 3 XL, Apple iPhone XS Max, Samsung Galaxy Note 9

From L to R: Google Pixel 3 XL, Apple iPhone XS Max, Samsung Galaxy Note 9

The portraits and selfies shot in low light definitely show a skin-smoothening effect, which I have discussed in detail in this piece.

When it comes to video recording, the iPhone XS Max just builds up on the goodness offered by the iPhone X. As far as smartphones go, the iPhone XS Max is easily the phone to beat if you are looking at excellent 4K footage shot on a phone. The XS Max is capable of shooting HDR video in 4K resolution at 30 fps. When compared side-by-side with the iPhone X footage, I did notice that the XS Max was able to extract a lot more details from the shadow areas as compared to the iPhone X. Paired with the stereo microphones, the footage looks really good and is well stabilised. If you are walking fast, there will be a noticeable wobble, but it’s not jarring to the eye.

If you are into vlogging, the XS Max is an ideal companion. If you are a budding film-maker, the iPhone XS Max video camera along with the iMovie app is good enough to help you get started on making your films. The stereo sound recording on video is just too good, but the microphones also tend to pick up a lot of ambient noise.

Just look at this comparison of the XS Max video camera pitted against a $10,000 Canon Cinema camera and see for yourself how far videography on smartphones has come.

Battery: 7/10

The Apple iPhone XS Max is expected to be housing a 3,174 mAh battery. Of course, Apple does not officially reveal the battery capacities on its iPhones, and this capacity was known thanks to an iFixit page. In theory, that battery capacity for a 6.5-inch Retina Display-sporting iPhone sounds low, but iPhones have never really matched Android phone battery capacity or RAM numbers, and yet delivered stellar performance. That’s thanks to the integration of the hardware and software over which Apple has complete control.

Apple iPhone XS Max battery life chart

Apple iPhone XS Max battery life chart

The first thing, before I get into discussing battery life, is that Apple should just stop bundling that measly 5 W charger in the box. In an age when every other Android handset maker is bundling fast chargers as a matter of routine, it is absolutely petty of Apple to bundle a slow charger. Even with the 10 W charger, which is bundled with an iPad, the iPhone XS Max took a good two hours to charge completely. In 2018, this is inexcusable.

Coming to the actual battery usage, the battery held through a regular workday for sure, but I was expecting a lot more. The 6 hours screen on time, isn’t very different from what one can get from an iPhone 8. Sure, the XS Max has a larger display and more pixels, but the whole raison d’etre for a large size iPhone is that one expects better battery life. The XS Max has fallen short of that expectation. The 6 hours screen on time would drastically drop down to under 5 hours if any gaming or heavy workloads were involved. 

Apple iPhone XS battery life

Apple iPhone XS battery life

On a heavy usage day, starting from 100 percent charge in the morning, I would be out of battery by the time I reached home. The iPhone XS battery is at par with the iPhone X and the 30 mins extra promise is completely based on your usage. The iPhone XS gave a consistent 6 hours of screen on time on average. 

If you are a gamer who loves heavy titles such as Shadowgun Legends, Fortnite or PUBG, then an hour of playing these titles will use around 20 percent of the battery life.

Even if you're on the iPhone XS Max, you're going to need a power bank for hectic days. If you're a MacBook Pro user, then a USB-C to Lightning port adapter is essential. After all, the MacBook will charge your iPhone faster than Apple's pitiful 5 W charger, and the MacBook Pro's USB-C charging brick can send 27 W of charging goodness to your iPhone.

Spending 4 hours to charge a phone that barely lasts a day is almost a punishment.

Verdict and Price in India

I think I'll repeat my opening lines here:

Is this the best iPhone money can buy? Absolutely.

Does it make sense to spend so much on a phone, even if it's an iPhone? Absolutely not.

The smartphone space has exploded these past few years and we are getting a lot of interesting flagship phones from various vendors, many of which surpass the iPhone in terms of design (Oppo Find X, Samsung Galaxy Note 9), camera performance (Google Pixel 3XL) and battery life (take your pick).

Apple iPhone XS Max. Image: tech2/Prannoy Palav

Apple iPhone XS Max. Image: tech2/Prannoy Palav

If a good deal is what you are looking for, then the iPhone XS/XS Max should be the last devices you should be looking at. The XS and XS Max are an upgrade-worthy phone to iPhone users who are still on the 6/6s/7 generation, though if they don't have deep pockets, an iPhone 8 will also suffice. iPhone 8/8 Plus/X users needn't bother with this S variant, unless they really have no qualms about putting down this much money for a phone.

Those wanting to upgrade, but are still on the fence about the Rs 1 lakh plus price point should really wait it out as the iPhone XR release is around the corner. Though even that can be considered a bad deal, given that it features only a single camera that's not likely to be as good as the Pixel 3's, and an LCD display, at an expected price of Rs 76,900 for the base variant. 

I have made a case for why Android flagships have come of age (in the OS and Software section) over the last couple of generations. Despite that, and the exorbitant price tag, will an iPhone user switch sides? I don’t think it’ll be easy, and that is the magic of the Apple ecosystem.

Till that remains intact, there will be enough buyers for the XS and XS Max — irrespective of the price.

Specifications

The Apple iPhone XS Max (512GB, 4GB RAM) features a 6.5-inch OLED display with a resolution of 2688 x 1242 pixels and is powered by a hexa core processor and has 4GB of RAM. It comes with 512GB of inbuilt storage and has a 12.0 + 12.0 -megapixel rear camera and 7.0-megapixel front camera. It comes with iOS 12 OS with 3G & 4G.

Display

Screen Type OLED Capacitive Touchscreen
Screen Size 6.5 inches
Screen Resolution 2688 x 1242

Processor

Processor Hexa Core

Memory

Internal Memory 512GB, 4GB RAM

Camera Features

Sensor Resolution 12MP + 12MP
Features Portrait mode, Dual optical image stabilisation, Six element lens, Panorama, Sapphire crystal lens cover, Backside illumination sensor, Hybrid IR filter, Autofocus with Focus pixels, Smart HDR for photos, Local tone mapping, Advanced red eye correction, Exposure control, Auto image stabilisation, Burst mode, Timer mode, Photo geotagging
Digital Zoom Yes
Optical zoom Yes
Front facing camera 7MP

General Features

OS iOS 12
Bluetooth Features 5.0
Dual Sim Support Yes
Messaging SMS, MMS, Email
GPS Yes, GLONASS, Galileo and QZSS
USB Connector Yes
NFC Yes
Available Colours Gold, Space Grey, Silver

Carrier Networks

2G GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
3G UMTS 2100 MHz
4G Yes

Data

EGPRS or EDGE EDGE
WiFi 802.11ac WiFi with 2x2 MIMO

Body

Dimensions 77.4 x 7.7 x 157.5 mm
Weight 208 grams

Sound

Media Player Audio formats: AAC-LC, HE-AAC, HE-AAC v2, Protected AAC, MP3, Linear PCM, Apple Lossless, FLAC, Dolby Digital (AC-3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC-3) and Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX and AAX+)|#|Video formats: HEVC, H.264, MPEG-4 Part 2 and Motion JPEG
Speakerphone Yes
Audio connector 3.5mm

Battery

Type Li-Ion
Talk Time with Standard Battery 25 Hrs

Miscellaneous Features

Built in Applications Camera|#|Photos|#|Health|#|Messages|#|Phone|#|FaceTime|#|Mail|#|Music|#|Wallet|#|Safari|#|Maps|#|Siri|#|Calendar|#|iTunes Store|#|App Store|#|Notes|#|Contacts|#|Books|#|Home|#|Weather|#|Reminders|#|Clock|#|Videos|#|Stocks|#|Calculator|#|Voice Memos|#|Compass|#|Podcasts|#|Watch|#|Tips|#|Find My iPhone|#|Find My Friends|#|Settings|#|Files|#|Measures|#|iMovie|#|Pages|#|Keynote|#|Numbers|#|iTunes U|#|GarageBand|#|Apple TV Remote|#|iTunes Remote|#|Music Memos|#|Clips|#|Shortcuts

After Sales Service

Warranty Period 1 Year

Price

Warranty Period 1 Year





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