Review: iPhone XS Max

Apple’s iPhone XS Max lives up to its name by sporting the largest smartphone screen size ever produced by the company. Apple has often not shied away from offering a large-scale counterpart to its annual base smartphone. The Plus, otherwise now known as the Max variant first appeared on the market during the iPhone 6 generation. However, when Apple diverted from the standard form factor and introducing the new X generation, consumers were left wondering if and when Apple would return with a large-scale offering.

Apple launched the iPhone XS Max back in September of 2018. The new phone fit the bill and appeared to be what consumers were looking for. The iPhone XS Max features a 6.5-inch OLED display with the small notch on the top acting as the phone’s only major detraction from a bezel-less screen. Including your standard fair of camera upgrades and processing power, the iPhone XS Max became the most expensive iPhone on the market.

The iPhone XS Max comes in three different colours–– Silver, Gold, and Space Gray. Currently, there are three different memory options. The 64GB model costs $1519.00 CAD, while 256GB costs 1729.00 CAD. Finally, the substantially large 512GB will run you a whopping $1999.00 CAD. While the prices may be a tough pill to swallow, keep in mind the power and capabilities of the latest iPhone.

The iPhone XS Max is powered by Apple’s A12 Bionic chip with six-cores, increasing the CPU performance by roughly 15% over 2017’s iPhone X. An additional four-cores going towards GPU performance which noticeably increased graphics on the iOS game titles. During my time with the XS Max, the loading time of your everyday apps was noticeably faster. Multitasking, switching and closing apps were all very seamless in comparison to the iPhone X, and expectedly more so than the iPhone 7 Plus I use on a day-to-day basis.

The A12 chip handled the loading of games quite effectively. Jumping into games like Fortnite and PUBG, the experience was quite smooth. Even during high-performance moments with lots of on-screen action, I experienced minimal stuttering. The XS Max was able to render textures and draw distances quite well. Jumping into Asphalt 9, the graphical fidelity and sound output was the best-in-class I have seen on the iPhone platform. AR capabilities were quite sharp, as seen during my time with Rovio’s Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs.

In addition to the A12 Bionic chip, iPhone XS Max comes fully equipped with iOS 12. By now, most will recognize the improvements iOS 12 ushered in. With the UI improvements introduced during the iPhone X generation, iOS 12 continues to shine when used on the XS Max. Quality of life improvements has been made on Siri, additions to Animojis, and an assortment of apps including Apple News.

As with many smartphones, improvements to the camera are a real selling point. At first glance, the changes may not look significant. Getting into the nitty-gritty shows that Apple is and will always be a powerhouse in the camera department. One the rear, the dual cameras are still the standard 12-megapixels. One camera is a designated wide-angle lens with an f/1.8 aperture. The other, of course, is a telephoto lens featuring an f/2.4 aperture. Apple integrated stabilization, which upon first use makes the world of difference in capturing crisp and clear photos. Portrait Mode received a few changes. Most notably is the ability to manipulate and change the lighting effects while taking photos. You can also adjust the bokeh effect when taking a photo and in post while editing. The aperture slider is quite easy to use and the effects are snappy.

Taking pictures in low-light environments produces clear pictures without having to sacrifice quality from blowing out the sources of light. The iPhone XS Max is able to autofocus and calibrate itself both indoor and outdoor areas. There were very few instances where the camera would be finicky and was only noticeable outdoors during the late evening and night.

Portrait Mode on the front 7-megapixel camera makes for some fantastic selfies, although when comparing the results between each camera, the obvious winner is the rear camera. The front facing camera also gives way to facial recognition security. While the traditional passcode can be used, Apple has been continually focusing on facial recognition as the primary way of unlocking the phone. Having only spent a small amount of time with the iPhone X, a fair comparison is harder to determine. That being said, the phone was able to recognize my face and unlock under a variety of circumstances quite consistently. No matter the level of lighting in the room, even if my face was only illuminated by the phone’s lighting, it unlocked with no with little to no hassle.

Taking a look at the body and frame of the iPhone XS Max, it looks quite sleek. The back is once again made of glass and has a stainless-steel frame wrapped around the body. Offset speakers and a Lightning port make up the bottom of the phone. Unfortunately, the 3.5mm headphone jack remains to be omitted and is unlikely to ever make a return.

The 6.5-inch OLED screen is made for consuming media. whether it’s on YouTube, Twitch, Netflix or any video application. The 2688 x 1242 screen resolution handles 4K HDR and offers a wide colour gamut. Supporting HDR10, the contrast seen on screen is quite stunning. One of the best displays produced by Apple, plain and simple. The Super Retina Display offers impeccably sharp displays and crisp colours throughout. The wider-stereo sound built in makes each audio track or video pulse with energy. While having a smartphone with dual-speakers has become the norm on the market, the combination between the stunning visuals and the impressive sound is top-tier. The range and impact stemming from the phone’s speakers, whether playing a game or watching a movie helped immerse me into each experience.

Noting the battery life, iPhone XS Max has fairly reliable battery life. I often find myself within a heavy usage routine. Between productivity apps, video streaming and the odd game session between commutes, the iPhone XS Max never failed to deliver throughout the day. When bumping up the brightness to full, and streaming an HDR video for a full hour, I noticed only a 10%-12% decrease in the battery. One hour of consistent gameplay would decrease the battery life roughly 15%.

Charging the smartphone from a drained battery to full using the included charger took me around three to four hours on average. With no fast-charging options straight out of the box, the wait time is considerably longer than some smartphones on the market. Once charged, I found the phone lasting upwards of 12-13 hours of regular use. The battery life should fit the average user’s lifestyle. Though battery life is an ever-changing variable dependant on the user.

Weighing in at 7.34 ounces, the iPhone XS Max is the heaviest iPhone to date. When compared to the iPhone X’s 6.14 ounces, it is not a substantial difference. Chalk it up to the increased screen size and improved glass back. The closest comparison that comes to mind is Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9’s 7.1 ounces. The weight does take a bit of getting used to. The positioning of your hand during longer use may be a bit strained. This is especially true if using a case of the smartphone, adding extra weight to the unit.

Overall, the iPhone XS Max is a powerhouse within the smartphone catalogue. After missing a couple of generations, the quality of life improvements and design changes were quite refreshing. The price tag can be fairly daunting for most users. Spending upwards of $2000CAD on a new smartphone is not an easy decision. For anyone looking to replace their phone for a larger one, the iPhone XS Max should be quite attractive if they find the smartphone is within their budget. Anyone currently living within the iOS ecosystem will find the iPhone XS Max to be a worthy addition as it is a well rounded, top performing device.

[This item was provided to us for review purposes]