AP­PLE IPHONE XS MAX

The iPhone joins the giant phone trend with this 6.5-inch mon­ster, but is it a big enough rea­son to up­grade?

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So, Ap­ple has joined the giant screen bri­gade. But is this larger phone re­ally worth shout­ing home about?

For the last few years, when there’s been a ‘plus’-sized iPhone, the big­ger one has al­ways been bet­ter. The screen size is a mat­ter of per­sonal pref­er­ence, but they’ve also had sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter bat­tery life and dual cam­eras in­stead of sin­gle-lens af­fairs. That all changes with the re­lease of the iPhone XS mod­els. The 5.8-inch iPhone XS and 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max are the same phone in dif­fer­ent sizes, so apart from talk of phys­i­cal di­men­sions, this is ef­fec­tively our re­view of both.

Beauty fac­tor

We might as well start by look­ing at that screen. The 2688x1242 OLED screen is ab­so­lutely stun­ning, lead­ing the field in vi­brancy and colours with­out ques­tion, even if the 6.4-inch Sam­sung Note9 ac­tu­ally has it beaten for sharp­ness. When things are this high-res, it’s not a prob­lem.

Watch­ing movies on the screen is es­pe­cially im­pres­sive: all of Ap­ple’s OLED phones sup­port Dolby Vi­sion, which is the most ad­vanced kind of

HDR, and is sup­ported by Net­flix and iTunes movies, so there’s plenty of con­tent. Fir­ing up a block­buster that makes the most of the dy­namic range on of­fer here puts most TVs to shame – the depth of the blacks and rich­ness of the colours is grip­ping.

As an added bonus, the stereo speak­ers ac­tu­ally give you true left and right sep­a­ra­tion if you’re us­ing them, so you can hear things move in space as they travel across the screen. Good head­phones will al­ways be bet­ter, but the speak­ers are so clear, loud and well-bal­anced that this re­ally doesn’t seem like a bad way to watch some­thing. They’re among the most im­pres­sive we’ve heard, though the Razer phone’s amaz­ing At­mos speak­ers still has them beat, since they some­how also added in height, de­spite com­ing from a phone you’re hold­ing in front of you.

Ob­vi­ously, the big­ger screen of the XS Max makes this ex­pe­ri­ence that much more spec­tac­u­lar than the reg­u­lar XS (which is the ex­act same size and res­o­lu­tion as the X be­fore it). But oth­er­wise, the dif­fer­ence be­tween us­ing the big­ger ver­sion of the phone and the smaller isn’t that pro­nounced – even less than we’d as­sumed, to be hon­est.

Tall or­der

A very im­por­tant piece of con­text here is that your re­viewer is a 6' 3" man, and there­fore in pos­ses­sion of hands that are not ex­actly small. Mov­ing from an iPhone X to the Max wasn’t the huge jump we ex­pected. We could still type one-handed with only a tiny ad­just­ment to grip, and reach­ing across the phone to use uni­ver­sal ‘back’ swipe was fine.

Reach­ing up to the top of the screen be­came a lot more of a has­sle, and we had to use our pinky for sup­port­ing the phone more, but none of th­ese left us feel­ing un­com­fort­able.

How­ever, the Max is at the edge of what we can use one-handed. Giv­ing the two phones to other peo­ple, it doesn’t take a big size dif­fer­ence be­fore the Max is too much.

Which is fine – that’s why Ap­ple makes two sizes – but out­side of mak­ing videos and pho­tos look even big­ger and bet­ter, we have to say that we didn’t find that the big­ger screen of the Max did much for us.

The idea is that, like the Plus phones be­fore it, apps can make bet­ter use of the big­ger screen. Turn an email or cal­en­dar to land­scape and you get a split view, with a view of your email in­box on the left, say, and a pane show­ing the se­lected email’s con­tents on the right. We know that some power users swear by this, and hated that the 5.8-inch iPhone X didn’t have it, but we have to say that we’ve never found it es­sen­tial.

On the Sam­sung Note9, the big­ger screen is used for two apps at once, and though they may be quite cramped, any­one can find this use­ful in a pinch. We wouldn’t say the same about the Max. Which isn’t a knock against it – we’ve al­ready ex­plained how some apps use the screen, and al­most any app can just show more stuff, po­ten­tially – but we’re say­ing don’t get a big­ger screen ex­pect­ing to be an au­to­matic pro­duc­tiv­ity boost. The smaller, eas­ier-to-han­dle model may ac­tu­ally be faster to use.

Ap­ple has promised that the Max gets bet­ter bat­tery life than the 5.8-inch XS model, es­pe­cially since it in­cludes Ap­ple’s big­gest bat­tery ever in a phone. It says the XS Max should last an hour longer than the XS, but Ap­ple’s es­ti­mates are usu­ally con­ser­va­tive. In our ex­pe­ri­ence, the Max can def­i­nitely last a full day of heavy use, though some tasks (4G hotspot­ting, or very in­tense games) will cut hours off eas­ily. Ba­si­cally, it’s as good as the equiv­a­lent phones from com­peti­tors, but no bet­ter.

In­ci­den­tally, Ap­ple has once again made the world’s most pow­er­ful phone pro­ces­sor, but it’s start­ing to feel like overkill: the iPhone X was damn fast, and the XS is su­per slick as well, no sur­prise.

A new im­age

One area of im­prove­ment Ap­ple has, if any­thing, un­der­played com­pared to last year’s model is the cam­era. A much big­ger (over 30 per cent) sen­sor cap­tures lots more light, while the new ex­tra-pow­er­ful pro­ces­sor does fur­ther AI anal­y­sis of scenes as you shoot them, re­sult­ing in a big leap for­ward in qual­ity. Low-light shoot­ing in par­tic­u­lar is now on a par with the in­cred­i­ble Google Pixel 2 cam­era – it picks up light and de­tails that were just fuzzy be­fore. And for bright im­ages, you get even more vi­brant colours and crisp out­lines. (Ap­ple used to favour its pho­tos com­ing out quite neu­tral, but this time seems to have fol­lowed Sam­sung down the path of pro­cess­ing the colours to be quite sat­u­rated.)

Ap­ple calls its han­dling of light and shad­ows ‘Smart HDR’, which helps to avoid shots where ex­pos­ing for bright sun­light means you re­ally can’t see any­thing in the shad­ows, or vice versa. It com­bines mul­ti­ple shots into

one fi­nal ver­sion where both are ex­posed cor­rectly, more like how the eye per­ceives it. The ef­fect is of­ten mind-blow­ing, pro­duc­ing shots that feel im­pos­si­ble (be­cause they ac­tu­ally were in the old cam­eras).

How­ever, this is kind of how the Pixel 2 makes its shots look so good, and ac­tu­ally we think that phone still does it bet­ter – Ap­ple’s come out just a lit­tle on the flat side, while Google’s keep a lit­tle more dy­namic range in the shad­ows, which gives them a tad more depth and ‘mood’. This is partly a per­sonal thing, ad­mit­tedly, but hope­fully a lit­tle bit of soft­ware tweak­ing could make Ap­ple’s even more pleas­ing.

There’s a new up­grade to the Por­trait Mode feature that en­ables you to choose how blurry the back­ground of your shots should be, which works re­ally well, and gives a nice dose of artis­tic con­trol to the feature.

In­trigu­ingly and some­what con­fus­ingly, you can now record video in HDR… kind of. Ap­ple calls it “ex­tended dy­namic range” in­stead of HDR. The ef­fect is the same, and looks truly fab – in high-con­trast video, you get dra­matic light mix­ing with deep shadow, and in more bal­anced shots, there’s just an ex­tra level of de­tail that’s re­vealed by the way the sys­tem works.

But you can’t view this any­where else. Ap­ple isn’t us­ing any HDR stan­dard for this (hence the name change), so it gets flat­tened if you up­load the video any­where else. Sony’s phones record HDR in the HLG for­mat, which is sup­ported by YouTube and loads of TVs, which would be prefer­able.

Just face it

We should also men­tion that Face ID has been up­dated (in­clud­ing the abil­ity to add a sec­ond face), and we did find it even more re­li­able than the iPhone X for this feature – in our ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s gone from ex­cel­lent to prac­ti­cally per­fect. But it’s only a small change, it has to be said.

In the past, Ap­ple’s S phones have al­ways been a lit­tle faster and more re­fined, like this year, but have also had a big new feature, such as Siri or Touch ID. The lack of that this year can def­i­nitely be felt. Don’t get us wrong: the iPhone X just won our award as the best phone of the pre­vi­ous 12 months, and this is an even bet­ter ver­sion of that, so it’s a truly phe­nom­e­nal phone. But if you went for the iPhone X, we don’t think there’s enough here to war­rant an up­grade. The cam­era is a big step up, no doubt, but it’s the only thing. If you’re on an older iPhone though, don’t hes­i­tate to pick this phone up.

The Max in par­tic­u­lar is mas­sively ex­pen­sive, but we don’t think you’ll re­gret spend­ing the money: the stain­less steel and glass build qual­ity is sec­ond to none (and has been made tougher than ever), and the 512GB stor­age op­tion is wel­come.

Screen 6.5-inch 2688x1242 OLED Pro­ces­sor A12 Bionic Stor­age 64BG/256GB/512GB Cam­eras 12MP tele­photo and wide-an­gle rear, 7MP True Depth front Bat­tery ca­pac­ity 3,179mAh Di­men­sions 157.5x77.4x7.7mm Weight 208g Con­nec­tiv­ity Ap­ple Light­ning port, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Blue­tooth 5.0

Top six The 6.5-inch screen is amaz­ing for video, es­pe­cially Dolby Vi­sion HDR from Net­flix or iTunes. If you like to watch on your com­mute, it’s a real bonus Stereo speak­ers (one in the notch, one on the bot­tom) give real stereo sep­a­ra­tion when watch­ing videos, and are bet­ter than a cheap Blue­tooth speaker for mu­sic Yes, the iPhone XS looks the same as the iPhone X. But big­ger, in this case sp eaker power

We ab­so­lutely love Ap­ple’s new gold fin­ish, on both the iPhones and the Watch Se­ries 4. It’s not blingy, but it does make a state­ment The glass back is a dif­fer­ent fin­ish to the gold edge, but com­ple­ments it per­fectly The wide-an­gle lens on the XS (both mod­els) ac­tu­ally has a wider, uh, an­gle than pre­vi­ous mod­els, so can squeeze a lit­tle more into each frame

Face ID scan­ning has been up­graded. The dif­fer­ence is small, but solid a bit of tough Ap­ple says the XS mod­els have the most durable glass ever on a phone. Our pals at even dropped one 11 feet onto con­crete with­out any dam­age

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