iPhone XS Max

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Macworld - - CONTENTS -

The in­tro­duc­tion of the iPhone X last year meant you could have an en­tirely new iPhone in your hands with in­no­va­tive new fea­tures such as Face ID and a big screen in a com­pact body.

Now Ap­ple has it­er­ated that de­sign to cre­ate the XS, but aside from the gold fin­ish, there isn’t re­ally any­thing new to see on the out­side.

What is new though, is the XS Max, a larger op­tion that gives us the big­gest screen yet in an iPhone at a whop­ping 6.5in.

The de­sign is the same, but im­por­tantly the fact that there’s fea­ture par­ity across both mod­els mean you no longer have to compromise if you want the smaller phone as you did when you chose the iPhone 8, say, over the 8 Plus.


The iPhone XS Max starts at £1,099. Don’t ex­pect con­tracts to be cheap, ei­ther, with most start­ing at around £40 per month, and that’s with an up­front cost of £250.

64GB iPhone XS Max: £1,099 128GB iPhone XS Max: £1,249 512GB iPhone XS Max: £1,449


It would be easy to say at this point that there isn’t a whole lot to talk about since the XS Max has the same fea­tures and de­sign as the XS and, broadly speak­ing, the X be­fore it. But there are plenty of peo­ple who will be up­grad­ing from an iPhone 6, 7 or 8 (in­clud­ing the Plus and ‘S’ mod­els) and for whom the XS will be a first foray into an iOS world with no home but­ton or fin­ger­print scan­ner.

Let’s start with the gold colour. Gold isn’t new for Ap­ple, but this is a new fin­ish. Re­mem­ber that the XS has a stain­less steel, not alu­minium, frame, so the look and feel is dif­fer­ent to those older iPhones.

The gold is quite dark and quite a con­trast from the light-coloured glass panel on the rear. This doesn’t re­ally have a no­tice­able gold colour at all,

but you’ll see glim­mers as you turn the phone in your hand and the light re­flects off it.

There’s also a gold band around the cam­eras, which re­mains no­tice­able when you put the XS Max in a case. And you’ll al­most cer­tainly want to do so, even if it does have the most durable glass yet: the cost to re­place a bro­ken screen is painful.

With Ap­ple’s leather case in place the XS Max is quite a beast. It’s heavy (208g) and it’s big. If you’re used to an iPhone 7 Plus, you prob­a­bly won’t no­tice the ex­tra weight too much, but if you’re com­ing from a 4.7in iPhone it can be quite a shock.

Where the XS com­fort­ably fits in your jeans pocket, the Max is dis­tinctly less com­fort­able: only you can de­cide whether the trade-off for the big­ger screen is worth the ad­di­tional weight and bulk.

Both XS phones get a bump in wa­ter­proof­ing from IP67 to IP68, which sim­ply means you can take them in up to 2m of wa­ter for up to 30 min­utes.


The sheer amount of screen real-es­tate will make your jaw drop when you first see it, though. It’s im­pres­sive enough on the iPhone X and XS, but on the Max it has an even big­ger wow fac­tor.

Res­o­lu­tion is in­creased to main­tain the same 458ppi pixel den­sity as those two smaller phones, and tech is also the same.

This means 625 nits max­i­mum bright­ness, 1 mil­lion-to-one con­trast ra­tio and sup­port for HDR10 and Dolby Vi­sion.

Again, if you’re up­grad­ing from an older iPhone with an LCD screen, the dif­fer­ences are no­tice­able. It’s a bit eas­ier to see in bright sun­light (though it’s not the bright­est phone around), it has fan­tas­tic colour ac­cu­racy, black lev­els and view­ing an­gles.

With True Tone en­abled, colours re­main ac­cu­rate as light­ing con­di­tions change from day­light to of­fice lights to your warm-white LED bulbs at home.

The ex­tra size and res­o­lu­tion doesn’t get you any ex­tra in­ter­face de­tail, though. Apps and iOS menus are just big­ger. Of course, the larger screen is bet­ter for watch­ing videos and it’s a de­cent compromise if you usu­ally carry around a smallscreen phone and an iPad mini.

It’s still frus­trat­ing that there is no op­tion to take ad­van­tage of the abil­ity to light up in­di­vid­ual pix­els on the screen to dis­play an al­ways-on clock, date or

no­ti­fi­ca­tions as you get with most An­droid phones with OLED screens.

Pro­ces­sor, mem­ory and stor­age

The A12 Bionic pro­ces­sor is the first to be made us­ing a 7nm process. That prob­a­bly doesn’t mean much, but the tech­nol­ogy is un­de­ni­ably im­pres­sive. Us­ing a smaller process means bet­ter power ef­fi­ciency, and it’s the main rea­son why Ap­ple is able to quote an ex­tra 90 min­utes of bat­tery life over the iPhone X. We’ll get to the bat­tery later: it’s time to talk per­for­mance.

The A12 doesn’t of­fer a huge leap over the A11, with roughly 15 per­cent im­prove­ment on av­er­age. We saw this in our bench­marks, but such syn­thetic tests are mean­ing­less in the real world and serve

mainly as a way to com­pare other phones. And in the real world you prob­a­bly won’t no­tice much of a dif­fer­ence if you’re com­ing from, say, an A11e­quipped iPhone 8 or 8 Plus. It also means that the iPhone XS Max isn’t nec­es­sar­ily as fu­ture-proof as you might hope for: it doesn’t have huge amounts of head­room for fu­ture ver­sions of iOS com­pared to what we’ve seen in the past.

Don’t hear what we’re not say­ing, though. This is a phe­nom­e­nally pow­er­ful phone that is im­pres­sively slick in real-world use. Apps open se­ri­ously fast and we haven’t yet seen a sin­gle stut­ter when nav­i­gat­ing around iOS 12.

The im­prove­ment in gam­ing per­for­mance is no­tice­able in cer­tain bench­marks but not in oth­ers. In the GFXBench Man­hat­tan 3.1 Metal test, for ex­am­ple, the XS Max man­aged 55fps. That’s just 2fps quicker than the iPhone X.

But run the less de­mand­ing 3DMark Ice Storm test and the XS Max is roughly 20 per­cent quicker. Given that the GPU has an ex­tra core in the A12, the re­sults we’re see­ing don’t tally with what should be at least 25 per­cent on av­er­age and noth­ing ap­proach­ing Ap­ple’s “up to 50 per­cent” claim.

It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber these in­creases are com­par­isons to an al­ready very, very fast phone, so we might not have the large year-on-year in­creases that we’ve be­come used to but it’s still even bet­ter per­for­mance.

Lastly, the Neu­ral Engine has been boosted from two- to eight cores in to­tal, al­low­ing it to process 5 tril­lion op­er­a­tions per sec­ond. Ben­e­fits in­clude

the abil­ity to process photos faster, which in turn means you can have fea­tures such as Smart HDR.

It also makes other things faster, such as de­tect­ing the floor or a ta­ble in AR apps and more re­spon­sive Memoji.

Con­nec­tiv­ity and au­dio

Blue­tooth, Wi-Fi and most other com­po­nents are the lat­est ver­sions (but un­changed from the pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion iPhones) and there’s still NFC for Ap­ple Pay only. What’s new is a 4x4 MIMO an­tenna ar­ray for Gi­ga­bit LTE. An­droid phones have had sim­i­lar ca­pa­bil­i­ties for a while, but cur­rently – at least in the UK – no mo­bile op­er­a­tor can yet sup­port these speeds.

It’s good for fu­ture-proof­ing, but you won’t see a ben­e­fit right now. Some peo­ple are re­port­ing poor 4G sig­nal from their XS and XS Max but in our tests of both phones (ad­mit­tedly in Lon­don where mo­bile sig­nal is strong) we haven’t had any is­sues.

The new ar­ray means there’s a new an­tenna line on the bot­tom edge so it isn’t sym­met­ri­cal like the iPhone X. A very mi­nor point, granted.

On the other side of the Light­ning port are the holes for the speaker. Along with the im­proved ear­piece speaker, stereo sound is now far bet­ter than on the iPhone X.

If you do play games in land­scape mode, watch TV or YouTube, you’ll no­tice that there’s great stereo sep­a­ra­tion and a very good bal­ance be­tween left and right chan­nels, as well as no no­tice­able dif­fer­ence in fre­quency range.

Typ­i­cally with this kind of setup, only the main speaker at the bot­tom is ca­pa­ble of any low fre­quen­cies, which makes it sound im­bal­anced, but on the XS Max, that’s not an is­sue.

Of course, the speak­ers aren’t that loud and you’re go­ing to pre­fer head­phones on many oc­ca­sions. The bun­dled Light­ning ear­buds are great, but it is a bit of a kick in the teeth (given the steep price) that there’s no longer a Light­ning-to-mini­jack adap­tor in the box for us­ing stan­dard head­phones.

Dual SIM

One of the big new fea­tures is dual SIM. This isn’t done in the tra­di­tional way: you can still fit just one nano SIM card in the tray. The other is an eSIM which is a SIM card sol­dered to the moth­er­board.

There are pros and cons to this, but un­for­tu­nately we haven’t been able to test or use the du­alSIM ca­pa­bil­i­ties as they won’t be ac­ti­vated un­til some point later this year.

The way it will work, how­ever, is like many dual-SIM An­droid phones. It’s a dual-SIM, dual standby sys­tem. It means both SIMs are ac­tive si­mul­ta­ne­ously: you can re­ceive a call on ei­ther num­ber at any time, and choose which num­ber to use when you make a call or text.

You can choose in Set­tings which is your pri­mary num­ber, and which SIM to use for data. Ap­ple says that the eSIM won’t be lim­ited to just one num­ber: you could have mul­ti­ple


On pa­per, you won’t spot any real up­grades to the cam­eras com­pared to the iPhone X, but the XS Max – and the XS – take no­tice­ably bet­ter photos and videos. This is largely down to the fact there’s more pro­cess­ing power avail­able, but also be­cause the sen­sor pix­els on the main 12Mp cam­era are a lit­tle larger.

Com­bined, this im­proves low-light per­for­mance a bit, but makes a real dif­fer­ence to HDR photos and video. You can now ex­pect photos of chil­dren (and pets) to be sharper even if they won’t stay still and with the ‘ex­tended’ dy­namic range in video, high­lights are much less likely to be blown out.

Ul­ti­mately, the XS Max is a fan­tas­tic de­vice for pho­tog­ra­phy and video, record­ing great stereo sound as well.

Even when the new smart HDR mode is called for, you won’t no­tice any shut­ter lag or pro­cess­ing de­lay: it’s just as in­stan­ta­neous as tak­ing a photo in less-chal­leng­ing con­di­tions. And thanks to the sim­ple in­ter­face in the Cam­era app, ev­ery­one can re­li­ably shoot im­pres­sive photos and video.

It’s nice that slo-mo de­faults to 240fps at 1080p, and video to 4K at 30fps, but you can in­crease frame rate to 60fps if you can live with the 400MB of stor­age this mode con­sumes per minute.

As ever, sta­bi­liza­tion is amaz­ing, even at the top res­o­lu­tion. Many phones ei­ther don’t of­fer sta­bi­liza­tion at 4K or it’s no­tice­ably less ef­fec­tive

than at 1080p. But you re­ally can use the XS Max to shoot smooth 4K.

There’s one new pho­tog­ra­phy fea­ture: Depth Con­trol. This is new to Ap­ple, but has been around in the An­droid world for a while. When you take a Photo in Por­trait mode it’s pos­si­ble to ad­just the aper­ture in the Photos app when you tap Edit.

A new slider ap­pears which can be moved be­tween f/1.4 and f/16 and al­low­ing you to choose any aper­ture in be­tween and there­fore depth of field. Ef­fec­tively it changes the amount of blur in the back­ground, just as it would look if you were to have taken the im­age on an SLR cam­era at that aper­ture.

It’s a sim­u­la­tion achieved with a com­bi­na­tion of soft­ware and depth in­for­ma­tion from the twin rear cam­eras. In gen­eral it works pretty well on the rear cam­era, with great bokeh that looks more au­then­tic (and blur­rier at f/1.4) than it has done on older iPhones. Sub­ject and back­ground sep­a­ra­tion is very good, too.

The ad­justa­bil­ity causes is­sues when trans­fer­ring the photos to a PC, though, as the blurred back­ground dis­ap­pears, and that’s when trans­fer­ring the orig­i­nal HEIC files.

The front cam­era has the same 7Mp sen­sor as we’ve seen pre­vi­ously, and photos are sim­i­larly de­cent. Some peo­ple say the selfie cam­era smooths skin tones in a sim­i­lar way to ‘beauty’ modes on other phones. How­ever, we couldn’t spot any ev­i­dence of this in the self­ies we took.

Depth Con­trol is also avail­able for self­ies, de­spite the sin­gle front cam­era. But it doesn’t do

half as good a job as the rear cam­eras – check out the amount of blurred hair above.

Bat­tery life

Thanks to tear­downs we know that the XS Max has a 3,174mAh bat­tery, which is the big­gest ca­pac­ity ever in an iPhone. In the Geek­bench 4 run­down test – ef­fec­tively a worst-case sce­nario which re­ally pushes the phone – it lasted five hours 23 min­utes.

That isn’t fan­tas­tic: other phones such as the Galaxy Note 9 last around 7.5 hours, but it also isn’t a par­tic­u­larly real-world test. In ac­tual use, we found the XS Max had about half of its juice left at the end of a day of light use. But push it hard and you will need to charge it ev­ery night. Again it’s dis­ap­point­ing at this price that you still get the

bog-stan­dard 5W mains charger in the box: you could spend more and get a USB-C PD charger and buy Ap­ple’s Light­ning-to-USB-C ca­ble for proper fast charg­ing.

You can also make use of wireless charg­ing, but again, you’ll need to buy a wireless charger to do so.


There are quite a few new fea­tures in iOS 12, though these aren’t spe­cific to the XS Max, of course.

Siri short­cuts, grouped no­ti­fi­ca­tions and Do Not Dis­turb at bed­time are all handy fea­tures you’ll ap­pre­ci­ate, though you’ll have to in­vest a lit­tle time to get to grips with Short­cuts first.

Screen Time is a new app that could prove use­ful to wean you off Face­book, games or what­ever takes up too much of your time.

A fea­ture that’s still pretty ex­clu­sive is Me­mo­jis, which al­low you to cre­ate an avatar that looks like you and use it in Mes­sages (just like Animoji) and also by us­ing the Mes­sages cam­era to add your Memoji – and stick­ers – to photos be­fore you send them.

The real fun comes in Face­Time though, where you can over­lay your Memoji on the video and it an­i­mates in real time as you speak. It sounds gim­micky, but it’s great fun.

An im­por­tant point you might over­look is that the XS Max isn’t a one-handed phone. Yes, you can use the reach­a­bil­ity fea­ture to bring the top half of the screen down, but the fact re­mains the Max is not as easy to use as the XS or X with one hand.

Mac­world’s buy­ing ad­vice

In some ways the XS Max could be your per­fect phone. It brings the op­tion of a larger screen to those for whom 5.8in just isn’t enough and is the first iPhone to cater for those who need two SIMs. It also brings up­grades to photos (Smart HDR), videos (ex­tended dy­namic range) and au­dio (bet­ter stereo).

How­ever, it re­mains tricky to jus­tify the high price (from £1,099), es­pe­cially if 64GB isn’t enough stor­age for you. Bat­tery life could be bet­ter and while per­for­mance is great, it isn’t a huge jump up from the iPhone 8 or X.

The up­com­ing iPhone XR could be a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive if you’re af­ter some­thing cheaper, too. And if your cur­rent phone isn’t an iPhone 6, 7 or 8

Plus, go to an Ap­ple store and try out an XS Max for size be­fore you buy. Jim Martin


• 6.5in (2,688x1,142; 458ppi) Su­per AMOLED ca­pac­i­tive touch­screen

• iOS 12

• Ap­ple A12 Bionic Octa pro­ces­sor

• Hexa-core (2x Vor­tex + 4x Tem­pest) CPU

• Ap­ple GPU (4-core graph­ics)


• 64-, 256-, 512GB stor­age

• Dual rear-fac­ing cam­eras: 12Mp, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/2.55in, 1.4µm, OIS, PDAF; 12Mp, f/2.4, 52mm (tele­photo), 1/3.4in, 1µm, OIS, PDAF, 2x op­ti­cal zoom

• Front cam­era: 7Mp, f/2.2, 32mm (stan­dard)

• 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi

• Blue­tooth 5.0



• Face ID

• Light­ning con­nec­tor

• Non-re­mov­able 3,174mAh Lithium-ion bat­tery

• 157.5x77.4x7.7mm

• 208g

Gold isn’t new for Ap­ple, but this is a new fin­ish

If you’re up­grad­ing from an older iPhone with an LCD screen, the dif­fer­ence is no­tice­able

The XS Max’s dual SIM ca­pa­bil­i­ties won’t be ac­ti­vated un­til later this year

You can take im­pres­sive photos with the XS Max

Siri Short­cuts is one of the fea­tures that are new to iOS 12

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