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Thread: Our Apple iPhone XS Max Review

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    Our Apple iPhone XS Max Review

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    Apple iPhone XS Max

    Here’s the Apple iPhone XS Max. According to Apple, “XS” is pronounced “Ten S”. However it’s hard for me to not see it as “iPhone Extra Small Max”. Silly name aside, the most striking thing about the Max isn’t its notched, large 6.5” display, dual cameras or even the cutting-edge 7nm A12 processor. No, it’s the Max’s breathtaking price tag; the 512GB variant costs a heart stopping $1999 Canadian before taxes. Let’s check it out.

    Please note, I forgot to remove my polarizing filter from my camera. That's why the screens in my pictures are messed up.

    Body:

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    You get a metal body sandwiched with 2 slabs of glass. Pretty standard for any flagship these days. They used to have metal backs, but the growing popularity of wireless charging necessitates the use of a non-metallic material to minimize interference. It also means backs can now shatter like the front but I guess that’s why some people stick their phone in a case.

    The edges are stainless steel which sounds cool, but is more prone to scratches when compared to aluminum. That said you can polish scratches out of stainless steel.

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    Size-wise, the Max is about the same height as the iPhone 6, 7 and 8 Plus models.

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    while it’s just a tad narrower.

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    As for the Galaxy S9+...

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    They're about the same height,

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    more or less as thin as each other.

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    The Max is slightly wider.

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    As for the X/XS the Max is just a larger version.

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    The family resemblance extends to the notches!

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    The edges are rounded.

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    The button configuration is unchanged from the X with the power on the right and volume buttons on the left.

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    The camera bulge sticks out a bit more than on the X but the difference is so small you’d probably never notice it.

    If you skipped the X, you’re probably wondering how well the Max works without a home button. It’s been replaced by a gesture where you swipe up from the bottom of the phone and it works great. Swipe up and then left or right replaced double pressing the home button.

    The gesture works really well and I got used to it very quickly. In fact, I think it’s better than having a home button.

    Guided access which used to be started by triple tapping the home button can now be brought up by triple tapping the side button.

    Screen:

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    You get a 6.5” OLED display. It’s similar to the one on the iPhone X only larger.


    If you’re coming from a 7 Plus, it’s about the same width but longer since the screen takes up the entire front of the phone minus the notch.

    Each pixel on the Max’s display can make its own light compared with an LCD display where the backlight is a separate component. On most LCD equipped phones, the backlight stays on when the screen is on, even if it’s just displaying black which results in the blacks looking more grey.

    Since an OLED display can disable the lighting on an individual pixel it can have much deeper blacks than an LCD. This results in OLED having a much higher contrast ratio.

    In the past, OLED displays weren’t able to match the brightness of LCD’s but these days they’re neck and neck. One reason why OLED’s weren’t able to match LCD’s was because OLED displays have the potential to burn-in. While OLEDs are now much brighter, the potential for burn-in hasn’t gone away. After 10 months, the OLED on my iPhone X has some faint burn-in even though I never left a static image on it for hours at a time.

    OLED’s also lags behind LCD when you’re outdoors and there’s bright sunlight. OLED’s look much dimmer than LCD’s in these situations.

    This problem is exasperated in the summer if it’s hot and sunny. Phones can get really warm when this happens, so they’ll do things like slow the phone’s processor down and lower the screen brightness to keep it from over-heating. Dimming the screen exasperates the problems it has in sunlight.

    My opinion is that while OLED’s are slightly better than LCD’s indoors - the conditions where screens are usually tested and compared - they’re significantly worse when you’re outdoors if it’s sunny and warm.

    If you’re comparing the Max’s screen size with other, older phones remember it has a taller aspect ratio meaning given the same width, the Max’s display is usually taller. Also, the 6.5” is if you were take the Max’s rounded corners make them 90 degrees. Mind you there isn’t usually anything very important in the corners so it is what it is.

    Let’s not forget the Max’s notch where the earpiece and other hardware are located. So, if you’re thinking the Max is almost the size of an iPad Mini because its screen size is within 0.5” it’s really not.

    Overall, the Max’s display looks fantastic. Its got nice colour that isn’t obnoxious, plus fantastic viewing angles with very minimal colour shift. It gets extremely bright but remember this setting increases the likelihood of image retention (burn in).

    There is a True Tone setting which is supposed to make the screen colour more accurate by adjusting the screen temperature depending on the lighting conditions. The screen can look a touch cold at times so I left this feature on.

    In absolute terms, when the True Tone setting is on, the Max’s screen has a slightly warm calibrated look other iPhones have. It’s quite different from the slightly cooler, “whiter whites” look you get with the Galaxy S9+. I don’t have a problem with either approach.

    One difference about the Max’s, is the its display coating isn’t as smooth as other flagship phones. I mean it’s not as rough as the coating on some no-name phones I’ve tried, but it’s definitely something I noticed.

    Usually OEM screen coatings are the gold standard of smoothness but in the case of the Max I actually put on a screen protector which is actually smoother.

    Like the X, the Max comes with a notched display. While the display goes all the way to the top of the phone, the area around the earpiece is missing.

    Indeed notches are a polarizing feature. One on hand, having a display that takes up the entire phone with rounded edges makes for a very striking looking design. On the other hand, most of the top of the display isn’t actually a display so it’s quite limited what you can put there. It’s also a bit distracting when you’re viewing a full screen app like watching video.

    Then again, iOS never really made heavy use of this part of the display so you could argue you’re not missing out on that much. It’s one of those features that’s sort neat but no one will miss when companies come out with something better - sort of like an extendable antenna or a secondary display.

    Speakers:

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    The built-in speakers are excellent. They have enough volume and range to make them very useful in many situations.

    In fact they’re the best speakers I have ever heard from any phone. Volume-wise they’re slightly better than the iPhone X but they have a much fuller range. You hear a lot more detail including more bass. No, it’s nowhere near a match for a separate speaker but they’re pretty damn good.

    It also sounds very spacious if you’re located in its sweet spot. I was watching some movies and there were a few times where I looked over my shoulder. Typically, the sound processing required to widen sound results in a bit of loss of clarity and bass but the Max seems to strike a good compromise.

    Like other recent iPhones, the Max lacks a headphone jack. Apple has a lightning to headphone jack adapter if you need to use wired headphones, but unlike the 7, 8 and X, the Max doesn’t come with one. Maybe Apple’s margins are too slim to include this adapter with a $2000 phone.

    Camera:

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    You get 2 cameras on the back of the Max. I was a bit disappointing because I was hoping they’d throw a 3rd camera on the back because Apple was an early adopter when it came to adding a second rear facing camera.

    There’s a regular, wide-ish ~30mm lens and then a second camera with a lens that’s twice as “zoomed” in. While I do believe this is the best combination, a third, wider, Gopro like camera like what you’ll find on many recently LG flagships would have been a welcome addition.

    Like previous iPhones, the 2 cameras use different sensors. The “zoomed” in camera uses a smaller sensor with a smaller lens which makes it a lower performance camera which is disappointing because “zoomed” in cameras usually benefit more from a higher performance. Then again, the regular camera is probably going to be used more often so if you’re going to give one camera better hardware that’s the one.

    A lower performance camera means image quality will suffer if you’re using the zoomed lens in low light. To get around this Apple will actually use the regular camera and crop the image depending on how much light is available.

    Outdoors, the XS camera is much sharper and more detailed than the X’s camera. However indoors, the XS tends to use its higher performance sensor to allow for faster shutter speeds. This means it will do a better job of freezing action but it also means it means picture probably won’t look much more detailed.

    I also noticed that the XS tends to have sharper corners than the X.

    For some reason the front facing camera has a lot of softening so that it “irons out” a lot of blemishes. I’m not a fan of this and am pretty surprised because typically iPhones go for a more unprocessed look. It’s especially annoying since you can’t turn this off.

    The rear cameras aren’t class leading but they’re still very good. The front-facing camera with it’s excessive processing is a bit of a let down.

    Performance:

    Unlike most flagships that use an modem from Qualcomm, the XS, like last year’s X uses an Intel modem to provide wireless connectivity.

    In terms of low network signal performance it’s just slightly worse than the Samsung Galaxy S9+.

    Under the hood is the Apple’s A12 SoC. Processors are a funny thing, a new one may be 20% faster but there are usually more factors influencing how fast a phone will feel. I’m talking about network congestion, ambient temperature, that sort of thing. Further, there’s a threshold where you’ll notice that a phone could use more performance.

    The only app I could find that felt noticeably faster on the Max than the X was Pokemon Go. The Max feels a bit more smooth and load times feel faster. However, when I actually did some screen recordings to compare the difference in times is actually very small.

    Apple’s facial recognition feature doesn’t seem any faster on the XS Max than it does on the X. While it works well most of the time, it feels like it gives up too quickly when it can’t find a face right away. I would prefer if it spent more time looking for your face while simultaneously giving you the option to enter your passcode like the Samsung Galaxy S9+ does.

    That said the A12 scores really well on benchmarks. You’ll probably notice the speed difference after Apple releases a couple of newer version of iOS which make it run slower.

    Software:

    Apple recently released iOS 12 which is what the Max is running. One nice thing about Apple is that when a new version comes out it’s usually available to all compatible devices simultaneously.

    While there are a bunch of changes with iOS 12 the ones that I really stand out to me are the ability to limit screen time and to a lesser extent, view app screen time

    As a parent, letting my kids use my device usually causes some problems because the amount of time they want to use it is usually very different to the amount of time I want them to use it. I’ve tried strategies like setting a timer, locking the device with the “Find my iPhone” app but what’s really needed is something which can let them use the device for a set amount of time.

    You can set hours the device can work. There’s also the ability to set time limits on groups of apps or on specific apps. Specific apps can be exempted plus there is limitations based on content or privacy settings.

    After time is up, you can give more but only on an app-by-app basis. I’d like to see the ability to add time to the entire device. It would also be nice if you could select how much time you want to give before your kids start using the device like on Windows.

    I’m very happy that Apple finally added feature to iOS but I’m also a little annoyed because they should have done this years ago.

    You can also see how much screen time each app is using up. Android has had this feature for a long time so again it’s been a long time coming.

    They also included a measuring app which is there to remind you that the Max’s (as well as other recent iPhones) AR capabilities go far behind taking pictures of Pokemon.

    Other iOS12 changes include 3rd party support for CarPlay which in my opinion is slowly reaching the point where it’s somewhat useful.

    Conclusion:

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    Aside from the larger screen size, the Max isn’t a big change from last year’s iPhone X. It’s just a bunch of incremental improvements. Slightly faster processor, improved camera that sort of thing. The polarizing notch is still present though it’s now become a sort of idiotic premium feature now found on many competitors.

    To me the most interesting thing about the XS Max (aside from the idiotic name) is its price tag; the 512GB model costs an eye watering $2K Canadian. It wasn’t that long ago when phones maxed out a grand which if I’m honest, is pretty insane.

    On one hand, phones have been rapidly consolidating all our devices. Over the years, we stopped buying dedicated music players and cameras. Heck, for many of us we rarely even touch our computers and tablets. While a phone can’t do as good a job as a dedicated player/camera/computer, it does a good enough job so that many of us are satisfied. Don’t forget, the best (fill in the blank), is the one you have with you. Plus, there are synergies to having all those functions consolidated into one device.

    So in that sense, we’re able to put the money we’d normally spend upgrading or replacing those devices into our phones.

    On the other hand - two grand, on a phone. Something is seriously wrong. Many of us will probably roll the cost of the phone into our monthly cell phone bills. But think of it this way, cell phones are becoming one of our largest bills each month.

    Still, phones in general aren’t improving by the huge leaps and bounds that they used to each year. If I were to be stuck with an iPhone 7 Plus (or equivalent Android phone) it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Heck, I probably wouldn’t even complain that loudly after using it for and hour or 2. Remember, just because a newer model is available the older model doesn’t suddenly become unusable.

    Computers have been like this for a few years now and phones are reaching this point too.

    I suspect for many people, the best feature when they upgrade their phones, is that the newer phone comes with a brand new battery vs one that’s had a few years of wear on it.

    While the XS Max is absolutely a nice phone, unless you need an iPhone with a large screen it probably won’t move the needle much. To be fair, previous iPhone generations (and just Smartphones in general) followed a similar path where each generation improved incrementally over the last. However, phones have been able to do most things well now for a while now so incremental improvements become harder and harder to notice.

    4/5 Howies.

  2. #2
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    You should add this review (and any others we may have missed) to the side bar of the web page. The last one up there is the S7!

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    I've heard that this new iPhone has connectivity issues. Could you confirm or disprove it?
    Check online reviews before buying your new gadget: https://www.pissedconsumer.com/categ...t-gadgets.html

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    Our Apple iPhone XS Max Review

    Quote Originally Posted by cutie_11 View Post
    I've heard that this new iPhone has connectivity issues. Could you confirm or disprove it?
    Apple seems to be very quiet about these issues lately. I would love to upgrade to the max, but not until I know for certain that all the launch issues have been fixed. Guess I’m staying with my 6S Plus for awhile.
    Hartford, CT Area

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    Quote Originally Posted by DRC72 View Post
    Apple seems to be very quiet about these issues lately. I would love to upgrade to the max, but not until I know for certain that all the launch issues have been fixed. Guess I’m staying with my 6S Plus for awhile.
    Agree! I will wait as well.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by cutie_11 View Post
    I've heard that this new iPhone has connectivity issues. Could you confirm or disprove it?
    No issues on mine. I have a Mate RS that I use as well, and the reception is about the same.
    ~ alphaod ~
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    Quote Originally Posted by alphaod View Post
    No issues on mine. I have a Mate RS that I use as well, and the reception is about the same.
    Is definitely worse. Made AT&T totally unusable in my house (my house is VERY marginal for them) - but the SE and 8+ work fine with a few drops, and with my Verizon sim i'm dropping a call here and there. My 8+ has NEVER dropped a call on Verizon.
    Left: Verizon Unlimited LTE, Right: WideOpenWest 500/50

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    Our Apple iPhone XS Max Review

    Quote Originally Posted by brad15 View Post
    Is definitely worse. Made AT&T totally unusable in my house (my house is VERY marginal for them) - but the SE and 8+ work fine with a few drops, and with my Verizon sim i'm dropping a call here and there. My 8+ has NEVER dropped a call on Verizon.
    I really wanted to upgrade to the max, but I think I’ll wait another year or possibly go with the 8 Plus. Maybe the XR if the reviews are good. Oh well to bad. If Apple fixes the XS Max issues then I might consider it then.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DRC72 View Post
    I really wanted to upgrade to the max, but I think I’ll wait another year or possibly go with the 8 Plus. Maybe the XR if the reviews are good. Oh well to bad. If Apple fixes the XS Max issues then I might consider it then.
    Yeah I thought my unit may be bad, so I went to Apple and swapped it with the same results.

    I just wish Apple would quit being cheap and just pay Qualcomm already. Intel sucks at RF

  10. #10
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    Our Apple iPhone XS Max Review

    Quote Originally Posted by brad15 View Post
    Yeah I thought my unit may be bad, so I went to Apple and swapped it with the same results.

    I just wish Apple would quit being cheap and just pay Qualcomm already. Intel sucks at RF
    Agreed 10000000000000000%!!!! Apple really needs to go back to QUALCOMM! For what they’re charging for their products, it’s only natural that they put the best components in. Intel is simply not ready.

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    We can find the iPhone Xs Max stingy in novelties and excessively expensive, but Apple has managed to reproduce the very good recipe of the iPhone X. The Xs Max is the smartphone market what the gourmet cuisine is to that of the restoration . It feels like you're paying a lot for a few things, but it's still excellent.


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    I am currently using iPhone 7 and I couldn't find a stronger reason to upgrade to iPhone XR.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JennDcosta View Post
    I am currently using iPhone 7 and I couldn't find a stronger reason to upgrade to iPhone XR.
    I love my XR. It has great battery life and reception is very good LTE reception in low-signal rural areas.

    I held the XS next to the XR in the store and could not see the difference between the screens from 18 inches away.


    Admittedly, high bandwidth download speed is not a high priority for me in a mobile setting where 50Mbps is more than enough for my needs. If you need high download speeds, get the XS.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JennDcosta View Post
    I am currently using iPhone 7 and I couldn't find a stronger reason to upgrade to iPhone XR.
    Better Battery, Face ID, 6.1” screen, better camera, future proof for at least 3 more models...

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    when you say this phone has the best speakers you've ever heard on a phone, have you had a chance to audition the ZTE Axon 7 (A2017U) ? Just curious as that phone's audio is phenomenal....

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