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Home / Reviews / Smartphones / iPhone XS Max hands-on review

iPhone XS Max hands-on review

Bigger and more expensive than ever. But does that necessarily mean it's better?

Apple just announced its biggest-ever phone.

No, no bigger than the current iPhone 8 Plus, except that the new handset is all screen on the front, meaning that the 5.5in display of the 8 Plus is replaced with one a whole inch bigger, 6.5in.

Design: Screen-y dream

Design: Screen-y dream

This phone is a clear extension of the iPhone X style. It looks like an iPhone X which has been gently inflated with a bicycle pump.

The same shiny stainless-steel edge, glass back and that now-familiar notch on the display where the TrueDepth Camera unit sits. In fact, the easiest way to tell whether you’re looking at an iPhone Xs or its larger Xs Max sibling if you can’t tell the scale, is to look at the notch which, because it’s the same size as on the iPhone Xs, looks smaller here because it’s proportionally a smaller part of the display.

Despite this, Apple has not taken advantage of the extra space around the notch to, for instance, restore the percentage indicator to the battery icon. For many, the iPhone X and its new replacement, the iPhone Xs, will be the perfect size, a balance between a smaller phone and a bigger screen.

But others will want something a little bigger, and the Xs Max doesn’t disappoint. It is manageable in the hand, just, and it offers the same tactile smoothness found on the iPhone X.

There’s another way it stands out from the previous iPhone X: it’s available in an extra colour. As well as silver and space grey, the iPhone Xs Max comes in a fetching gold finish, not only for the glass on the back of the phone but the stainless steel edge, too. So, the antenna band is colour-matched, it’s not just plain silver, and it looks terrific, especially in the gold version.

Display & Sound: Ready for action

Display & Sound: Ready for action

Like the smaller iPhone Xs, the Xs Max has the highest-resolution display for an iPhone, 458 pixels per inch – you don’t lose pixel density by going for the larger screen, unlike with some other phones.

Apple says it’s a new, improved version of what’s on last year’s iPhone X. The Max gets a pixel boost from 2436×1125 pixel resolution on the Xto a whopping 2688×1242 and it looks fantastic: rich, detailed and brightly coloured.

It stretches uniformly to all edges of the phone, making for a polished and premium look. Though the iPhone Xs Max is the same size as the iPhone 8 Plus (which suddenly looks rather old-fashioned when side-by- side with the new model), there’s a lot more display here – which is doubtless why it’s called Max instead of Plus.

Apple hasn’t skimped on the audio on this phone, either, boosting the performance of the speakers and balancing them so they produce punchy, enjoyable sound evenly from each end of the handset.

Previously, one speaker was more powerful than the other but now – as far as one can tell in a noisy hands-on display room – it’s a sound almost on a par with listening on headphones.

Cameras: Bokeh of the year

Cameras: Bokeh of the year

Probably the biggest reaction at the keynote was to the new portrait mode feature, which allows you to adjust the level of bokeh effect after you’ve shot an image.

This is more than a simple adjustment of more or less blur on the background. Instead, machine learning contributes to what the image is, what the light sources are and how they would behave if they were out of focus.

The result is subtle and effective, with extraordinary levels of realism. It’s simply done by adjusting a slider left or right which will appear on the bottom of the screen when you hit edit.

The resulting pictures are worth getting excited over. The new rear camera has larger pixels on the wide-angle camera sensor, which should also make for better photographs, though we’ll have to wait to put the phone through its paces to know for sure.

Performance: Muscle memory

Performance: Muscle memory

Although it’s hard to tell much from a brief moment of use, the phone was incredibly nippy and responsive, from apps springing open instantaneously to intensive video games playing with nary a stutter, no matter how complex the visuals of what was going on onscreen.

Similarly, the biggest battery ever on an iPhone (Apple says it’ll last 1.5 hours longer than the iPhone 8 Plus), huge storage capacity of up to 512GB and the powerful processor on board should all contribute to a high-performance device (as, you might say, so it should at this price).

It can do all this slogging without slowing down the phone down due to the tech in the all-new Bionic A12 chip.

iPhone XS Max initial verdict

iPhone XS Max initial verdict

If you like a big-screen phone, you probably don’t need to look elsewhere.

This phone is the same size as the iPhone 8 Plus (actually, it’s a whisker thicker but slightly shorter and less wide) and around the same weight. But it has a display that’s a full inch bigger, and it looks utterly sumptuous as a result.

It has lots of subtle upgrades, from the increased waterproofing to the longer battery life and then some bigger changes, such as the improved cameras, faster processor and upgraded colours on the display compared to the iPhone X.

But it’s the look that really sells it: a full-screen phone at this size is a real head-turner.

Profile image of David Phelan David Phelan