The iPhone XS Max is a moderate “S” year upgrade over the iPhone X, with the addition of a larger 6.5” display, improved camera, faster processor, and additional memory.
Checkout my iPhone 7 Review to get an understanding of where I’m coming from.
Maybe I’m getting older, maybe I’m not as “into Apple” as I once was, or maybe the iPhones these days just have a much longer life, but I felt like this time I had the fewest reasons to upgrade after two years as I had in the past. iOS 12 runs very well on my iPhone 7, and it did everything it needed to for me. That being said, there are new features on the iPhone XS (and me keeping an every-other-year upgrade cycle) that still made me decide to upgrade to the iPhone XS Max.
Now that I live within a ten minute walk to an Apple Store, I decided to pick the phone up in store. This was a great decision, I was in and out in 15 minutes!
It’s here. pic.twitter.com/yFp1hOK4aV— Brian Mitchell (@BrianMitchL) September 21, 2018
Oh my god, I just booted up my iPhone 7 and it feels so small!— Brian Mitchell (@BrianMitchL) October 19, 2018
Because I came from the iPhone 7 (and before that, the iPhone 6), I’ve been using the 4.7” size for four years. The Plus sized iPhones always seemed way too large, but something about this even larger screen seemed enticing.
Like the 4.7” displays over the earlier 4” and even 3.5” displays, it’s impossible to reach the entire display. I find myself gripping the iPhone XS Max with two hands much more frequently than earlier iPhones. Part of this is for stability to make sure I don’t drop the phone, but it’s also so I can interact with everything that’s on the screen. This is a worthy trade off because I can see so much more on the screen, media is larger, and I can use the two-column layouts that are unique to iPads and iPhone Pluses (iPhones Plus?).
The A12 Bionic SoC packs a 64-bit, 7 nm processor (the definition of a 7nm processor can vary widely, so take it with a grain of salt) with six cores: two performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. It also includes a new “8-core Neural Engine.” Apple didn’t market the chip as being all that much faster, especially with the A11 and A12 both sharing the “Bionic” name, but this chip is fast. Some reports go as far as saying the A12 Bionic is 40% faster than the A11 Bionic.
Here’s a breakdown of Geekbench 4 results from the more recent iPhones and my current devices. I’m particularly impressed with how well the A12 Bionic compares to my aging mid-2012 MacBook Pro and it’s multi-core performance in general.
|#||Name||Platform||Architecture||Single-core Score||Multi-core Score|
|392974||iPhone 6 Apple A8 1400 MHz (2 cores)||iOS 64||aarch64||1549||2428|
|10393355||iPad Pro (9.7-inch) Apple A9X 2260 MHz (2 cores)||iOS 64||aarch64||2583||3321|
|392894||iPhone 7 Apple A10 Fusion 2340 MHz (2 cores)||iOS 64||aarch64||3401||5587|
|10138223||iPhone XS Max Apple A12 Bionic 2490 MHz (6 cores)||iOS 64||aarch64||4789||11223|
|10148260||MacBook Pro (Retina) Intel Core i7-3820QM 2700 MHz (4 cores)||Mac OS X 64||x86_64||3836||12982|
The iPhone XS Max packs a 6.5” OLED display at a resolution of 2688x1242 (458 ppi). Now because it is OLED display, the pixel density is really only true for the green sub-pixels.
So what does PenTile mean in practice on iPhone X? Only green is 'true 3X' You need exceedingly tiny text to notice the effect, just about the limits of decent human vision. (full-res test PNG: https://t.co/iuR0SQzXoz) pic.twitter.com/XFr2cawtV0— Steve Troughton-Smith (@stroughtonsmith) November 11, 2017
OLED displays have a ridiculous contrast ratio because each pixel provides its own light. This means that if black is being displayed on the display, the pixels aren’t even lit. A trade-off of this is that if you are switching from black to any other color, there is a small delay because the pixel needs to turn itself on. It is apparent when scrolling a list of items with a pure black theme. The edge content of an animating object seems to lag behind the rest.
What does OLED black smearing look like? In this example, the dark grey square seems to be lagging behind the light grey square, but they’re locked together. (Needs to be viewed on an OLED screen.) pic.twitter.com/WYFEXKAvsG— Marc Edwards (@marcedwards) October 20, 2018
Trade-offs aside, I love this display. The OLED display makes it a joy to use at night when dark themes in apps kick in.
The camera on the iPhone XS is the real flagship feature. It has a dual camera system, like the Plus sized iPhones from the past four years: a wide-angle ƒ/1.8 and a telephoto ƒ/2.4. New with the iPhone XS is that the wide-angle lens now has a 26mm equivalent focal length (compared to 28mm on the iPhone X), which means you can fit a bit more from a scene into the frame.
The sensors in the new iPhone also are about 30% larger, which reduces noise and increases brightness in dark areas. Both the wide-angle and telephoto sensors have a wider ISO range, which further helps to reduce grain. Photos can now be exposed at up to one second (1/3 second in earlier iPhones).
I’d highly recommend looking at the Halide team’s hardware breakdown and more software focused iPhone XS: Why It’s A Whole New Camera. Both posts go into great detail about the improvements in the iPhone XS’s camera(s); it’s truly impressive.
Apple introduced Portrait mode with the iPhone X last year, but this is a first for me. It works the same way as the X, but you can now adjust the bokeh effect during or after taking the photo. From the few portrait photos I’ve taken, I’m quite impressed.
What excites me most about the new cameras are the improved sensors combined with the new Smart HDR. Apple introduced HDR with the iPhone 4 back in 2010; It took a photo at normal, above, and below exposure. I think it has continued to work in mostly the same way until now. Smart HDR takes several more photos at different exposures, and uses the A12 Bionic’s Neural Engine to stitch the final photo back together, combining the different exposures. This makes for incredible detail, almost in an unatural way (at least when comparing to traditional cameras), where areas that would normally be over or under exposed are now included at an exposure that matches that area’s brightness into the final image.
The camera on the iPhone XS will step down the frame rate of a 30fps video to 24fps if there isn’t enough brightness in the scene. This will increase the brightness and detail in video recorded in low-light scenes.
New with this iPhone, video is recorded with stereo microphones!
New last year with the iPhone 8 and X (but new to me), video can be recorded at at 60 fps when using the HEVC codec. Good thing I got the 256 GB iPhone, because video at that quality uses a ton of disk space.