The iPhone XS Max Impresses in the Right Ways

BY Evan Selleck

Published 25 Sep 2018

iPhone XS Max Space Gray early hands-on

2018 is an “S upgrade” year, which means that the changes from last year’s flagship, the iPhone X, are going to be pretty minimal in this year’s new models. But like years prior, that’s not a bad thing.

I’ve been using the iPhone XS Max as my daily driver now since last Friday, starting in the late afternoon. I’ve already penned some first impressions of the handset, and I can safely say that now, days later, I actually like the phone even more than I did after just taking it out of the box. There is a lot to like here and that’s not just because of the bigger display — even though that has a lot to do with it.

The display is where we need to start, because it’s gigantic. At 6.5 inches it’s one of the bigger options out there, which, in my opinion, isn’t worth writing home about by itself. Just having a big screen is not something to be praised for. The fact that the bezels have been reduced is a positive thing, because the iPhone XS Max feels like the iPhone 8 Plus, but there’s just more screen to enjoy. But that’s also a bad thing.

We’re a year into the notch craze that Essential started and Apple ran away with. Now a variety of other smartphone manufacturers are jumping on board the craze, including Google with the incoming Pixel 3 XL. It’s a terrible trend. I hate the notch and it needs to go away immediately. And not just because it juts into pictures and videos, but because it facilitates the need for ridiculous aspect ratios.

Watching video on the iPhone X, and now the iPhone XS Max, shouldn’t be a frustrating experience. We’ve got these “all-display” designs that actually warp and reduce video content. Depending on the app you’re watching if you go full-screen with your content you’ll cut off the top and bottom of the content. Other apps will make sure the top and bottom of the video remains intact, but the sides are then blown out of view.

Apple has always been a company that touts its love for media, both music and film, and yet they made a smartphone that thrashes the latter. For someone like me who doesn’t want the scoreboard of the baseball game they’re watching to be cut off, or to lose any bit of the director’s vision while watching a movie, Apple’s new iPhone design is a nightmare.

I just had to get that out of the way, because when you do watch content on the iPhone XS Max, it’s glorious in the color and detail. More than three million pixels makes a difference, and Apple continues to make some impressive displays that rake in the awards. And those rewards are well deserved. I had reservations about switching to the bigger phone, but I’m glad that I did it. Aside from my complaints above, watching content and playing games on the bigger screen really is fantastic.

The other part that has kind of blown me away about the iPhone XS Max is the battery life. I never had any real issues with the iPhone X, but that comes down to training and expectations from real world usage over several weeks and months. This new, bigger iPhone is impressing me right out of the gate. On Sunday I took the iPhone XS Max off the charger at 9:20 AM, topped off at 100%. By the time that 9:00 AM Monday rolled around the handset was sitting at 41% battery remaining.

That’s with plenty of usage in that 24 hours time, too. I played several games, checked social media, used Apple Music, watched YouTube content, and more. The only thing I didn’t try in that timeframe was the camera, which I’m sure would have had a noticeable impact. Still, based on the last few days with the phone I think I can safely say that I’m not going to have to worry about battery life with this handset, and for the first time that has more to do with the phone itself, rather than me adapting my own usage to reduce demand.

My takeaway at this point, just a few days after the iPhone XS Max’s debut, is that Apple’s new iPhone impresses in all the right ways. The bigger display isn’t just a gimmick, as it’s actually fantastic to look at. The battery life (so far) is exceptional. And that’s making the right first impression, to say the least.

I haven’t had much of a reason to use the camera since I got the new phone, but that is going to change this weekend. This is one area of improvement that I am looking forward to testing. I’ll have one more impressions article coming this weekend to talk about the camera. And if there’s anything else in particular you want me to try out, test, or investigate, just let me know in the comments below and I’ll take a look.

If you picked up the iPhone XS Max, how are you liking the handset so far? And don’t forget to check out our review of the iPhone XS Max right here.