It’s been a year since we’ve had Apple’s 2018 flagship phone. The iPhone XS Max. An iPhone that made its debut with the highest price tag on an iPhone, the largest display on an iPhone, and the new gold color. We made a review of it a year ago, here’s how it’s held up a year later.
Design – Still Gorgeous, Still Resilient
Although Apple has adopted the same design from the iPhone X and kept it for the iPhone 11 Pro Max, we’ve pretty much been seeing the same look for the past three years. But even at that, the shiny gold color of the iPhone XS Max is gorgeous and even today still looks premium. Some may argue even more so than the matte gold on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. I’ve had my iPhone in a case, and I don’t use screen protectors – the result? Apart from 2 or 3 faint micro scratches on the screen, the device has held up pretty well; that’s including all the times I’ve dropped it over the years. That’s why they maintain such good resale value. A flawless entry-level 64GB XS will get you over $500, XS Max over $600 from a popular trade-in company. More if you sell it yourself.
At first, using a large display was daunting. I couldn’t use my phone with one hand for most tasks. But I found myself adjusting and getting used to it, and using it one-handed most of the time, utilizing the reachability gesture a lot. Now I find it difficult to go back to a smaller device.
But one thing to add is, depending on the case, the iPhone XS Max can be a heavy phone to hold, even with a slim enough case. However, once I sacrificed protection and went for an ultra-slim case, I found the weight going down by a lot.
Camera – Great, for Great Scenarios
With the iPhone XS, Apple integrated its new multi-core neural engine into the image signal processor of the A12 Bionic chip, which lets them do a lot of heavy pixel pushing. Like Smart HDR for still shots and extended dynamic range for up to 4K, 30 frames-per-second videos.
Unlike Google or Huawei, the iPhone XS Max doesn’t have post-processing; it does all it’s processing live. What you see is what you get. It does a great job at resolving details in both shadow and highlight as well as the real-time adjustable bokeh effect in portrait mode, which was pretty cool and pretty fresh then, but still useful now.
As an owner of a mirrorless camera for things like quick travel photos, daytime or sunset shots, portraits, special occasions, or events, the iPhone XS Max does well consistently. Perfect for times I don’t have my camera, but I would still prefer to shoot on it. For night time shots? Maybe, it’s hit and miss. Low-light shots? Definitely not, but with apps like NeuralCam, low-light shots can look nearly as good as on the latest iPhone. Night time is when I ditch the thought of using the iPhone altogether and bring my camera.
Video is the same, too — excellent quality in great scenarios. Low-light will get noisy, but daytime is sharp with incredible dynamic range. One thing I love is the stabilization in video. It’s superb, even better than on my Sony A6000 mirrorless camera. As a result, I tend to record more videos on the iPhone.
You Grow to Love Face ID
The iPhone XS Max featured a faster Secure Enclave; this made Face ID faster than on the iPhone X. And Face ID has been excellent, it takes some getting used to, but you grow to love it.
The thing that you never grow to love is occasions when the phone is on the table or charging, and you have to lean in to unlock or enter in your passcode. To avoid this, I use the MOFT X stand or the TYLT Fold for charging. That way, the phone is standing on the table, and it’s just a glance to unlock it. However, most of the time, Face ID is so much less obtrusive and convenient than Touch ID.
As mentioned previously, I like to record on my iPhone, and with a 64GB iPhone XS Max, let’s just say I never record 4k video. At the moment, I have about 10 GB of storage left. Videos I record are all 1080p at 60fps; otherwise, storage would be full pretty quickly. When I record longer videos, I transfer them to my laptop right away. But if you don’t want to spend more on storage, you can survive with 64GB and use iCloud or Google photos – although more storage is ideal if you’re a content creator like me and want to be able to record at 4k or you want to keep videos on your device for memories.
Performance and Battery
The iPhone XS Max, with its A12 Bionic chip, still beats newer devices today in Geekbench scores. It’s still ahead of the competition and still fast. The XS Max hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and still performs very well. Wifi and cellular issues are still present, with video taking a while to load or switching to cellular taking longer than it should which can be annoying. Battery life has been steady. We praised the battery life of the iPhone XS Max a year ago, and a year later, it’s still pretty good. Right now, I have a 91% maximum capacity. So it has degraded over the year, which is typical for lithium batteries, but the battery life itself is still good.
Conclusion – My Thoughts After a Year of iPhone XS Max
After a year, one thing I’ve come to love about this phone is its reliability and consistency. Whether with performance, durability, battery life, or camera. These are the main things to look out for on a smartphone, features, design, and display are all a bonus. But if it’s getting slow, the battery life isn’t great, it shattered from one drop, or the camera isn’t producing excellent results, it ruins the experience and point of a smartphone. Although Apple has killed it from their lineup, the iPhone XS Max is just as remarkable now as it was at launch, and I have a feeling it’s going to stay remarkable to those who own it for many years to come.
If you have an iPhone XS Max or any iPhone be sure to check out our post on the top 4 accessories we recommend for iPhone.
iPhone XS Max
The iPhone XS Max at launch was an excellent phone, one year later, it’s just as good. It’s a phone you can rely on, and a phone that will last for many years to come.