Hands on: Apple iPhone XS Max review

Is Apple's biggest ever iPhone also its best?

What is a hands on review?
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For

  • Large, attractive OLED screen
  • Good battery life
  • Great to use

Against

  • A hefty price tag

The iPhone XS Max could be the upgrade that iPhone Plus users have been waiting for. An OLED display, more screen estate and an even bigger battery are all on the menu for this super-sized smartphone. Our colleagues at Techradar have been hands-on for some quick first impressions....

iPhone XS Max price and release date

There's a new 512GB storage option which sits alongside 64GB and 256GB models. Of course, you’ll have to pay a sizeable sum - £1449 to be precise - while the other two models will be available for £1099 and £1249 respectively. You can pre-order from 14th September ahead of the 21st September release date.

Design and build

Unsurprisingly, you’ll need big hands, or to use two to make your way around the iPhone XS Max. But if you’re already an iPhone Plus user you’ll be fine getting to grips with this new model. The dimensions of the XS Max (157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7mm) are close enough to those of the iPhone 8 Plus (158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5mm) that you should be able to swap it out without any problems.

The look and feel of the XS Max is suitably premium. The combination of a virtually bezel-less OLED screen, curved stainless steel edges and glossy glass (Apple claims the rear glass panel is its most durable to date) is as appealing as ever.

Features

As you’d expect, the iPhone XS Max shares many features of the iPhone XS but with a bigger screen (6.5in versus 5.8in). This means you can opt for the new Gold finish if you’d prefer a change to the more traditional Silver and Space Grey. 

Powering the iPhone XS Max is Apple’s new A12 Bionic processor, which is 50% faster and more powerful than the previous A11 chip. It’s the world’s first seven nanometer chipset and manages to cram in 6.9 billion transistors.

Battery life gets a decent boost. The iPhone XS Max will give you 90 minutes of extra juice compared to the iPhone X, compared to the 30 minutes extra you receive from the iPhone XS.

The new iPhone XS Max is also IP68 rated which means it should be able to withstand a 30 minute dunk in up to two metres of water.

Picture quality

The HDR video support should help bring the best out of that 6.5in OLED screen, but there wasn’t much in the way of test content at the event.

If it’s anything like the iPhone X, expect a rich and balanced picture with good brightness and impressive viewing angles.

We did, however, get a quick blast of an unreleased game called Elder Scrolls Blaze. Despite the odd moment of judder, on the whole it did look spectacular and seeing it on that huge 6.5in display definitely drew you in.

Sound quality

Like the XS, the iPhone XS Max promises ‘wider stereo sound’, which, according to Apple gives you broader, richer and more immersive audio from the phone's speakers.

On the demo floor, the Max certainly seemed to share the same clear and loud character of the original iPhone X, which can only be a positive. It should be fine for a quick 30 second blast of a YouTube music video, but we’ll need a bit of time in proper test conditions to see just how wide and engaging the audio really is.

It’ll also give us a chance to test the phone with a pair of proper headphones. Remember, neither the iPhone XS Max, the XS or XR come with a 3.5mm headphone adapter, so if you’re upgrading from an iPhone 8 Plus, be sure to keep hold of your dongle.

Camera

The iPhone XS Max sports twin 12MP sensors for the main camera with a telephoto lens supporting a wide angle lens. The latter gets an increase in pixel size to 1.4um compared to the iPhone X.

You can record in 4K complete with stereo sound and the sensor is twice as fast which Apple claims helps deliver better picture quality for your videos.

The front-facing camera is 7.2MP RGB design which offers an enhanced Portrait mode for more artistic and stylish selfies.

To help improve all-round picture performance, the phone’s cameras also get a software boost, in the shape of a new Smart HDR mode. In theory this helps to refine and increase the quality of images especially those in low light conditions.

The images we saw stored on the demo handsets looked stunning and the the brightness of the hands-on area played into the hands of the Max’s camera. The real test will be those tricky shots in poor lighting which some smartphones struggle to cope with.

Early verdict

If you're a current iPhone Plus owner, there's no doubt the iPhone XS Max is going to prove tempting.

Just having access to that huge OLED screen, the faster processing and bigger battery life could be enough for some to take the plunge despite the big price tag.

In our brief time with the phone it does have the potential to be Apple's best-ever iPhone, but we'll give you the definitive verdict once our review sample lands.

MORE: Apple iPhone XS hands on review

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.