Hardware

Craig Grannell finds out whether Apple’s new flagship really is the ultimate iPhone

It’s funny to think I once raged against phones getting bigger. I loved my iPhone 4s and was dead set against the iPhone 5. At some point, I grudgingly bought a 6s, grumbled about its dimensions, and cast an evil eye toward the 6 Plus.

Last year, I went for an iPhone 8 Plus, which was – to say the least – off-script. But I figured trying something new would be educational; and, besides, the iPhone 8 had sold out by the time bleary-eyed me got to the Apple Store.

I… really liked it. Sure, the iPhone 8 Plus was too big, too bulky, and sometimes gave me cramp. But, hey, what’s a little pain but a reminder I’m using the thing too much? And that large display positively begged to be used.

The big(ger) screen

With the iPhone X, Apple said you got a Plus-sized display in a smaller case. Not quite. It’s about the same height, but narrower. So you benefit if you favor tall and thin (or short and wide) strips of content. But the iPhone XS Max has the same dimensions as an iPhone 8 Plus, without the bezel. On seeing Apple’s keynote, I immediately knew I wanted one.

From the off, the device impressed. It’s absurdly powerful, and has deftly handled anything I throw at it, such as complex compositions in music apps that make my three-year-old iMac stumble. The battery lasts ages (including all-day jaunts around London using cellular networks), and the new gestures are great.

Most surprisingly, I only rarely get irritated by the notch. In portrait, it’s easy to ignore; only in full-screen landscape games does it intrude. I suspect that’s because games creators need to think more carefully about ensuring content doesn’t sit too nearby.

Snap happy

The biggest revelation, though, is the camera. The one on the iPhone 8 Plus was pretty good, but the camera in the iPhone XS Max even makes the iPhone X’s one look poor by comparison. That might sound like an overstatement, but I got the chance to test this when out with friends for a pub lunch.

Our little tykes were happily attacking a coloring book with gusto, and I and a friend took some photos. It was a tricky proposition for a smartphone camera, with bright light outside, and a not terribly well-lit interior. The iPhone X tried its best but made a mess of things, with areas of overt blown-out white. The iPhone XS Max got the balance right.

That’s not to say every shot I’ve taken with the phone is a masterpiece, nor that Apple’s infused it with magic. You can still take a duff shot or ten with the Max. The point is, this is now much harder, and even with zero effort the likelihood of better photographs is much increased.

Verdict: iPhone XS Max

During my two weeks with this iPhone, there has been so little to grumble about. Sure, it’s still a bit heavy and big, but then short of Apple rewriting the laws of physics, that’s just the way things are. There is, though, something in software I’d like to see change – the Home indicator is an abomination that needs to die (or get an off switch). But that’s a minor gripe in an otherwise stellar smartphone experience.

There is, naturally, an elephant in the room – one made of cash. And that’s because the iPhone XS Max also maxes out the price tag. The 64GB option is $1099/£1099, but with a phone that shoots 4K and supports amazing apps, you’re going to want at least the 256GB model – and that comes in at an extra 150 bucks. At that point, you’re into laptop territory. Even dropping down to the technologically identical (bar the smaller battery and display) iPhone XS only ‘saves’ you $100/£100.

Still, Apple’s never been about low prices, and at least with its latest flagship you know it’s not just the price that’s been maxed out – Apple’s also ramped up the tech, the usability, the power, and the sheer enjoyment of using an iPhone.