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3 weeks with the XS Max - the good and the bad


Hello everyone,,

Its been 3 weeks and I thought I'd share my experience with the XS Max so far.

I upgrade every year and use two phones. The older phone becomes the backup and the newer phone becomes the daily driver. I started with the 6 Plus in 2014. I've used the plus sized phones only. I skipped the X, but had the 8 plus. At the moment, I use an 8 plus and the XS Max.

The good:

  1. The full, edge to edge screen is gorgeous. Using dark mode apps on this screen feels like an immersive experience.

  2. The gesture based navigation is wonderful. I find myself experiencing childish glee at how good it feels, even now. I can't explain it. Its just that good. Its like alt-tab to go back and forth on a computer, but more fluid. Apps don't normally reload when switching.

  3. The front facing camera takes great pictures (with caveats)

  4. The phone is quick and responsive as ever.

  5. Better download speeds. I think this one needs a special mention. The past iPhones I've owned used to see peaks of roughly 2 MBps for download (I use Airtel in India and speeds are atrocious). The XS Max is faster to regain a signal (at times), but can download at peaks of 6 MBps. This is a huge improvement. My LTE iPad Air 2 also maxes out at roughly 2 Mbps (if I'm lucky) . This is the best I've seen ever since I've got 4G/LTE with the 6 plus. My friends who use Android phones with Qualcomm modems/chips see faster speeds though.

Compared to the 8 Plus:*

  1. My year old 8 Plus running iOS 12.1 beta can easily best the XS Max in terms of battery/run time given my usage patterns. Everyone else will have a different experience. The XS Max seems to be draining battery faster. The bigger screen is certainly a factor here. Maybe a software update will fix it. I feel like the 7 plus had the same sort of battery life.

  2. No substantial difference in the amount of text/content visible in third party apps just yet. This is not a problem with Apple. Third party app developers need to update their apps to take advantage of the Max's screen.

  3. Performance seems the same as the 8 plus, maybe a bit faster. I can't really tell. The 8 Plus felt like a noticeable jump over the 7 plus. But I'm not complaining. Both phones are fast enough. The XS Max doesn't slow down, never looses frames. Overall, I like it.

The Meh:

  1. The name. XS Max. Would 10s Plus have been that bad? Most people are going to call it the Excess Max. the name is a bit cheesy. But ok, I guess. To me, it feels like someone from Microsoft or Samsung came up with this name.

  2. Face ID: I like it, but don't exactly love it. I'm bald, and wear glasses and a cap when outdoors and it works just fine.

  • Touch ID requires the phone to be touched lightly, but works the moment your finger comes in contact. Face ID is mostly on point, but you have to hold it at the right angle and that can be a bit tricky when you're driving or say, in bed, or if the sun is behind you.

  • There's also the fact that you need to double tap the side button when installing apps. This is a minor quibble.

  • Overall, I'd call it the same as Touch ID in terms of function. Would I be upset if Apple took it away in a future update? No.

The Bad:

  • The Camera.

  • The camera on an iPhone has started to loose its edge over some Android flagships. This has not bothered me since the phone took good enough pictures and video. For instance, the (professional) reviews of the Pixel 2 had glowing reviews of the picture quality, but always omitted the poor floaty/dreamy video quality which didn't surface till a couple of months after the initial rush of reviews. iPhones performed better at video due to the built in optical stabilization. Samsung phone cameras are a bit too oversaturated for my liking, but can give iPhones a good run for their money, even with their cheaper phones.

  • iPhone cameras just right, and work every time. You point and shoot. The pictures come out looking good (assuming you got the composition right). They aren't the best, but have a higher average of better looking pictures.

  • The camera on the XS Max is by far the biggest disappointment. The camera is capable of taking good shots in good lighting conditions with static subjects. There's plenty of detail from the front and back cameras. In fact, in good light, the front camera takes incredible detail. I can zoom in and see all of imperfections in embarrassing detail on my face. It feels like a generation or two ahead of the 8 plus.

  • In low light however, the pictures are atrocious. There's no detail. Faces are horribly smoothed over (aka Beauty Gate). I frequently see blurred hands or faces because the camera screwed up. I feel like I've stepped back in time. I can't remember being so consistently disappointed with any of my iPhone cameras. A large part of the pictures we take are those of friends and family in dimly lit interior settings. The Max screws up more often than not. For example, it got a blurry picture of my friend and I standing in an office! I can't remember when my older iPhones screwed up this bad.

  • The XS Max takes bad pictures in low light. I hope a software update fixes it. I really do. I can't believe the DXO mark scores. My eyes are seeing a different story. Am I "holding it wrong"?

Part of the reason I'm being so critical of the camera is the increased cost of the XS Max. The 8 Plus was about 25% cheaper than the XS Max at launch last year. And as of now, it feels like the better phone. I don't mind Apple making their phones more expensive, but it shouldn't come with worse functionality. That, to me, is unacceptable.

Re: 3 weeks with the XS Max - the good and the bad

Nice comparisons there and your thoughts are definitely shared by a lot of people, I know a few that changed to android as a result!
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