A Few Thoughts on the iPhone XS Max

It’s been awhile. Over a month since my last post, in fact. I’ve been busy — in the best way possible.¹ Since it has also been about a month that I’ve had the latest iPhone, I wanted to jot down some thoughts before they fade into time.

(Apologies in advance for the more stream-of-consciousness style — sleep is at a premium these days!)

I opted to get the iPhone XS Max model. Space Gray. 512 GB. Top of the line — the $1,500 iPhone.

Yes, even a month later, the name is still ridiculous. Yes, still Microsoft ridiculous. My rationale for getting the massive model was pretty simple: I had used the iPhone X for the past year so I wanted something different. I debated Gold, but didn’t think I could pull it off. Plus, prior to the iPhone X, I had used the iPhone ‘Plus’ models, so I figured I was used to the larger form factor. The ‘Max’ is slightly shorter and thinner while weighing a smidge more than those models. But, of course, the screen is significantly larger (6.5” versus 5.5”). Thank god for the ‘Reachability’ feature in iOS.

As it turns out, I may have been too used to the ‘Plus’ size — from day one, the ‘Max’ model didn’t feel all that different than the regular ‘X’ size, even though it is (it’s quite a bit taller, wider, and heavier). I continue to be surprised that this is the case, but it’s just not a huge difference in my book.

And that’s a little annoying to me. Because…

A month later, I think I’ve determined I actually prefer the ‘X’ — and now the ‘XS’ — size. This wasn’t the case when “downgrading” from a ‘Plus’ phone to the “regular” iPhone in generations past — I found the smaller versions to be almost comically small when switching between the two. With the ‘Max’ to the ‘X’ or ‘XS’, to be honest, I just like the latter form factor more — I find it to be a more natural size that feels better in the hand.

Obviously, your mileage may vary, but I think part of my feeling is due to the fact that unlike when the ‘Plus’ models hit, it doesn’t seem like developers have really done anything to tailor their apps for the larger screen of the ‘Max’. Apple did, but not in the same way as they did with the ‘Plus’, where the entire OS changed in landscape mode, for example (it doesn’t here). And as a result, many apps just look sort of chunky now. I thought reading would be a huge advantage on this screen, but it looks weird reading sort of chunky text.²

All of that plus the fact that the bigger model doesn’t have the better camera system this time around (again, unlike the ‘Plus’ era), puts a lot of checks in the ‘XS’ box. If there’s one saving grace of the ‘Max’, it’s the bigger battery and as such, the slightly better battery life. That’s nice, but I still think I would have gone ‘XS’ all things considered.

One other thing I wouldn’t do in hindsight: buy the 512GB model. It’s completely unnecessary, especially given how much it adds to the price. Stick with 256GB unless you’re planning to do a ton of video work.

In terms of things like speed, I honestly can’t say I notice any difference with this device versus last year’s X model. Both are insanely fast and nothing seems to push either all the much. I do seem to have fewer memory issues now, which could be due to more RAM,³ or just the device being newer.

The new camera system is much better in low-light environments. And I still find it weird how little Apple played up the camera upgrades in the keynote — maybe they didn’t want to draw the comparisons to Google’s Pixel devices, which mzany folks now seem to consider to have the better camera system?

Lastly, I’ll just give a shout-out to the clever way Apple “hid” the notch with their default iOS 12 “bubble” wallpapers.⁴ The bubble’s crest comes up just to the edge of the notch but doesn’t touch it, leaving the OLED’s ultra-black black to fill in the rest and hide the notch from view. It’s subtle and clever. Very Apple.

I could go on with iOS 12 changes, but there’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said since so many people (myself included) have been using the (very stable) betas for a long time now. I will give a special shout-out to the addition of third-party password managers, like 1Password, to the system-wide keychain. This is a total game-changer in terms of productivity.

Overall, I’m curious to see what people think about the iPhone XR (on pre-sale as of today). Because it really does feel like it might be the right phone for a lot of people. The iPhones XS are great, but not a massive upgrade over the X. And I think the new pricing exacerbates the issue. If you have an iPhone 8, it’s undoubtedly worth an upgrade to the XS, but I’d point you to the smaller one. And I’m just not sure the XR isn’t a better path to go down for many people.

¹ I’m honestly a little torn about writing about this experience — or not writing about it. As cliche as it sounds, it’s something so incredibly profound that I’m not sure I have the words. At least not yet.

² And with that, I think we can officially put the “big iPhone vs. iPad mini” debate to rest. In no way are the big iPhones — even this iPhone XS Max — comparable to the iPad mini. I thought they could be, but I was wrong. It’s a totally different device with a far larger screen. Yes, still. RIP iPad mini

³ 4GB in the XS versus 3GB in the X.

⁴ Which everyone at first thought was either psychedelic Jupiter or bread…