Let us get one thing out of the way: the rumors of the iPhone XS Max (the bigger avatar of the new iPhone XS) being way too large have been exaggerated. Yes, the iPhone XS Max cannot be mistaken for a super compact phone that will blend into your palm like vanishing cream on a winter morning (although the rounded edges and smooth finish make it very comfortable to hold – and it is actually not as slippery as some glassy customers), but neither is it the palm stretcher that many are complaining it is.
In fact, in spite of boasting the biggest display we have seen on an iPhone – 6.5 inches (would that make Steve J turn in his grave? Another story, another time, folks) – it is actually… wait for it… it is actually smaller in size than the iPhone 8 Plus, which had a display that was 5.5 inches. The XS Max is 157.5 mm long, 77.4 mm wide and definitely on the thinner side at 7.7 mm. The 8 Plus, on the other hand, was a larger 158.4 mm in length and 78.1 mm in width, and although it was a tad slimmer at 7.5 mm, it seems significantly smaller when seen with the XS Max. There is no difference in weight though – both phones tip the scales at 202 grams. Want another comparison? Right, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is a hair lighter at 201 grams but in spite of sporting a slightly smaller display (6.4 inches), is actually much longer at 161.9 mm and thicker at 8.8 mm, although it is less wide at 76.4 mm. No, we are not going to say that the iPhone XS Max is a small phone – it is unabashedly big but it is a great ad for the benefits of shrinking those bezels because it has actually packed significantly more screen into an area that is smaller. But hey, it is big. It is slightly heavy. If you are going to invest in it, you are going to have to also live with it.
You are also going to have to look at people turning their heads to look at the device because it is rather premium when it comes to appearance – perhaps the most premium we have seen an iPhone look since the jet black variant of the iPhone 7 Plus. Yes, it looks like a bigger iPhone X (or its design clone, the iPhone XS) but given just how good and distinct those devices looked, that is not necessarily a bad thing. We got the new gold variant of the iPhone XS Max, and well, it is a shade of gold that we have not seen before – it leans more towards bronze than glittering yellow, and the result is actually rather pleasing, especially in sunlight. There are some who think it looks like coffee with too much milk in it but we beg to differ – the iPhone XS Max looks classy but does not scream for attention. With its use of premium materials (the strongest glass ever on front and back, we are told, and a surgical steel frame) and that shade of gold, it does not need to. Yes, we are a little disappointed that Apple did not make any design changes when it comes to the button, camera, notch and speaker placement, but the Cupertino folk would argue that they did not want to fix what was not broken. Fair point. And before you ask, we would recommend slapping a cover on the device – that may be the strongest glass ever put on a phone but it will pick up scratches and we would not recommend trying to bounce the phone off the floor!
For us, however, the real issue is going to be the level of difference between the performance of the XS Max and its smaller sibling. For, unlike in the past, where with greater size came better cameras and hardware, this time the XS Max is, for the most part – bigger battery and display apart – pretty much similar in the hardware department to the iPhone XS. The OLED “Super Retina HD display” has a slightly higher resolution (2688 X 1242), but has the same 458 PPI pixel density that is on the iPhone XS. And just like that worthy, it too is powered by the A12 bionic chip and comes with the “next generation neural engine” that Apple claims is pretty much going to redefine phone performance (wait for the review, folks), as well as dual 12 megapixel cameras on the rear (one wide angle, one telephone – if you can call 2x that!) and a 7 megapixel front-facing camera.
Of course, as always, the iPhone is not really about specs, and we have been told that there are a lot of machine learning smarts and a number of performance enhancements in the new device as compared to its predecessors – from better graphics handling to more efficient power management to better bokeh. There is dual-SIM connectivity, although there is only one SIM card slot in the tray (the other SIM will be an eSIM that will have to be activated by the provider, we are told). Stereo speakers also come to the iPhone party and water and dust resistance have been bumped up a notch (ouch, pun unintended) to IP68. We are miffed, though, at the absence of a lightning to 3.5 mm adapter in the box, though – yes, we are moving to a wireless age but by that measure, the phone should come with a wireless charger, no? Come on!
All said and done, thanks to its size, the iPhone XS Max takes over the title of the most distinct iPhone from its predecessor and smaller brother, who look like twins. And with that big size comes a hefty price tag – the iPhone XS Max starts retailing today in India for Rs 1,09,900 for the 64 GB variant, Rs 1,24,900 for the 256 GB one, and Rs 1,44,900 for the 512 GB one (cue kidney jokes, please). To find out just how much phone-y bang you get for those bucks, and how the bigger iPhone compares with its competitors (dat Note, dat Pixel, maybe even the phone that sounds like singular addition, which is getting a T-shirt, we hear), stay tuned for our detailed review.