iPhone XS Max vs iPhone X

Apple’s unveiled three new iPhones for 2018-2019. The iPhone XS, the iPhone XS Max, and the iPhone XR.

If you already own an iPhone X then you might be considering updating to an iPhone XS Max in order to get the larger screen. Would the upgrade be worthwhile or should you wait until next year to see what Apple has up its sleeve? Is this is just an S update or is it more than that?

iPhone XS Max vs X: Price and availability

The iPhone XS Max went on sale on 21 September. If you haven’t already pre-ordered your iPhone XS Max you may have a wait of a few weeks before you can get one in your hands.

A iPhone XS Max will cost you £1,099/$1,099 (64GB), £1,249/$1,249 (256GB), or £1,449/$1,449 (512GB).

When it launched the iPhone X cost from £999/$999 (64GB) or £1,149/$1,149 (256GB) but Apple no longer sells it.

So, for one hundred pounds/dollars more than you spent (or could have spent) on the iPhone X, you can now get a bigger screen and a more advanced processor. But should you? That's what we will attempt to help you decide.

Be sure to regularly check out our Best iPhone X deals and Best iPhone XS Max deals to see what offers are around.

iPhone XS Max vs X: Design and build

Where the iPhone XS is almost the same as the iPhone X, the iPhone XS Max is a whole new iPhone. However, with the exception of dimensions of the handset and the size of the screen, physically there is very little difference. Both phones have a stainless steel chassis, glass back (to enable wireless charging), lightning port, stereo speaker, microphone, and the power button and volume controls.

Like the iPhone X the front of the iPhone XS Max is almost entirely covered by its OLED display, with the exception of the notch area at the top that houses the Face ID cameras. Face ID replaces Touch ID as the means of unlocking the device, so the Home button is gone.

The iPhone XS Max also features the same dual-lens camera set up on the rear as the iPhone X (and iPhone XS for that matter). The lens is still raised, rather than flush against the iPhone, as has been the case since the launch of the 2014 iPhone 6. Thanks to the dual-lens, the iPhone XS Max can take Portrait Mode photos, just like the X and XS.

One difference in terms of materials is the fact that unlike the iPhone X, the 2018 iPhone XS and XS Max do come in a gold finish.

Another difference is that the successor to the iPhone X offers an IP68 rating for waterproofing - which means it should survive being submerged in 2 metres of water for up to 30 minutes.

Of course, the big difference is the 6.5in display on the iPhone XS Max compared to the 5.8in screen on the iPhone X (and the iPhone XS). That’s the biggest screen ever on an iPhone. The iPhone 8 Plus screen is 5.5in.

And, of course, the bigger screen means that the iPhone XS Max is physically larger and heavier than the iPhone X was. The iPhone 8 Plus handset is a tad bigger, despite the screen being smaller, although it is slightly slimmer and slightly lighter.

  • iPhone XS Max: 157.5mm x 77.4mm x 7.7mm, 208g
  • iPhone XS: 143.6mm x 70.9mm x 7.7mm, 177g
  • iPhone X: 143.6mm x 70.9mm x 7.7mm, 174g
  • iPhone 8 Plus: 158.4mm x 78.1mm x 7.5mm, 202g

iPhone XS Max vs X: Features and Specs

The iPhone XS Max has a new A12 Bionic chip to the A11 Bionic in the iPhone X. We have yet to test the processing power - but Apple boasts about how the A12 Bionic is the “smartest, most powerful chip in a smartphone”, pointing to amazing augmented reality experiences. In our opinion, the A11 Bionic was already fast enough, so in many ways the new chip is unlikely to make a big difference to you in day to day use. We’re yet to test the processor though, so we may be surprised.

There’s also a new Apple-designed GPU which should aid graphics performance in games and any particularly demanding apps. Apple claims the boost will mean graphics performance is “up to 50% faster than the A11 Bionic”. Apple also says it’s opened up the Neural Engine to Core ML - which basically means that apps can use real-time machine learning.

Another benefit of the new processor is that it apparently offers “up to 50% lower power” than the A11 Bionic - which should translate into better battery life. Indeed, Apple does claim better battery life, but it’s difficult to determine what the actual battery life is. In Apple’s words, the iPhone XS Max “lasts up to 1.5 hours longer than iPhone X”.

If you are wondering exactly how long that battery life is, so are we. Apple has made the same sort of claims for generations of iPhone, with each gaining a half an hour or an hour in terms of charge. At the iPhone X launch, Apple claimed that phone “lasts up to 2 hours longer than iPhone 7,” for example.

However, you can get an idea of what you can expect in various use cases from Apple’s website. For example, the iPhone XS Max should give you 13 hours Internet use or 15 hours of video playback. While the iPhone X offered 12 hours Internet use and 13 hours or video playback. More than enough to allow you to watch videos for the duration of a flight between San Francisco and London, and have enough battery left to find your hotel and contact your family to let them know you arrived safely.

We’ll attempt to run our own battery life tests, although these are notoriously difficult because a fair comparison can only really be done between new phones, using the same operating system software. It may well be the case that iOS 12 itself gives a boon to battery life, for example, but of course, the battery in an iPhone X that has had a year of use may not be as good as it was a year prior.

One measure that people may find more useful than how long a battery lasts is how quickly it can charge. According to Apple, the battery in the iPhone XS Max takes 30 minutes to charge up to 50% (using a USB-C power adapter).

Speaking of charging, apparently, when it comes to wireless charging, the XS can also charge faster then the iPhone X can.

As for the camera, the new Depth Control feature on the XS and XS Max makes it possible to adjust the blur in the background of your Portrait Mode photo, but in terms of the differences between the iPhone X and iPhone XS Max cameras, it’s not immediately apparent what the differences are. Both phones have a 12MP wide-angle (ƒ/1.8 aperture) and telephoto (ƒ/2.4 aperture) lenses on the back, and both offer dual optical image stabilization. However, the wide-angle lens has a larger sensor and larger pixels - 1.4µm on the XS and XS Max compared to 1.22µm on the iPhone X. With larger pixels the camera should be able to capture more light - which should mean better low-light photos. Other new features on the iPhone XS Max (and XS) include a 2x optical zoom.

Many of the new features are made possible by the neural engine and Image Signal Processor coupled with the A12 Bionic chip found in the iPhone XS Max (and XS). In addition to Portrait mode and Portrait Lighting, the XS models have advanced bokeh and Depth Control, as mentioned earlier. Another new feature is Smart HDR mode, which should bring a greater dynamic range (more highlights and shadow detail), according to Apple.

When it comes to viewing the images, the screen on the iPhone XS Max offers a 60% improvement in dynamic range compared to the iPhone X - so you’ll be able to see all that detail caught by the Smart HDR feature.

The front camera, aka the TrueDepth camera, still has a 7MP sensor and is still f/2.2. Apple says that Face ID should be quicker than it was on the iPhone X - but this isn’t a feature limited to the new models: Face ID on the iPhone X will benefit from a speed-enhancing software update.

Finally, one major difference between the iPhone X and the XS generation - the fast storage controller means that the 2018 iPhones can offer 512GB storage, up from a maximum of 256GB on the iPhone X. If you need that much storage then the XS models are the only iPhones to offer it.

Specifications

iPhone XS Max

iPhone X

iOS

iOS 12

iOS 12

Colours

Gold, Silver, Space Grey

Silver, Space Grey

Display

6.5in Super Retina Display (2688x1242, 458ppi) OLED

5.8in Super Retina Display (2436x1125, 458ppi) OLED

Processor

A12 Bionic

A11 Bionic

Storage

64GB/256GB/512GB

64GB/256GB

Rear camera

12Mp wide-angle, f/1.8, OIS + 12Mp telephoto, f/2.4, OIS, optical zoom, 10x digital zoom, Portrait Lighting, Portrait Mode, quad-LED flash

12Mp wide-angle, f/1.8, OIS + 12Mp telephoto, f/2.4, OIS, optical zoom, 10x digital zoom, Portrait Lighting, Portrait Mode, quad-LED flash

Front camera

7Mp FaceTime HD, f/2.2, 1080p video

7Mp FaceTime HD, f/2.2, 1080p video

Video recording

4K at 24/30/60fps, 1080p slo-mo at 240fps

4K at 24/30/60fps, 1080p slo-mo at 240fps

Biometric security

Face ID

Face ID

Wireless charging

Yes

Yes

Waterproofing

IP68

IP67

Dimensions

157.5mm x 77.4mm x 7.7mm

143.6mm x 70.9mm x 7.7mm

Weight

208g

174g

Price

£1,099/£1,249/£1,349

£1,099/£1,249/£1,349

iPhone XS Max vs X: Software and Apps

When it ships the iPhone XS Max will run iOS 12, and it is possible to upgrade any iPhone X to iOS 12, so there’s no real difference there.

However, there are a few software features that it’s possible only the iPhone XS Max (and XS) will get. These include the ability to adjust the depth of field in the Photos app, although software does exist that would allow you to do that on the iPhone X (and many other handsets). We have an article about getting Portrait Mode on an older iPhone here.

As we said earlier, the enhancements to the neural engine should mean apps can become more intelligent (using real-time machine learning) and the new GPU should aid graphics performance in games and very demanding apps, so this is where the software differences will be most apparent.

iOS 12 will bring more Animoji and the new Memoji, but these will be available on the X, XS and XS Max, so that's not a reason to choose the Max over the X. Read our iOS 12 review for more on what to expect from the iPhone software update. 

OUR VERDICT

Now that the iPhone X is no longer sold by Apple it’s unlikely that anyone is attempting to decide between the iPhone X and XS Max, other than to determine whether it would be a good update from the iPhone X.

If you are the kind of person who wants to own the latest and greatest iPhone then you are probably keen to get your hands on the iPhone XS Max and hoping to get a decent price for the iPhone X you raced to buy last year. If you have a 256GB iPhone X in excellent condition Apple will give you £550 for it, which is around half what you would have paid for it last year, but that makes the price of a new iPhone XS Max a little easier to bear.

You might get even more if you sold your iPhone X elsewhere though. For more advice read our article on selling an old iPhone https://www.macworld.co.uk/how-to/iphone/sell-iphone-3473125/).

If you aren’t looking to upgrade because you just have to have the best iPhone, then the reasons to upgrade an iPhone X to an iPhone XS Max boil down to the 512GB storage and the gold colour option. And obviously all the processor and other technical and software enhancements. Are they worth the price? We’ll considering that you could get up to £550 off the price of the new handset if you part-exchanged it at Apple, probably.

If you are actually considering purchasing an iPhone X new - or second hand - and you are wondering whether you should, or if the iPhone XS Max would be a better fit, we’d say, go ahead, if the price is right. The iPhone X is a great iPhone and you will probably be doing someone who is desperate to get their hands on an iPhone XS Max a favour.

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