iPhone XS Max review: It’s an iPad too

I’m tossing my tablet.

This week, I sold my iPad Pro. Apple's iPhone XS Max, which I’ve been using for almost a week, is not a perfect replacement, but the Max’s large display is big enough and the new A12 Bionic processor is fast enough to replicate a tablet. (But I reserve the right to upgrade to a future iPad if my iPad-less experiment doesn’t pan out in the long run.)

The tablet-replacement litmus test for me is video and books. With the giant, 6.5-inch display on the iPhone XS Max, movies get the real estate they deserve. The same goes for Kindle books.

That wasn’t the case with the 5.8-inch display on the 2017 iPhone X, which I used for a year. The iPhone X is actually an elongated iPhone 8 – as Apple developer guidelines point out – and the display just wasn’t roomy enough to be a full-time tablet stand-in.


There are other benefits to a larger screen. They include apps, like Mail, that can do a dual-pane split view. Generally speaking, any app that breathes a little easier with more display space, such as social media, maps and of course games, would probably want to stick with a tablet’s larger display.

Size, of course, has its downside too. The XS Max is heavier than the iPhone X and XS. But we’re only talking about 30 grams here, a tiny difference.

Besides being big

I haven’t had a chance to test every new iPhone XS Max feature yet, but I have put the main (rear) camera through its paces and compared it to the camera on the iPhone X.

The upshot is, in comparing a bunch of almost-identical photos I took with both cameras, the XS Max edged out the older X consistently in low light conditions. That’s important because low-light conditions are more common than you may think. Low-light conditions are not limited to just evening or nighttime or indoor scenes.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the XS Max is better in low light and why its photos yield more detail and tend to be brighter. We do know, however, that the iPhone XS and XS Max’s camera comes with improvements such as larger sensors for boosting image quality and Smart HDR, which Apple says delivers more highlight and shadow detail to photos.



I’ve found very little to complain about so far. Apple has succeeded in delivering real, tangible, upgrade-worthy improvements with the XS Max.

That said, it doesn’t compare as favorably as I would have expected with my Google Pixel 2 XL, a 6-inch smartphone announced last year. The Pixel 2 XL has a big OLED display like the Max and is also a very capable tablet stand-in. And it feels better in the hand than the iPhone XS Max. The Pixel 2 XL also has a remarkably good camera, even compared to Apple’s latest camera in the XS and XS Max.

And Google is expected to announce its newest Pixel smartphone next week. Watch your back Apple.