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iPhone XS Max review

Apple's big, aging iPhone XS Max is still top quality

An iPhone XS Max in someone's hand, with the screen on

iPhone XS Max: verdict

The iPhone XS Max is something special. This is the first time Apple has really pushed its screen size boundaries, and by offering a huge 6.5-inch display it's made its smartphone line attractive to a new segment of potential customers.

Apple's App Store and iTunes are filled with great apps, games, movies and TV shows, and the firm now, finally, has a handset that can really make the most of them thanks to the massive screen on the iPhone XS Max.

The extra screen real estate will be music to the ears of gamers, while HDR support will please those addicted to Netflix and Amazon Prime video – and while the iPhone XS Max screen isn't the best on the market, it is the best screen on an iPhone, ever.

Apple's updates to the rear cameras (over the iPhone X) are minimal, but the ability to adjust the background blur on portrait shots and the improved Smart HDR mode offer greater flexibility and ultimately better image quality.

And while the iPhone XS Max is a big phone, it's also impressively compact. It's a touch smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus, but has a much larger display (6.5 inches vs 5.5 inches). It will still dominate your hand, but it's not as unwieldy as you might expect for a phone with a screen this size.

Ultimately though, it's the iPhone XS Max price that will likely be the sticking point for many. There's simply no getting away from the fact that this is a very expensive smartphone, even years on from launch.

The iPhone XS offers everything the Max does bar the 6.5-inch display, for less, while the iPhone XR has a 6.1-inch display and even lower price tag, although it does make compromises in other areas. And if you really do have loads to spend then there's also the newer, even more powerful iPhone 11 Pro Max to consider.

An iPhone XS Max in someone's hand, from the back

Who's it for?

The iPhone XS Max is for those looking for the biggest screen of Apple's smartphone line. The firm has never offered a handset with a screen as big as the one on the iPhone XS Max, and that alone will have power users, gamers and video streamers champing at the bit.

You'll need the funds to bankroll your XS Max investment though, so if you're on a tight budget you may want to consider the more affordable iPhone XR. 

While if money is no object and you want the best screen Apple has ever put on an iPhone, the newer iPhone 11 Pro Max is your phone. But the iPhone XS Max strikes a decent middle ground.

Should I buy it?

The iPhone XS Max is a premium smartphone that looks and feels the part. Sure it's expensive, but if your budget stretches you're unlikely to be disappointed with what you get in return.

As we've already mentioned, you won't find a bigger screen on an iPhone, and there's a huge amount of power inside the handset, which should ensure performance stays high throughout its lifetime.

An iPhone XS Max in someone's hand, from the back

If our iPhone XS Max review has you worried that it may be too big for you, or that its price tag is way above your budget, have no fear, as we've pulled together some of the best alternatives to the iPhone XS Max below.

iPhone 11 Pro Max

An iPhone 11 Pro Max with its screen on, leaning against a vase

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The iPhone 11 Pro Max is the successor to the iPhone XS Max and it has the same size screen coupled with even more power and an extra rear camera lens.

There are other changes too - the battery life is better on the iPhone 11 Pro Max, the design has been tweaked a little, and the speakers are better, but this isn't a vast upgrade.

It's also more expensive than the iPhone XS Max can currently be found for, so you should think hard about whether the improvements here are really things you need. But if you simply want the best big Apple phone, then this is it.

iPhone XS

An iPhone XS in someone's hand, displaying the lock screen

iPhone XS

The iPhone XS has the same design, power, operating system and cameras as the XS Max; it just delivers them in a smaller package, and with a smaller, 5.8-inch display.

If you know that you want the latest Apple flagship phone, then you need to make the decision between the easier to handle, and slightly less expensive, iPhone XS, and the pricier, big screen-toting XS Max.

For those who watch a lot of movies, or are big into top mobile games such as PUBG and Fortnite, the extra screen real estate on the XS Max provides a better experience over the iPhone XS. However, for more general users the iPhone XS will likely be more tempting.

iPhone XR

iPhone XR stood up outside

iPhone XR (Image credit: TechRadar)

The iPhone XR offers up a large screen at a much lower price compared to the iPhone XS Max. It's still not 'cheap', but it at least gives you a viable alternative if the Max's price tag is simply too high.

You get a 6.1-inch display, which is smaller than the XS Max, but larger than the XS, with Apple's new A12 Bionic chip under the hood ensuring you have the latest power at your fingertips.

Its single rear camera isn't as good as the dual setup on the XS Max or XS, the LCD screen technology isn't as punchy as the OLED panel, and you don't get 3D Touch, wireless charging or HDR support for video playback.

iPhone 8 Plus

An iPhone 8 Plus in someone's hand, with the screen on

iPhone 8 Plus

The iPhone 8 Plus is now a year old, but with the arrival of the XS Max it's had a price cut and has one feature its replacement can't boast: a Touch ID fingerprint scanner.

If you're still committed to the finger-reading tech and want a large screen then the iPhone 8 Plus is your best choice. The screen size may only be 5.5 inches, but you do get a home button, and a glass rear with wireless charging capabilities.

There's a powerful dual camera round the back as well, and while it may not be quite as good as the snappers on the XS Max it's still an accomplished offering. It's also been upgraded to iOS 12, so its software matches the latest iPhones.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

A Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus stood up outside, with foliage behind it

If you're open to Android then you might want to consider the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus as an alternative.

This is arguably the closest Android competitor to the iPhone XS Max, though the starting price is a chunk less at $999 / £899 / AU$1,499.

The Galaxy S10 Plus has a marginally smaller but still massive 6.4-inch screen, and it's higher resolution at 1440 x 3040. It also avoids the notch, opting instead for a punch-hole.

There's an in-screen fingerprint scanner and more cameras than you might know what to do with, including three on the back and two on the front. The S10 Plus also has plenty of power, just like the iPhone XS Max. They're both top flagships with the operating system being the main difference.

First reviewed: September 2018

Gareth Beavis
Gareth Beavis


Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.