At its big event last week, Apple continued its tradition of rolling out a standard and a supersized version of its newest iPhone. This time, we got the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max, the latter coming in at a pocket-busting size of 6.5 inches. Has the big phone finally gotten too big?
For anyone debating which one to get, my subjective verdict is yes. After a few days of testing, the iPhone XS Max feels too big for most people.
The tip of my middle finger to the base of my palm is just over 8 inches. I’m also 5’11” and fond of tacos, which is to say, I’m not petite. But using the Max with one hand is difficult. To reach the top left app on my home screen, I need two hands, or I have to tilt the phone over to reach it with my thumb.
Yes, the Max does have Reachability, so you can swipe down from the bottom chin to bring the top of whatever app you’re in closer to the middle. But…I can’t be the only person who thinks taking two steps to do what could take one action is (unreasonably) irritating.
Going back to the iPhone 6 Plus, I’ve always gone for the biggest phone that’s not a tablet. As with a TV, everything looks better on a bigger display. I don’t like sending emails by phone because I can’t see the entirety of a message, but a bigger phone means you can see more of the message. And as someone who uses my phone for driving with Waze, quickly glancing for traffic updates, I’ll take all the screen I can get.
But honestly, in a little under a year or so with an iPhone X, I haven’t wanted for more screen. And the footprint of the XS Max is just big enough to make it hard to forget you’ve got it in your pocket.
The enormity of the XS Max would be less of an issue if it were more capable than the XS, which, at 5.8 inches, is the same size as the iPhone X released in 2017. But it isn’t. Back in the era iPhone 7 and 8, the Plus version of the iPhone had dual-lens cameras with Portrait Mode, a serious upgrade over the smaller device. The XS Max’s main advantages over the XS boil down to a larger display, being able to run two apps at the same time while in landscape mode, and a slightly bigger battery.
I’m not sure yet whether the XS Max’s extra 0.7 inches of display is worth the bigger size and $100 over the regular XS. Same as when the iPhone 6 Plus and X first came out, some important apps haven’t yet been optimized to use the entirety of the display. Here’s to hoping that changes quickly.
The most important features are the same on both phones. The (incredible) A12 system-on-a-chip that make them so fast are in both the XS and the XS Max. And, crucially, the cameras are the same. However, testing the XS Max made it abundantly clear that a bigger phone exacerbates the ergonomic problem at the heart of smartphone photography. Precariously holding thin glass between your fingers while not obstructing the screen is clumsy. For all its drawbacks, a real camera, even a point-and-shoot, feels like a precision tool by comparison.
But for any potential iPhone customer, or Apple skeptics for that matter, I’ll say the same thing I did about the iPhone X when it came out last year. I live by the advice that you should spend as much as you can afford for stuff you use every day—a good mattress, a good TV. Most of us use a phone every day, and having one that crashes or slows down is a drag. Yes, Apple’s phones are expensive. And for all except a few, getting the newest and greatest won’t make you more productive than a refurbished iPhone 7. But I don’t know anyone who bought an iPhone X and regretted it. I feel the same about the XS and XS Max.
Just try to visit an Apple Store and hold them before deciding.