iPhone XS and XS Max Review Roundup: Should You Upgrade?

If there is any launch this year that matters to Apple fans, it’s the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

This time around, Apple’s new iPhones are of the “S” variety. That means there’s no dramatic technology breakthrough in this year’s iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max and that the upgrades, while nice, won’t necessarily make your current iPhone obsolete.

Still, Apple’s new iPhone XS Max, with its 6.5-inch screen, is headlining the 2018 charge. And its big, gorgeous screen might prove to be a major selling point. Add that to the new A12 Bionic chip, some camera upgrades, and improved LTE connectivity, and this could be the year to buy a new Apple handset.

Before you do, though, hear from the critics and find out if this year’s iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max are good buys.

Tom’s Guide

Rating: 4.5/5

Tom’s Guide Editor-in-Chief Mark Spoonauer generally liked what he saw from Apple’s iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. He acknowledged that the handsets are “pricey” and didn’t necessarily like the base 64GB storage offering, but felt overall that the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max are outstanding choices.

“Some may prefer to wait for the iPhone XR coming in October, but if you want a superior OLED display, dual rear cameras and less bezel, I'd splurge on the iPhone XS Max for it's even bigger screen.”

 The Good 

“The 5.8-inch iPhone XS ($999) has all the same enhancements as its supersize sibling, including a faster A12 Bionic processor that blows away Android phones (again), as well as improved cameras with Smart HDR and impressive bokeh controls. But it's the Xs Max that I didn't want to put down.”

“Whichever iPhone model you choose, it looks gorgeous in gold. I like the way the glass back plays with ambient light to deliver different shades, while the shiny color-matched stainless steel adds a hint of bling.”

“Bigger and bolder than anything Apple has ever put in a phone, the iPhone XS Max's OLED display is a sight to behold.”

The Bad

“Does the iPhone XS beat the Pixel 2 XL at portraits with its two rear cameras? Not quite. In this shot of my colleague Caitlin, the iPhone XS' picture looks a bit too warm, while the exposure on the Pixel 2 XL looks more natural given the lighting conditions.

“The iPhone XS turned in a just-OK battery life of 9 hours and 41 minutes, which is slightly below the smartphone category average of 9:48.”

“The iPhone XS Max starts at $1,099 for 64GB, and goes up to $1,249 for 256GB and a whopping $1,449 for 512GB. Yes, that's more than a 13-inch MacBook Pro.”

The Verge

Rating 8.5/10

Over at The Verge, Nilay Patel was similarly pleased with the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. He noted that the handsets don’t offer a major upgrade over the iPhone X, but he was happy with the updates they did deliver. And although he doesn’t like the “Max” branding, he’s quite pleased with the iPhone XS’ screen size.

“Really, both iPhone XS models are fundamentally spec-bump updates to the iPhone X, with a new main camera sensor, a new processor, and a bunch of small updates that add up to a much nicer device than the X.”

The Good

“So yes, if you want a huge screen, get a Max. It’s a gigantic, beautiful screen, and I have enjoyed looking at it a lot.”

“The camera upgrades on the XS over the X are significant — the XS makes the X camera look terrible most of the time.”

MORE: iPhone Xs Max and iPhone Xs Review: This Is Obscene

“I mostly tested the XS Max, and it did great — better than even Apple’s claim of 90 minutes more then the X. In fact, I got a full 12 hours of battery life out of the XS Max without low power mode, and that’s even under my heavy daily use of constant Slack and email usage, video watching, photo taking, and browsing.”

The Bad

“To pull down notification or control center on the XS Max, you have to reach the very top of the device. I have big hands and I basically can’t do it without tipping the phone over in my hand — I ended up having to use two hands most of the time.”

“The Max also doesn’t really do a ton in software to take advantage of that big display: no extra row of home screen icons, or picture in picture for video.”

“Not having a headphone jack or USB-C is still very sad, especially because the entirely Apple-controlled Lightning ecosystem is extremely weak: there are very few Lightning headphones, zero third-party headphone dongles, and exactly one certified iPhone X battery case… that isn’t yet certified for the XS.”


Rating: iPhone XS: 8.9/10 iPhone XS Max: 8.9/10

CNET’s Scott Stein noted that the iPhone XS offers impressive camera upgrades and built upon an “already-great iPhone X.” And although he was impressed by the iPhone XS Max’s display, he really wasn’t happy with its “expensive” price tag.

“The supersize iPhone XS Max crams a 6.5-inch screen and all of the same great features of the iPhone XS into a Plus-sized body -- but it’s not as huge a leap up as you might think.”

The Good

“The iPhone XS has a markedly improved dual camera, delivering better photos than the iPhone X in both dark and high-contrast environments.”

“Face ID on the new phones is faster, although sometimes not as dramatically as I'd have liked. It can now unlock the phone nearly as fast as a finger swipe. (You still need to swipe to finish the unlock process, rather than just staring at your phone.)”

“The notch at the top of the XS Max is the same as the X and XS, and it feels like it vanishes more on the larger-bodied phone, making the all-screen effect more immersive. By the way, it's a damn nice display... the OLED looks better this time around, and I've enjoyed looking at it. It's my favorite Apple device display.”

The Bad

“This just isn't affordable for any normal person, and the Max seems to acknowledge it's a specialty product. The amount of storage I'd use on a phone like this would be at least 128GB, but there isn't a 128GB storage tier... just a 256GB, for $1,249.”

“That third new iPhone, the iPhone XR, may be the best pick for anyone upgrading from any iPhone other than the 2017 iPhone X.”


Rating: 8/10

Wired reviewer Lauren Goode was clear in her review of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max: the handsets offer “an evolution, not a revolution.” Goode was impressed by the A12 Bionic’s outstanding performance and thought the iPhone’s new stereo sound was “great.” But she questioned whether anyone who has an iPhone X would really need to upgrade.

“I still think you shouldn’t feel like you have to upgrade if you invested in last year’s phones—or even if you have a slightly older phone, like an iPhone 7.”

The Good

“The photos I captured on the new iPhone XS and XS Max are undoubtedly better than the ones I took on the iPhone 8 Plus, and slightly improved from the iPhone X photos.”

“Overall, the OLED displays on these phones are beautiful, though largely unchanged from last year’s X.”

“Apple has nudged innovation in smartphones forward again, even if some of the results (like new apps that will use the new tech) have yet to be experienced.”

The Bad

“I’m already seeing a hairline scratch on the face of the iPhone XS, something that the iPhone X was prone to, as well.”

“The phones still ship with USB-A cables, even though modern MacBooks use USB-C. These are small things, but it’s hard to imagine the Apple of even just five years ago forcing such tradeoffs onto its customers.”

The New York Times

Rating: No score provided

At The New York Times, reviewer Brian Chen admitted that in years past, he hasn’t been enthralled with iPhones or any other handsets growing in size. But when he examined the iPhone XS Max and compared it to the iPhone XS, he was sold on the bigger screen size. Still, like most reviewers, the handsets’ hefty price tags were enough to make him question the investment.

“As a self-diagnosed phone addict who is trying to cut down on screen time, I decided the XS also felt healthier for me. The XS Max screen was so good-looking that I wanted to keep reading articles and looking at photos on Instagram.”

The Good

“After running the 6.5-inch XS Max alongside the 5.8-inch XS through different situations and conditions for a week, I was surprised by my reaction. Far from being disappointed by the supersized devices, I was delighted.”

“While the XS and XS Max share identical camera systems, which produce excellent, clear photos with natural-looking colors in normal and lowlight conditions, the smaller phone worked better in a pinch because it was easier to pull out of a pocket and quickly stabilize to take a clear shot.”

The Bad

“One flaw frustrated me in both iPhones: the poor design of Reachability, the software feature that was designed to make larger phone screens easier to use with one hand.”

“I found I simply preferred the XS’s smaller body for the very basic task of moving around. Having the smaller phone in my pocket felt less obtrusive during dog walks, long hikes and gym sessions.”

USA Today

Rating: No score provided

Longtime iPhone reviewer Ed Baig at USA Today said that he experienced all kinds of nice features in the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, including solid performance, outstanding camera quality, and a vibrant screen. Be he questioned whether their high prices made them worth your hard-earned cash.

“The iPhone XS and XS Max are the best iPhones Apple has ever made, and I expect those of you who buy them will be thrilled.”

The Good

“If you’ve read the specifications, you already know that the iPhone XS Max has a beautiful edge-to-edge 6.5-inch OLED display, the largest ever on an iPhone – it makes the iPhone XS, despite its own large 5.8-inch screen, look relatively puny.”

“The new gold finish of my test unit – the other available colors are space gray and silver – is really attractive.”

“Apple says the latest device can also withstand everyday spills of wine, tea, beer, soda and other liquids. To put it to the test, I intentionally spilled coffee on the XS Max. I wiped the phone dry and was immediately good to go.”

The Bad

“The new iPhones supports faster charging and that's great – about a 50 percent charge in a half-hour, Apple says. Unfortunately, you'll only see such results with an optional USB-C accessory, and not the slower charger included in the box.”

“Apple no longer includes a $9 adapter in the box that you can use with your existing wired headphones. It smacks of stinginess. I get that Apple is pushing wireless Bluetooth headphones, especially on its own AirPods and Beats products. But still.”

Credit: Tom's Guide

Don Reisinger is CEO and founder of D2 Tech Agency. A communications strategist, consultant, and copywriter, Don has also written for many leading technology and business publications including CNET, Fortune Magazine, The New York Times, Forbes, Computerworld, Digital Trends, TechCrunch and Slashgear. He has also written for Tom's Guide for many years, contributing hundreds of articles on everything from phones to games to streaming and smart home.