An Apple Inc. iPhone XS Max, center, and iPhone XS smartphones sit on display during a sales launch at a store in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

A Weekend With Apple’s iPhone XS Max

(Bloomberg) -- For those of us who cover Apple and consumer technology, last week was a busy one. On Friday, Apple’s new high-end iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, both went on sale. 

The upgrades aren’t particularly significant year-over-year overhauls like the iPhone X was last year, but Apple fans still swooned over the devices—some of the most expensive mainstream phones on the planet—lining up for hours before Apple retail outlets opened across the world on Friday. After months of using last year's iPhone X model, I have been using the XS Max since Friday afternoon. Here’s what I like about the XS Max, what I don't like, and whether you should make the leap (depending on what device you have now). 

What I Like:

  • Massive screen for video: The 6.5-inch screen, the largest ever in an iPhone by an inch diagonally (which is significant in the phone world) is great for watching videos. I think the screen is now large enough to a be an iPad replacement for Netflix or movies from iTunes on a long flight. 
  • Upgraded camera: The new Depth Control feature on the XS line is a nice-to-have addition: you can take a Portrait Mode photo (which blurs the background) and then adjust the strength of the blur afterwards. Photos taken with the device, overall look slightly crisper and more accurate in terms of colors as well, compared to photos taken with the iPhone X. 
  • Battery life: Apple says that the XS Max gets an hour and a half more battery life than the iPhone X, meaning about 15 hours of video or 25 hours of a talk time on a single charge. Most people, including myself, just care about getting through an entire day on a single charge. After a few days of use, I feel confident that the battery life on the XS Max is one of its most impressive features. 

What I Don’t Like:

  • iOS is not fully optimized for the larger screen: When I first got my hands on the iPhone 6 Plus back in 2014, it felt like it was running a version of iOS optimized just for it. The home screen worked in landscape mode, nearly all the core apps were optimized with dual-pane views to take advantage of the larger screen, and the keyboard was widened with special controls. It felt like a mini iPad.
  • Unfortunately, the iPhone XS Max is a bit different: the keyboard sits in the center of the screen in landscape mode versus being widened, there’s no landscape home screen support, and apps like Mail require a gesture to open the secondary pane of information. It just feels like the hardware is ahead of the software—and that’s just for Apple’s programs, not third parties, which still have to update their apps. 
  • There is also no sign of iPad-exclusive features like picture-in-picture mode (the ability to, for example, watch a YouTube video while browsing your email), or drag-and-drop between apps. These would have been ideal enhancements for the larger iPhone screen. 
  • Lack of bundled fast-charging solution: The latest iPhones still come with the same 5-watt charging adapter that has been included with the iPhone since the second-generation version launched in 2008. A decade later, the iPhone XS Max’s battery has nearly three times as much capacity yet still uses a charger of the same speed as the 2008 model. Given that the high-end iPhones now cost north of $1000, Apple should be including a faster charger in the box. You can buy a fast-charging solution from Apple for an extra $70. 

This All Leads to the Question: Should You Upgrade?

If you paid $1,000 or more for an iPhone X last year, I wouldn’t upgrade to the iPhone XS. There’s not enough new to make it worth paying another $1,000 a year later. (Unless you really, really want that massive XS Max screen.) However, if you’re coming from anything older than an iPhone X, or seeking to switch from Android, now is a great time to upgrade. Alternately, you can wait for the iPhone XR to hit the market, which has a larger screen than the iPhone XS and is marketed as just as fast, but costs $250 less. Of course, if you’re on a monthly installment plan with the option to upgrade every year, this is all a moot point. If you don’t have to pay much extra, of course you should trade up. 

And here’s what you need to know in today’s global technology news:

In other Apple news, on Monday the company released macOS Mojave, its new operating system for Mac laptops and desktops. For the first time, users can run some Apple iOS appslike News, Stocks, Home and Voice Memos.

Snap and Amazon strike a deal: you'll now be able to use the Snapchat app to look up products on Amazon.

SiriusXM is eating up the rest of Pandora, acquiring the music streaming service in a $3.5 billion all-stock deal. The internet radio company had already owned a significant stake in the music service.
 

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