The iPhone XS Max review from a iPhone 6 Plus user

I use this photo as my Twitter avatar for years! I pulled out my iPhone 3G from the jeans pocket, just as Steve Jobs pulled out the iPod nano from his jeans to demonstrate how small the nano was.

I am an iPhone user since the first iPhone was sold in Malaysia - the iPhone 3G. I was one of those fans who went for the midnight launch in KLCC. That was how much I wanted the iPhone after watching Steve Jobs’ keynote for many times over. Since then, I have upgraded to a iPhone 4, 5s and finally a 6 Plus and I have been using the 6 Plus for the longest time, around 4 years. The 6 Plus was a leap in the iPhone experience - simply because it transitioned into Big Screen. 

When the iPhone X was launched last year, I was really close to buying it. It was a new iPhone experience - full screen edge to edge, OLED screen (as opposed to 10 years of LCD), no Home button (new gesture-base navigation), Face ID vs Touch ID. It wasn’t the camera or improved photography that made me want the X because those functions already existed in iPhone 7 and 8. I didn’t upgrade then, so I don’t think the camera was a good enough reason. But the whole new experience of using a iPhone? Sign me up!

Can you imagine the lust I had for the X back then? I imagined myself buying the white version and finally being able to pull a new white iPhone X from my jeans pocket, just as the photo above. And finally getting to update my Twitter avatar. That would have been be a perfect time to leap into a new iPhone experience and the new photo would be the perfect homecoming. But alas!  I didn’t go with X simply because I read that physically, the width of the iPhone X is the same as the iPhone 7 or iPhone 6s, not the Plus model. That means, the keyboard will be smaller for a 6 Plus user. And some claimed that 6 Plus users made more error typing on the X phones because of the smaller size. This was a major deal breaker for me!

When the iPhone Xs Max was announced this year, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the iPhone that I wanted. Even though Apple announced a new Xs (which is the same size as the X, a no-go for me), and a slightly bigger Xr (it is smaller than a Max and it is a LCD screen), both of these phones felt like a compromise.

And so, I went with the Xs Max, 256GB and Space Grey. I wanted the white and the stainless steel silver band looks absolutely gorgeous. But seeing it in person, the shade of white Apple chose looked like dishwasher water white. Instead of the bright, pearl white that was the 3G, they went with a muted and more "dirtier" white. It really does look like dishwasher water. The gold was a tad too bling for me, although the muted gold colour is quite nice in person. Space Grey is safer.

I chose 256GB due to more high res photos and videos I expected to take with this new phone. I wouldn't mind 128GB, it would have served my need (a strong plus point for the Xr), but alas, 256GB is the only logical version.

So what do I think?

1. the OLED screen was freaking amazing!!! The colour was just so bright, so livid and so beautiful. Twitterrific in all black, true black, was just eye popping! Many a times, iPhone users prior to X envied Samsung OLED phones. Now, we could get the same experience. 

Full screen edge to edge made the iPhone feels totally like a new device. It's like Apple had a new device, totally different from what they have and it's not about being able to see more iMessage or more WhatsApp messages or more of your favourite website but just holding a screen with no bezels feel so different and awesome.

2. the speed - ok, I expected that this iPhone is fast since I am coming from a 6 Plus which lagged and crawled but I never expected it to be so fast and so smooth! When I multi task in the 6 Plus, whenever I switched from one app to the next and then back to the app, the earlier app have to be reloaded from scratch. For instance, I could be in Tapatalk and looking at a forum, I multi task out to answer a WhatsApp and then back to Tapatalk. Tapatalk kicked me out of the forum and I have to start all over from the main interface! The iPhone Xs has 4GB of RAM, a lot of memory for app to swap into and stayed there temporary while you jumped into another app.
I used iOS 12 Screen Recording, then used Siri Shortcuts to convert video to GIF  (sorry for the low res and lower frame rate. I don't think Blogger can take video)
Face ID was super fast. When I tried to login to a website, I can now tap to get my user id and password from Keychain or Lastpass, it doesn't matter which. Face ID immediately recognize me and grabbed the userid/password and filled up for me. Look at this screen recording, which btw, is a new cool feature in iOS 12. With Touch ID, there is a very small delay for the dialogue box to come up to instruct you to put your finger into the Touch ID. Then, there is a delay as you start to put your finger onto the home button. With Face ID, it was instantaneous because you are already looking at the screen!

3. the delightful experience - (1) and (2) above worked hand in hand to help with the experience of using the Xs Max. Everything was buttery smooth. You remember a time when using Apple products and things are just very zippy and fast (I remember seeing a Steve Jobs keynote where he was snapping his fingers and saying zippy)? Over the years of using the 6 Plus, I have resigned to a slow experience when using the phone. Tap on the Phone icon and there is a 0.1 second delay before it appear. Tap WhatsApp and there is a delay. Scrolling, multitasking, flipping from app to app, running workflow/shortcuts, pull down on notification, work on the notification on the spot, etc ... just so fast and very productive for a busy person. It's really night and day from the 6 Plus. I felt I have wasted productivity time in the past.

There's a few little touches that made this phone such a delight to use. When turning the volume button on and off, there is a slight haptic feedback. When you pull down to refresh or when you upvote on Reddit, you get a haptic feedback. When some apps support True Black and you turn that on and it feels like a different app, that was nice. When the phone rang and you picked up the phone and the ringtone volume starts to tone down (this feature is called "Attention Aware Features" in Face ID settings). Siri works much, much better because of the speed. Lots of little touches which I discovered made me glee like a child with a new toy. I was also relieved when two of the apps that I used often, CamCard and Scanner Pro, does not crash anymore due to the clunky camera in the 6 Plus.

4. the other good stuff - water resistant - no more fear of dropping into the pool or long-kang. Superb stereo speaker and recording video in stereo sound. The 2x camera but I think it's better you read Daring Fireball review - Portrait mode, computational photography. 

5. the bad - I only have a couple of complaints:
a. it is heavier as compared to the 6 Plus. I think the reason is due to the stainless steel band, which is heavier than aluminum. I also think the battery is thicker, maybe - or it has the wireless charging thingy which added the the weight.

b. the price - yes, it is the most expensive iPhones ever! Even with telco subsidy with 2 year contract, it is just too expensive for a phone. I rationalize by the fact that Apple phone can last for 4 years and so the ROI, if I take care of it well, will be recouped. 

P.S. there have been a few recommendations from the forum I frequented and the podcast I listened to on the Apple leather case. While it is not cheap at RM199, it wasn't terribly expensive either and so, I decided to trust the forum people and podcaster and bought the Saddle Brown leather case. Firstly, the leather feels really nice. The case fits the phone snugly and you feel assured that the phone is protected. The metal buttons on the case are anodized  in brown and they feel nice to press, not plasticky at all. And with leather, it will only aged gracefully and the longer you use, the better the leather will break and age. Let's see how it is one or two years later. The only problem is that, like all Apple cases (including the silicon ones), the bottom are exposed. I guess they have to expose it so that you can plug the lightning connector and that the speaker grille are free to blast out beautiful sounds.

Why not Xr?
Friends asked me this questions. Many reviews are touting Xr as being the best value for money iPhone of this generation. You get full screen experience, you get Face ID. It is fast because all the internals are the same as Xs (the same A12 Bionic chip, neural engine, bla) and it is much, much cheaper!

I knew all these before I bought the Max and here are my rationale: I'm not young and already have "lou fah" where I will need to use reading glasses to see properly. If this phone is going to last me another 4 years, by that time, my eye sight who have deteriorated further and I will not be able to enjoy OLED screen. I might as well enjoy that superb OLED screen now!

Secondly, I love taking photos of the kids. So, having good camera and beautiful pictures are what I want now. The Xs has the best camera in the phone, period. And I wanted that.


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