“When we have a baby, you can buy a new phone.”
This was the deal struck between Abby and myself. I’ve been rocking the iPhone Xs Max since its launch on September 21, 2018.1 It was the first iPhone I bought outright and unlocked – no trade-ins, no payments.2 I rocked the Max in Space Gray with 256GB of storage for $1,549.36.
I was stoked. This was the exact phone I wanted. Gone was TouchID with FaceID taking its place. The OLED screen would give content those inky blacks. I finally entered the Max Club3 – part wanting a larger phone and part because Apple put my name in a product’s name. And we cannot forget the camera system with SmartHDR and my first foray with a telephoto lens on an iPhone. This may have been the first picture I took with the snazzy camera (very on brand), while I remember this being my first portrait mode picture. This was the best Apple had to offer and I was fortunate enough to buy it.
When we found out we were finally pregnant (and that she was sticking around) – after the obvious celebration – I remembered our deal. 2022 was upgrade year.
Going into this year’s iPhone 14 event, I was more amped than normal. Those events are always more exciting when you know you are going to buy on of the products right at launch. I think the last Apple event I felt like that was the iPhone Xs Max event.
Every year, major reviews discuss the year-over-year leaps (or for some years, hops) that Apple makes with their flagship device. This is the nature of the gig. These creators have to stay on the bleeding edge. iPhone reviews do huge numbers.4 The catch is, I think most folks don’t upgrade year over year.5 So zeroing in on the one year gap ignores the multi-year bound people make when going from say, an iPhone Xs Max to an iPhone 14 Pro Max…👀
The week before the iPhone event, ATP conducts exit interviews for the outgoing phones and watches. I thought I could do a similar thing for my iPhone Xs Max. Instead of an interview, I guess it’ll be a review because I am all by myself. Time to look back on the first Max phone before I get what could be the last.
I felt the same about the jump to OLED as I do about my impending jump to 120Hz; incredible technology I couldn’t wait to have in my life daily. Before my iPhone Xs Max, the only OLED device in my life was the PlayStation Vita.6
The color recreation and accuracy makes my nerdy heart sing. I get satisfaction knowing my blacks are black. One year after the Xs, iOS 13 entered the world with Dark Mode. I have been living the #DarkMode lifestyle ever since.
One major concern with OLED though is burn-in. Leave an image on an OLED screen too long and part of said image with leave pixel-seared branding behind. This can be avoided by not leaving the same image on a screen, use screen savers, etc. Gaming presents an issue, thanks to game HUDs.
Phones are different though. While the bulk of the screen does have dynamic content, the status indicators never move. And four years in, my iPhone Xs Max has faint burnt pixels in the upper righthand corner. I didn’t notice until a few months ago. I was swiping around and the indicators vanished during a transition and I caught sight of their ghostly remnants.
Has this impacted my use of the phone? Nope. I can’t see them unless I am trying, like loading up a white screen and forcing the indicators away. My cell reception, Wi-Fi, and battery never leave though. The only exception would be video. The marks are so faint and tucked in the corner next to the notch that I don’t even pay attention. It bugs me more knowing the burnt pixels are there than their actual existence.
I am concerned about the new Always-On Display for the iPhone 14 Pro though. Now the time, widgets, status indicators, and possibly more will always be on my screen, should I keep the feature turned on. I can’t help but wonder how this will impact the longevity of the screen and its pixels. How quickly will this brand the pixels? If it took me four years to notice burn-in on my Xs Max, how soon will I notice it on my 14 Pro Max?
Performance and iOS Support
The iPhone Xs launched alongside iOS 12, which feels like a lifetime ago in software. This was before Dark Mode, widgets, and Focus Modes. It was the year Workflow was transformed into Shortcuts and integrated on the system level. In the past six years, Shortcuts has become the baseline and future of automation, not just on the iPhone, but for the iPad, Watch, and Mac.
Based on Apple’s trends of software support, I should expect at least another two years of iOS for this phone. Their long-term support is wonderful to see. In these past four years, the iPhone experience has gone from refinement to personal innovation. Looking back at Federico Viticci’s iOS 12 review to his brand new iOS 16 review shows the drastic evolution. In some ways, my Xs Max is not the same phone I bought four years ago.
Performance wise, the A12 Bionic is starting to show its age. Spotlight is less responsive. There are hang ups happen on the daily. Snapping pictures in apps (i.e. tapping the camera icon in iMessage or Tweetbot) is so slow that it is painful. Comparing to the A16 Bionic, I’ll be gaining one GPU core and doubling the Neural Engine form 8 cores to 16 cores. It’d be an understatement to say I am eager for the responsiveness of a new phone.
I do think it is important to say though, that if we were not having a baby this year, I believe I could comfortably ride out my Xs Max for another year. I’m not at the point of frustration or the device being unusable. The phone has aged gracefully and enters retirement at the right time.
Another area of decline has been the battery life. This year has been the year where I went from “I can make it the whole day without charging” to “I need a mid-day charge.” I am a heavy user and have been the phones enter run. I’ve never been an auto-brightness person.7
Currently, my battery capacity is reported at 83%, while my battery peak performance capability is “supporting normal peak performance.” Say that five times fast.
Going from 83% to 100% along with all of the performance gains, battery size increases, and optimizations over the last four years, I am not sure I am actually prepared for the longevity. Could this be a two day phone at the start? I have no idea and I am giddy to find out.
When upgrading your phone, who isn’t amped for their new and improved camera? I was jazzed in 2018. I am jazzed in 2022. One trend I was not jazzed about in the intervening years was the removal of my beloved 2x telephoto lens. Then Apple blessed me with its pseudo-return thanks to the new 48MP sensor.
I spoke about this on The Max Frequency Podcast with Casey Liss this week, but the range of focal lengths on the iPhone 14 Pro line come off to me as useful and flexible. Having 0.5x, 1x, 2x, and 3x just makes practical sense. It reads like having a Swiss Army knife of camera lenses at my disposal at a moment’s notice.
The Xs Max has been my camera up until I bought a Canon 90D a couple years ago for work. I’ve been snapping thousands of pictures with this thing for years. Most of the time, they are silly shots. I haven’t been able to use my phone as the de facto group or event camera in years. I always urge the use of the latest and/or best camera present. I feel like my Xs Max aged more rapidly than other phone cameras though. The leaps in computational photography within the last three years has been astounding to observe from the outside—from Apple, Google, and Samsung. It’ll be nice to have a relevant camera in the group again and I hope it stays relevant for longer than my Xs Max did.
I do have to stick up for my tiny camera bump phone though. I feel like in the past couple years, there has been a revisionist history attack on the Xs line and its SmartHDR. People don’t seem to be fond of this era of iPhone photography.8 Back in 2018, it was hailed as a major upgrade to the iPhone X.
“This upgrade I think firmly puts it right up behind pixel 2 as the second best smartphone camera. It’s a real upgrade from the iPhone X and every other iPhone. Actually, a little more than I was expecting.” – MKBHD, Apple iPhone Xs Review: A (S)mall Step Up!
I can confidently say it’s a huge camera upgrade. There’s a lot of little improvements, but Smart HDR definitely takes the cake. This is a feature and technology that improves virtually everything you capture with your iPhone camera. I think you’ll be really thrilled when you experience the results yourself. – Austin Mann in iPhone Xs Camera Review: Zanzibar
Not everyone was hot on the SmartHDR back then though.
This is as good as I want HDR to be. Like some of these photos border on too unrealistic. – Stephen Hackett on Connected 211: That’s Enough to Shrink Some Jeans
The only explanation I can think of would be those leaps and bounds in computation photography in the last four years.9 The quality and versatility has grown exponentially since the Xs launch that looking back has sparked disdain for the camera. I can’t speak to that now – I’ve been in the Xs Max camera trenches for years. I wonder how I will feel about this era of my personal photography when looking back.
Upgrading before the baby was the reason for buying my new phone. I wanted the pictures from this time in her life to be the best they could possibly be. Whether that is from my iPhone or my big camera, I’m doing my darnedest to make sure they are the best the can be. I wonder what I’ll think of these new pictures when I look back on them in so many years.
Being my first big boy iPhone purchase, I decided I wanted a mature case. I, of course, opted for the Apple Leather Case. The case has rarely left my phone and has aged quite well, as one would expect leather to over the years—in the Florida heat and humidity no less! I could not have asked for a better case. It’s saved my phone from the occasional drop. I have been surprised at some of the hits it has survived. I went for it again this time around. If it ain’t broke (which my phone sure isn’t) then I don’t see a need to fix it.10
This is the one feature I am crushed to be losing in the upgrade. Good night sweet prince. You were the best and no long press could ever replace you.
Time Capsule iPhone Xs Reviews
- MKBHD Reviewing EVERY iPhone Ever! with a whopping 37 seconds dedicated to my Xs Max.
- Austin Mann’s iPhone Xs Camera Review: Zanzibar
- ATP’s iPhone Xs Review in ATP 293: You Know My Pouches
- John Gruber’s The iPhones XS
- Quinn Nelson’s I’m NOT Buying the New iPhone XS nor XS Max!
- Bonus: Quinn and Gruber bet results
The other day I was chatting with Abby about how strange it is we still call our phones “phones.” These are super computers that fit in our pockets. We carry them everywhere. They control our homes, document our lives, and connect us to each other.
Over the last four years, there is not one device in my life I have used more. I have written countless posts and reviews. I’ve tweeted tens of thousands of tweets. Snapped thousands of pictures. Listened to thousands of hours of podcasts. The time spent on my iPhone Xs Max is immeasurable.
And even with my new phone today, I don’t plan on packing up the Xs Max yet. I want to try using it as a webcam or just a secondary camera for angles and shoots. There is still purpose to be extracted from this first of its kind iPhone.
I ended up buying the iPhone 14 Pro Max in Space Black with 1TB of storage. That’s four times the storage and who knows how many times of a performance gain all for $248.64 more than what I paid in 2018. It’s out for delivery as I write this. After I deal with the setup, it probably won’t take long for me to start forgetting about the Xs Max.
But I do think it is important to reflect on the longevity and usefulness of my phone. As much as the media and advertising would like you to forget last year’s model the second the new device arrives, these phones – these super computers – have a life outside of Year One. Their impact has been world altering. And as my own life prepares to be transformed, I can’t help but take a moment to stop and look around. It’s about to move very fast and I don’t want to miss it.
4. Just glancing at MKBHD’s top 20 videos (out of 1,464), seven of them are iPhone specific. They total a cool 84 million views. Also, his most viewed video is about the Game Boy with 39 million views. The second most viewed has 23 million and is about the first Samsung Fold. ⏎
6. Since then, only three more OLED screens have entered my daily rotation; my LG CX 55’’ TV, my PS VR headset, and my Splatoon Switch OLED. I did have an Apple Watch Series 2, but that bit the dust a few years ago. ⏎
10. One design change that may get me to change leather cases is the bottom lip. Sometime since 2018, Apple has fully wrapped the leather case around the iPhone, instead of leaving the bottom edge exposed. I suspect it was exposed due to the (at the time) new gesture-controlled interface. I am curious as to how I will feel about a lip where my thumb swipes up over constantly. ⏎