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Apple iPhone XS Max review: The biggest-screen iPhone with the biggest price

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Video comparison: XS and XS Max.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's a big phone to hold, once again. It feels like the same size and weight as the 8 Plus, although it's slightly bigger and heavier. It weighs about an ounce more than the XS. The iPhone XR (yes, I'm going to keep reminding you of that phone) is just a bit easier to hold.

iPhone XS Max vs Samsung Galaxy 9
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Next to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, it looks pretty similar from a distance (can you spot which is which?)

Sarah Tew/CNET

The speakers are booming. Much like the XS, the audio sounds great. Maybe even more so on the Max.

Battery life is better, but the XR is better still.
On our video playback battery drain test, the iPhone XS Max lasted 17 hours, 23 minutes. The iPhone XR did even better (over 19 hours), but still, this battery life is up there with the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, and hours better than the iPhone XS (only 13 hours, 30 minutes). In everyday use, though, I still found I'd want to top the battery life off at the end of the day before my long New Jersey Transit commute, just to be safe.

iPhone XS Max prices

iPhone XS Max (64GB) iPhone XS Max (256GB) iPhone XS Max (512GB)
US $1,099 $1,249 $1,449
UK £1,099 £1,249 £1,449
Australia AU$1,799 AU$2,049 AU$2,369

Oh, the price! This phone starts at $1,099 in the US with only 64GB of storage. From there it skyrockets up to a max of $1,449 with 512GB of storage, which is basically the cost of a MacBook Pro.

This just isn't affordable for most people, 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. (Gulp.) This is why I'd really recommend a lower-priced iPhone like the XR for most people. 

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Fortnite comparison: iPhone XS Max to Nintendo Switch (Switch is a lot less expensive).

Sarah Tew/CNET

XS advantages vs XR: a few key ones to note. The XS and XS Max have the same insides and cameras this year, which is great for consistency, and also means the Max isn't necessary. Key differences in the XS line over the lower-cost XR amount to:

  • Dual rear cameras instead of a single one: check out our XS Max to Note 9 camera comparison, and the a camera comparison between the iPhone XS and XR
  • Improved cellular antennas (4x4 MIMO, with Gigabit LTE, which could help both data speeds and connection quality in some areas)
  • A more durable construction (our CNET drop test showed that the XS lasted better than the XR, but keep in mind that we didn't drop-test the Max)
  • That nicer-looking (but subtly so) OLED display
  • 3D Touch (do you care?)
  • An extra meter of water resistance (not needed unless you were planning on deep diving, but here's our impressive deep-dive test results)

If price weren't a factor, the XS Max is the most top-notch iPhone of the year. But at its price and size, you really have to ask yourself why you aren't buying something cheaper.

If you've got money to burn and want a giant high-resolution screen, the Max is the phone to buy. I probably wouldn't spend this much on a phone, but maybe I'm not who this phone was made for I do appreciate taking a spin in a luxury car once in a while, though. So I get the appeal. 

Compare iPhone XR, XS, XS Max starting prices

iPhone XR (64GB) iPhone XS (64GB) iPhone XS Max (64GB)
US $749 $999 $1,099
UK £749 £999 £1,049
Australia AU$1,229 AU$1,629 AU$1,799

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