Cult of Mac

It killed me to return my iPhone XS Max

Designed by Apple in California. Made in Vietnam?

For the first time in 11 years, I did not get Apple’s latest iPhone delivered to my door on launch day. I’ve been using an iPhone X since last November and I was still happy with it; I certainly didn’t see the need to drop another $999 on what seemed like a slightly better device.

But then I got the chance to use an iPhone XS Max.

I had the handset for just over a week, and I loved every second I spent with it. I was wrong to not upgrade this year, and it killed me to return the device to its rightful owner.

Here’s why I’m sorely missing the iPhone XS Max.

When Apple confirmed last fall that the iPhone X would start at $999, I had to think twice about upgrading from my iPhone 7. I was just a year into my 24-month contract and that meant coughing up the full cost of the device if I wanted one on launch day. It didn’t take long for me to realize I couldn’t miss out on Apple’s biggest iPhone upgrade in years — but on one condition.

I justified the purchase by promising myself that I would hold onto the iPhone X for two years. No matter how spectacular this year’s refresh would be, I would skip it and wait until 2019 to buy another model. I just couldn’t afford to spend $2,000 on phones in two years.

Boy, do I regret that promise now.

The start of a special love affair

I watched (and covered) Apple’s big iPhone keynote on September 12 knowing that I wouldn’t be preordering anything that was unveiled. By the end of it, that wasn’t too hard to accept.

I was incredibly excited about the Apple Watch Series 4 and its gorgeous new display, but my Series 3 was still serving me well and I was happy to wait. The rumored Mac mini refresh I was looking forward to didn’t show up. The iPhone XS and XS Max looked… okay, but not significantly better than my iPhone X. I thought it would be easy to wait until 2019 for an upgrade.

Then I got an email from the kind folks at Mobile Fun, a leading online accessories retailer, who asked if I wanted to try an iPhone XS Max and some of the cases they were offering for it. I jumped at the chance to borrow one and on September 22, the day after release day, a brand new model arrived at my doorstep.

It was the start of a special but short-lived love affair.

Everything I did felt more impressive

I unboxed the XS Max as soon as it arrived, slapped a case on it (I didn’t want to break a phone that wasn’t mine) and got everything set up. I was immediately wowed by it. I was already familiar with its design – albeit a smaller version – but its giant screen somehow felt perfectly manageable. I had always preferred Apple’s smaller handsets, but the XS Max didn’t feel too big.

I put my iPhone X in a drawer and forgot about it. The XS Max became my daily driver for just over a week, and for the first couple of days, I used it as much as I could. I watched videos on Netflix and YouTube, played games, browsed the web, and even got out of the house to take some pictures. From day three, I tried to use the XS Max just as I would typically use my phone.

It didn’t take long to fall in love. The phone I thought was overpriced and unnecessary for me was quickly winning me over. I stared at its dreamy Super Retina display. It stared back at me without judging. It just felt right.

Everything is better on the iPhone XS Max.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Everything I did was more impressive on the XS Max. Seeing more content in Safari was great, but its larger screen really dazzled when watching videos and playing games. Battery life was a pleasant surprise, too. During normal use, I was going to bed with around 30 percent remaining, whereas my iPhone X often gives me a 10 percent warning before I’m tucked up.

Not everything blew me away. The XS Max felt no faster than my iPhone X, and although I could see some improvements in my photos — particularly in low light – I didn’t see a massive difference. I also felt that Apple could have taken advantage of the extra screen space by adding some features we haven’t seen on the iPhone before, such as Split View multitasking.

But none of that mattered much; the larger screen alone felt like it was well worth the $1,100 price tag.

I regret my decision not to upgrade

I had fallen in love with the XS Max. I found myself picking it up just to admire it. We did everything together and developed a bond that could only be broken by one thing: that dreaded email from Mobile Fun telling me it was time to return the handset.

I knew from the beginning that we would have to go our separate ways after seven days, and that I couldn’t get too attached. But the XS Max swept me off my feet with its charm and I forgot all about that. I immediately regretted my decision not to upgrade this year.

After I packed up the XS Max, I took my SIM card and pulled my old phone out of the drawer. I had never been more disappointed to be an iPhone X owner.

I still can’t justify the upgrade fee at the moment, so I’ll be holding onto this aging piece of trash for a while longer yet. But I’ll never forget the time I spent with the XS Max and the memories we made together. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, we’ll meet again.