I've been using the new Apple iPhone Xs Max somewhat nervously since last week, not wanting to test if its body encased in the new super-tough Corning Gorilla glass survives accidental drops - or not.

This is almost $2,800 worth of phone, thanks to the 512 GB storage, and I hope the case for it arrives soon.

The iPhone Xs Max design is otherwise fairly similar to the iPhone X, with a bigger 6.5-inch screen that's even better than the already excellent display on the older device.


Too big? The iPhone Xs Max fits in my pocket and suits my hands. Try it out for yourself before taking out a second mortgage to see if it fits you.

Apart from the size and screen, the new and improved bits are inside the iPhone Xs Max. If you want the fastest smartphone on the market, Apple's custom A12 Bionic chipset coupled with quicker memory (4GB) and storage is the way to go.

Made with an extremely fine 7 nanometre process, the A12 runs rings around the Qualcomm silicon that Android makers use - for now at least. Apple's first with 7nm chips, but Huawei and Samsung are expected to match that soon.

Using 7nm means more transistors can be crammed into a smaller area, and the Xs Max put in high scores in the benchmarks I ran. Most of the speed improvements appear to have been made in the graphics department which means games and augmented/virtual reality apps run extremely well on the Xs Max (and the bigger screen makes for a better experience too).

One slight mystery though: did Apple not include a M12 motion processor with the A12 Bionic chipset? The other co-processors for artificial intelligence, image processing etc are there like in the past, but there's no official mention of the M12.

I'll stop nerding out about the A12 but one last thing: the new silicon uses the ARM 8.3 instruction set that improves security by making some hacking techniques more difficult for attackers.

FaceID is faster on the Xs Max than on the X, and you can enrol two visages, ideally of yourself to keep the device and apps secure.

Gigabit LTE 4G cellular connectivity on the Xs Max means iPhones are catching up with Android devices: on Vodafone in Auckland, I saw downloads between 140-170 megabit per second, and uploads hitting 60 Mbps.


Apple didn't match make the Personal Hotspot connection sharing faster though. Instead of using the 5 gigahertz Wi-Fi band that allows quicker transfers (and which you'll find in premium Android devices), Personal Hotspot remains at 2.4GHz which maxed out at 145 Mbps connection speed.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment on the Xs Max is that it retains Ye Olde Lightning connector, and doesn't come with a USB-C port like on the MacBooks. This means you have to carry an extra cable and are limited to USB 2.0 data transfer speeds, which is a shame.

We'll see if the dual-SIM card feature makes it to NZ as well. It appears to be done either as a dual-SIM tray, or one nano-SIM and a convenient software eSIM, for the Chinese market.

NZ telcos allow expensive data-only roaming connections by overseas providers via eSIMs in iPad Pros on their networks, but don't hold your breath anything more than that.

The camera has received an overhaul too, with bigger sensors (and bump at the back).
I'll have to shoot more with the Xs Max to pass verdict on the camera, but have to mention that my favourite photography feature, portrait mode, now has variable depth of focus.

This mimics the background blurring you get by selecting different apertures (f/1.4 to f/13) on DSLR camera lenses and since the Xs Max utilises computational photography, you can change the depth of focus after taking a picture.

Apple also pushed the final version of its mobile operating system, iOS 12, out of the door with the new iPhones, with security and bug fixes and plenty of improvements.

Moving your data from one iDevice to another has become much easier and slicker than in the past: start up your new iPhone, and it'll ask you to put the old device next to it. Scan a QR code with the camera and off you go.

The process works great with Apple apps, with most settings being migrated. Having to log in to different services after migrating to a new device is a pain but it is now a bit less so if you store credentials in iCloud with the Keychain utility so that you don't have to remember each and every one.

Don't make the same mistake as I did and forget to either disable two-step authentication (2SA) where you get a code through an app on your phone rather than less secure text or email messages, or not having working, alternative login methods for apps.

The 2SA codes didn't migrate to the app I use and as I'd forgotten the answers to the security questions I locked myself out of Xero and a couple of other apps.

A few apps behave oddly on the Xs Max after migration, including Google Gmail which displayed only a black screen when I tapped on messages, and a paid photography app I rarely use can no longer access the camera. Doubled-up alerts in the Notification Centre is another nuisance that I hope will get fixed soon.

Software glitches aside, the iPhone Xs Max is a fantastic phone that does everything very well.

Can I be a grinch though and advise you to be sensible and buy an older, cheaper dual camera iPhone model instead?

No? Fine, just make sure you buy AppleCare with the Xs Max in case of an accidental drop test.