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iPhone XS Max review: The iPhone’s future is big and bright Review

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The future of the iPhone is here. The home button, an iconic part of the iPhone’s design for the past decade, is no more. For at least the immediate future, the iPhone will feature a display that goes nearly edge to edge, broken up only by a notch at the top of the device.

The overall size of the iPhone has not increased, but the display size has increased. So too has the cost.

Also: Battle of the big smartphones: Apple iPhone XS Max vs Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Apple announced a trio of new iPhone models this year, with the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max as modest upgrades from last year’s iPhone X. The iPhone XR looks similar to the XS, but incorporates different display technology and is the cheapest of the group.

For the past week, I’ve been using the iPhone XS Max; the biggest and most expensive iPhone ever. This is the phone I had said I was all in on. And you know what? It’s shaping up to be my favorite iPhone ever.

Familiar design


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With the iPhone XS Max, Apple kept the same overall design as the iPhone X. A stainless steel housing band wraps the sides, broken up only by a new antenna band along the bottom. The front and back of the phone are covered in glass, once again allowing for Qi-standard wireless charging. The iPhone XS and XS Max come in three colors this year: Space gray, silver, and a new gold color.

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The iPhone now carries an IP68 water and dust resistance rating, meaning it can withstand a dip in up to 2m of water for 30 minutes. Whenever this rating is mentioned,Apple has made sure to mix in references to testing the iPhone XS in other liquids such as beer. I opted to not test my iPhone XS Max in a pint of beer, namely because I didn’t want to waste a good beer.

The XS Max’s OLED display is a massive 6.5 inches, with a resolution of 2688×1242 and a pixel density of 458ppi. The Max’s display is slightly larger than Samsung’s Note 9, which measures 6.4 inches.

Also: iPhone XS Max teardown: Here’s what $1,249 flagship costs Apple in parts

As with last year’s iPhone X, the top of the display has a notch or cutout. In that cutout, Apple has placed one of the phone’s speakers, along with the various components for its True Depth camera system, which is a crucial part of its Face ID system.

The iPhone XS Max supports HDR, both Dolby Vision and HDR10. To sum up the display in a word: Stunning. Watching HDR-enabled YouTube videos, I was mesmerized by the saturation and clarity. Unlike Samsung’s Note 9 and its oversaturated color replication, the iPhone XS Max takes a more realistic approach.

In fact, DisplayMate’s Dr. Raymond M. Soneira recently tested the iPhone XS Max display and awarded it the “Best Smartphone Display” award, surpassing the Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

Despite the size of the display, the phone is actually smaller than Apple’s previous Plus iPhone model and the Note 9.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the dimensions in inches:

iPhone 8 Plus iPhone XS Max Galaxy Note 9
Height 6.24 6.2 6.37
Width 3.07 3.05 3.01
Depth 0.30 0.30 0.35

As you can see, the XS Max is the smallest of the group, even if it’s just barely so.

On the bottom of the XS Max, you’ll find a Lightning port to charge, sync, and listen to audio via Lightning compatible headphones. Yes, the headphone jack is still missing. Also missing this year is the Lightning to 3.5mm headphone plug adapter that Apple had previously included in the box with previous iPhone models after ditching the headphone jack.

Along the right side of the phone is where you’ll find the SIM card tray and the side button. On the opposite side is the traditional Ring/Silent switch, along with volume up and down buttons.

The back of the phone features a dual-camera system, complete with a camera bump. Both cameras are 12 megapixels and dual optical image stabilization.

Also: iPhone XS Max vs iPhone X: Apple’s latest flagship’s display sets new records

The only notable difference between the iPhone XS and XS Max is the size. The XS is nearly identical to last year’s iPhone X, save for a slightly bigger camera bump and the antenna band.

As I said in my first impressions of the XS Max, yes, the phone is big… but it’s not that big. Reading through a spec sheet, it’s easy to see the display size and figure the phone is unwieldily, but for me, that’s just not the case.

Again, I don’t have what I would consider large hands, and I’ve resisted the phablet trend by opting for the smaller iPhone and Galaxy devices over the past few years.

And yet, I’ve had no issues adapting to the XS Max. I’m able to use it with one hand when needed, thanks in part to Reachability.

The combination of more content on the screen, combined with the picture quality for my frequent YouTube binges and the overall comfort of using a phone I would have previously thought too big for me, the iPhone XS Max is a joy to use.

Performance

iphone-xs-max-3.jpgiphone-xs-max-3.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Powering the iPhone XS Max is Apple’s latest processor, the A12 Bionic. The 7-nanometer chip has six cores, two performance cores that are only used for resource-intensive tasks like gaming. The four remaining cores are used for more common tasks, like sending messages or checking email.

Another benefit of the new processor is the ability to handle storage of up to 512GB. Yes, that means that Apple now offers an iPhone with 512GB of storage, along with 64GB and 256GB.

According to iFixit’s teardown of the XS Max, it has a 3,174mAh battery and 4GB of memory.

Battery life for me has been nothing short of stellar. I routinely go the entire day and halfway into the next before I need to charge the XS Max.

Also: iPhone XS and XS Max reveals some battery surprises

I’m annoyed that Apple is still shipping a 5W wall adapter with all iPhone models, instead of a wall adapter that’s capable of fast charging the iPhone. And despite sticking to 7.5W wireless charging, the iPhone XS Max chargers faster thanks to a resigned wireless charging coil inside the phone. The coil is wound tighter, making it more efficient, and in turn capable of charging the phone faster via a Qi wireless charging pad. Another benefit of this year’s wireless charging redesign is that the coil is more forgiving in the phone’s placement on the pad.

As far as speed goes, apps open without hesitation, and there’s been no slowdown in my short time with the phone.

Thanks to the upgraded processor, Face ID is reportedly faster than it was with the iPhone X. If it is faster, it’s not enough for me to notice.

Let’s talk reception

Apple updates the processor and internals with every iPhone release, but this year there’s a notable change that could potentially impact all users. Instead of using Qualcomm modems in every iPhone model, Apple has fully switched to Intel modems. Previously, only GSM iPhone models (example: AT&T, T-Mobile) used Intel modems for connectivity.

Shortly after the iPhone XS launched, reports of reception and throughout issues began to surface. In some cases, users report the iPhone XS is unable to connect to an LTE network in an area with poor reception, despite other smartphones able to find and hold onto an LTE signal.

Also: New Apple connection problem? iPhone XS users report subpar cell and Wi-Fi reception

With an iPhone XS Max, iPhone X, and Galaxy Note 9 on hand, I decided to run some speed tests using an AT&T SIM card.

I checked the signal strength of each device, as measured in dBm, prior to running any tests. Using the Ookla Speedtest app, I ensured all three devices used the same test server and then I ran each test three times. The first series of tests were in an area of poor reception, and the second series ran outside where reception isn’t an issue. I then averaged the three tests. Download and update speeds are listed in Mbps.

Poor reception

Download Upload Signal strength
iPhone XS Max 9.41 0.48 -118
iPhone X 25.90 1.14 -110
Note 9 29.00 3.24 -109

As you can see, the iPhone XS Max performed very poorly, with the Note 9 coming out on top. Once I moved outside, however, the story changed a bit.

Improved reception

Download Upload Signal strength
iPhone XS Max 47.97 18.77 -98
iPhone X 38.83 11.77 -93
Note 9 52.53 23.17 -95

The iPhone X performed worse than the XS Max when reception improved, which is exactly what should happen despite both devices I have on hand using an Intel modem. With the XS line, Apple added an additional antenna that enables 4×4 MIMO and Gigabit-class LTE. The Note 9 still offered the best performance.

I also ran the same tests when connected to my Wi-Fi network, but all three devices performed the same, each reaching the speed limit provided by my ISP (125 Mbps down/10 Mbps up). I have experienced no issues with Wi-Fi on the iPhone XS Max.

As for why the iPhone XS Max struggled in an area with poor reception in my testing, I’m not sure. There are a number of factors that can go into impacting reception and throughput, not all of which are Apple or even a wireless carrier’s fault. I plan on continuing to test and monitor reports over the coming days and weeks.

Photo quality

A few years ago, it felt as if we reached a plateau when it came to camera performance. The picture quality from Samsung, Google, and Apple devices is nearly identical and boils down to personal preference.

The iPhone XS Max boasts a new sensor with enhancements to image fidelity, faster auto-focus, deeper pixels, and larger pixels. There’s even a new Smart HDR feature that goes beyond the precious HDR mode of combing three photos of varying exposure to capture more detail and light in a photo.

Also: Apple iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR: Features and specs compared

All of that sounds fancy, but what does it mean exactly? For me, it means one of the best cameras I’ve used on a smartphone in recent memory.

The amount of detail captured in situations with low light, or with difficult shadows, has been impressive. Look at this photo:

instagram-jc.jpginstagram-jc.jpg

Jason Cipriani

I took this on an overcast day, in an alley, without much thought. After I took it, I zoomed in to see how much detail of the wall was captured in the shot. Every single bump and imperfection of the wall is there and properly lit. The only editing done on this photo was to crop it for Instagram. I did not adjust any colors or saturation.

Apple also made improvements to Portrait Mode on the XS Max. Specifically, Apple has added the ability to adjust the amount of blur — or bokeh — after the photo has been taken. Previously, when a photo was taken in Portrait Mode, you had to live with the amount of background blur.

I’m still not entirely sold on Portrait Mode, and honestly, it hasn’t been a feature I’ve used very often in the past. I need to test it out more, but so far the ability to adjust the background after the fact has been intriguing.

Conclusion

The iPhone XS Max is the best iPhone Apple has ever made. Sure, that can be said about each year’s new iPhone crop, but the iPhone XS Max sets the bar for iPhone and Android smartphones.

The only downside to the XS Max is its price tag. It starts at $1,099 for the 64GB model and maxes out at $1,449 for the 512GB model. Those prices for a smartphone are insane, and yet Apple is confident that users are willing to pay a premium.

Also: iPhone XS Max: How much profit does Apple really make on each one sold?

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 is arguably the XS Max’s biggest competition. In that regard, the decision comes down to which operating system you prefer and whether or not having a stylus is important to you.

Before writing off the size of the iPhone XS Max, I recommend visiting a store where you can spend a few minutes and get a better idea of what the XS Max is all about. If you recently upgraded to an iPhone X, or maybe even an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus, don’t feel left out if aren’t ready to upgrade. It’s an expensive decision! The future of the iPhone is big and bright, and the iPhone XS Max is the embodiment of that future.

Previous and related coverage:

iPhone XS smartphone beauty really is only skin deep

So, you bought a beautiful new iPhone XR or iPhone XS Max. Are you planning to use it without a protective case? Then you’re living dangerously.

iPhone X expensive? No, $999 is a ‘value price’, says Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple’s new iPhone X $999 price tag only looks expensive, according to Apple chief Tim Cook.

Apple’s Tim Cook: Facebook’s privacy blunder ‘so dire’ we need regulations

Cook thinks Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal is so big that it warrants “well-crafted regulation”.

Apple CEO Tim Cook: It’s still too early for quality AR headsets

The technology just isn’t available to create a flawless augmented reality headset, says Apple’s chief.

The iPhone with a laptop price tag: Will Apple’s iPhone XS Max convince business pros to upgrade? TechRepublic

Jason Hiner and Bill Detwiler discuss Apple’s latest mobile hardware, including the most expensive iPhone ever and the increasingly health-conscious Apple Watch Series 4.

iPhone XS Max review: Gigantic-screen phone for a gigantic price CNET

Gigantic-screen phone for a gigantic price

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WhatsApp is adding new privacy options, including screenshot blocking and a stealth mode – TechCrunch

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WhatsApp is introducing a small flurry of privacy-minded tweaks into the messaging app, the company announced on Tuesday. The Meta-owned globally ubiquitous messaging service says the changes aim to give users more control over their experience while introducing “added layers” to protect their private communications.

WhatsApp will introduce an option for users to privately use the app without being visibly online, something it calls “online presence control.” The feature, which rolls out to everyone this month, will let WhatsApp users curate which contacts can see their online status while hiding it from others. The list of contacts who can view your online status doesn’t have a cap and you can swap people in and out at any time. The company says that the update will come to both its desktop and mobile app offerings.

The company is also testing screenshot blocking for “view once” messages, which disappear after being opened a single time. WhatsApp introduced a disappearing media option a year ago, reminding users at the time that they wouldn’t be able to know if the recipient was saving any shared photos and videos as screenshots. The feature is in testing for now but the company hopes to get it out to users broadly “soon.” (It’s worth remembering that anyone can still take a photo of their screen with a different device, which should make you think twice about getting too comfy on apps with disappearing messaging.)

The last change is another small quality of life update, but a notable enough one. This month, WhatsApp will allow users to leave groups privately without sending out a mass notification that they bailed. Group admins will still get notified, but generally this change should make moving through groups on the app more fluid and less awkward. This change will also roll out to both the desktop and mobile version of the app.

WhatsApp Head of Product Ami Vora described the additions as a boost to the app’s “interlocking layers of protection,” which aim to bolster its status as a prominent encrypted messaging option.

The company has made other efforts over the years. Last fall, it closed one possible weak spot in its encrypted messaging service, adding end-to-end encryption for backups stored in the cloud.

“We’ll keep building new ways to protect your messages and keep them as private and secure as face-to-face conversation,” Meta Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said of the new features.

The company’s own messaging isn’t always as tight though: A confusing privacy policy update in early 2021 prompted a backlash, sending users to rival apps. That same update is still reverberating more than a year later, and the European Commission launched a formal investigation into its concerns about the app’s consumer protections earlier this year.

 

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Big funds ‘screwing with Series A market but not seed market’ says veteran VC Mike Hirshland – TechCrunch

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Mike Hirshland is enjoying 2022. Despite the market’s zigs and zags, he has spent much of his time this past summer in Rhode Island, where relatives from afar have gathered on and off for an extended family reunion. He and partner Raanan Bar-Cohen were also able to close their fifth fund with $150 million in capital commitments at winter’s end —  ahead of the stock market collapse that would follow. Indeed, the two now have around $375 million in assets under management at their 11-year-old venture firm, Resolute Ventures.

Yet another reason to feel cheery is what’s happening at their stage of the market, where after a rapid run-up, valuations are slowly but surely coming back down to earth, suggests Hirshland. He says that while Resolute’s pace has been “remarkably consistent,” leading to roughly 10 investments each year that draw initial checks from the firm in the $1 million to $1.5 million range, the “biggest departure” in its history was last year. It was then that both round sizes and valuations ballooned, prompting the firm to write bigger checks while also forcing it to walk away from “really big, really pricey seed rounds” with valuations so lofty that Hirshland feared their next round would be problematic.

That’s not to say it’s all been a walk in the park. Some of Resolute’s best-performing portfolio companies, including Opendoor and Bark & Co., have had their struggles since going public through tie-ups with special purpose acquisition companies.

Another of Resolute’s bets, Clutter — which is also backed by Sequoia Capital and SoftBank — has also found it harder to grow its business than it might have imagined earlier. The outfit merged with a rival in February to bolster its odds of succeeding, but Hirshland, who remains “quite bullish” on Clutter, admits that it isn’t always easy to profitably “move atoms.”

What is not a concern for Hirshland, he insists, is competition. He says Resolute backs founders based largely on their vision and the firm’s belief that the team can build something compelling. (“I’m essentially indifferent if it’s day 1 or day 365, when they can show me some code,” he says.) He argues that other firms, no matter their public messaging, aren’t quite as open-minded, especially not right now.

In fact, asked about later-stage firms like Tiger Global and Insight Partners that have been shifting more of their attention to younger startups, Hirshland, talking with TechCrunch over Zoom, shrugs his shoulders. “Big funds are really screwing with the Series A market,” he says, “but in the seed market, we’re not seeing these guys come that far down.”

Even if they did, adds Hirshland, it wouldn’t last long. “You always see firms announce these big seed initiatives because when things get competitive, people move earlier. But when the shit hits the fan, they go back to focusing on their bread and butter and the cycle just continues.”

Resolute has so far invested roughly $10 million in initial checks from its newest fund. Some of its more recent investments include Signl, a startup that sells business intelligence tools to investors and whose founders sold an earlier company, Bitium, to Google in 2017.

Resolute also recently invested in Nobl9, a so-called service level objective platform whose founders also sold a previous company (Orbitera) to Google.

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Hold-outs targeted in fresh batch of noyb GDPR cookie consent complaints – TechCrunch

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Just over a year after launching a major project targeting thousands of sites blatantly flouting cookie tracking rules in Europe, local privacy campaign group noyb has fired off another batch of complaints targeting a hardcore of website operators that it says have ignored or not fully acted upon earlier warnings to bring their cookie consent banners into compliance with the EU’s legal standard for consent, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Noyb says the latest batch of 226 complaints have been lodged with 18 data protection authorities (DPAs) around the bloc.

As with earlier actions by noyb, all the complaints relate to the most widely used cookie banner software, made by OneTrust. But it’s not the software itself that’s the issue — rather the complaints target deceptive settings it found being applied. Or even no choice at all being offered to site users to deny tracking in a clear breach of the law around consent.

Deceptive cookie pop-ups have had a corrosive impact not only on the privacy rights of web users in the region, systemically stripping people of their right to protect their information, but they have also been very damaging for the reputation of EU data protection rules like the GDPR — enabling critics to blame the regulation for spawning a tsunami of annoying cookie banners despite the fact the law clearly outlaws consent theft via cynical tactics like injecting one-way friction or offering users zero opt-out ‘choice’.

The vast scale of cookie consent violations has, nonetheless, posed a major enforcement challenge for the bloc’s network of under-resourced data protection authorities — hence noyb stepping in with a smart and strategic approach to help clean up the “cookie banner terror” scourge, as its campaign couches it.

Given noyb’s focus on impact, and the extremely widespread nature of cookie consent problems, the campaign group has sought to minimize how many formal complaints it’s filing with regulators — so its partially automated compliance campaign entails sending initial complaints to the offending sites in question, offering help to rectify whatever dark patterns (or other bogus consent issues) noyb has identified.

It’s only sites that have repeatedly ignored these nudges and step-by-step compliance guidance that are being targeted for formal complaints with the relevant oversight body now.

“We want to ensure compliance, ideally without filing cases. If a company however continues to violate the law, we are ready to enforce users’ rights,” said Max Schrems, chairman at noyb, in a statement.

“After one year, we got to the hopeless cases that hardly react to any invitation or guidance. These cases will now have to go to the relevant authorities,” he added.

Thus far, noyb credits its cookie consent campaign with generating what it couches as a “large spill-over effect” — with, not only directly targeted violating consent banners being amended but some non-targeted sites also adapting their settings after they heard about the complaints. “This shows that enforcement ensures compliance beyond the individual case,” argues Schrems. “I guess many users have realized that for example more and more ‘reject’ buttons gradually appeared on many websites in the last year.”

Discussing progress to date, a spokeswoman for noyb also told us: “We have seen an increasing compliance rate in our regular scans (where we scan several thousands websites in Europe using the CMP OneTrust) after our first round of warnings last May. This is probably due to an increased awareness due to our complaints, the ‘fear’ that this law might actually be enforced and because Onetrust proactively informed their customers about our complaints and adjusted their standard settings to be ‘noyb compliant’.

“Therefore we consider those websites that still violate the GDPR despite all warnings as ‘hopeless’ cases. All of them are new cases, so none of the companies targeted already last year are in that batch.”

The so-called “hopeless” cases include a mix of (smaller) media sites, popular retailers and local pages, per noyb’s spokeswoman.

Asked for examples of pages which still violate “almost everything” (i.e. where cookie consent rules are concerned) more than a year after the group’s compliance campaign kicked off, she pointed to media sites including https://www.elle.com/ and https://www.menshealth.com/; recipe site www.delish.com; online travel agency booking.com; and fashion retailer aboutyou (in various EU countries).

Other high profile sites that are being targeted for formal complaints now — and which have remedied “at least some violations” (though not others), in noyb’s assessment — include football site fifa.com; cosmetics retailers rituals.com and clinique.at/de; and streaming giant hbo.com.

While noyb says “most” of the sites it’s formally complaining about now don’t provide users with an option to withdraw their consent to tracking, its spokeswoman noted: “Others have implemented a reject button (30% of all warned websites) but are still ignoring other aspects like deceptive designs.”

Noyb’s cookie complaints have already led to some regulatory action, with the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) establishing a special taskforce last year to coordinate responses to what the group suggests could end up as as many as 10,000 cookie consent complaints being filed — although the first DPA decisions related to complaints it lodged last year are still pending.

“We hope for the coordinated approach by the EDPB taskforce,” said its spokeswoman, adding: “The Austrian DPA so far has been the most active one in processing the complaints followed by some of the German DPAs. We hope to receive the first decisions by the end of this year.”

Now that this final round of OneTrust complaints has been filed, the not-for-profit group says it will move onto sites using other so called consent management platforms (CMPs) — expanding the scope of its automated complaint-cum-compliance platform to cover rival CMPs, such as TrustArc, Cookiebot, Usercentrics and Quantcast.

So scores more sites which haven’t been caught up in noyb’s sweeps yet, despite operating blatantly bogus consent banners, will be on the receiving end of a pointed letter vis-a-vis their cookie compliance in the near future.

In parallel with firing off lots of these letters over the past year+, noyb has also been gathering data on the impact of the cookie complaint project — and plans to issue a report on what it’s learned later this year.

Separately, France’s DPA, the CNIL, has been pretty active on cookie consent enforcement — taking some tough action against a number of tech giants (Amazon, Facebook and Google), under the ePrivacy Directive, that has enabled it to issue some major fines over abusive cookie tracking practices — and which appears to have forced (some) reform.

The ePrivacy legal route has allowed the CNIL to circumvent the GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism, which critics blame for undermining enforcement of the bloc’s flagship data protection regulation, especially against Big Tech, by funnelling (and bottlenecking) complaints through a handful of so-called lead DPAs (Ireland being the biggest) on account of a handful of markets having large numbers of tech giants regionally located on their soil.

noyb’s approach of filing large batches of thematic GDPR complaints is another strategy to push back against enforcement delays by simultaneously looping in DPAs across the bloc to tackle an issue, encouraging coordination, joint working and (it hopes) a pipeline of decisions that defend European citizens’ rights.

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