New iPhone: A surfeit of Excess

Posted on by Mike Evans

Or, Get Thee Behind Me, Satan….

Yes, I know full well that we are supposed to call the iPhone X the iPhone Ten. But when Apple introduces the iPhone XS there is an irresistible temptation to refer to it as the Excess. Whether that’s concerning price or features, I'm not sure, but both could apply. The new phones are mightily impressive, but the cost is astronomical. It seems only a few years ago that most people took out a phone contract and expected to get a free phone. With the advent of do-everything smartphones, those days are over. 

Now I am an early adopter; I make no secret of the fact. I am unlike some Macfilos contributors who I would describe as “late discarders”. I like new things. The more bells and whistles the better. And the Excess was singing it’s Siren call as soon as I saw last week’s Cupertino presentation. My eyes, inevitably, were glued on the iPhone XS Max. What more could a person want? I asked myself. Even more excess than standard excess.

Thus I found myself in the Apple Store on a wet London Saturday, feeling surprising autumnal for the third week of a September. I went “just for a look” and a chance, perhaps, to fondle all that smartphone excess. Much to my annoyance, however, they had the very phone in stock: Maximum excess with 256GB of memory, in my favourite space grey. It would have been churlish to have had it returned to stock when I could be facing a long wait if I didn’t snap it up. I am easily persuaded, you see.


So home I went, iPhone box fitting snugly in my Billingham Hadley Small. Twenty-four hours later, after a painless installation and some user experience, I was somewhat underwhelmed. Many of the improved features are aimed at those who watch videos and play games where the speed improvements and the extra screen size — in landscape mode, at least — are important. 

When I saw this image I wavered. The screen of the new iPhone XS Max (right) has better definition and the text is certainly more readable. Yet most of my work is done in productivity apps such as this one — Ulysses — so I do not benefit significantly from the longer screen. This side-by-side image emphasises that most of the extra screen size is concentrated in the length, something which is of great benefit for viewing videos or playing games in landscape mode, but of less importance to habitual portrait-mode users

The screen size of the Max is indeed impressive on paper. At 6.5 inches is a big step up from the 5.8in of the X and XS. But that’s a diagonal measurement, don't forget, and most of the increase has gone into the length rather than the width. The screen of the Max is about 12mm longer but only 4mm wider, thus extending the letterbox effect when working in landscape. On the other hand, for operating in portrait mode, there is very little real difference in width, and the length of the screen is pretty irrelevant.


Most of my iPhone use— mainly reading, dealing with emails and using productivity writing apps — is accomplished in portrait mode. So I do not see a significant benefit of having a longer phone. Anyone viewing lots of videos or movies, or playing games, will have different requirements and, I suspect, will love the Max format. 

I am not too bothered by the additional overall size when it comes to daily carting around. I lived happily for over two years with the 6 Plus and 7 Plus, so I am used to the size of the XS Max. On the other hand, the neatness of the iPhone X and XS, which more or less manages to fit the screen of the 6 and 7 Plus models into a smaller form, is immensely attractive. By the end of Sunday, I was looking at my old iPhone X and comparing it with the XS Max — both phones in the white silicone cases — and beginning to wonder why I had spent £1,249 on an “upgrade” that doesn’t do a lot of me. 

The XS and XS Max do have improvements in photographic ability, including the trick of post-processing bokeh, but I seldom use the iPhone for any serious photography. I made little use of the camera in the iPhone X, so I doubt I would become a great exponent on the newer phones. It’s nice to have, though, and I can well understand that these improvements could present a cogent argument for upgrade.

If you are currently using an iPhone other than the iPhone X, I think the XS or the XS Max is well worth the upgrade. But I do not see the benefits — for me, and that’s what’s important — in upgrading to either of the new phones from the X. I could change my mind, which is easy to do in my case, but I have returned the XS Max to Apple, and I aim to soldier on with the one-year-old iPhone X until next year’s iPhone 11 (XI?) comes on the scene.

So much for big eyes.