In 2018 Apple introduced the iPhone XS Max. The XS Max was the successor to 2017’s iPhone X and with the XS Max’s introduction, Apple discontinued the iPhone X. But is it worth it for current iPhone X owners to upgrade to the new iPhone XS Max?
At the time it was a really tough call. That’s because the iPhone XS Max was very similar in design to the iPhone X (with the exception of the larger display). Both phones had the same features like OLED displays, Face ID, stainless steel frames. Where Apple did make improvements to the XS Mac was in the area of internal components. Specifically, the iPhone XS Max had the then-new A12 CPU, which was much faster than the A11 CPU found in the iPhone X.
However, we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves. So let’s pivot now to take a closer look at both phones below.
iPhone XS Max vs iPhone X Comparison
iPhone XS Max vs iPhone X: Are They Still Worth It In 2021?
But before we jump into the comparison between the two phones, it’s important to note we originally faced these phones off against each other back in 2018, when the iPhone XS Max was introduced. It’s now 2021–almost four years later. That’s a long time in smartphone years, during which time technology has advanced quite a bit.
One of the biggest questions people have today is are the iPhone XS Max and the iPhone X still good phones in 2021? If you own one of them already, the answer is a resounding “yes.” That’s because both of the phones support the iPhone’s latest operating system, iOS 14. Matter of fact, when Apple introduces iOS 15 later this year, both phones will also almost certainly support that OS. It’s even conceivable that both the iPhone XS Max and iPhone X will keep getting major iOS updates until 2023 or 2024 at least.
Much of that is due to the fact that Apple generally keeps their iPhones compatible with iOS releases for at least five or six years. You can thank the A-series CPUs for that. The A11 in the iPhone X and the A12 in the iPhone XS Max are powerful chipsets. They can still outrun most modern Android smartphones. So that means they are powerful enough to support new iOS software features when they come out–even years later.
All that being said: should you buy an iPhone X or iPhone XS Max in 2021? Eh…if you can get a great deal on a used one, sure. But you’ll need to buy a used one or a refurbished one from a third-party reseller because Apple doesn’t sell either model anymore. But if you can’t find a super good deal on an iPhone XS Max or iPhone X, it’s worth it just ponying up the extra cash to buy a newer iPhone 12. The iPhone 12’s camera, CPU, and display run circles around the iPhone XS Max and iPhone X’s tech.
What about other iPhones? Check out how the iPhone XR compares to the iPhone 7 here.
iPhone XS Max vs iPhone X Breakdown
There’s no denying it–these phones are VERY similar from a design perspective. Almost identical in fact. The biggest design change is that the iPhone XS Max now comes in a third color–Gold. And of course, it has that MUCH larger display. Both phones have a stainless steel frame and glass back. It’s this glass back that enables wireless charging to work.
However, the iPhone XS Max also has improved waterproofing. It’s now certified as IP68, meaning it can withstand submersion up to two meters for 30 minutes. The iPhone X was IP67 certified, with submersion protection limited to one meter.
- iPhone XS Max – The iPhone XS Max has a 6.5in display, features Apple’s biometric authentication system called Face ID. It’s industrial design feature an all-glass back and a stainless steel frame.
- iPhone X – The iPhone X, from a design perspective, looks exactly like the iPhone XS Max, but the Max is just larger. The new iPhone XS Max also has an additional gold color option.
Winner? iPhone Xs Max – Both phones look identical, but the Max just has more…everything.
And as you can tell from the specs, the displays of each iPhone are identical. However, the iPhone XS Max, Apple boasts, is the company’s “most durable display” yet. They haven’t elaborated on that, but it makes it sound that the iPhone XS Max is more drop-proof than the X was. Unfortunately for people who aren’t fans of the notch, Apple included it on the iPhone XS Max just as they did on the iPhone X.
Many notch-averse fans were hoping the iPhone XS Max’s bigger screen meant Apple could do away with the notch, but it was a no-go. The notch is needed to house all the components required for Face ID to work. Personally, we don’t mind the notch, but to each their own.
- iPhone XS Max – The iPhone XS Max features an edge-to-edge OLED display that is 6.5in and has a 2436×1125-pixel resolution at 458ppi. Without a doubt, the iPhone XS Max’s display wins the day here.
- iPhone X – The iPhone X features a 5.8-inch OLED display with a 2436×1125-pixel resolution at 458ppi.
Winner? iPhone XS Max – Its Display Is Bigger And More Beautiful.
As far s the CPU is concerned, the new XS Max has a better processor than the iPhone X. The XS Max features the A12 Bionic chipset–and upgrade over the X’s A11 Bionic. The new A12 is a 7nm chip with 6 cores. The CPU is 15% faster and 40% more energy efficient than the previous A11. The GPU now has 4 cores and is 50% faster. Finally, the Neural engine now has 8 cores for machine learning and is almost 10x faster. Apps launch 30% faster on the XS Max and Machine Learning runs nine times faster on 1/10th the energy. In other words, the A12 Bionic absolutely flies compared to the iPhone X’s A11.
- iPhone XS Max – the XS Max features the A12 Bionic chipset. This A12 is a 7nm chip with 6 cores, which is absolutely INSANE. The CPU is almost twice as fast as the A11.
- iPhone X – the iPhone X features Apple’s A11 Bionic chipset. The A11 isn’t any slouch, but it pales in comparison when it comes to the A12.
Winner? iPhone XS – It’s 50% More Powerful Than iPhone X.
Not that much has changed with the camera systems either. The front TrueDepth camera system is still 7MP, however, Apple says it’s improved the facial recognition sensors, which means Face ID is a bit faster on the XS Max than on the X.
When we get to the rear camera, the hardware between the X and the XS Max is almost identical too. Both series features a dual-lens 12MP system with wide-angle and telephoto cameras, dual optical image stabilization, 2x optical zoom, and 4K video recording. The only minor difference is the camera sensor features deeper, larger pixels. That means you’ll get even better low‑light photos.
Apple has added a number of software camera improvements to the XS Max too, however. The XS Max features Smart HDR pictures, which brings more highlight and shadow detail to your photos. The XS Max also features a new depth control function that allows you to change the background focus of a picture AFTER you’ve taken it. That’s something that is INSANELY cool–and something the iPhone X didn’t offer.
- iPhone XS Max – The iPhone XS features a 7MP front-facing camera. But the killer benefit is in the rear camera. The iPhone XS Max features a dual-lens 12MP rear camera complete with a wide-angle and telephoto lens and dual optical zoom. It also supports advanced photo features like portrait photography. The iPhone XS Max also features depth control AFTER you take a photo.
- iPhone X – The iPhone X features the exact same camera setup too: a 7MP front-facing camera as well as a dual-lens 12MP rear camera complete with a wide-angle and telephoto lens and dual optical zoom. It also supports advanced photo features like portrait photography.
Winner? iPhone XS Max – But barely, and just because of that after-pic depth control.
And as for storage, the XS Max series offers more: 64, 256, or 512GB compared to the X series 64, or 256GB options. The 512GB option was a nice touch, but there are not THAT many people who needed a half-terabyte of storage in their smartphone.
- iPhone XS Max – 64GB, 256GB, or 512GB
- iPhone X – 64GB & 256GB
Battery life is also a bit improved on the XS Max. You’ll now get about 90 minutes more battery life on the XS Max than on the X. However, a nice touch on BOTH phones is the addition of wireless charging. You can charge the iPhone XS Max or the iPhone X with any compatible Qi wireless charger.
- iPhone XS Max – The iPhone XS Max’s battery will get you about 13.5 hours of battery life with mixed usage. It also features wireless charging.
- iPhone X – The iPhone X’s battery gets you about 12 hours of battery life with mixed usage. It also features wireless charging.
Winner? iPhone XS Max – It Has Better Battery Life Than iPhone X.
The original prices for each phone are below. However, note that Apple now no longer sells either model. If you do want to snap up either model, you can try third-party sellers online. And be sure to check out our running list of the best iPhone deals.
- iPhone XS Max – The 6.5in iPhone XS Max originally cost $1,099 (64GB), $1,249 (256GB), or $1,449 (512GB).
- iPhone X – The 5.8in iPhone X originally cost $999 (64GB) or $1,149 (256GB).
So, if you are already an iPhone X owner, should you upgrade? Honestly, probably not. The improvements to the XS Max are there–a better processor and slightly better camera tech–but they don’t scream “must-have” upgrade. That is, of course, unless you want that MUCH larger display.
But still, no mistake about it: the iPhone XS Max is an AMAZING phone and a terrific upgrade–for anyone who has an iPhone older than the X. But if you got the X last year, rest assured there’s no need to rush out and buy the new one. The changes aren’t that pronounced beyond the display.
Another option worth considering, however, is picking up a newer
iPhone XS Max vs iPhone X: Specs
Here are the specs for the iPhone XS Max:
- Display: 6.5-inch OLED display with a 2688×1242-pixel resolution at 458ppi
- Dimensions: 157.5mm x 77.4mm x 7.7mm
- Weight: 208 grams
- Storage: 64, 256, or 512GB
- Processors: A12 Bionic
- Front camera: 7 MP photos and 1080p HD video.
- Rear camera: Dual-lens 12MP wide-angle and telephoto cameras, Dual optical image stabilization, Optical zoom, 4K video
- Battery: Up to 13.5 hours battery life mixed usage.
- Other: Face ID, NFC, Wireless charging, 3D Touch, IP68 waterproof
- Color options: Silver, Space Gray, and Gold
And here are the specs for the iPhone X:
- Display: 5.8-inch display with a 2436×1125-pixel resolution at 458ppi
- Dimensions: 143.6mm x 70.9mm x 7.7mm
- Weight: 174 grams
- Storage: 64 or 256GB
- Processors: A11 Bionic chip
- Front camera: 7 MP photos and 1080p HD video
- Rear camera: Dual-lens 12MP wide-angle and telephoto cameras, Dual optical image stabilization, Optical zoom
- Battery: 2716 mAh. Up to 12 hours battery life mixed usage
- Other: Face ID, NFC, Wireless charging, 3D Touch, IP67 waterproof
- Color options: Silver and Space Gray
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is the iPhone XS Max better than iPhone X?
Yes. It’s got a bigger display, a faster processor, and some software-based camera improvements. It also comes in the additional gold color option and has better water resistance.
Q: Which camera is better iPhone X or XS Max?
From a hardware perspective, the cameras in the iPhone X and iPhone XS Max are virtually identical. However, the camera in the iPhone XS Max has some software improvements, which allows it to take better pictures, such as Smart HDR tech.
Q: Is it worth buying iPhone XS Max in 2021?
If you have a much older iPhone, it could be worth upgrading to an iPhone XS Max in 2021. For example, if you are still using an iPhone 6, the iPhone XS Max is a big upgrade. However, if you are using an iPhone X or iPhone 8, you are better off upgrading to a new iPhone 12 than buying a used iPhone XS Max.
Apple expert and novelist, Michael Grothaus has been covering tech on KnowYourMobile for the best part of 10 years. Prior to this, he worked at Apple. And before that, he was a film journalist. Michael is a published author; his book Epiphany Jones was voted as one of the best novels about Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Michael is also a writer at other publications including VICE and Fast Company.