iPhone XS and XS Max review: Apple’s beautiful big-screen beasts exact a small ransom

The radical changes came with the iPhone X last year. So, while the elegant new iPhone XS Max that I’ve been testing since Wednesday (along with the XS) has, by far, the largest display and is the most expensive and best iPhone ever, Apple’s latest handsets, good as they are, don’t move the needle all that much.

The cameras are superb, but they were excellent before.

The robust A12 Bionic processor inside means the handsets are faster, snappier, primed for immersive augmented reality, and, in theory, more power-efficient – that’s hard to judge in a few days – with Apple claiming marginally better battery life. But it’s not like prior models, which just yesterday got a performance boost with iOS 12, were poky.

Apple promises 90 minutes longer battery life on new iPhone XR

And while the latest screens are beautiful, iPhone displays have long been brilliant.

A year ago, of course, Apple launched the X as the first model to exorcise the home button, go all-in on Face ID facial recognition (at the expense of the Touch ID fingerprint system) and, oh yeah, crack $1,000. Those of us who bought the X – and it became Apple’s most popular phone after its release – had to learn a few new gestures, which thankfully were fairly intuitive.

By now, most X buyers have made peace with all that and may have even gotten used to the notch at the top of the display that consists of the front camera and sensors that make Face ID even possible – and that remains on the newest models. And Face ID, in my experience, typically works really well.

If you didn’t buy them but are ready to buy the $999 (or more) XS or XS Max at $1,099 (to start) now, you’ll face the same relatively minor learning curve the X crowd had to deal with a year ago. (The third new iPhone, the XR, isn’t coming until October 26; Apple hasn’t yet supplied review units.)

The only recourse for those of you who want a new iPhone but haven’t come to the grips with the disappearance of Touch ID and the home button is to purchase either an iPhone 7 or 8-series device that is still in Apple’s lineup.

With that perspective, here’s what I like about the new iPhones, and here are my gripes.

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