Since we were last reviewing devices in 2012, Apple phones were smaller, Apple Music wasn’t a thing, Airpods didn’t exist and Apple essentially having their own TV streaming channel was preposterous.
What a difference almost a decade makes right? Here we are with the iPhone 11 Pro Max. A mouthful of a name and a silly one at that but hey that’s the trend nowadays in the world of tech, label everything “Pro” and it will sell. I’m a bit rusty on the ol` tech reviewing so lets get straight into cold hard specs.
HARDWARE & SPECS
This phone is not tiny. Yes it’s pocketable but not tiny. The iPhone has a 6.5 inch, 1242×2688 pixel AMOLED display calibrated to Apples own spec and despite the very thin and even bezels around the display, has the usual notch at the top to house the Face ID tech. Despite being so tall and the fact Apple made the 11 Pro Max slightly thicker than the XS to place a bigger battery, It’s quite honestly not that thick or bulky. So powering that display is the Apple A13 Bionic and 4GB ram. Now don’t pay too much attention to the RAM here, Android phones are now hitting 12GB ram on flagship devices but Apple and their software optimisation make the RAM point mute.
The device is designed to the same standard as the iPhone X. The power/standby key is on the right and the volume rocker on the left. At the bottom of the phone you’ll find the usual speaker grill, mic and lightning port. Yes we still have the lightning port and despite Apples move to USB-C with the iPad pro, looks like we will have to wait longer for this to get to the iPhone. The main cosmetic change is at the back with a new frosted glass making it less of a fingerprint magnet and the apple logo moved down to the center. This new frosted glass looks especially great on the new midnight green colour which is what I am using.
SOFTWARE AND PERFORMANCE
The iPhone 11 Pro comes with iOS 13 out of the box and at the time of writing is now on iOS 13.3. If you have used an iPhone before, you will be very familiar to Apples mobile OS, although Apple have changed so much since 2007, cosmetically, iOS is more of the same 13 updates later. There are software tweaks everywhere, many of them quite useful: The volume graphic is now tiny and appears on the side of the display next to the volume keys rather than take up most of the screen smack bang in the middle, Notifications are less intrusive when they arrive when you are gaming or watching a video although they still need alot of work to be at the level of Android.
The negative here though is the same as always, that walled garden that seems to only tighten the leash the more you use the device. It would be great to set default apps. It would be great to have a rich, stacked notification system. It would be great to be able to download files using a native, root level file manager. iOS can feel very restrictive when you need to action something it can do but simply wont allow you to. Apple provides great services but a lot of situations call for using different options. I don’t think anything will change in this area but I feel I always need to highlight this.
Face ID still works as well as it has always done. Apple state that it is faster and can pick up your face from further away but through months of use, I have found no real difference to the iPhone X or the XR. The rest of the phone however, is super fast, fluid and overall very smooth. This has become a typical aspect of Apples software over the years and despite how far Android has come and improved, you still cannot seem to get this level of fluidity anywhere else. General navigation of the iPhone is quick and snappy with no lag or slow down. Another great aspect of iPhones is longevity, Apple will attempt to update this device for years whilst keeping the experience as smooth as it currently is which is no mean feat.
Gaming is also a pleasure on the iPhone due to the stunning display and power under the hood. Every game I tried was buttery smooth and with no sign of any frame rate problems. Going back to the display, it is magnificent. Contrast is simply incredible, with deep and menacing blacks juxtaposed against strong, vibrant colours. Watching a movie or playing a game is a great experience and in my experience has only been matched by the display of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus. HDR content looks outstanding and the dual speakers only help the experience to be even better.
So we know that the display is great, the software is fast and fluid but that’s all par for the course with an Apple device. The two biggest areas of improvement have been the battery and the cameras and Apple went big on these at the launch.
Battery life is absolutely outstanding. The Pro Max can easily become a 2 day device based on usage and upon hearing feedback there are plenty of people who only charge every couple of days. If you combine the fact that Apple now add an 18w fast charger in the box and the device supports wireless charging, you will never have any issues with running out of juice here. I have very rarely charged this thing to a full 100% as after an hour or so top up in the morning will easily last me all day and well into the next day.
I wish more manufacturers would follow Apples lead on making phones slightly thicker to make the battery bigger, with all these new 90hz and 120hz displays, bigger batteries will be required and no one is going to go crazy over a couple of mm of extra thickness if it means having a reliable and long lasting battery in their smartphone.
The marquee feature here with this round of iPhones, Apple did really start to fall behind in the camera department thanks to Googles Pixel range and other big hitters Samsung and Huawei providing some excellent cameras on their respective devices. However the one to aim for were the Pixel phones and Apple have most definitely reached parity here.
The camera array on the back goes for 3 lenses. A telephoto, a wide and an ultrawide. Now this is nothing special, alot of flagship phones now have multiple camera options on the back. The biggest highlight here is the consistency. Very often you will find devices like the Galaxy Note 10 Plus using very different lenses and apertures for their camera array and this results in images looking slightly different when using different lenses. For example an ultra wide shot may look grainier and less sharp than a normal wide shot. This is where Apples software, machine learning and hardware combine to ensure a consistent shot throughout the whole camera array.
The results are outstanding, deeply detailed subjects, natural colour tones and very minimal noise. Shots can vary dependant on lighting situation but these cameras will get you a great shot in almost any situation. As with any camera, the best results will be in well lit conditions but Apple have now added a Nightmode which turns on automatically when the phone detects a low light situation. It doesn’t do a bad job either, I would say Nightsite on the Google Pixel phones do a slightly better job as that prioritises detail over lighting and the Apple Nightmode can cause noise and blow out certain areas due to trying to light the shot up more than it needs to. Despite this, Apple and Google are definitely the go to for low light smartphone photography right now.
|iPhone Nightmode and Telephoto lens|
With all the improvements and exceptional shots the cameras now have, its easy to forget that Apple have arguably the best video recording quality of any smartphone.
If you also take into account that now even the front facing camera can now shoot in 4K at 60 frames per second, its very difficult to recommend anything on par.
OIS is also on board making the any capture smooth and seamless, even when jogging/running the OIS does an exceptional job of keeping shakiness to a minimum. With this level of video recording and the outstanding still cameras, this is the whole package. Until something better comes along of course.
Having used pretty much every iPhone released in one way or another, Apple have come a very long way in improvements and new tech year on year. We are expected to see a redesign in 2020 but its hard not to fall for the 11 Pro Max. With leading class cameras and video recording, a great display and solid ecosystem and future proof updates, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is a fantastic choice for anyone although the price as usual is going to be steeper than a lot of competent devices. This is pure Apple being Apple and that’s both a great thing and not so great thing, just depends on which side of the Apple machine you side with.