It has been around three months since Apple started shipping its new generation of iPhones. The quicker-take reviews are out but I wanted to do a longer-term, twelve-week review. For Android users, I also try to do as many comparisons as I can if you’re interested in flirting with Apple and iOS.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max has three main upgrades over its predecessor, the iPhone XS Max. The A13 Bionic chip that focuses on improved battery life and performance, the triple camera system on the back, and the new durable design. At the same price as the Note10+, it has much competing to do, with different kinds of features. What Apple has improved and implemented to deem it a Pro is worth discussing. This review goes more into detail on the consumer side of the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the Apple ecosystem.
Silver iPhone 11 Prom Max being splashed with water to show its ip68 and durability. A close-up of the back shows the 3 cameras in staggered position. Source: Apple
New camera setup
The biggest upgrade for the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the Triple Camera display on the back in a fidget-spinner-like design. It is very similarly configured to the Galaxy Note10+ and Galaxy S10+ cameras with an Ultra-Wide, Wide, and Telephoto lens setup. However, there are a couple differences that set this camera setup apart. The cameras blend in a seamless transition when zooming in or out of a shot, and Apple has done a great job of using software to make the transition unnoticeable. I find out-of-focus portions of a shot hold more detail than expected while the camera still makes the focus of the picture pop. The telephoto can capture 40% more light. The Wide Camera has a new camera sensor with 100% Focus Pixels that autofocuses three times faster in low light. The Ultra-Wide is the newest of the three and offers up to four times more scene. All the cameras support 4K 60fps video and take advantage of the Neural Engine in the A13 Bionic chip to optimize components in the scene. The camera system on the iPhone 11 Pro Max has earned its badge of “Pro.”
Some software that takes advantage of the upgraded camera system is the new Night mode, Smart HDR, and Portrait mode. The Night mode uses the Wide camera sensor and the telephoto camera and takes multiple shots at once and fuses them to create one shot. The Wide camera sensor does a great job of retaining the sharpness of the photo during the Night Mode. Smart HDR uses machine learning to recognize people, specifically faces, to distinguish them from the shot. Portrait mode adds a High-Key Mono effect for “studio-style monochromes” and Portrait lighting for light intensity controls. However, the Night Mode in the iPhone, unlike some other cameras is automatic and cannot be forced by the user. That said, most of the time the iPhone does a good job of identifying the right scenes where Night Mode is appropriate. The Night Mode on the iPhone 11 Pro Max behaves very similarly to the Pixel’s Night Mode in that it requires the user to hold the phone steadily in place for anywhere from 1-3 seconds to optimally capture the shot. However, Samsung’s Night Mode, while automatic, does not take as long to capture in low-light but also doesn’t seem to be able to capture as much detail either.
The front True Depth Camera has a trendy upgrade with the ability to shoot videos in slow motion and 4k videos at 60 fps. The True Depth camera uses a 12MP sensor with a wider field of view and the ability to use the portrait mode. This has enabled the ability to take slow-fi videos where a high-quality slow-motion selfie video is now possible.
iOS 13 has a refined the Photos and Camera app so that the consumer can have the best camera experience. I found no trouble being able to edit and share my photos and videos in the Camera and Photos app. They are just another example of how convenient and seamless the Apple ecosystem is.
Right now, I consider the iPhone 11 Pro Max the best consumer phone for videos, but not for stills which I will give to the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+.
Apple’s focus for the A13 Bionic chip is power efficiency and speed. The numbers on paper look great with a 20% increase in speed all around while using anywhere between 15% to 40% less power compared to last year’s A12 Bionic chip. While I can’t figure out yet what Apple is doing with all that performance, the experience most of the time is buttery smooth. I haven’t found anything I can’t do with a top of the line Samsung Galaxy that I can do with the latest iPhone given its processor performance.
Apple supplies the same amount of memory as the iPhone XS Max at 4GB, which could potentially hold the A13 back. In comparison to the Note10+, the performance difference isn’t evident however, this could be due to Apple’s more aggressive memory management. The iPhone 11 Pro max is smooth, but there aren’t any apps I feel outperform the Galaxy Note10+ with three times the RAM. Apple recommended some titles to show off the A13’s performance. I tested games such as Grimvalor, Asphalt 9: Legends, The Gardens Between, and many more. I found that A13 Bionic Chip was able to give the device the power it needs to show off the amazing display and stereo system with beautiful renderings and 3D visuals. I could run all these apps simultaneously without skipping a beat.
The A13 Bionic chip is on its 3rd generation Neural Engine, Apple’s machine learning accelerators. It runs matrix calculations six times faster than the last generation’s Neural Engine. It also has a new Machine Learning controller that Apple says “automatically and seamlessly schedules machine learning across the chip.” The Neural Engine is used anywhere from Siri to the Smart HDR feature on the camera.
The connectivity on the iPhone 11 Pro Max does not support a 5G modem that has been rolling out across networks globally. Unfortunately for iPhone consumers, the Qualcomm’s X55 chipset is the only 5G modem on the market unless you buy Huawei in Europe or China in the near future. Even though Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro Max won’t have 5G, Apple has improved on its LTE bands. The iPhone 11 Pro Max supports a faster Gigabit-class LTE by supporting more bands than the iPhone XS Max.
For those who don’t care for 5G and primarily use Wi-Fi, the iPhone 11 Pro Max has upgraded from Wi-Fi 802.11ac to Wi-Fi 6 802.11 ax for much faster Wi-Fi speeds. Wi-Fi 6 eases the pain of having multiple devices connected to a single Wi-Fi network at once — a favorable feature for the Apple ecosystem. Paired with the new U1 chip, Apple’s Airdrop is faster and easier. Apple says the U1 chip uses an “Ultra Wideband to understand the precise position of other U1-enabled devices nearby.” It uses spatial awareness to find other iPhones, specifically the new iPhone 11’s. No clue what I can do with today, so I found zero value so far.
The A13 Bionic chip is a smooth processor that fits the iPhone 11 Pro Max nicely. It doesn’t hold back the stunning display or the versatile camera system.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max is slightly thicker than the iPhone XS Max and for a good reason. The battery is larger, and Apple says the battery lasts five hours longer than the iPhone XS Max. I noticed a major difference in screen on time. As somebody who spends much time using Apple’s competitors, the iPhone 11 Pro Max can hang with devices that have larger batteries. A five-hour difference is big, really big.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max continues to support wireless charging. Unlike Samsung, Apple didn’t implement reverse wireless charging. With its increase in battery life, I can’t imagine somebody wanting to share that newly added juice, especially with Apple not launching the wireless charger that the company had in development, making wireless charging someone else’s problem. Apple takes advantage of the fast charging capabilities by including an 18W fast charger out of the box rather than the 5W charger. A step in the right direction but still behind the curve compared to Samsung’s Galaxy Note10+, which includes a 25W charger out of the box and a 45W charger sold separately.
The display has the same notch design since the iPhone X with a new “Super Retina XDR Display.” Compared to the Super Retina HD Display on the iPhone XS Max, it has an increase in brightness, has dropped 3D touch, and increased the power efficiency by 15%. The iPhone 11 Pro Max has the same 6.5-inch multi-touch display, True Tone viewing experience, and the same pixel density at 458 ppi as the iPhone XS max. The brightness has increased from 625 nits to 800 nits with a possibility of 1200 nits of brightness in HDR mode. The increase in brightness was great for media and even better for looking at HDR content. Apple has always been good at adjusting its screens color accuracy, and the increase in brightness makes the iPhone 11 Pro Max, one of the best displays in a smartphone. It’s unfortunate that Apple has kept the notch design.
Space gray iPhone 11 Pro Max in camera mode with a wider field of view. The Super Retina XDR display with its notch design displaying the whole scene. Source: Apple
Most Smartphone devices nowadays are IP68 certified. However, Apple has taken the iPhone 11 Pro Max a step further by making it water-resistant at 4 meters for up to 30 minutes. Compared to other IP68 rated devices like the Galaxy Note10+ at 1.5 meters for 30 minutes, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the most water-resistant phone on the market for consumers. CAT ships rugged commercial phones with IP68 at 5M for 60 minutes and a IP69K phone that is resistant for 60 minutes at 3M
The iPhone 11 Pro Max also uses impressive materials. The chassis is machined from one block of stainless steel. Most smartphones have Aluminum for there chassis which is cheaper and lighter. The heavier materials are noticeable, especially because I’ve also been using the Note10+ alongside it. The back, including the camera bump, is built from one solid sheet of glass and is finished with a fingerprint-free matte finish. The matte finish makes the device slipperier, but I prefer it over a device that attracts fingerprints.
The speakers support Dolby Atmos for what Apple says is a “theatre-like experience.” I was impressed with the improved sound quality. It made no difference whether I cupped my fingers around the speaker or not. The sound was coming out right at me from everywhere. It comes in Space Gray, Gold, Silver, and a new Midnight Green that can be shown off in Apple’s clear cases.
Apple also takes into consideration the environment when building its devices. An innovation I think most companies should follow. Like Apple’s other products, the iPhone 11 Pro Max reduces environmental impact by not using certain materials in its devices. The iPhone 11 Pro max has a Mercury-free display, Arsenic-free display glass, brominated flame retardant-free, PVC-free, Beryllium-free, and uses recyclable low-carbon aluminum. Well done, Apple.
The camera, video in particular, was my favorite part of the new iPhone 11 Pro Max. It wasn’t just the new fidget spinner design that made it a great camera system. The seamless transitions between cameras and various software enhancements make the camera a delight to use. With the increase in brightness, the Super Retina XDR display was also one of the best displays I have used. The icing on the cake was the all-day battery life and the fast charging. I found it difficult to drain the battery after a full day. A beautiful display, a versatile camera system, great battery life, and the Apple ecosystem all give the iPhone 11 Pro Max a title worthy of “Pro.”