Hands on: iPhone 11 Pro Max review

If you think the iPhone 11 Pro Max looks familiar, then you’ve probably already wandered through our hands-on: iPhone 11 Pro review, and are wondering if the larger model is worth checking out instead. (If you haven’t, you really should. Don’t worry… we’ll wait). 

Well, luckily for you we’ve had our hands on both phones at the iPhone 11 launch event, and we’re primed to give you the inside scoop on what’s actually different between the two models.

Spoiler: it’s mostly that this one is a little bit bigger than the iPhone 11 Pro. Like that smaller device, the Pro Max looks very similar to 2018’s iPhone, with an almost identical design and screen shape.

However, there’s still a fair bit to pick through – and the iPhone XS Max was the phone of choice for a number of users last year, thanks to its larger battery and more expansive screen.

In fact, 2018’s XS Max was the most powerful and well-specified iPhone of all time – so how impressively does the iPhone 11 Pro Max pick up that baton?

iPhone 11 Pro Max release date and price

  • iPhone 11 Pro Max launch date: September 10
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max pre-order date: September 13
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max release date: September 20
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max price: starts at $1,099 (£1,149, AU$1,899)

iPhone 11 Pro Max review

The main difference between the 11 Pro and Max is the size

(Image credit: TechRadar)

If you’re looking to get your hands on this gargantuan phone, the iPhone 11 Pro Max release date has been set for Friday, September 20 – which means you really don’t have long to wait.

Already know you want it? Then you’ll want to mark the iPhone 11 Pro Max pre-order date of Friday, September 13 in your diary.

The price, however, might be a sticking point for many. It’s a bit trite to talk about how the high-end model costs more than a MacBook in certain territories – it’s true, but this has been the case for years now – and it’s really just a sensationalist headline, as they’re very different products.

However, it does illustrate how expensive the iPhone 11 Pro Max is if you want the very top iPhone.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max price starts at $1,099 (£1,149, AU$1,899) for the 64GB model. Storage capacity then jumps to 256GB with an asking price of $1,249 (£1,299, AU$2,149) and goes all the way up to $1,449 (£1,499, AU$2,499) for the most expensive 512GB model – so if you’re not rich enough to swim regularly in a pool of money, it’s probably time to get saving.

iPhone 11 Pro Max camera and video

iPhone 11 Pro Max review

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The camera was the most heavily-rumored element in the build-up to 2019’s iPhone launch, but it’s also one of the most powerful elements of the device now.

As predicted, the rear array comprises three cameras, each with 12MP sensors: a ‘standard’ shooter, an ultra-wide option and a 2x optical zoom lens (it’s only a 4x zoom when you take into account the ultra-wide lens to the telephoto lens).

Before we get into the power and versatility that the iPhone 11 Pro camera setup offers, it’s important to talk about the large square bump that sits on the rear of the phone. 

It’s needed because there are now three sensors and a flash in the mix too – and by having this section raised the user gets a slimmer device in the hand as well as powerful cameras.

It’s impossible to pretend that this is an attractive look for the new iPhone 11 Pro – it would be infinitely preferable if the rear was all one smooth piece of glass. And while we’re used to the camera bump from Apple, this feels like a step too far – even though the images we saw in demo seem great, the design matters to users. 

We would say that fact the camera bump is a similar color as the rest of the rear of the phone really does help this – there’s no doubt the black option we saw in the build up wasn’t something many would love to look at – but it’s still rather large on the rear.

How do the photos look? Well (as usual) we had only a limited opportunity to put the cameras through their paces in the demo area. However, the overall image quality was as sharp as ever, and trying the camera in bright, clear light offered smart-looking snaps.

iPhone 11 Pro Max review

The multi-camera array allows you to zoom in or out by 2x – although it was a little juddery in our demo as each sensor passed to the other.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The background defocus mode, which Apple calls its Portrait feature, is back, and it’s more impressive than ever. There’s a high-exposure mode here, so you can create more clear-cut exposures when taking pictures of friends, or group shots.

This has been upgraded to include the ability to take sharper, more studio-looking images from the phone, with a more effective mask being able to work out where the background and foreground begin and end.

But the main changes here center around what the phone can do to match up to the likes of Google, Samsung and Huawei – and here’s where Apple is shouting about the smarts inside its phone. 

Firstly – and this isn’t coming straight away, but later in the year through a software update – the iPhone 11 Pro packs something called ‘Deep Fusion’ where the phone will take eight images before you even press the shutter button.

It will also take one long exposure image, and – according to Apple – will then go through the whole image pixel-by-pixel to work out the optimum color and lighting on each. It’s a bold claim, and is Apple’s take on AI photography by using the Neural Engine that’s packed into the new A13 Bionic chip inside.

Low light performance is also automatically improved (and this feature is there from the start) – again, not being able to test this at the demo was tough, but the images shown really did have some higher performance – and this was across both the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro ranges.

Even zooming into the new Night Mode-shot image saw something clear and bright – it definitely looked more impressive indoors than out, and the great news is that this is automatic… there’s nothing worse than having to activate a mode like this.

Whether it’ll be a match for Google’s Night Sight is another thing, and it’s something we need need to test further.

Thanks to that ultra-wide lens enabling the camera to take in more of the scene in front of you, Apple’s new iPhone 11 Pro will even be able to visually suggest such enhancements for you, if it senses there’s a better snap in there somewhere, while taking the snap – this was a nice touch.

However, we did note a small amount of judder when flipping between the different lenses as the iPhone worked to try and make things as smooth as possible – that was something that we’ve seen on a number of other phones, and makes sense when trying to interpolate a different field of view, but did diminish the overall effect somewhat.

Check out the differences between the test pictures on show at the launch event:

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iPhone 11 Pro Max review

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iPhone 11 Pro Max review

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iPhone 11 Pro Max review

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iPhone 11 Pro Max review

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That powerful chipset in the beating heart of the iPhone 11 Pro Max is also capable of some truly impressive video shooting – 4K native video at 60fps, and Apple was at great pains to talk about how wonderful it was in the launch.

As the smartphone begins to be the primary on-the-go video editing device for many, features like these are invaluable, and it’s good to see Apple adding them into its latest lineup of iPhones.

Being able to record and edit right from the iPhone finally seems like a reality with this new model – so we’re looking forward to see if it’s useful for the non-professional director too.

However, beyond that we’re not really able to tell much more about the camera on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The main findings during our time snapping with the phones at the launch event was minimal, but we did notice the camera was as fast and crisp as ever in bright light.

iPhone 11 Pro Max design and display

iPhone 11 Pro Max review

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Design-wise, the iPhone 11 Pro Max doesn’t offer much that’s different from the iPhone 11 Pro. Like the iPhone XS and XS Max pairing, these two phones are designed to be just larger / small variants of one another, allowing users to decide which fits them best.

iPhone 11 Pro Max specs

Weight: 226g
Dimensions: 158 x 77.8 x 8.1mm
OS: iOS 13
Screen size: 6.5-inch
Resolution: 2688 x 1242
CPU: A13 Bionic
Storage: 64/256/512GB
Battery:  5 hours longer than XS Max
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 12MP
Waterproof: IP68
Headphone jack: No

The iPhone 11 Pro Max is very similar to the larger model from 2018, in that it offers the metallic rim, a glass back and speaker grilles at the bottom of the device. 

The main change is the aforementioned camera bump. We’ve had bumps on iPhones for a number of years now, a way to get the phone to feel slim and sleek in the hand while allowing a bit more space for the sensors to draw in more light and improve your smartphone pics.

The display panel technology is much the same as last year too – the OLED display remains, meaning clear images, high-resolution sharpness, punchier colors and more vivid contrast between light and dark areas of images.

What’s new is the Super Retina XDR display, which literally brightens things up with two new peak brightness numbers: 800 nits when you’re out in the sun and need the screen bright while viewing non-HDR content, and an impressive 1200 nits when you’re out there and happen to be viewing HDR content.

It looks far brighter at 1200nits, which means you’ll be able to watch movies that support HDR10 and Dolby Vision in ever-greater depth, as well as use the display as a better reference monitor for shooting video. 

iPhone 11 Pro Max review

(Image credit: TechRadar)

You can watch a range of titles in blinding brightness and still see the dark scenes with clarity – testing out the movies on offer with the phone showed us nothing new in terms of performance – but this was in the bright, airy demo area and needs a proper session to try it out.

The larger 6.5-inch screen still feels large in the hand, even if you’re used to using a bigger phone, but that’s not to say it’s too large – essentially, if you’re picking this phone then you know you’re paying to have more to hold. 

In our opinion, if you can handle the larger screen size, then you should take advantage of it – it offers more real estate for browsing the web, more sharpness, and a better display for watching movies and playing games – all of which are wonderful things to have on a smartphone. 

Just make sure to get an iPhone 11 Pro Max case in the event of drops – of which there will be a few if you’ve got larger hands.

iPhone 11 Pro Max battery life and iOS 13

Like its smaller sibling, the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s status as one of the flagship phones from Apple in 2019 means it’s showing off the best of iOS 13.

The interface is much as you’d expect, especially if you’ve been using the public build of iOS 13 beta for the last month or two.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some extra features on offer here with the new 11 Pro – for instance, Face ID has been improved, thanks to the wider field of vision of the front-facing camera.

The main thing that we tried out in our preview time was the gaming capabilities of the new iPhone 11 Pro Max (we’re not going to get used to that name any time soon). A lot was made of the fact the A13 Bionic chipset is not only the fastest in any smartphone, but also one of the most graphically-powerful too.

Testing the game Pascal’s Wager in the demo area showed a couple of things: it took a little while longer to load than we expected, but once going the graphical prowess of the light bouncing off the main character’s armor, and the rendering of the shadows around, was really amazing on a smartphone.

iPhone 11 Pro Max review

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The key question is how this power translates to a long gaming session – Apple is confident it can keep things trucking along for the entire time, but let’s find out how that affects the power levels over a longer session.

In terms of battery life, Apple is touting the capabilities of the A13 Bionic chipset to extend the time between charges. It’s claiming a five hours increase in lifetime compared to the iPhone XS Max from 12 months prior, and is also – finally – bundling a fast charger in the box.

We say finally because this is something that Samsung and others have been offering for a while now, so it’s welcome news that everyone who buys the new iPhone 11 Pro Max will be able to take advantage of fast charging from the get-go. Apple touts a 0% to 50% charge in just 30 minutes with the included 18W adapter.

There’s no reverse wireless charging on offer here – it was oft-rumored in the build-up to the iPhone launch, but it seems that Apple couldn’t make the functionality work as it wanted.

The idea was to have your AirPods, Apple Watch or – possibly – even another iPhone charge off the back of your device, but that’s not going to happen now. However, wireless charging is on offer, meaning you won’t always need to plug in the Lightning cable to grab some precious percentage points of battery.

While we’ve not tested it yet, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is instantly going to have better battery life than the smaller iPhone 11 Pro, thanks to having space in its larger chassis for a physically larger battery; more space = more mAh to keep your phone chugging along for longer.

Early verdict

iPhone 11 Pro Max review

(Image credit: TechRadar)

If you’re someone who just wants the very best iPhone – in terms of power and performance – then the iPhone 11 Pro Max is very likely to be it.

Its main hindrance is its size – it’s a large phone in the hand, make no bones about it. It’s also not as iterative as the iPhone 11 Pro, simply because last year was the first time we saw a phone of this screen size.

However, the design is starting to look a little dated with the notch at the top of the screen, and the absence of certain features that other rivals pack. 

It’s firmly part of the Apple ethos of making a smartphone ‘just good enough’, with things like the upgraded camera making it just enough of a different proposition from the iPhone XS Max for Apple fans – but it doesn’t feel like a must-have, despite being now aimed at the ‘pro’ market… or those that aspire to be part of it.

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