Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review: The best of the best
The Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max is the same phone as the iPhone 11 Pro, just bigger. If you’ve already read our review of the smaller phone, you might as well skip to the end of this review. You already know everything there is to know about Apple’s highly expensive, but feature-packed flagship phone for 2019/20 – apart from my final verdict, of course.
Suffice it to say, my conclusion is much the same as it was for the smaller Apple iPhone 11 Pro, and is a lot more positive than what the iPhone Xs Max received last year. That’s because – although admittedly still enormously expensive – the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max is better in almost every regard than 2018’s fleet of premium iPhones, and it addresses pretty much all of that phone’s major weaknesses.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review: What you need to know
Despite the rather confusing name change, the iPhone 11 Pro Max sits in the same position as the iPhone Xs Max did last year, at the top of Apple's iPhone range. It’s the most expensive handset Apple sells and the largest, with a 6.5in AMOLED display on the front, just like last year’s Xs Max.
Inside, it's powered by Apple’s latest A13 Bionic chip, boosting performance to the highest level we've ever seen. This is a smartphone, crazily enough, that's faster than many laptops.
Other upgrades include an extra ultra-wide-angle camera, bringing the rear camera count to a total of three, as well as a bigger battery, superior water-resistance and an upgraded front-facing camera.
The new iPhone 11 Pro Max is also available in one additional colour to last year – Midnight Green – which is rather fetching. Plus, instead of glossy glass at the back, the rear of this year’s top-end iPhone is finished in an attractive matte texture. Just like last year, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is available with 64GB, 256GB or 512GB storage options, which can’t be expanded. There is no 5G option yet, either.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review: Price and competition
As far as contracts go, you can pay as little as £1,306 in total costs over two years but only if you’re happy to stump up a fairly chunky £600 (or more) upfront. If you don’t want to do that, monthly costs for contracts with no upfront fees start at around £74 per month for a total cost over two years of nearly £1,800.
You can save some of that money if you go for the iPhone 11 Pro, which is identical to the Pro Max just with a smaller, 5.8in screen and inferior battery life. I think you’d be mad to do that; if you’re going to spend this much cash on a phone, you might as well go all out and get the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
The only Android rivals that come close, at least in terms of price, are the Huawei Mate 30 Pro (€1,100) – which we can’t currently recommend due to its lack of preloaded Google Apps – and the 6.8in Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus, which is £999.
Moving down the price scale, the 6.3in Samsung Galaxy Note 10 is also worth considering at a slightly cheaper £869, as is the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, which is now a relative steal at a little over £600 SIM-free. Neither of these alternatives are as fast as the iPhone 11 Pro Max, and their cameras aren't as good either, but in terms of outright value for money there's no getting past the fact that you get far more for your money with a Samsung phone.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review: Design and key features
Clearly, it makes much more financial sense to choose an Android phone but, if money’s no object and your heart is set on Apple’s latest flagship, then there is no doubt you’ll be pleased with the iPhone 11 Pro Max. It looks and feels fabulous and, despite my initial reservations about the triple-protrusion of camera lenses on the rear, these look much nicer in the metal than they do glaring out at you from Apple’s billboard ads.
Other than those lenses, which are trimmed attractively in colour-matched stainless steel, the core design ethos of the 11 Pro Max is similar to last year’s XsR Max. It’s a touch lighter but the size is nigh-on identical and it’s built from similarly luxurious materials: a stainless frame sandwiched by a toughened glass front and rear, with hard, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal protecting each of the three cameras.
Disappointingly, Apple has retained the phone’s large notch, which eats rather obtrusively into the 6.5in OLED screen at the front. With rival smartphone manufacturer Samsung already onto its second-generation of hole-punch front cameras with the Note 10 Plus, there’s a danger of Apple falling behind in the design stakes.
Still, that’s the only big area of contention and, in other areas, Apple stretches out a lead. It’s IP68 rated for dust- and water-resistance, which means in this case that it can be submerged in up to four metres of water for up to 30 minutes. That’s equivalent to the depth of an Olympic diving pool. A feature Tom Daly might find useful, then, if he could squeeze it into his Speedos.
And, while there’s no 5G iPhone 11 model just yet, the iPhone 11 Pro Max does benefit from faster data speeds than last year, with 4G downloads rated at up to 1.6Gbits/sec and support for Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). I’m convinced this is fast enough and should serve you perfectly well for the next two years, at which point 5G will probably be widespread enough to be a practical proposition when you upgrade to the iPhone 13.
Inevitably some will bemoan the death of 3D Touch – I do miss the ability to push into the keyboard and drag the cursor around to reposition it – but after using the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max for a few weeks, I’m not finding it something I'm all that fussed about.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review: Display
I do care about display quality, however, and this is one area in which Apple consistently excels; the display on the iPhone 11 Pro Max does not alter that trend one jot. The screen measures 6.5in across the diagonal, uses an OLED panel with a diamond sub-pixel arrangement, and has a resolution of 2,688 x 1,242 for a pixel density of 458ppi.
It looks like nothing has changed; these are the same core specifications as the iPhone Xs Max. In fact, Apple has delivered a significant upgrade this year, adding the XDR acronym to last year’s model to denote what it deems is now a professional-level display. In layman's terms, all this means is better HDR, with claimed peak brightness in HDR video of up to 1,200cd/m² (or 1,200 nits).
In testing, it absolutely lives up to that; in fact, my measurements put it at 1,292cd/m², which is even brighter than Apple’s claims. And in real-world comparisons, this translates to exceptional performance with HDR footage. In short, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the best phone I’ve ever seen for playing back HDR content and is just as good as its smaller sibling, the iPhone 11 Pro.
In truth, for most content you won’t see a huge boost in quality over last year’s phone, which was already pretty impressive and the best for HDR playback I’ve seen until now. But the difference is plain to see, with marginally brighter highlights that lend scenes an airier, more atmospheric quality.
In day-to-day use, of course, the screen doesn’t reach peaks anywhere near this high – and nor does it need to. Measured highs of 758cd/m²(in auto-brightness mode) are more than bright enough to ensure the screen is easily readable in the brightest of ambient light.
Moreover, the phone’s performance with sRGB based material, such as photographs on websites, is impeccable. I measured an average sRGB Delta E (colour accuracy) of 1.2 across a measured series of greyscale, primary and secondary colours. In this test, the lower the figure the better and 1.2 is very good indeed.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review: Performance
Inside the iPhone 11 Pro Max resides the company’s latest mobile chipset: the Apple A13 Bionic. This is a six-core chip with two performance cores for the heavy lifting (gaming, video recording/processing and so on) and four lower-power cores that deal with more humdrum tasks such as audio playback, making phone calls and browsing the web. The performance cores run at a maximum 2.65GHz while the lower-power cores run at a frequency of 1.8GHz.
Normally, we see Apple stretch out such a lead with its new chips that the competition then spends the next year scrambling to catch up, and 2019 looks to be following a similar pattern. In the benchmarks, the iPhone 11 Pro Max outperforms all of its rivals by a significant margin, both for CPU and graphics-intensive tasks. If recent history is anything to go by, this year’s iPhones will still be the fastest smartphones on the planet 12 months from now.
You might think that such power – benchmarking faster than the Surface Pro 6 in Geekbench 4 – is a little over the top for a phone and that is certainly the case for things like running basic apps and performing core functions. However, it is put to good use here, particularly in the phone’s extended dynamic range 4K video recording mode. Here, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is able to capture 4K footage at 120fps – fully stabilised – with each alternate frame shot at different levels of exposure to produce video at 60fps with a pseudo-HDR effect. 4K video capture is probably the most demanding thing you can ask any mobile chipset to process and the iPhone 11 Pro Max has the most advanced 4K video mode of any smartphone on the market.
It’s battery life where the iPhone 11 Pro Max shows most improvement over last year, with a huge gain of 7hrs 22mins in our video rundown test (which we run with the screen brightness set to 170cd/m² and airplane mode engaged), for a total time of 20hrs 7mins. That matches Apple’s claims of “up to 20 hours” by the way, which is reassuring.
In terms of real-world use, this is the first iPhone in some time that I’ve been able to use all day and felt comfortable enough to leave it on the bedside table overnight without bothering to charge it. As I write this, the phone is sitting on 75% at 14:49 in the afternoon after having been taken off charge at 6:30am. It’s not been idle during this time, either, having been used for a fairly intensive session of Call of Duty Mobile for around an hour at lunchtime, in addition to my normal pattern of use.
Plus, when you’re low on charge there’s more good news. With support for fast charging, and an 18W charger supplied in the box, it’ll go from 0% to 50% in around 30 minutes. That’s another big advance over the iPhone Xs Max from last year.
In summary, the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max’s performance is exceptional in every possible way. It’s the fastest phone around, with battery life that’s finally competitive with the best Android phones and charging is nippy, too. This is exactly what you’d expect of a phone costing upwards of £1,149, in other words.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review: Cameras
The final big improvement to the iPhone 11 Pro Max is, of course, the addition of a 12-megapixel, f/2.4 ultra-wide-camera with a 120-degree field of view. Both the primary and 2x telephoto cameras are similar to last year’s phones – both have 12-megapixel sensors and optical image stabilisation (OIS). The primary camera has an aperture of f/1.8 and the zoom lens has an f/2 aperture.
The ultra-wide camera isn’t a huge innovation – other manufacturers have had this as an option on their flagship phones for a while now – but there’s no doubt it’s a very nice extra to have. It allows you to shoot large groups of people indoors and capture far more striking landscapes outdoors than you would with a regular smartphone camera.
Apple has implemented it brilliantly, too, providing a live extra-wide preview to the sides of the normal preview, so you can see how much extra scene you can capture if you switch to the ultra-wide-angle.
As a bonus, the iPhone 11 Pro Max also captures both ultra-wide and regular wide-angle images simultaneously, allowing you to choose between them or recompose using the new Photos app after you’ve captured the image. Backup ultra-wide images are only held in reserve for 30 days, though, at which point they’re deleted.
The ultra-wide camera isn’t the only new feature. There’s also a new Night mode, which consistently produces results superior to the Google Pixel phones’ Night Sight mode and gives users a useful amount of control over how much effect to apply.
Image quality, on the other hand, is pretty much unimpeachable and on a par with the best smartphone cameras on the market. The only phone you could say is better is the Huawei Mate 30 Pro but, since that phone isn’t available in the UK and doesn’t officially work with Google apps, it’s not strictly a fair comparison.
Here are some comparison photos I shot on the iPhone 11 Pro, which has exactly the same camera hardware and software as the iPhone 11 Pro. It’s clearly apparent that the iPhone’s camera is fantastic:
Video quality, in particular, is superb, with the extended dynamic range mode helping to even out exposure when you’re shooting scenes containing extremes of light and dark. It’s also possible to shoot in 4K at 60fps fully stabilised and, while the stabilisation isn’t quite as good as OnePlus’ Super Stable video mode, it’s very good all the same.
Last, but by no means least, Apple has also given the front-facing selfie camera a major upgrade, boosting resolution from 7-megapixels last time to 12-megapixels this time around. Apologies for the subject matter but here’s a quick side-by-side comparison that demonstrates clearly how much better the new camera is than the old one (yes, I do need a haircut):
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review: Verdict
Add the quality of the photos and video to the improvements made in iOS 13, which include, among other things, the first swipe-style native Apple keyboard and a dark mode that helps eke out even more battery life, and you have one seriously impressive smartphone.
The Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max has the best display I’ve seen on a smartphone, bar none. It’s the fastest phone I’ve tested, and it has the best all-round camera, too, with only the smartphone-a-non-grata Huawei Mate 30 Pro coming close.
The 11 Pro Max’s only real problem is the same as ever: it’s so darned expensive. Although the price has risen by only £50 from last year, asking £1,149 for any phone is still too much, even for a phone as good as this. And when you can pick up a Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus for under £700 it becomes an increasingly difficult purchase to justify for anyone on any kind of normal budget.
Still, it would appear that there are plenty of people out there who just want the best phone and don’t care how much it costs to get it. If you’re a member of that lucky/crazy/financially illiterate elite then congratulations, look no further you can stop searching – you’ve found your next smartphone.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max specifications
|Processor||6-core, Apple A13 Bionic (2x|
|Screen resolution||1,242 x 2,688|
|Front camera||12MP, f/2.2|
|Rear camera||Primary: 12MP, f/1.8; 0.5x Ultrawide: 12MP, f/2.4; 2x Telephoto: 12MP, f/2.0|
|Dust and water resistance||IP68 (4m for 30mins)|
|3.5mm headphone jack||No|
|USB connection type||Apple Lightning|
|Storage options||64GB; 256GB; 512GB|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||No|
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)|
|NFC||Yes (payments only)|
|Cellular data||4G, Cat16 (1.6Gbits/sec DL)|
|Dual SIM||Yes (via e-SIM)|
|Dimensions (WDH)||78 x 8.1 x 158mm|
|Operating system||Apple iOS 13|