While reviewing the iPhone XS last year, I faced a problem: How do you review a phone that is mostly an evolution, and that too fairly incremental, on an already phenomenal phone? This year as I take a look at the iPhone 11 Pro Max, I have the same problem. How do you review the iPhone 11 Pro Max, that barring its new camera setup, for all practical purposes is similar to the iPhone XS Max? Even the India price is same. The iPhone XS Max was launched at a price of Rs 109,900 in India. The starting price of the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the same.
The problem — for us tech reviewers and not for consumers — I believe is that in the world of iPhones stuff happens at a different pace. It is good for consumers who tend upgrade their phone in two to three years. Unlike in the Android market, where every 3 months we see something or other that changes the whole equation for Android phone users, for iPhone users the change is gradual. Or how they say, slow and steady. This is the reason why it is difficult to compare the iPhone 11 Pro Max to the iPhone XS Max. They are too similar. A better way to look at the iPhone 11 Pro is by comparing it to something like the iPhone 7 Plus. And when you do that, you realise the real merits of the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
But market philosophy aside, you are probably reading this review to know just how good is the iPhone 11 Pro Max and whether you should buy it or not? As it happens with any iPhone, and particularly an iPhone that costs more than Rs 1 lakh, there is no YES or NO answer to this. It’s all about, it depends.
iPhone 11 Pro Max design
Visually, compared to the iPhone XS Max, there are two major changes. One of these has been necessitated by a new camera system that Apple has in this phone. The second change is largely to improve aesthetics. The iPhone 11 Pro Max comes in four colours: gold, grey, silver and a shade of green. The one that you see in this review is the “space grey”.
Like the last year’s comparable iPhone, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is using a steel frame — finished in chrome — and a glass body. The workmanship is of top quality, and when you hold the phone in hands you do get the impression that you are holding a very expensive phone. Of late, on build quality and finishing, Android phone makers have caught up to Apple — OnePlus 7T for example despite its low price has brilliant finishing — so you no longer get the impression that you are holding a “special” phone. But it is nice to see that Apple continues to meet or exceed the best standards in the industry, unlike say last year’s Google Pixel phones that didn’t look very expensive despite their high prices.
One of the big changes in design — the aesthetic one — is the frosted glass finish that the iPhone 11 Pro and the 11 Pro Max are using. This is softer to touch, with matte feel, and it’s a change from the shiny finish that Apple was earlier using. It’s a change for good, because it makes the iPhone 11 Pro Max look understated yet classy. It’s that effortless elegance thing.
The other big design change is the camera module, with its 3 lenses. Yes, it juts out ever so slightly and you can feel and notice the bump. But Apple has done its best to make it look good. The whole back cover, including the raised casing for the camera module is made of single piece of glass. So, although the camera module doesn’t sit flushed with the back cover, it also doesn’t look out of place.
In terms of design, everything else is more or less what the iPhone users are used to seeing. On the front there is the big notch. Compared to the water-drop notches we are seeing on some Android phones, it’s huge. Compared to the large notch on, say Pixel 3 XL, it looks elegant. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is a water and dust proof phone.
Like previous iPhones, the iPhone 11 Pro is a classy phone, albeit one that is quite familiar. My only niggle with the iPhone 11 Pro Max is its size and weight. With a 6.5-inch screen, this is a big phone and all that metal and glass in its body adds to the weight, which is fairly hefty at 226 grams. Combine this with the fact that on the iPhone, the back button is — still — often on top of the apps, and you can say that the iPhone 11 Pro Max is not for single-hand use. For that, the iPhone 11 Pro with its 5.8-inch screen is a better option.
iPhone 11 Pro Max camera
While Apple has adopted the idea of slow and steady with its recent iPhones, the one area where the company continues to add features and refine performance in a major way is the camera. The camera is a the biggest reason — that is you must have that reason — to upgrade to the iPhone 11 Pro even if your existing iPhone is just a year old.
The rear camera is also the part in which the iPhone 11 Pro differs significantly compared to the iPhone 11. There are three rear cameras in the iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro Max. There is the main camera, which uses a 12-megapixel sensor paired with a regular wide-angle lens. Then there is the telephoto lens, which too is paired with a 12-megapixel sensor. And the new part this year is the camera with an ultra-wide angle lens. This too uses a 12-megapixel sensor.
But beyond the sensors and lenses, what is important here is that iPhone 11 Pro comes with improved low-light photography performance. Apple is using a sort of night mode — something that we already have in several Android phones, including in the Google Pixel — to improve performance in low light. And performance in low light has been improved big time.
In absolute low light conditions — in the image samples check the photo of three girls — the iPhone 11 Pro Max clicks absolutely gorgeous photos. There is some problem with ghosts, these are the green blobs that appear in photos, but other than that I believe the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the best phone to click late night photos at a terrace party, where this photo was clicked. This scene was very dark but from the photo, you will not get that impression. In these scenes the iPhone 11 Pro Max is better than the Google Pixel 3 XL!
Apple has also implemented the night mode in a way that it is triggered automatically, depending on the light. This is unlike other phones, where users have to manually switch to the night mode. Depending on the light, the iPhone 11 Pro Max sets night mode timing of anything between 1 second to 5 seconds.
Other than the new night mode, the camera performance of the iPhone 11 Pro Max is on the expected lines. I find that it closes the gap between the iPhone and the Google Pixel phones significantly, but overall I still prefer the photos the Pixel 3 XL clicks. That, though, doesn’t mean that iPhone 11 Pro Max is not a great camera to use. It depends on your use case. With its wide-angle lens, it surely is more fun to use. The new studio light mode, which clicks black and white portraits in high key, is fantastic. The ability to switch between ultra-wide lens and telephoto lens is neat, and for video recording the iPhone 11 Pro Max is not only unmatched but is miles ahead of others.
At the same time, there are areas where the camera performance of the iPhone 11 Pro Max could have been better. In good day light, the colours and level of details is fairly fine in the photos that the iPhone 11 Pro Max clicks. In ultra low light, it is better than the best. But in indoor light, or in moderately low light, for example on a cloudy day, I find that it is not the absolute best. It is still among the best but the photos don’t have the kind of details, dynamic range, although it is improved compared to earlier iPhones, and colour fidelity that something like the Google Pixel 3 XL can manage. This is particularly the case with the zoom lens and with the wide-angle lens. And for some reason, I also find that the images clicked with the Google Pixel 3XL are more malleable, and can be edited for better results.
The story with the front camera is the same. The iPhone 11 Pro Max clicks wonderful selfies with great details when the light is good. When the light goes down, details go down too. There is new mode called “slofie” that lets users click very short slow-motion selfie videos. Some people will find it fun.
Using iPhone 11 Pro Max
If you are coming from a phone like the iPhone XS Max or even the iPhone XR, you won’t find the iPhone 11 Pro Max any different as far as using it is concerned. You get the same iOS 13, now with some new features like call blocking for unknown numbers and some bugs that new software tends to have. Apple says there is a more powerful chip inside the iPhone 11 Pro. This is A13. But performance boost is something you are not going to notice, because all iPhones launched in the last 3 years or so are absolutely smooth. You can’t perceive lag on the iPhone X and you will not see it on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Things like a display with higher refresh rate, something that phones like recently launched OnePlus 7T and Asus ROG have, could have made a difference but I guess we will have to wait until 2020 to see that on the iPhone.
The iOS works the way it does. In other words, it is safe — safer than Android — and slick. It’s better at privacy of users. It has smooth animations. But if you are coming from an Android phone, you will still find it a bit quirky, in the way the back buttons works, or the way you can share stuff between devices, or how quickly you can take out a couple of photos from the phone, put them in your computer and edit them. If you are a long time iPhone users, you will likely prefer it compared to Android.
In terms of hardware, everything is top notch in the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The OLED 6.5-inch screen is wonderful. It shows great colours, and it has 2688 x 1242 pixels so even if you go looking for pixelated content with a microscope you will not find it.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max supports Dolby sound and while using the phone I found that it means something and is not just another sticker on the box. The music sounds meaty on this phone, and the audio is clear and loud when a video is playing. The Face ID is fast. Gaming is smooth, hello Call of Duty Mobile.
One area where you will indeed find big difference between the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the iPhone XS Max is the battery life. The battery life of the iPhone 11 Pro Max is phenomenal, easily lasting a day and then some more. For the first time, Apple is also bundling a faster 18W charger with the iPhone. It takes around one and half hours to fully juice up the phone battery from 0 per cent. This is a huge improvement compared to the previous iPhones, though I wish Apple had used USB-C port on the iPhone because that is what the rest of the world uses, including the MacBooks, and that would have meant people carrying just one charger for most of their computing devices.
iPhone 11 Pro Max vs iPhone 11 Pro vs iPhone 11
How do I sum up the iPhone 11 Pro Max? I did that in the headline. There is no perfect phone, but if you want to buy the best available phone, go get the iPhone 11 Pro Max. It’s pricey, but it is also phenomenally fast and dependable in every way. The iPhone experience, complete with the iOS, is distinct and mostly for better. And when it comes to the iPhone experience, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the best.
But then you also have the iPhone 11 and the iPhone 11 Pro. They are cheaper and more or less equally good. The iPhone 11 Pro is what you should get if you want to save Rs 10,000 as well as want a phone that is good enough for single-hand use. And the iPhone 11 is what you should get if you want to save Rs 45,000 and are willing to give up the ultra wide camera and OLED screen, which unless you are very specific on getting “absolute best” you should.