iPhone 13 Pro Max review: The best phone period

With the greatest camera and longest battery life of any iPhone, Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro Max is the ultimate mobile multimedia creation powerhouse.

PROS

  • Cameras of exceptional quality
  • Battery life is really lengthy.
  • Beautiful, silky-smooth screen

CONS

Cameras that are large and hefty aren’t a significant improvement over prior models.

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Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

APPLE IPHONE 13 PRO MAX SPECS

Operating SystemiOS 15
CPUApple A15
Dimensions6.33 by 3.07 by .3 inches
Screen Size6.7 inches
Screen Resolution2,778 by 1,284 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing)12MP, 12MP, 12MP; 12MP
Battery Life (As Tested)18 hours

The iPhone 13 Pro Max (which starts at $1,099) is the perfect phone for professional multimedia creators. It combines Apple’s outstanding camera technologies and software support with true two-day battery life to create a big phone that’s always ready to accomplish your ideas. While the standard iPhone 13 (starting at $799) is our Editors’ Choice and the best choice for most people, thanks to its excellent balance of size, power, battery life, and price, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is a great alternative for heavy users and artists, thanks to its killer cameras and beautiful buttress of a battery.

The Human Body Is Huge

iPhone 13 Pro Max review: The best phone period

The iPhone 13 Pro Max is, well, the best of the best. It’s a massive, heavy phone that you won’t want to use in one hand, measuring 6.3 by 3.1 by 0.3 inches and weighing 8.5 ounces. That’s the price you’ll pay for this kind of battery life (along with your $1,100). But, because it’s nearly the same size as the 12 Pro Max, you’re already used to it. It is, however, slightly heavier than the model from last year, which weighed 8.0 ounces.

This phone, like others of similar size, is more of a bag phone than a pocket phone. It fits in coat and jacket pockets, but most jeans pockets will have it sticking out.

At this size, there is one disappointment: the 13 Pro Max still has a Lightning port, rather than the USB-C port found on all “pro” iPads and even the iPad mini. USB-C would enable significantly faster charging and the interchangeability of chargers between iPads and MacBooks. When the European USB-C law takes effect in two years, this could alter.

A little smaller notch than on the iPhone 12 Pro Max gives a wide, narrow-bezel screen a little extra real estate; Apple claims the notch is 20% smaller than previously. The triple-camera setup on the rear of the Pro Max protrudes dramatically. I’d use a cover to smooth it out, but you don’t need one for protection—the phone is waterproof to IP68 and features Apple’s durable “ceramic shield” screen coating.

Blue, gold, graphite (gray), and silver are the four colors available for the 13 Pro Max. As you can see below, the blue is incredibly cool and lovely.

Double the Pleasure on Display

iPhone 13 Pro Max review: The best phone period

The iPhone 13 Pro Max, like its predecessor, sports a 6.7-inch OLED display with a resolution of 2,778 by 1,284 pixels, a wide color gamut, and Apple’s TrueTone color management system. Apple has raised the normal screen brightness from 800cd/m2 to 1,000cd/m2, but I can’t verify this with my eyes—I’ll have to wait for DisplayMate Labs’ investigation.

This year’s iPhone Pro models increase the screen refresh rate to 120Hz. For the time being, this is almost solely in Apple’s first-party apps; third-party app developers will need to update their apps to take advantage of the smoother animations.

So while you won’t notice the effect of 120Hz everywhere, you will notice it in Safari. You don’t realize how much you miss 120Hz until you have it, but once you do, it’s difficult to go back to 60Hz. It now makes a significant impact while scrolling across web sites; the pages are less demanding on the eyes due to the smoother scrolling. Here’s a brief video that compares the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro:

The 120Hz screen on the iPad Pro and Samsung Galaxy Note devices improves stylus responsiveness significantly. Because there isn’t yet a killer app, the 120Hz screen isn’t necessary a reason to go Pro. But it’s a good feature to have.

The Battery: An Unstoppable Force

iPhone 13 Pro Max review: The best phone period

You don’t want your battery to be at 1% when inspiration hits when you’re out and about creating content. It’s unlikely to be the case with the iPhone 13 Pro Max. In our regular test, this phone had the longest battery life of any iPhone ever, with a staggering 18 hours of movie playback time. That’s two and a half hours more than the iPhone 12 Pro Max and three hours more than the iPhone 13. In practice, this means that a two-day battery life is entirely conceivable.

You also have a variety of charging choices, which haven’t changed since the iPhone 12. Because the phone doesn’t come with a power adapter, you’ll need to purchase a 20W USB-C adapter to enable rapid wired charging. The phone also has 7.5W Qi wireless charging and 15W Apple MagSafe wireless charging.

Large GPU Boost for Speed and Performance

Apple’s A15 CPU with 6GB of RAM is used in the iPhone 13 Pro Max, as opposed to the iPhone 13’s 4GB of RAM. It also boasts five GPU cores compared to the iPhone 13’s four. It runs iOS 15, just like all recent iPhones.

The A15 processor is based on the same 5nm technology as the A14, and its CPU performance does not differ significantly from prior generations. That’s great; when I compared the A15 against the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, it was still the quickest mobile processor available.

On some GPU compute evaluations, the 13 Pro and Pro Max GPUs showed a massive 35 percent improvement, much more than the 20 to 25 percent improvement I’d expect from adding the extra core.

So, how does the 13 Pro Max make use of that extra GPU? The phone doesn’t require it for things like UI responsiveness and gaming frame rates, which are both excellent on the iPhone 13’s base model. It’s very certainly there to manage the 120Hz display, and it does it admirably. In the future, more GPU computational power could mean greater camera functionality.

There Isn’t Much New About Connectivity Right Now

iPhone 13 Pro Max review: The best phone period

The Qualcomm X60 modem is found in all iPhone 13 variants, as well as the same radio system, which features Wi-Fi 6 (though not 6E) and Bluetooth 5.0. Other popular smartphones this year, such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, employ the X60 modem.

For the time being, the advantages over the iPhone 12 are in power efficiency—it aids in achieving that incredible battery life. The iPhone 13’s new 5G features, on the other hand, largely prepare it for things that our carriers haven’t yet deployed to extend the range and quality of 5G. None of them appear to be features that will significantly alter the 5G experience in the next two years.

We’re not waiting for better 5G phone modems at this point; the carriers, particularly AT&T and Verizon, must increase 5G signal reach and network quality. In our Fastest Mobile Networks testing this year, the two carriers’ performance remained unchanged while we wait for them to launch speedier networks using new C-band spectrum next year. The new bands will be supported by both the iPhone 12 and 13 lines, but not by previous iPhones.

And, while you may believe that a larger phone provides greater reception, I have no evidence that this is the case. In my tests, all of the iPhone 13 models functioned similarly on Wi-Fi, as well as on the T-Mobile and Verizon networks.

All Pros, No Cons When It Comes to the Camera

iPhone 13 Pro Max review: The best phone period

It’s not only the specs that make the iPhone 13 Pro the best device for visual content creators. To snap images and create videos during the last year, I’ve used either a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or an iPhone 12 Pro Max.

The 10x zoom on the S21 Ultra is fantastic. When it comes to video, however, Apple’s algorithms consistently produce more constant focus and more consistent exposure balance. You need to rely on AI a lot when taking films of oneself because you can’t tamper with the settings, and Apple’s AI is still the smartest in the business.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max lacks some of the S21 Ultra’s most unique features. There are no 960fps super slow-mo or 8K recording options. However, when I spoke with actual professional video artists, they seemed to prefer Apple’s feature set over Samsung’s. Here are two good examples: More consumers appear to prefer Apple’s Dolby Vision HDR over Samsung’s HDR10+, as well as Apple’s new (to the iPhone) ProRes video capture codec, which allows experienced editors to have a great deal of control over final video quality.

I’m also sad to inform non-Apple users that pro photographers and videographers often work within the iOS ecosystem. Third-party picture and video apps are released first for iOS, and iOS devices work effortlessly with Mac PCs, which are used by most film and art teams (including ours).

No one is surprised that serious video artists still use iPhones. What makes the iPhone 13 Pro Max superior to the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the iPhone 13? I didn’t have a 12 Pro Max to compare the 13 Pro Max to, but I did have an iPhone 12 Pro to compare it to.

There’s the zoom, for starters. When you go from the iPhone 13 to the iPhone Pro or Pro Max, you get a 3x optical zoom, which is considerably superior to the digital zoom on less priced phones and also superior to the 2x zoom on last year’s Pro and 2.5x zoom on last year’s Pro Max.

Macro photography is now available on the 13 Pro and Pro Max, allowing you to snap super-sharp close-up images. As you can see below, earlier models have problems focusing at short distances. Macro photography has never appealed to me, yet it is a popular activity among more serious photographers.

The iPhone 13 Pro Max’s camera has a bigger sensor, which promises better low-light photography, but in my experience, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference. The iPhone 13 Pro Max‘s larger aperture resulted in far less noise in this photo of a doll on a very dark rooftop as compared to the iPhone 12 Pro. (However, the 12 Pro Max outperformed the 12 Pro in low-light situations.)

At other instances, I had a hard time distinguishing between night mode and normal mode images. There is a slight improvement in the quality of the tiles in this photograph, taken in a relatively low-light environment but not night mode, but not enough to shake anyone’s world.

Should You Become a Professional?

It’s a little difficult to recommend the iPhone 13 Pro Max as a replacement for the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which offers a comparably good camera and long battery life. I just don’t see the enormous year-over-year camera advancements that are required to make a difference. However, since you’re unlikely to upgrade your year-old phone, this isn’t much of an issue. Everyone else should consider upgrading to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which is a fantastic content creation powerhouse.

If you’re coming from a T-Mobile 11 Pro Max, 5G will make a significant difference, as our Fastest Mobile Networks testing demonstrate. Subscribers of AT&T and Verizon will most likely have to wait another year.

The improvements in low-light image and video quality coming with the iPhone 11 generation will change your photo and video landscape, so upgrading is absolutely worthwhile. The 13 Pro Max‘s battery life ensures that it will be ready when you are.

In that regard, the extra battery life makes the iPhone 13 Pro Max, in my opinion, worth the $100 premium above the 13 Pro. Again, fewer “advanced” users will likely be just as satisfied with the basic iPhone 13, which costs $300 less and is our Editors’ Choice for the vast majority of consumers. When it comes to creating your next masterpiece, though, nothing beats a Pro, and the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the pinnacle of Apple’s offerings.

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.


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