Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review: Big improvements at a hefty price
Apple has made significant improvements in camera optics and battery life for the iPhone 11 Pro Max, but it's still an expensive phone that trails its Android competition in several ways.
- Best battery life in an iPhone to date.
- Triple camera gives plenty of photographic flexibility.
- Improved low light photography.
- Exceptional video quality.
- A13 Bionic is a beast of a processor.
- It's very expensive.
- No onboard 5G.
- No warranty coverage for water ingress.
- Low light shooting is better on several Android handsets.
If you've been holding out on an iPhone upgrade, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is an easy recommendation, but you've got to be willing to open your wallet up wide to get one.
The Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max is the flagship of Apple's 2019 smartphone range. It's the biggest and boldest of Apple's line-up to date, with a price point to match. Apple's hype would have you believe it's the best smartphone that money can buy.
How true is that? There's a lot that's highly laudable about the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, especially if you're coming from the perspective of simply looking at iPhones. The camera is much better, and likewise battery life has improved markedly. As an upgrade option, it's a fine prospect.
However, compared against the wider smartphone space it's a far more mixed question, especially at the iPhone 11 Pro Max's high asking price.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: Design
- A gentle revision of the existing iPhone design.
- Triple camera is a love it or loathe it proposition.
- Improved water resistance, but no real water warranty protection to back it up.
- Smaller range of colour choices than iPhone 11.
Apple hasn't totally reinvented its design ideas with the iPhone 11 Pro Max, despite the inclusion of that "Pro" suffix. The iPhone 11 Pro Max measures in at 158 x 77.8 x 8.1mm with a carrying weight of 226 grams, so you'll absolutely feel it in your hand when you pick it up, similar to last year's Apple iPhone XS Max.
The finish on the back of the casing is a little less slippery than most glass-backed phones, which is a nice design touch. Apple has also eschewed putting the word "iPhone" on the back of the phone at all, quite possibly because you'd need an even wider phone to fit all of "iPhone 11 Pro Max" on there. Either that, or incredibly tiny script. All you get to tell the world that it's an iPhone is a shiny Apple logo. Curiously it's the only part of the rear of the case that easily picks up fingerprints.
Mind you, that's not what's going to stand out on the back, because that's the rear triple camera array which sits in a triangular orientation within a rounded square bracket. It's an unexpectedly "techy" looking bit of design out of Apple, and also a factor that means the iPhone 11 Pro Max never sits fully flush on a flat surface. That's unless you pop it into a case, and I'd so strongly advocate for that approach. Even if you don't like cases, grab a clear one, because if nothing else, you'll get a better resale price for your iPhone a few years down the track if it's free from even micro abrasions on the rear casing.
Apple sure does love its superlatives
At the front, the iPhone 11 Pro Max features a 6.5 inch 1,242 x 2,688 pixel OLED display that Apple refers to as the "Super Retina XDR" display. Apple sure does love its superlatives, and it's entirely fair to note that this isn't the highest resolution display you can get in a smartphone. Still, it's one that's very nicely colour corrected with good visibility from all angles and support for HDR10 and Dolby Vision viewing. Is that overkill on a 6.5-inch screen? Probably, but it does look very nice indeed.
Despite some early rumours that Apple might revive TouchID via an in-display fingerprint sensor, it's stuck to its position of supporting FaceID for biometric unlocking, which means that the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max still has a noticeable notch at the top of the display. It's very much a personal taste issue as to whether notches bother you, but if they do, you won't be able to ignore the notch here, even if you do punch the iPhone 11 Pro Max into iOS 13's dark mode.
One design improvement for the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max is the upping of its water resistance. Apple says that it's good for water resistance for up to 30 minutes at up to 4 metres of depth. That's twice the rating of last year's Apple iPhone XS Max, but there's a big catch here. The iPhone 11 Pro Max should be able to survive a bit of accidental immersion, but if something does go wrong, Apple's Australian warranty very explicitly does not cover any water ingress events.
Or in other words, Apple says it's good for up to 4 metres of immersion, but if it breaks due to water, it won't support it under warranty in any way at all. This isn't a new position for Apple, which has held this line as long as it's had water-resistant iPhones, but it's concerning given the high price you pay for the phone. It would certainly be unwise to deliberately put the iPhone 11 Pro Max underwater.
So, of course, I did just that with the review model Apple gave me.
To be clear, I didn't drown the iPhone 11 Pro to a depth of 4 metres or for half an hour. It did survive, but I won't pretend that it wasn't a nerve-racking experience doing so deliberately. Also, because comedy loves company, it rang while I was fishing it out of the jug of water. Talking on a phone that's still dribbling water is an... interesting experience.
If you buy the Apple iPhone 11, you can get it in white, black, green, yellow, purple or PRODUCT(RED) finishes. But the Pro series is different, with just the choice of Space Grey, Silver, Gold and the new Midnight Green finishes to choose from. I tested with the gold, but had a little hands-on time with the Midnight Green colour, which felt a little cold and foreboding to me. Your taste may of course vary, and if you do want more colours, again a case would be a good way to solve that issue.Back to top
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: Camera
- Triple lens is new for Apple and provides lots of photo options.
- Low light performance has improved massively, but it's still not the best.
- Great for video shooting.
- An easy camera for capturing good photos.
Apple's hype around the inclusion of its first triple camera rear lens array might leave you thinking that it had invented the whole concept of placing three lenses onto a camera. It ain't so folks, because there are countless Android counter-examples that were there first, in some cases by years, not months.
Still, what you get is a good array for adding a degree of flexibility to your photographic choices. What you get is a trio of 12MP lenses, covering wide, ultrawide and telephoto shooting modes. Ultrawide is especially good for landscape shooting, but it's also a good option to give your closer shots further context.
So here's a sample wide shot:
The same shot in ultra wide:
And then to flip it around, the detail in the telephoto lens:
Apple's entire mantra around its camera software is simplicity and control, and this makes it a very appealing prospect for folks who just want to shoot and get an essentially good result. There's no array of sliders or even that many choices to make when you're taking a shot, so you're very much letting the iPhone camera app make the choices for you. There are some nice new tweaks in place, like video automatically starting if you hold down the still shutter button, so you don't have to switch modes, but it's still very much a guided process.
For the most part this works very well, delivering crisp but rarely over-processed or fake looking photos. Apple's portrait modes remain my favourite for shooting faces thanks to the ability to deliver DSLR-style bokeh to shots, and this year the inclusion of an additional lens means you're not limited to just shooting human faces. Your experiences can vary as to where the bokeh comes in if you're shooting pets or other objects, but it's generally very pleasing.
Then there's the new night mode, which adds low light capabilities to the iPhone platform in a rather explicit way. Low light capability is absolutely a bedrock foundation of any premium smartphone, because just about any mid-range phone can handle good shots in reasonable light.
Apple's night mode is very typical of Apple's general "control everything" approach.
Apple's night mode is very typical of Apple's general "control everything" approach. It's all about control, because you can't actually choose to engage night mode at all for any given shot. It'll only engage if the sensors themselves judge the ambient light to be low enough, at which point an icon with a seconds countdown – typically from 1 to 3 seconds – will appear in the upper left-hand corner of the camera interface.
Like competing night modes, this isn't a counter for a long exposure shot, but instead an approach that takes multiple photos over its shooting time before stitching them together into a brighter and clearer final shot. Apple's software for this is quite fun to watch in action, as you see each exposure taken as it gradually opens up for more light before the final shot is taken.
While you're limited to a maximum of 3 seconds in handheld mode, if you drop the iPhone 11 Pro Max into a tripod, you can bump that shooting time up as high as 28 seconds. You'll absolutely need a remote Bluetooth shutter in that case because any movement, including hitting the onscreen shutter button on the iPhone 11 Pro Max is enough to make it think you're working in handheld mode, at which point your counter maxes out at 3 seconds again.
It's also a somewhat fiddly process getting the touch right to slide up the timing in either handheld or tripod, because the touch zone around it is rather small. Apple is also keeping Night Mode to itself, with no API available to external developers. So if you favour any of the many competing iOS camera apps, you won't be able to use Night Mode with them, at least for the time being.
Still, what matters here is results, and it's a very mixed matter. Last year's Apple iPhone XS Max was easily the worst low light performer against its pack of Android alternatives, and here Apple has done a lot of great work in making the iPhone 11 Pro Max a whole lot better.
I could never have got this shot out of the iPhone XS Max.
Or for that matter this one.
Apple's night mode photos tend towards realistic colour tones, which I do appreciate. Some cameras, such as Google's AI-driven Google Pixel 3 camera, often oversaturate colours, but that's not often an issue here.
However, it's worth looking at the iPhone 11 Pro's night capabilities in a wider context.
To do that, I took it and a handful of competing Android phones to a local park for a deliberately brutal test, shooting in near darkness with just one nearby streetlight providing any illumination. All shots were taken with phones resting on the park fence, but otherwise effectively in "handheld" mode.
The Apple iPhone XS Max in similar tests could barely make out anything, but how would the iPhone 11 Pro Max fare?
Well, first off, here's the competing Samsung Galaxy S10 5G taking the shot in its own night mode:
And then the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ in the same circumstances:
Google's Pixel 3XL only has a single rear lens, but it does make a very good effort under deliberately taxing circumstances:
And then there's the exceptional Huawei P30 Pro:
So how does the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max compare?
Apple has done a lot of work to get its night mode up to scratch, but it's still a very wide margin between it and the very best Android low light shooting modes. This is a deliberately tough test, and it's commendable that the iPhone 11 Pro Max has come as far as it can – but there's still work to do.
One area where Apple has absolutely dominated in the smartphone camera space is in video, and this is absolutely still the case for the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
While again, you've got to drop into the separate settings app to choose video quality, you can shoot at anywhere up to 4K/60fps in quite stunning clarity, even in handheld modes. It's pretty much the reverse of its night mode shooting scenario; while it's catching up there, everyone else is still busy catching up to Apple when it comes time to capture moving pictures of any kind.
Apple has also beefed up the front facing selfie camera, with a 12MP f/2.2 sensor that captures generally flattering portrait photos with a variety of adjustable parameters. Again it's not flawless, but it's generally good. My own lack of hair often befuddles portrait modes, but the iPhone 11 Pro Max handled it fairly well.
You can also adjust the lighting and other factors with easy to access sliders, including the new high key light mono setting:
You can see on my shoulder how the portrait lighting hasn't quite cut out all of the train seat behind me, but it's still a very good effort overall.
Is the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max equipped with the world's best mobile camera as Apple would have you believe?
It's a slightly open question. It's easily the best camera array in an iPhone to date, and a significant upgrade on previous iPhone generations in terms of photo quality and flexibility. Portrait shooting and video shooting are particular strong points, and low light shooting capabilities are substantially improved, but they're still not quite best in class.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max sample photos
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Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: Performance
- Apple A13 Bionic is a beast of a processor.
- iOS 13 is easy to use with a great array of apps.
- It's still Apple's walled garden to play in.
- Finally properly eSIM across all Australian carriers.
- At this price, the lack of 5G hurts.
Apple sells itself on experiences much more than on technical specifications. It's significantly more fussed with selling what you can do with its hardware rather than detailing each specific technical part, and that's quite a deliberate move.
As an example, while the heart of the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max is its own Apple A13 Bionic Silicon, iFixit's teardown (and benchmarks) of the phone suggests that it's running on a meagre 4GB of RAM. That kind of figure put Google in some trouble for its Pixel 3 line, but for Apple, the strength of the A13 Bionic, and its own control of iOS, means it's really not an issue for overall performance.
It's not quite a (cough) apples to apples issue to compare across iOS and Android because of the underlying software differences, but in most cases, the A13 Bionic continues Apple's trend of offering up industry-leading processors. Here's how the Apple iPhone 11 Pro compares using Geekbench 4's CPU test:
Primate Labs has recently updated Geekbench 4 to Geekbench 5, and here's how it compares against other flagship phones for that benchmark's CPU test:
Apple typically doesn't score as well on 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme test, but then plenty of Apple games address Apple's Metal API instead of OpenGL anyway. Regardless, the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max compares pretty favourably here too:
Apple continues to benefit from the tight control it has not only over its hardware but also the software that runs on its mobile devices. iOS 13 brings with it a raft of new features, including the Apple Arcade subscription service, but there's basically nothing that's "unique" to the iPhone 11 Pro Max. If you're reading this on an iPhone XS Max that's updated recently, from a software sense there's nothing you're missing, except maybe a bit of processing speed along the way.
iOS remains that same controlled, fairly easy to use experience as long as you're happy doing pretty much everything Apple's way. Apple retains a tighter grip over the iOS app store than Google does over Google Play, and likewise you're left with fewer UI choices when you're laying out your iPhone 11 Pro Max.
Apple has offered eSIM in its iPhone lines for a couple of years now, but it's only been this year that Australian carriers have got on board with support for it beyond Apple Watch devices.
Buy an iPhone 11 Pro Max, and you can use either its single nano SIM slot, or the embedded eSIM on plans from Telstra, Vodafone or Optus. For more on eSIM and how it works, you can read our full guide here.
While eSIM support is nice, at the price Apple asks for the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, you might expect that it would also include support for 5G networks.
It's noticeably absent, and the reasons, if you're interested, come down to legal matters and money. You can read our full explainer of why the iPhone 11 doesn't have 5G here, but for now, you'll have to make do with gigabit LTE. It seems feasible that next year's iPhones should include 5G as standard, with Apple having settled its issues with Qualcomm, but it's always possible it may wait out until its own freshly-purchased-from-Intel silicon engineers come up with a 5G chip that Apple can call its own.Back to top
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: Battery life
- 3969 mAh battery actually exceeds Apple's own claims.
- Not quite best in class, but a huge leap forward for iPhone battery life.
- Apple may have considered wireless reverse charging, but it's not implemented (yet).
- Fast charger in box for the 11 Pro.
- Wireless charging supported.
One of the best gifts you could buy any iPhone owner in years gone past has been a battery pack, because it's one critical area where Apple has very badly lagged behind the rest of the industry.
All day battery life was technically feasible on previous iPhone models, but only if you were exceptionally careful with your usage. For most of us, a trip to the charger or battery pack at some point in the working day was an inevitability.
Apple's claims for the iPhone 11 Pro Max didn't focus on battery capacity – again, it's all about the iPhone vibe, as it were – instead claiming an impressive five hours battery life over the iPhone XS Max. A big claim, but could it back it up?
It turns out that Apple might have been a bit conservative with its battery claims there, because I've managed to get more than five hours more than I'd expect out of an iPhone XS Max, even when pushing it pretty hard.
So how does that compare? Geekbench 5 drops the battery test on Android, but the iOS version of Geekbench 4 will still run a battery test, so that was my first port of call. Here's how the iPhone 11 Pro Max compares:
Now, it's not best in class by a fair margin, although the Oppo Reno 5G and Huawei P30 Pro do both very aggressively shut down apps to keep themselves ticking along. However, compared against the iPhone XS Max, it's a revelation. As always, the Geekbench battery test is rather artificial, as it keeps a workload ticking along in a way that's not wholly representative of real world usage.
Still, even in day to day testing the iPhone 11 Pro stands up well. I've had multiple days of heavy usage where I've headed to bed with more than 50% of the battery capacity still available. In prior years I would never have dreamed of going to bed without plugging an iPhone in if I wanted to use it the next day. That hasn't been the case for the iPhone 11 Pro Max as yet.
Like its predecessors, there's support for wired and wireless charging, although disappointingly it's still using Apple's own Lightning connector rather than USB C. Apple has shown it can adopt USB C charging in the newer iPad Pro models, but it's out of reach for iPhone users. You do at least get a fast 18W charger in the box with the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max. The smaller iPhone 11 will support fast charging, but it doesn't get the full fat charger included.
Apple won't talk battery life figures, but again iFixit's teardown helps here, revealing a 3969mAh battery pack. That's the largest battery in any iPhone ever, and edging towards what we'd expect out of flagship Android handsets too.
The other fascinating detail that iFixit's teardown reveals is the suggestion that Apple may have tinkered with reverse wireless charging as well, based on the battery connectors present in the iPhone 11 Pro Max. There's no promise at all that it'll appear, but with hardware present it's feasible (if far from confirmed) that Apple could perhaps enable it in software down the track.Back to top
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: Should you buy it?
- Apple's best phone in quite some time.
- High price is a serious problem if you're looking across the whole smartphone market.
- Not a critical update for iPhone XS or iPhone X owners.
Is the iPhone 11 Pro Max the phone for you? That will depend on a couple of factors.
I'll be honest and say that I was a little underwhelmed when Apple announced the iPhone 11 Pro Max, because it appeared to be simply playing catch-up with its Android competitors across features like triple cameras and battery capacity.
That's still arguably true, but the way that the whole package comes together seamlessly does give it significant appeal. Apple fine-tunes both its hardware and software in a way that's just not open to any Android manufacturer – yes, including Google – and that adds some significant value for those happy to live in the Apple world.
That being said, the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max is one seriously expensive handset for what you're getting. With pricing that only starts at $1,899 with a miserly 64GB of data on board, you're absolutely paying a premium for the experience.
If it's just the specifications that matter to you, there are many Android competitors available at lower price points that should cover your needs.
Of course, we live in a market where the battle lines are very heavily drawn, and there are plenty of iPhone loyalists who would shiver at the thought of switching operating system camps.
If that's you, what you need to consider is where you sit in the upgrade cycle. The Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max is an upgrade over last year's Apple iPhone XS Max, but I'd suggest holding out for next year's model at least before jumping in unless you absolutely must have the latest and greatest iPhone for bragging purposes.
There's perhaps more of a case for owners of the iPhone X/iPhone 8 generation to upgrade, but again you've got to weigh that hefty asking price into consideration. If you're working with an iPhone older than that, it's absolutely going to be a revelation in just about every way to jump up to the current generation of iPhone.Back to top
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: Pricing and availability
The Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max is available in Space Grey, Silver, Gold and Midnight Green finishes. A model with 64GB of storage will cost $1,899 outright, jumping to $2,149 for the 256GB model and $2,499 for the 512GB variant.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: Alternatives
If you're looking to stay in the iOS camp, you do have a number of choices. The Apple iPhone 11 Pro is ostensibly the same device, but with a smaller display and battery capacity. You can read everything you need to know about the Apple iPhone 11 Pro here.
Then there's the Apple iPhone 11, this year's more "affordable" (within Apple's rather limited understanding of that term) iPhone model. That drops the screen to LCD and loses a camera lens and battery capacity as well relative to the iPhone 11 Pro Max, but it's significantly less expensive. You can find out everything you need to know about the Apple iPhone 11 here.
The arrival of the iPhone 11 generation has seen Apple cull last year's crop of iPhones, with only the Apple iPhone XR surviving. You can read our full review of the Apple iPhone XR here.
If you're happy to travel further afield than just iOS, the asking price of the iPhone 11 Pro Max means you can have just about any phone you'd care to name.
If you're after a phone with superior low light capability and battery life, consider the Huawei P30 Pro.
If you want good battery life in a 5G-capable handset, consider the Oppo Reno 5G.
If you're after a phone with a strong productivity focus and 5G options, the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ might be the phone for you.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max Specifications
Power, storage and battery
|Display size||6.5 inches|
|Resolution||1242 x 2688|
|Pixels per inch (PPI)||458|
|Rear camera megapixels||12MP + 12MP + 12MP|
|Rear camera aperture size||f/1.8 + f/2.0 + f/2.4|
|Front camera megapixels||12MP|
|Front camera aperture size||f/2.2|
|Dimensions||158mm x 77.8mm x 8.1mm|
|Network category speed||Category 21|
|Operating system||iOS 13|
|External storage support||Up to N/A|