iPhone 11 Pro Max review: A no-brainer, if you like
Unlike some of my colleagues, I’ve never owned an iPhone. Regardless, new iPhone releases are still intriguing to me. Apple devices are significant even for those of us firmly planted in Camp Android — if only because they give us a potential blueprint for where some of the competition may follow. Like it or not, Android OEMs often pay close attention to whatever Apple is doing. That’s why the Android Authority team wanted to take a closer look at Apple’s latest flagship, the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
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In our iPhone 11 Pro Max review, we explore what it’s like to use an iPhone as an Android user. We also take a look at whether or not the Pro stands out against the competition.
About our iPhone 11 Pro Max review: We used the iPhone 11 Pro Max for a week on AT&T’s network. The unit was purchased by Android Authority for the purposes of this review. It is running iOS 13.
iPhone 11 Pro Max review: The big picture
The iPhone 11 Pro Max looks and feels very similar to the iPhone XS Max. This isn’t too surprising, as Apple’s big refresh with the iPhone X was only two years ago. Don’t let the iterative design fool you, the iPhone 11 Pro Max does bring some big improvements to the mix.
Outside the camera and processing package, which we’ll get to in a moment, the tech here might seem more than a little dated to Android users. The iPhone 11 Pro doesn’t have an under-display fingerprint scanner and still packs a massive notch at a time where Android display notches are shrinking or going away completely. Heck, we’re even seeing the first phones with foldable displays this year.
Of course, Apple has always been about slow and calculated changes. Nevertheless, this is certainly the most powerful iPhone to date.
Unlike with Macs, the use of the term Pro on an iPhone feels like nothing more than marketing.
The real question is what does it mean to have a “Pro” model? Apple claimed during its press event the camera was what made it pro. Of course, the cheaper iPhone 11 has almost the exact same features, though it loses the telephoto lens and has a few other minor tweaks. In reality, the change was likely all about marketing. Last year’s iPhone XR outsold the more expensive XS line, as there wasn’t enough to really set the XS apart. But the Pro moniker is inviting for those who want the absolute best — add another buzzword like Max and boom.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max is therefore for those who want the best features, the biggest screen, and don’t mind paying a small fortune for the honor. Your wallet will be lighter afterward, but you’ll have one epic monster of a phone.
What’s in the box?
- 18W USB-C charger
- USB-C to Lightning cable
- Lightning headphones
Apple tends to keep extras to a minimum when it comes to the iPhone’s in-the-box experience. This remains true here, though Apple now includes an 18W charger so you don’t have to pay extra for quick charging. The bad news is you still don’t get an adapter for your wired headphones if you’re still using the kind with a 3.5mm jack.
- 158 x 77.8 x 8.1mm
- Custom Gorilla Glass
- Proprietary lightening connector, vs USB-C
The iPhone 11 Pro Max looks nearly identical to the iPhone XS Max from the front. The notch remains the same, complete with the Face ID camera and an earpiece in the center. Where the iPhone 11 Pro Max design stands out is on the back. The new triple camera immediately catches your eye. It’s big, bold, and honestly a little bit ugly. Like the notch, the unique triple camera style here is something few will instantly love. It does look better in person and you also quickly get used to it.
The rear finish is a nice matte glass that not only looks good, but feels great too. Compared to many other glass phones, it isn’t a fingerprint magnet. The design is a bit slippery, but if you’re spending over a thousand dollars on a phone, odds are you’ll add a case. Prefer to keep your phone naked? Apple claims the phone has the toughest glass in a smartphone — a custom version of Corning Gorilla Glass that no one is willing to tell us much about. The iPhone 11 Pro Max also has IP68 water- and dust-resistance.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max might be bigger and thicker than its predecessor, but it also feels more durable.
In order to make the phone’s battery larger, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the heaviest iPhone to date. At nearly 18 grams heavier than the XS Max, you will feel the difference. It’s also a bit thicker, too. Some might consider this a negative, but I have always preferred some heft as it makes the phone feel a bit more durable. I’m a little over the eternal quest for thinner phones, especially at the expense of battery capacity or structural integrity.
The rest of the phone will feel pretty familiar, but with close inspection you’ll notice slight differences with the buttons, which have all been moved down just a hair.
Apple offers the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max in Silver, Midnight Green, Space Gray, or Gold. These colors look good but I find them a bit boring. I wish Apple offered the iPhone 11’s more colorful choices like red and yellow, but your feelings may differ.
- 6.5-inch Super Retina XDR OLED
- 2,688 x 1,242 pixels, 458ppi
- 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio
The iPhone 11 Pro Max’s display might have the same notch and resolution as the XS Max, but there are some notable upgrades here.
The ridiculously named “Super Retina XDR” display is significantly brighter than the iPhone XS Max. Apple claims the display can reach 800 nits of peak brightness, and can even hit 1,200 nits when paired with HDR10 and Dolby Vision videos. Although my Pixel 3 XL handles the outdoors relatively well, the iPhone 11 Pro is extremely easy to read even in direct sunlight.
Apple has also upped the contrast ratio to 2,000,000:1, as compared to its predecessor’s 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio.
Apple continues to improve its display prowess and it’s safe to say the iPhone 11 Pro Max easily holds its own against most of its competitors, including the Galaxy family. The display has great clarity, color accuracy, and excellent viewing angles.
But as Apple giveth, Apple taketh away. 3D Touch is now gone. Apple has apparently given up on its pressure-sensitive display technology, opting for the software-based haptic touch tech used in last year’s iPhone XR. With haptic touch you use subtle taps and hold a finger on the display, instead of actually pressing down extra hard. The reason for the removal was likely to make more room for actually useful things, such as a bigger battery, and to save a few cents in the process. Personally, I never really used 3D Touch, but some might feel this is a small step backward.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: Performance
- Apple A13 Bionic
- 2 x 2.65GHz Lightning + 4 x 1.8GHz Thunder (hexa-core), 7nm process
- 4GB RAM
- 64, 256, or 512GB storage
Apple is known for high-performance chipsets, due to a combination of cutting-edge processors and the close integration with Apple’s software. This is why an iPhone tends to perform just as well as or better than an Android device despite often packing less RAM. Regardless, a “Pro” phone with just 64GB of storage on the base model is simply not enough in 2019; iPhone 11 Pro Max options really should start at 128GB.
I did my best to challenge the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s hardware, playing new games like Oceanhorn 2 and Mario Kart World Tour, running benchmarks left and right, and so on. Everything opened quickly, screen transitions were smooth, and I never encountered any perceivable performance hiccups or slowdowns. That’s more than I can say for my Pixel 3 XL.
Real-world performance means a lot more than benchmarks, but it’s always good to see what the data yields. On Geekbench 5, the 11 Pro Max scored 1,328 for single core and 3,478 for multi-core. You might notice that the scores for Geekbench might seem a little low, but that’s because version 5 changed the old scoring system.
To put it into perspective, my Pixel 3 XL scored a much lower 513 on the single-core and just 2,148 on the multi-core. The Note 10 Plus achieved 717 on the single-core and 2,637 on the multi-core.
Next, we ran the iPhone 11 Pro Max through 3DMark, where it nabbed 5,404 in the Slingshot Extreme test, vs. 5,692 for the Note 10 Plus. This gives a slight edge to the Note. Lastly, we put the iPhone through AnTuTu where it rated 454,013. The Note 10 Plus didn’t do as well at just 369,029.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max is a powerful device, there’s no denying it. Part of this comes from the tight software/hardware integration. That said, plenty of Android phones will feel as fast and fluid (or at least nearly so) as the iPhone. Also, keep an eye on Gary Explains, as he is about to launch a new series that finally pits iPhones against Androids in a new version of Speed Test G that supports iOS as well.
- 18W fast charging
- Qi wireless charging
The iPhone XS Max didn’t have bad battery life, but it wasn’t particularly amazing either. Thankfully the iPhone 11 Pro Max has quite a bit more juice. I’ve found the phone can easily make it through the day and often beyond.
Typically, I tend to use my phone mostly to check email, do work, message folks, and listen to music or podcasts. During my testing I made sure to spend extra time playing games, watching YouTube, and doing other intensive tasks to see how far I could push screen-on time. Every day I’d end with plenty of juice, and yet managed screen on times around or above 6.5 hours.
One day I decided to let it play YouTube nearly constantly all day while I was working. When I got home I let it loop some more YouTube while I ate. I then played Oceanhorn for a bit before bed. With all of this, I made it into the 13-hour screen on-time mark. Of course brightness was around the half-way mark and not jacked all the way up. I consider this particular score to be more of a fluke that doesn’t translate to real life at all, but it was still fun to see.
When it comes to real world usage you’ll find that you can watch movies, play games, listen to music, snap pictures, and more without having to worry about running to the outlet before bedtime.
On days when I didn’t use the display as much, I easily made it into day two. For example, as I write this section, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is at 30% with around 6 hours of screen-on time use and plenty of screen-off time for music and such. It is currently 10AM and the phone has been off the charger for well over 24 hours.
In addition to better battery life, Apple also supports fast charging and this time it’s included in the box. The 18W charger can take the Pro Max from 0% to 48% in about 30 minutes. This is a major improvement over the 5W charger included with the XS Max, but there are plenty of Android devices offering even faster charging, such as the Galaxy Note 10 Plus and OnePlus 7 Pro. If charging speed is your thing, keep an eye out for the upcoming Oppo Reno Ace with its 65W charging rate.
- Wide: 12MP, f/1.8, 26mm, OIS
- Ultra-wide: 12MP, f/2.4, 13mm
- Telephoto: 12MP, f/2.0, 52mm, OIS, 2x optical zoom
While the iPhone has historically been an industry leader in mobile photography, devices like the Pixel family have led the way for the last couple of years. With the iPhone 11 Pro Max, Apple finally catches up and arguably exceeds what the competition currently has to offer. Triple (or more) cameras are nothing new in the Android world, but it is a first for Apple.
I really enjoyed the iPhone camera app and found it easy to get around. I especially like that when you’re using the standard camera, the interface actually shows you a preview of what is outside the frame. If you decide the picture could benefit from the ultra-wide lens, switching over is easy.
I’m a below-average photographer, but even my photos managed to look good with the Apple iPhone 11 Pro. That’s an accomplishment, let me tell you.
Daytime photos have nice and balanced colors, and images look pretty natural. Many smartphone cameras tend to overprocess and oversaturate, but that’s not as much of an issue here. Most photos I took nailed exposure correctly. A slight change in white balance is noticeable when switching between the lenses, but it is nearly unnoticeable unless you are looking very closely.
The iPhone finally has its own night mode, which it turns on by default if it detects the need. You can toggle it on or off and you can also lengthen and adjust the time it takes to capture the shot. Apple did a great job with its night mode and it makes the iPhone 11 Pro a natural choice for low-light photography. There’s plenty of detail in images but the presence of a little noise in the images shows the camera didn’t try too hard to reduce it. This is actually a good thing, as aggressive post-processing can kind of ruin the result.
iPhone 11 Pro Max (night mode) Pixel 3 XL (nightsight)
In the picture above there were some figurines in a display shop window that was very dark. I was snapping pictures at 5AM because I’m a special kind of insomniac (thankfully no cops were called on me in the process). Night mode worked beautifully here, especially when compared to the Pixel 3 XL. The images were crisper and richer, while the Pixel had a kind of hazy effect and washed out colors. The iPhone’s whites are actually white and colors pop more.
Another interesting point to note is that bright street lighting tends to produce a lot of glare in the Pixel 3 XL’s night-time photos while the iPhone 11 Pro handled these situations much better. Granted, the Pixel 3 XL is a year old and about to get a successor, so we’ll be excited to see what Google delivers with the Pixel 4.
As for the rest of the camera experience, it was about what you’d expect. Portrait mode worked well but often missed spots and had issues with the cutout, just likes every other smartphone out there.
There are plenty of other improvements in the camera hardware and software, including better built-in editing and some refinements to video. The Pro is great for filming video in 4K, with support for 60fps from all three of its rear lenses. Video stabilization also works really well here and is great for shaky handed people like myself (I need to work out more).
One addition to the camera experience that didn’t appeal to me was slow-motion selfies (#slofies, as Apple — and hopefully no one else — calls them). I felt it was a pretty gimmicky feature and can’t see it being useful, but I’m not exactly down with the cool kids.
Overall, we really like the iPhone’s camera and it may just be the best mobile camera around right now. For those interested, we’ll be pitting the iPhone 11 Pro against the Note 10 Plus and Pixel 4 very soon.
You can view full-resolution photos here.
- No headphone jack
- No 3.5mm adapter in the box
- Spatial audio
- Lightning earbuds included
Although wired headphones are always the best option for mobile consumption, the iPhone 11 Pro speakers actually sound pretty good. Not only do they get pretty loud, they also manage to do so without becoming a distorted mess. The iPhone 11 Pro Max also offers “spatial audio,” which is a virtual surround decoder that supports 5.1 and 7.1 Dolby formats. For example, Netflix will play in Dolby Digital 5.1 by default.
Apple is pushing wireless (particularly its AirPods) hard, so you’ll probably want to pick up a pair of Bluetooth headphones or a 3.5mm adapter. Of course, Apple does include a pair of basic Lightning earbuds in the box. While I wouldn’t rely on them as your main source for audio, they sound alright and will do in a pinch.
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Software: This ain’t Android
Android is all about customization and flexibility, both at the consumer and OEM level. There are several unique flavors of Android out there aside from stock. And if you want to take that experience and further alter it there are plenty of launchers, easy ways to change default apps, and even the ability to load entirely new custom ROMs for some devices. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is so not Android.
iOS takes a much more heavy-handed approach. You can’t really change the layout at all. There’s no app drawer if you want it, there are no custom launchers, you can’t change default options, and so on. The upside to this is iOS tends to work just fine out of the box, and the fact that it holds your hand a bit and doesn’t change very much means it is often a bit easier to learn how to use.
The differences between iOS and Android aren’t just in their approach to customizable software, it’s in the entire layout, settings, notifications, and pretty much every other aspect of the experience.
The gap between the two OSes isn’t quite as large as some might think, but figuring out where equivalent features are does take some adjustment. And of course some things iOS can’t do, simply because it doesn’t fit with Apple’s vision for iOS.
iOS is fast, functional, easy to use — and not for me.
With the iPhone 11 Pro we now have a new version of Apple’s operating system: iOS 13. The biggest standout is a new system-wide dark mode, something we’re seeing with Android 10 as well. Beyond that, there are a ton of improvements to apps like Messages, Photos, Apple Maps, and Reminders.
If you’ve used iOS 11 or iOS 12, you’ll still feel at home here, as iOS 13 seems more about refinement and under-the-hood changes. That’s how I felt about Android 10 as well.
There were a few bugs I encountered with iOS 13. Most of these things were small, such as the keyboard occasionally not showing up for several seconds or an app crash here and there. Considering iOS 13 is a new release, bugs aren’t surprising and Android 10 has had a few issues of its own. By the time you read this, the iOS 13.1 update should have fixed many of these bugs. We’ll be sure to update this post later to confirm how much of a difference it makes.
As a regular Android user I don’t like many of Apple’s restrictions, but I do find the experience perfectly functional, fast, and easy. It just isn’t quite to my tastes. I also have to admit that despite the few bugs, iOS felt much smoother. I’m not sure if this was down to software, hardware, or a little bit of both. I also noticed that I could actually listen to music and take more than a picture or two without Spotify crashing, and that’s been a regular problem with the Pixel 3 XL.
While iOS has a walled garden, it’s one that performs well and doesn’t get in the way.
How does it feel to use an iPhone and iOS?
Last year, I reviewed the iPhone XS and used it for almost a month. After that, I returned to Android and have been there ever since. Since I had limited iPhone interactions prior to the XS, it took me a while to learn the ropes last time. After a year’s absence, I found it easy enough to pick back up. Like last time, there are some things I like and some things that turn me off.
I’ll start with the downsides. Keep in mind some of them are very personal issues (read: my own quirks) but others will probably apply more broadly to others.
The ability to move things around on the homescreen. I’m kind of borderline OCD about certain things. My Android homescreen never has more than one row of icons filling up the left side, per page. I will use folders, but multiple screens filled with icons bothers me for some reason. With iOS I don’t have the option to cater to my own insanity.
Not being able to change default apps and general hand-holding. I like being able to change the default browser, camera app, and so on. You can’t do that in iOS. Some of these restrictions might contribute to the “fact” that iOS is more secure, but not all hand-holding makes sense. For example, if you try to download a large file on iOS it will force you to turn on Wi-Fi. My Pixel 3 XL might warn me to use Wi-Fi, but I can override it easily. If you rely on your cellular connection primarily, this can be an issue. There are plenty of other situations like this in iOS.
Let’s be honest: If you’re the kind of person who uses things the way they are out of the box and never makes any customizations, most of this won’t be an issue. It was for me, though I’ll admit it wasn’t a deal-breaker. I just had to adjust my habits a bit and learn to take what I was given.
With iOS I don’t have the option to cater to my own insanity.
Siri, it’s you, not me. Siri has gotten better over the years, but Google Assistant has surpassed it by leaps and bounds. I realize not everyone likes or uses Assistant, but I find it extremely helpful and enjoy having it integrated into the OS level. This is especially useful for me because my entire house uses smart lighting and other smart devices. Sure, I can still put Assistant on iOS, but it’s not quite the same.
None of the things I highlighted above stopped me from enjoying the iPhone, but they did keep me from ever feeling truly at home with iOS. I never once felt that iOS was worse than Android, it’s just a bit more restrictive. I like to color outside the lines. There were also two things I thought actually stood out as better on iOS.
Bluetooth pairing. Bluetooth pairing tends to be less finicky on iOS. This is especially true with the AirPods, which are deeply integrated into iOS (especially with iOS 13 adding Siri message reading and more). But even my Sony over-ears seemed to have fewer connection issues and other drama when paired with an iPhone.
The App Store. I want to start by saying Google Play has evolved considerably in the last few years and has become much more organized. It’s also a lot easier to manually search for and find things than the App Store. That said, the App Store is still a tad better at showcasing stuff I might be interested in, and the new integration of Apple Arcade is hard to ignore. I really loved this service and while I intend to check out Google Play Pass soon, it’s clear Arcade has a better selection of games (at least for now).
I also enjoy premium apps and don’t mind paying for them, and the reality is the App Store seems to have a better selection for those of us who don’t want games or apps that require in-app purchases or hit you with tons of ads.
Learn more: Apple Arcade vs Google Play Pass
iPhone 11 Pro Max: How does pricing compare to the competition?
- 64GB — $1,099
- 256GB — $1,249
- 512GB — $1,449
First, don’t get the base model with 64GB of storage. It’s just not enough in 2019, especially if you use a lot of apps or shoot in 4K. The rest of the models are much more expensive, but you also have the choice of the iPhone 11 Pro which starts at $999 for 64GB and maxes at $1,349 for 512GB. My colleague Eric will be taking a closer look at the iPhone 11 Pro a bit later, so stay tuned for that.
Still find $999 too high a price but really want a new iPhone? There’s always the iPhone 11. The iPhone 11 drops some of the Pro’s fancier features, but starts at a much more palatable $699. I’d recommend you check it out, as I will be straight after this review.
Apple tends to be expensive, but in 2019 it isn’t alone. Flagships like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus start at $1,099 and even the OnePlus 7 Pro starts at the same $699 price as the standard iPhone 11. Of course, both those phones do come with 256GB of storage on the base model as opposed to the piddly 64GB of storage Apple offers. Value is subjective, though, so justify or decry the price tag as your wallet allows.
Separating my feelings for the OS, how do I feel about the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max?
The iPhone isn’t for me, but that’s because iOS isn’t for me. Once you find yourself comfortably integrated into a services and apps ecosystem, change is going to require sacrifice and compromise. It’s the same reason most iOS users don’t leap over to Android. Do I feel Android is superior? Again, no. It’s simply different and a kind of different that works perfectly fine for me.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max is an exceptional phone, even if it offers little to sway Android fans.
Looking past my own OS preferences, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is an exceptional phone. The camera is probably the best out there, at least for now. It feels hefty and durable, something I like from a phone. I don’t love the notch or the design of the camera, but I don’t necessarily love the design of my Pixel 3 XL either.
If you already use iOS, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is a no-brainer. Android users craving a change may also want to consider it. For those happy with Android, however, there’s really nothing here to sway you to Apple.