Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max Review: More Than Anything Else, The Camera is Truly Pro
Apple has given the Pro moniker to the iPhones for the first time. Everything is improved and everything feels better. Yet this isn’t a completely new iPhone.
The Apple iPhone has always gone through the alternate refresh cycles. There is the larger upgrade cycle gives the iPhones a design overhaul and a new direction in general. Changes and updates are across the board. Then there are the more restrained years, when upgrades are incremental, and the focus is on refinement. This year, in many ways, the iPhone upgrade cycle doesn’t tick off either box—it is surely more than a typical “S” cycle update we have seen over the years. The truth sits somewhere in the middle. At least in terms of what the iPhone 11 Pro Max brings to the table.
The pricing of the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max is largely the same as last year’s phones, the iPhone XS Max. This means you are looking at splurging around Rs 1,09,900 for the 64GB version, Rs 1,23,900 for the 128GB option and Rs 1,41900 for the top of the line 512GB option. That is a pretty penny to pay for a phone that many consider is an incremental update. But that is exactly what it isn’t. It is more than an incremental update, but just short of a complete refresh. In terms of the headline changes, the new iPhone 11 Pro series has a triple camera system, a Super Retina XDR Display, the superfast new Apple A13 Bionic chip, spatial audio thanks to the new ultra-wideband U1 chip as well as the matte textured glass at the back. Oh, and there is now the new midnight green colour as well.
The design, first and foremost. Ah yes, the design of the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max has already been the reason for countless debates. Let us tackle this rather alienating issue first. Friends have argued for hours. Folks who were otherwise the best of pals, are now calling each other all sorts of names. And there has been a whole scenario of name calling. Safe to say, it has been alienating. The new triple camera system, to be specific. The reality is simple, this grows on you. Much like any other design of any other smartphone. The same set of people perhaps cribbed when Samsung put four cameras on the back of a phone. But there was deafening silence when Nokia put five cameras on the back of their phone. Be it a new phone or a new car, the design is something you understand better with as time passes. And for those who may continue to insist, the facts are simple – you look at the phone from the front, most of the time.
In terms of the build of the new iPhone 11 Pro Max, what stands out is the new textured matte glass on the back. And it is a single piece glass at the back, which means you can marvel at how Apple managed to make the camera module ridge with the same glass without using a second piece of glass joined together. Probably, that would be after how you may spend some time not realizing that this is glass, in the first place. The matte textured finish has that effect on you. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is available in the standard fare which is Space Grey, Gold and Silver, but also the highlight new addition which is Midnight Green. I quite love the Midnight Green colour, and there are no two ways about it.
And it not just all looks. The metal frame is stronger than before, and more resilient to usage. Then there is the upgrade to the quality of the glass at the front and the back, which Apple says is the strongest and toughest one to have ever been used in a smartphone. That is, thanks to the dual ion-exchange process. We are no experts at chemistry, but it is a relief to know that. In fact, I mostly dislike slapping on a case on the phones that I use, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max was no different. Yet here I am, a few days into the usage routine, and the front as well as back glass have held up very well with no scratches or dings showing up. except the observation that the camera module itself attracts a lot of fingerprints as you pull the iPhone 11 Pro Max out of the pocket during the regular usage scenario.
Then there is the small matter of the weight. A lot has been tweeted (mostly by people who haven’t see the new iPhone 11) about how it tips the scales at 226 grams. Yes, the new iPhone 11 Pro Max is heavier than the one it succeeds. But in the real world, it feels no heavier than the iPhone XS Max. And is certainly better balanced than the much-loved OnePlus 7 Pro, which also feels incredibly heavy though weighs lesser on the scales—it weighs 206 grams, and yet feels heavier. Numbers only tell half the tale, don’t they!
The new iPhone 11 Pro line-up is also water resistant for a depth of 4 meters submerged for up to 30 minutes—that is double the depth of the iPhone XS water resistance.
The 6.5-inch display size has been retained from the iPhone XS Max, but the iPhone 11 Pro Max has what is now called the Super Retina XDR display. The max brightness goes as high as 1200 nits when the High Dynamic Range (HDR) is in its full glory, and this supports HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG HDR formats. It is also the end of the road for 3D Touch, and Apple wants us to use Haptic Touch more. The OLED on the iPhone 11 Pro Max is not just a brighter and more beautiful screen, but is smarter too. It consumes lesser battery than before. Apple says this is more power efficient, consuming 15 percent lesser battery than the previous OLED display generation. There is no 90Hz or 120Hz refresh rate upgrade though, but criticising that would be pure nit-picking.
In fact, the battery life on the new iPhone 11 Pro Max is 5 hours more than the iPhone XS Max. It is all a collective effort. The more frugal display is one, and that is a good start. Then there is the new processor, which allocates cores to apps in a way that there is no wastage of resources on apps that don’t need a lot of processing power—there are four custom efficiency cores that are up to 20 percent faster and use up to 40 percent less power than the efficiency cores in the A12 Bionic chip. The Neural Engine in the A13 Bionic chip is also up to 20 percent faster and uses up to 15 percent less power than the Neural Engine in the A12 Bionic chip. There is also a larger battery packed inside the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the iOS 13 update also pushes for more frugality. All this means you really fret less about the battery life on a typical day at work.
Under the hood, the reserves of power are in abundance. The iPhone 11 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro Max run the latest Apple A13 Bionic chip. We just discussed the improved power efficiency of this new chip, but that isn’t at a cost of performance. In fact, this is 20 percent faster in terms of graphics and performance than the predecessor. Safe to say then, that the A13 Bionic is by far the fastest smartphone processor right now. With the new machine learning accelerators, this processor can do as many as 1 trillion operations per second. I would not even like to get into the pointless descriptions of how quickly apps open, how swift the switching speed is between apps and how smooth the multitasking is. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is more powerful than any other phone out there, flagship or otherwise. Period.
The highlight has to be the triple camera at the back. The first time one of these things has graced an iPhone. It just had to be done, purely because flagship Android phones have been piling on the pressure. What we get then is a new wide camera, a new telephoto camera and a new ultra-wide camera—all 12-megapixel. While the three camera modules are 12-megapixel, each has different apertures. The Ultra Wide camera has an f/2.4 aperture, the Wide camera has an f/1.8 aperture and Telephoto has the f/2.0 aperture. The wide and telephoto cameras have the six element lens while the ultrawide has the five element lens. The wide camera has what Apple calls the 100% focus pixels. What we also get now is the new Night Mode, which is a combined effort of the new hardware as well as the new image processing software. Low light photos on an iPhone have never truly looked this good. Smart HDR has been improved as well, and Apple says it is now better optimized to differentiate between different elements in the same frame and treats them differently.
The camera app has been updated too. The immersive mode being the first thing you notice. But there is a bit more substance. For instance, hold the shutter key and swipe right can lock the camera in video mode and start recording—without having to change the mode to video. Similarly. Do the same gesture and swipe to the left takes burst photos till you release the finger. The simplicity remains consistent though and so does the interface.
The photos and videos that we took with the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s camera are significantly better than anything any iPhone has clicked so far. And for all the megapixel battles that Android phones tend to do, the new iPhones still reproduce the most accurate colour. The colour separation as well as the tones are very close to how my eyes saw the world unfold before my eyes. These photos, even in tricky light reproduce very good details. Reflections, a melding of natural and artificial lights as well as shadows cannot throw off the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s camera off its game. The wide and the telephoto cameras do a fantastic job of almost any sort of environment. But it is the ultrawide photos can be incredible fun too—though I do fear you’ll mostly use this mode when on vacation and the world around you is just too beautiful to crop.
It has often been said that other phone makers cannot compete with the Apple iPhone in terms of how well the software and the hardware work together. That prowess with the added brilliance of machine learning, has been expanded to include the camera as well, and in great style.
Videos have great stabilization and focus as well, to go with the pristine detailing of the 4K 60fps resolution setting. Low light, fading light or objects zipping in and out of the frame don’t spoil the focus or the exposure. Plus, the dual stabilization truly does a fantastic job of ironing out any hand shake or the vibrations that may come as you move around.
It is Night Mode which is the most relevant though. The first time an iPhone is getting a dedicated Night Mode—basically, these are multiple photos taken at different apertures and then stitched together for the best possible detailing and illumination. The wide camera with the 100% Focus Pixels works with the new software image processing and the artificial algorithms to figure out the best possible Night Mode image for you. And it has done its job. Accurately illuminated scenes are the way forward for iPhone cameras now. Colours are not sacrificed, and neither is the detailing. In fact, an experimental blind test featuring a couple of friends actually revealed that the Night Mode photos don’t exhibit any sort of fake processing. In fact, the iPhone 11 Pro Max holds up colours better than most night mode photos captured on a Samsung Galaxy Note 10, and that is its undeniable victory.
Portrait photos have been given a boost too. There is the new High-Key Light Mono Lighting effect available, and the iPhone can now make full use of the on-device machine learning to allow you to control the intensity of the portrait lighting effects as well.
That said, things could go up a notch or two in the coming weeks. There is a feature called Deep Fusion, which is coming later this fall as part of an iOS update. That is essentially a new image processing system enabled by the Neural Engine of A13 Bionic chip. This uses advanced machine learning to do pixel-by-pixel processing of photos, which would help in better reproduction of for texture and details in every part of the photo. With Deep Fusion, Apple will really push the iPhone 11 Pro’s photography prowess to the next level, and we can’t wait.
Last but not least, is the small matter of iOS 13. The sparkling new operating system from Apple, complete with the visual brilliance of the Dark Mode. This now works system-wide, including third party apps. It is just brilliant to see your memories in the Photos app, dressed in the Dark Mode. A lot of changes have happened under the hood. Apps open faster and are more responsive, app downloads and updates are smaller in size and Face ID is faster as well. Apple has given Mail, Messages, Safari, Photos, Files, Health, App Store, Music, Reminders and Notes app important updates as well, in terms of new functionality and even visual updates.
Battery life is great too. After 2 hours and 58 minutes of screen time, a fully charged iPhone 11 Pro Max was down to 85% battery charge. Whichever way you look at it, the battery optimizations on the iPhone 11 Pro Max have done their job and the battery stamina is incredible.
All in all, the iPhone 11 Pro Max has a better display, longer battery life, a better set of cameras, the most powerful smartphone processor, supports the faster Wi-Fi 6 and faster LTE capabilities as well. That being said, Apple has given the Pro moniker to the iPhones for the first time. Yes, everything is improved and everything feels better. This isn’t a completely new iPhone, all things considered. But there is enough across the board to keep us hooked. I personally would love an iPhone Pro with the design inspiration taken from the iPad Pro. Wouldn’t that be magical to look and hold? For the time being, the camera remains the highlight. But it is all a part of a larger package. From a hugely updated processor, to the first triple camera setup and the great battery stamina, everything about the iPhone 11 Pro Max feels better, faster, more robust and incredibly versatile. Undoubtedly more than any iPhone thus far.