Review: Apple's iPhone 13 Pro Max is the ultimate phone, with super-sized performance

Apple's new flagship phone has some quality updates - is it time to fork out for one?
Apple's new flagship phone has some quality updates - is it time to fork out for one? Photo credit: Newshub

The flagship of Apple's new iPhone 13 range is, unquestionably, the Pro Max. And it looks the part.

The gorgeous 6.7 inch screen means it's substantially bigger than either the 13 or 13 Pro models.

But that comes at a price, with an increase in weight and the need for larger pockets to carry it around in, as well as the minimum $1999 purchase cost.

While some of the rumoured upgrades didn't quite make it into this year's model, the Pro Max is still a decent update on last year's version - particularly when it comes to the cameras and battery.

So does the new functionality make this a must-buy, or are those of you with phones from the last couple of years better to wait until next year's iPhone 14 range?

I've been using the iPhone 13 Pro Max for a couple of weeks now and here are my thoughts.

The good

Let's get the blindingly obvious out of the way first: When it comes to the functions you want from any smartphone the Pro Max does them and does them extremely well.

During my time using the phone I never had any issues with call quality, Bluetooth connectivity, messaging or any of the other plethora of standard functionality from high-end phones. Nor would I expect any.

But for a flagship device you want it to go far beyond that. Not only do you want the very best on offer, you want to be able to show everyone else you have the very best.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Photo credit: Newshub

The Pro Max makes a compelling argument it deserves that accolade, even with only minor differences to the new Pro.

The screen size and resolution remain the same as last year's model, clocking in at the aforementioned 6.7 inches, with 1284 x 2778 pixels of OLED quality to make sure everything on screen looks great.

That's helped with an increase in brightness too, with the 1000 nits maximum topping last year's 800, meaning the screen is still clear and readable in bright sunlight.

But it's the introduction of what Apple calls ProMotion that really makes the difference. 

That refers to the adaptive refresh rates, meaning 120Hz refresh rate finally makes a debut appearance on the new Pro range.

That doesn't mean it's always refreshing at that rate - it's adjusted depending on the usage. It does mean scrolling through menus and websites, as well as playing supported games, looks better than it's ever done before. It's smoother than the phone's ceramic shield front.

Apple's competitors have offered 120Hz for a while now, but even a touch of sarcastic clapping to acknowledge how late the company is to the game doesn't detract from the experience.

It really is something you've got to see with your own eyes. Once you've played a game offering 120fps, going back to anything less is tough. I'm glad it's finally here.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Photo credit: Newshub

The next step, of course, is to add it to the non-Pro versions of the phones, but that's another story and will have to wait until at least next year

One of the other big upgrades comes from the new cameras on board.

This changes a couple of physical things about the phone. Noticeably the notch on the front screen is smaller, which is welcome, but the camera bump on the back is bigger. More on that in a minute.

Unlike last year, the 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max models have exactly the same camera set-up, meaning much of the comparisons with other phones have already been covered in Newshub's review of the Pro.

I could go into plenty of details about the three rear cameras all having new lenses and sensors, 6x optical zoom range, better aperture ratings and the ability to take macro photos but what matters is actually pretty simple.

Apple has just made it more simple to take great photos with these upgrades, And it wasn't hard to begin with. 

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Photo credit: Newshub

I've lost count of the number of times I've been praised for photographs over the last few years. I wish some part of it were down to my ability instead of just the tech. It's not.

I'm getting ready for many more, thanks to the new Pro Max cameras.

Unfortunately the lockdown and a lack of bodies means I've been unable to really test out the new Cinematic video mode, which creates a depth-of-field effect, keeping the focal point sharp while blurring the foreground and background.

It's a boon for filmmakers, though, and something I'm really looking forward to fully exploring when Auckland (hopefully) opens up a bit more.

Making a movie is on my bucket list and now there are no excuses, even if reviews of the 13 Pro found it a "little hit and miss".

You can be assured it will get better.

The other big advantage the Pro Max has over last year's model, and even this year's Pro, comes down to battery life.

Apple claims an extra 2.5 hours compared to last year which was no slouch to begin with.

It really is a big step forward, made apparent when I misplaced it on the wireless charger beside my bed. It didn't quite click into place after a full day of usage - including plenty of game playing.

It meant when I picked it up the next morning it hadn't charged at all, which would usually mean panic stations.

Not any more. It still had well over 50 percent battery left and lasted me until bedtime that day without needing juicing up.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Photo credit: Newshub

Last, but certainly not least, the Pro Max is powered by the same new A15 bionic chip powering the other models, with the same GPU boost the Pro gets over the non-Pro versions.

That just makes the fastest even faster, just increasing the gap between iPhones and its rivals' flagship models which mainly use Snapdragon 888 chips.

It's quite the package.

The bad

But - and it's a big but - it's not perfect. Some of that is software related and no doubt fixes will come.

I'm currently running iOS 15.1 beta 3 and had hoped the weird ghost glitching I'm seeing in Messenger videos would have been patched out by now, but that's not the case.

I've also had a little weirdness with Carplay sometimes not recognising the phone is plugged in and Siri ignoring our requests to turn on our smart lights in the bedroom. Experience tells me they're already being looked at.

The other things are a little more permanent.

The bigger camera bump makes the phone sit unevenly on flat surfaces, with touching it causing a wobble and a banging of one of the corners against whatever it's sitting on.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Photo credit: Newshub

It's not a terrible tradeoff for the better cameras and at least it doesn't unbalance the phone in your hands, but given the dedication to form that Apple has, it still feels wrong.

It's also quite a heavy beast, weighing in at 238 grams without a case -  12 more than last year. It's not uncomfortable for me, but I can see that being a massive problem for some, certainly when you consider the overall size.

While I've often professed my love for big phones, my recent experiences of using smaller models has changed my feelings slightly.

Using the Pro Max while lying in bed really highlighted this. It's just not a phone you can comfortably use with one hand. Wait, that sounds all kinds of wrong…

What I mean is the combined size and weight makes it very difficult to navigate websites, apps and games comfortably with a loose thumb while lying on my side trying to protect my partner from the glare.

I end up getting a little frustrated and hankering for something smaller, a sentence I never thought I'd write.

The verdict

With the 120Hz refresh rate, the amazing battery life and camera functionality which suits both amateur and professional, the iPhone 13 Pro Max really is a top of the range device.

It's stunning, particularly in the Sierra Blue colour, and everything about it screams quality, those minor niggles aside.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
Photo credit: Newshub

But with very few differences between it and the Pro model, whether it's for you or not depends on just a couple of factors.

The battery life and bigger screen really are the only things to consider when purchasing this over the Pro and that's a very personal decision.

The price, ranging from $1999 for 128GB storage up to $2999 for 1TB of storage, may even mean the standard iPhone 13 is the best option for you.

Rest assured, you're still getting a very good phone in those circumstances.

For me, it comes down to a balance.

With my aging eyes, I truly appreciate the bigger screen size. It makes websites easier to read, streaming movies look better and playing games a more enjoyable experience.

The odd bit of discomfort in my pocket, or having to use two hands while doomscrolling at 3am when insomnia hits, is a price worth paying.

Now I'm off to create a cinematic masterpiece. See you next year at the Oscars!

Newshub was supplied an iPhone 13 Pro Max with 512GB of storage for this review.