A little over a decade ago, Samsung’s Galaxy Note was somewhat despised because of its 5.3-inch screen, then considered ridiculously large. Apple’s CEO at the time, Steve Jobs, saw no point in larger phones and wearily dismissed Samsung’s Galaxy S (which was smaller than the Note). “You can’t get your hands on it,” he said, “nobody’s going to buy that.” He was wrong, of course. Over the past decade, we’ve demanded ever bigger phones as we’ve asked them to do more things, from gaming and browsing to video calling and office work. Their ability to be operated easily with one hand and a deft thumb no longer matters. In fact, size matters. And the iPhone 14 Pro Max I’m holding is big in every way; everything from its screen to its processor to its lenses is an upward push for Apple – and most importantly, it performs whatever task you choose to throw at it without breaking a sweat.
The Pro Max is the big beast of the new four-person collection. It just exceeds the specs of the iPhone 14 Pro (which is a bit smaller and has slightly shorter battery life), and although the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus are the same size respectively to the Pro and Pro Max, they have a reduced camera. and chipset, which means missing out on some of the more advanced features of their big sisters.
It would be easy to pull down a list of stats and point out how the iPhone 14 Pro Max stacks up against other phones of a similar size, but ultimately it’s the software that ties it all together and makes a phone sing. , and the new operating system, iOS 16, does just that. Two cosmetic changes are immediately apparent, the first being the “Always On” screen, which kicks off where previous models would have quietly fallen asleep. Now, instead of black nothingness, you get a subtle, almost matte display of whatever takes your fancy; time and date by default, but any number of widgets (battery status, weather, stocks, etc.) optional. We’re so used to waking up a smartphone to check the lock screen that it takes some getting used to, but it doesn’t take long before you appreciate the change. Does it impact battery life? Yes. How many? Not enough to worry about.
The other immediately obvious difference is Dynamic Island, which may sound like the name of a cover band on a cruise ship, but is actually Apple’s clever way of making the top center of the screen (the cutout where the front camera and Face ID sensors sit) into a feature rather than a minor annoyance. It now contains a bunch of active pixels that turn this area into a small screen-on-screen display. It can display the music you’re listening to, the status of a timer, navigation instructions, etc., and it resizes and recolors according to the information displayed. It almost makes you forget there’s a sensor sitting behind it. It is an exquisite piece of design, exclusive to the Pro and Pro Max.
While the major smartphone makers are all converging on broadly similar shapes, their built-in camera specs are generally where the competition happens, and Apple chose this moment to upgrade the Pro Max’s main camera from 12 at 48-megapixels, alongside a 12-megapixel ultra-wide and a 12-megapixel telephoto camera with 3x zoom (the latter is missing from the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus.) behind these all-seeing lenses has also seen substantial improvements . A ‘photonic engine’ enables better low-light images on both the telephoto and main cameras, and the latter can now capture 48-megapixel proRAW images in incredible detail. The ability to film in cinema mode at standard 24 fps at 4K resolution is also tempting in front of Pro users. Then there’s iOS 16’s new Action mode, which brings gimbal-style stability to video recordings for the entire iPhone 14 lineup. Simply put: record a clip as you run up the stairs, and the footage makes you feel like you’re almost floating. All powered by devilishly clever software.
The Pro Max’s display – which Apple boasts is the most advanced ever in a smartphone – has a peak outdoor brightness of a dazzling 2,000 nits, and while that didn’t prove particularly useful when testing in the gray darkness of autumnal Britain, anyone who wants to look Jaws while sitting on Bondi Beach will enjoy it. And of course, this screen is big. No bigger than its predecessor, the 13 Pro Max, but still a sizeable 6.7 inches. (That’s 20% larger than the 2011 Galaxy Note, once considered so ridiculously large.)
As someone who generally prefers a smaller phone and would opt for a mini model over a Max, it’s striking how quickly a gadget that I considered a little bulky starts to feel, well, just at the right size. The combination of the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s sleek and sturdy frame, beautiful display, and sleek software make it a joy to handle. Coming back to the 5.4-inch screen in my pocket, I feel like I’ve suffered a humiliating downgrade from first class to economy. (Which I assume I have.)