Just over ten years ago, Samsung’s Galaxy Note was scorned for its 5.3-inch screen, which at the time was considered ridiculously large. Then-CEO of Apple Steve Jobs couldn’t see the point of bigger phones and wearily dismissed Samsung’s Galaxy S (which was smaller than the Note). “You can’t help it,” he said, “no one is going to buy that.” He was wrong, of course. Over the past decade, we’ve demanded bigger and bigger phones as we need them to do more, from gaming to browsing to video calls to office work. Its ability to be easily operated with one hand and a deft thumb no longer matters. In fact, size matters. And the iPhone 14 Pro Max that I have in my hands is big in every way; everything from its screen to its processor to its glasses represents an upward push for Apple, and more importantly, it runs any task you choose without breaking a sweat.
The Pro Max is the big beast of the newly released four person collection. It just beats the specs of the iPhone 14 Pro (which is slightly smaller and has slightly shorter battery life), and while the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus are identical in size to the Pro and Pro Max respectively, they have a reduced camera specification and chipset, which means missing out on some of the more advanced features of its bigger siblings.
It would be easy to list stats and indicate how the iPhone 14 Pro Max compares to 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” display, which kicks in where previous models would have quietly gone to sleep. Now, instead of black nothingness, you get a subtle, almost matte display of whatever takes your fancy; the default time and date, but any number of widgets (battery status, weather, actions, etc.) as optional extras. 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 notice the change. Does it have an impact on battery life? Yes, How much it costs? It’s 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 AppleThe clever way to turn the top center part of the screen (the cutout where the front camera and Face ID sensors are located) into a feature instead of a minor annoyance. It now contains a bunch of active pixels that transform that area into a little screen on screen. It can show what music is playing, the status of a timer, navigation instructions, etc., and it changes size and color depending on the information displayed. It almost makes you forget that there is a sensor behind it. It is an exquisite design piece, exclusive to Pro and Pro Max.
As all the big smartphone makers converge towards very similar shapes, the specification of their integrated cameras is usually where the competition happens, and Apple has chosen this moment to improve the main feature of the Pro Max. camera from 12 to 48 megapixels, along with a 12-megapixel ultra-wide angle and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens with 3x zoom (the latter is absent on the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus). The 12-megapixel front-facing camera has autofocus for the first time — hello, sharper selfies — and the software behind these all-seeing glasses has also seen substantial improvements. A “photonic engine” enables better low-light imaging on both the telephoto and main cameras, with the latter now capable of capturing 48-megapixel proRAW images in incredible detail. Also hanging tantalizingly before Pro users was the ability to shoot in cinematic mode at film-standard 24fps at 4K resolution. Then there’s iOS 16’s new Action Mode, which brings gimbal-like stability to video recordings for the entire iPhone 14 range. Bottom line: Shoot a clip while running up the stairs, and the recording will make it look like you’re floating up. All enabled by fiendishly clever software.
The Pro Max’s display, which Apple boasts is the most advanced ever on a smartphone, has a peak outdoor brightness of a dazzling 2,000 nits, and while this didn’t prove particularly helpful during tests in the dim gray of the Autumnal Britain, anyone who wants to see jaws while sitting on Bondi Beach you will appreciate it. And of course that screen is big. No bigger than its predecessor, the 13 Pro Max, but still a hefty 6.7-inches. (That’s 20 percent larger than the 2011 Galaxy Note, which was once considered so ridiculously big.)
As someone who generally prefers a smaller phone and would opt for a mini model over a Max, it’s amazing how quickly a device I thought was a bit bulky starts to feel, well, the right size. The combination of iPhone 14 Pro Max’s sleek, sturdy frame, beautiful display, and elegant software make it a joy to drive. Going back to the 5.4-inch screen in my pocket feels like I’ve had a humiliating downgrade from first class to budget. (which I guess I have).