Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max long-term review: the best smartphone of 2021 (with just one caveat)
I’ve been using iPhone 13 Pro Max for almost two months and opted for Apple’s super-sized flagship because I prefer larger screen devices.
The 6.7in Pro Max houses the same chipset, software, design and cameras as the 6.1in iPhone 13 Pro.
But Pro Max has a bigger display, a larger battery and costs an additional €100.
I think it’s worth it and I’ll explain why below…
The iPhone 13 Pro Max and iPhone 13 Pro are the first Apple smartphones to sport 120Hz refresh rate Pro Motion displays, and the difference is transformational.
If you have never used a device with 120Hz refresh rates, this allows the screen to refresh more frequently to allow for smoother scrolling in apps and when browsing.
It also means the display can match the higher frame rates in games such as Genshin Impact. Playing it with 120 frames per second (fps) is incredible on iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Like some other manufacturers, Apple has employed LTPO tech which adjusts between 10Hz and 120Hz when required to save you battery life.
The OLED panel itself is dazzling – pin-sharp and ultra-bright when needed. Watching HDR content on iPhone 13 Pro Max is an immersive and joyous experience.
It can reach 1200 nits at peak brightness when viewing HDR content, and up to 1,000 nits of brightness when used outdoors,
The firm’s 5nm A15 Bionic processor is the fastest in a smartphone and combined with the 120Hz screen this means the 13 Pro Max always feels super responsive.
I’ve run benchmark tests and A15 Bionic beats by far the most powerful Android smartphones of the year such as Asus Rog Phone 5S Pro.
Its machine learning capabilities are excellent too, ensuring many tasks such as photography are instant and accurate.
A15 is so far ahead of the competition it means iPhone 13 Pro Max will still be a more than capable beast two or three years from now.
Battery endurance is by far the longest of any mainstream smartphone – the average user will get two days easily from the 4352mAh battery.
I’m a heavy user and have managed more than nine hours of screen time in a day with plenty of juice left in the tank.
I have achieved more with Asus Rog Phone 5S Pro – as you might expect from a 6000mAh power pack – but that’s a specialist device with niche appeal.
That said, it is possible to kill it in a few hours if you are using GPS mapping or shooting Pro-Res video continuously.
The phone supports MagSafe wireless charging at 15W, Qi wireless charging at 7.5W and faster wired charging (via Lightning to USB-C) of up to 27W if you have a 30W charger.
This means you can charge the device fully in less than 90 minutes.
There is no charging brick in the box, just to be clear.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max sports the best video camera system on any smartphone, like all of the company’s recent handsets.
You can capture 4K footage in Dolby Vision HDR at up to 60fps, and you can record 4K in the company’s new pro-grade ProRes codec at up to 30fps or at full HD 1080p at 60fps.
The sensor-shift stabilisation helps ensure video footage is smoother than ever.
You can have great fun with Cinematic Mode which offers a fake bokeh effect in real time, and it’s fully adjustable after footage has been shot too. But it’s limited to 1080p resolution for now.
It can be hit and miss, but when it works it’s a decent indication of the exciting place this feature may progress to over the next couple of years.
For still images, iPhone 13 Pro Max ranks alongside Pixel 6 Pro as the best camera on the market and I’m basing that on my own repeated use and comparison of both handsets in the last couple of months.
But Pixel 6 Pro falls short a little on video so overall the iPhone 13 Pro Max camera system is the best on any phone.
On the rear are three 12MP cameras. The main camera is excellent even in low light conditions thanks to its larger sensor (than iPhone 12 Pro Max) and faster f/1.5 aperture.
The 120-degree ultrawide sensor received a faster aperture, a bump from f/2.4 to f/1.8. That’s one of the widest apertures in an ultra-wide on any smartphone right now.
The telephoto lens has superb 3x optical zoom and is great for portraits (better than Portrait mode on the wide angle), but it’s not as sharp in lowlight conditions as the other rear cameras and this is most likely due to its narrower f/2.8 aperture.
The ultrawide camera includes a dedicated macro photography mode for capturing incredibly rich and detailed close-ups.
In the iOS 15.2 update, you will be able to enable this macro mode manually and instantly through the camera app.
Apple has included five different pre-set Photographic Styles to choose from, such as Vibrant and Warm, and you can create your own presets if you wish. It’s nice to see this included but it’s not something that I use.
If I am after a really special shot I prefer to use Pro-RAW mode and edit the photos myself afterwards.
But if I just want to grab a quick capture, then Apple’s computational photography smarts are hard to beat and the new Photographic Styles don’t improve on what iPhone was already capable of.
Last but not least, the 12MP selfie camera is the same as the shooter on iPhone 12 Pro Max and comes with adjustable wide angle, Slow-Mo video capture, Night Mode and Cinematic Mode.
Design and build
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max sports the same industrial design language that was introduced on the iPhone 12 range.
It’s slightly thicker and heavier but comes with the same stainless steel bezels, frosted glass rear and edge-to-edge display along with a 20 per cent smaller notch.
And it has the same ceramic shield tech protecting the glass on the front along with the same IP68-rated dust and water resistance.
My review model is the stunning new Sierra Blue colour. The phone is also available in silver, graphite and gold.
Apple’s latest operating system, iOS 15, is pre-installed and includes optimisations for the larger screen such as two-window landscape views in apps such as calendar and settings.
The firm will deliver software updates for five years which is longer than any other manufacturer.
One new feature I love is Focus Mode which allows you to create different profiles - for tasks like work, sleep, personal time - and control not only the incoming notifications and calls, but which iPhone home screens are displayed too.
So you can easily set up a work profile with a Home Screen that has no social media and gaming apps on display.
The seamless integration with other Apple devices such as HomePod mini, AirPods, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and Apple TV makes the overall iOS experience so enjoyable and user-friendly.
Both iPhone 13 Pro Max and the 13 Pro are available with up to 1TB of storage; my review unit came with 512GB.
These large capacity drives will be a necessity for anyone who intends to shoot a lot of Pro Res video footage.
The ProRes option is only available on iPhone 13 Pro Max with 256GB storage or more, incidentally.
The class leading Face ID tech is still way ahead of any security system an Android phone has to offer.
Audio from the stereo speakers is excellent in comparison to other flagship smartphones.
In terms of connectivity, you get 5G, NFC for Apple Pay, Ultra-Wideband tech for the enhanced Find My tech, Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi 6.
If you want the biggest iPhone with the best battery life, then 13 Pro Max is it.
It’s by far the best smartphone I have tested in 2021, and there were a lot of handsets reviewed.
The only downside is the weight: iPhone 13 Pro Max is easily the heaviest phone I reviewed in 2021; 36g heavier than iPhone 13 Pro and with 30g more heft than the leading Android phone of 2021, Pixel 6 Pro.
Despite this, I would still choose Pro Max over the Pro option because after two months of use the weight remains noticeable but not frustrating.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max has the best display, battery life, camera system, performance and after-sales support. What more do you want?
Pricing and availability
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max costs from €1279 for 128GB storage atApple.com/ie. The 512GB model reviewed costs €1629.00.
Dimensions: 160.8 x 78.1 x 7.7mmWeight: 240gScreen: 6.7in OLED, Super Retina XDR with ProMotion, 120Hz, 458ppiProcessor: Apple A15 BionicRAM: 6GBStorage: 128, 256, 512GB, 1TBOperating system: iOS 15.2Rear camera: 12MP wide, f/1.5; 12MP ultrawide, f/1.8; 12MP telephoto with 3x optical zoom; all three cameras have OISFront camera: 12MP, f/2.2Connectivity: 5G, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5, Lightning, ultra-wideband, GNSSWater resistance: IP68 (six metres for 30 minutes)