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Apple’s flagship phone gets even flashier, but do you need all that power?
In starting with pricing north of a grand for the cheapest model, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is a suitably serious chunk of technology. It’s a beast of a phone, with a 6.7in display and the best specifications of any iPhone ever made.
Outwardly, little has changed. The notch on the front is smaller, but still annoyingly visible, and Apple’s issued the device in new colors, including a fetching shade of blue. Flip the phone over and, if you’ve had its predecessor in your hands, you might notice the cameras are bigger. Should you have a part-time job as a pair of weighing scales, you might also notice the device is fractionally heavier and thicker too.
Bigger changes become apparent when you start using the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The screen now has ProMotion, which means it updates at up to 120Hz, like the iPad Pro. Higher refresh rates are something many Android phones have had for a long while. They make transitions and scrolling feel smoother and more fluid – and you’re ruined for other screens once you’ve experienced this. But Apple’s implementation is smarter, adapting the refresh rate to match what’s happening on the screen, all the way down to 10Hz. This means battery life is impacted less than it otherwise would be.
In fact, the battery is another big change, with the phone lasting a couple of hours longer than its predecessor on a single charge. But a more interesting update is what’s happened to the camera system. The telephoto camera gets a 3x optical zoom (up from 2.5x); the wide camera’s sensor is larger, for even better low-light shots; and then there’s the ultra-wide’s new macro smarts. Hold your camera close to an object and a new autofocus system lets you capture the tiniest details that would be a blurry mess on other iPhones. It’s giddy fun, and will find you bounding around shooting close-ups of anything and anyone who happens to be nearby.
To further take advantage of the new camera system, Apple has added other new tricks, including photographic styles – to customize your shots for tone and warmth – and added Cinematic mode to video, which lets you edit depth of field in shot video and attempts to intelligently automate focus points. Unlike the macro stills mode, Cinematic mode in video feels a bit tech demo and it’s unlikely you’ll use it, unless you’ve designs on Hollywood. The still styles are fine, but we prefer shooting neutral shots and editing later as necessary.
Verdict: iPhone 13 Pro Max (2021)
There’s no doubting the iPhone 13 Pro Max is an excellent smartphone. It’s the iPhone with max features, max screen and max battery life – although also max weight and max dimensions. Unlike last year, though, the entire camera system comes to the standard Pro as well.
So if you’re shopping for a Pro (and that camera system is superb) you must weigh up whether you want to save a hundred bucks and get a lighter, more portable unit with the same feature set, or revel in that bigger battery and larger display, geared toward more immersive media and creative pursuits.