Review: iPhone 14 Pro Max Review

In our early testing, the iPhone 14 Pro Max doesn’t look that much different on the outside than the 13 Pro Max. But the differences here are more than skin deep – and the Dynamic Island is a genuine change for the device. A lower-than-expected price is welcome, but will it be enough for prospective upgraders?

Pros

  • +Strong, clean design
  • +Dynamic Island is smart
  • +Power is clear from the first touch

Cons

  • Design is similar to last year
  • Camera bump is huge
  • Most expensive iPhone out

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is the ‘underground’ star of the Apple Far Out event. It might not be the most searched-for, but it’s certainly the one that impresses the most, especially over the so-so iPhone 14.

While very similar to the iPhone 13 Pro Max launched last year (and the 12 Pro Max the year before that), there are some significant upgrades in the camera, screen tech, notch and functionality that make this the phone most people should be checking out this year…

…if they can afford it, that is. We’ve put our hands all over it to find out whether it’s likely to be worth your excitement (and, eventually, hard-earned cash).

iPhone 14 Pro Max price and release date

The iPhone 14 Pro Max will start at $1,099 / £1,199 / AU$1,899, which is $100 less than expected.

There’s no slow-down on when you’ll be able to hold the devices though – iPhone 14 preorders open from launch day, September 7, and you can get your hands on the iPhone 14 Pro Max from September 16.

iPhone 14 Pro Max design

The Dynamic Island is actually rather cool (Image credit: TechRadar)

The iPhone 14 Pro Max isn’t going to differ significantly in design over the 13 Pro Max, as mentioned above. However, if you’re looking for something that’s going to fit that expensive case you bought for the 13 Pro Max, you’re out of luck; while the dimensions are pretty much the same, the camera bump at the rear is much longer.

Holding the new Pro Max is a really familiar feeling if you’ve used the 12 or 13 Pro Max before. The sharper, squared-off edges are just where your fingers are used to them being and most people’s thumbs will need to perform the normal gymnastics to reach across the screen.

The physical mute switch remains (which will be hugely pleasing to many who live in fear of not being able to quickly silence their mobile), and there’s no USB-C connector at the bottom, as you might have expected.

Apple is going for Lightning for at least one more year, and that will be of relief to all of those wondering if they’d have to replace their chargers.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The stainless steel band around the outside is still the fingerprint magnet that it always has been, as you can see in our hands on photos, and look – there’s no SIM tray on the side below the volume buttons. How people will take to that if they upgrade their handset SIM free will be interesting, but it got mumbles of unhappiness in the room when launched.

The main change, in terms of design, isn’t in the chassis though, but in the screen – so let’s look at that.

See also  Review: iPhone 14 Plus Review

iPhone 14 Pro screen

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The iPhone 14 Pro Max display has got one huge change: the notch is gone, to be replaced by one long pill. Or is it really one long pill? 

Nope, that’s just software doing the hard work for your eyes – by filling it in for you, Apple’s iOS 16 is creating this pill, and can use the screen in between to show small notification lights, which is a nifty touch.

It’s called the Dynamic Island, which got a laugh when it was announced but will probably quickly go into standard Apple vernacular in no time at all.

What’s nice with this is that it morphs and moves depending on what you’re doing – when we played with it, you could start music and have the album art in the top, have the timer sit next to the notch or just tap it to get to your playing music.

It’s a genuinely cool feature, and Apple has sprung something of a surprise, turning an eyesore into something really helpful when navigating around the phone.

It takes some getting used to if you’ve been fine with the notch for years (and even more so if you’re coming from an Android phone with only a single camera hole), but when it dynamically moves it seems to make more sense.

We suspect that in a few days of use you’ll stop seeing the holes in the screen, but in our early testing of watching a movie or two it seemed rather prevalent thanks to the fact the screen wrapped around it, rather than the notch which was at least to one side.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The iPhone 14 Pro Max screen has got the rather cool new always-on display. Let’s not call it revolutionary or anything, as brands like Samsung have been offering this feature for literally years.

However, it looks nice and is something iPhone users have been crying out for for many years – needing to tap or lift the phone in order to see what the time is can be a hassle and also wastes battery by waking up the phone.

While the always-on display will suck down more power – our iPhone demonstrator wasn’t able to tell us by how much – it could actually save battery for those that use their phone as a clock.

This new feature has been enabled by the fact the OLED display tech used in the phone now has the same capabilities as the Apple Watch, where it can slow down to just one refresh per second and still display some content on the screen.

It’s more feature-rich than we expected, with widgets, wallpaper and the clock all still showing when the phone is locked and off – you’ll need to do some playing with that to decide whether you want to show all the widgets or not.

If you’ve never used an iPhone with an OLED screen before – which is possible if you’re coming from one of the older iPhone 11 models – you’ll be hugely impressed with the clarity and color reproduction, the fluidity and the general expanse you get with this 6.7-inch display.

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However, if you’re upgrading from a 12 or 13 Pro Max… notch aside, we didn’t spot that much of a difference.

iPhone 14 Pro Max camera

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The iPhone 14 Pro Max camera upgrade is mostly centered around one element: the 48MP sensor. This enhanced tech means that you can have a wider gamut of photography styles, take higher-res pictures or get improved low-light capabilities.

The combination of the more pixels can manifest itself in a number of ways, but one of the most impressive will likely be (because we can’t really test it now) the ability to combine the 48MP into one 12MP image, smooshing together the pixels for high-res, low light imagery.

Apple is claiming twice as good low light imagery in its testing, and although we couldn’t see the same in the bright testing area, the onboard processing seems smart.

As you can imagine in our early testing, the camera is smart and snappy, with images focusing in within an instant and the switch between video and photography rather swift indeed. There’s no reason to expect this not to be the case, given the enhanced internals, but it’s still good to spot nonetheless.

At full resolution and zoomed in, there’s real clarity to the images that Apple has likely achieved by putting together the enhanced pixels and computational photography from the new A16 chipset.

The overall effect is strong, and there’s also now a 2x optical zoom, where the phone crops in from the 3x sensor to give you a middle ground between the 1x and 3x zoom lens. The sensor is the largest Apple has ever placed in a phone, and the 48MP snapper’s 1.9 micron size is going to let in a lot of light.

One thing that you will notice when using the new iPhone 14 Pro Max, at least initially, is the larger protrusion of the camera bump on the rear. That’s how the new 48MP sensor is enabled here and why Apple has likely jumped: if you have a higher-MP sensor in the same footprint as normal, the pixels get smaller, can capture less light etc.

So you need someone like Sony (which is rumored to be the one that made this sensor) to make a larger sensor and allow for larger pixels to grab all that lovely light. Yes, it makes the phone even thicker at the back, but in our opinion that’s worth it for better snaps.

There’s also a new Action Mode, like Cinematic Mode (but not as easy to toggle) that will allow you to have smoother videos when you run – another one that’s going to need a good test to monitor, but does look a lot smoother thanks to the onboard smarts of the 14 Pro Max.

iPhone 14 Pro Max battery

(Image credit: TechRadar)

We can’t easily test the iPhone 14 Pro Max battery without running it through our usual suite of tests – there’s no way to know if it’s going to hold up as well as expected or match the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

See also  iPhone 14 Review

What was clear was that the jump from the 12 Pro to the 13 Pro was markedly improved, and if the claims of enhanced efficiency of the A16 chip are true, that means the 14 Pro Max will be able to last even longer on battery, thanks to better low power modes.

One of the things that might make a difference here is the amount of information on the always-on display: you can show just the time, or have a full wallpaper and widgets that ‘dull’ in and out when you turn on the phone.

That could affect the overall longetivity of the power pack, but if the rumors of the larger pack inside (and the increased thickness of the 14 Pro Max over the 13 Pro Max certainly suggests that) are true, then you could find even longer time between charges.

A16 chipset

The notch changes aside, the biggest talking point in our eyes is the speed at which the iPhone 14 Pro Max can run. It’s obvious that Apple would want to make sure that the Pro models are the most powerful in the world, to justify the extra cost, but it’s clear that this is a step upwards.

Again, it’s hard to truly understand how powerful this phone is without running benchmarks and – more importantly – trying it in real life, but we can’t see many applications that would truly tax the inner power of this device.

Apple made a big deal on stage about the enhanced power of the iPhone 14 Pro range, even if (as rumored) it’s not quite the jump in silicon prowess that the iPhone 15 will offer, and in the hand it’s hard to say many people would ever slow this phone down.

The rumors of more powerful RAM seem to bear out, with a strong ability to open and close apps, take photos and undertake heavy tasks with ease. 

What was particularly clear was that every heavy app we opened, whether it was shooting 4K 60fps video or quickly putting something together in GarageBand was very quick to save and open… a very good sign.

Early verdict

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is the biggest, boldest and most impressive phone in Apple’s new iPhone line-up, and it’s therefore also the priciest.

The new Dynamic Island is a genuinely cool change and something that we think users will like and get used to quickly – although that pill shape does feel like it’s in the way for some apps.

The camera enhancements are par for the course with the iPhone Pro Max range, but it’s certainly possible that we’ll be wowed by the low light performance – as well as the new Action Mode.

In the hand it certainly doesn’t feel that different to the phones that have gone before it, but that doesn’t seem to have been a problem for Apple fans in years gone by – but it doesn’t stop us thinking that the iPhone 15 needs to be a big leap forward to keep the iPhone momentum going.

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