If you were to ask me how I would best describe the iPhone 13 Pro Max, I’d start off by saying; Great cameras, great performance, a great screen, and a great battery to power it all. Without flinching. Then again, like some of the best meals, simplicity can be the hardest thing to achieve.
The iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max aren’t short on fancy garnish, but the biggest question is whether, at their core, they’re enough to sate your appetite for a not-inexpensive upgrade. I’ve been living with my upgrade for the 2 weeks and this is my first hand experience with it.
Sierra Blue is a must see colour
This year, Apple’s halo colour is Sierra Blue, a rather fetching pale metallic blue with matching tint to the polished metal edge. There’s also Silver and Graphite, plus a slightly different Gold to last year’s finish.
The front gets Ceramic Shield glass, the stainless steel band is surgical-grade, and there’s IP68 water and dust resistance. Even with all that, you’ll almost certainly want to cosset its glass and metal in a case, and since the camera cluster is larger than last year you won’t be able to use your iPhone 12 Pro case again.
On the front is one of the iPhone 13 Pro’s big selling points, the new ProMotion display. Apple’s 120Hz panels have been an iPad Pro feature for some time now, but this is the first time we’ve seen the tech arrive on its smartphones. Much as with Android devices with high refresh rate screens, scrolling, games, and fast-moving graphics look silkily smooth and generally pleasing on the new panel. Its first noticeable thing to those using previous gen devices.
Arguably just as important, though, is how slow ProMotion can go. The standard iPhone 13 screen has a 60Hz refresh rate, but while the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s panel can crank up to 120Hz, it can also drop to as low as 10Hz, depending on what’s on-screen. When you’re using apps that don’t need such a rapid rate, then, iOS can save on power.
You don’t notice the change in refresh rate in daily use, just how cleanly lists and such scroll as you whip your finger across the Super Retina XDR OLED display.
Capture picture perfect mementos
Like last year, you get three rear cameras: wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto. Each has been improved for 2021, though. There’s now optical image stabilization on every lens, the zoom is 3x optical, every camera supports Night mode, and the wide and ultra-wide sensors are physically larger and have bigger apertures for a greater appetite for light. Macro support has been added, along with a brace of computational photography features for both stills and video.
The wide camera will probably see the most use, and its f/1.5 aperture, seven-element lens is paired with a significantly larger sensor. Last year, iPhone 12 Pro Max buyers got a bigger sensor than those with an iPhone 12 Pro, but this time around it’s the same regardless of the size of phone you pick. The result is a claimed 49% more light-gathering versus the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and a hefty 2.2x improvement versus the iPhone 12 Pro.
For video, there’s up to 4K/60 Dolby Vision HDR recording, or – after an update – ProRes video recording at up to 4K/30fps. That’s if you have anything but the lowest-capacity iPhone 13 Pro: if you opt for the 128GB model, your ProRes support is capped at 1080p/30. Honestly, ProRes is nice but I suspect most people are never going to take advantage of it.
You must try Cinematic Mode
What people would be much more likely to play with is Cinematic mode. Apple describes it as a far easier to use version of the focus racking that professional videographers rely on expensive camera rigs to achieve; it’s probably easier to think of it as Portrait mode but for video.
Like Portrait stills, the subject is crisp while the background gets a shallow depth of field effect; you can tap different subjects to smoothly switch that blurring, or leave Cinematic mode to intelligently switch by itself depending on what it thinks the most likely subject is.
That intelligence works reasonably well, generally speaking. The nice thing about Cinematic mode is that you can change the focal points later on: since the bokeh is artificially added, you can edit the clip and change the subject.
Battery life is for the books
A full day is no problem with the iPhone 13 Pro Max. I shot masses of video and photos on my Speed Week drive, and used it as a hotspot with my HP Spectre, and still had power left at the end of the day. I’m not going to say you can’t get yourself into a situation where a mid- to late-evening charge could be needed, but you’d really have to be hammering it to make that sort of dent.
There were times when I could’ve plugged in for an outlet, but allowed myself the laziness of not pulling a Lightning cable out of my bag because I was confident enough in how long the iPhone 13 Pro Max would last. That’s the sort of cautionary top-up I’d not have skipped with last year’s handset.
Look, if you have an iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max, you should probably sit 2021’s update out. Apple may not have used its “S” branding, but the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the epitome of evolutionary change. Improved, sure, but only those utterly addicted to life on the (expensive) bleeding edge should upgrade from last year’s models.
Anybody with an older iPhone, though, should give the iPhone 13 Pro serious consideration. Even if the fancier camera tech isn’t swaying you, the core hardware improvements in Apple’s sensors makes a noticeable difference. iOS 15 is showcased at its best on the excellent ProMotion display and the punchy A15 Bionic chipset, and the battery improvements mean that experience won’t expire prematurely.
I am using the iPhone 13 Pro Max 256GB R25 899.
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