Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max First Impressions

Posted on October 2, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in iOS with 29 Comments

My iPhone 11 Pro Max arrived exactly one week earlier than promised, complicating my trip to New York. Plus, I still need to finish reviewing the OnePlus 7T before I can really dive into Apple’s latest flagship. No matter: Here are a few quick notes.

I can’t recall if I mentioned this previously, but I had originally decided to skip this iPhone generation: The triple cameras looked interesting, for sure, but with Apple sticking to its notch-tastic “X” design for a third straight year, I figured I could make do with the iPhone XR I had purchased earlier this year. So when the Friday pre-order date I arrived, I was in Washington D.C., and I ignored it.

Given this, I then started reading the reviews, something I normally try to avoid when I’ll be reviewing a product myself. Routinely, reviewers cited the dramatically improved camera system as a key reason to upgrade, even for those who had purchased an iPhone X or XS. The low-light performance, in particular, seemed strong, and even seemed to rival that of the Google Pixels and recent Huawei flagships.

Dammit. By the time I preordered one, it wouldn’t arrive until the week of October 7. But that was fine with me: I had the Samsung Note 10+ review to finish up and knew that the OnePlus 7T was on the way as well. Plus, with Microsoft’s hardware event occurring October 2 and an unrelated overnight trip the next night too, the week of October 7 seemed just fine.

I even checked on its progress early this morning; nothing had changed. And then I got a notification while packing yesterday morning: It was on the truck, out for the delivery.

Anyway, it arrived, we were able to make our scheduled bus to New York, and I didn’t really get to use it all that much until we arrived. Upfront, it’s what I expected: A bit thicker and heavier than previous X-model iPhones, a welcome reversal from Apple’s thin-is-in designs of the past. The notch is way too big. The bezels are surprisingly noticeable, most likely because I’ve gotten used to more modern Android handsets. And all the same limitations in iOS, like the inability to actually place icons where you want them on-screen, are still present.

One weird thing no one ever mentions is how much crap Apple puts on iPhones these days: There are two full screens worth of app icons—over 40 of them—and while most are inarguably of high quality, many of them are the type of thing I would (and did) delete immediately. Talk about product bundling.

But we’re not here to talk about app icons. We’re here to talk about the photos. And while I only had 4 or 5 hours out in the world to test the iPhone 11 Pro Max camera so far … wow. This thing really is pretty impressive.

The night mode shots are particularly good, though there’s no “mode,” it’s just automatic. That’s both good and bad, since you can’t adjust anything at the time of the photo. But the resulting shots are often incredible.

In truly dark situations, however, you need to steady the device and it goes into some kind of pro-like mode and it takes a while for it to do its thing. Those results are probably better than what iPhone users have ever experienced. But they’re only OK, not incredible.

That said, I originally did some side-by-sides with the OnePlus 7T but it was a lop-sided battle and I quickly gave that up. The OnePlus is out of its league.

For example, here’s a city scene taken with the 7T, normally.

And here’s one taken with the 7T’s nighttime mode, where you have to steady the device for several seconds.

And then the iPhone 11 Pro Max snapshot:

The iPhone 11 Pro Max is obviously great. But is it really as good as the Google Pixel 3 series or the Huawei P30 Pro? I’m not sure yet. And I need to keep using the OnePlus 7T until I can review that properly. So I’ll keep testing. But my early results are quite positive here.

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