Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max First Impressions

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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Conversation 29 comments

  • proesterchen

    02 October, 2019 - 7:31 am

    <p>I wish Apple offered their Pro model(s) in red again.</p>

    • ivarh

      Premium Member
      03 October, 2019 - 6:59 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#473760">In reply to proesterchen:</a></em></blockquote><p>They will. Just after you give in and get one of the original colors :)</p>

  • wright_is

    Premium Member
    02 October, 2019 - 7:55 am

    <p>To be honest, I like the 7T normal shot of the night street scene best. The night mode looks really odd and the iPhone doesn't seem that different, but the 7T just "feels" a bit better.</p>

  • djross95

    Premium Member
    02 October, 2019 - 8:26 am

    <p>Wow, that is a lot of bloatware! I recall when they wouldn't let you uninstall any of it, either. I can't deal with the "Springboard" interface, it's just too ancient. But the rest of the phone, especially the camera, seems to have improved markedly. </p>

  • wolters

    Premium Member
    02 October, 2019 - 8:27 am

    <p>I'm not an iOS phone but those are very good photos. Impressive…</p><p><br></p><p>I truly wish the Note 10's camera was in the top tier as I truly love the phone and the "Samsung Ecosystem." I've taken some really good shots with it but I've also battled grainy and blurry photos at times. If the Pixel 4XL turns out to be the top camera phone, I'm sure I'll be using one in a few weeks. </p>

  • Thom77

    02 October, 2019 - 8:56 am

    <p><br></p><p><br></p><p>Over 50% of this First impression is a long winded diary entry written like a self absorbed teenager.</p><p><br></p><p>Count the number of times you said "I" . Is this article about you … or the phone?</p><p><br></p><p>The first comparison pic isnt all that different from the iPhone pic, yet you claim there is absolutely no battle between the two phones compared. All I see that's obviously different is the shade of blue which again, isnt drasticly different and completely subjective on which on is better.</p><p>Its definitely not so drastically obvious that the oneplus is "out of its league".</p><p><br></p><p><br></p><p>You need an intervention Thurott. Your content is getting worse and worse, lazy, self absorbed, rambling, and even delusional at times.</p><p><br></p><p>This isn't personal.</p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

    • lrayh82

      02 October, 2019 - 9:24 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#473803">In reply to Thom77:</a></em></blockquote><p>Dude, this is a quick preview of a phone. Not matter how you look at it phone reviews at this point are subjective. If he didn't say "I" it would be as though this was objective fact which it isn't, so his use of "I" is appropriate and appreciated. </p><p><br></p><p>Camera's are so close these days in phones that saying something is lopsided is not going to mean that one is trash and the other is amazing. The detail in the shadows of the iPhone pic are way better that is a fact so yeah its lopsided. It doesn't mean that the OnePlus is trash. I'm even considering a OnePlus as my next phone. </p><p><br></p><p>So lighten up and quit being a stick in the mud….. You can be opinionated without being rude.</p>

    • kevvan

      02 October, 2019 - 10:15 am

      <blockquote><a href="#473803"><em>In reply to Thom77:</em></a><em> The site is If THURROTT cannot say "I" in relaying a personal experience about an interaction with a device in context of relaying his plans and interactions, then why are you hear at</em></blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote><em>I produce a podcast unrelated to tech, and yes, I think about the use of "I" when talking about different topics. Sometimes the point is to talk about 'my' interaction with something as the focus of the information being conveyed. It is a choice that one makes when they prepare a feature. This is surely not the only site where the approach is practice and frankly it is one of the reasons I come here. "I" happen to be pretty aligned to Paul's way of thinking and appreciate when he opts to share personal impressions.</em></blockquote><blockquote><br></blockquote><blockquote><em>To each his own I guess.</em></blockquote><p><br></p>

      • Thom77

        02 October, 2019 - 2:41 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#473864">In reply to kevvan:</a></em></blockquote><p>The first 60 to 70% of this article is rambling backstories and irrelevant details that have nothing to do with a first impression review. I'm talking about all the 'I's in that.</p><p><br></p><p>Perhaps people are absolutely intrigued that Thurott got a notification and hes working on other things and other people said some stuff and insight into progress of the delivery and the color of his drapes.</p><p><br></p><p>This isnt a 2 hour podcast where you can get away with 30 minutes of actual content and 1.5 hours of filler rambling like windows weekly. It's an article that was basically click bait to begin with and once the filler is removed, there's hardly anything left.</p><p><br></p><p>The title should of been "my Diary Entry of Tuesday and I took some pics."</p>

    • youwerewarned

      02 October, 2019 - 1:44 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#473803">In reply to Thom77:</a></em></blockquote><p><br></p><p>Jeez, Thom77, I warned you elsewhere about coffee and sleep, but here you go again…</p><p><br></p><p>BTW, when does YOUR review site go live?</p>

      • Thom77

        02 October, 2019 - 6:39 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#474128">In reply to YouWereWarned:</a></em></blockquote><p><em>"BTW, when does YOUR review site go live?"</em></p><p><br></p><p><br></p><p><br></p><p><span style="background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);">Around the same time writes about Bill Gates flying on a child trafficker's jet.</span></p>

    • Greg Green

      02 October, 2019 - 6:43 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#473803">In reply to Thom77:</a></em></blockquote><p>Should he refer to himself in the third person? </p>

      • Thom77

        02 October, 2019 - 7:37 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#474404">In reply to Greg Green:</a></em></blockquote><p><br></p><p>Again. im referring to the diary entry that is 60 to 70% of this article.</p><p><br></p><p>If you enjoy irrelevant details of Thurotts life and status updates on delivery times in your first impression articles about a phone … have at it.</p><p><br></p><p>But how many people came here from a search result and started reading, waiting for the actual information … and kept reading … and kept reading and said f this, this is crap and left before ever getting to the actual content?</p><p><br></p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

        • mike2k

          03 October, 2019 - 1:06 am

          <blockquote><em><a href="#474475">In reply to Thom77:</a></em></blockquote><p>So why do you even visit this site? Just to spew your hate for the guy? You’re so annoyed by him yet you clearly keep coming here and reading. Why? </p>

  • dstrauss

    02 October, 2019 - 9:00 am

    <p>Paul – hope you'll keep shooting away – you have posted some pretty amazing vacation photos in the past so looking forward to your thoughts on the new camera. </p>

  • dontbeevil

    02 October, 2019 - 9:05 am

    <p>I remember once someone said </p><p>"<em>Every year, some pretentious tech blogger has to remind his tech-infatuated (and probably Apple-loving) readers that there’s an Android update problem.</em>"</p><p>and no mention about ios 13 bugs in this review</p>

    • Skolvikings

      02 October, 2019 - 9:23 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#473805">In reply to dontbeevil:</a></em></blockquote><p>This wasn't an iOS 13 review. It was "first impressions" of the phone hardware.</p>

      • Greg Green

        02 October, 2019 - 6:41 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#473807">In reply to Skolvikings:</a></em></blockquote><p>That’s irrelevant to his rant. It’s Pavlovian.</p>

    • karlinhigh

      Premium Member
      02 October, 2019 - 11:13 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#473805">In reply to dontbeevil:</a></em></blockquote><p>In this article's product comments, made after a sub-5-hour review, I count 2 positive ones and 4 critical ones. Including a mention of iOS limitations, even though Paul says he's mostly checking out the camera. Paul is practically saying "fight me, Apple fans" with some of this. Why no joy from you?</p>

    • David Berk

      02 October, 2019 - 12:09 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#473805">In reply to dontbeevil:</a></em></blockquote><p>which get sorted out as opposed to never getting anything.</p>

  • Skolvikings

    02 October, 2019 - 9:22 am

    <p>I have the iPhone 11 Pro Max and I'm really happy with the photos it takes. It's hands down the best iPhone for photos. It's not even close.</p>

  • RonV42

    Premium Member
    02 October, 2019 - 9:33 am

    <p>Lots of bloatware on the iPhone, if this was from another vendor that begins with "G" all hell would be breaking loose. The photos look great.</p>

  • Winner

    02 October, 2019 - 12:28 pm

    <p>That camera quad on the back is the ugliest thing I've seen.</p><p>Even the photos of the Pixel 4 look way better to me than the iPhone circles-in-a-rounded-square approach.</p>

  • Bill Leigh

    Premium Member
    02 October, 2019 - 2:58 pm

    <p>The “bloatware” is a problem unless you are the Apple type who uses built in mail, has an Apple Watch, uses Apple for media purchases and podcasts, etc etc and there are plenty of those. I don’t know, but I imagine there are similar apps preloaded to an android phone but they are hidden in folders rather than shown individually. I expect it now with most new tech, get rid of what you don’t want and put on what you do. At least it doesn’t come with candy crush ………….yet </p>

  • Greg Green

    02 October, 2019 - 6:45 pm

    <p>I’ve had my phones for a few generations, I had forgotten how many extra apps there are. On the plus side once you delete the unwanted apps they stay deleted through subsequent updates and upgrades. </p>

    • jmurray

      02 October, 2019 - 7:45 pm

      <blockquote><em>Not always. I had to re-delete 4-5 when I upgraded this time. <a href="#474405">In reply to Greg Green:</a></em></blockquote><p><br></p>

  • micksanchez

    02 October, 2019 - 11:33 pm

    <p>I have to agree, it is lop-sided, the 11 night photo is much better than the 7T.</p><p><br></p><p>The 7T is unnaturally bright, while the 11 would more closely catch what you are actually seeing.</p>

  • justme

    Premium Member
    03 October, 2019 - 3:25 am

    <p>I don't get the bloatware – then again, my 6SPlus had bloatware of its own. &lt;shrug&gt; Wish you could avoid it, but it is what it is. Pictures are pretty. </p>

  • beatnixxx

    Premium Member
    04 October, 2019 - 10:37 am

    <p>I'm about to be "that" guy. There's no good that will come of me posting this, yet I can't stop myself.</p><p><br></p><p>I know many of you are super in to camera specs. For me, the camera is the 2nd to least used function on my phone. The first being the "phone" part of the phone.</p><p><br></p><p>I know this is Paul's bailiwick, and I know many of you share a similar passion, but another perspective (pun semi-intended): I wouldn't mind just a teensy-bit less camera-specific reviews on the site, or more specifically calling out primarily camera reviews so I can skip them.</p><p><br></p><p>I will now step aside &amp; await my down votes.</p>


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