Revisiting the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max

After a successful stint with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, I figured it was a good time to revisit another of my favorite 2019 handsets, the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Plus, I was preparing to switch from Google Fi to Mint Mobile anyway, so this seemed like an interesting way to get a fresh start.

I’m not sure how many of these write-ups I’ll do, but I thought it would be interesting for readers to have a better peek at something I do routinely anyway. Most recently, I wrote about the Pixel 3a XL again, and there are some interesting parallels between this iPhone and Google’s 2019 mid-market champion, which has emerged as a rare win for the Pixel team. (I’d like to reexamine the OnePlus 7T soon too.)

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The most obvious parallel is how immediately familiar and reliable it is. Yes, there are a few iOS weirdisms—the inability to arrange icons as you wish on its home screens, the lack of punctuation keys on the default keyboard, and so on—but like everything else in life you adapt. Overall, it’s been a seamless transition, helped in large part by that transition to Mint Mobile, which has just gone swimmingly. No problems at all.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max, unlike the Pixel 3a XL, is, of course, an expensive handset: It still retails for the same $1100 that Apple announced back in September 2019, and you won’t see regular sales—and ever-decreasing prices over time—as you do with Samsung flagships. The only reasonable way to save money with Apple is to buy refurbished, and as of this writing, the only refurbished iPhones that are currently available include the iPhone X (2017) and iPhone XS series (2018). Or, you can do what I did and trade-in your current handset, preferably an iPhone, since Apple gives decent trade-in values on its own hardware.

But finding value isn’t as simple as spending less. Many things that are cheap to buy are just cheap, and won’t last for years, as will the latest iPhones. And if your intention is to use this handset for 3 or more years—perfectly reasonable—then even the iPhone 11 Pro Max, at $1100 and up, could be considered a good value. And this is absolutely a handset that is built to last: It looks modern and powerful … because it is modern and powerful.

As you may recall, my iPhone came in Midnight Green, which is very close to my favorite color. But because it’s covered in glass front and back, I had to get a case. Fortunately, Apple makes a Forest Green leather case that is literally my favorite color and is close enough to the phone’s natural color. (Silicon case fans can opt for the similar Pine Green.) The combination is attractive and seemingly offers decent protection.

The iPhone is also the heaviest phone I’ve ever owned, but because I was just using the Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, which is about one toothpick less heavy, that was an easy enough transition. I imagine that my right arm will Popeye out nicely from the extra weight, which will be nice since I can’t go to the gym anymore. But seriously, while the weight is considerable, it also lends the handset a quality feel, like the door of a luxury car.

Its display is probably great, but coming off the superior Galaxy S20 Ultra display with its vivid colors and true edge-to-edge design, it’s not notable. Like many iPhone owners, I (unconsciously or not) chose a dark wallpaper that hides the large notch, but it’s another one of those things you get used to regardless. It only stands out when watching a video, which is rare anyway. The one thing that Apple gets right with displays, however, is True Tone, which adapts the white balance and color spectrum to always look natural, no matter the ambient light. There’s nothing like this in the Android world, where harsh orange lighting at night is becoming the norm.

When I reviewed the iPhone in late 2019, I hailed Apple’s incredible jump in quality.

“The camera system in the iPhone 11 Pro Max sits very close to the apex of photographic quality in the smartphone market and will satisfy virtually anyone’s needs,” I wrote at the time. “I still prefer the always-on HDR and nighttime/low-light performance of recent Google Pixel and Huawei flagships overall. But the iPhone 11 Pro Max comes very, very close.”

I am still of this opinion, though I’d add the latest Samsung flagships to the list of phones whose camera systems I prefer to that of the iPhone. For the most part, I’ve not been happily surprised by the quality of any of the pictures I’ve taken with it, the one exception being that I really like the ultra-wide camera mode (which is present on the S20 too, but not on the Pixel 4). The photos tend to be duller and flatter than I prefer. (Which others might point out is more realistic. That’s probably true.)

A reasonable drink shot

And while this isn’t a big deal for me, anyone who cares a lot about video needs to get an iPhone. This device can deliver rock-steady 4K/60 fps video without a hardware gimbal, and it even comes with excellent video editing software. Google and Samsung are years behind Apple in this area.

The best thing about using the iPhone, perhaps, is Face ID, Apple’s fast, consistent, and secure facial recognition system. This is especially true after the one-two punch of the S20 Ultra 5G’s terrible facial recognition and in-display fingerprint reader, both of which were slow and unreliable. This thing just works, and it doesn’t matter whether I’m wearing glasses or sunglasses, or what the lighting conditions are. It’s magic.

And while I certainly appreciate the compatibility of USB-C, I will just point out that I prefer Apple’s Lightning connector, which is smaller and provides a more secure connection. The iPhone 11 Pro Max is the first Apple handset I’ve purchased that provides a fast charger, too, so instead of that little 5-watt cube that most are familiar with, it ships with a larger (but not large) 18-watt charger.

Better still, the battery life has been incredible: As I do with all of my smartphones, I don’t charge it during the day or overnight. And when I get up in the morning, the iPhone always has over 80 percent charge, often much more. The Samsung was always in the 60s with similar daily usage.

As for the software, iOS hasn’t changed much in recent years, though Apple required far too many updates to get iOS 13 to a good place. I will say that many of the apps that I use on both Android and iOS are often better on iOS. Google Maps is my go-to example: Because making UI text bold is a system feature, Google Maps supports it, but only on iOS. So Google Maps on iPhone, ironically, provides a more easily-seen UI than it does on Android. That’s safer when you’re driving and navigating.

But it’s not just Google Maps. You see little niceties all across common apps when used on iOS. Fitbit, for example, lets you edit exercise details, something you can’t do on Android. If I forget to turn off an exercise on my wearable, I need to sign-in to the service’s website to fix it when I’m using an Android handset. (Not everything is perfect, of course. Third-party apps that play to Sonos, like Google Play Music, aren’t as reliable on iOS as they are on Android, with frequent pauses for some reason.)

Overall, the iPhone 11 Pro Max has offered a comfortable transition from Android, and I could see myself just using this handset going forward. I’ve had no major issues overall, and while the camera system hasn’t wowed me on this second pass, it’s still one of the best out there. And I think that’s where the iPhone sits, today. It’s comfortable. Maybe too comfortable.

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Conversation 26 comments

  • bart

    Premium Member
    05 April, 2020 - 10:48 am

    <p>Paul, how much do you use Your Phone on Windows 10? Because for me, that is one of the things, that keeps me from going to iOS again. Rumors on the internets suggest Apple might allow replacement of Mail and Safari. Doubt it will happen, but that would help the Your Phone integration, right?</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      05 April, 2020 - 1:38 pm

      I had been using it with Pixel 4 XL and like it quite a bit. But the thing I need to get from phone to PC the most is photos, and that’s easy enough with Google Photos (phone, web on PC). Not sure if Apple will ever ease up enough to make Your Phone work well, though.

      • allhisanyway

        Premium Member
        05 April, 2020 - 5:39 pm

        <blockquote>Agreed about the photos. It's much more elegant to be able to store photos on OneDrive and use them just about everywhere than to be required to export them from Apple Photos to a standard file format. <a href="#536803"><em>In reply to paul-thurrott:</em></a></blockquote><p><br></p>

    • rmlounsbury

      Premium Member
      05 April, 2020 - 6:38 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#536777">In reply to Bart:</a></em></blockquote><p>I'm hoping Apple allows default app replacement for mail and browser in iOS 14. It would be nice to have Outlook &amp; Edge be my primary apps for both functions (also true replacement for Maps). </p><p><br></p><p>I did use Windows 10 Your Phone with my Note9 and at the end of the day it always ended up disappointing me. So removing that barrier makes going back to iOS decidedly easier. But I agree with Paul, it seems highly unlikely Apple ever lets deep enough OS integration to make Your Phone functional with iOS. </p>

  • allhisanyway

    Premium Member
    05 April, 2020 - 11:04 am

    <p>Seemless integration between platforms is getting better with each iteration, but I long for an RCS client that integrates with iOS Messages and Your Phone/Google Messages so that it really doesn't matter how you mix and match appliances. I prefer a Windows 10 environment for daily computing tasks, but would like to go back to iPhone for my mobile and sell this Samsung 20+. which I consider slightly less desirable than the iPhone. But since I depend on the ability to send, receive, and process text messages from my computer and mobile devices, I'm kinda stuck with the Android platform because I can't find a way to integrate iPhone text messaging with my Windows 10 computer.</p>

  • pauldain

    Premium Member
    05 April, 2020 - 11:22 am

    <p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">I'd be interested to see a longer-term ecosystem review; specifically, all-in on Apple vs. all-in on Windows + Android for extended periods. The device-specific reviews are great and informative, but your take on cross-device workflows (pro &amp; consumer) would be valuable.</span></p>

  • dkeith6405

    Premium Member
    05 April, 2020 - 12:47 pm

    <p>One feature I use on the Apple keyboard is to hold on the number key and then slide to the punctuation key I want to use. Of course double tapping on the space bar puts in a period.</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      05 April, 2020 - 1:36 pm

      Yep, I know. I’d prefer the period and comma to just be there.

      • dkeith6405

        Premium Member
        05 April, 2020 - 2:46 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#536802"><em>In reply to paul-thurrott:</em></a><em> :)</em></blockquote><p><br></p>

    • chriscarstens

      06 April, 2020 - 7:20 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#536801"><em>In reply to dkeith6405:</em></a><em> Duh. iPhone user since Steve Jobs shared "one more thing", and i never knew the number key slide. J</em></blockquote><p><br></p>

  • Pranav Dixit

    05 April, 2020 - 2:06 pm

    <p>It's the Pro Max, not the Max Pro. </p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      05 April, 2020 - 2:18 pm

      Yes it is.

  • dcdevito

    05 April, 2020 - 3:31 pm

    <p>Great article, pretty much sums up why I switched to the iPhone last year. Great quality, consistency and experience overall. It's more of an appliance and I like it that way. My wife and I have the iPhone 11, they're great.</p>

  • txag

    06 April, 2020 - 12:06 am

    <p>You kind of pre-emptied my comment on your photo preferences. I’ve been a serious photographer for around 50 years, and I have noticed the distinct preference shift away from photos that accurately render the image to photos that punch up the image. And it’s just a matter of personal preference, so there is no right or wrong. But I’m on the side of accurate rendering rather than punched up image, so I’ll go with the less showy image that looks more accurate to my eye.</p><p><br></p><p>The only time it really offends me is when somebody cranks up a photoshop or HDR image that is vivid beyond anything that can happen in real life. At that point, you’ve lost me.</p><p><br></p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      06 April, 2020 - 8:13 am

      I can totally understand a professional photographer wanting the cleanest/least-processed image.

    • branneth

      06 April, 2020 - 9:12 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#536856">In reply to txag:</a></em></blockquote><p>Apple does let you save the RAW. While the sensor is small, it does manage to capture quite a lot of detail. </p>

  • jlmerrill

    06 April, 2020 - 12:24 am

    <p>You are switching out of Google FI? Yikes! I've considered Mint Mobile myself.</p>

  • ah

    06 April, 2020 - 5:38 am

    <p>You are actually wrong In the sense of true tone not being available on any android because Huawei has a version of it called natural tone which works the same way </p>

  • retcable

    Premium Member
    06 April, 2020 - 6:39 am

    <p>I much prefer Apple's True Tone display to the over-blown, eye-watering color saturation and intensity of Samsung's screens. That look might be an eye-catcher in a store when you are shopping for a phone, but in everyday use, it gets really old really fast since it is not real or life-like. Your eyes get tired of it before long. And if you leave your phone set to that sort of display all the time, it eats battery like there is no tomorrow. I have played with the OnePlus phones with high refresh rate, and they do look nice, but Apple's normal display seems to be just as good for regular use. </p>

  • Greg Green

    06 April, 2020 - 9:32 am

    <p>Sheesh, on my iPad <span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">iOS 13 is still not in a good place. I’ve never had safari crash before iOS 13, now it’s a regular event. It’s like the old Win XP days where I need to reboot the iPad once a week or so, something I never had to do before.</span></p><p><br></p><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">I don’t have this trouble on my iPhone, I suspect because with the phone I’m mostly using apps, where the iPad has become my primary reading and browsing device.</span></p>

  • Cdorf

    Premium Member
    06 April, 2020 - 11:53 am

    <p>I helped my wife with her iPhone over the weekend I just can't get over how vanilla it is. I used to have one but I got so tired of the Apple lock-in, which is (forcibly) getting better. I've made my phone with the awesome MS Launcher, Edge, and Outlook as defaults. It just works so well. I agree that it is annoying most iOS apps are better than their android counterparts. There is no reason for that either. Fitbit is a good example, so is MS Outlook.</p>

  • thechise

    06 April, 2020 - 1:58 pm

    <p>This is just me, although I've read others, but the iPhone screens kill my eyes. The PWM effect is much worse on me for whatever reason than Samsung screens….even though Samsung makes both screens. I had to return the most recent iPhone because I couldn't even use it without getting headaches after a minute. Samsung screens don't have that effect on me. </p>

  • reservoirmike

    06 April, 2020 - 8:58 pm

    <p>Facial recognition is one of the better technology advances in this generation phone. As we are well into the iterative phase of handhelds, it was a leap forward in accessibility and right in the wheelhouse where Apple typically shines, implementation. Face ID was instantly intuitive, the new swipe gestures a barely more than a slight variation on a theme and reliable to a fault. It is one of those technology shifts that made you wonder why it wasn't this way in the first place within minutes of using it.</p>

  • red.radar

    Premium Member
    07 April, 2020 - 8:54 am

    <p>I will say now that we are having to wear surgical masks more … I am noticing Face ID doesn’t perform so well. Hope Touch ID gets a renewed look in future releases </p>

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