Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review: The best iPhone yet

Apple’s new flagship has arrived – and it’s obviously the best iPhone yet.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max on table, Editor's Choice winner

by Curtis Moldrich |

Another year, another iPhone. The new 13 Pro Max promises to be Apple's best smartphone yet, and features an upgraded camera as well as smoother refresh rates and increase performance. CAR magazine's online editor and part-time tech reviewer Curtis Moldrich investigates.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max - Handset only

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

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Please note: At the time of writing, the stock of the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max is inconsistent. The product may be unavailable from the listed retailers.

Specifications
Screen:
Chip: Apple A15 Bionic
Cameras: 12MP, f1.5 26mm, f2.8 77mm, f1.8 13mm
Front camera: 12MP, f2.2 23mm
Capacity: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB (tested), 1TB
Colour: Sierra Blue, Gold, Graphite (tested), Silver
Weight: 240g
Pros Cons
• Great fit and finish • Size puts a caveat on its portability
• Best iPhone camera yet • Some of the new features need tweaks
• Good battery life • No USB-C

Hands-on with the iPhone 13 Pro Max

iPhone 13 Max Pro charging port
©What's The Best / Curtis Moldrich

• Competitive specs

• Bulletproof compatibility

• Performs well in drop tests

After a year of rumours and predicted specs, Apple’s new flagship has arrived – and it’s obviously the best iPhone yet.

In Pro Max form, the iPhone 13 Pro boasts competitive specs and bulletproof compatibility, along with intuitive software – and Apple folds it all into a premium design that most still can’t come close to. But is it really worth the money?

I've spent the last few weeks testing the iPhone 13 Pro Max, and what’s it like to use outside of Apple’s glitzy keynotes. From food pics to car walkarounds and workouts, I've put Apple’s smartphone through all the situations you’d expect. Here’s how it faired.

Remove the iPhone 13 Pro Max from its smaller, less wasteful packaging (Apple assumes you have USB plug by now) and you can already feel where the extra cash has gone.

Like the 12, Apple’s new flagship harks back to the flat, squared-off design of the original iPhone 4, and later the 5. And where something like the moderately priced Pixel 4a 5G uses light plastics, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is all polished aluminium, glass and ceramics.

A new Ceramic Shield front and matte glass back mean that even without a case, the newest Pro Max performs better in drop tests than its predecessor (though I'd still invest in a case). What’s more, everything about the phone feels slightly pricier than the competition; partly because it is, and because of the level of detail involved.

The cameras and screen

iPhone 13 Max Pro Rear Camera
©What's The Best / Curtis Moldrich

• Multiple lenses

• Automatic cinematic modes

• 12MP selfies

For example, Apple has crammed in a trio of cameras at the rear of the iPhone 13 Pro; flip it over and you’ll find an f2.8 telephoto, f1.5 wide and f1.8 ultrawide lens. All capture 12MP of footage, and 3x and 0.5x zooms make for even clearer, less artefact prone pictures. The 0.5x is particularly good at huge amounts of detail (especially in huge buildings or landscapes) while the 3x is particularly useful in crowded situations like motor races or gigs.

A macro mode is also new, and the iPhone will intelligently switch to it if your subject is close enough – though there’s currently no way to turn this ‘feature’ off. I mainly used it for snaps of food and plants, and it faired well overall. While the effect was interesting, I'd recommend cropping the results: the edges of the frame can be blurry.

The fourth, front-facing camera also sticks with a 12MP processor, and its f2.2 aperture particularly comes in handy when taking selfies via a slightly updated Portrait mode. It seemed every bit as good as the iPhone 12’s.

iPhone 13 Max Pro Front View
©What's The Best / Curtis Moldrich

Video is also a key area of improvement for the new iPhone; there’s HDR video recording at 4K and 60fps, but the biggest news is the addition of Cinematic mode. Despite being capped to 1080p and 30fps, it adds ‘cinematic’ style to clips, intelligently or manually switching focus and using depth of field to give your movies more polish.

It’s hit and miss to begin with, but with some practice, it’s possible to get decent results. There’s no ability to customize the speed of focus switching yet, but that’ll surely come in an update.

The cameras' pictures and videos look particularly good on the iPhone’s new OLED, 6.7-inch screen. Measuring 2778x1284 pixels with a resolution of 458ppi, the best thing about the Super Retina XDR display is its new, improved refresh rate. At 120Hz, it’s much faster than before, and offers a smoother even more refined experience; icons glide across the HDR screen and flicking between apps is more fluid too. It’s subtle, but certainly an improvement.

The A15 chip and the software experience

iPhone 13 Max Pro
©What's The Best / Curtis Moldrich

• Future-proof A15 chip

• Excellent software

All of the above is powered by new A15 Bionic chip, which doesn’t feel massively faster than before – but surely futureproofs the iPhone 13 for two or three generations of iOS. And the iPhone’s storage, which goes all the way to 1TB now means it’ll probably never be full too.

Elsewhere, the iPhone 13 Pro Max once again does without Touch ID, instead it relies on the biometric Face ID as seen on the last few handsets. It’s a neat solution and works well – though less well with a mask.

As for the software? This is where the iPhone 13 Pro Max excels, but also where Android now runs it much closer than before. Simply put, the iPhone experience is still incredibly intuitive from set up, all the way to daily use. After plugging in an iCloud account – or creating a new one – the 13 comes to life: on our device, widgets displayed our old pictures, playlists filled with tunes from Apple Music – and your contacts move across with ease. Setting up Apple Pay is painless, and it’s also very easy to expand your ecosystem with an Apple Watch or Apple EarPods. The latter even offers 360-degree spatial audio with selected media.

Simply put, the App Store may still be a walled garden for developers, but it offers everything you’ll need from your iPhone 13 – and it’ll likely be on there before it ends up on Android, too.

Verdict

Like the previous iPhone, and the one before that, there’s nothing truly groundbreaking about the iPhone 13 Pro Max compared to its predecessor. However, it’s better in every area.

Faster and even slicker than before, the iPhone 13 Pro Max brings several small but useful upgrades over its predecessor. Many of the new features (mainly Cinematic mode and automatic lens switching) need tweaking, but the Pro’s new cameras and 120Hz screen make up for it. At the same time, it’s still good at the boring stuff, too – I found battery life to last well over a day in normal use, and I had no crashes or odd behaviour either.

Score: 5/5

Pros Cons
• Great fit and finish • Size puts a caveat on its portability
• Best iPhone camera yet • Some of the new features need tweaks
• Good battery life • No USB-C

So, is it worth buying?

That depends on the iPhone you currently have. If you’re bothered about content creation, the cameras alone make the 13 Pro worth it. If you tend to use an iPhone purely for productivity, you can probably make do with a normal 13 or 12. If, on the other hand, you’re on Android, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the ultimate device to switch with.

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Curtis has worked in the technology sector for several years, reviewing and testing the best audio gear, laptops and gadgets at titles including The Telegraph, Wired UK and Expert Reviews. Now the online editor of CAR magazine, he's a keen sim-racer, too.

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