The iPhone 14 Pro Max refines an already solid phone and with its new cameras, it extends its lead. Should you buy it though?
Apple has always avoided going for breakthrough tech upgrades on its phones and with this year’s iPhone 14 Pro Max, it is more evident than ever. The three big upgrades for the Pro models – the 48MP main camera, an Always On Display, and a pill-shaped cutout for the front camera; all have been there on Samsung flagships for years. In fact, compared to the much more affordable Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, the iPhone 14 Pro Max looks rather staid. We have already seen these.
However, these three features get the “Apple touch” and combined with the rest of the package, the iPhone 14 Pro Max ends up being one of the nicest phones money can buy. Prices have gone up by Rs. 10,000 this year and my 1TB variant comes at an eye watering price of Rs. 1,89,900. Hence, this iPhone 14 Pro Max better do everything in its might to keep me happy.
It is rare for Apple to go for big design overhauls and 2022 is not that rare year. Hence, the iPhone 14 Pro Max looks no different to last year’s iPhone 13 Pro Max, save for the front – the new Dynamic Island. A fancy term of the hole-punch cutout, Apple uses clever software animations to hide the cutouts, and breathe life into that dead space. Mind you, the pill shaped cutout takes up as much space as the small notch on the iPhone 14/iPhone 13, and still sticks out like a sore thumb. But, it at least looks modern now – thanks Apple.
The rest of the phone bears a striking resemblance to its predecessors. The same old triple camera design stays, but it sticks out more and the lens elements are larger. The flat stainless steel sides look beautiful and assure durability. The fit and finish is impeccable, and so is the attention to detail. It is not a beautiful phone to behold, but the iPhone 14 Pro Max commands presence, even in this Gold variant you see in the pictures. It is still heavy though; at 240 grams, you need to prepare your palms for this gigantic phone.
The iPhone 13 Pro Max had a nice display and it only gets better with the iPhone 14 Pro Max. It still measures 6.7-inches and uses Apple’s Super Retina XDR OLED panel. Next to the 13 Pro Max, the display looks no different in terms of colours and brightness, at least when you are indoors. Be it going through Instagram or catching up Panchayat on Amazon Prime, this is a good display to do any of that. The Dynamic Island takes up noticeable space though, and many of you are going to miss the notch for its slimmer.
That is made up for with the high brightness. Apple’s advertised 2000 nits of brightness comes in handy when venturing outdoors under the Sun. You can actually read the content and figure out what colour is what – it wasn’t as easy on the iPhone 13 Pro Max. It also helps with photography, but more than 10 minutes under the sun and the phone heats up, dimming the display.
What about the Always On display? Yes, it is a nifty feature to let your iPhone work as a desk clock. However, Apple’s implementation makes the AOD less private, considering it only dims the lockscreen – people can see who sent you a message, or your wallpaper. And it eats through the battery fast – I don’t want to see a Pro Max needing a charge by the end of the night. Hence, I turned it off and life has been fantastic ever since.
Where an iPhone shines, always! Apple moves to a 4nm A16 Bionic chip with the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, and while on paper claims are rather conservative, this is still the fastest iPhone, and possibly the fastest smartphone you can buy today. In real world performance, the differences between an iPhone 14 Pro Max and iPhone 13 Pro Max are almost non-existent – your basic social media apps, messenger apps, and productivity apps work just as fine as they did last year. So do the games, which are still rendered nicely by last year’s iPhone 13 Pro Max. Call of Duty: Mobile is blissfully comfy at “Very High” graphics at “Max” frame rates for an hour. The same goes for Asphalt 9, and all of the Apple Arcade titles. The only perceivable gain seems to be the thermal performance – the iPhone 14 Pro Max runs cooler for longer. If you are into editing 4K ProRes videos on your iPhone, you will see slightly faster processing times compared to the older model.
Then there’s iOS 16 to manage all that performance. With the customisable lockscreen, a keyboard that responds with haptics, and that funky Dynamic Island, iOS 16 feels more alive than ever – it’s as if Apple had put some soul into the iPhone. Brilliant optimisation and superb developer support means all apps and games run flawlessly.The enhanced Spotlight search is useful in my line of work for a quick search, and so is the cut/copy feature on images, as well as the Live Text. iOS 16 feels like a modern operating system, all while retaining the core Apple features that drew crowds in the past – the ecosystem benefits remain.
With all iPhones, you expect at least five years of OS updates and software support, which beats any other brand in the market. That paired with the exceptionally build quality should let you be happy for a long time. No charging adapter in the box but Apple still gives you the charging cable, and the SIM ejector pin (although this might go away from next year). This might also be the last year for the Lightning port on the iPhone, but it works as always on old iPhones.
Lastly, connectivity has been great on this iPhone, as always. I did not face network issues with my Airtel SIM card. Moreover, the earpiece remains loud and qualitative during calls. I wonder how the new slit cutout for the earpiece will hold up to dust and grime; my iPhone 13 Pro Max’s earpiece slowed down after a few months, and repair costs kept me glued to the loudspeaker.
The big change comes with the new 48MP sensor, and just like countless Android phones, it uses Pixel Binning. The benefits of clubbing pixels results in superior details and brighter photos, especially at night. The standard 12MP photos hold textures better in daylight, and the grains are better controlled. Night mode photos are brighter, although the iPhone loves to preserve the natural colour tones. In pitch dark scenes, the new sensor and the algorithms work wonders!
That said, the new Photonic Engine tunes the photos in the way Samsung used to do it in the old days – bump up the saturation, crush the shadows, and make everything look brighter, even in the Standard photographic style. At the same time, it struggles to manage exposures and colour enhancement as nicely as the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.
The same goes for its selfies. The photo quality is good by all means and I love how it aims to keep the skin tones natural. However, the Galaxy S22 Ultra does the same selfie with just the right enhancements – brighter skin tones, removing the unwanted shadows, and doing better cutouts. Despite the autofocus functions, the iPhone 14 Pro Max still struggles with edge detection on subjects; the Galaxy S22 Ultra and even the Galaxy Z Flip 4 does it so much better.
However, the new 12MP ultrawide camera sensor with the Photonic Engine is much improved than before. The dynamic range is somewhat similar to the main camera, and the clarity in daylight is impeccable. Even at night, the ultrawide camera keeps giving usable photos. The processing benefits also extend to the 3x telephoto camera, which now does the textures better, and crushes noise nicely as well. The larger main camera sensor also allows for a 2x lossless digital zoom, and that works well for portraits as well.
When it comes to the videos, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is in a league of its own. Be it 4K or 1080p, the video quality is second to no other phone, and I am left impressed by the way it handles colours as well as exposures. No other phone camera comes close to this kind of video quality. The Action Mode is a nice addition for shooting on the move and thanks to 2.5k resolution, the footage always looks sharp. Cinematic mode also gets the 4K resolution advantage but the subject separation could have been better.
Battery stamina remains largely the same as the iPhone 13 Pro Max, although there’s scope for improvement. You see, iOS 16 is yet to be optimised well, and bugs are yet to be squashed. Plus, Apple claims longer battery life on the 14 Pro Max, and the recipe involves the more efficient 4nm chip as well as the LTPO 2.0 display. For now, a moderate use pattern involving mostly voice calls, social media browsing, substantial photography, and music streaming drains the battery in a day and half. Even if I add an hour of gaming and video recording, I don’t have to plug the charger by the end of the day.
And when it comes to charging, the iPhone 14 Pro relies on its slow 20W charger to fill up the battery, and that makes me leave it for almost two hours untouched. You can use the faster 30W Apple charger to reduce the charging times, and there’s the usual 15W MagSafe wireless charging available as well.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max carries on the strength of battery life as well as the “big iPhone experience” from its predecessor, which is crucial for the Pro Max iPhone. Paired with the improved camera system as well as the modern front design, the iPhone 14 Pro Max has all it takes to contest for two of the best conventional slab smartphones money can buy. The Dynamic Island is a clever way to use the undesired space on any smartphone, and I am eager to see how app developers make use of it.
That said, for a phone carrying a sticker price of Rs. 1.9 lakhs, the iPhone 14 Pro Max isn’t perfect. Apple’s Photonic Engine doesn’t achieve the same levels of pleasant image tuning as the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. The subject separation in portrait mode photos leaves room for improvement as well, especially for the front camera. And the design seems “so 2020”; it turns heads but it is not as beautiful as a Galaxy S22 Ultra. But as they say, there’s always next year for improvements.
For now, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is our top recommendation if you seek a polished smartphone experience and have the means to splurge on a luxury phone. Those using the iPhone 13 Pro Max may want to hold on for next year’s upgrade, considering the differences won’t be visible. However, for everyone else, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is the new poster boy you should carry around.
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max
- Solid build quality
- Good cameras
- Superb user experience
- Not the best still camera
- Same old design