Yours truly has been using the iPhone 14 Pro Max for 14 days now, coming from an iPhone 12 Pro Max which has served him well over the last two years. Getting it on launch day meant that a comprehensive classic-form review was almost pointless (others had already published theirs and timing is everything with stuff like that)… but a recounting of what is like to actually use one as a daily driver for a while may be more interesting. Especially done by a long-time iPhone user who knows what to look for and what to point out to other consumers thinking about getting this rather expensive smartphone.
So, without further ado: fourteen days of use, fourteen findings about the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Let’s break them all down.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max is not that much faster than its 13 and 12 brothers in everyday use
It’s been discussed quite a bit already, but it bears repeating: all recent iPhones are very fast in operation when it comes to everyday stuff — mail, social media, web browsing, taking photos, streaming, etc. — so for 75% to even 95% of the time (depending on how much gaming they do) 14 Pro Max owners won’t feel any real difference in responsiveness and multitasking performance compared to previous Pro devices or recent vanilla iPhones in general. For better or worse, iOS is that optimized and most iOS apps are designed to work well with as many iPhone models as possible, so…
What’s strange is that even the most demanding apps and games do not seem to run that much faster on the 14 Pro Max compared to the 12 Pro Max. In practice, the performance gap is even smaller than what various benchmarks imply, even when taking the faster storage of the new model into account. There are some small but noticeable differences here and there, yes, mainly in creative apps where the 6GB of RAM may be lending a hand, but nothing that feels like a leap forward after two whole years of tech progress. In gaming, same story: it’s not as if e.g. Genshin Impact or PUBG or Asphalt 9 or Call of Duty were unplayable on the 12 Pro Max and suddenly feel like different titles on the 14 Pro Max. The 120Hz-capable screen makes much more of a difference, for instance.
The 14 Pro Max has more computational work to do in certain common tasks, of course, such as photo shooting, but that is par for the course and very much a matter of results rather than performance per se. Long story short: the 14 Pro Max is extremely fast in everything, but so are other recent iPhones. It’s not worth buying for speed in operation alone.
The crazy brightness of this screen is actually useful
First things first: yes, it really is that crazy. When displaying HDR content the iPhone 14 Pro Max hits more than 1600 nits indoors, which — as anyone into modern TVs will attest to — is more than what’s actually needed for an impactful video presentation. In practice, even in typical, non-HDR-related use indoors, this iPhone is so bright that even at 50% brightness it’s perfectly usable (saving quite a bit of battery in the process).
But it’s when the iPhone 14 Pro Max is used outdoors that this overly-bright screen becomes truly useful. No more squinting under the sun to read an e-mail. No guessing what a photo taken in broad daylight will probably look like. No more worrying that the drone that’s being controlled using this iPhone as an FPV screen will end up in a tree. Hitting more than 2000 nits (!) outdoors means that Apple’s latest and greatest can finally work as an actual smartphone under any lighting conditions. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Apple’s version of the Always On Display is stupid
Blame it on the company’s obsession with being “the first” at something or “different” than the competition (a carefully cultivated image that just doesn’t hold water on close inspection) or simply its lack of understanding of what the Always On Display feature actually is or should be. It does not really matter. What matters is that Apple failed to offer an iPhone version of it that works, is truly beneficial, and has no downsides.
Downside number one: being just a dimmed-down lock screen, Apple’s Always On Display (a) looks like it just received a message or a notification all the freaking time and (b) sips energy at an alarming rate. These are irritating enough to push many people — including yours truly — to deactivate the Always On Display altogether. Downside number two: it doesn’t provide as much flexibility in customizing the always-on screen as one expects in 2022. What’s there makes for a beautiful screen, but it’s unacceptably restricted, offering embarrassingly few options. Downside number three: app developers had probably been kept in the dark about the Always On Display, so there’s just not enough useful information relayed to consumers with the handful of Apple widgets available.
That will hopefully change in the fullness of time but, right now, this is where things stand: Apple’s Always On Display is just dumb and consumers not getting it aren’t missing much. The company needs to start working on this feature at once, fixing and expanding it, so that — after taking people’s feedback into account — we may get a 2.0 version of it that’s actually good in iOS 17. It is that simple.
Apple’s most expensive smartphone offers so-so battery life
Maybe it was to be expected given the size of its screen and the Always On Display feature, but it’s still disappointing to see that the iPhone 14 Pro Max does not follow the tradition of its predecessors (the 12 Pro Max and the 13 Pro Max offered epic battery life in terms of 2020 and 2021 smartphones respectively). Apple’s latest is based on the A16 processor, which is supposed to be more efficient than last year’s A15… but this does not translate to more battery life, for some reason, in real-world, mixed use.
The Always On Display has definitely something to do with all this: anecdotal evidence points to a hit of around 7%-10% to battery life in most cases. Some consumers report even more. Owners of an iPhone 14 Pro Max can tune the new feature in various ways in order to lessen its impact or outright deactivate it, claiming back that lost percentage almost in its entirety. But they are probably not going to do that, so…
The main camera is better, but not 4x better
The headline feature of the iPhone 14 Pro/Pro Max when it comes to photography is none other than the upgrade of the main camera from the 12-Megapixel sensor it’s been working with for years and years to a brand-new 48-Megapixel one. That’s a 4x jump in resolution and that’s great, but for a lot of people getting Apple’s new flagship smartphone it will not mean as much as it sounds like it would. The reason is simple: the new Pro/Pro Max still shoots at 12 Megapixels by default and it is only when activating ProRAW — Apple’s professional, uncompressed photo format — that the full 48 Megapixel resolution is unlocked.
Using ProRAW, though, produces file sizes of around 75 MB (!) for each photo, a fact that presents its own set of challenges. It also means that only consumers who know what they’re doing (and why) will be shooting at 48 Megapixels with the iPhone 14 Pro Max: in other words, just people who actually need the extra detail and intend to do color correction or further image processing on a computer. For everyone else, who will be only looking at photos on the screen of the iPhone or posting them on social media, the main camera of the new Pro/Pro Max models is mostly overkill.
Thankfully, there are many more improvements in other areas of the whole photo-capturing process that make snaps taken with the new Pro models superior to those taken by e.g. the 12 Pro Max. But unless you know why you’d need a 48-Megapixel image out of an iPhone 14 Pro or Pro Max, don’t get either just for that.
For people serious about photography or videography, 128GB just isn’t enough
Directly related to the previous finding, but still worth pointing out because this is officially becoming a problem for iPhones (Pro and normal models alike): in 2022 terms, let alone going forward, 128GB as a baseline for Apple’s best iPhones is not nearly enough for people who intend to use them extensively for photo shooting and video recording. The 48-Megapixel problem of the iPhone 14 Pro is indicative of this: knowledgable consumers can use paid third-party apps to circumvent Apple’s restriction and snap 48-Megapixel photos in JPEG — such as the excellent ProCam or Halide apps — but those specific people will shoot in ProRAW anyway… and fill up a 128GB iPhone 14 Pro/Pro Max in a matter of weeks.
Recording high-resolution video, though, is what really puts the 128GB of storage issue into context. By Apple’s own calculations, capturing video footage in the highest quality possible, that of ProRes, requires almost 2GB per minute in 1080p and 6GB per minute in 4K. People shooting short videos to just post on social media or casually watch on their devices will be OK with 128GB for a while because compressed video needs considerably less storage space. But even Apple itself seems to acknowledge that 128GB is just not enough for serious videographers by not allowing 4K recording in ProRes at all.
Upselling to 256GB/512GB/1TB models is one thing. Limiting what people can do with a smartphone promoted as a “Pro” device is quite another. If Apple does not double the minimum storage of its next iPhone Pro models, then it deserves all the backlash it will surely be receiving in 2023.
The Dynamic Island is actually more distracting than the Notch
Yes, really. Forget about the press photos of the Dynamic Island for a minute or Apple’s promo videos for it. At the same time, try to forget the almost universal dislike for the Notch that the company introduced way back in 2017 with the iPhone X. In actual, real-world use the “pill and hole punch” design — which many Android manufacturers had already used in years past and now Apple itself adopted with the iPhone 14 Pro/Pro Max — draws more attention to itself than the “notch” design ever did.
The reason: the Notch was always “connected” to the screen’s black bezel, “cutting out” a piece of the screen’s upper part but giving the impression that it essentially “belongs to” that bezel (after a bit of getting used to at least). The Dynamic Island is “floating” on the content of the screen instead, as the part of the screen between that and the black bezel is fully functional. The result? A UI element that may be interactive and useful, even aesthetically pleasing in product photos, but also one that “gets in the way” more than the notch when people are actually playing games or watching videos full-screen. But proving that there’s nothing it can’t eventually talk itself into accepting, the brain of most consumers will most probably learn to disregard The Dynamic Island too. Obviously.
The Dynamic Island is not a gimmick
So yes, the Dynamic Island is more intrusive than the Notch but… a number of reviewers are getting ahead of themselves by calling it “a gimmick” already. Apple deserves praise for turning something annoying into something of use, that’s plain to see. What is not plain to see right now is that the Dynamic Island can offer much, much more in terms of functionality and value once third-party apps start taking into account what it can do and how it is able to extend the overall “presence” of said apps in iOS.
All it will take is a few cool, imaginative examples of how the Dynamic Island can relay information to consumers — in bits or continuously — without forcing them to leave whatever else they may be doing full-screen on their iPhone. This truly feels like something with great potential, not something like e.g. 3D Touch which looked like a good idea on paper but could not form into something genuinely useful. The way Apple has implemented it, playfully but after putting a lot of thought into it too, is interesting all on its own. Here’s hope that the Dynamic Island will evolve into something that even partially fulfills its potential because (either way…) it looks like it will be with us for a good few years at the very least.
Apple really needs to catch up on the fast-charging front
It may seem like an easy, predictable jab to take at the company — especially given its past choices — but… but… we’re close to 2023 and the best iPhone’s charging speed is still at 27 Watts?!? Oh, come on, Apple. Nobody’s expecting you to go from 30 Watts to Xiaomi-like or Oppo-like charging speeds (120 Watts or 80 Watts respectively) in one year, but can’t we at least have 65 Watts already? These are “Pro” devices after all — and expensive ones at that — meant to be used by demanding consumers in a variety of situations every single day. Here’s hope that the next, USB-C equipped iPhones will offer just that. If not, then Apple should really prepare for a generous helping of humble pie come autumn 2023.
The Lightning port has really, really outstayed its welcome
On a separate note, also relevant to the previous two findings: having no quick and 100%reliable way of taking those 48-Megapixel ProRAW photos or those multi-gigabyte ProRes video files off an iPhone 14 Pro Max is just plain embarrassing now. The Lightning connector of Apple’s latest and greatest smartphone only works at USB 2.0 speeds (!!!), meaning that transferring a lot of data from that to a computer can take an unacceptably long time by 2022 standards. There’s always the option to do so wirelessly, but this is still an imperfect process where several things can go wrong. There’s a reason why all pros transfer photos and videos by using either memory cards or wired connections, after all.
The European Commission finally passed into law, a few days ago, the mandatory use of USB-C in every portable device by 2024 and, if rumors making the rounds are true, Apple had already planned for that eventuality as all 2023 iPhone models are said to offer USB-C. If we’re lucky, we might even get Thunderbolt data transfer speeds in the Pro models. But Apple having the audacity to sell “Pro” smartphones that only offer USB 2.0 data transfer speeds is one of the reasons why so many people have a love/hate relationship with the company: it doesn’t mind putting consumers through stuff like that if there’s money in it. It’s such an Apple thing, you know?
The camera bump is so large, it’s actually unsettling
For people coming from the iPhone 12 Pro Max this should not come as such a big surprise, but still: the camera bump of the iPhone 14 Pro Max is enormous. Almost comically so. What is not at all funny is the feeling a new user of this phone gets every time the device is put on a desk or any other flat surface: it’s not just the sight of the phone just laying there with its upper part up in the air, but rather the impression that the weight of the device is applying pressure to the lenses at the back of the phone that’s unsettling (especially when it comes to a heavy phone like the 14 Pro Max).
Apple will most probably claim that those lenses can withstand quite a bit of abuse before one notices dents or scratches at their edges. There’s always the option of getting a protective case for this iPhone too, obviously, which is what most consumers will probably do. But the “quite a bit of abuse” argument is, of course, relative: even one careless toss of the 14 Pro Max on a hard desk may be enough to damage the overly protruding cameras, after all. As for the protective case thing…
The ideal protective case for this iPhone model does not exist
This might seem like the very definition of a first-world problem, but here it is: the huge camera bump of the iPhone 14 Pro Max makes choosing a protective case for this phone much harder than it probably should be. Ideally, such a case would protect the device from scratches or cracks while also sporting a small “lip” around the bump that would allow for the phone to be put down flat e.g. on a desk without the cameras touching the surface. For that to happen, though, the case for this particular model would have to be so thick it’s absurd (it’s just “Folio” type cases that attempt to do that… and they are not everyone’s cup of tea).
Most cases don’t even attempt to do that and just protect the body of this iPhone itself, leaving the camera bump exposed. A few others do feature a protective “lip” around the camera bump, which lifts the phone even higher when set on a flat surface. There’s even a small number of 14 Pro/Pro Max cases that feature a sliding cover for the cameras, like some of the latest webcams do, but those cases tend to be of… shall we say… exotic design, which — again — is not everyone’s cup of tea.
So what many consumers may end up doing is either getting one of the ultra-raised cases to protect the cameras or simple, slim cases that don’t protect the camera at all. But hey — you can always put your new iPhone 14 Pro Max down on its screen: you’ll not be able to use the Always On Display, but the battery will last longer!
The Action Mode in video recording is rather overhyped
Apple made a big deal out of it during its event but, after playing with it for a few hours, it’s kind of hard to see why. Yes, this stabilization mode works well, but so did the general stabilization of the iPhone 13 Pro Max, no? One had to intentionally shake that smartphone this way and that in order to actually get unwatchable footage. The Action Mode just “makes it official” in a way, while also acknowledging the fact that such a function can only deliver when there’s a lot of light to work with. In other words: even Apple admits it’s meant to be used outdoors only.
There’s an option to “compensate” for that indoors or in low light but then results vary wildly. All in all, it seems to be more of a gimmicky “marketing bullet point” in practice. People who really need smooth motion while recording video — indoors or outdoors — will probably keep using a quality gimbal for that.
The built-in speakers are grossly underrated
Not many reviewers out there seemed to deem this impressive enough or important enough to mention, but the 14 Pro Max offers the best sound of every iPhone ever made by a mile. It’s only to be expected that Apple would gradually improve the built-in sound of its most popular product year after year, yes, but this is a clear step up from anything the company has achieved before: the sound produced by the 14 Pro Max is full, thumping but controlled on the low end, while the mids are nimble, wide and impressively textured, expressing vocals and dialogue clearly too. Highs remain rock-solid and detailed even when the device gets almost uncomfortably loud. The sound of the iPhone 12 Pro Max in certain songs or action film sequences seems almost flat by comparison… and that speaks volumes (sorry).
All in all: who should or should not be buying the iPhone 14 Pro Max?
An easy question to answer, actually. Everyone who can afford it and is still using an iPhone 11 Pro/Pro Max or earlier should get it — the differences are big enough to justify this purchase. Everyone who’s serious about photography and videography should get it — there are just enough improvements as a whole over the iPhone 12/13 Pro/Pro Max to justify the investment. Everyone for whom money is no object should get it, so (a) he/she/they can become a beta tester for the Dynamic Island and (b) because why not, obviously!
Everyone else, though, should not get the iPhone 14 Pro Max or even the iPhone 14 Pro for that matter. There are not enough improvements over the 12/13 Pro/Pro Max to justify this purchase, whereas people who usually gravitate towards more affordable iPhone models should probably stick to those for the time being.
Apple has held back enough important stuff for the iPhone 15 Pro — or Ultra or however the company decides to call it — that it’s worth waiting for that in autumn 2023: the USB-C port, the periscope lens, the 8K video recording capability are sure to be included next time around, along with the A17 processor and 8GB of RAM most probably. We may even get 256GB of storage and true fast charging as standard. Stranger things have happened!