We always knew the iPhone 14 Pro Max would be the best; making use of a larger OLED display, bigger battery and three spectacular cameras. Unfortunately, not even the inclusion of the Dynamic Island and always-on display can make it worth the price tag when the extremely similar iPhone 13 is right there.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max is an entirely new phone. It just… doesn’t look like it. Stuff always knew it was going to be good. The question is: how good? The 14 Pro Max is better than its 2021 counterpart, though only just. If it weren’t for Apple’s new Dynamic Island or 48MP shooter, the decision would be far more clear-cut.
That’s not a knock against Apple. It’s quite the opposite. Anyone that knows Apple expects their smartphones to enter the realm of ‘overkill’ thanks to their hefty metallic bodies, excellent displays and (arguably) the best cameras on the market. You’re still getting all of that with the standard Pro, though the Max’s extended battery life and larger display make a case for the chunky price tag.
Still, if having the best camera or the largest screen isn’t something that really concerns you, you’d be better off sticking with 2021’s model, or something that doesn’t have five adjectives attached to the name.
Belle of the Ball
If a good-looking phone is all you’re after, you’ll certainly find it here. That mindset isn’t locked to this phone. Take a stroll down Apple’s catalogue, and you’ll see several models all sporting similar designs. Compare the 14 Pro Max to Apple’s last big hurrah (the 13 Pro Max) and you’ll be hard-pressed to find some sort of difference. Heck, go back another year and you’ll be greeted with a similar issue.
Apple’s designs have always been front and centre, and that’s no different here. It’s coated in a stainless-steel chassis, joined by a glass back that’s been frosted to within an inch of its life (which went right into a case, never to be seen again). The buttons – which conveniently haven’t moved around – are subtly tactile enough to feel expensive.
And while your girlfriend might swear that size doesn’t matter, it does. At first, we weren’t too keen on the phone’s 240g weight – having come from something that weighed 20g less. Over time, however, we grew to love the phone’s extra girth. And that 6.7in display? It was difficult to pull ourselves back to reality after spending two weeks with the 14 Pro Max.
All of this is to say; Apple isn’t breaking new ground here. At most, it’s toiled the freshly-dug Earth and dropped in a seed or two, but nothing that’ll bear fruit. That’s not a complaint – though we’d like to see something different by the time the iPhone 16 rolls around.
An outward sense of OLED
Even if the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s heft isn’t for you, it’s worth putting up with it to see the 6.7in OLED (of the LTPO Super Retina XDR kind) 2,796 x 1,290 display in action.
As ever, colours are vividly brilliant. That’s partly helped by that brighter-than-Oppenheimer’s-worst-creation OLED display, which sits at an average of 1000 nits. That’s pretty standard stuff. Things take a turn when adaptive brightness is turned on, enabling a peak brightness of 2000 nits. At least you’ll have no issues finding your way to an eye doctor once it’s at its max. We also noticed a slight tendency for a quickly depleting battery when max brightness was in use, though it wasn’t ever fast enough to cause a panic.
Keeping in line with Apple’s ‘if it ain’t broke’ attitude, we see the return of the 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate, which debuted alongside the iPhone 13. It’s a small detail that’s not too noticeable unless you’re spending all your time on the home page, where it shows itself in the form of smooth animations.
Besides the introduction of the Dynamic Island, the next big thing is Apple’s new always-on display. We’ve never been a fan of always-on displays, and Apple hasn’t done enough to change our minds. Apple’s is probably the least intrusive of the lot, showing notifications, widgets and musical controls and your wallpaper off for the world to see. It’s about as fine as always-on displays can be, which is all the innovation it needs.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max’s innards are where things become really interesting. It feels almost counterintuitive to mention performance on Apple’s best and brightest devices – mainly because they’re the standard that everyone is trying to contend with. Still, it’s worth a mention.
Performance has seen a major bump, thanks to Apple’s new A16 Bionic chip that’s been stuffed in – a difference that was reserved for the Pro and Max models this time around, relegating the standard iPhone 14 to a life accompanied by the old A15 Bionic chip. Yikes.
Combined with the 6GB of RAM, the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s performance wasn’t an issue. Games? They run as smoothly as you’d expect them to – even with our asses being handed to us on a silver platter in Call of Duty: Mobile. We thought we’d be able to blame our performance on the lack of South African servers, but it turns out we’re just awful. And when we had the occasional urge to multitask on our review model, it passed the test with flying colours with stuttering kept at bay.
We particularly enjoyed the battery, managing to scoop just under 48 hours of life out of it until warning lights began blaring at us. We were kinda hoping for some sort of upgrade to its charging capabilities but alas, Apple has opted to keep the bog-standard 15W fast charging. That’s… fine, but we weren’t happy about it.
Without a doubt the best addition to the iPhone 14 Pro Max is the Dynamic Island, an entirely new way to hide the notch that lives at the device’s peak. It took us some time to get used to, confining incoming calls (and their controls), music player, face ID configuration, (Apple) Maps directions and more (that we totally haven’t forgotten) to a place that used to be an eyesore. Its job was to liven things up in areas that weren’t particularly interesting – and it did just that. Whether that was through a visualiser for music or your bank’s latest reminder that you’re too poor to be using this phone, it was something that quickly grew on us. We’d have just liked more third-party apps to do something, anything with it.
Eyeing an upgrade
Who’d have thought that Apple would have the best cameras on the market? Oh, right. Everyone. That’s because pretty much every year when Apple’s smartphone team emerges from the woodwork, there’s always some sort of improvement taking place. This time, improvement comes in the form of three cameras – a 48MP main shooter, coupled with a 12MP telephoto and 12MP ultrawide – all vying for our attention. The 48MP main shooter did most of the heavy lifting during our time with the phone, though we found more uses for the other two more times than we thought we’d need to.
Anybody that knows cameras will know that MP counts hardly count for anything these days. Yeah, 48MP is far lower than that of Xioami’s 200MP shooters, but it’s what’s being done with the software that matters. Apple being the wizards they are, allows the 14 Pro Max to take images in daylight to a whole new level, with nighttime shots seeing a significant boost, even over the standard iPhone 14. Photos we’d usually have sent to the recycle bin ended up looking professional, even when they were held by the phone’s default settings.
Low-light-level shots? Exquisite. Unless you’re working in space, it’d be hard to find an area that the iPhone 14 Pro Max couldn’t handle well in the dark. Colours come through unwashed, even managing to keep that bokeh effect in most of our tests. We found ourselves playing with the telephoto and ultrawide sensors only occasionally, though when it was needed, it performed to the standards we’ve come to expect from Apple.
Another major improvement is the front-facer, now rocking a 12MP piece of hardware. It… took really good selfies. We’d love to show you, but we like you too much to do such a thing. Take our word – colours are true to life, and the newly-added autofocus (a first for iPhone) makes everything look top-notch. It’s a small detail, deriving from the old iPhone’s fixed focus, allowing for a lot more versatility in the selfie department.
Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max Verdict
Cards on the table, as much as we enjoyed our time with the best smartphone out there, and the new features it brought with it, we’re just not convinced that it’s worth footing the *checks notes* R28,000 bill (and that’s just for the 128GB model). Especially if you’re already clinging to an iPhone released in the past three years.
Sure, we had fun with the Dynamic Island and the always-on display and the A16 chipset made animations silky smooth but at the end of the day, this is an iPhone. No new ground was broken, leaving the iPhone 13 a much better choice for newcomers to the field. Unless you’ve got the dough. In which case, can we have some too?