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Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max preview: A minor update for Apple’s flagship

20 Sep 2021
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Apple’s biggest, baddest phone receives a small handful of worthy updates

In a move that absolutely no-one predicted, Apple has unleashed the latest round of iPhones on the world. If you’ve been following the rumours, you’ll be mostly up to date.

If not, here’s the lowdown. Apple has unveiled four iPhones, the most expensive largest and heaviest of which remains the titular iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max: Specifications, price and release date

  • Apple A15 Bionic 5nm processor
  • 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB storage options
  • 6.7in, OLED 1,284 x 2,778, Super Retina XDR, 120Hz ProMotion display
  • 20% smaller notch
  • Triple camera array: Main, 12MP, f/1.5, 1.9um pixels; Ultrawide, 12MP, f/1.8, autofocus, macro mode; 3x Telephoto, f/1.8
  • Larger battery delivering 2.5 hours longer battery life
  • Price: £1,049 (128GB); £1,149 (256GB); £1,349 (512GB); £1,549 (1TB)
  • Availability: Pre-orders from Apple from 17th September; units shipping from Friday 24th September

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max preview: Contract prices

The iPhone 13 Pro Max is Apple’s biggest, most advanced and with prices starting at £1,049 for the 128GB model, rising to £1,049 for the phone alone, it’s also the most expensive.

It’s now available to pre-order from Apple.com (with handsets shipping from Friday 24th September) and all the major networks.

Prices at Curry’s (on the iD Mobile network) look to be the most competitive. These start at £51 per month with an upfront cost of £109 (adding up to a total contract cost of £1,333) for the 128GB model, and that’s at the bottom end of the range of prices you’re looking at.

Three's offering, with unlimited data, starts at £74 per month with the first six months half price and £49 upfront. Vodafone's is equally pricey at £54 per month on a 36-month contract and £49 upfront for 25GB of monthly data.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max: Key features and first impressions

In case you hadn’t figured it out already, there aren’t huge differences between this year’s iPhones and last year's models.

Screen sizes and resolutions remain the same (that’s 6.5in across the diagonal and 1,284 x 2,778 in the case of the iPhone 13 Pro Max), and the phone’s design remains the same slim slab of frosted glass framed in stainless steel as before, albeit with a new “sierra blue” colour option.

Look closely, however, and you’ll see plenty of small upgrades, the most obvious of which has been made to the notch atop the screen at the front of the phone.

Thanks to improvements in the Face ID camera, Apple has been able to shrink this down so it’s 20% narrower than before. If this doesn’t sound exciting, bear in mind that it’s the first time we’ve seen a change in the appearance of the notch since it debuted on the iPhone X four years ago. The fact that it’s still there at all will be a source of frustration to some, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

The other major change with the iPhone 13 Pro Max is to the maximum refresh rate of the display, which at long last moves to 120Hz from the 60Hz it’s been stuck at for years. This new OLED display also utilises Apple's ProMotion tech, which adapts the refresh rate of the display depending on what’s required at the time, and cleverly matches the refresh rate of the display to the speed of your finger scrolling on the screen, for example.

That should translate to much smoother onscreen animations and far more fluid gaming than we’ve become used to on iPhones. It isn’t particularly groundbreaking, though: Android phones, even budget offerings, have been delivering 90Hz and better displays for some time now. Welcome though this is, it’s merely playing catchup with the competition. The final update to the 13 Pro Max’s display is its 25% brighter “max outdoor brightness”, which peaks at an astonishing 1,000nits, although the current models perform perfectly well in this regard. 

Naturally, the iPhone 13 Pro Max, as with the other iPhones in the 2021 range, moves to the new iOS 15 OS, and it also comes with the latest six-core Apple A15 Bionic processor that Apple says is 50% faster than competitor silicon. This is partnered with a slightly larger battery, which leads to fractionally thicker dimensions and a touch more weight. Apple says battery life is better on the 13 Pro Max, too, extending usage by 2.5 hours per charge. 

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max preview: Cameras

As far as the cameras go, there isn’t quite the upgrade for the Pro Max as the rest of the range gets, partly because the Pro Max is trickling down. The sensors remain the same 12MP efforts as last year, and there are still three cameras on the rear plus a single selfie camera at the front.

  • Main: 12MP, f/1.5; sensor-shift stabilisation; larger 1.9um pixels
  • Ultrawide: 12MP, f/1.8, autofocus; bigger sensor; macro photography
  • Telephoto: 12MP; 3x zoom

However, there are some subtle improvements here that should make a difference to the overall experience. The main camera has a brighter aperture of f/1.5 and a larger sensor with 1.9um pixels, while the ultrawide camera has a brighter f/1.8 aperture, and adds autofocus and the ability to shoot macro photos from as close as 2cm from the subject. The telephoto lens gets slightly more reach but, at 3x, it’s still no match for most of its major competitors. Apple, for once, is being left behind here.

In other improvements, the Pro Max also receives features designed to improve life for videographers. These include the forthcoming ability to record in Apple ProRes format (equivalent to the ProRAW introduced last year for still photos) and a new Cinematic Mode that will be able to introduce rack focus-style transitions automatically, powered by machine learning. Thankfully, there’s a model with 1TB storage, which should go some way to easing storage woes for those taking advantage of the new ProRes video-recording facility.

Finally, no mention was made about improvements to the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s biggest flaw: its propensity to introduce lens flare at the slightest hint of a light source in the frame. I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this front because, if improvements haven’t been made, it will be a major disappointment.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max: Early verdict

As with last year’s top-end iPhone, the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max leads the way. It’s the best iPhone Apple now makes, and for Apple enthusiasts looking for the best phone the Cupertino firm offers, it remains the handset to buy.

Overall, however, it’s a small improvement over last year’s Pro Max and, in certain areas, Android rivals are extending a significant lead. I’m quite sure Apple diehards will continue paying top dollar for the very best in iPhone technology but, for anyone on the fence, it may not be tempting enough.

Pre-order now from Apple

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