The very first smartphone I owned was this entry-level Samsung Galaxy Y in 2011. It was pretty mediocre even for its time, with just a 3-inch display, a 2MP camera and ran Android Gingerbread, but I loved it still because it was a gift to me by my parents. Since then, ‘value-oriented’ Android devices became the running theme of my smartphones. When I started university, I bought my own smartphone, an entry-level Lenovo before upgrading to a midrange Asus Zenfone 2 18 months later. In my first job, I got hold of the Redmi Note 5 before finally getting a ‘flagship’ device in late-2019, the Mi 9.
And yet even then some of us in the office *coughRorycough* argue that the Mi 9 wasn’t really a ‘flagship’ smartphone still. It lacked features like stereo speakers, has a tiny battery and just didn’t have anything a real flagship does. What I did like about it though was that I got it for cheap, compared to the rest of the 2019 class of flagship smartphones. In fact, in my time in tech media, I haven’t really had that much time with bleeding edge smartphones, with the closest perhaps the very eccentric Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders.
That is until the last couple of months, when I did what all those advertisements told me to and switched to the iPhone. Not just any iPhone either, but the latest and greatest in its product stack: the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max. And by golly, what a ride it has been since making the switch.
She’s a looker alright
I’ll admit, I am a huge fan of the industrial design the current and last generation of iPhones have. I remember how fond I was of the way the iPhone 5 looked, and seeing the flat edges again harkened back to my time in college when everyone swooned over the one kid with the brand new iPhone 5. When the iPhone 6 came around, the curved edges didn’t really cut it for me anymore, and it wasn’t until the iPhone 12 came around that I again went ‘wow‘ when looking at an iPhone.
The same feelings are here with the iPhone 13 Pro Max, with the Sierra Blue colourway complementing the shiny metallic edges a lot. I’ve never been a fan of a glossy shimmery back, so the textured matte glass back was again a huge plus in my book. I’m still kind of getting used to how big the triple rear camera setup on the rear is though. It’s a fair bit bigger than last generation’s iPhone 12 Pro Max, and sometimes I wonder if I should be grateful I don’t have trypophobia.
The iPhone 13 Pro Max is also certainly a big boy, weighing in at 238g, Apple’s heaviest smartphone yet. If you’re used to smaller and lighter devices, the first two weeks with the iPhone 13 Pro Max in your hand will take some getting used to. Compared to the Mi 9 I used to be daily driving, this thing was a brick. I’ve genuinely found myself needing to put it down for a while when playing games or watching content, as it actually fatigued my hand and wrist after extended periods of time. Even right now, my right hand feels a little worse for wear than my left. I’m not the only one with complaints about the weight either, as a number of other reviewers have also pointed out its heft.
Honestly though, the one thing I wasn’t expecting was the looks I’d be getting when using the iPhone 13 Pro Max around. I’ve been asked about the devices I was using before, especially when reviewing stuff. But this time around, the question was no longer ‘what phone is that?‘, but rather ‘is that the new iPhone?‘ and the like. I guess it’s a mark of the success Apple has when it comes to marketing its devices; everyone knows how the iPhone looks like, and using one perhaps puts you in almost a different light than before.
iOS 15 seemed buggier than I thought it would be
Moving onto performance, and the TL:DR of this section can be summed up really in a sentence: it’s the best out there is right now. It’s a testament to how far ahead of the field Apple has been when it comes to the silicon game. It handles everything I throw at it just fine, thanks to the Apple A15 Bionic processor powering things under the hood. Apple of course doesn’t advertise the amount of RAM on their iPhones, but it has been made public that the iPhone 13 Pro Max has 6GB of RAM. This might seem small compared to the 16GB you’d find on Android flagships, but honestly I couldn’t tell you the difference.
All of my day-to-day stuff like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, Waze—basically any app, was smooth and snappy. I didn’t notice any stutters or lagging happening as I went about my day. I even managed to edit photos and videos with it just fine, when my previous phone would run into issues doing so. The same can be said while gaming; I play the odd mobile game every now and then, with everything from card games like Magic the Gathering: Arena to more intense stuff like Rocket League Sideswipe. Nothing really gave the iPhone 13 Pro Max a challenge, with even the most graphically intense scenes chugging along just fine. I did feel a little bit of warmness on the back after prolonged heavy use though, but for the most part it wasn’t something I needed to be worried about.
Battery-wise, I was also fairly impressed with how much I managed to squeeze out of the iPhone 13 Pro Max. Apple doesn’t make public the iPhone battery capacities either, but again we do know that it’s 4,352mAh based on teardowns. It’s certainly not a lot on paper against its Android rivals, but sometimes the spec sheets don’t tell the whole picture.
I managed to get a comfortable day and a half with about six to seven hours of regular use a day, with adaptive brightness on. This includes using everything from social media and texting, Waze and Spotify while driving and even some YouTube and Netflix as well as the occasional game or two. In fact, I sometimes only charge it after two days of mild use, though it will be cutting it close. Apple advertises a 50% charge in 30minutes with any USB-C power adapter that’s at least 18W with USB-PD, and for the most part this is true, though a full charge can take just under two hours thanks to the Optimised Battery Charging feature.
Incidentally, iOS 15 was not the smooth sailing experience I was led to believe it would’ve been. I’m not talking about the transition process going from Android to iPhone though (I’d get to it in just a second), but rather that there was actually just a number of bugs with the system. The most annoying one was Screen Time; it almost always bugged out, and ended up tracking something that was only on in the background. It could be something as simple as YouTube still clocking in minutes despite killing the app, while I’ve also had the bug trigger with a news article I opened on Twitter that I eventually closed. This means that for a few times now, my Screen Time measurement was over 20 hours a day, as it just kept on tracking these random things in the background.
Other bugs I’ve encountered weirdly surround the Facebook group of apps. With Facebook Messenger for instance, it occasionally doesn’t correctly show what the other person was replying to. Facebook itself meanwhile would sometimes glitch out, needing me to kill the app and reopening it to get it to work. As for Instagram, video content sometimes didn’t play audio even though it was unmuted, only playing sound when I move the Ring/Silent switch to off silent mode. This was despite it normally working regardless of the Ring/Silent switch position; killing the app and reopening it would fix it. It was reportedly fixed by Instagram, but I’m still seeing the issue even till today.
I’m a little on the fence about blaming this all on Apple though, as it’s certainly an odd coincidence that it mostly happened to the Facebook family of apps.
The transition process was harder than expected too
When I was handed the iPhone 13 Pro Max to review, I genuinely dreaded the transition process. I was firmly inside the Google ecosystem before this. My photos and files were backed up onto Google Drive, and I used Google Books to buy and read eBooks on the go. I’ve bought games, apps and subscriptions off the Play Store before too, and suddenly making the switch meant losing a lot of that as I started afresh with an Apple ID. Gone were my purchased apps on the Play Store, and while I could still access my eBooks on the Google Books iOS app, I couldn’t make any new purchases.
Switching to iPhone also meant relearning a lot of more general things, like gestures and navigation. I found iOS as a whole a lot simpler to use, but at the same time kinda unintuitive. Trying to find settings suddenly became more difficult than before, and the overall experience felt worst than switching to a new Android device. It perhaps took me longer to get used to than it should’ve, but if someone like me who is arguably fairly well versed with technical stuff can get lost trying to make the switch, it means that it could happen to you too. Little things like how iOS groups notifications compared to Android also gets on my nerves. Why is every email a separate notification for instance? I also lost the ability to do things I used to with an Android, such as sideloading apps.
One big issue to me though was the loss of my WhatsApp backup. Right now, cross platform chat history transfers is only available when moving from an iPhone to a Samsung Android. There are some paid solutions at the moment, but these all include some sketchy apps that don’t exactly have the best of reviews online. This meant that I lost pretty much all of my WhatsApp chat history by making the switch. In fact, I was so hesitant about it I only did the deed about a week or so after I began using it. If you’re someone who cares about your WhatsApp backup, you’ll probably want to wait for WhatsApp to properly make cross platform chat history transfers possible.
This is on top of all the other little niggles that you’ll need to deal with when transitioning from an Android to an iPhone. You’d probably know by now that Apple infamously stopped providing the charging brick with their iPhones. As such, I actually couldn’t charge my iPhone 13 Pro Max, as the charging cable it came with was a USB-C to Lighting cable and my previous smartphones all didn’t have chargers with USB-C ports. My assortment of charging cables are also USB-C and MicroUSB, meaning the only Lightning cable I had was the one in the box. Thankfully, the laptop I just so happened to be reviewing at the time used a charging brick with a USB-C port which I can use with the cable given, but for those of you making the switch, be prepared to pay for a new charger and a few extra Lightning cables.
Similarly, the lack of a fingerprint scanner means that I was greeted to the nightmare of Face ID as the only biometric way to unlock my device. Face ID, in a time where we all need to mask up almost always, is just as bad as it sounds. I genuinely miss having a fingerprint scanner and just like the lack of USB-C, the lack of a fingerprint scanner sometimes makes me miss my Android devices.
That’s not to say that it’s all bad though. I’ve genuinely liked a number of things with iOS, namely the focus on privacy. Apple’s always had a strong reputation for its focus on user privacy and security, and it does show once I made the switch. With every other new app download, I would be greeted to a pop up telling me what the app wants to collect from me in data and gives me the option to opt out too. I’ve never seen something as comprehensive as this in my time with Android devices. Another aspect of iOS I liked is how well Apple supports older devices. My Mi 9 for instance is still on Android 10, while iOS 15 has been made available on devices from as long ago as 2015.
It’s perhaps the best time I’ve had consuming media
At a glance, there’s not a huge difference between the iPhone 13 Pro Max and last year’s iPhone 12 Pro Max. They’re both 6.7-inch, OLED Super Retina XDR displays with a 2778 x 1284p resolution, with True Tone and Haptic Touch. The newer iPhone does have a higher 1,000nits typical max brightness though, with a 1,200nits max brightness in HDR mode.
But the big upgrade the iPhone 13 Pro Max has over the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and by extension my daily driver Mi 9, is its ProMotion technology with adaptive refresh rates up to 120Hz. It’s not the highest refresh rate seen on a smartphone display—the ROG Phone 5 lineup all have 144Hz displays—but it’s still a great step up going from a regular 60Hz panel. And the big benefit of ProMotion isn’t that it can offer you up to 120Hz when you’re scrolling about, but that it also dropped down to as low as 10Hz when a high refresh rate isn’t necessary to save battery life, like when I’m reading an eBook for instance.
Elsewhere, the screen is simply excellent. It’s big, bright, and vibrant, making it a great choice for when I’m streaming content. In fact, one underrated upgrade the iPhone 13 Pro Max has over its last generation cousin is the reduced notch size. Apple claims a 20% reduction in size, and while it’s still something to get used to, it’s perhaps a little less annoying than the notches of the past. I’ve never been a fan of neither the notch, waterdrop nor the punch hole cut out though, but hey, at least it’s smaller this time around.
The stereo speakers meanwhile are simply the best I’ve ever heard from a smartphone. It’s pretty breathtaking to hear how good they are compared to my Mi 9, which sadly only uses a mono speaker. They are so good in fact that I even used it in a comparison test with the Acer Swift X laptop that I had for review a while back. By packing both the great display and the incredible speaker setup, it’s one amazing package for consuming content on the go.
Hands down the leading smartphone camera out there
One of the biggest reasons many people get an iPhone is to get the best-in-class smartphone camera, and the story is the same here. You’re getting the iconic triple camera setup here of course, with a 12MP, f/1.5 main shooter, a 12MP, f/2.8 telephoto camera and a 12MP, f/1.8 ultra wide camera more than pulling its weight. The front camera meanwhile is a 12MP, f/2.2 TrueDepth camera that is also really good. I’ve honestly never really bothered with smartphone photography before this, as I often didn’t get as good of a shot as I expected to with my previous devices. But the iPhone 13 Pro Max genuinely impressed me, and I get why so many people fawn over its camera chops now.
Taking pictures with the iPhone 13 Pro Max was as simple as pointing and clicking, and yet everything almost always turned out great. Images are more than sharp and clear enough, and have the colour reproduction to rival actual cameras. There’s also little to no processing time needed even when taking the most difficult of shots. Furthermore, with the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s larger sensor compared to last generation’s iPhones, night mode shots look stunning. In contrast to my previous daily driver Mi 9, I’m getting incredible results with very little effort, and for those looking for the best smartphone camera, there’s no doubt that Apple continues its stranglehold on the crown.
One great new feature I’ve had an absolute blast with is Macro Mode. We’ve covered this in more detail here, but the gist of it is that Macro Mode allows for some very detailed close up macro shots without needing additional accessories. By simply moving the iPhone 13 Pro Max close to the object, the camera will trigger into Macro Mode for detailed close up shots that are perhaps only rivalled by the Oppo Find X3 Pro’s microlens in the Android space.
Videos meanwhile are again simply so much better than anything I’ve experienced before. You’re able to shoot at up to 4K at up to 60fps, with Sensor Shift optical image stabilisation for video too. Video quality is a step above what I’m used to with my Mi 9, and is generally the same great experience you can expect with an iPhone. But one great new feature that comes with the iPhone 13 Pro Max (and others in the iPhone 13 lineup) is Cinematic Mode.
Cinematic Mode is fun and I had a great time messing around with it, even if I’m not exactly the target demographic for this feature. It allowed me to record videos with a rack focus function, giving me control over depth of field around the video’s subjects and to easily change the focus between them. We’ve again already covered Cinematic Mode in more detail here, and you can also check out more about the new iPhone cameras below.
The biggest issue though is it’s price
To sum it up, it’s not cheap by any means. I’m known as a huge proponent of getting hardware with good price-to-performance ratios, which is why iPhones have always scared me away. But for the most part, a significant amount of my time following the switch to the iPhone 13 Pro Max has been a good one. And honestly if you don’t have issue with the transition period going from an Android to an iPhone, if you wanted a large screen and if money was of no concern to you, I would say that the iPhone 13 Pro Max will almost guarantee you a great experience.
However, for most of us the reality of it is that money is a real concern, especially in the uncertain times we live in right now. Which is why the price of the iPhone 13 Pro Max is such a hard pill to swallow.
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max, 128GB storage – RM5,299
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max, 256GB storage – RM5,799
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max, 512GB storage – RM6,699
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max, 1TB storage – RM7,599
Here’s where I will play my own devil’s advocate and argue for the iPhone 13 Pro Max though. One thing I do feel that Apple has done right over the years is the software support for its devices. Take a look at iOS 15 for example. Despite launching in late 2021, Apple has made iOS 15 available on devices as old as the iPhone 6s from 2015. That’s something that’s nearly unheard of in the Android space, with many offering two, three or four years of support at best. If you’re willing to put down the cash for an iPhone 13 Pro Max today, you could ostensibly be using the same phone for five or maybe even six years down the road.
That being said though, not everyone has five or six grand just lying around for a smartphone. Sure, there are telco plans that you can sign to spread out the cost of the device, but you’ll be tied down to a plan for sometimes up to three years. And if you’re planning to get one of these but need to either take a loan from somewhere or get it under an installment plan, you probably can’t afford it and shouldn’t buy one. If you do plan to get the iPhone 13 Pro Max and keep it for four to five years, you’d likely want to get one of the higher storage configurations too, as I’m not convinced 128GB of storage will last you half a decade.
The iPhone 13 Pro Max is up there with the best smartphones Cupertino has built, but if you don’t need a large display, the cheaper iPhone 13 or iPhone 13 Pro might be better up your alley. Furthermore, if all you need is a gateway into the Apple ecosystem from the Android world, an older iPhone might be the better choice thanks to the lower price tag, seeing as Apple will likely still provide support for it in the years to come. In spite of all of that though, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is genuinely one of the best I’ve used, and is a standout choice for anyone wanting to do the switch to iPhone.