What I really think of the Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max so far (video)


I miss Sierra Blue already…


You know, I always felt the iPhone 13 Pro Max was going to be a tough act to follow. It marked the first time any successor replaced the 4S as my favorite iPhone ever, even if notice I say iPhone. I don’t necessarily feel Apple makes the best smartphones, or brings the most innovation, but if there’s one thing the company does right is mastering the art of the “Old Reliable.” It’s like that emotional attachment you develop with your car, which if you think of it, is something most people don’t change every year.

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Cue in this new iPhone 14 Pro Max, which is a lot of its predecessor at least in looks, but not necessarily once you use it, and after spending a weekend with it, let’s just say my first impressions are kind of a mixed bag.

So, full disclaimer: this is not yet a review because these are retail units we bought just like most of you, and obviously the journey to tell you if this was a good buy requires a bit more time.

For now I’ll tell you that a lot of my experience has been as familiar as it is different. Unboxing this phone has been pretty much the same as the 12. Obviously a new art to tell you this is the newer phone, but then on the inside, all you really get is the phone, the lightning cable to USB-C since we might have to wait for the EU rulings to take effect, and then the typical literature, which then leads to the first jarring change. This is an unlocked iPhone and there’s no SIM ejector, because well, there’s no SIM tray.


Initial setup

I was pretty verbal about this on Twitter because I don’t think Apple provided enough information as to how this would affect us. I’m on a plane every week, so I care about having the liberty to swap my SIM cards wherever it is convenient, and now that won’t be as simple at least overseas. Within the US though, the story actually wasn’t that bad. AT&T was nice enough to activate this phone in minutes by just sending them the device’s data, even being unlocked. Watch Michael Fisher’s video to see the process with the QR code. Thing is, it was instant, and you can have up to eight SIM profiles stored on your phone, like a wallet. The only question is if carriers oversees will support eSIM on the kind of pre-paid plans we’re used to getting. I’ll be reporting on that later. The rest of the setup process was fairly simple if you come from an old iPhone. Actually, the process of porting everything, from your entire setup, to even your Apple Watch and accounts follows on the Cupertino tradition of quick and easy.

Hardware

As for the hardware, obviously I ordered Purple because I always get the new color, but I’m still not fond of it. Sierra Blue did a great job at remaining clean and elegant, even with smudges. Here that isn’t really the case, and something tells me none of the other colors will do a comparable job to last year’s signature finish. This deep purple looks more like a tainted black unless you shed a light on it, so at least I’ll give it points for being different. Everything else feels pretty familiar, from the heft of the phone, to the pronounced camera hump that doesn’t help on a table. Yeah that’s all here. I’m honestly surprised that Apple didn’t really give much light to its ceramic shield or even Magsafe on its keynote, but I remain loyal to my MOFT Invisible Stand given its added versatility, and how it helps balance the phone while lying flat.

Display

I think the display is another thing that still hasn’t fully grown on me. I’m always a fan of how Apple implements the basics, from the color reproduction to the added brightness for outdoor use, this phone carries one of the best OLEDs in the industry. I’m also pretty fond of this Always-on display, even if I know a lot of people are mixed. I mean sure we’ve been used to Android showing us a minimal clock for years, but I see nothing wrong in having the refresh rate so well-tuned that we can see a full depiction of the lock screen. Sure, I get it, it can be confusing, so if anything I’d suggest future flexibility toggles. As it stands you can’t even dim it, but whether it’s that, or maybe a way to turn it black and white, or switch the color like the Apple Watch Ultra can do, and I think it’ll look pretty hot.

Dynamic Island

Where I’m mixed with the panel is honestly in the Temptation Island. Like seriously, it’s not that I don’t like the Dynamic Island name, but this was not the brightest idea. So here’s my problem: Android manufacturers have been doing punch holes for at least 4 years, so it was inevitable for Apple to join, but as opposed to the way a Pixel or Galaxy does it, where the purpose is for you to forget it’s there, I think the idea of making it a feature was because it’s actually a bit more intrusive than the notch.

See, it sits lower on the display, meaning content gets pushed down, which means I’m now debating if we should go back to 16:9 video because anything wider will be cut by the island in ways the notch didn’t. Apps also clearly need an update to embrace it, as some currently kill its symmetry. And sure, I love having a persistent way to go back to whatever audio is playing on my speakers, and I do consider it genius for third party apps to get creative with it, but I feel a dynamic notch would’ve been a better idea. That, or just killing Face ID and bringing back Touch ID under the display.

iOS 16

I will have a deeper dive on my final impressions of IOS 16 when my review is ready, but I’ve been using the beta for months, and I genuinely adore what Apple has done here. This idea of dynamic lock screens matched with useful widgets is pretty genius. I’m sure Diego loves being able to cut out anyone easily from a photo cause before this, doing it on Photoshop took a lot of work. The rest of the changes are not necessarily something I’d consider major, but they contribute to the little things people usually become fond of.

Yes, I have seen a ton of your complaints on endurance on older iPhones, which was a very common theme on the beta. Since I updated to version 16.0.1 since the moment I unboxed this phone, It’s odd but I don’t consider it bad at all. Again, it’s too early for me to judge and especially after the toll this phone takes when setting up. I do know Apple brought lots of improvements to this newer model, from a more modern A16 Bionic, to faster RAM to help boost endurance on a slightly smaller battery, but I think the most important change is the newer 5G modem, which I’ll be testing on AT&T’s network. I have a feeling that this entire combo is what’s handling the new iOS better.

Camera

This also marks the first major change Apple has done to this camera system. IPhones have been hooked on 12 megapixel shooters since the 6S, but it’s important for you to not let the change in numbers fool you. Yes, 48 megapixels sounds like a lot, but Android phones and even Windows Phones have done Pixel binning for years.

Unless you want to use Pro RAW photos, divide 48 by 4 and consider you’re just getting a 12 megapixel camera, with larger pixels for improved results. That said, this is not a regular binning sensor. Usually these come with pixels that are less than the size of a micron, but since this approach is actually larger than even what’s on the Galaxy S22 Ultra, each single micron here is larger than average, making the multiple quite outstanding. I’ll need more time to give you a photo verdict, but so far I’m kind of mixed.

Theoretically the focal length has improved to a 24mm equivalent, but I don’t see it. The 13 Pro allowed you to get closer before triggering macro mode, where this camera doesn’t let you get as close. That said, you now have a 2X crop as an alternative for that, and which I actually prefer for some street photography over the 3X. Also, keep in mind this is not just any trashy crop given the larger pixels.

I also love the colors and having the permanent photo profiles, so all you see here is Rich Contrast since I do love my Google Pixel stylized shots. I’ll be sure to give you a full comparison to last year’s 13 Pro Max, but so far I do notice some subtle changes in color, and some major improvements in detail. The ultra-wide camera sensor is also now larger, which you might not tell during day photos, but which becomes pretty evident in low light. I do feel detail could be a tad better given the specs, but it’s just an initial impression.

A funny thing is that even if this new iPhone brings auto focus to the selfie camera, it’s not like if the previous one was bad at it. Obviously having a brighter aperture now requires it, and you’ll be able to notice that in the added shallow depth of field.

Video is where I was a bit concerned as no camera manufacturer or even Android maker has been able to nail good video out of a larger sensor. It requires just too much processing power, leading to warping or rolling shutter. Not here. This is where you know that this new A16 Bionic is not playing around. So far video quality has been just as great as before, though I’ll be looking into the extra perks in action mode and Cinematic 4K for the review.

Conclusion

I can’t really say “To Conclude” because I’m just getting started, but I think you understand why my first impressions have been mixed. The hardware seems the same, the color is not my favorite, the eSIM situation still has a few unknowns, and the Dynamic Island is a mix of good ideas on an implementation that’s not better than last year.

That said, the camera is better, IOS 16 is better, the internals are better, and the fact that a lot of the experience remains familiar is yet another reason this lineup continues to be the “Old reliable.” Time will tell if the reasons I’m mixed can morph into the added delights that make all of us return to iPhones every now and then, but obviously that’ll be what’s left for the full review.

iPhone 14 Pro Max
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iPhone 14 Pro is the latest large-screen premium smartphone from the brand. It features a new pill-shaped ‘Dynamic Island’ notch, 48MP primary camera sensors, an A16 Bionic chipset, and much more. Check out all the deals on the device using the links given below.

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