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You might think I always carry the latest and greatest phone, but I don’t. I get to test a lot of phones, but only for a week or two, and then they go back.
I bought a new iPhone XS Max in 2018 and carried it for three years, and I decided to trade it in for an iPhone 13 Pro Max.
So this review is of a product I purchased.
Apple introduced the new iPhone 13 models earlier this month, and they went on sale last Friday. Instead of waiting in line, I decided to take advantage of an AT&T program called Right To You, in which your phone is delivered and set up for you.
AT&T offers three delivery options: in your home or office (socially distanced), outdoors or remotely. The AT&T representative who can help you set up the phone delivers it.
I picked the phone I wanted (model, color and size), and because I wanted the new iPhone 13 Pro Max on launch day, AT&T had to verify availability. I got a call to schedule a time and place for delivery (9 a.m. on launch day). Usually you’d pick your phone and a time and place for setup on the Right To You website.
By 9:30 a.m., my new phone was up and running and my old phone was wiped and traded in.
You will need to know your Apple ID and password to sign out of your old phone and sign into the new phone, but the data transfer was quick and painless, and I was guided through every step by an AT&T representative. I didn’t really need help transitioning to a new phone, but I wanted to experience the Right To You service.
If you’re an AT&T customer and are a bit hesitant about upgrading and moving your data to a new phone, this free program is for you. I was assured that the service I got was the same that any customer would experience.
Apple introduced four iPhone 13 models — the iPhone 13 mini (from $699), iPhone 13 (from $799), the iPhone 13 Pro (from $999) and the iPhone 13 Pro Max (from $1,099). As you might guess, the lineup starts small and gets bigger, faster and more expensive
I opted for the 128-gigabyte sierra blue iPhone 13 Pro Max, so this review will focus on the Pro Max.
The design of the phones hasn’t changed, but the cameras are now oriented diagonally to allow for larger lenses and sensors.
The iPhone 13 Pro Max was improved in several areas over the 12 Pro Max and is a huge step up from my XS Max.
Apple seemed to focus on the three areas people really care about: the screen, the cameras and the battery life.
The 13 Pro Max has a stunning 6.7-inch OLED ProMotion display with a dynamic refresh rate from 10 Hertz up to 120 Hz.
Dynamic means the display refresh rate is variable depending on what’s happening on your screen.
The 120 Hz top end refresh has appeared on Samsung phones, but this is the first iPhone to have it.
Higher refresh rates bring very smooth scrolling and better animations when launching apps. Overall, moving around in the interface just looks better, and fast-action video looks clearer.
The screen is also brighter than previous models, maxing out at 1,200 nits (units of brightness). The display has a resolution of 1,284 x 2,778 pixels.
There is still a notch on the top of the screen for the selfie camera and FaceID sensors, but Apple reconfigured its placement to make the notch 20% smaller.
The iPhone 13 Pro is 0.3 millimeters thicker and 0.4 ounces heavier than the 12 Pro Max, and the extra room and weight allow for a bigger battery.
Apple doesn’t list a capacity on its website, but GSMArena.com says the 13 Pro Max’s battery has a capacity of 4,373 milliamp-hours, up from the 12 Pro Max’s 3,687 mAh. For reference, my XS Max’s battery had a capacity of 3,174 mAh.
The 13 Pro has fast charging if you use a 20-watt power supply (not included). With the high-capacity charger, the battery can charge from zero to 50% in 30 minutes.
Apple doesn’t include a USB charger in the box — only a USB-C to Lightning charging cable.
The 13 Pro also has MagSafe wireless charging (15 watts) and regular Qi wireless charging (7.5W).
MagSafe is Apple’s magnet-assisted wireless charging that’s the fastest way to wirelessly charge. There are plenty of third-party MagSafe chargers, but none as fast as Apple’s version.
The battery life on the 13 Pro Max is impressive.
On my first workday with the new phone, I charged it to 100%, took it off the charger at 8 a.m. and didn’t put it on a charger for the rest of the day.
I used the phone all day (I show the screen was on for just over five hours), and at 10 p.m. the battery level was down to just 68%. That’s unbelievably good battery life.
After 24 hours, the battery was down to just 58%.
I think the cameras on the iPhone 13 Pro Max are the most significant upgrade for me.
My XS Max had two main cameras with a 2x optical zoom. It took very good pictures, but the three-camera array on the back of the 13 Pro Max is on a different level.
The main cameras all have a 12-megapixel sensor.
The wide-angle camera has an f/1.5 aperture and a 1.9 micrometer sensor (that’s big in camera sensor speak). Last year’s 12 Max Pro has a 1.7 micrometer sensor and a f/1.6 aperture. The change in sensor size and aperture allow the new camera to capture 49% more light.
The ultrawide camera has a f/1.8 aperture and a 120-degree field of view.
The telephoto lens has an f/2.8 aperture with a 3x optical zoom and optical image stabilization.
The cameras are top notch, but the improvements in hardware, including all that processing power, make for the best photographic experience I’ve seen on a phone.
The camera bump is also large.
The selfie camera is also 12 MP with an f/2.2 aperture and portrait mode.
Let’s look at some of the camera features.
Night mode is not new or exclusive to the 13 Pro models, but the night images are much improved with the new hardware.
The larger sensors and larger apertures (lens openings) help the 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max capture good photos in very low light. Night mode automatically turns on when the camera senses a dark scene. The exposures can take a few seconds, so Apple says to hold the phone steady. Using a tripod or steadying the camera against a post or other solid object will help.
You’ll see a small counter that tells you when the exposure is done.
The ultrawide camera has a macro mode (close focus).
The transition to macro mode happens automatically. As you move the camera closer to the subject, the phone will automatically switch to the ultra-wide. You’ll notice the transition, and the macro photos look great.
If you like shooting video, there is a new Cinematic mode that’s kind of like Portrait mode for video. The subject will stand out a bit more by blurring the background. Cinematic mode also looks for eyes to focus on, and if the subject turns his or her gaze away and there is someone else in the scene, the focus will switch to the second subject.
I found it worked most of the time, but the focus point jumped around a bit. It’s a neat concept, but I’m not sure how much I’d really use it.
Apple has created some presets for photo styles. The styles are like filters (vibrant, rich contrast, warm and cool). The styles change the overall tone of your photos, and the effect is applied to every photo. It cannot be undone, but you can adjust the styles to make them your own. If you like muted cool tones, you can get that look every time.
You can switch back to the standard style or any other style whenever you like.
ProRes is a video format that offers higher color fidelity and less compression. The 13 and 13 Pro will be able to shoot ProRes video in a future iOS 15 update.
You’ll need a lot of storage to use ProRes. One minute of 4K ProRes video takes up 6 gigabytes of storage. Apple is limiting 4K ProRes capture to phones with at least 256 gb of storage. If you opt for the 128 gb model (like me), your ProRes capture is limited to 1080p.
Fastest phone ever
All four iPhone 13 models are running the A15 Bionic processor with a six-core CPU and five-core graphics processor.
The A15 has 15 billion transistors (no, I didn’t count them).
According to Apple, the iPhone 13 Pro Max offers up to 50% faster graphics performance than any other smartphone.
The processor has a superfast neural engine that performs up to 15.8 trillion operations per second.
The iPhone 13 Pro Max measures 6.33 by 3.07 by 0.30 inches, and it weighs 8.46 ounces.
It is IP68 dust and water resistant. It can take a dunk of up to 30 minutes in 6 feet of water.
ApplePay and phone unlocking are done via FaceID or passcode.
The Pros have 5G (mmWave and sub-6) and 4G LTE as well as Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.
The phones are glass on the front and back and stainless steel on the sides.
Colors and availability
The iPhone 13 Pro Max is available in graphite, gold, silver and sierra blue.
Storage capacities are 128 gb ($1,099), 256 gb ($1,199), 512 gb ($1.399) and 1 terabyte ($1,599).
It’s available from Apple, major retailers and all major cellphone carriers.
It might not look all that different from the 12 Pro Max, and if you have last year’s phone, you can likely skip this one unless one or more of the new features are must-haves.
My 3-year-old iPhone seems ancient after using the 13 Pro Max for a few days.
Apple has really addressed the big needs with better display, a faster processor, longer battery life and much better cameras.
I can’t think of much missing, except for perhaps a headphone jack and a TouchID fingerprint sensor.
Overall, it’s Apple’s best iPhone yet.
No regrets on my end after a few days of ownership.
Pros: Up to 120 Hz screen refresh, much better cameras, amazing battery life.
Cons: No Touch ID, no headphone jack, the camera bump is huge and battery charging is not the fastest.
Bottom line: The best iPhone, period.