Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max review: nearly perfect

iphone 14 pro max standing against a tree.

Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max

MSRP $1,099.00

“The iPhone 14 Pro Max is the best iPhone — and one of the best overall smartphones — you can buy right now. From a stunning display, premium design, and great cameras, it has it all.”

Pros

  • Exquisitely premium design
  • Beautiful 120Hz display
  • Dynamic Island is a joy
  • Always-on screen is gorgeous
  • Incredible camera system
  • Blistering performance
  • Outstanding battery life
  • Robust iOS 16 software

Cons

  • One of the heaviest phones you can buy
  • Expensive

For the last few years, buying Apple’s top-tier iPhone has meant needing to get the Pro equivalent. If you want the nicest cameras, display, and battery life, it’s the Pro iPhone you require. That’s no different this year, with 2022’s best iPhones being the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Apple’s new 48MP camera, always-on screen, and Dynamic Island are incredibly welcome additions to the latest Pro iPhones — something we highlight extensively in our iPhone 14 Pro review. The iPhone 14 Pro Max retains all of the 14 Pro’s excellence while also going a step further, adding a more immersive display and much longer battery life. Those things do come at a cost, but if you can stomach the higher price and added heft, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is the epitome of a flagship smartphone. It’s big, premium, powerful, and complete overkill in all the best ways.

iPhone 14 Pro Max design

iphone 14 pro max lying on a table.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

The iPhone 14 Pro Max’s design looks very similar to last year’s 13 Pro Max, which is to say, it looks a lot like the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Apple’s stuck with the same general design language for the last couple of years, and while that may not make the iPhone 14 Pro Max a visual breakthrough, this tried-and-true design offers very little to complain about.

The stainless steel frame is luxurious, the frosted glass back looks and feels incredible, and small details — like the buttons and haptic feedback — are as exquisite as you’d expect. Most smartphones today have a nice fit-and-finish, but the iPhone 14 Pro Max still feels like a step above.

the lightning port on the iphone 14 pro max.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max still has a lightning port. Joe Maring/Digital Trends

There is one design characteristic unique to the Pro Max equivalent of the iPhone 14, and that’s its size. Measuring 160.7mm tall and weighing a hefty 240 grams, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is one of the most substantial phones you can buy. As someone who generally prefers smaller phones and has spent the past year using an iPhone 13 Pro, making the jump to the iPhone 14 Pro Max initially seemed quite intimidating.

The iPhone 14 Pro Max still feels like a step above.

After living with the phone for over a week as my go-to handset, I’m happy to say that the transition hasn’t been nearly as difficult as I imagined. Yes, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is still a very tall and very heavy smartphone. For some people, it’ll always be just too big to comfortably use. But, I’m personally at a point where I’m used to its weight and have found ways to maneuver it with one hand.

iPhone 14 Pro Max screen

the iphone 14 pro max.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

There are two main benefits you get for putting up with the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s gargantuan size, the first of which is an expansive 6.7-inch display. That display is an OLED one and has a resolution of 2796 x 1290 — working out to the same 460ppi pixel density of the smaller iPhone 14 Pro.

Like the iPhone 14 Pro, the quality of the 14 Pro Max’s screen is excellent. Colors are vivid and beautiful, text is easy to read, and the screen is now brighter than ever. You can expect 1000 nits of typical max brightness, but in direct sunlight where more light is demanded, the iPhone 14 Pro Max can go all the way up to 2000 nits of brightness. Even on the sunniest of days, you shouldn’t ever have a problem seeing the phone outdoors.

brightness slider on the iphone 14 pro max.
The screen gets incredibly bright. Joe Maring/Digital Trends

The iPhone 14 Pro Max also retains the 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate Apple introduced on the iPhone 13 Pro lineup, giving you ultra-smooth animations whenever you’re interacting with the phone. Combined with the fluid nature of iOS 16, this creates one of the smoothest and snappiest phones I’ve used all year.

And, of course, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is one of the first iPhones with an always-on screen. Pressing the power button to turn off your iPhone’s display now shows a dimmed version of your lock screen, complete with notifications, lock screen widgets, and the full color of your wallpaper. I’ve never been the biggest fan of always-on screens, but I do have to admit that Apple’s implementation is one of the prettiest I’ve seen.

the iphone 14 pro max with its always-on screen.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

From the subtle animation that plays when turning the screen on and off to having album artwork showcased when listening to music, it makes the lock screen feel more alive than ever. I don’t find the whole thing particularly useful as someone who wears an Apple Watch every day, but regardless, I’m glad Apple finally made the always-on jump.

Apple’s always-on screen is one of the prettiest I’ve seen.

These are all qualities you can also enjoy on the iPhone 14 Pro. The iPhone 14 Pro Max isn’t technically any different in the display department; it just gives you more of that incredible display to play with. From gaming, scrolling through Twitter, watching YouTube videos, and browsing sites on Safari, it all feels bigger and roomier on the iPhone 14 Pro Max. The iPhone 14 Pro’s 6.1-inch display certainly isn’t tiny, but having a 6.7-inch canvas to use every day has been a treat.

iPhone 14 Pro Max Dynamic Island

the dynamic island on the iphone 14 pro max.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

What’s also been a treat is the Dynamic Island. Gone is Apple’s notch, and in its place is a solid black bar at the top of the screen. Silly name aside, the Dynamic Island is one of the most exciting iPhone features I’ve seen in years and makes me excited about what Apple can do with it.

Listening to a song? Swipe up to go home, and your music app floats into the Dynamic Island to show the album artwork and a color-matching waveform of what’s playing. Start a timer, and the Dynamic Island displays a live countdown so you can easily keep an eye on it. The Dynamic Island also shows incoming calls and call controls, Face ID prompts, device charging alerts, AirPods connection pop-ups, Apple Maps directions, and more.

the dynamic island on the iphone 14 pro max.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

These are all notifications that have always existed on the iPhone, but the Dynamic Island now gives them a cohesive place to live. Along with simplifying iOS’s many alerts, it gives them a fun, playful characteristic that’s just so damn charming. The Dynamic Island isn’t always doing something, but when an app does take advantage of it, it’s a treat.

My only complaint about the Dynamic Island is that I wish it could do more. There’s currently not much utility for the feature beyond a few system notifications and music playback. However, that should be changing in the not-too-distant future. When Apple launches the Live Activities API with iOS 16.1 later this year, third-party apps like Lyft, Uber, ESPN, Starbucks, and others will be able to create their own uses for the Dynamic Island. That’s when the Dynamic Island should get really exciting, and I can’t wait to see what that looks like.

iPhone 14 Pro Max cameras

the rear cameras on the iphone 14 pro max.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Apple’s camera game has been on point for the last couple of years, and the iPhone 14 Pro Max improves things yet again. Apple’s stuck with 12MP camera sensors since the iPhone 6s, but with the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max, you get a brand new 48MP main camera with an f/1.78 aperture and sensor-shift optical image stabilization. Using the added resolution of the sensor, the 48MP main camera can also be used as a 2x optical zoom lens.

The main camera is joined by a 12MP telephoto camera capable of 3x zoom, in addition to a 12MP ultrawide camera with a 120-degree field-of-view. Also new is the 12MP front-facing camera, which is the first selfie camera on an iPhone with autofocus. And that’s just what you get on a hardware level. Software-wise, the iPhone 14 Pro Max utilizes Apple’s new Photonic Engine image pipeline, offering “more lifelike colors and beautifully detailed textures in less light than ever,” according to Apple’s website.

It all sounds very impressive, and looking at photos captured with the iPhone 14 Pro Max, it’s understandable why Apple’s hyping up the camera so much. Simply put, it’s excellent.

Whether you’re shooting in good or mediocre lightning conditions, the 48MP main camera consistently produces incredible results. Colors are rich and vibrant but also do a good job of remaining true to life to what a scene actually looked like. I’ve also been impressed with the amount of detail you get with the main camera. While images from the 48MP sensor are pixel-binned to 12MP shots, you still see very fine details in pictures. Another great perk of the larger 48MP camera is the natural depth of field you get in the photos you take. The photo of my dog sleeping on his bed could have been a throwaway shot, but because of how the camera naturally blurred the front of his bed and his body further away from the camera, it ends up looking really impressive.

The 48MP camera also shines even when the lights come down. Taking pictures in a dimly-lit room isn’t a challenge at all for the iPhone 14 Pro Max. It has no problem continuing to show great colors, fantastic detail, and natural bokeh. Even in near pitch-black scenarios, the iPhone 14 Pro Max brings in enough light for a totally usable shot. Extremely low-light images inevitably mean sacrificing detail, but that’s the case for even the best smartphone cameras — the ranks of which the iPhone 14 Pro Max certainly belongs.

What about the 12MP ultrawide camera? It’s also very good! There’s an expected drop in detail for these photos compared to the main camera, but if you’re in an instance where you need a wider shot that still looks great, it’s an admirable performer. Apple’s also done a good job keeping edge distortion to a minimum, ensuring there’s no unsightly fish-eye effect on these shots.

But it’s not just ultrawide photos this 12MP camera is capable of. Get the iPhone 14 Pro Max close enough to something, and the camera app automatically switches to a macro mode enabled by the ultrawide camera. The results are phenomenal. Whether you want a close-up shot of a flower or want to find hidden details in a piece of fabric, there’s so much versatility with the macro mode. Bad macro cameras are a dime-a-dozen on smartphones, but high-quality ones are much harder to come by, and the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s macro camera is among the best I’ve used.

I’ve also been impressed with the 12MP telephoto camera. On paper, 3x zoom doesn’t sound nearly as impressive as the 30x and 100x zoom you can get on a Galaxy S22 Ultra. But in practice, it’s proven to be a very welcome sensor. 3x photos from the telephoto camera get you much closer to your subject while still maintaining great detail and good colors. I also think 3x strikes a nice balance of getting you close to a subject without it looking like a muddled mess. And the 2x zoom mode from the 48MP main camera has also been a blast, getting you closer to your subject while still seeing some of the background around them.

Last but not least, there’s the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s new selfie camera. I am very much not a selfie person, but I decided to make myself a selfie person while reviewing the iPhone 14 Pro Max, and it really did impress me.

a selfie of joe maring, taken with the iphone 14 pro.
iPhone 14 Pro Max selfie camera Joe Maring/Digital Trends

As expected, the 12MP selfie camera does a great job with accurate colors and pleasing details. But it’s the autofocus that really makes it shine. Previous iPhones have all had a fixed focus for their selfie cameras, meaning they had a set focus point that couldn’t be adjusted. But on the iPhone 14 Pro Max, you can adjust that focus to be much closer or further away than before. It’s a seemingly small detail, but it’s made the camera much more versatile. I love taking close-up pictures of my cats whenever they jump on my lap while I’m at my desk. If I took these photos with my iPhone 13 Pro’s selfie camera, they’d come out horribly blurry, but they’re sharp and in focus on the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

I didn’t expect to go so in-depth on the cameras when I started writing this review, but I suppose that’s a testament to how good the iPhone 14 Pro Max is in this department. It’s one of those camera systems that makes me want to go out and take more photos, and that’s perhaps the best compliment I can give it.

iPhone 14 Pro Max iOS 16

someone holding the iphone 14 pro max.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Out of the box, the iPhone 14 Pro Max runs iOS 16. Apple’s latest take on iOS is largely reminiscent of iOS 15, though with a few notable changes. As we’ve talked about extensively, the biggest change for this year’s update is the lock screen.

In iOS 16, Apple now gives you full control to edit your lock screen in a myriad ways. You can change the time font, add widgets, and create multiple lock screens you can switch between at a moment’s notice. The interface for customizing these things could be improved, but the added functionality provided here is fantastic, and it all looks gorgeous when displayed on the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s always-on screen.

The lock screen isn’t the only big update in iOS 16. The Weather app now lets you tap on forecasted weather and other stats to get much more information than before. There’s also a brilliant photo cutout feature, a battery percentage option for the status bar, keyboard haptics when you type, edit/unsend options in iMessage, and a wholelot more.

And in typical Apple fashion, you can look forward to the iPhone 14 Pro Max to keep getting new iOS versions for years to come. While Apple doesn’t guarantee a specific number, we expect the iPhone 14 Pro Max to receive regular OS and security updates for five or six years past its release.

iPhone 14 Pro Max performance

call of duty: mobile on an iphone 14 pro max.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Performance is rarely a point of contention with the iPhone. To no one’s surprise, that’s true once more with the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Both the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max come with Apple’s new A16 Bionic chip. The A16 has a smaller 4nm design compared to the 5nm architecture of the A15, making it faster and more power efficient than the previous generation.

The phone just does everything I ask it to and does so flawlessly.

In my testing, the A16 Bionic has proven a performance powerhouse for every task I throw at it. Apps? They open instantly and run perfectly. Games? From Tetris to Call of Duty: Mobile, any title I’ve thrown at the iPhone 14 Pro Max has performed without a hitch. And when you combine that with 6GB of RAM, multitasking becomes a smooth and reliable experience.

I almost forgot to include a performance section in this review, simply because it’s not something the iPhone 14 Pro Max has ever made me think about. The phone just does everything I ask it to and does so flawlessly.

iPhone 14 Pro Max battery life

battery stats on the iphone 14 pro max.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

It should be very apparent at this point in the review that the iPhone 14 Pro Max is an as outstanding smartphone. But how does its expansive feature set impact battery life? While the regular iPhone 14 Pro has produced fairly poor battery life, I’ve been quite impressed with the endurance I’m getting out of the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

My very first day with the iPhone 14 Pro Max started off on a not-so-great foot, going from 5:45 am to 11:15 pm with just 4 hours and 17 minutes of screen time and 15% battery remaining. That was with the always-on screen enabled. After a few more days of use to let the battery settle in, I started seeing much better endurance. With the always-on screen enabled, another day saw me go from 7:45 am to 11:40 pm with 37% battery still remaining after 4 hours and 20 minutes of screen time.

Turn the always-on screen off, however, and battery life (unsurprisingly) improves. With always-on disabled, I had one day start at 7:05 am and end at 11:26 pm and still had 37% battery left. That was with 5 hours and 45 minutes of screen time, plus over an hour of streaming Apple Music in the background. Another day without the always-on screen got me from 7:55 am to 11:41 pm with 32% battery remaining. That day consisted of over 7 hours of screen time, including an hour and 20 minutes of Twitter, 30+ minutes browsing websites on Safari, over 40 minutes of YouTube, and using dozens of other apps throughout the day.

Minus that very first day with the 14 Pro Max, I’ve never gotten the phone down to 15% before the end of a day, and that’s with heavier use than normal while reviewing the phone. Using the iPhone 14 Pro Max more regularly could easily see me get through a couple of days on a single charge (as I write this review, it’s nearly 5:00 pm, and I still have 77% battery left in the tank).

iPhone 14 Pro Max price and availability

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is available for purchase now. It starts at $1099 for 128GB of storage with optional upgrades to 256GB, 512GB, and even 1TB. Those higher storage models cost $1199, $1399, and $1599, respectively.

If you buy direct from Apple’s website, the company’s trade-in program lets you send in your old phone for an instant credit that can be valued as low as $40 or as high as $720. And if you have an Apple Card, buying the iPhone 14 Pro Max direct from Apple gets you 3% cashback (just shy of $33) on your purchase.

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is the iPhone at its best

the back of the iphone 14 pro max.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

There’s no question that 2022 is an exciting year for Apple’s Pro lineup of iPhones. With the new always-on screen, Dynamic Island, considerable camera upgrades, and A16 Bionic chipset, there’s a lot to sink into with the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Given the choice between the two, however, I’d argue that the latter model is the one you should buy this year. You get everything that makes the iPhone 14 Pro so great, but the 14 Pro Max makes it better with a larger screen and significantly better battery life. It is a large phone and one that comes at a steep price, but if you can get over those two potential roadblocks, the iPhone 14 Pro Max stands tall as the best iPhone this year. And, arguably, one of the very best smartphones money can buy.

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