A flagship phone must be something special. Yet when Apple revealed the iPhone 13 Pro Max, it looked much the same as the iPhone 12 Pro Max. But appearances can be deceptive.

This year’s top-tier iPhone isn’t a tale of revolution, but one about focusing on what matters – superb cameras, an improved display and longer battery life. Is that enough to make it the best iPhone to date? Let’s find out.

Design: Notch too bad

There are no surprises with this iPhone’s design. It sticks with the flat edges introduced last year and feels premium in the hand. It’s heavy too, having gained a few grams (14, to be precise). The only thing that’s reduced is the notch, but it’s still prominent – as will your fingerprints be on the polished stainless steel edges we wish Apple would switch for a matt finish.

Elsewhere, there’s still no Touch ID, but Apple says this iPhone’s Ceramic Shield is “tougher than any smartphone glass”. We took the company at its word, rather than hurling our review unit on to the tarmac in the name of science.

Display and audio: Refresh great

The sizeable 6.7in display has excellent colour reproduction and now peaks at 1000 nits outdoor brightness – 25% more than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and too much for typical usage unless you hate your eyes. A more interesting update is apparent when you scroll. ProMotion has come to iPhone.

This isn’t a straight 120Hz display, though, but one with a variable refresh rate that can drop all the way down to 10Hz. This brings advantages: films can play at native refresh rates; when little’s happening, the refresh rate drops to conserve battery life; there’s a 60Hz cap in low power mode; and at 120Hz, everything feels more fluid and text remains legible as you scroll.

Even then, you might not notice the difference at first – but you will on comparing the screen to one stuck on 60Hz, at which point that fixed refresh rate will be dead to you. Apple’s late to this party, but has arrived in style.

Performance and battery: More power

The A15 chip is industry-leading and wasn’t fazed by any app or game we tested with it. But last year’s A14 had so much headroom most people won’t see big gains on moving up from an iPhone 12 Pro Max, nor from the extra GPU core the Pro gets over the vanilla 13. Those upgrading from earlier models, though, will be wowed by how this phone tackles high-end apps and games.

What everyone will notice is the improvements to the battery, which is bigger and more efficient. Our iPhone 12 Pro Max conked out part-way through a day of heavy use, but Apple reckons you get an extra two and a half hours out of the 13 Pro Max – and up to 24 hours of streaming video in all.

We decided against streaming a video for an entire calendar day, but the phone under heavy use did last at least 90 minutes longer than our 12 Pro Max. So this really is an ‘all day battery’ – unless you chew through it on 5G, playing games and using Zoom and ramping up the brightness to max, without any breaks.

Random observations

  • There’s a 1TB storage option – overkill for most, but useful if you use your iPhone to shoot a lot of ProRes video.
  • But Apple’s also stuck with Lightning. USB-C would be better for pro users in transferring large files and connecting to high-end kit.
  • The new camera bump means iPhone 12 Pro Max owners will need new cases. The thicker design means snug-fitting accessories might no longer fit.
  • The app/game ecosystem remains unparalleled on iPhone.
  • The omission of Touch ID in the power button feels like a missed opportunity.
  • The Home indicator interferes with too many immersive apps and games and needs an off switch.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max verdict

The iPhone 13 Pro Max is in many ways the best iPhone Apple’s ever made. It has the biggest and best screen, a superb and industry leading camera system, a bigger battery, solid speakers, and more raw power than most people will ever need or use.

But it’s also big, expensive and heavy. And this year, all the camera upgrades and a chunk of battery improvements come to the iPhone 13 Pro too.

So if you want the best Apple has to offer, this is your iPhone. But first weigh up whether you could do with a little less battery life, screen space and strain on your hands – and £100 extra in your pocket – because this year’s iPhone 13 Pro is just as good.

Tech Specs 
Graphite/Gold/Silver/Sierra Blue
6.7in 2778×1284 OLED HDR at 458ppi
A15 Bionic
iOS 15
12MP ƒ/1.5 wide, 12MP ƒ/1.8 ultra wide, 12MP ƒ/2.8 telephoto (3× optical zoom in) rear; 12MP ƒ/2.2 front
4,352 mAh (est.)
Stuff says... 

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

At a glance, little has changed, but camera and battery improvements alone make the iPhone 13 Pro Max a significant upgrade for fans of the biggest iPhone.
Good Stuff 
First-rate cameras
Longer battery life
Superb large display
Unparalleled app ecosystem
Bad Stuff 
Big, heavy and bulky
No USB-C connector
No Touch ID
Edges are a fingerprint magnet