Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

GSMArena Team, 05 October 2021.

Design, build quality, handling

What would have made a huge difference is if 2021 iPhones didn't have notches in their displays at all. Instead, we got a half-hearted attempt at alleviating the issue by reducing the notch... by a mere 20%. And really, this year's lineup is all about this sort of minute improvements in almost every aspect.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review iPhone 13 Pro Max (left) has a 20% smaller notch than the iPhone 12 Pro Max

The ever-growing camera bump has grown yet again to accommodate the larger and more sophisticated modules inside. We don't have the percentages here, but the ballpark sounds about right. There's no change in the arrangement here like the one we have on the iPhone 13 - you can't really tell it's the new model just by looking at the back.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review Better cameras mean a bigger bump on iPhone 13 Pro Max (left)

One of the more significant changes this year is the increased battery capacity, but that only has a minor effect on weight and thickness. So that, too, is hardly a difference that can be spotted at a passing glance.

Even the hero color of the iPhone 13 Pro (Max), the Sierra Blue we have here, isn't that dramatically different than the Pacific Blue of the 12s.

Mind you, that was meant as 'twelves', but it just reminded us that a 'Twelve S' wouldn't have been out of place as this year's model name, given the relatively modest upgrades. But simply adding ones each year makes things easier to keep track of, so we won't dwell on naming too much.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

Overall, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is 0.3mm thicker than the 12 Pro Max and 12g heavier. The 7.7mm waistline remains relatively thin for a phone this big while the extra dozen grams all but disappear in the overall heft of the 240g total. Meanwhile, the 160.8x78.1mm footprint is exactly the same as on last year's model.

There are no two ways about it, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is one huge phone. That's already the case when it's naked, but it approaches rugged phone proportions if you go ahead and put it in a case. But then again, if you're into iPhone Pro Maxes, the 13 is, well, pretty standard.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

Speaking of ruggedness, the 13 Pro Max again goes above and beyond the basic requirements of the IP68 certification. Apple says it should survive 6 meters underwater for up to 30 minutes - the standard requires 1.5 meters.

The iPhone also features a Ceramic Shield protective layer on its display, Apple's branding for the toughened glass that Corning makes for them. It may just be slightly better than what others get from Corning (or nor really), but it will still scratch or shatter if you don't respect its limits.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

One more area where the iPhone 13 Pro Max (and the smaller Pro) differs from the bulk of handsets, premium or otherwise, is the choice of material for the frame. Apple opts for stainless steel on the Pros instead of the prevalent aluminum, and that is certainly contributing to the class-leading weight, if you'll allow us to call it that.

That shiny polished steel is very premium in theory, but real-life use covers it in fingerprints before you can say 13 Pro Max. It does wipe clean easily, but that's a never-ending battle with a pre-determined winner.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

The control layout is unchanged. The large power button is on the right, the one thing you'll find here. The left side is more crowded, and it houses the two discrete volume buttons, the mute switch and the SIM card slot. On the bottom, there's the Lightning port, still, and several holes behind which there's a loudspeaker and a mic.

Power button on the right - Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review Volume buttons and mute switch on the left - Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review Lightning and stuff - Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review
Power button on the right • Volume buttons and mute switch on the left • Lightning and stuff

And what a convenient segue to bring us back to the front of the iPhone 13 Pro Max, where the earpiece/second loudspeaker has been nudged up and out of the way of the TrueDepth camera. That undoubtedly helped shrink the notch in the horizontal direction, but it did make it ever so slightly taller. Still, 20% less is 20% less.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

With the same sized display and the same footprint, it's no wonder that the bezels on the iPhone 13 Pro Max are the same as last year. Depending on your outlook on life, they're either nicely slim, or okayishly slim - certainly not impressively slim - but not too thick either. But there's hardly anybody who wouldn't appreciate the consistent thickness of the black border around the entire display - well, excluding the notch.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

In the end, even if you'd like to call it a recycled unimaginative design (which it kind of is), the iPhone 13 Pro Max is certainly one of the poshest but also most durable handsets you can get. It's one of the largest and heaviest around too, and if it's going to be your first Max, it's probably a good idea to hold it in your hand first before committing.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

Reader comments

  • John

4.6 and 5 stars is an ok rating for all flagship smartphones, but the less ratings, the worser the reviews! Even with iphones, they sold really well when it comes to daily basis, even though it was filled with negatives!

This is a thing I've been wanting to say. Notice how all the flagships get the best ratings, like Oneplus 9 Pro got 4.4 stars even though it's got a truckload of negatives, same with iPhone 13 Pro Max (4.6 stars). Even the worst Pixel 4 XL ...

Yeah I heard Snapdragon 865 phones are greater for sustained performance. An added bonus: their cheaper as well and with greater battery life!