Apple’s camera killer: A review of the iPhone 11 Pro Max

Sep 20, 2019

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It’s been a confusing few weeks for smartphone upgraders. Last month, Samsung began shipping its Galaxy Note10, easily one of the most powerful devices on the market, and a fantastic fit for travelers overall — especially those with larger hands, given the device’s jumbo footprint.

(Photo by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy)

But Apple enthusiasts had an inkling that something big was in the works on the iPhone front, too, and with the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max all shipping today, it turns out they were right.

Friday, after 10 days of anticipation following Apple’s press event in California, all three iPhones — plus a number of other devices — are finally available to purchase. And I had a chance to put the iPhone 11 Pro Max through its paces ahead of today’s official launch.

In This Post

Models, price and how to buy

All three iPhones are now available to purchase directly through Apple, third-party retailers like Best Buy and cellular service providers like AT&TVerizonT-Mobile and Sprint.

The three options include:

You’ll get 64GB of storage for the base prices listed above — you can choose up to 256GB of storage for the iPhone 11 and 512GB for the Pro models when you make your purchase, but there’s unfortunately no option to add storage later on.

The base iPhone 11 includes wired EarPods (earbud headphones), a 5-watt power adapter and a USB-Lightning cable. The Pro models include EarPods, a fast-charge 18-watt power adapter and a USB-C-Lightning cable. All three devices support wireless charging as well.

As it’s done in the past, Apple’s offering lucrative trade-in options, giving you an opportunity to take up to $600 off the purchase of a new device, depending on which smartphone you choose and which you’d like to trade in.

No matter how you decide to buy, be sure to consider using a card that offers purchase protection, as outlined in far more detail in this post, and down below.

Design and form-factor

While the front of the iPhone 11 closely resembles last year’s iPhone XR, and the iPhone 11 Pro models look like 2018’s iPhone XS — with the same sensor and front-facing camera “notch” up top — the back of both devices have changed considerably. Notably, the iPhone 11 Pro Max does feel slightly heavier than last year’s XS Max, and it is — the 2018 device weighs 7.34 ounces, while this year’s jumped up to 7.97. It is a noticeable shift.

(Photo by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy)

The biggest difference is the camera “square,” of course. The lenses are gigantic compared to last year’s devices — almost shockingly so, at first — but I quickly got used to the design. The camera trio on the iPhone Pro still very much reminds me of Mickey Mouse, though!

(Photo by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy)

Aside from the cameras, which I’ll dig into more below, the biggest difference between the iPhone 11 and the Pro and Pro Max is Apple’s choice of display. The base model includes a 6.1-inch LCD, which is perfectly adequate for most users. The Pro models offer an OLED screen, though, which will appear sharper and brighter, and with higher contrast. The Pro has a 5.8-inch screen, while the Max has a 6.5-inch display.

(Photo by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy)

As with many other recent smartphones, including the Galaxy Note10, all three iPhone 11 devices sport an IP68 rating, which means they’re resistant to dust, splashes and even water submersion — up to two meters for the iPhone 11 and four meters for the Pros, for up to 30 minutes at a time. That protection is intended to cover things like accidental monsoon or pool encounters — be sure to use a waterproof case if you’re planning to shoot in the ocean or a pool.

Content creation

Until I encountered the iPhone 11 Pro Max, I was especially taken with the Samsung Galaxy Note10+‘s camera capabilities. That device adds a powerful stylus as well — what Samsung calls the “S Pen” — which is notably absent with the iPhone. I didn’t miss it, though.

Just as with the Note, the iPhone 11 is an exceptional content capture device. The base model has two cameras — a 12-megapixel 13mm f/2.4 ultra-wide camera and a 26mm f/1.8 wide-angle camera, while the Pro models add a third built-in cam: a 12-megapixel f/2 telephoto, with a 52mm focal length. Most consumers will be a-okay with the base iPhone 11 and its two cameras, though I’ve grown quite fond of the 2x telephoto lens.

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

As a frequent flight reviewer, the ultra-wide camera quickly became my go-to — I had a blast shooting photos and video onboard Virgin Atlantic’s brand-new A350-1000.

The ultra-wide really changed my approach to photography — shots that were simply impossible before are super simple with the latest-generation devices.

Take this Bell 407 helicopter flight, for example — I captured this crystal-clear video sitting just inches away from the pilot.

Also new with the iPhone 11 — and any device running the new iOS 13 — is a much-expanded video-editing suite, built directly into the photos app. I straightened the horizon, adjusted exposure and bumped up the colors in just a few seconds here:

But the biggest improvement comes to low-light photography, thanks to the iPhone’s new Night Mode chops. It’s such a significant leap that I focused on this feature exclusively in a dedicated post, with comparisons to some other key flagship smartphones right here.

The ultra-wide lens really is outstanding for shooting in tight quarters — such as an in an A350 cabin.

There is some distortion present in certain shots, but that’s typical of ultra-wide lenses across the board.

And, of course, the iPhone 11 Pro offers Apple’s often-fantastic Portrait Mode. The shooting option can be tripped up ever so slightly in certain environments — take note of the sharp detail just over Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss’ shoulder below — but most of the shots I captured really are top-notch.

Performance

From my experience, every smartphone I’ve ever owned has felt super speedy the moment I took it out of the box, and often for the weeks and months that followed. That’s certainly my experience with the iPhone 11 Pro Max right now — it’s exceptionally fast (aside from some minor third-party app crashes that likely stem from the launch of a brand-new OS).

Even more important to me, though, is boosted battery life. Apple’s quoting an extra hour with the iPhone 11 (compared with the XR), an extra four hours with the Pro (compared with XS) and an extra five hours with the Pro Max (compared with the XS Max). As a former full-time XS Max user, I can easily say I noticed a huge improvement.

iPhone XS Max (left) with the iPhone 11 Pro Max. (Photo by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy)
iPhone XS Max (left) with the iPhone 11 Pro Max. (Photo by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy)

I really pushed the limits this week, avoiding charging my phone at all during the day, then capturing hundreds of photos and videos in a variety of situations, editing videos, sharing loads of content on social media, chatting on the phone, texting, listening to podcasts, watching videos, using third-party apps, etc. — every day. On one especially long day I got the battery down to 8%, but I anticipate being able to travel to an exciting new city, shoot for much of the day and still have at least some juice left after dinner without the need for an external battery pack.

Which cards to use

Personally, my Apple product go-to is The Platinum Card® from American Express. The card offers a very modest return of 1 Membership Rewards point per dollar spent, worth 2 cents apiece based on TPG’s valuations, but I’ve always had a pleasant experience dealing with Amex Platinum’s purchase protection — if you do accidentally damage your device shortly after purchase, you know you’ll have some coverage.

Otherwise, I recommend making your purchase with another card that offers purchase protection and extended-warranty benefits, including:

Card Maximum Coverage Amount
Maximum Coverage Amount Per Year Coverage Duration (days) Earning Rate(s) Annual Fee
United Club Card $10,000 per claim $50,000 120 2x directly purchased United tickets, 1.5x other $450
American Express® Gold Card $10,000 per incident $50,000 120 (90 for NY residents) 4x on dining, 4x U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), 3x directly purchased airline tickets or airfare purchases through amextravel.com, 1x other. Terms apply. $250 (see rates & fees)
Ink Business Cash Credit Card $10,000 per claim $50,000 120 5% office supply stores/telecom (up to $25,000, then 1%), 2% gas stations/restaurants (up to $25,000, then 1%), 1% other $0
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express $1,000 per incident $50,000 120 (90 for NY residents) 3% U.S. supermarkets on the first $6,000; (then 1%), 2% U.S. gas stations/U.S. department stores, 1% other. Terms apply. $0
Chase Freedom $500 per claim $50,000 120 5% bonus categories each quarter, 1% other $0

The information for the United Club and Blue Cash Everyday has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Protect your investment

A number of cards now offer loss and damage protection, as long as you use that card to pay your cellphone bill. Top picks include:

Card Coverage/Deductible  Notable Exclusions Earn rate on cellphone bill Annual Fee
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card Up to $600 per claim, $1,800 per 12-month period/$100 deductible Lost phones 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points* $95
Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card Up to $600 per claim, $1,000 per 12-month period/$50 deductible Cosmetic damage that doesn’t affect phone’s ability to function, lost phones 1% cash back $0
Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card Up to $600 per claim, $1,200 per 12-month period/$25 deductible Lost phones 1 point per dollar $0
Uber Visa Up to $600 per claim, $1,200 per 12-month period/$25 deductible Lost phones 1% cash back $0
U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card Up to $600 per claim, $1,200 per 12-month period Lost phones None $0

Overall impression

The question I’ve gotten most over the past week and a half — “So should I get one?” If you currently find a 2x smartphone camera to be indispensable, then, yes, I highly recommend the iPhone 11 Pro (or the Max, but only if you value an extra-large screen). For everyone else, the base iPhone 11 is going to be the way to go, while flagship Android seekers should probably look no further than the latest Samsung Galaxy Note.

For rates and fees of the Amex Gold, click here.

2018 TPG Award Winner: Mid-Tier Card of the Year
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
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Regular APR
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Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.