Apple (AAPL 1.01%) has stopped wowing customers with its new iPhone releases. Features like Siri, fingerprint identification, Apple Pay, and facial ID were exciting changes that created a reason consumers needed to upgrade (or at least wanted to). The latest high-end iPhone, however, the iPhone 11 Pro Max, does not offer any major new functionality aside from a three-camera array that seems less than necessary.
That, of course, did not stop me from ordering the phone. I got it from T-Mobile (TMUS 0.55%), ordering a 64 GB iPhone 11 Pro Max model on the morning it was put op for pre-sale and receiving it the evening of Sept. 20 (launch day).
The iPhone 11 Pro Max unboxed
The new high-end iPhone, like the previous model, is beautiful and sleek. It still has the famous "notch" at the top of the screen, which honestly never bothered me, and now it has a new three-camera array on the back of the phone. This means that your old case (including my pricey Apple-made battery case) will not fit.
For now, I'm using an inexpensive clear case that adds very little weight or thickness to the phone. I have also ordered a battery case that has yet to be delivered -- but maybe I won't need one as much as I needed one with the Xs Max.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max arrives in familiar packaging, comes with a lightning headset, and offers a new 18-watt charger that Apple says charges your phone to 50% in 30 minutes (basic iPhone 11 models come with the company's standard 5-watt charger).
Setup was simultaneously easy and frustrating. I backed up my previous phone to the cloud and was able to easily use that for setup. An attempt to set my phone up directly from the old phone failed despite my following the easy on-screen directions.
T-Mobile, however, dropped the ball a little bit, as there was nothing in the box telling me to move the sim card from my old phone to my new one. That caused me to leave my house with a phone I thought was activated which was actually just connecting over WiFi.
When I attempted to make a call, I was instead connected to customer service. I did not know the pin on my account, so the representative offered to text a one-time code. That, of course, would not work with my non-connected phone, so I was a tad frustrated at my inability to solve the problem. He then mentioned the sim card, and since the old phone was not with me, there was nothing I could do until I got home.
Once I switched the sim card (which required a paper clip and being pretty careful), the phone immediately worked and had mostly copied over my settings from its predecessor. What was missing, however, was frustrating. Many passwords did not survive the journey, and while some were in my "chain" and could be easily accessed, a lot of others had to be changed.
Apple did, however, make it very easy to copy over credit and debit cards for Apple Pay. These required a simple verification using CV codes.
Using the iPhone 11 Pro Max
The new iPhone and iOS update looks a lot like previous versions. There are some slight tweaks to the mail program and a few other very minor things that neither added to nor subtracted from my experience with the phone.
Battery life was noticeably longer for me. I did not have a battery case, and got through a long Sunday out (watching football and checking fantasy scores a lot) and had considerable battery left when I got home from dinner. That's encouraging, but past experience has taught me to be a little wary of making early battery judgments.
The new cameras may be a lot better, but I struggled to find a way to put them to the test. I did use the panorama feature, and it was easy, but I can only think of very limited practical uses for it. In many ways, this is Apple making something better that was already more than good enough. Yes, it's better, but nobody needed it to be.
That's the general problem with the latest top-tier iPhone: It's a wonderful phone with performance improvements that aren't all that easy to notice. If you have an iPhone 8 or older, then upgrading makes clear sense. With any newer model, you're largely paying for improvements that, aside from maybe longer battery life, you won't really notice.
This is the best phone ever made that you really don't need. Apple has done both an amazing job and a terrible one. It has delivered a stunning piece of technology that's made less relevant by the fact that its predecessor was also very impressive.