When I recently wrote about the iPhone 15 Pro rumors I care about, I mentioned that upgrading to an iPhone 14 Pro Max wasn’t exactly exciting since I get a new iPhone every year. But I never imagined I’d have to downgrade to an iPhone 11 Pro Max after all these years. Yes, I did that, and honestly, there’s not much I’m missing.
You may be wondering, “Why would anyone downgrade from an iPhone 14 Pro Max to an iPhone 11 Pro Max?” And no, this isn’t some kind of experiment.
Unfortunately, the display on my iPhone 14 Pro Max got a burn-in, and the saddest part is that the burn-in happened with Lock Screen elements that are shown all the time with Always-on Display (concerning for sure, but that’s a story for another article).
I usually give my old iPhones to someone in my family instead of selling them, so I don’t have my iPhone 13 Pro Max around. So my remaining choice was to use the iPhone 11 Pro Max that I still have here until Apple replaces my iPhone 14. I was extremely worried about downgrading to a phone from four years ago, but it turns out I’m totally fine using it as my main phone.
A look back at the iPhone 11 Pro Max
Before I dig into anything, let me recap what exactly the iPhone 11 Pro Max is.
The iPhone 11 lineup was announced in September 2019, a week before I joined the 9to5Mac team. We were still living in a pre-pandemic world. Apple was still holding its traditional in-person events, and the iPhone 11 Pro lineup brought some significant improvements compared to the iPhone XS.
The iPhone 11 Pro models were the first Pro iPhones in Apple’s history. At the time, Apple had just raised the bar with iPhone X and iPhone XS, the first to cost $999. Naming the more expensive models “Pro” was certainly a way to justify the higher prices. But Apple didn’t use that “Pro” naming frivolously.
iPhone 11 Pro was the first with a three-lens rear camera array instead of two and also the first to have a Super Retina XDR display with up to 1,200 nits of brightness for HDR content. It was also the first iPhone to be built with a tough frosted glass back, which became a signature of all the Pro iPhones that would follow.
The iPhone 11 lineup also brought technologies like the U1 chip, Dolby Atmos support, faster Face ID, and Night Mode for photos.
What it’s like to downgrade to an iPhone 11 Pro Max in 2023
So yeah, the iPhone 11 Pro Max was one of the best smartphones you could buy in 2019. But what’s it like to use one in 2023, especially after using all the iPhones that came out after it?
Design and display
First, there are the design differences. Since iPhone 12, Apple has adopted a new industrial style with flat and sharp edges. At the same time, the rear cameras have gotten noticeably larger. iPhone 11 Pro Max is curvier, thinner, has much smaller cameras, and is noticeably lighter. And I kind of miss that.
Don’t get me wrong, the current iPhones look very nice, but I find them super uncomfortable to hold without a case. And the iPhone 14 Pro Max is 14 grams heavier than the 11 Pro Max. And when I put the 11 Pro Max on a flat table, the camera bump isn’t as annoying as on current models.
There’s also a huge difference in terms of display. iPhone 14 Pro Max has thinner bezels, more pixels, a 120 Hz refresh rate, and Dynamic Island. I won’t lie: the differences are noticeable. But at the same time, they don’t bother me. The display on the iPhone 14 Pro Max is definitely more pleasing to look at, but at the same time, I’m totally fine with the display on the 11 Pro Max.
The iPhone 11 Pro Max still has the old notch – and it’s not even the smaller version, which was introduced with the iPhone 13. But just as I’ve learned to ignore the notch since the iPhone X (and still ignore it every day on my MacBook), I don’t care about going back to an iPhone with a notch.
Instead, I realized that Dynamic Island is pretty much a gimmick. Sure, it’s nice to have Live Activities and some interactions there instead of regular interfaces, but I just don’t miss it.
One of the aspects that concerned me most about going back to an older iPhone was performance. The A13 Bionic chip was a killer at the time, with its 6-core CPU and 6 GB of RAM in the Pro models. But the fact is, that’s a 4-year-old chip. The current A16 Bionic chip is 70% faster than the A13, and I’d be lying if I said the difference wasn’t noticeable. It is.
But the thing is, for most regular tasks, it’s not something that makes me hate this phone. In most cases, I’m talking about the phone taking two seconds instead of one to open apps. I installed iOS 17 beta on the iPhone 11, and it’s running pretty well for a 2019 phone. Not the fastest in the world, for sure, but it does the job without noticeable slowdowns or crashes.
Cameras are probably the most important aspect of a phone for me. Not only do I love photography, but I’ve recently been working on a personal vlog. Over the past few years, iPhone cameras have evolved in a lot of ways: we’ve gotten wider aperture lenses for better night shots, better stabilization, Cinematic Mode, and Dolby Vision.
When it comes to photos in bright locations, especially in sunlight, iPhone 11 Pro Max still takes amazing photos. Using it at night can be a bit tricky, and I miss the 3x optical zoom (the 11 Pro only has 2x zoom). But there’s a single aspect of the iPhone 11’s camera that I appreciate: the less exaggerated post-processing.
Smart HDR was introduced with iPhone XS – and not everyone likes how it treats photos after you take them. It’s gotten to the point where I really feel uncomfortable taking photos with iPhone 14 Pro Max in some situations, as the colors get distorted, and the image gets super sharp, making it unrealistic.
But on the iPhone 11, Apple still lets users turn off Smart HDR, greatly reducing the post-processing applied to images. The result is more natural images in some circumstances, something I miss on current iPhone models.
What I’ve really been missing
While I’m okay with using an iPhone 11 Pro Max, there are some technologies that I miss. One of them is 5G, which was introduced with iPhone 12. 5G provides faster speeds and lower latency compared to 4G, and while it doesn’t make much of a difference for messaging and web browsing, it’s extremely useful for people constantly working from a mobile device.
I also miss MagSafe (another technology introduced with iPhone 12). iPhone 11 supports Qi, but it’s not as efficient and doesn’t align perfectly with a charger like MagSafe does. I have a few MagSafe chargers around my apartment, and using them with iPhone 11 isn’t exactly great.
I have no intention of convincing anyone that buying an iPhone 11 Pro Max in 2023 is still a good deal (especially since you probably won’t find a new one easily). But the point is, using an older phone has made me realize that most of the new features introduced in recent years are more cosmetic than ever.
It’s hard for me to name a feature added to the latest iPhones that significantly changed the way I use my phone and that I can’t live without.
And that’s a natural part of the technology evolution. Just look at the computer market: it took years before we saw a major revolution like Apple Silicon. Companies are always trying to convince us that we need the latest and greatest products, but looking at my iPhone 11, I’m sure most people still using it are still very happy with it.
What about you? What was the last technology added to an iPhone that you think you couldn’t live without? Would you be okay with using an older iPhone for a longer time? Let me know in the comments section below.
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