I took my daughter on a road trip of California the other week — five days of us driving around, seeing the sights. And since we would be out and about during that time, I made sure to stress the importance of careful packing to my daughter. "Make sure you're bringing everything you need," I told her, drawing upon decades of wisdom and experience. "You don't want to be traveling only to discover you left something essential behind."
So naturally, I forgot to pack a charging cable for my iPhone 11 Pro Max.
This was a potentially significant oversight. The iPhone was going to be our only form of communication with folks staying back on the homefront. It also happened to be where all the tickets to various attractions were stored — "Who needs paper tickets when you've got a fully charged smartphone?" I may or may not have said at one point — and the Apple Maps app figured to be our best hope at navigating to those attractions. Yes, it's good to unplug from our devices, especially when traveling with family, but not when our device is our trip planner and navigator.
So yes, there were some anxious moments when I realized a few hours into our trip that we would be on road without minimal resources for keeping the iPhone charged up. I say minimal because at least my car was equipped with a built-in charger. That would take care of us when driving to and fro, but charging the phone overnight was right out. I was facing an unplanned side trip to Apple Store or a week of nervously checking my iPhone's battery in between car trips.
In the end, though, I needn't have spent much time worrying. It turns out the iPhone 11 Pro Max is excellent when it comes to holding a charge.
How the iPhone 11 Pro Max performed
I surely knew that on some level. Back when we tested the phone for our iPhone 11 Pro Max review, it lasted 11 hours and 54 minutes on our battery test. (We have phones surf the web continuously over cellular until they run out of power.) That would still place the iPhone 11 Pro Max up high on our best phone battery life list, if we didn't cycle devices out after 18 months.
And that's the thing I found most remarkable about the iPhone 11 Pro Max's battery life on my trip — this phone is more than two years old, and it's still getting through the day and then some on a full charge.
Even with only charging the phone during drive time, my iPhone 11 Pro Max held out for the better part of our trip. Only once did I have to go into power-saving mode, and that was on our final night away from home when I came to realize that the iPhone wasn't going to run out of gas, and I indulged in a round or two of PUBG Mobile after my daughter went to bed. Otherwise, I had all the power I needed to answer emails, check in with my wife on nightly phone calls, share photos from the trip and plan out our travel for the next day.
The nature of reviewing phones is to intensely evaluate a device when it first arrives and then, when you've reached your verdict, move on to the next thing. If we're lucky, we can go back a few months later and revisit particularly popular devices. Rarely, do we get a chance to check in on a phone more than two years after its arrival to see how it's holding up. In the case of the iPhone 11 Pro Max, let me assure it's humming along just fine.
And that can help inform future buying decisions when it is time to upgrade your phone. Apple has a pretty good track record when it comes to paying attention to battery life, excluding every iPhone 12 model save for the iPhone 12 Pro Max. For last fall's iPhone 13 release, the company even increased battery size, which led to across-the-board improvements for all four models on our battery test. You'd expect similar attention to be paid to future phones, whether it's the iPhone 14 slated for this fall or the iPhone SE 3 expected to arrive as soon as this coming week.
Why battery life matters, now and later
Things can change, of course. Some software updates can be particularly demanding when it comes to battery power. But on the whole, between Apple's chipsets and its iOS updates, you have to give the company credit for managing the battery life of its devices over time. My iPhone 11 Pro Max experience is evidence of that.
Making sure phones hold up over time is becoming increasingly important now that more people are going longer between phone upgrades — a trend that smartphone makers have now recognized as they add features aimed at prolonging the usability of their devices. Long battery life is part of that equation, and not just for when the phone comes out but how it's going to hold a charge a year or two later.
Having a long-lasting phone at the outset can help stave off battery blues down the road, but it's just one part of the picture. You should consider other power management features as well, such as the optimized charging feature Apple added to its phone software with iOS 13. With optimized charging, your phone is smart enough to detect when it's going to be attached to a charger for a prolonged period of time; in that case, it will delay going past an 80% to reduce wear and tear on the phone's power pack. The end result should be a phone with a battery that doesn't degrade as quickly.
I can't say for sure how big a role features like that have played in the iPhone 11 Pro Max's still-great battery life after all this time. But I'm pretty sure it helped out a lot. And it gives me confidence going forward that Apple puts a lot of thought into how well its devices hold a charge — not just now, but further on down the road.