Apple’s 14 Pro Max Is Worse Than the Vanilla 14

Apple’s 14 Pro Max Is Worse Than the Vanilla 14

The iPhone Pro Max 14 is out, and the general consensus among tech reviewers seems to be that it’s better than the last one, but maybe not enough to justify an immediate upgrade. This sentiment matches the general trend among consumers, too—many are holding onto devices longer as the innovation curve has plateaued a bit. For that reason, you might just want to skip the upgrade—if that’s the case, we’ll even help you put a new battery in your phone.

The satellite capability of this phone might come in handy if you are going to get stranded in the desert or on a Dynamic Island anytime soon—but only as long as the phone doesn’t break. Unlike the Vanilla 14, which made a big repairability step forward, this year’s Pro and Pro Max phones are trapped in the past with Apple’s less repairable legacy iPhone architecture.

As we dive inside the Pro Max, we’ll take a look at the technological advances Apple and its partners have made—but this time, the story is just as much about what Apple left out as the new stuff it put in.

Teardown Time

First up as always, we’re greeted by those friendly do-not-enter pentalobes. So we heat things up, grab our favorite suction cups, and crank this puppy open. Getting past the adhesive seems to be a bit easier than in past phones, but adhesive tack is tough to quantify so it’s hard to say that for certain.

Then, voilà, the Pro Max is an open book—sort of. This is the same familiar process as the 13—and the last five years of iPhones, for that matter—and entirely different from the brand new procedure we uncovered in the iPhone 14. Apple left its innovative new design out of its flagship phone completely. As we detailed yesterday, the problem with this is the borderline-ridiculous difficulty of repairing the rear glass. Apple’s price for rear glass repair on the 14 Pro Max is $549, a price that seems absurd but actually reflects the difficult process.

As soon as we get the display off, the A16 announces itself. Fair enough—the Bionic still blows Snapdragon out of the water. Compared to the A15, early benchmarks are showing a 10% improvement in single-threaded performance and a 17% boost in multicore tasks. Everyone in the Android ecosystem continues to suffer under the tyranny of Qualcomm’s relative performance.

Yep that’s a SIM reader in there, our EU team is just keeping you on your toes.

A Different Kind of Space

With the brains out, we can move on to checking out what was once the SIM reader and is now, well, a whole lot of nothing. This would have been a fantastic spot for an easter egg, or a friendly ‘Hi iFixit’ note, but Apple takes themselves far too seriously for any such shenanigans.

Of course, the US phone is the only model with this empty space—you can see an EU-sourced board with a SIM socket in contrast with a SIM-less US board. It’s still a little eerie and very un-Apple-like to waste space like this. The plastic spacer is roughly the same size as a 2×2 Lego brick and weighs half a gram.

All this Lego talk makes us want to build something. The mad scientist urge is growing.

The question is, what will they fill the space with next time? There is zero chance this is staying empty for long. Steve Jobs famously dropped the first iPod in an aquarium, watched some air bubbles emerge, and lambasted the team for wasting all that space.

Our vote? This would be the perfect spot for a MicroSD card. Apple is rolling out memory-hungry 48 MP cameras and 8K video recording, and now would be a fantastic time to introduce a modular storage slot—especially with a 128 GB base model.

1 GB MicroSD cards run for under $20 now. How fantastic would it be to be able to upgrade your phone when you run out of photo space? The new 48 MP camera could certainly soak up that storage pretty quickly—at full resolution, photos can run 100 MB apiece. Swappable cards could bring back mixtapes; you could even load and edit video straight off your DJI Mavic drone. There’s so much possibility, and longevity, that could be unlocked by using this space for modular storage.

Imagine if I traveled back to 2008 and told you that the most advanced camera in the world could take 48 MP photos. You’d be impressed! What if I then told you that storing 600 of those would chew up more than half your internal memory, and that it didn’t have any slot for a memory card. What nonsensical backward progress is this, you would proclaim! Sadly, this is the world we live in.

A MicroSD card reader would sit quite cozily in the SIM reader slot, just sayin’.

There’s no hardware-based reason that Apple can’t do this. A MicroSD reader would fit just fine. Apple knows how to waterproof slots like this, the company’s been doing it for years. The only reason that the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max don’t have a MicroSD card is that Apple’s simply making too much money off of storage upgrades.

Charging for storage seems like last decade’s business anyhow. Apple is now making billions off services, and the larger their install base, the more they make. The flash memory market is in the dumps, and record low storage prices probably enabled Apple to keep iPhone prices static despite the inflationary market driving other costs up.

Will Apple do any of this? No, of course not. They’re making too much money staying the course. If they’re going to use the slot for memory, then they’re going to seal it up in there and charge for it. But we can dream.

Enter the X65 Satellite Communicator

Apple has switched to Qualcomm’s latest 5G modem across their product line. This is surely frustrating to Apple’s silicon team, who have been working for years (first with Intel, and then with their newly acquired in-house team) to produce their own 5G modem. They haven’t succeeded, so Qualcomm gets the win with their probably-very-expensive 4 nanometer part. The upside for Apple is that the new X65 supports band 53, Globalstar’s 2.4 GHz frequency for satellite communications. Try as we might, we couldn’t identify the satellite antenna inside the phone. (We have a guess, but tip us if you know where it’s at!) The iPhone already has 2.4 GHz antennas for Wi-Fi, of course—so Apple could simply be using the existing antennas.

In a conversation with Reuters over the weekend, Apple was defensive about having their innovation layered on top of Qualcomm: “iPhone 14 includes custom radio frequency components, and new software designed entirely by Apple, that together enable Emergency SOS via satellite on new iPhone 14 models.” All right, we get it. You worked hard to put the whole thing together. But Samsung has good engineers, so what’s stopping them from fast-following with their own SOS feature? Well, Apple’s committed to buying 85% of Globalstar’s volume, so for one thing, Samsung would need another satellite partner. 

SpaceX and T-Mobile made an announcement, conveniently timed right before Apple’s Event,  that they’d formed a technology partnership. Their media event, which looked rushed even by Elon Musk standards, promised SMS connectivity anywhere in the world. That would be distinctly revolutionary—but first SpaceX needs to finish Starship and launch a whole new constellation of Starlink 2 satellites each with whopping 7 meter antennas. It’s safe to say that Apple and Globalstar have the first mover advantage here.


Only one question remains: What’s the score? Well, unfortunately these Pro models have been left in the dust by the more “boring” iPhone 14’s secretly enhanced repairability. Due to the 14 Pro and Pro Max continuing with iPhone 13-era construction, their score is stuck in the past, too. 

At 6 out of 10 these Pros aren’t terrible, but you’ll want to use a case to protect that expensive rear glass. We’re maintaining the same scores as the 13 Pro models, but with the newfound certainty that Apple knows how to do better.

We are proud to announce that our service manuals for the iPhone 14, 14 Pro, and 14 Pro Max are online featuring replacement instructions for everything from the screen to the battery. Our team has been working through the weekend to make this happen—we got our hardware on Friday, the same as you. Hopefully Apple won’t be too far behind with their service manual.

Device Page

iPhone 14 Pro Max

Apple's top-of-the-line flagship for 2022. Released September 16th, the iPhone 14 Pro Max sports a 6.7" ProMotion OLED, the new Bionic A16 chip, a triple rear camera system, and 5G connectivity. Successor to the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

View Device

Why Exclude the Pro from an Advanced Internal Design?

We’re really excited about the iPhone 14’s advanced repairable form factor. If you haven’t seen that teardown yet, take a minute and go check it out. This is the sort of pure mechanical innovation that we love. We’ve never opened a phone like this. Apple really pulled out all the stops to make the back glass repairable. It’s very impressive work.

That work, sadly, didn’t make it into the Pro or the Pro Max. To take a note from The Verge, we’d call these phones, mechanically, an iPhone 13S Pro and Pro Max. Very little has changed from the 13. That means that rear glass repairs will still cost up to a whopping $549, and require a laser cutter that probably belongs in your local makerspace. (The Pros of next year will hopefully benefit from an upgrade to the more advanced internal design we’re seeing in the 14.)

So what gives? Why would Apple fork their product lineup and ship two totally different internal architectures? We have a couple of theories, but this is pure speculation. 

Guess #1: Two different teams designed these phones and didn’t talk to each other. While Apple is famous for internal firewalls, that seems pretty unlikely. iPhones of yore have always been pretty convergent, after all.

Guess #2: Any time you do something new, there’s a risk of problems. A supplier could be late ramping up production, the yield rate could be lower than you planned, an infinitesimal change could cause an unexpected RF issue that you don’t catch until the last minute. The more changes you make, the more uncertainty that you’ll ship on time. Tim Cook really likes shipping on time. Apple wanted to limit the amount of uncertainty per model, so they decided to push the envelope with cameras and Dynamic Islands in the Pro models, and with a form factor change in the base model. They can then unify the changes next year, moving the Pro over onto the base model’s more advanced architecture.

Either way, it’s fascinating that they didn’t talk about this at all in their two-hour launch announcement. Cynically, Apple’s marketers might hesitate to make the base model 14 look innovative in ways that their expensive flagship Pro and Pro Max did not. If so, that’s a sad reason to leave repairability out of the keynote altogether. Could next year be the year of repair?

Final Thoughts

We’ve had our ups and downs with Apple’s designs and repair processes over the years. iPhone repair is declining—both in the independent market and on DIY sites like ours. That’s not for lack of new product sales—the iPhone continues to set records as the world’s most profitable product. But Apple has thrown up a variety of barriers to independent repair. Their marketers don’t want anyone to know that the phone can break. Their servicers want you to stick to the Genius Bar. And, most damning of all, their business people want to tie every single part to the device, requiring permission from the mothership for the most basic of repairs.

Signs indicate that could change. Apple is opening up with manuals and parts (these are not online for the 14 yet, but we’re optimistic that Apple will post these soon) for the first time. The non-Pro 14 has an innovative, repairable design. A design that will ideally be inherited by Pro and Pro Max next year. If change is truly in the cards, their design team could be forgiven for not ushering in a new architecture across their entire product line overnight.

But we have a long way to go. Many members of the repair community are skeptical of the praise we gave the 14 yesterday, pointing to part activation and invasive warnings for many repairs. They have a point—this is a genuine Apple battery in this photo, but we can’t remove the warning without buying a new part from Apple.

So after years of waving the stick, we welcome rare opportunities like these to offer a carrot and praise a new design. Apple, we’d love to be proven cynical—bring on true independent repair. We promise it’ll get some attention.