The biggest of the 12s, the iPhone 12 Pro Max delivers not just a bigger size, but a bigger everything else. Is the biggest the best?
There’s no shortage of iPhone choices this year, what with five iPhone models released in 2020, running a full gamut of sizes and prices. There’s small in the iPhone 12 Mini, smallish and inexpensive in the iPhone SE, and two models that offer more normal sized devices with varied feature sets in the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, catering for different features depending on what you want to spend.
But what if you’re after the best of the best, and the biggest of the entire bunch? For that, you need to turn to the biggest in the range, which this year isn’t just bigger, it’s also better in some very important ways, too.
Going on specs alone, it would be pretty easy to suggest the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best of bunch, but is it really? And is it more than that, but one of the best phones of the year bar none? It’s time to check out Apple’s biggest iPhone yet.
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Looking much like the most premium take of Apple’s new design language, the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers pretty much the same design as the rest of iPhone 12 range, but bigger. The frame is made from polished stainless steel, the back from a frosted glass, and the front is one large glass screen.
It’s a design language we’re growing to love, not only because it can stand up by itself, but also because when you want to take photos, you can grip the sides really well, helping you to snap photos using the volume key without touching the screen.
As much as we love the design, the use of stainless and glass can add up to a little more heft than you might expect, making for a heavier handset in your pocket. We grew to like it, but it won’t be for everyone.
Fortunately, the feature set is one of the best of 2020, and so we’d imagine everyone else would love what’s on offer.
Inside, it’s more or less the same as what we found on the iPhone 12 Pro before it, though that’s because the template is shared between the two.
As such, you’ll find the Apple A14 Bionic chip used in the iPhone 12 Pro Max, paired with 6GB RAM, and a choice of either 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB storage, depending on what you buy from the offset. Like every other iPhone thus far, the storage in the iPhone 12 Pro Max is set from the beginning, and cannot be upgraded, so you’ll need to work out how much you want when you buy it.
Connections on the 12 Pro Max are identical to what they are on the iPhone 12 Pro, too, offering 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5, GPS, NFC for Apple Pay, and of course, that support for 5G that runs across the entirety of the iPhone 12 range. They’re pretty much the extent of wireless connections, while the only physical wired connection is the Lightning port at the bottom of the phone, used not just for charging and data transfer, but also for earphones if you don’t use Bluetooth earphones.
Cameras are also found on the biggest iPhone, and while these can appear at first glance to be identical to what’s found on its sibling in the 12 Pro, they are actually quite different. While they both sport a 12 megapixel camera system running across ultra-wide, standard wide, and a telephoto lens, the iPhone 12 Pro Max uses a bigger camera sensor, jumping from 1.4 micrometer pixels in the Pro to 1.7 micrometer pixels in the 12 Pro Max. While small, it can make a big difference, and means the glass for each camera is also a little bigger to deal with it, something you can see when comparing the two cameras side by side.
A bigger sensor isn’t the only difference, because while the iPhone 12 Pro Max gets the same F1.6 standard wide lens and F2.4 ultra-wide lens as its Pro sibling — and as the other iPhone 12 models, albeit with a bigger sensor — the telephoto lens changes, moving from the F2.0 2X on the iPhone 12 Pro to an F2.2 2.5X on the 12 Pro Max. It’s a small jump, but one that also means you can get a little closer on the bigger phone, and that’s not the only change.
There’s also support for sensor-shift optical image stabilisation on the standard camera of the bigger 12 Pro Max, which shifts the sensor slightly across pixels to stabilise images in low light.
Outside of these camera changes, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is all familiar territory, especially if you’ve read our iPhone 12 Pro review, complete with support for 4K Ultra HD video on the cameras, and with Dolby HDR video, too, something you can see on the screen. At the front, you’ll find a 12 megapixel F2.2 selfie camera, complete with 4K video and Dolby HDR, as well. There’s also support for LiDAR in this phone, just like in the 12 Pro, allowing the handset to map the scene using a depth mapping technology made for augmented reality, something found in the iPad Pro earlier in the year.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max also supports wireless charging, Apple’s MagSafe magnetic wireless charging approach, IP68 water resistance, and the biometric security for your face known as Face ID.
On top of all of this is a big new screen for Apple, a 6.7 inch OLED display, sporting a few more pixels than its 6.1 inch sibling in the iPhone 12 Pro. The screen isn’t just bigger, but also a larger resolution, carrying a 2778×1284 display, running at 458 pixels per inch on clarity, making the look of the iPhone 12 Pro Max screen super sharp.
There’s also another factor here, because like the rest of the iPhone 12 range, Apple includes its Corning-engineered Ceramic Shield, which strengthens the glass from drops and falls, though may not make quite the same impact on scratches and such.
Hopefully, you won’t have to get to a point where worrying about the Ceramic Shield will be an issue, and can get straight to using the phone, which shouldn’t be terribly difficult for most.
It’s a new iPhone, but there’s nothing really new in how you use the phone. If you’ve used iOS before, it’s about the same thing, though iOS 14’s use of an app screen you can more directly impact and control is easily a win, alongside small widgets, complete with all the apps in an extra menu at the back, something Android and Windows Phone users may have seen before.
Overall, iOS 14 is a great combination, and easily one of the best mobile operating systems around, so getting used to what Apple offers isn’t hard at all.
However there’s another factor with using the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and that’s the size: at 6.7 inches, this phone is Apple’s biggest yet, even bigger than the already big iPhone 11 Pro Max and iPhone XS Max before it.
The extra 0.2 inches might not seem like much — and it’s not — but it does make for one you will notice: while thinner than last year’s iPhone 11 Pro Max, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is taller and wider, weighing the same 226 grams, but still being larger.
Of course, larger isn’t always better, and that marginally bigger design can make for a device that’s just that little bit harder to hold and carry. At least it’s not heavier, but the slim increase on height and width may just make it a little more awkward to use, especially if you’re not used to a phone this big.
Once you get used to it, though, you’ll find the 12 Pro Max is a two-handed phone that aims to deliver, and that comes down to making use of the hardware underneath, which really flies.
Armed with Apple’s A14 Bionic, you’ll find much the same performance in the iPhone 12 Pro Max as its slightly smaller iPhone 12 Pro sibling, though that’s because the system spec is pretty much the same.
The difference between the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max aren’t in the chip or mobile capabilities, with fast performance and mobile speeds shared between both.
Benchmarked, we found Apple’s 6.7 inch phone delivered much-for-muchness on performance, and in real world terms, means apps and games run amongst the fastest level they need to, matching the speed of the recent iPad Air, and really never letting you down. Much like a Rickroll, the iPhone 12 Pro Max feels like it’s never gonna give you up or never gonna let you down, and it will keep doing it until you’ve moved on.
It’s the same sort of thing for 5G, which is one of the major points of the iPhone 12 range, delivering some fast mobile speeds, provided you’re in range, of course.
Tested on the Telstra 5G network in Sydney, Australia, we found speeds as high as 480Mbps on offer, meaning movies, music, and more shouldn’t pose too much of a problem on this phone.
We’d argue that’s pretty solid performance, though hardly a surprise given the high-end nature of this phone.
Alongside that top notch performance is easily one of the year’s best phone cameras, and possibly one of the best we’ve seen all around. While the three camera setup in the 12 Pro Max won’t be a clear improvement over last year’s iPhone 11 Pro Max, it’s easily a leap ahead of so many others, and delivers some interesting features over the iPhone 12 Pro sibling it has.
Let’s start with what’s good about this camera and what Apple has learned, because the answer is almost everything.
In daylight, the images shine, and the whether you’re capturing a standard wide shot, an ultra-wide scene, or a close-up with that 2.5X telephoto, the iPhone 12 Pro Max delivers just that little bit more oomph from the camera, making it useful.
The extra range from the new telephoto lens is handy, letting you form a slightly tighter crop, even if it’s not a whole lot more, and it means the portrait mode gets a little tighter, almost like Apple was emulating an 85mm portrait lens, but in your phone’s camera.
Portraiture images also work quite well, thanks in part to what Apple has learned over the past few years, and while it still has some misses for what constitutes the background and foreground, the performance is clearly at the top of its game. For the most part, Apple’s portrait mode gets close to what a low aperture lens can accomplish, with the occasional detail lost in translation, such as hair or background foliage.
Quite interesting is how the iPhone 12 Pro Max handles portrait shots at night, something only the Pro range of iPhone 12 models can do. Thanks to the LiDAR technology, the standard wide-shot — the 1X portrait mode — can handle portrait shots in low light, giving you some of that background focus back. It’s not going to be a feature that makes or breaks the experience for everyone, but it’s definitely a bonus over the standard iPhone 12, and shared with the iPhone 12 Pro.
However one feature the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers over the 12 Pro kicks in at night, and it’s one that aims to help make those low-light shots a little more impressive: sensor shift stabilisation. A technology appearing on bigger cameras, it uses a specialised in-camera stabilisation that keeps everything steady and moves the sensor the smallest of increments to keep the camera steady. The result is a low-light image you can be proud of, and one that feels like it can see in the dark, handy because when capturing in dim lighting, that is largely what you’re trying to do.
The results really can speak for themselves, with strong images being one of the main hallmarks of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, thanks in part to what is clearly a superior camera system.
Video is also a strong part, and thanks to the support of Dolby HDR and 4K Ultra HD, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a solid film and photographic machine. It’s like having a versatile camera in your pocket ready at a moment’s notice.
Even the selfie mode is a success, though hardly surprising: Apple’s attention to self-portrait has been strong since the early days, and the 12 megapixel FaceTime camera doesn’t disappoint, either.
Very little in the camera does, really. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is just so solid in the camera department. You may never look back.
A thorn in the side of the iPhone range this year, the iPhone 12 models have not fared tremendously well in the battery department, though that’s not been a huge departure from most of the other phones we’ve seen this year.
Fortunately, the iPhone 12 Pro Max redeems itself to some degree, boasting a good day and a half for most users, and easily a full day for everyone else.
Testing the iPhone 12 Pro Max throughout our review, we found Apple’s biggest phone could chew through its life the more you used your phone’s screen and camera, though using the phone normally throughout the day — for web browsing, emails, social networking, and all of the other things you might normally want to do — should see you through to the end of the night, and a little into the next day.
Sufficed to say, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best iPhone battery all year. While it doesn’t quite have the best battery life of every phone, the big battery inside the big iPhone helps secure it a win if what you’re after is an iPhone with the best battery life right now.
Starting at $1849 in Australia for a 128GB model, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the most pricey iPhone in this year’s range moving up to $2019 for 256GB or $2369 for 512GB. Those are not small prices, though they’re only marginal increases on the 6.1 inch iPhone 12 Pro, which starts at $1699 for much the same thing.
It’s worth noting that there is a fair degree of difference between the camera, screen, and battery between the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and that helps to make the Max model feel just that much better value. To put it into perspective, the iPhone 12 Pro Max costs around $150 more in Australia regardless of the storage size you choose, a difference not only offering a bigger screen, but a genuinely more capable camera with different technology altogether.
That delivers slightly more impressive value overall, which is better for consumers all around. It’s still a fairly pricey iPhone — fetching between $1849 and $2369, that’s a foregone conclusion — but the value feels better in the iPhone 12 Pro Max overall.
What needs work on the iPhone 12 Pro Max?
The value helps to deliver one of the best iPhone models yet. It probably won’t surprise you that the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best of the range, though it’s one careful not to go backwards.
But that also makes it harder to find things that are wrong with what Apple has delivered in the 12 Pro Max. There’s just so little that needs work with the phone, you may be shocked as to how good it is.
We’d love a little more battery life, but given that it outperforms every other iPhone 12 model, frankly we’re complaining about something small.
However one that that is not small is the phone itself. Rather, it’s so big and so hefty that not everyone will feel comfortable carrying it around. Pants may have issues conforming pocket sizes to the phone without causing marks to the garment, and the phone’s 226 gram heft is so noticeable, you may think you’re carrying a pocketable iPad with you, albeit without the extra fun of iPadOS. Granted, it’s the same weight as last year’s iPhone 11 Pro Max, but manages to be thinner, which can feel like a bit of an optical illusion of sorts.
The thing is, we can live without the extra features iPadOS would bring — frankly, a screen size just small enough to not be the iPad Mini would mean iPadOS would be wasted here — but the heft is hard to ignore. Between the size and weight, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is just so large, when compared against the range. There’s a good 40 grams on the 187g weight of the iPhone 12 Pro, which itself is 25 grams more than the identically sized iPhone 12 (162g). It makes us really curious whether an iPhone 12 Pro Max with an aluminium frame would be nicer to carry than the extra heft it presently gets.
Could Apple have nail a 200 gram sweet spot that felt marginally less weighty if it had opted for a different grade of metal? We may never know. We’d love to know, but we probably won’t.
If you can survive the positively massive size, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has plenty to fall for, even if it may make your pants fall down a bit.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
With size and heft being the only notable issue in the iPhone 12 Pro Max, it seems all too easy to call Apple’s biggest and best iPhone perfect. It’s almost perfect.
If size and heft are a concern — and you wouldn’t be alone in thinking that way — the iPhone 12 Pro Max may well be out of reach, but if you can supersize your idea of what a phone should be, Apple has delivered in a mobile that makes that dream possible.
Yes, it’s big and it’s a little on the heavy side, but it’s also bright, beautifully built, and bold, delivering every feature you might want in a phone these days, right down to the added bonus of improved durability.
Easily one of the best phones of 2020, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a mobile that’s easy to fall in love with. Highly recommended.