Review: iPhone 12 Pro Max takes the iPhone to yet another level
We're used to the routine by now: every year Apple puts out a newer, faster, iPhone with better cameras. While the iPhone 12 Pro Max isn't particular ground-breaking in terms of what it offers, it's the newest, and the biggest, and the best iPhone that money can buy right now – and you will need a lot of money for it.
At a glance:
- Packed with power
- Superb rear camera
- Excellent battery life
To put the iPhone 12 Pro Max in context, it's one of four 5G-enabled iPhones launched in October 2020: the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 mini (starting at US$699), the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 (starting at $799), the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro (starting at $999), and the 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max that we're reviewing here (starting at a hefty $1,099). For the Pro Max, your color options are Graphite (like our review model), Silver, Gold, and Pacific Blue.
Aside from the screen sizes, the key difference is that the two Pro models have an extra rear camera lens that enables optical zoom. All four models run the same iOS 14 software, with the same super-speedy A14 Bionic chip inside, and that's important when weighing up the iPhone 12 Pro Max – in terms of fundamentals it doesn't do a whole lot more than the iPhone 12 mini does, it just costs $400 extra.
The best screen size is really down to your personal preference, but thanks to some very thin bezels, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is just about usable in one hand, as long as your hands are fairly big. There's a design tweak from the iPhone 11 though, with the curved edges around the sides giving way to a flatter look more reminiscent of the latest iPad Pros (or the iPhone 5).
There's no doubt it's a gorgeous-looking phone – as you would expect on the 13th incarnation of the handset. It looks expertly crafted, it feels like an ultra-premium device in the hand, and the 6.7-inch, 1,284 x 2,778 pixel display really shines (even if the 60-Hz display refresh rate is a long way from the best you can get on the market at the moment).
It absolutely zips along, through games, video editing, web browsing and everything else. For the last couple of years, iPhones have come with more processing power than you're actually likely to need, and the iPhone 12 models (including the Pro Max) continue that trend. This is a phone that'll stay speedy and responsive for several years to come, which is something else to consider when you're weighing up how much you want to spend on your next phone purchase.
iOS 14 is on board as well of course, and with the introduction of home screen widgets it's more flexible than ever before. While Android remains a better option in terms of customization, it's Apple's mobile OS that wins in terms of overall polish. By now we're assuming you've committed to either the iOS or Android camp though, and are probably going to stick with what you know.
As for the cameras, the 12-MP + 12-MP + 12-MP array on the back of the iPhone 12 Pro Max can get you some very impressive results, day or night. Details are crisp, colors are well balanced, and noise is kept to a minimum even with minimal light available. The iPhone cameras have evolved slowly year on year, but they're now at least equal to the very best that Samsung and Google can offer.
The introduction of depth-sensing LiDAR technology to the camera (on both the Pro and Pro Max) means portraits with background blur are better defined, and augmented reality applications can work with even more accuracy. Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 Pro Max stretches the optical zoom to 2.5x, as opposed to 2x on the iPhone 12 Pro, and that can really come in handy when you need to get closer to the action.
It's very hard to take a bad photo with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and while there are some very good cameras attached to mid-range phones like the Pixel 4a and the OnePlus Nord, the jump in quality on this more expensive handset is clear to see in most snaps. Whether it's worth the jump in price really depends on the budget you're working with.
Battery life definitely impresses: Apple promises 20 hours of video playback, and in our two-hour video streaming test (at maximum brightness) the 3,687-mAh battery dropped from 100 percent to 92 percent, which works out at well over 20 hours in total. Gaming saw the battery life drop more, by about 8 percent every half an hour, but overall this is a phone that holds its charge very well.
In regular use the iPhone 12 Pro Max typically had 40-50 percent left at the end of a busy day in our tests, although it's worth bearing in mind that this is a brand new phone with a brand new battery, and we didn't do any testing with the more intensive 5G capabilities. Even so, it's an impressive phone from a battery life standpoint, and you don't have to worry about taking a charger out with you in the morning. Wireless charging is supported, including Apple's new MagSafe magnetic charging attachments.
In short, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a superb smartphone – it may just be the best smartphone on the market at the moment, and it was a pleasure to use in our testing. It's incredibly powerful, it's beautifully designed, the battery life is much better than most phones, and the triple-lens rear camera gets amazing results just about every time.
There are only two reasons not to seriously consider the iPhone 12 Pro Max: either because you prefer Android, or because you can't justify spending a four-figure sum on a smartphone (which is a perfectly reasonable stance). However, if you've got the cash and you want to spend it on the gadget you use more than any other, this is just about the best smartphone out there in 2020.
Product page: iPhone 12 Pro Max