The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the biggest iPhone ever made with Apple’s best camera to date — but it’s no major leap over the other 2020 iPhones

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iPhone 12 Pro Max Green

Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

  • The iPhone 12 Pro Max stands out for its long battery life and super-sized display.
  • It also has a closer zoom than the iPhone 12 Pro, but many of Apple’s most compelling camera features are found on the other iPhone 12 models as well.
  • There’s little else that differentiates the iPhone 12 Pro Max from the iPhone 12 Pro, but it’s ultimately a good thing that Apple isn’t making you buy the priciest model to get the most important features.
  • However, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is missing some useful features found on Android devices that I would have liked to see on a phone as expensive as the Pro Max. 
  • Overall, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a solid choice for those who want a phone that can also serve some of the same purposes as a tablet.
  • Read our list of the best iPhones to date for every kind of user.

Apple has been making super-sized versions of its smartphone since 2014, but it’s getting another significant bump in size this year with the $1,100 Phone 12 Pro Max.

The recently launched top-of-the-line iPhone has a 6.7-inch display, the largest screen of any iPhone ever. That also makes it just a little more than an inch shy of being the same size as the 7.9-inch iPad Mini. 

While its sheer size may be the most striking thing about the iPhone 12 Pro Max, there are other characteristics that separate it from its smaller siblings as well.

Its bigger build also means it has longer battery life, and its camera has a zoom lens that’s capable of getting a closer shot than the other versions of the iPhone 12. That’s in addition to the extras you get on the standard iPhone 12 Pro as well, such as a LiDAR sensor and a telephoto camera.

Overall, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the right phone for those who want a gigantic screen and long battery life. Although it has a more sophisticated camera than the other iPhone 12 models, you don’t need to splurge on the Pro Max to get the iPhone’s best new photography features.

  • Display: 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR OLED screen with 2,778 x 1,284 resolution
  • Processor: Apple A14 Bionic
  • Cameras: 12-megapixel triple-lens camera with wide-angle, ultra wide-angle, and telephoto lens; LiDAR sensor
  • Selfie Camera: 12-megapixel 
  • Storage: 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB
  • Biometric authentication: Face ID
  • Durability: Rated for IP68 water resistance (depth of six meters for up to 30 minutes), Ceramic Shield screen coating for four times the drop resistance

iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max

The iPhone 12 Pro Max (left) and iPhone 12 Pro (right)
Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

Simply put, the iPhone 12 Pro is a phone that stands out. Its size alone draws attention, but it also has shiny, surgical-grade stainless steel edges and a matte textured glass back that give it (and the smaller iPhone 12 Pro) a more premium look than the regular iPhone 12.

For a phone that costs $1,100, it’s nice to see Apple upgrade the Pro Max’s design. Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra, on the other hand, costs $1,400 and doesn’t really have any design flourishes that distinguish it from its cheaper siblings in terms of aesthetics. 

Like the rest of Apple’s new iPhones, the iPhone 12 Pro Max also has a generally refreshed design with flat edges, echoing the vintage iPhone 5’s look, and new color choices. 

iPhone 12 Pro Max Side

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But, of course, what really stands out about the iPhone 12 Pro Max is its massive screen. Big phones are nothing new; companies like Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and many others have been releasing large-screened devices for years. In fact, Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra has an even larger 6.9-inch screen.

However, phone makers like Apple are offering more choice than ever when it comes to size and pricing, which can make the buying decision all the more challenging.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max’s gigantic screen makes it ideal for those who truly do everything on their phone. If you’re the type of person that spends your morning commute rifling through your inbox, or frequently watches movies during long flights, or perhaps spends every night reading books on your phone before bed, you’ll probably want the biggest screen you can possibly get. 

The justification for a large-screened portable device can be difficult during the pandemic, when many of us are at home and surrounded by more ideal screens for work (laptops) and entertainment (TVs). But, I’ve been using my iPhone 12 Pro Max as a sort of in-between device around the house, much like a tablet.

In terms of screen quality, the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s Super Retina XDR OLED display is capable of displaying rich, vibrant colors and crisp detail. But, images don’t look quite as sharp, colorful, or bright as they do on Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra, which crams more pixels per inch than the iPhone (511 ppi versus 458 ppi). 

But, as I’ve said in my other iPhone reviews, it’s disappointing to see that Apple hasn’t adopted useful features found on Android phones, like a fingerprint sensor and always-on display. Embedding a fingerprint sensor in the power button would have been a very practical move given that many of us are wearing face masks each time we leave the house and likely will be for some time. 

Cameras and LiDAR

iPhone 12 Pro Camera Orange

Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

It’s not just the bigger screen that separates the iPhone 12 Pro Max from the rest of Apple’s new iPhone lineup. It also has a zoom lens that’s slightly more capable than that of the iPhone 12 Pro.

The Pro Max has a 2.5x optical zoom, a 5x optical zoom range, and a 12x digital zoom, compared to the iPhone 12 Pro’s 2x optical zoom, 4x optical zoom range, and 10x digital zoom. 

You can definitely notice the difference. But, it’s such a small discrepancy that it’s probably only useful for professionals and photo enthusiasts that may be seeking out very specific shots, rather than the casual photographer.

Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra, however, has a 100x digital zoom and a 10x optic zoom, giving it a much closer perspective. Zooming in at 100x may not be very useful since you lose a lot of the sharpness at that point, but you can still get a crisper and closer zoom on the S20 Ultra than the iPhone.

Take a look at the photos below to see the difference. 

Apple iPhone 12 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro Zoom

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Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

iPhone 12 Pro Max Zoom

Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Zoom

Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

Otherwise, the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max share many of the same features, including the ability to take Portrait Mode photos at night thanks to its LiDAR sensor (more on that later) and support for Apple ProRAW. That latter feature, which will be launching later this year, lets photographers edit the raw elements of a photo while still getting the benefits of Apple’s computational photography in their images. 

All of Apple’s new iPhones can also shoot in Dolby Vision video and support Night Mode on all cameras. In terms of general camera performance, the standard iPhone 12 sometimes outshines competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and Google Pixel 5 by capturing richer color. But, in other scenarios, such as when taking a selfie in Night Mode, it fell short, as shown in our original review of the iPhone 12. 

The iPhone 12 Pro Max, like Apple’s more compact Pro, comes with a LiDAR sensor, which stands for light detection and ranging. That means the sensor can measure depth by detecting how long it takes for light to reflect back from an object.

The biggest way that LiDAR is helpful on the Pro and Pro Max is by enabling the phones to take Portrait Mode photos that make the subject appear crisp against a slightly blurred background even in dark scenarios, as shown in our iPhone 12 Pro review. In my experience, the iPhone 12 Pro was able to take brighter portrait shots in Night Mode compared to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, although the photos from both phones were impressively sharp.

The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max’s LiDAR sensor is also useful for helping augmented reality apps perform faster, particularly digital measurement apps that use your phone to determine the dimensions of nearby surfaces. I wish I found myself using AR more often on the iPhone, but I just haven’t found an app that’s compelled me to do so on a regular basis just yet.

But, Apple is clearly already thinking about how to make LiDAR more useful in the iPhone. The company recently launched a new feature called People Detection that can enable the visually impaired to detect when other people may be nearby using the iPhone’s LiDAR sensor.

Battery Life and MagSafe accessories

MagSafe iPhone 12

The iPhone 12 on Apple’s MagSafe charger
Lisa Eadicicco/Business Insider

If battery life is your biggest priority, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the longest-lasting new iPhone, offering similar battery life as last year’s iPhone 11 Pro Max. The iPhone 12 Pro Max lasted for a full day — about 15 hours — and still had a decent amount of juice left (38%) by the time I was ready to head to bed. The smaller iPhone 12 Pro, by comparison, had just 13% of its battery left after 16 hours of use.

Apple claims the iPhone 12 Pro Max can last for 20 hours when playing back video, but most people aren’t just watching video on their phones all day. So I tested the iPhone 12 Pro Max by using it the way I expect most people would — by streaming video for a little more than two hours, streaming music for a little more than two hours, and otherwise checking email, taking notes, reading the news, and browsing social media apps like Facebook and Twitter. 

All of Apple’s new iPhones are also compatible with the company’s new MagSafe accessories, which snap to the back of your iPhone using magnets. Apple has launched some cases and wallets using this system, but the most compelling case for MagSafe so far is probably Apple’s wireless charger, which quickly connects to your iPhone similar to the way the Apple Watch’s charger does for the company’s smartwatch. It brings a bit more convenience to the charging experience, which is a nice bonus but certainly not a strong enough reason on it’s own to justify an upgrade.

There is, however, one battery-oriented feature found on some Android phones that I think would have been useful in the iPhone 12 Pro Max: reverse wireless charging. As its name implies, this feature makes it possible to charge accessories by resting them on the back of your phone.

It’s not a feature I’ve used much on Android and certainly not one that I’d usually call a deal breaker. But, on a device like the iPhone 12 Pro Max that comes in such a large size and offers such long battery life, I could imagine reverse wireless charging being useful for topping off your AirPods or Apple Watch when you’re in a pinch. 

iPhone 12 Pro Blue

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Apple framed 5G as being the headlining attraction of its new iPhone, but upgrading just for 5G isn’t worth it at this stage. If you’re already buying a new phone for other reasons, going with a 5G model ensures that your new phone will stay relevant for years to come as existing networks become more advanced. 

The 5G networks that are widespread today aren’t all that much faster than strong 4G LTE networks, as I experienced when testing 5G speeds against 4G LTE performance in my reviews of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini. Ultra-fast networks that run on millimeter wave spectrum are only found in very small areas — like specific street corners in a select number of cities — since they have limited reach and struggle with penetrating buildings.

iPhone 12 Lineup

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The biggest benefits you’ll get by choosing the iPhone 12 Pro Max are its much roomier screen compared to the other iPhone 12 versions and longer battery life. It also offers a closer zoom than Apple’s other phones, but many of Apple’s most compelling camera features are available on other models too.

You could argue that the iPhone 12 Pro Max doesn’t stand out from the rest of the lineup enough to justify its $1,100 price, especially since the cheapest edition of the iPhone 12 starts at $700.

But, it’s ultimately a good thing that Apple isn’t requiring you to pay for the pricier models to get the iPhone 12’s most important updates, like Night Mode across all three cameras, 5G support, and a more vibrant OLED screen — the latter of which was previously only available on its Pro models. 

That said,  it would have been nice to see Apple throw in extras like reverse wireless charging to further differentiate the Pro Max from the rest of the lineup, especially since its battery life and size makes the Pro Max ideal for such a feature.  

All told, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the iPhone to get if you care about having a giant screen and long battery life. But, if you just want the newest model and don’t care about those extras, or perhaps if you also have an iPad so you don’t need the biggest iPhone, the standard iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro are better options.

Pros: Long battery life; Bigger screen without increasing the size of the phone by that much; Excellent camera; Elegant design

Cons: Screen isn’t quite as vibrant as Samsung’s; Samsung offers a better zoom lens; Missing useful features found on Android like a fingerprint sensor and reverse wireless charging

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