It is now also possible to buy the last two of this autumn’s new iPhones (the first units will be delivered Friday 20 November): the extra compact and price-pressed iPhone 12 mini, as well as the mammoth and lavish iPhone 12 Pro Max. Here we’re checking out the top model.
When we tested the iPhone 12 Pro it was difficult to recommend it because there is so little to differentiate it from the more affordable iPhone 12. When it comes to the Max model there is much more that stands out and makes it unique.
We’ll start with the design which is identical to the iPhone 12 Pro, but with scaled-up dimensions. Its 6.7in screen gives you the largest screen ever on an iPhone and one of the largest on a smartphone. But thanks to the new rectangular frames and thinner screen edges, the outer dimensions are not much larger than the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Sure, it is a bit longer and wider, and heavier, albeit just two grams extra.
On the plus side, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a slimmer construction compared to its predecessor, and has the same thickness as the other three 12 models, just under 8 millimetres if you do not include the camera lens (which still protrudes).
Need more help choosing the right iPhone for you? Read: iPhone buying guide to find the best iPhone for your needs.
Luxury that doesn’t always feel right
The design and colour choice are the same as for the iPhone 12 Pro: a matt glass surface at the back and a stainless steel strap that forms the frame around the phone. Although it gives the Pro models exclusive feel, it is also a perfect surface to put ugly fingerprints on. You get four relatively sober colour choices: our favoured choices are the gold tone and the muted grey-blue-green colour Apple calls Pacific blue.
This is a design we really liked in the smaller format, but when the iPhone 12 Pro Max grows in size and gains weight, it becomes more attractive than practical. It is easy to grip, but, unlike its neat little siblings, we clearly feel the extra weight and the sharp edges that press hard against the fingers. If you are bothered by this you should probably get a case. Read: Best iPhone 12 cases.
We’d recommend that you get a case anyway: The surface of the screen with its new ceramic surface protection is supposed to provide sufficient security, but the back is still Gorilla Glass and there is a risk that the glass back will smash if you drop your iPhone.
Large strong screen
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is anything but neat, and maybe you are sold on it only thanks to the larger screen format. The screen otherwise maintains the same high quality, with an amoled panel and more pixels to end up in approximately the same high retina class as the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro. In terms of colour, it is the same class as always, with DCI-P3 colour gamut, TrueTone and everything else we are used to.
It has the same sharp brightness as the Pro, up to 800 cd/m2 and 1200 cd/m2 in peak brightness for extra difficult lighting conditions. We also think it is used for HDR effect with HDR10 footage, but it is honestly difficult to see the difference with the naked eye, as 800 cd/m2s is dazzling enough already.
On the downside, we do not get the opportunity for a higher 120Hz frame rate, just 60Hz. When everything else is world class, we can not help but be a little disappointed in Apple at that point. As it stands, we will have to wait another year for a 120Hz iPhone. By then maybe Apple will have finally managed to slim down the notch that houses the forward-facing camera. Read all the rumours about the iPhone 13.
Same A14, but still faster
With exactly the same hardware inside, the A14 Bionic processor, 6GB RAM and between 128GB and 512GB of storage, it is identical to the iPhone 12 Pro – so you would think that performance is identical. But that is not the case. The larger chassis seems to be better able to distribute excess heat from the processor, which affects both short-term performance and the ability to run heavy applications and games for a longer period of time without so-called throttling (i.e. deceleration of clock frequency to avoid overheating).
A little surprisingly, we want to strike a blow for the 12 Pro Max as the fastest iPhone. These are not large margins, but it is constantly getting slightly better results in our performance tests. This also makes it by far the fastest mobile phone ever, at least in CPU-demanding apps and tasks. However, mobiles with Snapdragon 865 and 865+ still have an edge when it comes to game graphics.
On the other hand, they do not have the iOS system’s better optimized platform, so the A14 Bionic can nicely handle everything we test. We tried to run the new and quite demanding action adventure Genshin Impact. Apart from the fact that what is always tricky to run games meant for a full-size screen on a mobile screen, everything flows smoothly. Together with stereo speakers of excellent quality, we get a really successful experience with the screen and performance.
The two points in addition to the larger format that distinguishes the 12 Pro Max from the 12 Pro are the battery and the camera. If we start with the battery, we can state that it is a real upgrade, from 2,815 to 3,687 mAh. The 12 Pro Max does need extra energy to power the larger screen, but not much more. There is thus a lot of battery capacity left over to extend the operating time.
We streamed a YouTube video in full HD continuously for 23 hours with 90% brightness. Apple itself promises only 12 hours of streamed video, so it clearly depends on the format and quality of the streamed service. But our result actually surpasses even the promised 20 hours of offline video playback. So we do not complain.
A day of more intensive mixed use with web surfing, FaceTime, occasional photography, navigation and the use of social and messaging apps gives us a more modest battery life, more in line with what we expect. It is not enough for a whole day and can run out of battery late in the evening during an extra intense day. Charging is convenient with the new MagSafe charger, which snaps on the back of the phone with its handy magnetic lock.
However, it does not charge particularly fast either via MagSafe or with a charger plugged into the Lightning port. Really powerful charging is something we have been missing for a while now from Apple and with a larger battery to fill, this is becoming increasingly noticeable.
Several photo upgrades
Finally, we have the cameras. Here we find a similar set to the 12 Pro: three 12MP cameras and the new Lidar sensor. However, some smaller and larger things separate them. To begin with, the main sensor is a new and larger model with more area per pixel. It provides higher light sensitivity and improved properties, especially for shooting at night. In dark environments, at least with close-up subjects, the new Lidar sensor, which it shares with the 12 Pro, also provides faster and more stable autofocus.
According to Apple, the Pro Max should be 87 percent better at shooting in the dark than the other iPhone 12 models. What “better” means is shrouded in obscurity, but we can state that it is significantly faster in Night Mode. The end result is an image with more details in dark parts and a result that we think is more in line with what we see in reality.
A new image stabilizer also comes into play here, which adjusts the position of the sensor, where most others only have a moving lens or digital motion compensation. In short, it makes it easier to keep the image still during long exposures, which improves the quality of night photos. However, it is not a revolution compared to an iPhone 12 Pro. Apple’s great strength when it comes to cameras has long been a high-quality signal processor and smart software, and at that point they are just as good.
A little more zoom makes a big difference
The other thing that has been improved is the zoom. This is the first time Apple is moving away from a 2x zoom level in its telephoto lens. Here we have a 2.5x zoom, corresponding to 65mm focal length compared to the previous 52mm. It is not as extreme as some of the competitors’ 3x and even 5x telescopic lenses, but offers an improvement from previous iPhones that is noticeable.
The combination of pure optical zoom and better image processing in the new processor means that even when further digital zoom is used the fine sharpness is maintained for longer. The zoom in the 12 Pro Max actually has a smaller aperture than the one in the iPhone 12 Pro, which in theory could mean less light intake, but we can not see that they differ in terms of photo quality in evening and night light.
When we tested the iPhone 12 Pro, we recommended not buying until we saw what the max model could deliver. Now we know: and the answer is that it can deliver significantly more.
The iPhone 12 Pro had few contrasts compared to the iPhone 12, but it is a completely different story with the Pro Max: with its larger format, it has significantly improved battery life, an upgraded camera and, a little surprisingly, noticeably enhanced performance. The regular 12 is still our best buy, but if you definitely want a Pro, the Pro Max is worth the extra penny.
This article originally appeared on Macworld Sweden. Translation by Karen Haslam.
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