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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Alluring new design
Huge, dazzling screen
Excellent, versatile cameras
Impressive 5G speeds
Only 60Hz screen
No power brick
No external storage
The Pro Max has the best cameras and battery life of all the iPhones, but this huge phone won’t be for everyone. Besides, the core iPhone 12 provides so much for $300 less.
Our expert reviewer purchased the iPhone 12 Pro Max to thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading our full product review.
The iPhone 12 line is Apple’s largest to date, packing four different 5G-capable phones that are all largely similar at the core, yet vary in size, materials, and added perks. While the core iPhone 12 is the best pick for the majority of buyers, delivering an excellent balance of power, style, and capabilities for the price, there are pricier options available.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max sits at the top of that heap, delivering Apple’s largest phone to date thanks to a huge and stunningly crisp 6.7-inch OLED display. But the Pro Max delivers more than just a size bump, and it even has more features than the standard iPhone 12 Pro thanks to compelling camera enhancements that make it perhaps today’s best phone for low-light and nighttime shooting. Of course, all these extra capabilities make it cost a $300 premium over the base iPhone 12 model so it’ll only be worth it for true power users.
Like the other models, the iPhone 12 Pro Max takes a bit of throwback design influence from Apple’s iPhone 5 thanks to the flat frame. It might not be a completely new look for Apple, but compared to the current top-tier smartphone competition, it’s a distinctive silhouette in the marketplace. After three years of nearly-identical phones based on the iPhone X design, it’s also a very welcome shift.
While the lower-priced iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini use glossy backing glass and aluminum frames, the Pro models opt for frosted, matte glass and a stainless steel frame with a reflective, color-matched finish. This Pacific Blue colorway is striking (Graphite, Silver, and Gold versions are also available), with the material mix giving off a slightly higher-end aura than the base models, but not dramatically so. Besides, there’s a trade-off: the frame is an absolute fingerprint and smudge magnet, but then again, so is the backing glass of the iPhone 12 and 12 mini.
At 6.3 inches tall, 3.07 inches wide, and 0.29 inches thick and weighing in at just over half a pound, Apple’s big boy truly is large and in charge.
The Pro Max model very much lives up to its billing as a super-sized phone, even going larger than last year’s iPhone 11 Pro Max. At 6.3 inches tall, 3.07 inches wide, and 0.29 inches thick and weighing in at just over half a pound, Apple’s big boy truly is large and in charge. It makes no illusions about being a one-handed phone; there are other iPhone 12 models better suited for that. Even so, while slightly larger and taller than the iPhone 11 Pro Max due to the bigger screen, it’s actually thinner than last year’s phone. That helps a little with handling the thing.
The Max is a hefty handset, but it’s just shorter than Samsung’s Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G, and unlike the Note20 Ultra and its huge camera module, it’s not heavier at the top. Maybe that’s why it feels more secure in my large hands than the Note20 Ultra 5G, which sometimes felt like it was going to tip out of my grip and slam on the ground.
Should the iPhone 12 Pro Max fall, at least it has the benefit of Apple’s new Ceramic Shield, a ceramic-infused glass that Apple claims provides 4x the drop resistance of last year’s phone. On the front, the iPhone 12 Pro Max still follows the iPhone X mold of being nearly all-screen, except for the large notch at the top that houses the Face ID security camera and sensors. It’s the same size on all four of the iPhone 12 models, which means you end up with a little more space on either side of the notch with this larger screen.
Luckily, Apple has doubled the starting storage for the iPhone 12 Pro models over last year’s handsets, with a solid 128GB to work with. You can bump up to 256GB for another $100, or pay $300 to boost the tally to 512GB—but like all iPhones, there’s no option to slot in a memory card for more, so make sure you have what you think you’ll need. Water and dust resistance has seen a slight boost this year, too, with the existing IP68 rating now promising to survive up to 30 minutes to six meters of water.
With 63 percent better single-core and 28 percent better multi-core performance than even the Galaxy Note20 Ultra, a more expensive, top-of-the-line Android phone, Apple’s mobile speed advantage is more pronounced than ever.
There’s no headphone port, USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter, or USB-C headphones this time around, so you’re on your own when it comes to audio. Apple also hasn’t bundled in a power brick for charging this year, just the Lightning-to-USB-C cable, which explains the newly-slim box. Hopefully, you already have a USB-C compatible plug at home, otherwise, you may experience the absurd reality of spending another $20 simply to charge your new $1,099+ smartphone.
Getting your iPhone 12 Pro Max ready for use is a thankfully streamlined and straightforward process, primarily focused on following the software prompts on the screen. After holding down the right-side power button for a few seconds, the screen will spring to life and guide you through the process. You can also use another iOS 11 or newer device, such as a previous iPhone or iPad, to copy over data and speed up setup.
In recent years, Apple has repeatedly set the standard for smartphone performance thanks to its powerful in-house chips, and the new A14 Bionic processor in the iPhone 12 line shows the company widening its lead even further. No doubt, the iPhone 12 Pro Max feels incredibly smooth and responsive in use, and benchmark tests back up that everyday experience.
I ran the Geekbench 5 benchmark test on the iPhone 12 Pro Max and recorded a single-core score of 1,594 and multi-core score of 4,091. That’s just a tiny bit higher than the standard iPhone 12 reported, likely due to the added RAM on the Pro Max (6GB vs. 4GB).
Compared to rival Android smartphones with their best chips, however, you see a surprising gulf between them. The $1,299 Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G, with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ chip, recorded scores of 975 in single-core and 3,186 in multi-core testing. The $749 OnePlus 8T, with the slightly older Snapdragon 865 (no Plus), put up scores of 891 in single-core and 3,133 in multi-core testing. Meanwhile, the new Google Pixel 5, which uses the mid-range Snapdragon 765G chip, landed much lower at 591 in single-core and 1,591 in multi-core.
It’s no contest. With 63 percent better single-core and 28 percent better multi-core performance than even the Note20 Ultra, a more expensive, top-of-the-line Android phone, Apple’s mobile speed advantage is more pronounced than ever. True, The Note20 Ultra and OnePlus 8T both feel super swift in action—even the Pixel 5 is pretty responsive. You don’t need the best chip on the market to deliver great everyday mobile performance, but the iPhone 12 seems better equipped to handle higher-end games and apps and stay fast in future years with further iOS updates.
You get a 6.7-inch screen, bumped up from 6.5 inches on the 11 Pro Max, with a rich and vibrant OLED panel that delivers excellent color reproduction, contrast, and black levels.
Graphical performance is similarly impressive on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, with top 3D games like Call of Duty Mobile, Asphalt 9: Legends, and Genshin Impact all running smoothly on the phone. In GFXBench testing, the phone recorded 53 frames per second in the intensive Car Chase demo and 60 frames per second in the simpler T-Rex benchmark. The standard iPhone 12 put up a few more frames on the former, perhaps due to a lower-resolution screen, but even the Pro Max result is better than anything I’ve seen on an Android phone.
Like the other iPhone 12 models, the Pro Max has broad 5G network support, connecting to both sub-6Ghz and mmWave networks. I tested on Verizon’s 5G network, with its moderately-fast Nationwide (sub-6Ghz) coverage now gradually becoming broadly available, while the wildly fast Ultra Wideband (mmWave) coverage is very sparse and currently deployed mainly in high-traffic urban areas.
Connected to 5G Nationwide, I saw peak speeds around 130Mbps and typical speeds in the 60-80Mbps range, essentially a 2-3x improvement over what I’d normally see with 4G LTE in my testing area just north of Chicago. But when connected to the Ultra Wideband network, I hit a maximum speed of nearly 3.3Gbps or 25x the best speed that I recorded on Nationwide. It’s also the highest 5G speed I’ve seen to date during testing, beating the 2.9Gbps registered on the iPhone 12, 1.6Gbps on the Pixel 5, and 1.1Gbps on the Galaxy Note20 5G.
As of now, Ultra Wideband coverage is sparse in some areas and completely nonexistent in others. In the city in which I usually test it, there’s a roughly six-block stretch on a single street that has coverage, according to Verizon’s own coverage map—but it has grown from being only about a block or two a month prior. In Chicago, much of the downtown Loop area is covered outdoors, as are many of the major streets on the north side and both of the airports. But the south side has scattered coverage, and for the most part, the suburbs have none.
Verizon’s aim seems to be providing that added speed boost in highly-populated areas in big cities, while the Nationwide coverage—still better than 4G LTE—is available elsewhere. It’s early days, though, but at least the iPhone 12 Pro Max is well-equipped to handle the coming 5G wave, whereas some phones (like the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G) only have sub-6Ghz capabilities and won’t see the truly startling speeds of mmWave 5G.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is another big beauty from Apple when it comes to the screen. Here you get a 6.7-inch screen, bumped up from 6.5 inches on the 11 Pro Max, with a rich and vibrant OLED panel that delivers excellent color reproduction, contrast, and black levels. The 2778x1284 resolution puts it at a similar crispness level (458 pixels per inch) as the other iPhone 12 models, so you’re not losing any visible clarity by going for a larger screen.
With its larger battery, enormous screen, and camera enhancements, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the ultimate iPhone, but ultimately more than most people probably need.
Like the 11 Pro Max, it’s also incredibly bright, hitting a typical max brightness of 800 nits—up from 625 nits on the standard iPhone 12. Compare that to a new MacBook Air, even, which sits at 400 nits. As someone who almost always blasts his smartphone screens to full brightness, even I’ve found the max setting to be overwhelmingly bright here. But it even looks phenomenal at the top setting, and you have a wide range to choose from.
There is one downside when compared to many other top phones today, however: all of the iPhones stick to a standard 60Hz refresh rate, whereas many top Androids do better: the Pixel 5 has a 90Hz refresh rate and the Note20 Ultra allows up to 120Hz, for example. Essentially, the screen refreshes more often per second, delivering smoother animations and menu transitions. It’s a great feature and one that would’ve made the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s screen even better. That said, while using this year’s iPhones, I didn’t feel its absence: this is a superb screen even without 90/120Hz.
Between the bottom-firing speaker grate on the frame and the small earpiece in the notch at the top of the screen, the iPhone 12 Pro Max delivers stellar stereo playback for music, videos, speakerphone, and more. You’ll get fuller sound by connecting to a dedicated speaker, no doubt, but I found it perfect for playing a little music in a pinch while washing dishes or doing household tasks, for example.
The iPhone 12 fares well with two rear cameras—12-megapixel wide and ultrawide varieties, respectively. They take excellent shots and adapt well to nearly all scenarios, including nighttime and low-light shooting. They also take spectacular video footage at up to 4K resolution and 60 frames per second, as well as Dolby Vision HDR shooting up to 30fps.
Both iPhone 12 Pro models add a third back camera, a 12-megapixel telephoto zoom sensor, along with a depth-mapping LiDAR sensor that helps improve the effectiveness of augmented reality apps, speeds up autofocus, and enables low-light and nighttime portrait photos with background bokeh effects.
But the iPhone 12 Pro Max goes a step further. The wide-angle sensor is 47 percent larger than that of both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, allowing more light to flood in, plus it uses a unique sensor-shift image stabilization mechanism similar to that of DSLR cameras. While most smartphone cameras shift the lens to compensate for the user’s hand shaking, the iPhone 12 Pro Max shifts the large sensor instead, significantly improving the stabilization effect.
In plentiful lighting, I’ll be honest: I didn’t notice any difference in shooting skills between the iPhone 12 Pro Max and both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini, which have identical setups. But in lower-light and nighttime settings, the small enhancements started to take shape. I saw more detail in the nighttime shots from the Pro Max, and it would more consistently deliver solid, well-rounded low-light shots.
It’s not a world of difference, and in most of your everyday shooting scenarios, there may be no obvious benefit. But it’s that added 10 percent of polish and precision that goes a long way towards warranting the added expense of the iPhone 12 Pro Max for power users, content creators, and professionals of all sorts. This telephoto sensor also zooms in a bit more, to 2.5x versus 2x on the standard iPhone 12 Pro, which might be the most noticeable enhancement in your day-to-day usage. All told, the iPhone 12 Pro Max takes one of the best camera setups around in the iPhone 12 and makes it even better—and maybe the best around.
On the front, the 12-megapixel TrueDepth camera system both takes great selfies and enables the great Face ID security feature. There is one current-day annoyance, however: Face ID doesn’t work with masks, so unlocking the phone can be a pain when you’re out and about.
iPhone batteries always seem small on paper, but because Apple produces the hardware and software in tandem, the results on the larger phones tend to be better than expected. Case in point: the 3,687mAh battery pack on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is smaller than you’d see in many rival Android phones, not to mention smaller than the 11 Pro Max had last year (3,969mAh).
And still, it delivered battery performance on par with the Galaxy Note20 Ultra, which has a much larger 4,500mAh cell inside. In typical everyday use, I rarely dropped below 50 percent battery life despite a full day of getting notifications, sending texts, reading email, scrolling Twitter, watching videos, and occasionally playing games. For such a large-screened, powerful phone, that’s seriously impressive.
You can fast-charge it at up to 20W with a compatible wired charger or sip power slowly from a Qi wireless charging pad at up to 7.5W. There’s also a new middle option in the form of the MagSafe Charger, a clever attachment that snaps onto the back of any iPhone 12 and provides double the wireless charging power, 15W, with a compatible power brick. The iPhone 12 Pro Max hit 28 percent after 30 minutes on the MagSafe Charger and 53 percent after an hour, although it was a longer road thereafter: it took 2 hours, 42 minutes for a full charge.
Still, that is much faster than standard Qi wireless charging on the phone, plus the MagSafe Charger can attach through some of Apple’s new cases and third-party thin cases. Apple also sells MagSafe wallet card attachments for the phones, and there are sure to be other unique accessories on the horizon as this new MagSafe standard takes hold. At $39 for the Charger, though, you’ll certainly pay a premium for convenience
The iPhone 12 Pro Max ships with iOS 14, the latest iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system. It’s not significantly different from the version that came before, but the long-overdue addition of customizable home screen widgets is much appreciated and there are various other tweaks and enhancements in the mix.
Apple’s optimizations ensure that iOS always runs smoothly on any new iPhone, and that’s obviously true here with the most powerful iPhone to date. The Pro Max has 50 percent more RAM than the standard iPhone 12, but I didn’t notice any tangible differences in speed during use: all the models seem equally capable. And the App Store has the best selection of mobile apps and games around, so you’ll have no shortage of things to play, see, and experience on the iPhone.
Most people shouldn’t spend $1,099+ on a smartphone, and the $799 iPhone 12 provides so much of the Pro Max’s core feature set in a smaller build. That said, the largest and priciest model provides real enhancements and benefits that could warrant the additional spend for power users. The larger screen is a beauty and the XL battery more than compensates for it, giving you additional uptime for heavier usage. Meanwhile, the camera improvements make one of the best smartphone cameras even better—maybe the best around. And you do get double the starting storage on the Pro Max, at least.
Even with the $300 price boost, I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth with the iPhone 12 Pro Max. It’s a feature-packed device delivering top-of-the-line performance in nearly every aspect—but again, the iPhone 12 is very, very close at $799.
In the battle of the very, very big phones, the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G are two of the biggest and best around. Both have massive and beautiful screens, excellent cameras, 5G connectivity, plenty of power, long-lasting batteries, and premium designs.
They’re pretty comparable in many ways, although little advantages swing in either direction: the iPhone has more raw power, while the Note20 Ultra screen can switch between being either slightly more crisp (QHD+ resolution) or smoother (120Hz) than the iPhone’s display. I find the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s design a little easier to hold onto, as the Note 20 Ultra is top-heavy, but Samsung’s phone does feel slimmer thanks to its curves.
All told, the Note20 Ultra 5G is extra-pricey at $1,299, although that does get you the pop-out S Pen stylus and twice the storage at 256GB. At $200 less, the iPhone 12 Pro Max ultimately feels like a better value within this very luxurious, ultra-premium device category.
Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best smartphones.
With its larger battery, enormous screen, and camera enhancements, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the ultimate iPhone, but ultimately more than most people probably need. For $300 less, the standard iPhone 12 still delivers premium performance across the board and is one of the best all-around phones you can buy today. If you want the XL experience or best-of-the-best perks, however, the iPhone 12 Pro Max justifies the further investment. It’s the best big phone you can buy today.
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