The “Max” iPhones have a short history, but have gained an extremely enthusiastic following. Some people have seen the value of having a huge iPhone and never looked back. For those people, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is wonderful — it’s yet another huge iPhone, brought up to the modern era of Apple hardware design and features.
The whole affair is taken to a new level in this gold color I have, which I’ve dubbed the “Kardashian Special.” The hyper-shiny gold sides are just … a lot. They’re so reflective that you regularly see strong light reflections on tables and walls around you, which is just incredible. Thankfully. the matte glass back has a subtle pearlescent look to it, dulling down the overall effect. But I’ve quite enjoyed the phone in the absurdly expensive, but excellent Apple leather case . Those shimmering gold sides still peek out along the edge of the case just a tiny bit, though!
Everywhere else, you get the same specs and features as the standard 12 Pro, without a single drawback. The same A14 Bionic processor, 6GB (reportedly) of RAM, 128/256/512GB storage options, 5G connectivity, Ceramic Shield glass, speakers, and on down the list. Face ID continues to be excellent (our current mask-wearing situation notwithstanding), as does the tactile feel of the buttons, mute switch, and haptic feedback — these are the little things that Apple is so good at. This is just an iPhone 12 Pro scaled up — and that’s mostly a good thing.
The major selling point of the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the same as it ever was: You get a massive display. It’s now up to 6.7-inches, and the effect of this year’s smaller bezels is enhanced by their proportional size to the screen area. The OLED panel is absolutely gorgeous — incredibly bright, crisp, and colorful. It’s perfectly viewable in all lighting, including outside, even when the brightness isn’t cranked up while viewing HDR content.
I can’t find a flaw with it … well, other than it doesn’t have a 90Hz (or higher) refresh rate like the Android competition. But even still, Apple does things with software that make 60Hz still look good. These are all of the same assessments I had of the iPhone 12 Pro’s display, mind you, but I appreciate it all over again in this bigger size.
It’s not the biggest phone display out there, but it’s close.
Of course it’s not the biggest phone display out there, but it’s close. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is larger, and pairs its display with even smaller bezels, but it’s also a bit taller as a result. Really, you wouldn’t notice a usable difference between this 6.7-inch screen and any other big Android out there. The important thing is that the 12 Pro Max gives you an appreciable amount of additional screen than most phones in the lower 6-inch range.
However, as the “normal” iPhones have gotten larger, now up to 6.1-inch displays, they really don’t feel so cramped, which subsequently makes the iPhone 12 Pro Max feel less necessary. And iOS 14 looks and operates exactly the same on this 6.7-inch display as it does on the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 Mini.
You can’t do any different multitasking than you can on any other iPhone, nor do you get much more utility out of picture-in-picture video viewing. Even though you can put widgets on the home screen now, you don’t have any extra room to put them; you’re still stuck to the same 4×6 grid size. Apps mostly just scale up to fit the screen, rather than keep elements the same size and show you more content. For example, in Gmail, you see one more email in the inbox. In Twitter, you see maybe an extra half of a tweet.
You can use the “zoom” function to make everything on the screen bigger, but you can’t go the other way and make content smaller, which is what a lot of people want. You can drop the text size down, which is what I’ve done (by one notch), and that at least helps you make a little more use of the screen.
That bigger screen is still appreciated when you’re watching video, playing games, taking and editing photos and video, browsing nonmobile websites, and typing with two hands. The media experience is only enhanced by this larger screen, and some people really do spend hours a day watching video on their phones — the 12 Pro Max delivers an excellent experience there. There are also people who don’t have great vision and appreciate a phone that just makes everything huge.
With the first Max iPhone, it seemed as though most people bought it simply for the battery life. A bigger phone has more room for battery, and with everything else staying constant, that should translate into much better battery life. As usual, Apple gives you neither battery capacities nor realistic battery benchmarks for its phones, but that’s why I’m here.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is a battery champion, thanks to a very simple equation: It has a 30% larger (rumored to be 3687mAh) battery than the 12 Pro. If you need a phone that can go all day, every day, with no regard for saving battery, this is it. On my usual day of messaging, podcast listening over Bluetooth, tons of emailing, and using social media apps, mostly on Wi-Fi, I would end the day at 40% battery after over three hours of “screen-on” time.
We’ve gotten used to the fast recharge times provided by the iPhone’s small battery, but with the 12 Pro Max, that isn’t the case. If you ever do drain the battery, or miss an overnight charge, you’re going to need to be mindful of how long it takes to top back up.
You can get from dead to 50% in a little over 30 minutes, which is good enough, but it takes over an hour more to get to 95%. And that’s if you buy a 20W charger (remember, there isn’t one in the box). There are lots of great choices from companies like Anker and Aukey , and it’s basically a requirement for the 12 Pro Max. Charging with anything less is a real pain. The MagSafe charger is roughly 30% slower than a 20W wired charger, or it’s a multihour affair if you plug into an older plug under 10W — and even worse on a generic wireless charger.
Apple bifurcated the Pro line with an altogether new main camera sensor on the Pro Max, and it’s a big change. The 12-megapixel sensor is 47% larger, which at the same resolution means each pixel is dramatically larger. Bigger pixels let in more light, which is always a good thing — light is the currency you purchase crisp photos with. The sensor itself is also physically stabilized, not unlike the way dedicated cameras offer stabilization, which is different from the OIS on most other phones (including the 12 Pro), where the lens is stabilized.
The benefits are immediately apparent in lowlight photos. With bigger pixels, the camera doesn’t need to lean on long Night Mode exposures as often, meaning you have less softness and blur from hand shake or moving objects in your scene. That means photos of people and pets are more likely to be crisp, even in challenging lighting conditions. But that’s more of a side bonus: The real impact is that every single photo you take in low or mixed lightning is brighter, sharper, and more colorful.
Lowlight shots have great detail, textures, and sharpness, and for the most part, it comes without a fake overprocessed look. In some instances when using Night Mode for a 3-to-4-second exposure, the contrast and saturation are a bit overblown, to the point where it actually looks better to go back to a 1-second exposure. Other times, I’d just turn off Night Mode to get a natural shot, and the sensor easily pulls in enough light to keep things from being noisy or grainy. I feel Apple could actually tweak more to really leverage the big sensor and lean on Night Mode even less.
As lighting improves, the 12 Pro Max’s camera advantage decreases. Most shots are indistinguishable from what you get on the 12 Pro’s camera. But that’s not a bad thing; the 12 Pro takes amazing photos. It’s in those edge cases where you have shadows or mixed lighting that you notice the big sensor going to work again — not to brighten those areas, but to represent them properly, without noise.
You see the big sensor at play once again with close-up macro shots and portraits. Because the sensor is so large, and has an f/1.6 lens, you can get incredible natural bokeh (background blur) if you’re smart about your tap-to-focus target. If you strategically lock on a good focal point, the background defocus is excellent. The effect is to the point where I really didn’t bother with Portrait Mode, which still has quirks and problems far too frequently. Natural bokeh is always better than fake, and this camera does it incredibly well.