As the different iPhone 12-models have a lot of features in common this year, we have chosen to focus primarily on the things that iPhone 12 Pro Max does differently. You can find our more general observations about the iPhone 12 series in our review of the standard iPhone 12 right here.
I'm gonna put my cards on the table and admit that I wasn't too fond of the regular iPhone 12 Pro this year. Where Apple usually manages to create a meaningful distance between their standard models and the ones aimed at so-called "power users", this line has somewhat blurred this year. And that holds especially true for the difference between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro. They are the same size, use the same accessories, and besides a matt glass back, the steel frame and the telephoto camera, the differences are almost non-existent.
In short, don't buy an iPhone 12 Pro. But does the same hold true for the iPhone 12 Pro Max? Not exactly, for having used the phone for about a week, it is clear that this is not only Apple's largest phone ever, but also - at least for enthusiasts - probably their greatest.
Okay, let's just forget about the rest of the Apple line-up for a moment. iPhone 12 Pro Max is Apple's largest phone to date with a screen size of 6.7 inches instead of the 6.5 inches, we had to make do with on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. It's also a bit heavier than its predecessor, and thanks to the more industrial edges, this time in stainless steel, it's not as curved and dynamic as the former iPhones.
From the first glance it's clear that this phone strives for the luxurious, strives to be unique - it might sound exoteric or just vague, but once again Apple nails the feeling that you are holding something very special in your hand. The enthusiasts that only measures their phones through their specs will never quite understand it, but the iPhone 12 Max feels... special, in a way a normal iPhone 12 Pro never will be able to.
The larger size also means that once again there's room for a larger battery. We are talking 3687mAh, but the battery life of an iPhone cannot be estimated through conventional logic. This means that I, as with the 11 Pro Max, easily have been able to squeeze two days use out of a single charge. It's primarily due to the size but also how solidly Apple manages to handle the latent power usage in standby. Compared to the Note20 Ultra and especially S20 Ultra from Samsung, we are talking marginals, but Apple once again proves that they are the masters of batteries.
And now to the camera. It's a bit hard to notice, but the iPhone 12 Pro Max camera module is actually very different compared to the one installed in the smaller 12 Pro. At a first glance you find the same three 12 megapixel sensors, a main lens, an ultra-wide, and a telephoto, but by closer inspection the sensors are actually different. All three rings in the stove-like module are larger, physically bigger, so they can accommodate the larger sensors. The main lens is 47% bigger than on the regular Pro. Besides, it doesn't have optical stabilisation that through a gyroscope and small motors, moves the lens to combat shaking. No, instead it has Sensor-Shift, which means that the lens itself is suspended in the air, floating freely in the camera shell, and it can therefore in a more natural and direct way withstand shaking. Theoretically this should give a more stable video recording and help to contain the light in the Night Mode where the sharpness depends on you being able to hold the motive in an extended period. This is not all though, as the telephoto lens is completely new and supports 2.5x optical zoom.
There have been some doubts about how much the hardware improvements really matters, when the software image processing, that Apple since last year have proved they master to perfection, is the most important factor. Marques Brownlee among others couldn't see any difference between certain motives captured with an iPhone 12 and a iPhone 12 Pro Max respectively. But during our test we found some crucial differences, especially in poorly lit areas. The larger sensor and the more effective stabilisation really helps to capture the light. It helps in all kinds of situations, but works especially well in night mode where the difference was most crucial.
The results below show a minor, but still distinct, difference between iPhone 12 Pro Max's handling of the light compared with the iPhone 12 Mini.
At the same time, the new 2.5 telephoto also manages to draw more light in, as this portrait of my son Sigurd shows. It was captured after nightfall and with only a limited amount of natural light.
And the lens really manages to use the extra lighting to maintain the level of detail. Here is the obligatory picture of my cap which I think is the best one to date.
Besides, the new stabilization method can be felt when you are moving and recording video at the same time, and it is clear, for me at least, that the sensor doesn't focus quite as much as the standard model.
But this is classical "pixel peeping", and will the average consumer notice the difference between a 12 Pro Max camera if you compare it to a standard iPhone 12? No, probably not. So you probably shouldn't buy an iPhone 12 Pro Max just because of the camera.
That being said, I would still recommend the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Combined with iOS 14, that has completely turned upside down the way I interact with my phone, the Pro Max is probably this year's most luxurious phone. Even more luxurious than the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra, that thus had a very short reign before being usurped by this model. It is gigantic, heavy, lasts several days on a charge, and, together with the iPhone 12, it takes the best pictures of any phone on the market.
If you asked me personally which phone you should choose, in most cases I would recommend the iPhone 12. But for those of you that want a large, luxurious phone, then the Pro Max delivers on all parameters, just as it did last year.