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(Pocket-lint) - When it released in 2020, Apple's iPhone 12 range had been split into four different models - the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max - giving us more choice than ever before when it came to getting the company's flagship model.

While they all sport the same processor, same 5G connectivity, and same screen tech (albeit at different sizes, of course), if you look closer there are other differences. At the top of the range sat the iPhone 12 Pro Max, with its large screen and improved cameras.

How does it stack up to its siblings, and how does it hold up a couple of years on from its release?

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Our quick take

The iPhone 12 Pro Max was the most comprehensive and expensive iPhone in the 2020 range. That's because it delivers a lot: the screen is massive, the cameras - being the main difference over the 12 Pro - are exceptional, and the overall performance is impressive.

Such a large phone won't be to everyone's liking, but if you like your phones big then this delivers that without making the form-factor awkward to hold or use. It's more-or-less the same size as its predecessor, despite offering an even bigger screen.

The changes to the cameras compared to the other phones in the range are noticeable - the main sensor is physically larger and adds in-body stabilisation for better results, while the telephoto lens has a longer reach - but not to the extent that you have to buy this model to achieve great photographs. For many, we believe the iPhone 12 Pro would be more than good enough, while the 13 Pro is even better.

While the 13 Pro Max has largely superseded it for anyone looking to buy the biggest flagship iPhone new, if you can find the 12 Pro Max at a lower price point it's still a superb investment and holds up impressively a couple of years after its launch.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max review: The maximum experience

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

4.5 stars - Pocket-lint recommended
For
  • Great cameras
  • 5G connectivity when you need it
  • Big and bold screen
  • Design is large but not awkward
  • A14 Bionic processing power
Against
  • Low-light photography enhancements could be better
  • Much the same experience as the cheaper (and smaller) iPhone 12 Pro

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New design and screen

  • 6.7-inch all-screen OLED display, 2778 x 1284 resolution (458ppi)
  • Dimensions: 160.8 x 78.1 x 7.4mm / Weight: 228g
  • Finishes: Graphite, Silver, Gold, Pacific Blue
  • IP68 protection, ceramic shield screen

The 2020 iPhones ushered in a shiny new design that was more akin to the latest iPad Pro and Air models. Or, if you're harking back to yesteryear, the iPhone 4 from 2010.

Pocket-lint iPhone 12 Pro Max review photo 4

That design change - which saw the buttons, speakers, and Lightning port stay in pretty much the same place as previous years - delivered a number of benefits. The main is that the 12 Pro Max packs in an even bigger screen than the iPhone 11 Pro Max from 2019 - it's 6.7-inches compared to 6.5-inches - in a footprint that is roughly the same. If you're counting, the 12 Pro Max is actually a little thinner than its predecessor.

Screen bezel is still present - Apple hasn't gone all Samsung quite yet - but because of the flat surgical-grade stainless steel band edge around the device, it appears thinner. 

That screen sure is big, too, but Apple believes people always want bigger screens so why not give them that? It's an Apple Super Retina XDR display that's HDR Dolby Vision ready and comes with True Tone technology for adapting the colours to your environment. It's the same as found on the other models in the iPhone 12 range, just bigger.

Whether you're playing the latest game, watching a spot of Netflix or just reading an email, it's a luscious display. You won't find anything to complain about visually speaking. Although, given the size, it can feel weighty if you're holding it one-handed - have a 20 minute FaceTime call and you'll be begging for it to be over so you can rest your arm. However, the newer 13 Pro Max added higher refresh rates, a change that really does make a big difference.

The 12 Pro Max comes in four colours - Graphite, Silver, Gold, and new Pacific Blue). The gold is very gold - gold jewellery style, which you'll either like or despise. But at least the frosted glass back, which is a lot more neutral, does help tone things down a bit.

In the top left corner, you'll find the phone's three cameras, a LiDAR scanner, flash and microphone. Because the new camera sensors are different from the iPhone 12 Pro model, the camera enclosure is considerably bigger. That's one of the key things about the Max.

Performance and battery

  • Apple A14 processor
  • 3,687mAh battery
  • 20W fast-charge
  • 5G connectivity

Like the other phones in the iPhone 12 range, the Pro Max is powered by Apple's A14 processor. It's fast, loads games and apps quicker than last year's processor, but really focuses its power on making sure the iPhone can cope with the image and video processing you'll be asking it to do. Those cameras mean it's now being asked to do a lot.

Pocket-lint iPhone 12 Pro Max review photo 3

There's also 5G connectivity, which depending on where you live will either change your world or not be something that you benefit from for some time. Just as we found when reviewing the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro when you do get 5G connectivity the Pro Max speeds along. Depending on your location and your network you'll be able to achieve download and upload speeds in the hundreds of Mbps rather than tens of Mbps.

And 5G isn't just about speed. It will improve latency among other things, which will help to improve online gaming and apps that we've not even yet thought about.

Think of 5G as a future investment, rather than something you'll be guaranteed to be benefiting from on day one. Besides, Apple has developed the iPhone 12 range to only uses 5G when it's available and you need it. That, in turn, helps to save battery life - there's no point having 5G on when your phone's in your pocket or you're reading an email.

Pocket-lint iPhone 12 Pro Max review photo 5

And talking of battery life, it's very good indeed. With what we would call average usage we easily get to the end of the day with around 60 per cent of battery still left. Apple's battery management is decent, because the iPhone 12 Pro Max doesn't have a particularly capacious cell compared to much of the competition.

Gaming, Twitter, and recording in 4K do have an obvious impact, as you would expect, but no more than usual. You'll be hard pushed to run out before you find a charge within a 24-hour period.

Software

  • iOS 14

The Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max arrived with iOS 14, like the rest of the iPhone 12 range, and with this software came a number of features, from widgets on the home screen and App Clips, to Messages and Maps improvements.

Pocket-lint iPhone 12 Pro Max review photo 7

Of course, the software is available on all iPhones from the iPhone 6S and later so most features aren't exclusive to the iPhone 12 series. There are a few that are, such as Night Mode on the front camera, but the overall software experience will be identical to any other iPhone.

That makes it familiar for those upgrading (but with the beauty of the bigger display if upgrading from Touch ID models), and relatively simple - although a more closed system - for those moving from Android.

Needless to say, the phone will now happily run the newer iOS 15 without any problems, to take advantage of the additions it brings to the table.

Cameras

  • Triple rear cameras:
    • Main: 12-megapixel, f/1.6 aperture, optical image stabilisation (OIS)
    • Telephoto (5x optical zoom): 12MP, f/2.2, OIS
    • Ultra-wide (0.5x): 12MP, f/2.4
  • LiDAR scanner
  • 12MP selfie camera
  • Dolby Vision video capture

The biggest difference between the iPhone 12 Pro and the Pro Max can be found with the cameras. Put simply the iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras are better. But of course, it's not always that straightforward.

While the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max share the same headline 12-megapixel sensors, the two phones differ when it comes to focal lengths and the main sensor's ability. Both phones share the same ultra-wide lens. But the Pro Max's main camera has larger pixels (1.7µm) because it's a physically bigger sensor.

Where things are noticeably different is the telephoto lens. The Pro Max features a 5x optical zoom (compared to a 4x optical zoom range found on the iPhone 12 Pro), so it can reach that bit further and make far-away subjects look as though they're closer. Furthermore, the Pro Max also offers sensor-shift optical image stabilisation, which really helps to negate handshake to help obtain sharp shots - and it makes shooting them easier too.

Also noticeable is the 12 Pro Max's ability to quickly take pictures in low-light conditions. It means you don't have to rely on Apple's Night Mode function - which can take up to 3 seconds to take a shot - and that in turn means less blurry shots.

And although it is harder to spot, on closer inspection you can see more detail in the iPhone 12 Pro Max pictures than the iPhone 12 Pro images. No surprise, given the larger main sensor in the Pro Max. Here's a side-by-side.

Pocket-lint iPhone 12 Pro Max photo samples photo 21

However, don't expect more detail to instantly translate into vastly different advances in camera performance. Yes, it is better, but it is perhaps not the leap you might be expecting. It is still the same 12-megapixel sensor after all. Gloat, but don't gloat too much, would be our recommendation.

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Both the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max take amazing pictures, it's just in some instances the iPhone 12 Pro Max will take the same picture slightly better. It depends on how much you want to pixel peep at the results.

A lot of the picture prowess, we believe, is down to the sheer power of the processing going on in the background to enhance, tweak, and develop your photos to their best looking - all within a matter of milliseconds.

Pocket-lint iPhone 12 Pro Max photo samples photo 28

Apple's array of picture technology is starting to sound like a dictionary in itself. There's Smart HDR 3, Deep Fusion, Apple ProRaw (still to come), HDR recording with Dolby Vision, Night Mode, and of course Portrait mode (the blurred background classic).