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iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Probably the best in the world – if you can afford it…

BIGGER is better, at least if the iPhone 12 Pro Max is anything to go by.

I've been testing Apple's top mobile for about a week – and it's a proper powerhouse.

The first part of this review covers the main differences between the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. A tweaked version of earlier iPhone 12 Pro review is pasted below that, due to the numerous similarities.

If you like tiny phones, leave now – because the iPhone 12 Pro Max is an absolute giant.

It’s got a frankly enormous 6.7-inch screen, and I adore it.

I’ll never understand the obsession with small phones when a gargantuan OLED iPhone screen looks so ruddy good.

For me, it’s worth the extra £100/$100 for the extra 0.6 inches versus the standard Pro.

But that’s not the only trick the Pro Max has up its sleeve.

For a start, battery life is also better – with Apple citing an additional 3 hours of usage.

In practice, both the Pro and Max easily last a day, so I’m not too fussed, but it’s great to know the bonus capacity is there.

For most people, the real advantage of the Pro Max is the upgraded camera system.

The Pro Max has largely the same camera as the regular Pro, with a few key tweaks.

There’s a different wide-angle camera with a 47% larger sensor – albeit with the same lens.

It means you get improved low-light performance, which was already good to begin with.

Night Mode sees significant improvements on the Pro Max – I’ve been impressed with seemingly well-lit photos taken in near total darkness.

The Pro Max will pick up colours that even my eyes aren’t seeing because it’s so dark, while still keeping the “night” aesthetic in the image.

Apple has also changed the telephoto lens, with a 65mm focal length versus the shorter 52mm in the Pro.

It means you can get closer to subjects, up to 2.5x optical zoom – or 5x if you factor in the ultra-wide angle zoom-out.

And the ultra-wide is the same as the regular Pro, with a generous 120-degree field of view. It’s a cracking camera that captures huge amounts of scene.

At £1,099/$1,099, this isn’t a cheap iPhone, and certainly isn’t the default option most people should get.

The iPhone 12 offers largely similar specs (but a smaller screen and worse camera) for £799/$799.

But if you’re a proper geek, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is unmatched.

This is a high-end computer, TV and camera system shrunken down to smartphone size, and the price fairly reflects that.

The Sun says: Probably the best smartphone you can buy today – if you can hack the price. 5/5

What is the iPhone 12 Pro Max?

In October 2020, Apple unveiled four new iPhone 12 models – all of which support 5G internet.

There’s the iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

The iPhone 12 Pro is the most powerful, most expensive, and has a massive 6.7-inch display.

And it’s really aimed at people who want the most from their iPhone, particularly when it comes to photography.

iPhone 12 Pro Max design

Apple went back to the drawing board for this year’s iPhone cohort.

Gone are the curved edges, and back are the popular squared-off sides used for the iPhone 12.

It feels easier to grip, and yet somehow manages to seem thinner and lighter too.

The entire device is IP68 water-resistant, which means it’s survived a 6-metre dunking for 30 minutes.

I’d still be careful chucking my new iPhone 12 in the local pond, mind. But you’re probably safe spilling coffee or taking it out for a day at the beach.

Apple says the back glass is strengthened additionally this year.

But the real improvements come for the front, which is now covered by something called a Ceramic Shield.

It’s unique to the iPhone, and replaces the usual hardy glass that would normally cover the display.

This beefy screen looks just like normal glass, but Apple says it allows for a 4x better survival rate after a drop.

I can’t really test this without chucking the iPhone out of a window, and I’m not a mad-man. But if it does break in the next few weeks, you’ll be the first to know.

The screen is still notched at the top (like previous models), and measures at a generous 6.1 inches.

That’s par for the course these days with high-end smartphones, though some people will undoubtedly prefer the smaller iPhone 12 Mini.

Apple has fitted the iPhone 12 with a Super Retina XDR display, which is marketing guff.

But under the janky name is some serious visual tech.

It’s got a peak brightness of 1,200 nits, which makes it very easy to see even in sunny conditions.

And you can even view HDR10 and Dolby Vision content, thanks to the OLED display and 2million-to-1 contrast ratio.

In terms of colours, you can get it in gold, silver, graphite, and a brand new blue option that I love.

iPhone 12 Pro box

Much of Apple’s gadget handiwork has been overshadowed by the fact that the charging brick and – to a lesser extent – EarPods are missing from the box.

In fact, the box is roughly half the size of before – which is probably a good thing, given that excessive packaging is one of the evils of our time.

Apple’s move away from chargers has been rumoured for months, so geeks have had plenty of time to chew over the move.

I was initially sceptical: it seems like a total money-grab at first.

But when you really think about it, the environmental argument is compelling.

Around 1.5billion smartphones shipped last year, and with other gadgets, you’re probably looking at many more times that – all with chargers in the box.

This happens year in, year out, and doesn’t even count for third-party chargers being bought and sold.

Our drawers and houses fill up with chargers, and many are simply chucked away. All of this e-waste is seriously unsustainable.

But Apple’s clean-cut from chargers may be tricky for some.

You’ll still get a cable in the box that plugs into your iPhone’s Lightning connector, but the other end is USB-C.

So if you don’t have a USB-C plug, you’ll have to buy one – newly discounted to £19 at the Apple Store.

However, you’ll probably have an old iPhone Lightning cable and plug lying around anyway.

And besides, your iPhone also supports wireless charging, so it’s probably time to invest in a charger-pad anyway.

iPhone 12 Pro Max specs, features and battery life

Right, back to the fun stuff.

Apple’s entire iPhone 12 range (including the Pro) is 5G ready.

That’s the next-generation of mobile internet, offering super-fast speeds around the world.

Coverage in the UK and US is still largely limited to major towns and cities, but it’s spreading fast.

First, consider that you’d typically get something in the region of 25-45Mbps on a good 4G connection.

I managed to clock 200Mbps with EE on the iPhone 12 with 5G in a London suburb.

And I’ve previously claimed 5G speeds of over 450Mbps.

At these speeds, you’ll download giant apps and 4K movies in seconds, without a thought.

But we’re still only at the beginning: 5G will soon be commonly measured in gigabits rather than megabits, and you’ll stop thinking of “loading” entirely.

Apple has enabled FaceTime in HD over mobile connections thanks to 5G.

And there’s an optional Smart Data Mode that will only use 5G when needed, to save on battery life.

At the iPhone 12’s heart is the impressive new A14 Bionic chip.

It’s built on a new 5nm process that allows for more transistors (the tiny switches that do computing) than ever before.

Practically, you’ll just find that apps load quickly, and games look great.

But it enables a bunch of powerful camera trickery, some new games (League of Legends is coming to mobile!), and improved machine learning. Basically, everything gets a lot smarter.

Another big innovation this year is MagSafe, again available on all iPhone 12 models.

It’s a new magnetic coil in the back of the iPhone that lets it line up perfectly with MagSafe wireless chargers.

Apple is flogging two at the moment: a single one, and a Duo that charges your Apple Watch too.

It’s a neat idea, and works well – I’ve found myself using MagSafe more than the charging cable, because it’s less faff. Who wants faff?

But it gets better: Apple is opening up MagSafe so people can make accessories for them.

There are already official Apple items, including a snap-on card holder, and quick-attach cases that also support wireless charging.

It’s great that there’s a standardised and open system for iPhone accessories, and it’ll only get better.

Battery life on the iPhone 12 Pro seems fine: I’ve easily lasted a whole day, even while relying on 4G/5G.

Apple has also doubled default storage from 64GB to 128GB – hurrah!

The last word on features has to go to iOS 14.

That’s Apple’s latest mobile software, and is by no means exclusive to the iPhone 12.

But it’s got some neat features worth mention, including an improved Maps experience, a redesigned Home Screen that’s easier to keep tidy, and a fun real-time language translation app.

iPhone 12 Pro Max camera

Most of the good stuff on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is also available on the iPhone 12.

But the Pro separates itself significantly with its impressive camera.

You’ve got a triple camera array, including a new f/1.6 aperture wide camera that’s better in low-light.

There’s an ultra-wide snapper for capturing very wide scenes – and works extremely well, with a 120-degree field of view.

And then there’s a telephoto camera with a 65mm lens, allowing for 2.5x optical zoom.

The cameras all support Night Mode, which I’ve found works better than before.

I took a shot in near-total darkness outside last night, and it lit up the street with impressive detail.

But the image still retained its moody nighttime aesthetic, which is great.

Night Mode is also now available on the ultra-wide and TrueDepth cameras for the first time, so you can snap in the dark in pretty much any scenario.

Deep Fusion makes a return, processing each pixel in the image to optimise for detail – while reducing noise.

You get Smart HDR 3, which now identifies scenes using machine learning to selectively adjust difference areas of the photo.

So if you’re snapping a plate of food, you’ll get a different outcome than if you’re taking a photo of someone on the beach.

Portrait Mode is now a little better in low light, too.

Video is also significantly improved, with the iPhone 12 Pro Max capable of shooting in 4K at 60 frames per second.

But it’s also the first and only snapper to directly record in Dolby Vision, giving you improved colour and contrast.

You can also directly edit in Dolby Vision through the standard Photos app.

As a bonus this year, Apple has fitted the iPhone 12 Pro Max with a LiDAR scanner.

It measures how long light takes to reflect back from a surface, and is used to map depth across a scene.

For photography, you get perks like faster autofocus in low-light, and better Night Mode portrait shots.

But it also gives augmented reality apps – think Snapchat filters or Pokemon Go, but better – a major boost.

You’ll get instant room-scanning, making it possible to more precisely and realistically place detailed AR objects.

iPhone 12 Pro Max review verdict – should you buy it?

At £1,099/$1,099, this isn’t a cheap iPhone, and certainly isn’t the default option most people should get.

The iPhone 12 offers largely similar specs (but a smaller screen and worse camera) for £799/$799.

But if you’re a proper geek, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is unmatched.

This is a high-end computer, TV and camera system shrunken down to smartphone size, and the price fairly reflects that.

The Sun says: Probably the best smartphone you can buy today – if you can hack the price. 5/5

  • iPhone 12 Pro Max at for £1,099 – buy here
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max at for $1,099 – buy here

In other news, read our guide to 5G here.

Check out the best 5G SIM deals right now.

And find out if 5G is in your area.

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