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The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the biggest iPhone ever made with Apple's best camera to date — but it's no major leap over the other 2020 iPhones

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  • The iPhone 12 Pro Max stands out for its long battery life and super-sized display.
  • It also has a closer zoom than the iPhone 12 Pro, but many of Apple's most compelling camera features are found on the other iPhone 12 models as well.
  • There's little else that differentiates the iPhone 12 Pro Max from the iPhone 12 Pro, but it's ultimately a good thing that Apple isn't making you buy the priciest model to get the most important features.
  • However, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is missing some useful features found on Android devices that I would have liked to see on a phone as expensive as the Pro Max. 
  • Overall, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a solid choice for those who want a phone that can also serve some of the same purposes as a tablet.
  • Read our list of the best iPhones to date for every kind of user.

Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

Otherwise, the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max share many of the same features, including the ability to take Portrait Mode photos at night thanks to its LiDAR sensor (more on that later) and support for Apple ProRAW. That latter feature, which will be launching later this year, lets photographers edit the raw elements of a photo while still getting the benefits of Apple's computational photography in their images. 

All of Apple's new iPhones can also shoot in Dolby Vision video and support Night Mode on all cameras. In terms of general camera performance, the standard iPhone 12 sometimes outshines competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and Google Pixel 5 by capturing richer color. But, in other scenarios, such as when taking a selfie in Night Mode, it fell short, as shown in our original review of the iPhone 12. 

The iPhone 12 Pro Max, like Apple's more compact Pro, comes with a LiDAR sensor, which stands for light detection and ranging. That means the sensor can measure depth by detecting how long it takes for light to reflect back from an object.

The biggest way that LiDAR is helpful on the Pro and Pro Max is by enabling the phones to take Portrait Mode photos that make the subject appear crisp against a slightly blurred background even in dark scenarios, as shown in our iPhone 12 Pro review. In my experience, the iPhone 12 Pro was able to take brighter portrait shots in Night Mode compared to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, although the photos from both phones were impressively sharp.

The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max's LiDAR sensor is also useful for helping augmented reality apps perform faster, particularly digital measurement apps that use your phone to determine the dimensions of nearby surfaces. I wish I found myself using AR more often on the iPhone, but I just haven't found an app that's compelled me to do so on a regular basis just yet.

But, Apple is clearly already thinking about how to make LiDAR more useful in the iPhone. The company recently launched a new feature called People Detection that can enable the visually impaired to detect when other people may be nearby using the iPhone's LiDAR sensor.

Battery Life and MagSafe accessories

If battery life is your biggest priority, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the longest-lasting new iPhone, offering similar battery life as last year's iPhone 11 Pro Max. The iPhone 12 Pro Max lasted for a full day — about 15 hours — and still had a decent amount of juice left (38%) by the time I was ready to head to bed. The smaller iPhone 12 Pro, by comparison, had just 13% of its battery left after 16 hours of use.

Apple claims the iPhone 12 Pro Max can last for 20 hours when playing back video, but most people aren't just watching video on their phones all day. So I tested the iPhone 12 Pro Max by using it the way I expect most people would — by streaming video for a little more than two hours, streaming music for a little more than two hours, and otherwise checking email, taking notes, reading the news, and browsing social media apps like Facebook and Twitter. 

All of Apple's new iPhones are also compatible with the company's new MagSafe accessories, which snap to the back of your iPhone using magnets. Apple has launched some cases and wallets using this system, but the most compelling case for MagSafe so far is probably Apple's wireless charger, which quickly connects to your iPhone similar to the way the Apple Watch's charger does for the company's smartwatch. It brings a bit more convenience to the charging experience, which is a nice bonus but certainly not a strong enough reason on it's own to justify an upgrade.

There is, however, one battery-oriented feature found on some Android phones that I think would have been useful in the iPhone 12 Pro Max: reverse wireless charging. As its name implies, this feature makes it possible to charge accessories by resting them on the back of your phone.

It's not a feature I've used much on Android and certainly not one that I'd usually call a deal breaker. But, on a device like the iPhone 12 Pro Max that comes in such a large size and offers such long battery life, I could imagine reverse wireless charging being useful for topping off your AirPods or Apple Watch when you're in a pinch. 

5G

Apple framed 5G as being the headlining attraction of its new iPhone, but upgrading just for 5G isn't worth it at this stage. If you're already buying a new phone for other reasons, going with a 5G model ensures that your new phone will stay relevant for years to come as existing networks become more advanced. 

The 5G networks that are widespread today aren't all that much faster than strong 4G LTE networks, as I experienced when testing 5G speeds against 4G LTE performance in my reviews of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini. Ultra-fast networks that run on millimeter wave spectrum are only found in very small areas — like specific street corners in a select number of cities — since they have limited reach and struggle with penetrating buildings.

The bottom line

The biggest benefits you'll get by choosing the iPhone 12 Pro Max are its much roomier screen compared to the other iPhone 12 versions and longer battery life. It also offers a closer zoom than Apple's other phones, but many of Apple's most compelling camera features are available on other models too.

You could argue that the iPhone 12 Pro Max doesn't stand out from the rest of the lineup enough to justify its $1,100 price, especially since the cheapest edition of the iPhone 12 starts at $700.

But, it's ultimately a good thing that Apple isn't requiring you to pay for the pricier models to get the iPhone 12's most important updates, like Night Mode across all three cameras, 5G support, and a more vibrant OLED screen — the latter of which was previously only available on its Pro models. 

That said,  it would have been nice to see Apple throw in extras like reverse wireless charging to further differentiate the Pro Max from the rest of the lineup, especially since its battery life and size makes the Pro Max ideal for such a feature.  

All told, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the iPhone to get if you care about having a giant screen and long battery life. But, if you just want the newest model and don't care about those extras, or perhaps if you also have an iPad so you don't need the biggest iPhone, the standard iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro are better options.

Pros: Long battery life; Bigger screen without increasing the size of the phone by that much; Excellent camera; Elegant design

Cons: Screen isn't quite as vibrant as Samsung's; Samsung offers a better zoom lens; Missing useful features found on Android like a fingerprint sensor and reverse wireless charging

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Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Business Insider’sInsider Picks team. We aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting, and if you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners, including Amazon. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback.Have something you think we should know about? Email us at [email protected]

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