What is the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max?
It’s an iPhone with a very long name and, appropriately, is the biggest smartphone Apple has ever made. It replaces last year’s iPhone 11 Pro Max and is fractionally taller and wider than the previous model. It’s also slightly thinner from front to back.
But it has the biggest screen ever on an iPhone, up to 6.7-inch from last year’s 6.5-inch. Spoiler: the screen looks spectacular. It has the same super-fast A14 Bionic chip found on the other models in the iPhone 12 line-up. And although it shares one of the cameras, the ultra-wide, with the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro, it has a wide camera which is better than on the other phones because it has a bigger sensor and bigger pixels. There’s a telephoto camera on the iPhone 12 Pro (not found on the iPhone 12 mini or the iPhone 12) but here again it’s different.
The iPhone 12 series of phones are the first that can record and edit in Dolby Vision.
Like the other models just released, this iPhone is 5G-capable. Other differences from the iPhone 12 Pro include a bigger battery and a bigger price.
It’s very big. You can’t get away from that. But, as we’ll see, that isn’t always a problem.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max has the same industrial design as the iPhone 12 Pro, that is, cliff-edge sides rather than gently curved, and a flat instead of pillowed screen and back. I loved the curvy shape of the iPhone 11 but I’ve now got used to the new look and it’s certainly grown on me. The flat screen looks great without its pillowing, especially.
I was worried that the flat corners might be uncomfortable in the hand, but I haven’t found that at all. Not even on the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
But it’s worth emphasising, yet again, this is a very big phone. Huge.
If you like a big phone, then it’s fantastic, but it really won’t suit some smaller hands, which will struggle.
To be clear, it doesn’t feel any bigger in the hand than the iPhone 11 Pro Max, partly because the flat edges have slimmed the phone from front to back. It is wider but only by 0.3mm, which is pretty hard to notice, of course. So, if the iPhone 11 Pro Max was okay in your mitts, the iPhone 12 Pro Max will be, too.
For all our sakes, I’m just going to call the new phone the Max from now on.
... if the iPhone 11 Pro Max was okay in your mitts, the iPhone 12 Pro Max will be, too
The back of the iPhone has a matte finish and comes in four colours, Graphite, which is a classy dark-dark-grey, Silver, Pacific Blue and Gold. The stainless-steel edging is shiny on all the phones but especially so on the gold finish model, which is the one I’ve been testing. It’s quite gaudy, so won’t please everyone, but I think it’s great. The back of the phone, by contrast, is much more demure, a very pale colour that’s almost white in some light. All the iPhone 12 Pro models have stainless-steel antenna bands around the edge but the others are not as in-your-face as the gold which, Apple says, uses a special coating process to make it really gleam.
Graphite, as you’d expect, is the most discreet of all, Silver is also pretty safe and Pacific Blue is quiet but attractive.
I’ve now got used to the new look and it’s certainly grown on me
The front of the phone is all-screen, as it has been since the iPhone X released in 2017, with the only part that’s not screen being taken up with the True Depth camera system that allows the secure, effective Face ID facial unlock system to work. Apple has even changed the software slightly so if it senses you’re wearing a mask, it presents the passcode screen much more quickly.
The iPhone has had water-resistance for a while now and this model boasts IP68 protection, which means it can sit in water up to 6 metres deep for 30 minutes without harm. In fact, Apple has been pushing the fact that this is a very durable iPhone.
All the iPhone 12 models include a Ceramic Display on the front, a new material which has so much ceramic in it, the company says you shouldn’t call it glass any more. It’s tougher than any smartphone glass, Apple says, and four times better at surviving a drop than before.
The design of the phone, that is, the flat-edge shape, also helps ensure the rear glass (yes, that is still just glass, not ceramic at all) is the toughest glass on any phone, apparently.
All of which can contribute to peace of mind that your expensive new phone won’t shatter instantly, though I’d still suggest a case to add to the protection.
The final thought about the size of the phone comes with the screen. If you think you can manage a handset this size, the display will convince you. Turn the screen on and it looks magnificent: spacious, rich and immersive.
Apple calls this a Super Retina XDR display. It’s bright, up to 1200 nits when you’re watching content encoded to HDR10 or Dolby Vision. This is not a 4K display, though – only Sony makes one of those right now. But it still looks glorious, anyway.
Resolution is 2778 x 1284 pixels, that’s 458 pixels per inch. The same ppi as last year’s iPhone Pro models but very slightly lower than the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro (460ppi) and the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 mini (476ppi). Needless to say, there’s no visible difference between the screens because of this small variation in pixel density.
There’s no 120Hz refresh rate as some phone screens offer
It has Apple’s familiar collection of image-enhancing tricks, such as True Tone display which measures the ambient colour temperature to ensure what you see is what you should be seeing. It also has a wide colour display (P3, to be specific) and the kind of high contrast OLED offers – Apple says it’s 2 million to one. There’s also digital gamma, introduced to ensure more precise calibration and better grey colours, the company says.
Whatever the details, the result is fantastic, ensuring a bright, vivid and colourful look that never seems over-saturated or unrealistic. This is the first year that all the new iPhones have OLED displays. No longer does the cheapest phone have to make do with LCD or lower-resolution. It adds value to the lower end of the range more, making them all look as outstanding as here.
Video playback is due to more than just the screen resolution, of course, but it looks terrific, smooth and fluid. The screen is big enough to make extended movie watching possible, though, as always, I’d say to do any movie justice you need to see it on the cinema screen or on the most advanced big-screen TV you can manage. If you really must watch it on a 6.7-inch screen, then this is about as good as it’s going to get.
... the result is fantastic, ensuring a bright, vivid and colourful look that never seems over-saturated or unrealistic
There’s no 120Hz refresh rate as some phone screens offer, and as was rumoured to be coming. In truth, I found this screen so intoxicating I really didn’t notice the absence of the faster refresh rate.
The iPhone 11 camera took a big step forward and this year’s iPhones go further. But none go as far as this iPhone. Three cameras, two of which are better than on any other Apple phone, are waiting for you here.
Oh, and before we even get to them, you frame your shots on the biggest-ever iPhone screen, which gets you off to a good start. Where a tablet is best in terms of image viewing, the large, flat shape is not ergonomic. Here, though, the device fits in your hand, just, and makes for a dreamy screen on which to compose your images.
All three cameras use 12MP sensors, though one is larger than the other two. The ultra-wide is extremely useful, great for when you can’t step back far enough to take in the whole scene, or for striking vertical shots. It has 120 degree field of vision.
Then there’s the wide, with a focal length that’s double that of the ultra-wide, in other words providing the equivalent of a 2x zoom. The wide is the camera with the bigger sensor, with larger pixels than on many smartphones, 1.7 microns. These are better at dragging in more light more quickly, great for low light situations.
... the Max can record directly in Dolby Vision, and once shot, you can edit on the phone
There’s also a LiDAR scanner, designed to speed up autofocus and gain depth information fast.
Finally, the Max has a telephoto camera, with a focal length that’s 2.5x that of the wide camera. That’s a bigger zoom equivalent than on the iPhone 12 Pro, where it’s 2x the wide. This difference really matters, getting you much closer to an object than before and making close-up shots more satisfying.
Apple introduced Deep Fusion last year and it’s now available on all three cameras, plus the front-facing snapper. It’s a system that takes multiple shots quickly and combines them to add amazing detail to materials and surfaces, for instance.
There’s also a more advanced HDR system, called Smart HDR 3, which adds to the already considerable levels of vibrancy in shots where HDR can make a difference.
Shooting at night is commonplace on smartphones now, with night modes of varying quality. Apple’s is about the best I’ve tried, not least because it’s automatically launched and run by the phone without any involvement from the user. Apple likes to do the heavy lifting to ensure there’s nothing between you and the moment you’re experiencing.
Take all the camera smarts together and you end up with something incredibly easy to use, but which leaves you thinking you’re a pretty good photographer much of the time.
Portraits work especially well, thanks to all the above computational photography features and the improved Portrait mode algorithms which now work in low light, too.
... the combination of the ease of use, clever machine learning and Dolby Vision puts Apple out in front
Video is the best it’s ever been on an iPhone, actually on any smartphone, thanks to the arrival of HDR recording with Dolby Vision. Again, it’s all done automatically behind the scenes, and is 10-bit HDR recording. Only the iPhone 12 Pro and this one, the Max, can record directly in Dolby Vision, and once shot, you can edit on the phone, another first. It looks great on this sumptuous display.
New features this year include Night mode time-lapse when you have a tripod, and a new noise-reduction system.
There are some phones which can shoot in 8K, where this manages 4K at 60 frames per second, but the combination of the ease of use, clever machine learning and Dolby Vision puts Apple out in front, I believe.
Keen photographers will also be glad to know that in the coming weeks a new feature will be added, Apple ProRAW, which combines Apple’s camera cleverness with the RAW format. I haven’t seen this in action yet, but it’s certainly promising.
It goes like a rocket. Seriously. The A14 Bionic processor found in all four of the iPhones just released, and the recent iPad Air, is the fastest processor Apple has ever made, and the A13 from last year hasn’t been widely overtaken yet, either.
Of course, this being Apple, it’s already not the most powerful Apple processor any more. The new M1 chip that’s going into the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro has been announced this week, and signals the move from Intel to Apple’s own silicon in its computer hardware.
Whatever you use your phone for, the iPhone 12 Pro Max can do it all, and immaculately
But to all intents and purposes, the A14 Bionic is a phenomenally powerful chip that runs very fast. So, as on the other phones just released, the Max never keeps you waiting, ensures fast app-switching, smooth video, judder-free gaming and so on.
The inclusion of 5G, assuming you are in a compatible signal place, helps to keep everything going along fast.
The battery life on the Max is phenomenal. Like the iPhone 11 Pro Max it replaces, the new Max goes on and on. Well over a full day, though perhaps not two days, so, yes, nightly charges are recommended.
But more than other iPhone 12 models, the Max offers really excellent longevity. Add that peace of mind to that which the Ceramic Shield offers.
- Immersive display
- Outstanding cameras
- Blindingly fast performance
- Too big for some hands
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max Review
This is easily the best iPhone Apple has ever made, and indeed it beats pretty much every other phone out there in many ways. The caveat is you need to like a big phone. I do, but even so, there were times when I became aware that this is a hefty handset. But then, one glance at the bright, immersive display and I was spellbound again.
Whatever you use your phone for, the iPhone 12 Pro Max can do it all, and immaculately, from music playback to photography, web browsing to yes, even making calls. The inclusion of 5G, later than many rivals but before the network is ubiquitous, may be well-timed.
The price of the iPhone 12 Pro Max is high, starting at £1,099. The iPhone 12 mini is £699, the iPhone 12 £799 and the smaller Pro model is £999. Of the four, the Max is the best, I’d say.
The phone looks and feels great as well as performing at speed and lasting for a full day before needing to be recharged. This is a wonderful smartphone but, remember, size matters.
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