Rene Ritchie: Why I'm all in on iPhone 12 Pro Max
I hear you, I feel you. For the last couple of years the Pro and Pro Max iPhones have been identical except for the Max part. The size part. But this year… this 2020 of years… the cameras are different and even the size differences… are different.
That's why a lot of us — myself included — are having a hard time choosing between the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Especially now that pre-orders are less than a week away.
So, If you're still on the fence. If you prefer the regular Pro size but want that Pro Max camera or battery. If you don't mind big phones but worry the new Max is just too big. But if you also worry that if you don't get it, you might just regret it. If you've got full on FOMO YOLO, but worry Pro Max price is just a no-go…
Then, in hopes I can help you either way, here's why I'm personally choosing the iPhone 12 Pro Max this year.
iPhone 12 Pro Max price: Only $100 more... for more
The Max is $100 more than the Pro. And that's it. For everything we're going to go over next, the cost differential is just $100. Which, I understand, may be a lot for some people, like 10% more, even on a $1000 phone. But with trade-ins, installments, upgrade programs, the difference over the course of a year, never mind several, isn't going to be that much. Of course, never, I mean not ever, spend dime one more than you can or should, and if you have a hard limit, absolutely stick to it, I'm just saying if you don't have any other concerns, like at all, price just isn't a huge, blinking, neon stop sign for the Max. Not once you've decided to go Pro at least.
iPhone 12 Pro Max size: Bigger than ever
iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone 12 Pro Max .caption
That size though. I mean, Apple has already made the Pro bigger. It's full-on iPhone XR, iPhone 11-like now. 5.8-inches to 6.1. So if you're going Pro at all, you're going big, and bigger. Not too much bigger, though. The display has gone from 6.5-inches to 6.5. So it really is the maxi-set of max iPhones Apple has ever made.
But, some of that is reduced bezel. Ok, a tiny bit of that. It's 0.11 inches taller, but only 0.01-inches wider, and it's also 0.03 inches thinner. Though, yeah, 0.06 ounces heavier.
All that to say, if you were ok with any of the Plus sized iPhones, or ever owned or held the iPhone XS or iPhone 11 Max, the iPhone 12 Max won't be that much of a difference. In fact, the biggest difference might just be the everything-old-is-new-again squared off design. Because the loss of the iPhone 6 to iPhone 11-era curves do make the iPhone 12 series feel more… substantial. Grippier maybe. The edges don't just slide into your hand so much as press into it, which some prefer and others… really don't. Let me know how you feel in the comments.
Either way, though, if you're coming from a smaller iPhone, not even talking a 5 or original SE, but just a 6 or 10 or even XR or 11, you'll want to carefully consider the size. If you're coming from a Plus or preview Max or, hell, yeah, basically any Android phone this side of a Pixel non-XL, you'll probably be just fine.
iPhone 12 Pro Max display: More info or more visibility
iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone XR, iPhone 12 Pro Max .caption
The colors, silver, graphite, 18K gold, and pacific blue are the same, same, same, same on both Pros, so is the design, the stainless steel antenna bands, the matte glass on the back, the Ceramic Shied on the front. The Notch. All the same, all just as Pro, all notched, on both of them.
Even the displays on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are identical in every way except for size. Same OLED, same HDR, same contrast ratio, typical and max brightness levels. Same everything. Except for size.
With the increased size, you do get a higher pixel count on the iPhone 12 Pro Max display. An extra 246 vertically and 114 horizontally, which is like half and original iPhone, which is ridiculous, but at today's pixel counts and densities, isn't really much at all. And, like, 10 and 6 more than the 11 Max. Probably not even enough to put any real extra strain on the A14 Bionic chipset inside.
It is physically larger, though, which means you can fit slightly more on the screen, if you just love you your information density. Or, you can fit the same amount at a bigger size, thanks to the Display Zoom accessibility feature. Which is great if your eyesight needs as much extra size as it can get.
Even for gaming or watching videos, everything will be just that much bigger.
But… that also means it'll be harder to fit in your pockets, especially you lot out there wearing what looks like a hybrid between skinny hipster jeans and yoga pants. Really, 2020, like everything else wasn't enough?
Depending on what else you carry and how you pack, it might also be harder to fit in your bags and jackets.
The iPhone 12 Pro is already a lot of phone. The iPhone 12 Max is… a lot a lot. In both the best and worst ways.
iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras: Better wide, mixed telephoto
Another major difference between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro is the camera system. Not the 13mm f/2.4 120º ultra wide camera. That shooter is the same on both of them. Same with the LiDAR scanner that allows for fast auto-focus and portrait mode in low-light, and much faster augmented reality in day light.
The 26mm f/1.6 wide angle is better on the Max, though. Bigger and better. With 1.7 micro pixels instead of 1.4. Yeah, +0.3 more micron-y. Which means it can take in more light for better low light performance. The optical image stabilization, the OIS, is also sensor-shift on the Max. Which means, instead of the lens floating to cancel out sensor movement, the sensor itself floats, which is mechanically simpler and, yeah, optically better.
The 52mm telephoto is, well, not 52mm on the Max. It's 65mm now. Which means it has even more compression and less distortion, which can be really nice on portraits and product shots. Still closer to a 50 than 80, but slightly more in between. And that also means you can step in to 2.5x, not just 2x like on Apple's previous telephoto camera system. Downside, instead of an f/2.0 aperture, its an f/2.2 aperture, which means it'll let in less light.
So, while the wide angle is pure win, the telephoto is really more mixed win. If you prefer a 50mm and don't want to give up any low-light there, you may be happier with the 12 Pro.
If you're all about that 26mm wide, though, then Pro Max then you're going to prefer the Pro max.
iPhone 12 Pro Max battery: Max is max
The A14 Bionic chipset is the same in both the iPhone 12 Pro and Max, same architecture, same IP. Same Qualcomm X55 modem for FR1 low and midband 5G globally and FR2 Highland, mmWave in the U.S. Both have 6GB of RAM, which helps keep even the most bloated social networking apps and games in memory much, much longer than before. And both go up to 512GB of storage if you want to pay the premium for it.
Where they differ is, even though the Pro Max has a bigger display to power and more pixels to push around, it has a bigger battery to do it with. Bigger enough, that Apple rates it for an extra 3 hours of local video playback, and extra hour of video streaming, and an extra 15 hours of audio playback.
Both work with Apple's new MagSafe magnetic inductive charging system and both still have a Lightning Port and can fast-charge up to 50% in 30 minutes with Apple's new — but not included in the box — 20 watt power adapter. And yeah, still super salty about that.
But the bottom line here is, bigger is just more. Especially with the regular Pro hurting a bit on battery life, thanks to the new build and especially 5G, the Max is still Max-as-in-Max-battery for those who want an iPhone to last as long as an iPhone possibly can.
And especially with the new camera, it's why I'm personally going to be getting the iPhone 12 Pro Max this year. It's a little extra for me, but I just want the best camera, and adding in that bigger battery, just makes the choice for me.
You've gotta do you, though. Just let me know what you decide and why in the comments!
All you want from a pro iPhone plus a little bit more
More battery, more screen real estate, and more camera features make the iPhone Pro Max my pick this year.
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.