Laptop Mag Verdict
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is clearly the best iPhone this year, but you need to be willing to deal with a smartphone this big.
Versatile and improved cameras
Solid battery life
Advanced LiDAR technology
Extensive 5G support
Expensive starting price
Charger not included
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Price: $1,399 (Starting at $1,099)
OS: iOS 14
Display: 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR OLED
CPU: Apple A14 Bionic
Rear cameras: 12MP wide (f/1.6), 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.4), 12MP telephoto (f/2.2)
Front camera: 12MP (f/2.2)
Storage: 128GB, 256 or 512GB
Size: 6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches
Weight: 8.03 ounces
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is a beast of a smartphone with a massive 6.7-inch display, but this year, perhaps more than ever before, the Max is the best iPhone Apple has to offer.
This is due, in part, to its advanced camera system that sets itself apart from the iPhone 12 Pro despite the similar array of lenses on the back of both smartphones. While battery life has always been an advantage for the large iPhone variants, the extra runtime offered by the Pro Max is especially vital this year as the other iPhone 12 models have come up short on battery life for the first time in years.
All of this makes the iPhone 12 Pro Max, at just a $100 premium over the iPhone 12 Pro, an easy recommendation for those who want the best iPhone. Given the unmatched power of the A14 Bionic chip and the stellar software support Apple offers, the iPhone 12 Pro Max should hold up fantastically through years of use.
It’s an easy addition to our best smartphones list, but it’s not the right choice for everyone, so after a week with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, here’s my in-depth look at Apple’s biggest and best.
iPhone 12 Pro Max price and configurations
The iPhone 12 Pro Max starts at $1,099 with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which is expensive, but a little more tolerable than the starting asking price of the Galaxy S20 Ultra ($1,399) or the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra ($1,299).
I reviewed the top-of-the-line 512GB iPhone 12 Pro Max in Gold on T-Mobile, which is priced at $1,399. A middle option is also available, offering 256GB of storage for $1,199. There are four total colors available for the iPhone 12 Pro Max: Graphite, Silver, Gold and Pacific Blue.
iPhone 12 Pro Max design
The iPhone 12 Pro Max gets the same overall redesign as the rest of the iPhone 12 lineup, which I said in my review of the iPhone 12 “is Apple reclaiming its hardware design identity, and I love it.”
If the new squared-off and boxy redesign was going to be problematic for any of the iPhone 12 models, it would be the iPhone 12 Pro Max given its large 6.7-inch display. It’s a big, heavy smartphone. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t find it any more unwieldy than other large smartphones like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The hard edges remain comfortable and despite the added thickness, it felt even better with the Apple leather case on it.
My review unit, the gold model, is a statement piece. This isn’t rose gold or some shade of yellow, it’s gold-brick gold and it makes me feel a bit like a villain in a Bond movie when I’m carrying it (although Apple won't let a Bond villain carry an iPhone). The frosted matte back of the phone is a more subtle gold with a white tinge, but when you get to the camera lenses the gold trim is back in full effect. It’s a bold look and I do appreciate companies giving us something beyond the standard black, white and gray options. One critique for all of the Pro models is that the surgical-grade stainless steel sides are a fingerprint nightmare, which stands out quite a bit on the glinting gold.
A case could both eliminate those glossy side concerns and tone things down a bit for the gold model, leaving you with just the three gold ringed lenses on the back. As with most other flagship smartphones in recent years, the cameras protrude beyond the back of the iPhone 12 Pro Max. While they are protected by a sapphire coating to keep them scratch-free, a case is also a good idea to prevent them from getting dirty or taking a hard impact.
Looking to the glossy sides of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the buttons are all color-matched. On the left, you have the ringer switch along with volume up and down, while on the right, you have the multi-purpose button for sleep/wake and summoning Siri. While it’s not a night-and-day difference (and it shouldn't sway your buying decision), the sound and feel of the buttons on the Pro models is superior to the iPhone 12. The bottom of the iPhone 12 Pro Max is where you'll find a Lightning port and speaker and mic grilles.
Turning to the front of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the screen is protected by Apple’s new “Ceramic Shield” that the company claims is four times more resistant to drops than previous versions. This was supported by some rigorous third-party drop testing comparing it to the iPhone 11. The notch that houses the front-facing camera along with the hardware for Face ID remains too large to me, but I appreciate that there are limits to what can be done while delivering the security Apple prides itself on.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max measures 6.3 x 3.1 x 0.29 inches and weighs 8 ounces. It’s not the largest traditional smartphone on the market, but it is certainly among the heaviest, and it feels a bit larger than its dimensions as a result of the boxy redesign. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is both taller and thicker at 6.5 x 3 x 0.32 inches, but a bit lighter at 7.3 ounces, which is somewhat surprising given its larger 6.9-inch display.
iPhone 12 Pro Max display
The iPhone 12 Pro Max features a 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display with a 2778 x 1284 resolution. It’s neither the largest nor the most vibrant display we’ve seen this year. That honor goes to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, but the Pro Max's display is gorgeous nonetheless.
I actually find the display on the iPhone 12 Pro Max slightly more convenient to use from a pure usability standpoint as it isn’t quite as tall as the 6.9-inch Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The biggest missing piece for the iPhone 12 Pro Max this year is the lack of a high refresh rate like the 120Hz display found on all of Samsung’s latest flagships. Apple offers this on the iPad Pro and, while it is the kind of feature you don’t notice until you’ve used it, it’s impossible to miss once you have. iPhone and iOS have always had a leg up on Android when it comes to the smoothness of animations and general responsiveness, but 120Hz changed that, and Apple finds itself behind this year.
This is hardly a deal-breaker as support for 120Hz isn’t global and there are many experiences where you don’t want or need that speed. For example, watching video content on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is fantastic thanks to support for Dolby Vision HDR. I pulled up an episode of The Mandalorian on Disney Plus (Don’t worry, first season no spoilers) which supports Dolby Vision. I happened to jump to a desert scene and even with that fairly bland palette I was impressed by the depth of hues and the deep blacks. Scrolling to a more vibrant scene every color just pops beautifully.
Turning to the benchmarks, the iPhone 12 Pro Max displays 119.7% of the sRGB color gamut, a respectable result, but miles away from the 201% of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. However, it’s important to note that not everyone likes the saturated look on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. You can opt to turn on a “natural” mode on the Galaxy, which drops it to a nearly identical 122%. The primary difference here is that you don’t have a choice to go more vivid on the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max holds up well in bright environments with 654 nits of peak brightness. But this is slightly behind the 663 nits we saw from the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and more notably behind the 761 nits achieved by the iPhone 11 Pro Max last year.
While I find the lack of a 120Hz display to be unfortunate, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is still a marvelous display and, unless viewed side-by-side with the Note 20 Ultra, looks plenty vibrant.
iPhone 12 Pro Max audio
The larger size of the iPhone 12 Pro Max gives it an audio edge over its smaller counterparts. I primarily felt that the 12 Pro Max topped out a little louder than the iPhone 12, and I think there’s a bit more bass on the larger iPhone as well.
I listened to Tate McRae’s “you broke me first” and the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s bottom-firing stereo speakers easily filled my living room with crisp and clear audio. The lyrics, even at top volume, didn’t suffer from any distortion and the light percussion and atmospheric choral background were loud without interfering with the lyrics. There’s no question that you would be better off with wireless headphones, particularly with the spatial audio support on AirPods Pro, but I wouldn’t drop any money on a small Bluetooth speaker if I was carrying the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
iPhone 12 Pro Max performance
The entire iPhone 12 lineup belongs in a class by itself in regards to performance thanks to the remarkable A14 Bionic chip. Its closest competition comes from last year’s A13 Bionic, nothing on the Android side can touch it. The iPhone 12 Pro Max also gets an extra helping of RAM like the 12 Pro with 6GB compared to the 4GB found in the iPhone 12 and 12 mini.
Real world tasks that can slow down any of the iPhone 12 models don’t seem to have been invented yet. Loading up over a dozen Google Chrome tabs and a handful of demanding games while playing Netflix in picture-in-picture didn’t seem to impact it in the slightest. As you’ll see in our benchmarks, even if you intend to use the iPhone 12 Pro Max as a professional videographer to render 4K Dolby Vision HDR footage, it will chew through the task in no time, so rest assured there’s no gaming or productivity app that will make it flinch.
Turning to our benchmarks for a by-the-numbers look at performance, the iPhone 12 Pro Max put up a Geekbench 5 multi-core score of 4,111. Only the rest of the iPhone 12 models can compete; the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and its Snapdragon 865+ chip comes in well behind at 3,294.
Looking more specifically at graphics performance, the 3D Mark Wild Life graphics benchmark was another crushing success for the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which hit 54 frames per second. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra failed to make it to half that with 24 fps.
As I mentioned, our Adobe Premiere Rush video editing test is a particularly amazing example; the iPhone 12 Pro Max finished transcoding our 4K video to 1080p in just 28 seconds. By comparison, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra took 1 minute and 16 seconds to complete that task.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max, like the rest of the iPhone 12 lineup, offers the most comprehensive 5G support of any smartphone on the market at the moment, so regardless of your carrier, you will have access to the fastest speeds available. I was using the iPhone 12 Pro Max on T-Mobile and, while I don’t get the unbelievable new speeds of some, I get dramatically better coverage. Upgrading strictly for 5G would be a waste for most people right now, but in the name of future-proofing, the iPhone 12 Pro Max and its extensive support is the best there is.
iPhone 12 Pro Max battery life and charging
The iPhone 12 Pro Max packs the largest battery of any of the iPhone 12 variants at 3,687 mAh, 900mAh more than the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro. While that’s short of the 4,500 mAh and up you see in most Android flagships this year, iPhones have a history of getting by with less, and that’s certainly the case for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
My typical day of usage with any review device includes about an hour of Netflix, 3 to 4 hours of YouTube Music, 30 minutes to an hour of gaming, and a mix of Twitter, general web surfing, Slack and writing emails that amount roughly to 1 hour of usage. I never had an issue getting through a day with the iPhone 12 Pro Max after picking it up at around 8 a.m. I was typically in the 20-25% range when I’d snap on its MagSafe charger at around 10 p.m.
Our battery benchmarking backed this up. The iPhone 12 Pro Max lasted 10 hours and 53 minutes of continuous web surfing over AT&T’s 5G network at 150 nits of brightness. This was good enough to outlast the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra at 10 hours and 27 minutes even with its display locked to 60Hz. If this isn’t enough for you, considering turning off 5G, which should offer at least an extra hour of battery life, bringing it to right around the same 11 hours and 54 minutes we saw from the iPhone 11 Pro Max last year.
iPhone 12 Pro Max users will need to bring their own charger because the only thing in the box with this smartphone is a USB Type-C-to-Lightning cable. If you don’t already have a USB Type-C charger, you can pick up a 20W fast charger from Apple for $19. That’s what we used in our testing and it will get you to a 23% charge in 15 minutes and 47% within half an hour. MagSafe is garnering a lot of attention and the fun new magnetic Qi charger is going to be a bit slower as it only delivers 15W.
iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras
The iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras set it apart from the rest of the iPhone 12 lineup this year, and even the iPhone 12 Pro doesn’t quite stack up.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max features three 12MP lenses on the back, an f/1.6 wide-angle, an f/2.4 ultra-wide angle, and an f/2.2 telephoto lens.
While those specs all match the iPhone 12 Pro, the difference is in the actual main sensor on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which is 47% larger than what you get on the rest of the iPhone 12 models. This, combined with sensor-shift image stabilization, gives the iPhone 12 Pro Max a massive advantage, particularly with nighttime photography.
In daylight, you won’t really be able to tell the difference between shots from the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the rest of the iPhone 12 lineup. That’s not a criticism as this is easily one of the best smartphone cameras on the market this year. Like the rest of the iPhone 12 models, the Pro Max does an excellent job with color accurately. This collection of winter figures gives a solid example of that with a wide spectrum of subtle shades that are precisely reproduced without getting blown out by the bright sky behind.
Low-light photography is where you are going to see the biggest difference with the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Here are a number of samples with and without night mode turned on to give you an idea of what the combination of the fast aperture, sensor-shift and larger sensor are capable of.
iPhone 12 Pro Max wide-angle night mode
iPhone 12 Pro Max wide-angle Night Mode
iPhone 12 Pro Max wide-angle Night Mode off in near darkness
iPhone 12 Pro Max wide-angle Night Mode on in near darkness
The iPhone 12 Pro Max gets a little more reach than the rest with its 2.5x telephoto lens, allowing it to deliver 0.5x all the way up to 12x with digital zoom. Here’s a look at what that full range looks like. It holds up well at up to 5x zoom, well enough that I’d still be happy to share those photos online. Beyond that you start to lose a lot of detail.
iPhone 12 Pro Max Ultra-Wide - 0.5x
iPhone 12 Pro Max Wide-Angle - 1x
iPhone 12 Pro Max Wide-Angle - 3x
iPhone 12 Pro Max Wide-Angle - 5x
iPhone 12 Pro Max Wide-Angle - 12x
Again, the ultra-wide camera is no different than that found on the other iPhone 12 models and in daylight it is similarly excellent, but not perceptibly better. If you like capturing landscapes or groups, this is a useful and reliable tool to have.
At night, I’d again give it the edge over the standard iPhone 12 I’ve been carrying for a few weeks. This ultra-wide shot of a local diner at night does a fantastic job of maintaining the dark night sky while picking up the bright neon signs.
While the iPhone 12 Pro also features a telephoto lens, it’s a 2x, while the 12 Pro Max gives you 2.5x. It may not seem like much but it gives you superior results through the entire range while also giving you extra reach.
Depending on the look you are going for, this telephoto lens can be fantastic for capturing portraits as it is a 65mm equivalent, which falls into a nice range for close-ups. Also, if you are a parent, the telephoto can be great to have. I find myself able to capture those spontaneous moments of my son playing at the park much easier and more naturally without having to be right up in his face with the camera.
The TrueDepth front-facing camera on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a great option for selfie-fans. While it isn’t up to the level of the LiDAR scanner, it is still providing more depth information than most smartphones and is able to deliver superior portrait shots as a result. Apple’s look here is very natural, which is preferable to some, while others might like the smoother and more saturated images you get from some of Samsung or even Google’s devices.
Portrait Mode - Stage Light
Portrait Mode - High-Key Light Mono
Portrait Mode - Contour Light
The new LiDAR scanner on the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a few roles to play. The most important is the vastly superior autofocus that it provides in a multitude of lighting conditions. According to Apple, it gives you 6x faster autofocus in low light and is also what enables Night Mode portrait photos, something you can’t do on the standard iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 mini. If you find yourself taking a lot of photos either at night or indoors where lighting can be iffy at times, the LiDAR scanner, in combination with the rest of the low light boosting technology found in the iPhone 12 Pro Max, are simply game changers.
Looking beyond photography, there are an increasing number of apps that take advantage of the LiDAR scanner for augmented reality (AR). We recently took a look at some of the awesome AR apps available for the iPhone 12 and while some are just silly fun, there are also handy tools for looking at furniture placement, viewing new paint colors on your walls, or measuring distances. This is an area that is likely to explode over the next year as Apple has shown a strong interest in AR and, with the iPhone 12 Pro models now offering LiDAR, there are about to be millions of more devices out there to encourage more developers to pursue AR.
The iPhone has dominated the smartphone video space for several years now and as you would expect, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has far and away the most impressive video performance of any iPhone. The ability to capture and playback Dolby Vision HDR footage at up to 60 frames per second means the Pro Max joins the iPhone 12 Pro as the only device on the planet with that spec.
But the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s sensor-shift comes into play here again. The iPhone 12 Pro offers optical image stabilization (which is quite good), but the full sensor shifting to compensate for motion allows the iPhone 12 Pro Max to deliver almost gimbal-like stability to your footage. Most people aren’t going to slow down to deliver those kinds of results, but what it will do is smooth out your footage into something usable even if you are at a brisk walk or jog.
The telephoto is once again an advantage for the iPhone 12 Pro Max where video is concerned as it can give you up to a 7x zoom. The sensor-shift stabilization does a solid job of smoothing things out if you have reasonably steady hands. While team sports remain shut down here at the moment, my daughter is a basketball player in normal times and having the ability to zoom in and capture relatively close-up video without having to be the parent in the stands with a tripod and a massive camera is wonderful.
iPhone 12 Pro Max software and warranty
The iPhone 12 Pro Max runs the current iOS 14.2 build. The fact that the Pro Max will most likely still be running the latest iOS version in 2025 and possibly beyond is one of the greatest strengths of the iPhone.
iOS 14 was released back in September and it was more of a cosmetic overhaul than a feature-filled update, but it did bring with it some nice additions that were shockingly still missing from the operating system. This includes the ability to customize your iPhone with widgets offload some of your apps to the new App Library rather than having to have everything on your home screen.
Some of the other features include picture-in-picture for video playback and a compact new interface for calls and other native apps that prevents them from completely taking over your display. From a user experience standpoint, it was a brilliant update, but it’s hard to pinpoint any one feature that will really blow you away.
The latter half of this year has shown that you don’t need to spend over $1,000 to get an excellent smartphone. For around $700, the iPhone 12 mini, Pixel 5, Galaxy S20 FE and OnePlus 8T are all solid smartphones with much to recommend. But that isn’t to say a true flagships shouldn’t exist, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max is proof of that.
The camera experience on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is simply amazing with the new sensor and the introduction of LiDAR giving you the tools to produce some of the best traditional photos and video of any smartphone on the market. That’s before you factor in augmented reality, which should continue to gain ground with Apple developers thanks to the expanded hardware support.
With the A14 Bionic untouched by competitors and the inclusion of broad 5G support, all four of the iPhone 12 models should last for years. But with its vastly superior battery life and more advanced camera system, the iPhone 12 Pro Max will stand the test of time better than the rest.
Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more. Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.