I still remember standing in line at the Apple Store in Zurich on launch day in September 2016 wondering whether I’d made the right call (pun unintended). That was the first time Apple offered a more advanced camera system on its ‘Plus’ size phone. The iPhone 7 Plus was equipped with a dual rear cam (with a telephoto lens). I opted for the iPhone 7 back then, choosing form factor over a dual rear cam and a larger display. Over the last two years Apple has opted to pack both versions of its flagship device (both on the case of the XS and XS Max and again with the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max) with the same cam. That’s changed with the iPhone 12 Pro Max this year.
The purchase decision in 2018 and 2019 was more straightforward. You opted for the ‘Max’ editions if you didn’t mind a heavier device for the upside of a larger screen and better battery life. That gets slightly complicated in 2020 with the Pro Max edition. If you’ve read our deep-dive review of the iPhone 12 Pro, you’ll know that we were mighty impressed with this year’s major enhancements. First, it’s the form factor – a flat-edge design that will remind you of the iPhone 5 and the new iPad Pro. Then it’s the insanely fast new A14 bionic chip that widens the performance gap with the competition. These are things that you will find on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. If you’re considering the 12 Pro Max over the 12 Pro, there are probably three key reasons – larger display, a more powerful battery and the camera. That’s exactly what we’ll focus on.
I’ll start with the form. It’s the same flat-edge design; our review unit was in the Pacific Blue (my favourite from this year’s choice of four colours for the Pro variants). This new design language plays out even better in the larger Max version. This year’s 12 Pro Max is easier to clasp than the more curved 11 Pro Max or the XS Max in 2018. That’s one reason that might tempt users like me to take the leap to the larger iPhone. The display itself is the biggest on an iPhone ever. This year Apple stretches it to 6.7-inches (from 6.5-inches on the 11 Pro Max) and yet manages the same heft as the 11 Pro Max. Colours are gorgeous on this XDR OLED display (1170 x 2778 pixels / 19.5:9 ratio / 458 PPI) with deep blacks and colours that literally pop out. You’ll need two hands, but the larger keyboard and the larger display are also ideal if you type a lot of emails on your device. Just like the 12 Pro, this display doesn’t feature the 120Hz refresh rate.
Apple doesn’t share the mAh (milli-Amp-hour) details of its batteries but I noticed a significant difference between the 12 Pro and the 12 Pro Max in my battery tests. In percentage terms you could experience a 20% difference whether you’re gaming or watching videos non-stop. This is the best battery I’ve experienced on any iPhone.
Apple’s sales pitch for the 12 Pro Max hinges heavily on the rear cam. I’ll say this, if you’re a serious photographer (that might describe most of us who love attention on Instagram), the 12 Pro Max is worth considering for the camera alone. The difference is particularly marked over last year’s 11 Pro devices. A new ƒ/1.6 aperture on the wide camera boasts of a 47 percent larger sensor with 1.7μm pixels. Apple quantifies this improvement at 87% in low-light. This is where I noticed a difference between the 12 Pro and the 12 Pro Max. Add the LiDAR sensor (also available on the 12 Pro) and you have the best smartphone cam in lowlight conditions.
The 12 Pro Max also scores over the Pro with its a 65 mm focal length Telephoto camera for increased flexibility with closer shots and tighter crops. You get a 2.5X optical zoom (vs 2X on the 12 Pro). iPhone videos have always had an edge over the competition, the 12 Pro Max shoots terrific videos – I particularly enjoyed capturing night time-lapse videos that also looked sharp with the ultra-wide angle lens.
The big question is whether you need to pay the extra Rs 10,000 (over the iPhone 12 Pro). If you’ve always chosen the largest iPhone for bragging rights, you already know the answer to that question. Aside from the battery and display, this year’s 12 Pro Max deserves your attention for its rear cam. We can’t wait for Apple’s new ProRAW imaging format to hit the 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max (expected in the form of an update by the year end) that combines Apple’s computational photography features with the benefits of shooting in RAW. The iPhone 12 Pro Max might well be the smartphone cam to beat.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max comes in silver, graphite, gold and pacific blue and starts at Rs 1,29,900.