iPhone 12 Pro Max review: An Apple iPhone that's truly worthy of its 'Pro' name

iPhone 12 Pro Max review: An Apple iPhone that's truly worthy of its 'Pro' name

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Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max review (Image: APPLE)

When we reviewed the iPhone 12 Pro last month, we were left a little confused. With so many features identical to those found on the standard iPhone 12, we decided that most buyers should probably stick with the more affordable iPhone over the iPhone 12 Pro. With the launch of the second handset in the 12 Pro range, Apple definitely hasn’t left us with the same dilemma. The iPhone 12 Pro Max is one mighty smartphone and, if you’ve been patiently waiting for this device to arrive in stores, you’ve made a very wise choice.

Despite the shared branding, this offers a very different experience to the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 handsets. iPhone 12 Pro Max will be available in stores this Friday, but Express.co.uk has already been putting it through its paces and here’s our full review.

iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Display and design

The first thing you’ll notice about the Pro Max is the humongous screen. This device boasts the biggest display ever shipped on an iPhone and we absolutely love it. The Max packs a 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR OLED panel, which offers a truly brilliant viewing experience with striking colours and cavernous blacks making your photos, videos and apps dazzle.

To be honest, it’s so good – and the screen real estate is so generous – you’ll probably never touch your iPad again. Despite Apple making sure this call-making monster is only very slightly bigger than last year’s iPhone 11 Pro Max (thanks to the thinner borders around the screen) there’s still no getting away from the fact that this is a massive iPhone.

If you really don’t like ginormous devices filling up your skinny jeans, then this won’t be for you. However, if you don’t own a tablet (and don’t mind holding your iPhone with two hands to answer texts or check your directions) this is the only iPhone you should consider buying right now.

The huge display is simply sublime with the narrow bezels, HDR10 and Dolby Vision technology all making sure you get a fully immersive experience. It’s truly a “Pro” screen.

In fact, the only thing it’s lacking is a 120Hz refresh rate, which is a shame especially as most Android rivals in this premium price bracket now include this slick technology. Apple’s own “Pro” iPad range already offers this super-slick screen technology, which makes animations feel smoother, touches feel more responsive, and fast-paced games feel more frenetic.

iPhone 12 Pro Max review

Compared to the iPhone 12, the Max is a very big device (Image: APPLE)

It’s annoying Apple didn’t pack a faster screen into the Max as we feel this really would have been the icing on the cake, but it’s not a complete deal-breaker.

Speaking of breaking, another bonus of the 2020 iPhone range is the inclusion of the “Ceramic Sheild” which makes the screen four times stronger than anything that’s gone before it. Tests have already shown how well the 12 Pro survives, although we’re yet to see if the Max can also take the same amount punishment. We don’t intend dropping our review unit so we’ll have to wait for the usual YouTube videos to be posted online in the coming weeks to see just how well this giant piece of glass copes when being dropped but Apple is confident it offers the same level of protection.

Along with that tough screen, another thing we really like about the iPhone 12 Pro Max is its refreshed design. Apple has clearly taken inspiration from its classic iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 when creating this latest model and, if you loved those devices, you’ll like this even more.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max gets a sharper and more industrial finish with the gentle curves of its predecessor replaced with more angular, flat edges around the side. There are also some new colours this year, including the stunning Pacific Blue, which is the design we’d recommend.

Unlike the iPhone 12, which gets a glossy rear case and a matte aluminium band around the sides, iPhone 12 Pro has the exact opposite – a shiny stainless steel edge and more subdued frosted glass shell on the back.

Apple used the same treated glass on the back of the iPhone 11 Pro and it doesn’t feel as slippery or prone to fingerprints as some glass smartphones – good news for anyone who prefers to leave the case at home.

iPhone 12 Pro Max review

The iPhone 12 Pro Max gets an improved triple lens camera (Image: APPLE)

iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Camera

Although the iPhone 12 Pro Max may appear to have the same triple rear-camera as the standard 12 Pro, there are some big differences. That’s because the Max now includes a 47 percent larger main sensor for even better images in low-light, plus there’s an improved 65mm telephoto lens, which means you can get closer to the action thanks to its 5x optical zoom.

That’s not a patch on some of the latest Android handsets, which offer up to 100x zoom. However, 5x times is more than enough to ensure your gig photos look like you were in the front row.

Another nice addition to this phone is the sensor-shift optical image stabilisation, which helps to keep both videos and photos wobble-free – something other iPhone 12 handsets achieve with software smarts. The improved stabilisation means that low-light photos are crisper too.

All of these bonus extras means the 12 Pro Max is definitely the phone to buy if you love snapping images for the family album. We snapped images in both good and bad light with the Max really impressing at night.

Like its smaller sibling, the Max can also take Night Mode images with the ultra-wide lens which is a nice addition when shooting low light landscapes or large groups of socially distant chums. Another aspect that’s improved is the addition of the LiDAR scanner on this device. This depth sensor was first revealed on the iPad Pro earlier this year and not only improves Augmented Reality (AR) capabilities but also allows you to add portrait effects when shooting in Night Mode.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max camera sample (Image: EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS)

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Both images were shot at the same time in the dark and drizzle with the Pro Max’s night mode, right (Image: EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS)

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Images shot in low light are vastly improved (Image: EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS)

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max camera sample – shot using the new zoom lens (Image: EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS)

It’s a really nice bonus and we’ve managed to take some impressive photos in the dark with very little fuss. If you’ve tried to take a Portrait Mode image in gloomy restaurants or bars, you’ll know how much the iPhone can struggle to find focus – often leaving the background and the subject blurred. So, that is a really nice fix. Since it relies on the LiDAR scanner to work, iPhone 12 owners won’t get this benefit.

If movies are your passion, the improved triple-camera can now record in Dolby Vision HDR at 60 frames-per-second which captures 60x more colours. iPhone 12 Pro Max can also edit encoded Dolby Vision videos right on the device, which has never been possible until now.

One final thing to note about the rear camera is that, in the future, it will allow users to shoot in an Apple-designed RAW format, which allows photographers to edit their images without degrading the quality of the image. This is sure to go down well with budding photographers, although it isn’t quite ready yet – so we weren’t able to test it with our review unit.

If you love a selfie, the biggest change to the front-facing camera is the addition of Night Mode, which means you can snap a photo of your face without needing a flash. It works supremely well and we can see this being a much-used feature for those that love the perfect pose for Instagram.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max review

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max review (Image: APPLE)

iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Performance and battery

Despite the “Pro” range, there’s little difference in performance between the £699 iPhone 12 mini and premier £1,099 Pro Max. All of Apple’s new call makers are powered by the firm’s latest and greatest A14 Bionic chip and that’s no bad thing.

These are the fastest brains Apple has ever created and there’s little, if anything, that’s going to cause the iPhone 12 Pro Max to struggle.

Everything you do on this device feels supremely fast and you’ll have no problems playing high-performance games, quickly switching between numerous apps, or editing Dolby Vision footage.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max also starts with 128GB of storage as standard and this can be boosted to a whopping 512GB if you think you’ll need it. As always, our advice is to buy the biggest memory you can afford as this will future-proof the phone and save you the pain of endlessly freeing up space on the device (or paying a monthly fee to Apple for iCloud storage).

iPhone 12 Pro Max review

MagSafe charging offers a more efficient experience (Image: APPLE)

As well as being blisteringly quick, the Pro Max also features some pretty epic battery life. We’ve easily got through a day and, if you’re careful, we reckon you could possibly go for a full two days without seeing a charger.

Stick a video on the screen for a movie binge and you’ll find streaming for two hours eats through around 25 percent of your battery, so iPhone 12 Pro Max should be able to keep you entertained throughout the duration of your next long-haul flight.

When the power pack does run dry, you can now use Apple’s new MagSafe charger to give things a boost. This £39 accessory is worth investing in as it offers a more efficient refill when opting for wireless charging.

The MagSafe’s disc simply snaps to the rear case and offers charging speeds of 15 Watts. It’s worth noting that due to the sheer size of the Max’s battery it is slower at refilling via MagSafe than the other new iPhones with our test showing you get around 15-20 percent from 30-minutes. For faster refills, you will need to plug the Max into your MacBook charger.

One thing that you must remember is that the iPhone 12 Pro Max doesn’t ship with a wall plug in the box. Apple has ditched the famous white power plug in a bid to reduce electronic waste and also to cut down on the size of the packaging that it needs to ship its devices across the globe.

iPhone 12 Pro Max review

The new slimline packaging means there’s no charger in the box (Image: APPLE)

It does make a lot of sense as most people have enough chargers littering the drawers in their homes, but one thing you will find highly annoying is the charging cable that now comes bundled with the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Apple has included a lead in the box with USB-C to Lightning. That basically means this cable won’t fit any of the plugs bundled with your previous iPhones, which were always USB-A. So, while Apple is correct – we all have plenty of spare chargers already littering the drawers in our homes… none of them fit the new charging cable with the iPhone 12 range.

Of course, the new USB-C cable offers faster-charging speeds via Apple’s improved 20-watt plug and, if you own a MacBook or iPad Pro you can now charge your iPhone with the much faster USB-C charging brick that ships with these devices.

However, if you don’t own any other Apple devices you might find yourself heading back online to order a £19 USB-C plug from the Apple Store.

iPhone 12 Pro Max review

The new iPhone 12 Pro Max features 5G data speeds (Image: APPLE)

iPhone 12 Pro Max review: 5G

Like all of Apple’s latest smartphone, iPhone 12 Pro Max can now access 5G mobile data speeds. That means you can download files and movies at speeds in excess of 300Mbps when away from your fixed-line broadband.

That’s very quick and should mean you won’t see any buffering when streaming movies or playing games online. There’s another benefit of 5G as, when we all get moving again, it offers a more reliable signal in people-packed places, such as stadiums and bustling train stations.

5G is clearly the future, but there is one thing to be aware of.

Although carriers like EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone continue to boast that their coverage is rapidly expanding across the UK, there’s still vast parts of the country that aren’t close to getting 5G speeds. We’ve been testing the iPhone 12 Pro in Greater London and trying to latch onto one of these speedy signals isn’t always easy – even when the coverage map suggests you’re in exactly the right spot to access 5G.

Of course, over the coming months and years, things will improve and more places will get a 5G signal but if you’re rushing to buy an iPhone 12 Pro and are expecting blisteringly fast downloads then you might be left feeling a little disappointed when all you see is 4G.

One final thing to check is that your smartphone contract includes 5G as some networks may ask you to change your plan to access these speeds.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max review

The new design is stunning (Image: APPLE)

iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Price

There’s no hiding from the fact that this is one seriously expensive smartphone. Apple hasn’t put up prices for the Pro models this year – in fact, it’s dropped them by £50 compared to last year. However, you’ll still need a healthy £1,099 in your bank to own the entry-level 128GB version.

If you think you’ll need the maxed-out Max then things increase to a whopping £1,399 for the 512GB model. Ouch. That’s a lot of money especially as these phones don’t come with a plug or headphones.

As we mentioned earlier, Apple dropped these accessories to help cut down on electronic waste and added a charging brick (£19) or a pair of AirPods (£159) to your shopping basket makes this a very expensive purchase.

iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Final verdict

The iPhone 12 Pro may have left us scratching our heads, but there’s nothing confusing about the iPhone 12 Pro Max. With its improved camera to tackle low-light and other challenging conditions, expansive screen, and more processing power than most of us know what to do with… this is a smartphone that truly deserves that “Pro” name.

The improvements to the rear camera also make this the best iPhone yet for budding photographers and with Apple’s RAW format coming later this year things look set to get even better for image takers. The battery lasts forever, it includes 5G support, plus the tougher glass and new design should mean there’ll be fewer tears when this giant phone slips through your fingers.

Our only gripe with the iPhone 12 Pro Max is that there’s no 120Hz refresh rate display, which would have taken things to a whole new level but other than that this is our favourite iPhone of the bunch.

Yes, it’s huge. Yes, it costs a small fortune. And yes, you may need to buy a plug if you want to charge it. But this is truly a phone worthy of the Pro name and if you’ve ordered one already you should be thrilled when it arrives this Friday.

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