iPhone 12 Pro Max Review: One For The Pros
In the Apple world, the Pro label has been reserved for the top tier of Apple’s products – iPad Pro, MacBook Pro, iMac Pro, AirPods Pro – products that are squarely aimed at professionals who need the extra firepower and all-out feature set…and yes, folks who can handle the sticker shock that the Pro moniker entails. The iPhone 12 Pro Max then doesn’t take its ‘Pro’ and ‘Max’ name lightly, going all out to be the biggest, most feature-toting, and the most expensive iPhone in Apple’s lineup for 2020, a literal beast in every manner conceivable. With the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini taking up frontline duty as the iPhones for everyone, who is the big kahuna iPhone really for, and does it justify the premium it commands?
If you’ve seen any of the other iPhones this year, you’ll be familiar with 12 Pro Max’s fresh squared-edges design, slimmer bezels and frosted glass rear panel, although the Pro lineup has a stainless-steel frame running around the sides instead of the aluminum frame on the 12/12 mini. Colors are a little more premium-looking, and the stainless-steel rim is slick looking, although it attracts more than its fair share of fingerprints. It has the same Ceramic Shield drop protection for the screen and MagSafe magnetic system for wireless charging and accessories as well. If you want your expensive looking phone to look the part, the iPhone 12 Pro Max aces it.
Make no mistake about it though, this is a big phone, almost unapologetically so. Even with the slimmed about bezels that help accommodate a larger 6.7-inch display, this is the biggest iPhone Apple’s ever made, and the new squared edges make it feel significantly larger in the hand than the iPhone 11 Pro Max that I’ve been using for the past year. Even as it got a lot less slippery in the hand than the 11 Pro Max, readjusting my grip to the more angular edges took a bit of getting used to. It’s large and heavy, no getting around it, and it rivals other superphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra in literally every dimension.
The sheer size allows the iPhone 12 Pro Max to pack in the biggest display ever on an iPhone, up from last year’s 6.5-inch variant, and that extra screen estate is noticeable while watching movies or the like. The screen is stunning – it’s bright, sharp, and almost tablet-esque when held at close quarters. Watching HDR video and playing fast-paced games are a joy on this device, made better by the excellent set of stereo speakers. That said, I’d really wanted at least the top-of-the-line Max to ship with a high refresh rate display this year, you know, to truly put the Pro in ProMotion if you will, but it was not to be. iOS is slick on the 60Hz display, but I guess we’ll have to wait for next year’s lineup for this feature. Also, no pandemic-friendly in-display fingerprint scanners, either.
The truly big reason to upgrade your shopping cart from the excellent iPhone 12 (and even the pricier 12 Pro) to the 12 Pro Max is the rear camera department.
Apple’s kitted the Pro Max with all the big-ticket changes to make it the iPhone of choice if you want to have the best camera experience on an iPhone, and it goes beyond just having the longer telephoto shooter (2.5x vs 2.0x on the 12 Pro).
Not only do you get a larger sensor with bigger 1.7-micrometer pixels to absorb more light and take brighter, sharper images in low light, there’s also sensor-shift stabilization to stabilize the sensor instead of the heavier lens (much like the Vivo X50 Pro) and compensate for less than steady hands.
Three 12MP cameras – a standard wide, an ultra-wide, and a 2.5x telephoto zoom, all of them with Night Mode support – serve to reaffirm our belief that megapixels aren’t everything and that spurning the 108MP siren call in 2020 doesn’t disadvantage a well-tuned camera setup.
In good light, the 12 Pro Max shoots images that are nearly indistinguishable from the 12/12 mini, in that they’re detailed, color-accurate and skillfully handle high contrast scenes (thanks to its Smart HDR wizardry). It’s in low light shots that the 12 Pro Max really edges ahead, with the larger pixels allowing it to keep the shutter open for less time to capture the same exposure. Compared to last year’s Pro Max and this year’s iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro Max often kept its shutter open for a whole second less and even engaged Night Mode less frequently, and even when it did, it took sharper pictures far quicker than either. Some of that credit also goes to the new LIDAR sensor on the rear, which aids night mode portraits and faster autofocus. What’s even more exciting is that the larger sensor will capture a lot of detail when shooting in uncompressed RAW formats, so Apple’s new ProRAW format (due soon) will unlock a new level of performance when it hits via a software update within the next month or so. Finally, there’s the iPhone lead in video, and the 12 Pro Max shoots not only Dolby Vision HDR content like its 12-series siblings but also 4K video at 60 frames per second. In a nutshell, the 12 Pro Max keeps Apple in the running alongside the best in the business in still images and only extends its lead in the video department, although the 2.5x optical zoom is still a bit short of the competition.
Performance is along expected lines, which is to say that A14 Bionic and the 6GB of memory crushes daily tasks and 4K video edits with aplomb, with battery life none the weaker than previous generations. I regularly got past the one-and-a-half-day mark of everyday photo shooting, streaming music, the odd casual gameplay, and lots of WhatsApp and email, about 6.5 hours of screen on time. Pick up an Apple 20W USB-C power adapter and you can get a full charge in a little over 2 hours (30 mins for 50%), and an hour or so more with the MagSafe wireless charger. Apple says that the iPhone learns your charging habits over time and will top up the battery at just the right time right before you typically unplug it (to extend the life of the battery), but it means you can’t go full-tilt and charge it to 100% in an hour in a pinch.
For an iPhone year as good as 2020, the Pro Max is the most feature-rich iPhone experience on offer this year, but one that comes at a price, both in terms of day-to-day handling of the not-insignificant form factor and the sizeable hit to the wallet. That’s the thing about superphones, though – they give you a lot of phone for the (lot of) money, and if you fall into the ever-growing niche of folks who believe the phone is the center of their work/play lives and therefore deserves some serious money spent, this is about as compelling as the proposition gets.
Highlights: iPhone 12 Pro Max
Pros: Build quality, an immersive display, strong camera performance, exceptional video, snappy performance, good battery life
Cons: Lacks the charging brick or earphones in the box, lacks a high refresh rate display, expensive, sizeable in the hand
Price: Rs. 1,29,900 for 128GB onwards
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar