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Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max – Review

Intro

Apple announced a new iPhone 12 series back in September last year, in total there were four devices that were announced, although released a month apart.

I’ve managed to get hands-on three of them which includes the iPhone 12 mini, the iPhone 12, and the iPhone 12 Pro, and now thankfully I have the last one the largest of the bunch the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

This is the largest iPhone Apple have made and adds great technology such as an improved low light camera sensor as well as 5G for super fast networking, and now we have come out of lockdown I’m excited to be able to do this review and see how good the flagship phone really is, and how it compares to the rest of the line-up.

The handset was kindly loaned to me by Vodafone UK on a three week loan basis to allow me to put it through its paces and to do this review,  no one from Vodafone or Apple had any input in this coverage and all thoughts on my own.

Once the review was finished the handset was returned back to Vodafone and no offer of any compensation for my time was given, as with all my reviews these all my own views and will always continue to do so.

Design

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the biggest and also the heaviest iPhone the company have ever made this is because of the massive 6.7 inch display, even bigger than last year’s 6.5 inch 11 Pro Max and with the stainless steel frame adding to the extra weight.

Looking straight on at display you get what you would expect with a traditional iPhone these days, you get the large screen as mentioned above with the same size notch that you’ve always had which iPhone users will be used too since the iPhone X that launched a few years ago now, and has not got any smaller since.

The front camera will be covered more in the camera section of the review, but as a quick overview you get a 12 megapixel camera with 4K recording which does a great job at both selfies including portrait ones and high resolution video, in fact this phone probably has the best or one of the best selfie cameras in quality and performance.

The screen comes in at a large 6.7 inches in size and uses AMOLED technology, it may lack the silky smooth higher refresh rate you get on some other phones, the iPhone 12 series all have 60hz refresh screens instead of 90hz or even 120hz some of the other flagships use.

The large screen takes up all the front with no physical buttons to be seen, just the large screen which looks great for watching content back on although as already mentioned there is the rather large notch still there, but we are used to these by now and even start to forget it is even there after a while.

Looking over at the left side you get a little switch that is on all iPhone devices and lets you quickly switch between normal and silent modes with a quick flick, very handy if you need your phone on silent for meetings or work and you need to quickly mute the phone.

Below this you get the volume up and down buttons as you get on every other phone of course, these can also be used as camera shutter buttons when the camera is open if you prefer pressing a real button instead of using an on screen controls.

Below that near the bottom is the sim card tray that you pop out using the pin in the box, however you can use any other pin you have from other phones or a paperclip if you have one handy, of course as expected you get a single SIM option using a Nano SIM and no expandable storage.

However if you do want to go dual-SIM you do have the option of eSIM meaning you can have one physical SIM as well as one eSIM if needed.

Over on the right hand side you get a single button which is used mainly to switch the device on, however once on you use it to activate Siri if you do not want to use the voice command to bring it up instead.

This may be a little confusing for people coming from devices older than the iPhone X as to turn the phone off you need to hold this button as well as a volume button for a few seconds.

This button also acts as confirmation when you want to purchase an app by double tapping, it scans your face and approves the payment within seconds, also for using Apple Pay a quick double tap brings up the payment option for using wireless payments.

Up at the top there is nothing to see apart from a single line near the corner, this is to help the antenna system get better signal due to the design of the internals of the phone, it was a huge issue back around iPhone 4 times when not having these and holding the phone would see a dramatic drop in bars, so Apple built some antenna lines into the structure to help and they have been there ever since.

Down at the bottom you get a set of loudspeaker holes either side of the lighting port, yes Apple still went for the Lighting port instead of the USB-C that the iPad Pro uses, it would have been nice to keep everything consistent, but I guess all the existing Apple accessories for iPhone use Lightning so this was the most convenient option.

Turning over to the back you have a full glass panel with the Apple logo slap bang in the middle as Apple do like to show off their logos on their devices, and is almost a status symbol for many people, this is why a lot of 3rd party cases have a cut-out to show off the logo.

The camera system is positioned up top in the left hand corner and has been the same idea since the iPhone 11 took the design over a year ago, but this time it has much more going on under the hood, more so than the other iPhone 12 range.

The Pro devices have three main cameras over on the back, these include a super wide angle, a wide angle, and a telephoto for zooming in, although a limited amount of zoom control and nowhere near the 10x you get from devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

You also get the LED flash for helping to boost taking photos in dark conditions or of course using as a flashlight, what will be one of the main uses of this bright LED on the back.

Finally there is another sensor there, this is not a ToF sensor like some other devices have, but a new LiDAR sensor which is a lot more advanced and allows for all the AR type functions you would want to use a device like this for, there are a few examples already but this will get much more popular going forward, it does however also help with better portrait photos even in low lighting conditions.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has an improved low light sensor than the Pro model which I will talk about more in the camera section of the review to explain the differences, but it really does make a big difference in low light shots and helps with video too.

Software

I have said a few times before that I have always been more of an Android fan over iOS because for a while iOS just felt like it was almost too simple for a geek phone fan such as myself, sure some people prefer the simple setup, but compared to what Android can do there was a lot to be looked at.

However with iOS 14 that all changed, in one of the biggest visual changes in years Apple have finally caught up with what Android offers, and in some way has actually offered a better alternative.

The biggest change is the new widget options that you can include on your screens to fully customise your home screen to what you want, and these are not just boring basic ones but both look great and serve a purpose.

You also have the new App Library which will organize your apps into folders depending on what the type of app is, this also allows you to remove apps from the actual home screen without needing to uninstall, the app stays installed but in this handy folder or the A-Z list.

Not only does this make the whole experience much cleaner, it means you have more control over what apps you want on the main screen and which you can just keep in a folder page off to the side.

There are other improvements such as iMessage which now lets you have pinned group chats, adds new Memoji options to make a custom version of yourself to share and better group options for conversations.

Other improvements include better mapping via Apple Maps, a new Translation app so you can translate with ease between languages and  handy Picture-in-Picture mode so you can continue your video call whilst looking at something else on the screen.

There are a lot more improvements that come with iOS14 so to find them all it is best to check out the official page from Apple here, but in an overview, this Android fan is very impressed with iOS14 and now would be happy to use as a main phone.

For me I found the larger screen much better to use over smaller ones, although I do normally prefer larger phones anyway, I did appreciate the extra space available for interacting with the screen and for fitting my widgets on to personalise to my taste.

Performance

When it comes to performance, this is an area Apple will always perform very well in because they use their own custom processor which allows them to control the whole experience from start to finish, giving you improved battery performance as well as when it comes to loading apps and the whole OS. 

If you look up on paper you may notice that whilst the actual spec such as battery and RAM seem a lot lower than some of the flagship Android counterparts, because Apple manages the whole process they actually managed to outperform a lot of these so it’s not just about the numbers, but what you do with them that count.

The iPhone 12 Series comes with the latest A14 Bionic chip which has a huge amount of power and let’s you multitask a ton of apps in the background, whilst also being able to run the latest games smoothly with no slowdown or lag.

Also the latest processor helps when it comes to the camera by improving the photos taken, this is because when you taking a photo, the processor will work out a load of difference tasks in the background to improve contrast, brightness, shadows, as well as facial recognition and a ton of other tasks, you won’t see this happening because you literally tap the screen to take a photo when it’s there, but the processor does a huge amount of work to improve and give you the best photo possible.

Battery comes in at 3687mAh which is actually a 6% smaller battery than the iPhone 11 Pro Max it is replacing, and also has to add 5G support too, but thankfully due to the processor performance and improvements you don’t really notice a dip in battery performance, this is something to consider when you look at the competition which have in some cases over 4000mAh batteries.

I was easily able to get through a full day of use as my main device doing my usual testing of playing videos, lots of social media, emails, some phone calls and a lot of camera use, I even connected an Apple Watch for a few days and was able to last the day with Bluetooth connected all day.

I was really impressed with the battery performance, even with a lot of heavy use during the day I had plenty of battery life left at the end of the day, it really did perform at a whole new level from other phones I have used over the last few months.

Thankfully the iPhone 12 Pro Max also has Wireless Charging for when you need to top up that battery on the move, and this works with all standard QI chargers so thankfully no special Apple charger is needed.  You also get the option of 18W charging via cable, but this needs a separate charger purchase, the one in the box still a slow by today’s standards 5W but gets the job done and most people will end up charging overnight anyway.

Other key points worth covering is the iPhone 12 series are all IP68 dust and water resistant for up to 30 minutes of water at up to 2 meters which means you can get wet in the rain or put in the snow or a puddle to get that fancy photo, just avoid going swimming with it still in your pocket.

Network support is great too with the latest 4G+ technology included for super fast downloads on the go, and even though it does lack 5G, considering that is still a costly feature to have, and coverage still very new, most people will be more than happy with the 4G+ speeds you can get, when I tested I was able to get 150Mbps, but this will depend on network and area you are in.

With lockdown now over with I was able to get out and about, and was visiting Plymouth for one of my testing days, which also meant I was able to check out the speeds 5G can bring, and I was not disappointed with speeds between 350Mbps and 500Mbps, of course this will vary, but it is great to see stellar performance from an iPhone and using the 5G networks that are rolling out.

Camera

Apple have always included great cameras on their smartphones, and with the new larger sensor on the 12 Pro Max model, this phone has the best set of lenses possible to get the best out of, and you really can appreciate the work that has gone into fine tuning them to get the best result possible.

Below are some selfie photos taken straight from the device with no editing at all, well I say that, but I did have to make one small change and that was because Apple use their own new HEIF format for photos instead of JPG as this saves storage space, but sometimes is not able to be opened on some devices so for this review I used an editor to change for format but kept the quality at its best.

The front camera comes in at 12 megapixels and can also record 4K video content if you wanted which was great for anyone who is getting into vlogging.

You get some interesting filters you can use too by using the processing power such as studio lighting, normally these types of effects are reserved for just rear cameras on a lot of smartphones, and whilst these can be hit or miss, they can produce some great results to show off on social media.

Video selfies were also very good thanks to not only some great hardware, but the A14 Bionic processor being able to chew through all that data and provide excellent video content with great audio to go with it.

If you are looking for a phone to go video blogging with then look no further, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has fantastic quality in both video and audio performance.

Over on the back you get the same main triple setup as on the iPhone 11 Pro Max from a year ago, the biggest difference is the new 7P lens over 6P with a lower aperture of f1.6 instead of f1.8 which should mean improved lower light performance even if just a little.

You still get the ultra wide angle camera and telephoto for zooming giving this device a good set op camera options, although does lack in the zooming area when compared to some of the competition which now offer 10x optical zoom.

The big difference with the 12 Pro Max over the 12 Pro is the improvement in low light conditions thanks to the larger sensor which lets in more light.

There is an extra sensor on the back as mentioned before and this is called the LiDAR sensor and is used for improved portrait shots as LiDAR works at a distance up to 5 meters and better at working out distances over the ToF sensors that other devices used, it also helps perform better low light portraits due to the way it works.

Portrait mode has been improved over older models and both selfie and rear camera samples look great, a few examples are below and it seems to do a good job with getting the foreground separated from the background thanks to having two cameras to get information from.

Video quality on the rear cameras is great quality with a maximum of 4K resolution at 60fps if you want to max it out, the sample shows below are recorded at 4K 30fps as that is the most popular to also help save file size.

Overall quality is great capturing realistic colours and lighting even in poorly lit conditions, and stabilisation is great too when walking thanks to the OIS built in, this really is a great device for when it comes to video recording.

Final Thoughts

Il come out and say it straight away so spoiler alert!  this is the best iPhone that there has ever been, whilst the large size may not be ideal for everybody, considering these days most people are using their phones for video calls, watching videos, social media and multitasking, plus of course graphic intensive gaming, the larger screen really does help especially considering the large battery and you get.

Because the phone is made with glass and stainless steel it is of course very heavy, but you should expect that on a 6.7 inch metal phone, and it does at least add a very premium feel to the phone.

I would however recommend that using a case and screen protector mainly so you don’t have to keep wiping fingerprints off the sides all the time because although the back is like a Matt finish the sides attract a lot of fingerprints.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the most expensive iPhone on sale at the moment mainly because of the large size so you are expecting to pay the hefty amount to get one for yourself but you do get a great smart phone for your money.

When it comes to if I would recommend this phone or not, it comes down to is two things, price and size of the phone, if you don’t mind spending the extra to get one and you like a large screen on the phone, definitely go for this it has to be one of the best phones on sale at the moment.

Thankfully if the phone is a bit too big for you then you can still go for the iPhone 12 Pro which has most of the same features but slightly smaller, and a slightly lower cost.

A big thank you to Vodafone UK for sending the phone over to do this review.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max – Review
Conclusion
The best iPhone that Apple have ever made?
Design
9.3
Camera
9.4
Battery
9.5
Software
9.5
Performance
9.5
PRO'S
Amazing set of cameras
5G now supported for high speeds
Battery that will last you a full day
CON'S
May be too large for some people
Lower resolution display than the competition
Still uses 60hz refresh rate
9.4
OVERALL

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