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Hands on: iPhone 12 Pro Max in the real world

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The entirety of Apple's iPhone 12 line is finally out. We've spent the day testing the new iPhone 12 Pro Max and wanted to go over some of its best new features and how they play out in the real world.

New design

Everyone has seen the design of the new phones, and even side-by-side lineups of the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. They all share what is essentially an identical aesthetic, albeit at different scales.

Each handset sport iPhone 5-style flat sides and a ceramic shield glass on the front, while Pro models get a new Pacific Blue color option.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the largest iPhone Apple has ever created. It takes the 6.5-inch display of the iPhone 11 Pro Max and stretches it just a touch to hit 6.7 inches on the diagonal. It doesn't sound like much, and even in use it doesn't seem discernibly larger until you have it side-by-side with the previous Pro Max model.

The volume buttons and the side button have shifted down for easier access
The volume buttons and the side button have shifted down for easier access

What we do love, though, are some of the other subtle design changes that Apple has made. Both the side button and the volume buttons have been shifted down ever so slightly. This makes them more easily accessible while holding the phone and is certainly a noticeable and welcomed change. The phone is absolutely huge, but this change makes that size a bit more palatable.

Battery life

Being the largest iPhone, it is no surprise that iPhone 12 Pro Max also has the largest battery, although the 11 Pro Max beats it out in terms of sheer capacity (14.13 Wh vs. 15.04 Wh). We will have to examine battery life under stress, but we still have to point this out as one of our favorite new features because of not only how long the battery appears to last, but how many ways you can charge.

Just today using the device, we started by connecting to Lightning right out of the box, then used MagSafe for most of the day before finally tossing it on a Qi charging pad while we sat down to edit.

Battery is great on iPhone 12 Pro Max
Battery is great on iPhone 12 Pro Max

The many ways to charge makes the battery feel even more capacious. Apple has the iPhone 12 Pro Max rated for the same battery life as the iPhone 11 Pro Max — 20 hours of video playback, 12 hours of video streaming, and 80 hours of audio streaming — but if you don't use 5G, we wouldn't be surprised if that stretched a little further. The phone made it through a ton of tests without almost any hit on battery life.

For comparison's sake, the iPhone 12 Pro only gets 17 hours of video playback, 11 hours of video streaming, and 65 hours of audio streaming. We'll take the extra battery life.

Wide camera image sensor

The big deal with the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the camera. We've barely started testing this thing out and we are already excited. Apple has included a 47-percent larger sensor in this plus-sized phone and it certainly pays off.

Comparing iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Pro camera modules
Comparing iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Pro camera modules

Physically, you can see the difference. The camera module on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is bigger in size and protrudes a bit more as well. All to handle that new larger sensor and the upgraded sensor-shift stabilization that goes along with it.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras stick out slightly further
The iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras stick out slightly further

Thanks to that new larger sensor on the wide-angle camera, much more light can be captured, resulting in less noisy photos when we tested in low light. That is backed up by the increased ISO. The iPhone 12 Pro has a top ISO of 5,808, and the 12 Pro Max has a top ISO of 7,616. Improved light sensitivity again means better shots in low light.

Compared: iPhone 12 Pro (left) and iPhone 12 Pro Max (right)
Compared: iPhone 12 Pro (left) and iPhone 12 Pro Max (right)

The final benefit of that new sensor is increased depth of field compared to the iPhone 12 Pro. In a couple quick shots around the office, we notice more bokeh blur in the foreground and background, which creates better subject isolation and overall more pleasing shots.

Tele lens

The wide angle camera isn't the only one that got an upgrade. Apple also took the liberty of moving the telephoto lens from a 52mm equivalent to a 65mm equivalent. This yields 2.5X optical zoom compared to only 2X optical zoom on the iPhone 12 Pro.

New maximum zoom
New maximum zoom

You see this on any shot you take whether a normal photo or a portrait shot. It will even increase the maximum digital zoom, going from 10x to 12X maximum. When shooting video, you can get 7X digital zoom rather than being capped at 6X.

We took quite a few shots to play with the cameras and it makes a good difference. We aren't usually trying to capture objects super far away, but just far enough from the wide-angle lens we jump to the tele. With 2.5X zoom, we get just a little closer with no loss in quality.

RAM

The last thing we noticed was the increase in RAM, from 4GB to 6GB. The iPhone 12 Pro Max isn't the only one that has 6GB of RAM, but this is where we noticed it most. Coming from our iPhone 11 Pro Max, when completing a lot of tasks we would sometimes notice background apps having to reload once we open them. This wasn't the case nearly as much on the new device.

The display of the iPhone 12 Pro Max
The display of the iPhone 12 Pro Max

We tried opening as many apps as we could and let them load. Then we bogged down the processor by exporting a 4K HDR video. Then we went back to try to re-open all of those apps to see if they'd have to reload themselves. Not one did. It isn't the most scientific of tests, but it is very much like the real world. We frequently jump between so many operations and apps that having them instantly ready to go felt like magic.

iPhone 12 Pro Max deals

Ready to purchase Apple's iPhone 12 Pro Max? Wireless carriers are offering aggressive incentives, from free phones to cash discounts on the new models.

Find the best iPhone deals across all models, including the new iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 mini.

 

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