iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max — here's why I'm finally upgrading

iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max
(Image credit: Future)

While I get to test all the best phones for a living, I'm very picky (and cheap) when it comes to upgrading my own phone. In fact, I've been living with the solid iPhone 12 Pro Max for nearly three years, and only recently has it started to show its age. 

For example, I've noticed that apps are sometimes slow to load or crash inexplicably, and while the iPhone 12 Pro Max's battery life has remained strong, it's not as good as it used to be after several iOS updates. But my biggest complaint is the camera. It's good, but I've been jealous of the quality offered by the 48MP main sensor on the iPhone 14 Pro Max — though not enough to upgrade.

Now that I've done our full iPhone 15 Pro Max review, I'm finally ready to upgrade. Here's why. 

A much bigger zoom is here

iPhone 15 Pro Max shown in hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I have to admit that every time I look at the 2.5 optical zoom option on my iPhone 12 Pro Max, I sigh. Especially when phones like the Galaxy S23 Ultra offer dual telephoto lenses of 3x and 10x, while the Pixel 7 Pro has a 5x periscope zoom. 

The iPhone 15 Pro Max changes things up with a new tetraprism telephoto zoom lens, which bumps the optical zoom to 5x and the digital zoom to 25x. That's more than double the optical and digital zoom on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. 

As you can see in the above comparison, the iPhone 15 Pro Max's 5x optical zoom is just as good (if not better) than the powerful Galaxy S23 Ultra. You can see an impressive amount of detail in the stone carvings on the building. 

In addition, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has a much larger and sharper 48MP main sensor that's capable of shooting 24MP photos by default and 48MP HEIFF or ProRAW images. That's a big jump from the 12MP iPhone 12 Pro Max. 

A lighter and smaller titanium design

iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 15 Pro Max showing cameras

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 15 Pro Max have the same size display at 6.7 inches, but the iPhone 15 Pro Max is lighter and more compact. Not only does the new Pro Max feature a sturdier titanium band design, which replaces the previous stainless steel, the whole thing weighs less and takes up less room in your hand and pocket.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 iPhone 12 Pro Max iPhone 15 Pro Max
Weight 8.03 ounces7.8 ounces
Dimensions6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches 6.29 x 3.02 x 0.32 inches

The iPhone 15 Pro Max weighs 7.8 ounces, compared to 8.03 ounces for the iPhone 12 Pro Max. And the new iPhone 15 Pro Max is shorter and narrower than my current iPhone. However, the camera bump makes the 15 Pro Max thicker.

Better ProMotion display with Dynamic Island 

iPhone 15 Pro Max Dynamic Island

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 15 Pro Max offers several display upgrades over the iPhone 12 Pro Max. This includes a smooth 120Hz ProMotion display (first introduced with the iPhone 13 Pro Max) and an always-on display (from iPhone 14 Pro Max) that can show you the time, battery life and notifications on your lock screen. 

But the most welcome upgrade for me is the Dynamic Island. This area that replaces the notch toward the top of the screen can show you live activities and alerts, saving you time. For example, I can see the status of my Uber ride without having to dive back into the app. Or I can change Spotify tracks with a quick long press. 

A versatile Action button

iPhone 15 Pro Max Action button menu

(Image credit: Future)

Yup, the ringer switch is gone on the iPhone 15 Pro Max. But it lives on inside the phone's Action button, now a part of both iPhone 15 Pro models. A long press of this button will toggle silent mode for calls just like before, but you can assign all sorts of other shortcuts as well. 

For example, you can customize the Action button to launch the camera, flashlight, magnifier or voice recorder. And you can also program all sorts of super specific shortcuts via the Shortcuts app, such as opening Slack, turning on a smart home scene or texting a specific contact. For more, see our guide on how to use the Action button on the iPhone 15 Pro

Finally, USB-C is here 

iPhone 15 Pro Max shown in hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple doesn't exactly deserve a pat on the back for this upgrade, but it's welcome nonetheless. The iPhone 15 Pro Max ditches the Lightning port for a USB-port, so. you can use the same cable to charge your iPhone, MacBook, iPad and all sorts of other gadgets. Even better, you can use your iPhone 15 Pro Max to charge the new AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C

The charging speeds remain slow at just 20W. And we got to only 41% in 30 minutes, which is lower than Apple's promised 50%. But at least you get faster transfer speeds than the regular iPhone 15: 10 Gbps vs 480 Mbps. 

A leap forward for gaming with A17 Pro

iPhone 15 Pro Max shown in hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

My iPhone 12 Pro Max could handle most games just fine, but the A17 Pro chip in the iPhone 15 Pro Max is designed to play console-quality titles with ray tracing effects. So you can enjoy even better graphics in titles like Diablo Immortal and Resident Evil Village.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
iPhone 15 Pro Max benchmark results
Row 0 - Cell 0 iPhone 12 Pro MaxiPhone 15 Pro MaxGalaxy S23 Ultra
3DMark Wild Life Unlimited54 fps / 9,11392 fps / 15,39987 fps / 14,611

On 3DMark Wild Life Unlimited, which measures overall performance, the iPhone 15 Pro Max turned in 97 frames per second, which is nearly double what the iPhone 12 Pro Max can produce on that same test.

Longer battery life 

iPhone 15 Pro Max shown in hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

My iPhone 12 Pro Max has a decent amount of staying power, but it's definitely gone down over the last couple of years. If I'm running around without access to an outlet I could be at 20% by the time I get on the bus to head home. That's not the case with the iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
iPhone 15 Pro Max battery life (hrs:mins)
iPhone 15 Pro Max14:02
iPhone 12 Pro Max10:53

On the Tom's Guide battery test, which involves continuous web surfing at 150 nits of screen brightness, the iPhone 15 Pro Max lasted a very impressive 14 hours and 2 minutes. That's over 3 hours longer than the iPhone 12 Pro Max's runtime of 10:53.

Part of this has to do with the iPhone 15 Pro Max having a larger battery (4,422 mAh vs 3,687 mAh) and part of it comes from its more efficient 3nm A17 Pro chip powering Apple's lates phone. 

Bottom line

iPhone 15 Pro Max shown in hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When you add it all up the iPhone 15 Pro Max is a far superior phone to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. From the lighter design and more dynamic display to the camera upgrades and longer battery life, you'll definitely be stepping up to a better flagship. I especially like the bigger zoom and improved Night mode performance on the new model. 

If you're still happy with your iPhone 12 Pro Max and want to wait to see what an iPhone 16 Pro Max or iPhone 16 Ultra has to offer next year, I get it. Rumor has it that Apple may offer an even bigger display the next time around. But I think there's more than enough upgrade-worthy features right now. 

More from Tom's Guide

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.