Tom's Guide Verdict
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the best iPhone 12 of the bunch, with an immersive 6.7-inch display, amazing cameras, 5G and strong battery life.
Excellent battery life
Immersive 6.7-inch display
Convenient MagSafe charging
Charger sold separately
A bit heavy and bulky
No 120Hz display
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Display: 6.7 inches (2778 x 1284)
Colors: Silver, Graphite, Gold, Pacific Blue
Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
Rear cameras: 12MP wide (f/1.6), 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.4), 12MP telephoto (f/2.2)
Zoom: 2.5x optical/12x digital
Front camera: 12MP TrueDepth (f/2.2)
5G: sub-6Ghz, mmWave
Battery: 3,687 mAh
Battery life: 10 hours 53 minutes
Size: 6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches
Weight: 8.03 ounces
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is much more than just a big-screen version of the iPhone 12 Pro. With its 6.7-inch display, this is the biggest display ever on an iPhone. But the iPhone 12 Pro Max (from $1,099) lives up to its name in other ways, with an even more advanced camera than the regular iPhone 12 Pro and considerably longer battery life.
Of course, you get the same blazing fast A14 Bionic chip and 5G connectivity as all the other iPhone 12 models, but this is the Apple phone to get if you want the best of everything. Is all this worth an extra $100 over the regular Pro? Absolutely.
- See our full iPhone 12 Pro review if you want something smaller
- iPhone 13 release date, price, specs and leaks
- Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Which phone wins?
In fact, based on my testing, this is the top iPhone 12 of the range, assuming the big screen is right for you. If you're on the fence about that, check out our iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max comparison.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max topped our Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for phones in multiple categories, and used to be our number 1 pick for the best phones. However the iPhone 13 series is now here, and that spot now belongs to the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The new iPhone line also means the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max have been discontinued, meaning it may be hard to buy one new from now on. But nevertheless, here's the full lowdown on the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Price and release date
The iPhone 12 Pro Max came out November 13, 2020 with a starting price of $1,099/£1,099 for 128GB of storage. Upgrading to 256GB costs $1,199/£1,199, and the 512GB version costs $1,399/£1,399.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max generally costs $100/£100 more than the regular iPhone 12 Pro regardless of the storage.
Note that the iPhone 12 Pro Max does not come with a charger. A fast 20W charger costs $19 and Apple's MagSafe charger costs $39. See our iPhone 12 deals page for the latest discounts from retailers and all the major wireless carriers and our Apple Store coupons page for the latest offers straight from Apple. If you buy your iPhone 12 Pro Max from Apple, for example, you can get up to $525 off the cost of the new iPhone by trading in your own device. (Only newer models fetch that high of a return, though — a two-year-old iPhone XS Max fetches you a $320 rebate from Apple.)
iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Design and colors
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is a beast of a phone compared to the regular iPhone 12 Pro. It’s really the difference between having a flagship phone you can comfortably use with one hand and, well, not.
But in exchange you get a much more expansive and immersive display, which not only fits more content on the display at once but gives you a bigger keyboard for typing and a mini movie theater in your pocket.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max looks more premium than the iPhone 11 Pro Max. And that’s because of the new phone’s sleeker-looking flat edges. The polished gleaming gold stainless steel on my unit was particularly eye-catching. It’s the smartphone equivalent of jewelry. However, the finish picks up fingerprints in a hurry.
Besides gold, the other color options include the more ho-hum silver and graphite, as well as the head-turning Pacific Blue I really like on the regular iPhone 12 Pro.
The notch on the iPhone 12 Pro remains pretty large, but the TrueDepth camera still comes in very handy for Face ID. I just wish Apple found a way to integrate Touch ID in the display or the power button like it did for the new iPad Air.
At 6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches at 8.03 ounces, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a bit heavier than its predecessor. But you get a bigger display in roughly the same size, as Apple trimmed the borders around the screen.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max is also tougher this time around. You get a Ceramic Shield display up front that’s rated for four times the drop performance as well as a better IP68 water resistance rating that goes down to 6 meters instead of 4 meters.
iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Display
With its 6.7-inch OLED display, the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s OLED panel is smaller but brighter than the 6.9-inch Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. When watching Stranger Things, I enjoyed an explosion of colors that almost made me forget I was holding a phone.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max also happens to offer the most color-accurate display we’ve ever tested. The panel registered 0.07 on the Delta-E test, where 0 is perfect. The Note 20 Ultra notched 0.24.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max’s display averaged 654 nits in our lab tests, compared to a slightly higher 662 nits for the Galaxy. But outdoors we found the iPhone’s screen easier to read in direct sunlight.
The only thing missing from the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a smooth 120Hz rate, which would have made for smoother scrolling and even better gameplay like it does on the latest Samsung flagships. Here’s hoping for the iPhone 13.
iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Cameras
The iPhone 12 Pro Max offers the best cameras on any phone, and that’s saying something considering how good the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Pixel 5 are.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max has a larger main sensor than the iPhone 12 Pro, which is designed to deliver an 87 percent improvement in low light conditions vs the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The main lens on the iPhone 12 Pro Max also features a fast f/1.6 aperture and a LiDAR sensor for faster auto focus.
You also get a 2.5x optical zoom from the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s 12MP telephoto lens, which is behind the Note 20 Ultra’s 5x zoom but is better than the 2x on the iPhone 12 Pro.
As you'll see in this gallery of iPhone 12 Pro Max images, the camera does a superb job in low light; I've never been able to get good shot of the moon until I used this phone. The moon itself could be clearer, but the surrounding clouds are remarkably sharp.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max camera's Smart HDR 3 capability also did an amazing job capturing a challenging scene of a river in the background of several trees with a complex mix of sunlight and shadows.
For camera comparisons, let’s start with this photo of mums captured by the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The iPhone’s shot is a brighter and richer yellow, while the Pixel 5 shot turns the flowers more gold. There’s no pop to the Pixel photo.
The iPhone 12 Pro also beats the Pixel 5 in this shot of produce. There’s much more of a sheen to the peppers in the iPhone’s image. Google’s photo looks flat and dull by comparison.
The iPhone 12 and Pixel 5 were more evenly matched in this portrait. The iPhone does a better job rendering my face, especially in the shadow. However, the yellow in my Star Wars shirt looks more vibrant and there’s more contrast overall with the Pixel.
How about zoom? At 7x, the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s photo of this mural looks ok, while the Pixel 5’s version looks like a watercolor painting.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has the sharper and more powerful zoom. At 12x you clearly make out the text way across the street on the fish market sign and even the license plate numbers on the cars. Plus, the Note 20 Ultra can keep going all the way to 50x.
When it comes to low-light performance, the Pixel 5 has the edge in this Christmas tree shot. The greens are richer and you can make out more detail in the jade pieces. The iPhone 12 Pro Max’s image looks more washed out.
Outdoors, the iPhone 12 Pro Max gets the nod, as it captures a bit more detail in the pumpkin and flowers. The Pixel 5’s shot is brighter but there’s a bit of a film over it.
In this selfie, both the iPhone 12 Pro and Pixel 5 capture satisfying images, but they excel in different ways. The Pixel 5's shot offers more detail in my stubble and shirt, while the iPhone 12's shot is a bit warmer and delivers more even lighting across my face.
Last but not least, this Night Mode shot shows how Apple's LiDAR sensor gives it an advantage. It can pull off portraits in night mode, while the Pixel 5 cannot. The result is that my face is much more in focus in the iPhone 12 Pro Max shot.
iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Video
The iPhone 12 Pro Max uses what’s called sensor shift stabilization to keep things steady, as opposed to optical image stabilization. But the results were still quite impressive. Even when walking at a brisk pace, the iPhone 12 Pro Max did a superb job keeping this park footage smooth, even if some lens flare crept in from the sun.
And this sweeping panorama of the Manasquan river recorded by the iPhone 12 Pro Max looks absolutely gorgeous. You easily make out lots of ripples in the water, and the wisps of clouds against the blue sky look well defined. This is thanks to the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s Dolby Vision HDR support for video.Even at 2.5x the fidelity is excellent.
iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Performance
When it comes to sheer performance, the A14 Bionic processor in the iPhone 12 Pro Max, paired with 6GB of RAM, has no equal. When playing the Arena fighting game, I kicked, slashed and impaled enemies with abandon and the gameplay remained as fluid and smooth as a console.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max also outperformed the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra on the 3D Mark Wild Life graphics benchmark. Apple’s handset notched 41 frames per second, compared to just 24 fps for the Galaxy.
As expected, the iPhone 12 Pro Max also blew away the Android competition on Geekbench 5. Apple’s phone hit 4,111 on the multi-core test and 1,603 on single core. Compare that to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, whose Snapdragon 865 Plus chip scored just 3,294 and 985.
On our own video editing test. It took the iPhone 12 Pro Max just 28 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p, compared to 1 minute and 16 seconds for the Note 20 Ultra.
iPhone 12 Pro Max review: 5G
The iPhone 12 Pro Max supports every flavor of 5G, including sub-6GHz and mmWave. I tested the phone on T-Mobile’s network, and saw solid speeds in central New Jersey — but nothing blazing.
Using the Speedtest.net app, the iPhone 12 Pro Max maxed out at 211 Mbps for downloads and 77.5 Mbps for uploads.
Like other iPhone 12 models, the iPhone 12 Pro Max can automatically switch to 4G via its Smart Data Mode. This comes in handy mostly when the screen is off, such as when you’re streaming music.
iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Battery life
One of the biggest reasons to splurge on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the extra endurance you get from its larger battery.
On the Tom’s Guide battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over 5G, the iPhone 12 Pro Max lasted 10 hours and 53 minutes. That’s nearly two hours longer than the regular iPhone 12 Pro, which endured for 9:06.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra was slightly behind the 12 Pro Max with a runtime of 10:26 over 5G, which dropped to 7:59 with the 120Hz display mode on.
iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Charging
Like the rest of the iPhone 12 lineup, Apple doesn’t include a charger in the box with the 12 Pro Max. That might be the green thing to do, as Apple has argued, but it’s also annoying, especially if you want to fast charge your phone.
A $19 20W fast charger will get a drained iPhone 12 Pro Max to just under 50% in 30 minutes. But MagSafe is getting more attention, because it works with the magnets in the back of the iPhone 12 Pro Max to easily attach a charger. This $39 charger is 15W, which is slower, but it’s twice as fast as previous iPhone wireless chargers.
Just keep in mind that you’ll need a power brick and MagSafe adapter, as they’re sold separately.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max also works with a growing array of MagSafe accessories, including cases and wallets you can attach, as well as Apple’s $129 MagSafe Duo charger that juices your iPhone and Apple Watch simultaneously. Again, though, you'll need to spring for a 20W charger for this accessory to work.
iPhone 12 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro
The iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Pro share most of the same features, but there are some key differences. While both flagship phones offer Apple's A14 Bionic chip, 5G and OLED displays, the iPhone 12 Pro Max's 6.7-inch screen is a lot larger than the 6.1-inch panel on the iPhone 12 Pro.
In addition, the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers a bigger optical zoom than the iPhone 12 Pro (2.5x vs 2x) and larger digital zoom (12x vs 10x). The iPhone 12 Pro also benefits from having a larger sensor for its main wide camera, which lets in more light.
Other than the larger display, the biggest reason to get the iPhone 12 Pro Max over the regular iPhone 12 Pro is the longer battery life.
iPhone 12 Pro Max vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
The iPhone 12 Pro Max has a strong competitor in the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, which features powerful dual telephoto cameras for up to 10x optical zoom. It also features a more dynamic 120Hz AMOLED display, longer battery life and even S Pen support. However, the S21 Ultra costs $100 more to start and it falls a bit behind the iPhone 12 Pro Max in terms of performance and overall image quality.
See our in-depth Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs iPhone 12 Pro Max face-off to see which phone is right for your needs.
iPhone 12 Pro Max review: Verdict
The iPhone 12 Pro Max lives up to its name in a few key ways. You get a much bigger display than the regular iPhone 12 Pro and much longer battery life. Personally, I didn’t find that the Max’s larger camera sensor produced much better looking images than what you get from other iPhone 12 models, but it is nice that you get a more powerful zoom.
It really comes down to whether you want a more compact phone or you really like big screens. I fall into the latter camp, but you won’t go wrong with either iPhone 12 Pro model. As for the Android competition, the iPhone 12 Pro Max put them all on notice with generally better cameras and faster performance. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a great alternative with its more powerful zoom and dynamic 120Hz display, but the iPhone 12 Pro Max is still the superior phone overall.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max remains a great phone even a year after launch. It's just going to be much harder to buy now that the iPhone 13 Pro Max is on sale. The iPhone 13 Pro Max improves on the 12 Pro Max in several ways though, so it is worth the extra money if you can't find the older phone in stock anywhere now it's been discontinued.
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.
Played your Dolby Vision HDR sample on my iPhone 11 Pro Max and it was stunning.Reply
Can't wait to get my 12 Pro Max (which is currently trying to tip-toe through Hong Kong).