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iPhone 12 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: All the key differences

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max
(Image credit: Apple)

There's usually not a lot of difference between the Pro and Pro Max models of the iPhones Apple unveils every fall. Dating back to the iPhone XS and XS Max in 2018, Apple's high-end phones usually feature different screen and battery sizes, but that's more or less it. They have far more in common with one another.

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Max are a departure from that approach. Oh sure — both of the new Pro phones share a processor, a design and many of the same capabilities. But there's more separating the iPhone 12 Pro from the iPhone 12 Pro Max than just a larger display.

Here's an iPhone 12 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max rundown, looking at what the two phones have in common as well as where they begin to diverge.

iPhone 12 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: Specs

iPhone 12 Pro iPhone 12 Pro Max
Price$999$1,099
Display6.1 inches OLED (2532 x 1170)6.7 inches (2778 x 1284)
ColorsSilver, Graphite, Gold, Pacific BlueSilver, Graphite, Gold, Pacific Blue
CPUA14A14
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB128GB, 256GB, 512GB
Rear camera12MP wide (f/1.6), 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.4), 12MP telephoto (f/2.0)12MP wide (f/1.6), 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.4), 12MP telephoto (f/2.2)
Front camera12MP TrueDepth (f/2.2)12MP TrueDepth (f/2.2)
5Gsub-6Ghz, mmWavesub-6Ghz, mmWave
BatteryUp to 11 hours video streamingUp to 12 hours video streaming
Size5.78 x 2.82 x 0.29 inches6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches
Weight6.66 ounches8.03 ounces

iPhone 12 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: What's the same

Good news if you're trying to determine whether to get the iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max. Despite the notable differences between the phones, there's still a lot in common. In fact, on marquee features like 5G compatibility and processor, the Pro models share some of the same features as the less expensive iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini.

Processor: All four iPhone 12 models are powered by the new A14 Bionic chip, which should mean that the iPhone retains its position as the best performing smartphone you can buy. While Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865 system-on-chip closed the performance gap with Apple's last generation of iPhones, those A13 Bionic-powered handsets set enjoyed an edge in most benchmarks. The A14 figures to widen that gap.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apple)

How big of a gain are we talking about? Apple says that the A14 Bionic delivers up to a 50% improvement to both performance and graphics over other processor. The chip's neural engine is now 80% faster after Apple doubled the number of cores to 16. So expect big performance from both the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Apple doesn't disclose how much memory it puts in its phones, but past teardowns have revealed equal amounts of RAM in the Pro models of the iPhone. We'd expect that to continue with the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, which means both phones should be equally adept at multitasking.

5G compatibility: Another thing the iPhone 12 Pro models share with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini is the ability to work with 5G networks. And there's no distinguishing between different types of 5G as there is with some phones. If you've got any type of iPhone 12, it will work with 5G networks built on low-band spectrum just as easily as it will with mmWave-based networks. (You'll enjoy faster 5G speeds on the latter, though.)

LiDAR sensor: There are differences in the cameras that make up the rear array on the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max — we'll explore those in a bit. But both phones have added a LiDAR sensor to their rear cameras that should assist in some more advanced photography.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple says the LiDAR scanner on its Pro phones can measure light distance and use pixel depth information of a scene. It can then use that information for things like better autofocus in low light as well as faster focus overall. One of the most immediate effects is that the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max will be able to take portrait shots in Night mode, matching a feature Google's adding to the Pixel 5. We'd also imagine the LiDAR scanner will be able to support augmented reality features as developers roll out those kinds of apps.

Camera features: Regardless of whether you have an iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max, you'll be able to capture a lot of the same kinds of photos and videos. Both Pro models are capable of capturing HDR video, including Dolby Vision HDR. 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apple)

The ultrawide and TrueDepth lenses on both phones also now support Night mode, while a new Night mode time lapse feature lets you take time lapse photos in low light with the help of a tripod. Like all iPhones, the Pro models support features like Smart HDR 3 for capturing details even in backlit scenes and improvements to Deep Fusion. Only the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max will gain support for ProRAW when it arrives later this year to allow advanced iPhone photographers to work with RAW image files on their phones.

Design: Both the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max share a design, with Apple turning to a stainless steel band and glass back to give its Pro phones a premium feel. Up front, Apple's used its new Ceramic Shield coating for the phones' display, which should make the iPhone 12 models four times more likely to survive an unexpected drop, at least by Apple's calculations.

iPhone 12 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max: What's different

Despite those similarities, you'll find plenty of things that don't match up in an iPhone 12 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max comparison. From obvious things like screen size to more subtle differences like the optics Apple uses in the rear camera arrays, plenty separates the iPhone 12 Pro from its larger counterpart.

Screen sizes: Let's start with the obvious difference that you can spot just by looking at the phones. The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max have different sized screens even if they both use Apple's Super Retina XDR display.

iPhone 12 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apple)

In the case of the iPhone 12 Pro, you get a 6.1-inch display with 2532 x 1170 resolution. That's bigger than last year's iPhone 11 Pro, which was more compact with a 5.8-inch screen. But the iPhone 12 Pro Max is even larger, offering a 6.7-inch display that features 2778 x 1284 resolution.

To house these different screens, the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max come in different sizes, with the Max model taller and wider than its 6.1-inch counterpart. The iPhone 12 Pro Max outweighs the iPhone 12 by 1.33 ounces, too.

Battery sizes: Apple doesn't really discuss battery size for its phones, but logic dictates the larger screen of the iPhone 12 Pro Max requires a bigger power pack. And Apple's own specs suggest that there are different battery sizes at play in the Pro models. The iPhone 12 Pro is rated for 17 hours of video playback and 11 hours for streamed video. Those numbers increase to 20 hours and 12 hours, respectively, for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Rumors before the iPhone 12 models were unveiled suggested the iPhone 12 Pro would feature a 2,775 mAh battery to the iPhone 12 Pro Max's 3,687 mAh power pack. We'll have to wait for the inevitable iPhone 12 teardowns to confirm those sizes, but it's a safe bet the battery inside the iPhone 12 Pro Max will be bigger.

Camera lens: You'd look at the back of either the iPhone 12 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro Max and see a triple camera setup with that aforementioned LiDAR sensor. So everything's the same, right?

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apple)

Not exactly. While both Pro models have the same 12MP ultrawide lens, the main camera is different on both models, even if they each feature a wide f/1.6 aperture to let in more light. The main camera sensor on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is actually bigger than what you get with the iPhone 12 Pro, which Apple says will translate to a big improvement in low-light conditions.

The differences continue with the telephoto lens, starting with aperture — the iPhone 12 Pro's lens uses an f/2.0 aperture while the aperture on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is f/2.2. Focal lengths of the telephoto lens are different too — 52mm on the iPhone 12 Pro versus 65mm on the iPhone 12 Max. The result is a bigger 5x optical zoom range for the iPhone 12 Pro Max; the iPhone 12 Pro makes do with a 4x optical zoom range.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Apple)

Price and availability: All these differences add up to a higher cost for the iPhone 12 Pro Max. It will sell for $1,099, while the iPhone 12 Pro features a $999 price. You might recognize these as the same prices Apple charged for its iPhone 11 Pro models.

You'll be able to get your hands on the iPhone 12 Pro earlier. Apple starts taking pre-orders on Oct. 16, with the phone shipping on Oct. 23. The iPhone 12 Pro Max doesn't arrive until Nov. 13.

iPhone 12 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max outlook

Either iPhone 12 Pro model will appeal to users who want the most out of their iPhone, though this time around, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has an added appeal. Previously, you bought the Max if you wanted a larger screen. But with its better telephoto lens and larger main sensor, people who prize photos above all else will also find plenty to like about the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

With its screen now above 6 inches, the iPhone 12 Pro loses some of its appeal for people who prefer compact phones. But it has enough photographic capabilities of its own to measure up well against any phone — even the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

We'll have more to say about our iPhone 12 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro Max comparison once we test the two new phones.