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iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: What should you buy?

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

If you want one of Apple's best iPhones, an iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max comparison makes a lot of sense. Yes, they're both very powerful and capable flagship phones, complete with Apple's A14 Bionic processor and 5G, but they feel quite different when you actually put them in your hand.

As you'll see in our iPhone 12 Pro review, the regular Pro's 6.1-inch display makes it easy to use with one hand. And our iPhone 12 Pro Max review shows that going big with a 6.7-inch display has its benefits. But there's more two these two iPhones than their sheet size difference.

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max also differ in terms of price, camera features and especially battery life. Here's what  you need to know before you buy.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Specs compared

iPhone 12 Pro iPhone 12 Pro Max
Price$999$1,099
Display6.1-inch OLED (2532 x 1170)6.7-inch OLED (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)
Zoom2x optical/10x digital2.5x optical12x digital
Front camera12MP TrueDepth (f/2.2)12MP TrueDepth (f/2.2)
5Gsub-6Ghz, mmWavesub-6Ghz, mmWave
Battery life (hrs:mins)9:0610:53
Size5.78 x 2.82 x 0.29 inches6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches
Weight6.66 ounces8.03 ounces

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Price

The iPhone 12 Pro starts at $999 for 128GB of storage. Upgrading to the 256GB model costs $1.099, and the 512GB version costs $1,299. 

Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 Pro Max starts at $1,099 for 128GB. The 256BG version costs $1,199 and the 512GB model is priced at a whopping $1,399 (or $100 more than the MacBook Pro).

If  you're on the fence between the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max, it's good to know that you can get double the storage on the regular Pro for the same cost as the entry-level Pro Max.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Design

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

If you want an iPhone that's easier to use with one hand, the obvious choice is the iPhone 12 Pro. It features a 6.1-inch display in a fairly compact design that measures 5.78 x 2.82 x 0.29 inches and weighs 6.6 ounces. 

Meanwhile, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a beast of a handset. It packs a 6.7-inch screen into a taller, wider and heavier chassis that comes in at 6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches and 8.03 ounces. This is best for those who want an immersive screen and don't mind using two hands.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

Both the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro feature sleek flat edges and narrower borders, as well as a Ceramic Shield Display that's designed to offer four times better drop performance than the iPhone 11 series. And the water resistance is great for both models, too, with an IP68 rating that allows them to be submerged in up to 6 meters of water for 30 minutes. 

I also like the matte glass back on both phones (which resists fingerprints) and the polished stainless steel band that runs along the outside of the handsets (which adds a bit of bling).

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Displays

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The OLED displays on the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 Pro and 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max are simply among the best you'll find on any phone. These panels are bright, colorful and accurate, though the sheer size of the Pro Max may tempt you if you enjoy watching videos on the go. The Pro Max's display is also ideal for reviewing documents.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

In our lab tests, the screens on the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max were evenly matched in terms of color reproduction. The iPhone 12 Pro registered 115.6% of the sRGB color gamut and 81.9% of the more demanding DCI-P color space. By comparison, the iPhone 12 Pro Max hit 119.7% and 84.8%, respectively.

The iPhone 12 Pro proved a bit brighter, as its display averaged 742 nits based on our testing, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max reached 654 nits. Both screens are plenty bright enough to see in direct sunlight.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Cameras

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max both offer triple rear cameras along with Apple's computational photography upgrades, including Night Mode portraits and Smart HDR 3 for better photos in tricky lighting. Plus, both phones record Dolby Vision video in 4K for stunningly colorful footage.

But there are some notable camera differences here. The iPhone 12 Pro Max benefits from a larger main wide camera sensor, which lets in more light, and the larger iPhone also offers a slightly more powerful zoom than the iPhone 12 Pro. 

Let's start with the zoom on both phones, The telephoto lens on the iPhone 12 Pro has an optical zoom of 2x and a digital zoom of 10x. However, the iPhone 12 Pro Max delivers a 2.5x optical zoom and 12x digital zoom.

As you can see in this shot of harvest decorations, the iPhone 12 Pro Max gets you closer to your subject than the iPhone 12 Pro. It's not a dramatic difference, but it's still a welcome upgrade.

I also challenged both phones in low light with this close-up of a Christmas tree. The iPhone 12 Pro Max did a slightly better job capturing the gold ornament on the left, as you can see that it's slightly sharper and more in focus. Same thing goes for the icicle in the center.

I took this next photo of a holiday sign in near darkness with Night mode engaged on both phones. While the iPhone 12 Pro shot is fairly bright, the iPhone 12 Pro Max image delivers much better texture and detail in the fabric on the dresser and in the flecks of paint on the sign. The words are in better focus, too. 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Performance

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max share the same specs, as they're both powered by Apple's 5nm A14 Bionic chip and 6GB of RAM. So it's not a surprise that they offer comparable performance.

On Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance, the iPhone 12 Pro notched a single-core score of 1,585 and a multi-core score of 3,669. The iPhone 12 Pro Max scored a similar 1,603 on single core but hit an even higher 4,111 multi-core mark.

We also transcoded a 4K video to 1080p using the Adobe Premiere Rush app, and the iPhone 12 Pro took only 27 seconds. The iPhone 12 Pro Max was right behind at 28.5 seconds. 

Lastly, we ran the 3D Mark Wild Life graphics benchmark, and both phones excelled. The iPhone 12 Pro registered 51 frames per second on the Unlimited test and the iPhone 12 Pro Max reached a slightly higher 54 fps.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Battery life 

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

Other than their sheer size, battery life is the biggest difference between the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. The iPhone 12 Pro has a 2,815 mAh battery, compared to 3,687 mAh battery for the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

On on the Tom's Guide battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over 5G at 150 nits of screen brightness, the iPhone 12 Pro lasted 9 hours and 6 minutes. The iPhone 12 Pro Max lasted a much longer 10:53.

The phones on our best phone battery life list all last over 11 hours, but keep in mind that many of those handsets are 4G-only. 5G uses up more power.

Both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Max ship without a charger. You'll need to supply your own 20W ($19) charger if you want fast charging to 50% in 30 minutes. The magnetic MagSafe charger is one of the best wireless chargers yet because it's so easy to use, but its 15W charging speed is slower than wired charging. 

We would generally avoid the Apple MagSafe Duo. It's too pricey at $129 and doesn't even come with a power brick. Plus, it offers only 11W charging when paired with Apple's 20W charger.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Bottom line

The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are both formidable flagship phones, but they're great for different types of users. Apple's Pro phones are very evenly matched on display quality, performance and photography, but the regular iPhone 12 Pro is best for those who want a compact device. 

I personally prefer the iPhone 12 Pro Max for its larger screen and nearly 2 extra hours of battery life. And while the photography differences are subtle, the Pro Max's camera offered better results in Night Mode.