The Apple iPhone 12 family is a bona fide success. Six of the top 10 smartphones sold globally in January, 2021, were Apple devices, with the iPhone 12 Pro Max leading the way in popularity in the US. That tells us something: people do in fact want big-screened devices with capable cameras. In fact, demand for the iPhone 12 series is also expected to remain strong through the third quarter ahead of the iPhone 13’s fall debut.
Nothing appears to be poised to steal the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s mojo, at least not yet. Android phone makers have flooded the market during the early months of 2021 with compelling flagship fare. There’s the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Oppo Find X3 Pro, the OnePlus 9 Pro, and the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, among others.
What about the iPhone 12 Pro Max makes it so popular? Is it the advanced triple camera system, the speedy performance, or the excellent battery life? It could be any of these things. The real question is: is it still worth buying today? Six months after its initial release (November 13, 2020), find out what’s good and what’s bad about Apple’s top-tier flagship in this iPhone 12 Pro Max review revisited.
Apple iPhone buying guide: Which iPhone is right for you?
Apple’s homemade silicon is hard to beat. The iPhone 12 Pro Max has the company’s A14 Bionic processor inside, which is the company’s top mobile chip. The iPhone 12 Pro Max was a total beast when it launched and it still is to this day. Everything about the phone’s performance has remained top-notch.
In a head-to-head test Android Authority performed last fall, the Apple iPhone 12 (not the Pro model, but with the same processor) easily smoked the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The Apple phone consistently outperformed Samsung’s flagship in terms of both CPU and GPU. Granted, the Note 20 Ultra was a Snapdragon 865 device. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888, which powers a number of 2021 flagships, is a generation faster than the 865 — but Qualcomm didn’t close the gap. The iPhone 12 Pro Max still handily beat an 888-toting Samsung Galaxy S21 in our Speed Test GX testing.
The Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max is just as blazing fast six months on as it was on day one.
Nothing has changed about the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s performance since day one. Even after several software updates, it’s just as fast, just as smooth, and just as powerful as it was on launch day. That’s the way we like it. Moreover, it will remain that way. Apple devices tend to retain their performance profile for a longer period of time when compared to their Snapdragon-equipped competitors. In other words, the iPhone 12 Pro Max will continue to perform well for years.
Battery life of the larger iPhone 12 Pro continues to be excellent. I can’t kill this phone. The iPhone 12 Pro Max has a larger battery than the standard iPhone 12 Pro, and it shows. Not only am I getting a full day, but I’m also getting one and a half days of battery — at least — between charges. Even on days when I use the phone intensely (streaming video for hours), it has 40% left in the tank come midnight.
The iPhone 12 Pro Max outlasts much of the competition.
Sometimes phones will show a small hit to maximum battery life by the six-month mark. Not so with the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max. It’s still going strong and outlasting much of the competition. We know that Apple tweaks its software over time to help maintain battery life on older phones. We expect the iPhone 12 Pro Max will maintain solid battery life for some time.
Apple’s triple camera arrangement produces some of the highest quality photos available from a mobile phone. Time hasn’t changed that. Granted, the Galaxy S21 Ultra now challenges Apple, but Apple is still in the fight. More to the point, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, with its huge main sensor and powerful telephoto lens, is still a class leader.
Here are some recent samples for you to take a gander at:
You’ll note sharp focus, good exposure, and accurate white balance/color throughout. Want to see more from the iPhone 12 Pro Max camera? Check out our shootouts below.
iPhone 12 Pro Max camera shootouts:
- Camera shootout: OnePlus 9 Pro vs Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
- Camera shootout: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
- iPhone 12 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro camera test: Is bigger always better?
iOS isn’t for everyone, to be sure, but given its popularity, you can’t write it off. iOS 14 is among the most powerful upgrades to iOS yet, and one that makes the platform behave more like Android than ever.
For example, iOS 14 supports app widgets. I know, I know, Android has from the early days, but stick with me here. Most of the widgets I’ve tried have worked well and been simple to set up. Not every first- or third-party app has a widget, and that’s a bit of a shame. I’d love to see even more widgets from app developers.
iOS 14 also (finally!) has an app drawer of sorts.
iOS 14 also (finally!) has an app drawer of sorts. The App Library, as it’s called, is the far right-most home screen panel and it contains all the apps installed on the phone. This is another feature that’s been available to Android devices since the beginning. Helpfully, Apple has organized them by usage/type and it does a good job of automatically categorizing them. I find myself using the App Library more and more to access apps, rather than just use the home screen icons.
Siri still isn’t as good as Google Assistant (will it ever be?), but Siri Suggestions have gotten better over time and I now find them rather useful. Visible when you pull down on the home screen, they often suggest an app or an action right as I’m thinking about it. It’s kind of eerie.
Last, Apple delivered better software support to its devices than just about any other device maker in the market. Phones that are years old are still able to run the newest version of iOS. For example, according to data from Apple, 86% of all phones introduced in the last four years are running iOS 14.
For those coming from an Android device, iOS 14 makes for the easiest transition to date.
The not so good
The iPhone 12 Pro Max still looks good, but it certainly doesn’t feel good. The phone has a stainless steel band that wraps around the entire outer edge, while Apple’s proprietary “ceramic shield” protects the phone from breakage. It’s a classy, if conservative, look in today’s market. Toss in an IP68 rating and you’ve got a fairly tough phone. It can handle minor bumps and bruises just fine, as well as an accidental dunk in the pool. That’s all good.
What’s not good? The vertical side rails. The phone has sharp edges front and back where the metal and glass meet at perpendicular angles. Combined with the phone’s sheer size, it’s a literal pain to have in your pocket. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve uncomfortably jammed my leg when moving around with the iPhone 12 Pro Max in my pocket. As I noted, I like the look of this design a lot. Practically speaking, however, it’s uncomfortable no matter how you use the phone. Comfort is important.
Today’s Android flagships are, by and large, smoother and more comfortable when it comes to daily use. I’m thinking the liquid Oppo Find X3 Pro. Svelte is good.
The iPhone’s screen is plenty bright, offers fine resolution, and handles most content easily, but there are two major sticking points I can’t ignore now that we’re one-third of the way through 2021.
First, the notch. No other major flagship is shipping with a notch, not anymore. Samsung, OnePlus, Oppo, Xiaomi, and others have all moved to punch-hole designs for their displays. The punch-hole is a much more elegant way to manage the user-facing camera. It’s far less obvious, particularly when watching video. The notch on the iPhone 12 is a serious bummer. Of course, Apple isn’t only sticking the selfie camera in that notch, it’s also got its high-tech Face ID sensors in there. Rumors suggest the notch will get slightly smaller in the iPhone 13, but it will still be there. I’m strongly hoping this isn’t the case.
The notch on the iPhone 12 is a serious bummer.
Second, the screen’s speed. Most 2021 Android flagships (and even a solid handful of 2020 flagships) sport 120Hz high-speed displays. The iPhone 12 Pro Max display features a 60Hz refresh rate. The difference is most visible when scrolling up and down websites, lists, or other vertical content. Granted, the iPhone 12’s display is smooth for a 60Hz panel, but it doesn’t quite match the beauty of today’s 120Hz panels. Here’s hoping the iPhone 13 display makes the jump to 120Hz.
There’s no question the iPhone 12 Pro Max is an expensive piece of hardware. It starts at $1,099 for the 128GB version and runs up to $1,199 for the 256GB model and $1,399 for the 512GB variant. You can get decent deals from US carriers, but the raw pricing from Apple remains unchanged unless you have a trade-in.
Samsung’s Galaxy S21 handsets are priced similarly to the iPhone 12 family. That’s good news for Apple. Other competing devices, such as the $969 OnePlus 9 Pro, come in a bit under the 12 Pro Max’s cost, while others such as the ~$1,500 Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra blow right past it. Suffice it to say, if you want one of the best phones on the market, you’re going to need to pony up the cash. The standard iPhone 12 Pro costs $999 if you don’t mind the smaller screen and battery.
While the iPhone’s battery life holds up, the charging speeds are among the slowest in the flagship market. The phone supports wired charging up to 20W and wireless charging up to 15W. That’s only if you buy Apple’s chargers, which aren’t included with the phone. If you use a third-party, Qi-based charger your wireless charging speed is limited to a pokey 7.5W. Using the optional Apple wall charger will net you approximately a 50% charge in about 30 minutes.
See also: The best iPhone chargers
The majority of Android flagships can charge from 0% to 100% in 40 to 50 minutes. The Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, for example, sports 67W wired and wireless charging and goes from empty to full in just 41 minutes. And the fast charger is included in the box.
Apple needs to up its charging game big time.
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max review revisited: The verdict
To be fully transparent, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is my daily driver at the moment. I’ve used it since it went on sale last November. Before that, I was on a Google Pixel 4 XL for a year.
After using this phone for six months, it’s easy to see why the phone is so successful for Apple. It covers all the basics and then some. It offers high-quality hardware that’s tough and built well, it has some of the best performance of any device, packs battery life that competes with most flagships, and snaps a really good photo. Sure, there are some detractors, such as the gawky design, slow screen, and high price tag, but other phones suffer from these same issues.
From my perspective, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has completely lived up to its promise. The issues I’ve noted above were there when it first went on sale. Six months hasn’t changed the equation at all. If you’re in the market for an iPhone and want the biggest screen, the highest-quality camera, and the best battery life you can get, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the only option for you.