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iPhone 12 Pro Max Review

Image Credit: Chris Velazco/Engadget

Design and display

Like the rest of the iPhone 12 lineup, the Pro Max cuts a striking figure next to the last few generations of iPhones. Inspired in part by Apple’s redesigned iPad Pro, the Pro Max is sleek and angular with flat, stainless steel edges that, while eye-catching, are quick to pick up fingerprints. (They’re especially noticeable on my gold review unit.) Not everyone will appreciate Apple’s design choices this year, but the new look evokes fan-favorites like the iPhone 4 and 5 and gives the Pro Max a distinctive feel compared to the rest of the year’s premium smartphones.

It’s also important to note that the iPhone 12 Pro Max is slightly thinner than last year’s big iPhone. If you break out the calipers, the difference seems minimal, but trust me — every fraction of a millimeter counts when we’re talking about large devices you’re going to hold throughout the day. That said, it’s also a little heavier than the iPhone 11 Pro Max, but not to the point where most people would make a fuss. On the whole, Apple’s nipping and tucking means the 12 Pro Max is more comfortable to use than last year’s model, and that’s a big deal.

Gallery: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max review photos | 16 Photos

Gallery: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max review photos | 16 Photos

Aside from that, the 12 Pro Max shares a lot with the iPhone 12 Pro. Its stainless steel body and frosted glass back repels grimy fingerprints and makes it less prone to sliding around. It has an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance, and the same shatter-resistant CeramicShield covering the display. Just remember, “shatter-resistant” is not the same as “scratch-proof”. At some point during my testing, the screen picked up a pronounced gouge right on the edge of the display, and I couldn’t for the life of me tell you how or when it happened. In any case, I’m sure it won’t be the last such accident. 

The Pro Max also supports the full swath of MagSafe accessories, though most of them are forgettable. Apart from some neat cases, the most notable example is Apple’s MagSafe wireless charging puck. Charging rates top out at 15W, or about double what you’d get from a standard Qi wireless charger. Honestly, though — and I’ll probably elaborate on this in another story — wireless charging is still too inefficient for me to fully embrace. Yes, it’s convenient, but there’s a notable body of evidence suggesting that widespread use of wireless charging could have a negative effect on the environment. The jury is still out on the extent of the impact, but if rumors are true and Apple really does plan to make a portless iPhone, expect a lot more on this subject. 

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Apple also gets credit for managing to squeeze in an even bigger display. At 6.7 inches, this Super Retina XDR screen is the biggest that Apple’s ever packed into an iPhone, and it’s both gorgeous and a little daunting. The gorgeous part is self-explanatory: It’s plenty bright for outdoor use, and the OLED display ramps its brightness up even further to 1,200 nits when displaying HDR video. 

The one real knock against it is that, unlike basically every half-decent Android phone, this screen only refreshes at 60Hz. Leaks published before Apple’s big event strongly suggested that the 12 Pros have all the hardware they need to actually do this — they just don’t. Maybe it’s to prolong battery life in the company’s first 5G phone, maybe it’s something else. Apple bet that people wouldn’t miss it and that’ll largely be true, but if you have experienced faster screens, it’s hard to go back. 

As for why this thing is daunting, well, just look at it. A few people I’ve spoken to already think the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 has gotten too big, and the Pro Max offers even more screen to navigate. Yes, this thing is a little easier to handle because of its new design, but the Pro Max is obviously going to be way too much phone for some people.

On the flip side, Apple’s continued insistence on flat screens means the Pro Max is less prone to accidental touches on the edge of the display when you’re stretching to reach something with your thumb. This might be mostly a “me” problem, but it’s very common on high-end Android devices with curved displays, and it’s annoying. All told, unless you really care about camera performance (more on that soon), the smaller iPhone 12 Pro is more than enough for most people.


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