Monday, November 23, 2020
Tech

Too Much And Not Enough

Too Much And Not Enough
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The largest of Apple’s new iPhones is always positioned as the natural choice for those who prefer a more robust form-factor. This is true again in 2020 as the sheer size of the iPhone 12 Pro Max remains its most exclusive and obvious selling point. But its broad and simplistic appeal is often undercut by complication.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max isn’t just a bigger iPhone 12. As the name suggests, it’s more of an upsized iPhone 12 Pro. But this brings with it a costly assumption: along with a bigger screen you’re also getting a significantly better camera.

While Apple does leverage the larger form-factor for some solid gains on the camera and battery side of things, the lofty price-tag leaves Apple’s largest iPhone more difficult to recommend than I’d like.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

iPhone 12 Pro Max

WHAT IS IT?

The largest of the 2020 iPhone line up.

PRICE

Starts at $1,849

LIKE

Camera is a weird flex on the iPhone 12 Pro.

DON’T LIKE

It might actually be a little too much big to handle, Software doesn’t take advantage of larger screen.

Obvious Advantages

From the outset, iPhone 12 Pro Max feels downright monolithic to handle. Even by the standards of its Android-based counterparts, it’s heavier and heftier than you’d expect.

As someone who naturally gravitates towards smaller and lighter devices, I must confess I found the iPhone 12 Pro Max was often frustrating and relatively awkward to use. The one-handed operation is something of a literal stretch.

Still, the upshot of the larger screen is the iPhone 12 Pro Max is better equipped for gaming, reading ebooks or streaming video content. In a practical sense, you’ve got more to work with and that cultivates predictable benefits.

That being said, I can’t help but wish Apple were a little more ambitious with the iPhone 12 Pro Max. I’m not entirely convinced a rival to Samsung’s S-Pen would be the right play.

But iPad-style multitasking, or even support for the Apple Pencil, would have gone a long way towards making the list of reasons to consider buying this thing a little longer. Just imagine what a version of this phone with something akin to Samsung’s DeX mode could offer.

Apple has toyed with making the most of the larger form-factor by squeezing in a slightly-larger battery and a somewhat different rear camera setup, but it doesn’t really lean into it.

Compared to the fourteen hours of streaming video it took to run down the battery on the iPhone 12, the Pro Max lasted nineteen hours. Nevertheless, these details feel more like a side effect than a proactive design choice. I constantly found myself wishing there was more to distinguish the iPhone 12 Pro Max from the other options beyond the 6.7-inch jumbotron screen.

Familiar features in the Pro Max

Image: Fergus Halliday

Form-factor aside, the iPhone 12 Pro Max still largely checks many of the same boxes as the rest of the 2020 iPhone line up. Sustained by the silicon heartbeat of Apple’s A14 Bionic chip and preloaded with the latest version of iOS 14, the list of features here is more familiar than not.

There’s a gorgeous 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display with ‘Ceramic Shield’ protection, IP68 water resistance, 5G connectivity and support for wireless charging via MagSafe and Qi.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max even manages to inherit some of the iPhone 12’s less endearing quirks. Not to spend too much time repeating myself but I still wish Apple would finally cut the cord and trade out the lingering Lightning Port on this thing for USB Type-C.

A contrast to these familiar pros and cons is the material design — the iPhone 12 Pro Max feels remarkably different. Jumping from the iPhone 12 to the Pro Max, the stainless steel edges makes this thing feel like an upgrade. Alongside the frosted glass back, it’s a welcome encore that picks up where last year’s plus-sized pro-grade iPhone left off.

Maximum Telephoto

Image: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

As with the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro Max relies on a triple-lens rear camera setup with three 12-megapixel lenses (wide, telephoto and ultrawide) plus a LIDAR scanner. As opposed to its pro-grade counterpart, the telephoto lens on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is ever so slightly larger – which translates into an extra notch of optical zoom.

If that sounds like a marginal improvement… it is. I rarely found this difference in hardware translated to meaningfully results – let alone offset the practical downsides of opting for a handset this large.

You can push the zoom a little further before it deteriorates into pixelated mush, but that gain is minimal compared to the leaps and bounds Android smartphones such as Huawei’s P series, Oppo’s Find X2 Pro or the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra have achieved in recent years.

Even if the iPhone 12 Pro Max can get you a little closer to your subject than the standard Pro, zoom remains the one front where Apple’s premium smartphone photography hardware still falls short.

Still, if we temporarily strip away the larger context and focus on the results the iPhone 12 Pro Max itself produces, you’re unlikely to find much cause for complaint.

Even with its shortcomings, the setup – which builds on the already-excellent camera performance of the iPhone 12 – is primed to deliver great results.

The LIDAR sensor in particular makes a difference in low-light settings and is a neat evolution on the standard Night Mode formula. Even if it doesn’t guarantee jaw-dropping photography in every possible scenario, it did improve on noise and sharpness – especially compared to the LIDAR-less results delivered by the standard iPhone 12.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max Price

If you’re seriously considering the iPhone 12 Pro Max, you’re looking at the most expensive item on the menu. We’re talking $1849 for the 128GB model and upwards of two grand if you want more storage.

Given the slim differences between and the regular Pro, the premium price is tricky to justify — even if you are hungry for that extra few inches of OLED.

Should you buy it?

Image: Fergus Halliday

Even in a world where a lot of Australians weren’t enduring a pandemic/recession combo meal, the iPhone 12 Pro Max feels difficult to recommend.

Aside from the obvious hardware-related benefits attached to the larger form-factor, it doesn’t really bring all that much to the table than the iPhone 12 Pro.

If you’re really willing to pay extra for that alone, have at it. However, if you’d prefer something more ambitious, then Samsung’s boundary-pushing Note 20 Ultra might make for a better fit. It’s not particularly competitive on price but if you’re more of a power user, Samsung’s phablet is better and more versatile where it counts.

Cliched as it might sound, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a reminder that size only matters if you know what to do with it.



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