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iPhone 12 Pro/Pro Max Unboxing & Review: A promise of the future [Video]

The iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max are solid refinements to last year’s 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, but there have been some let downs. There’s no high-refresh-rate display to be found, battery life has gotten worse, and Apple’s making the phone more expensive for those of you who don’t already own a USB-C power adapter and earphones. But is it still worth it?

Unboxing

The unboxing experience and what you get in the box has been quite the point of controversy with the iPhone 12 lineup. This is because you’re no longer getting the headphones and USB-C power adapter normally included with the phones. Apple did this to support driving down E-Waste. Many people who purchase this phone are already going to have a charger and some headphones on deck. But for those of you who are buying this without those accessories on hand, you’re definitely being put in a difficult position. But spending the extra $40 for those accessories or an equivalent might prove to be worth it in the long run if you’re interested in the 12 Pro.

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Design

The 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max now have completely different feels in the hand compared to the 11 series. And the difference is night and day. Some users have expressed that this flat-edge design can have an uncomfortable feel in the hand after a while due to sharper edges. Personally, this hasn’t been an issue for me. Overall usability hasn’t been compromised in the slightest. Even the massive 6.7-Inch 12 Pro Max feels just as good to use as the 6.5” 11 Pro Max. The 12 Pro’s are .7mm thinner than last year’s 11 Pros, but that isn’t noticeable visually or in the feel of the phones at all.

The 12 Pro Max has larger lenses than the 11 Pro and Pro Max. And I’m a fan of this design tweak. I think it helps visually emphasize the max in 12 Pro Max. Overall, I like the way the phones look and feel. The new colors are a nice addition, as well. The new pacific blue color is, in my opinion, the perfect blend of subtleness and elegance.

Display

Both the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max feature slightly larger displays than the 11 Pros, with 6.1 and 6.7-inch screens as opposed to 5.8 inches and 6.5 inches. The display’s gotten a slight bump in resolution because of this, and it isn’t noticeable by any means. But generally speaking, the displays on both phones are great. Because of the HDR capability both of these phones possess, these displays can get extremely bright (1000+ nits) and can offer very punchy and vibrant colors.

I think the iPhone 12 Pro is no different from any flagship iPhone made in the last three years, in the sense that it’s got one of the best display’s in the business. But the lack of a high-refresh-rate or “ProMotion” display in this year’s models is disappointing. Not only is this a feature Apple offers on their “Pro” version of the iPad, but it’s basically become a standard amongst all Android flagships, as well. However, I’m well aware of the struggles every company faced this year trying to get new products built and assembled. Besides that, the 12 Pros are telling the same story the 11 Pros did. The Super Retina XDR display is awesome.

One area where Apple did make display changes is with durability. The 12 Pro and Pro Max have what Apple calls a Ceramic Shield, achieved by implementing nano-ceramic crystals into the display. Because of this, you supposedly get 4x the drop performance. And although I’m not able to put that to the test, I’ve seen other tests that showcase the improved durability. The display doesn’t seem any more scratch-resistant, though, as I was able to unknowingly scratch my 12 Pro within the first day of usage. Nano-ceramic crystals or no ceramic crystals, glass is glass, so I’d still recommend utilizing some method of protection with these phones.

Speakers

The 12 Pro once again has fantastic audio output. It honestly blows me away how good the speakers in these phones are for being so thin and light. Both the Pro and Pro Max deliver an excellent sound with very punchy mids and highs. The low-end performance is probably what amazes me the most, though. The 12 Pro’s speakers put a lot of other smartphones to shame. Paired with that Super Retina XDR display, you’ve got yourself a solid multimedia experience in the palm of your hands. 

Performance

This year, the iPhone 12 Pros are running on the A14 Bionic chip in addition to 6GB of RAM, and performance on paper is substantially better than last year’s 11 Pros with the A13 and 4GB of RAM. But honestly, there isn’t a noticeable difference in speed for the day-to-day tasks. Opening and launching apps is fast and fluid, but not noticeably faster or fluid than the 11 Pros. I think the biggest longterm benefit of the 12 Pros for the average user is the extra memory. The extra memory will give you a bit more breathing room for multitasking or using RAM-heavy applications. Gaming on the 12 Pro and Pro Max is definitely an enjoyable experience. And for anything else you want to do, like photo edit or video edit, the 12 Pros will get the job done with flying colors.

MagSafe

MagSafe is Apple’s Magnetic wireless charging solution for the iPhones. And the Apple MagSafe charger has sparked some controversy due to real-world charging speeds. But I don’t believe the charging aspect of this tech was the sole intention of reviving MagSafe. The charger is only useful for charging your iPhone wirelessly at a marginally faster speed (15W). But the majority of third-party cases don’t maintain the magnetization, so using that charger at all is something I barely think to do.

MagSafe has a few tricks up its sleeve, though. In addition to charging, MagSafe can transmit data between a MagSafe accessory and the iPhone. If this functionality gets fleshed out, the accessory world for iPhones could see unprecedented evolution. Portable battery packs, add-on camera modules, or storage devices are all possible with MagSafe. But for now, we’re stuck with a hockey puck and a $60 Wallet that you have to “practice” using in order to get the proper functionality out of it. We are very much in the infancy-stages of MagSafe; right now, it doesn’t offer much. But with the proper execution, it could be a critical component of the iPhone in the near future.

Battery Life

Battery life on 12 Pro and Pro Max are two completely different stories. The regular 12 Pro has thoroughly disappointed me in the battery department. Apple decided to use slightly smaller batteries in both Pro phones this year. But between the two, the 12 Pro’s battery downgrade is much more noticeable than on the 12 Pro Max. On a good day, you could get close to 6.5 hours of SOT. But that’d be with pretty light usage. I’m not so much of a power-user on my smartphone. I’ve got other devices like my iPad or Macs for more intensive work. And given that, I still struggled to make this phone last all day for me.

With basic usage, iMessaging, social media, and the occasional 5G speed test, the phone could easily be at 20-30% battery life by 3 to 4 p.m. And all of this is without fully-utilizing the 5G radio, which can affect battery life as well. The 12 Pro’s battery life, quite simply, is not great. It’s good enough to be a usable phone, but not good enough to live up to the $1,000 price tag, in my opinion. I’d suggest keeping a charger handy with the 12 Pro.

The 12 Pro Max has a much better battery life. It’s still noticeably worse than the 11 Pro Max, but not substantially worse. I think that’s partially because the 11 Pro Max already had best-in-class battery performance. I can get 6.5 to 7 hours of screen-on time with ease. Unlike the 12 Pro, I’d say the 12 Pro Max still has a truly all-day battery.

5G

5G has been Apple’s huge marketing push for the iPhone 12 lineup, and the potential of 5G with mmWave is obviously insane. Getting Gigabit internet speeds on-the-go is extremely impressive. But mmWave has a long way to go before you can access it in more places than the top three American cities.

mmWave isn’t the only form of 5G, though; it’s just the best version of it. Sub-6 5G is much more widespread and provides substantially faster speeds on-the-go than regular LTE. Many users have also seen improvements with standard LTE and general reception in areas where their previous smartphones could barely pull in a signal. While you’re not likely to experience mmWave on a daily basis, there are general performance gains that you’re getting with 5G capability. But depending on your lifestyle, none of this may matter. For some people, 5G alone could be a reason to upgrade. Others, however, won’t ever have the need to take advantage of that.

Cameras

The camera system on the 12 Pro and Pro Max further refine the experience you get on the 11 Pro and Pro Max but with some new and useful features implemented. The first of which being the LiDar Scanner. The LiDar scanner, originally found on the iPad Pro, is a sensor that measures the light between it and a subject using invisible lasers. And not only can this be extremely beneficial for AR applications, but it can also improve autofocus and low-light photography as well. Apple now lets you use Night Mode when taking portraits, and that’s because of the LiDar Scanner. I don’t think the LiDar scanner is necessarily a critical component in the iPhone’s camera performance. But it’s definitely a nice bonus.

The standard 12 Pro gets a slightly lower aperture wide-angle lens than on the 11 Pro, meaning the camera should be a bit better for low-light. But the biggest improvement photography-wise for both models is the ability to shoot in night mode on all three lenses. This was something that was previously disabled for the ultra-wide lens. And as expected, this dramatically improves low-light performance on the ultra-wide lens. General photo performance on the 12 Pro is noticeably better than the 11 Pro, but not by much.

The 12 Pro Max offers some more notable improvements that the standard 12 Pro doesn’t have, the first of which is a larger sensor, which slightly improves low-light performance and detail compared to the standard 12 Pro. This is something Apple tried to hype up, but in real-world-usage, it’s marginally better than the standard 12 Pro. A feature exclusive to the Pro Max that’s a lot more noticeable is the sensor-shift image stabilization. For a device that’s pretty much always used handheld, having good image stabilization is important.

Image stabilization is not bad on the standard 12 Pro by any means, but the 12 Pro Max definitely takes it up a notch. This is probably the biggest benefit of going with the Max’s camera over the regular 12 Pro. You have a 2.5x optical zoom lens on the Pro Max, which compared to the 2x lens from last year, feels more like a true-telephoto lens. Quality-wise, they’re not differentiable, but it is nice to get a higher (65mm) focal length with the Pro Max.

Apple ProRAW

ProRAW is a feature that’s exclusive to the 12 Pro and Pro Max that should pique the interest of mobile photographers. For the first time, Apple’s allowed you to take RAW photos directly from the stock camera application. And having RAW capability allows for so much more flexibility when editing photos. You have a lot more room to adjust highlights and exposure without ruining the image. The files are recognizable by nearly any photo editing app as ProRAW files are saved in DNG. And while third-party apps have supported RAW output for a while now, having it built-in to the camera app definitely makes me more likely to take RAW photos.

HDR Dolby Vision Recording

Outside of all these camera improvements, the most important improvement by far is the HDR video capability. The iPhone 12 can record 10-Bit DolbyVision HDR video at up to 60FPS on the rear cameras and up to 30FPS on the front-facing camera. You might’ve noticed Jeff and I recently started releasing all 9to5Mac videos in HDR. And if you have an HDR-capable display of some kind, HDR content is almost all-upside from a viewer’s perspective. The contrast ratio you get with HDR video is incredible. Everything appears much more true-to-life because of the dynamic range. Having HDR on the iPhone definitely makes me want to record videos more often. And with the inclusion of HDR in the iPhones, you can be sure that more social platforms will support HDR video in the future.

If you’re a content creator looking to use their phone as their primary device for photography and videography, the 12 Pro and even more so the Pro Max are the best smartphones you can get your hands on for photo and video. And even if you’re on the 11 Pro or 11 Pro Max, these new camera features could be enough to justify an upgrade — especially if you use your smartphone as your primary photography and videography device.

Still from a 4K HDR video clip @60FPS

9to5Mac’s Take

Overall, the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max are not revolutionary upgrades. A lot of the new features implemented are still in their infancy. MagSafe is already showing its potential as more third-party manufacturers release useful accessories. But for now, we’re stuck with an underwhelming charger and a wallet that most certainly won’t work for everyone. HDR video is one of the biggest features of the iPhone’s camera system since 4K. However, HDR Video isn’t exactly standardized within video-sharing platforms. Even YouTube’s HDR support is somewhat half-baked. And the iPhone 12s are capable of utilizing the full potential of 5G speeds. But right now, there are only so many places you can truly access it. 

If you want to upgrade to the best iPhone money can buy, I would point you to the 12 Pro Max every time. And if the Max is too big for you, there are only a few reasons why the regular 12 Pro is worth it over the even cheaper iPhone 12. That’d be for better build quality, the telephoto lens, and double the storage (128GB) at the base specification. Otherwise, you could definitely save more money and go for the standard iPhone 12 or 12 mini. Those phones, for nearly a couple hundred bucks less, offer a lot of the best things about the 12 Pro. The 12 Pro and Pro Max are just as exceptional as the 11 Pro and Pro Max. But what they truly represent outside of an upgrade is a promise of the future.

What are your thoughts on the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max? Sound off in the comments below!

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