iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: Time to upgrade, stat!

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iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: is it time for an upgrade?


It's 2024, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max has free rein on the premium iPhone market. The best and most advanced iPhone right now has come a long way in comparison with Apple's flagship device from four years ago, the iPhone 12 Pro Max

While it may seem that it's only the design that's slightly changed, there are tons of improvements under the hood that decidedly make the iPhone 15 Pro Max the better device. And that's quite natural given the generational difference between the two devices. 

This review aims to compare all aspects of the iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max differences in a comprehensive way. The major differences are explored just below:

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Design and Size

Like iPhone 12 Pro Max, but with 3 facelifts

The iPhone 12 series set this new trend of the iPhones being a bit more stark, rectangular, with flat sides and right angles. Apple rarely does design overhauls, but adds minor tidbits and changes year over year.

So, we have the base look, with the camera module in the top-left back corner, the MagSafe array under the back, and the end-to-end screen up front.

But the iPhone 15 Pro Max inherits the Dynamic Island (instead of a notch) on top of the screen, as we first saw on the iPhone 14 Pro. It's a permanent taskbar thing, which masks the selfie camera cutouts by putting bubbles and widgets of your background apps around it.

We get a larger screen-to-body ratio up front, so slimmer bezels. The new build material also gives us a new finish — all iPhone 15 Pro Max models have a matte brushed titanium frame, which should be less of a fingerprint magnet than the shiny stainless steel. Moreover, for the first time since the iPhone 12 design, the corners of the new iPhones are slightly beveled, making them much softer on the hand.

The signature mute switch that has been on every iPhone also sees a change with the 15 Pro series. Apple has now added an Action Button, which we first saw on the Apple Watch Ultra. It still works as a mute toggle by default, but you can now program it to launch apps, flashlight, Focus Mode, camera, works as a shutter button, and activates Siri Shortcuts.

Unfortunately, you can only have one function tied to the Action Button, which is a huge waste — instead of having it doing different things when tapping or holding it, it can only do the one thing you pick for it. So, is it an upgrade, really? Kind of, sort of, but not fully fleshed out.

Display Differences

The Pro Max size is what it is and will stay the same — even if the iPhone 15 Pro Max has slightly slimmer bezels, the screen size didn't budge. So, that would mean 6.7-inch OLED panels with 1290 x 2796 pixels on both the iPhone 15 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Of course, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has a ProMotion screen with high 120 Hz refresh rate, while the 12 Pro Max is stuck with 60 Hz. Furthermore, the 12 Pro Max has the notch cutout on top, while the newest flagship has the Dynamic Island — whether that's a pro or a con is up to you.

The iPhone 15 Pro launched was marred by a scare — early adopters reported rapid screen burn-in issues, which sounded terrifying and kind of shocking, considering how short a time the phones were actually out. Turns out it was a software issue — "image persistence", where some pixels weren't given the right information, so they were still glowing with traces of previous image data. iOS 17.1 fixed all that.

Apple has been playing with maximum brightness a lot lately, ensuring that their screens can display HDR content even in bright conditions, and the 15 Pro Max hits 2,000 nits of peak brightness, which is pretty bright — more than you would typically need. It is almost double the 1,200 nit peak brightness of the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which we still find to be perfectly workable.

Display Measurements:

The color calibration on these screens is excellent, however Apple does have this problem with its OLED screens where the whites are a bit green-ish / yellow-ish. It's slightly better on the iPhone 15 Pro Max for what its worth. But if you use True Tone and Night Shift, it will rarely be a distracting issue in the first place.

Performance and Software

Nanometers, son!

The iPhone 15 Pro Max's A17 Pro chip is the first smartphone SoC built on a 3 nm process, manufactured by TSMC — and it is said that Apple basically booked the full production line, so no one else is butting in for a while. It's a small jump over the 4 nm process of 2022's Apple A16, and an even bigger jump over the 5 nm A14 inside the iPhone 12 Pro Max. But wait, what's with the nanometers?

Well, they basically signify the size of the transistors that are inside the chip. Smaller transistors means more room, more room means more transistors, and more transistors means faster performance and better energy efficiency, since the chip can do more calculations with less power draw. The iPhone 12 Pro Max still has pretty good performance and a very decent battery life. But it pales in comparison to the iPhone 14 Pro Max, for example, and we fully expect that a jump to an iPhone 15 Pro Max will feel significant.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max did suffer from some overheating issues early on, but these were subsequently remedied with iOS 17.0.3. We ran our custom benchmark tests for performance and battery life again after the update, the results with our units were the same as before, but the phone did not get as hot as before. A win-win scenario!

Performance Benchmarks:

Geekbench 6
SingleHigher is better
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max2958
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max2071
Geekbench 6
MultiHigher is better
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max7288
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max4844
3DMark Extreme(High)Higher is better
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max4236
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max2481
Extreme(Low)Higher is better
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max2632
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max1792

To top it off, the Apple A17 Pro chip has a GPU that now offers hardware-accelerated ray tracing and Apple dropped a bombshell at the event — games like Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Mirage and Resident Evil: Village will be available for the iPhone 15 Pro series. Those are some pretty heavy-hitting titles and we wonder if Apple is making serious moves on the handheld gaming market… with its phones?

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New iPhone also means new iOS. And both the iPhone 15 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Pro Max support iOS 17. With the new Journal app, the iMessage improvements with speech-to-text, and the new caller posters that let you control how you present yourself as you are calling someone.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max should receive two more iOS updates, meaning it will be tapping out once it gets iOS 19. So, again, you should be good on software support for a while. The iPhone 15 Pro Max has a long life ahead of it, probably ending with iOS 22.

Now, both models are up to iOS 17.2, which adds the Journal app, some Weather app facelifts and a couple more widgets for it, iMessage "catch up arrow" to jump to last unread message, spatial video recording mode for the iPhone 15 Pro, Translate feature on the Action Button for iPhone 15 Pro, and various bug fixes.

And, thanks to new EU regulations, Apple has finally been pushed to updating to USB Type-C. The iPhone 15 Pro Max supports USB 3 speeds, which is about 20 times faster than the USB 2.0 of Lightning. Unfortunately, the iPhone 15 Pro Max doesn't ship with a USB 3-capable cable in the box, but hey — the feature is there.


One small step for man, 5 steps of zoom for the camera

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is already a bit long in the tooth with its 12 MP main camera sensor — yes, back in the day, we used to say that less megapixels is better because we had bigger pixels to work with. Now, the tech has improved, smartphone camera sensors have grown, and manufacturers are using pixel binning to turn high-res sensors into low-res sensors when light-collection is a priority.

The iPhone 14 Pro Max showed that Apple has a lot of room to improve, as it introduced a 48 MP main camera sensor, which is much better than what we had before. It binned pixels in clusters of 4 and gave us 12 MP photos with better dynamics. And it unlocked a Pro Mode, which let you take 48 MP RAW shots.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max takes all of that further. For one, by default, the camera will take 24 MP photos instead of 12 MP, as Apple has worked to improve its Photonic Engine image processing. Secondly, we can now take raw photos in 48 MP HEIC, which should help with storage space a ton.

The main camera lens has a new coating, which Apple says will reduce lens flare. And the zoom camera is now a new 5x tetraprism lens.

That's a huge leap forward from the 2.5x zoom of the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The latter is still great for portrait shots. Now, Apple will be using the high-res sensor and software magic to give you "lossless" zoom up to 4.9x. We'll see how that pans out!

New improvements in the HDR processing will give us more realistic skintones, Apple says, and for another year in a row — we get better low-light performance. It may be minimal, we don't know yet, but since the iPhone 12 generation — we've gotten these small updates every year. So, you should definitely feel a jump.

Straight out of the gate, we spot better dynamic range and better details on the iPhone 15 Pro Max. The 12 Pro Max still takes OK photos, but some software oversharpening and worse HDR performance are visible when looking side-by side.

Interestingly enough, the first scene here tripped up the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Only goes to show that these algorithms can still go awry from time to time. However, on the second sample, we can see a prime example of how the anti-glare coating on the iPhone 15 Pro Max camera lenses is significantly reducing... well, glare. Also, dynamics and light sources are handled better by the iPhone 15 Pro Max there.

That 5x lens definitely improves image quality and beats the iPhone 12 Pro Max. However, when we take a shot at 2.5x — which is native zoom for the iPhone 12 Pro Max — we can spot some interesting differences. Yes the iPhone 15 Pro Max image is a bit softer, but not bad, we wouldn't say. The iPhone 12 Pro Max image is sharper, but we can spot the unpleasant auras of software oversharpening there.

At night, the differences are amplified, with the iPhone 15 Pro Max giving us consistently better image, with sharper detail, better dynamics, and less glare when zoomed in. Even at 2.5x.

The ultra-wide camera of the iPhone 15 Pro Max gives us better detail with way less software oversharpening. And the difference between the two cameras are very obvious at night time, where the iPhone 12 Pro Max's ultra-wide camera begins to fall apart.

The selfie camera of the iPhone 12 Pro Max still suffers from that Apple yellow hue, whereas the iPhone 15 Pro Max seems to have fixed that up. Apple did state that it worked hard on the algorithms to improve skintones, and we definitely see better selfies from the 15 Pro Max here. 

Video Quality

Video Thumbnail

It's a pleasant surprise to see the iPhone 12 Pro Max holding its own when recording video, at least during the day. Stabilization, colors, and details look great. Of course, the iPhone 15 Pro Max can record in ProRes and go all the way up to 4K at 60 FPS, so obviously, if video is your prime interest, upgrading should be a no-brainer.

Audio Quality and Haptics

iPhone speakers have been great for years now, especially the Pro Max models. Each year, they get a tiny tiny improvement, we feel — something like 5% better generation over generation. But their sound profile usually stays the same — meaty bottom end, slightly scooped mids, and a prominent presence. The iPhone 15 Pro Max puts a twist on that with a slight honk in the mids and a rolloff on the highs. We are unsure why — maybe the titanium build and slightly different shape of the device makes sound bounce off just that much differently.

In any case, both speakers sound good, we'd go with the iPhone 15 Pro Max because it's less prone to sound shrill or distort in the highs.

As for haptics —the Taptic engine is here to stay, and has been so over the past few generations of iPhones. For good reason — it's a strong, precise haptic feedback machine that was a staple in the industry for quite a while (thankfully, Android smartphones have caught up). The iPhone 15 Pro Max is no different and feels excellent.

Battery Life and Charging

All day x2

Apple always has the tag line "All day battery!" when it introduces a new product. However, for the past couple of years, the iPhones have gotten quite adept at exceeding that expectation. Especially the Pro Max models, which have more room for a bigger cell. Combine that with iOS' excellent battery management, and you can easily push an iPhone Pro Max to two days on a single charge.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max's A17 Pro chip is quite the power hog, but it does have the capability to use battery sparingly when you are doing regular everyday stuff like browsing the web. Here's how these phones fared on our battery life test:

PhoneArena Battery Test Results:

Video Streaming(hours)Higher is better
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max9h 45 min
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max8h 37 min
Web Browsing(hours)Higher is better
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max19h 20 min
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max14h 6 min
3D Gaming(hours)Higher is better
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max9h 36 min
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max8h 1 min

In our custom battery tests, which are all conducted with the display set at 200 nits and with consistent scenarios every time, the iPhone 15 Pro Max soundly beats the iPhone 12 Pro Max in all tests. You can expect a couple of hours extra battery endurance on the newer iPhone 15 Pro Max, even more so if your iPhone 12 Pro Max has slightly deteriorating battery health (which should be the case by now). 

PhoneArena Battery Charging Results

As for fast charging — iPhones aren't typically about that. The 12 Pro Max can take 20 W on a wire and 15 W wirelessly (via MagSafe, 7.5 W on any ol' Qi pad). So does the iPhone 15 Pro Max. You can still get a good amount of juice for 30 minutes plugged:

15 Mins(%)Higher is better
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max28%
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max23%
30 Mins(%)Higher is better
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max53%
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max48%
Full Charge(hours)Lower is better
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max2h 1 min
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max1h 58 min

Specs Comparison

Let's see the main specs for both phones here. If you want to take a deep dive with the sheets, do visit our dedicated page for iPhone 15 Pro Max vs iPhone 12 Pro Max specs comparison.

So, with three generations apart, we definitely see a good divide in specs between these two phones. Specifically in the camera and processor department. But also, that battery upgrade will look massive over the iPhone 12 Pro Max — and you will most certainly notice a huge spike in screen-on time.

Summary and Final Verdict

So, is it time to shell out for the iPhone 15 Pro Max to replace that old iPhone 12 Pro Max? In mid-2024, the answer is a definite yes. Although it's true that the iPhone 12 Pro Max might last you a good year of two more, the amount of improvements that the iPhone 15 Pro Max delivers are truly hard to pass up.  

Don't want to part with $1,200? Well, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is still a good phone. It has enough CPU power to run modern apps, it still gets software and security updates. Its cameras are far from the best nowadays, but are still pretty good.

So, if you have the money, sure go for it and you won't regret it. If you'd rather hold off for yet another year — it's fine, you've got a good device on you.

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