The iPhone 12 Pro Max is a titan that packs it all, the iPhone 12 Mini is perfect for small hands

iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I’ve spent the last week reviewing Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Mini. They’re the second half of the four iPhones Apple announced in October, following the regular iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, and they’re also the largest and smallest of Apple’s iPhone 12 models.

Both phones went on sale on Nov. 6 and ship this Friday. The Mini starts at $699 and the Pro Max starts at $1,099.

I still think the iPhone 12 is the phone that most people should buy. It’s the best balance of size and features. But the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a great phone for folks who want the biggest screen Apple has ever packed used on an iPhone, and it comes with a few extra camera tricks that even the iPhone 12 Pro doesn’t have.

And the iPhone 12 Mini is a fantastic little phone that’s unmatched in the market for features and price at its size. You’ll like it if you think Apple’s other phones are “too big.”

I don’t know if Apple needs four models to choose from, but the company clearly wants to cater to all sorts of buyers at different price ranges. The good news is you really can’t go wrong with any model you pick. They’re all top-notch phones.

I’ve already reviewed the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, so I won’t repeat myself too much here. I’ll mostly use this opportunity to talk about the small number of unique features only found in the iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Plus I’ll give you some tips on how to choose the right iPhone for you now that all four new models are on sale.

Here’s what you need to know about the two latest iPhones.

iPhone 12 Pro Max

iPhone 12 Pro Max
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is the crème de la crème of Apple’s iPhone offering this year. It’s a big honkin’ iPhone that builds upon the iPhone 12 Pro with some added camera zoom features and even better pictures and video when it’s dark. If you want the very best iPhone out there with everything Apple can fit in, this is the one you want.

I love the stainless steel gold color.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is fundamentally very similar to the smaller iPhone 12 Pro. It still has the nice stainless steel design with sharp edges that I prefer over the rounded edges of earlier models. It has the new MagSafe accessory system for faster wireless charging and new accessories that just attach to the back, which I love. And it includes support for next-generation 5G networks, though I’ve found they’re largely not much faster where I live just yet. Your mileage will vary until 5G networks become more widespread in 2021 and beyond.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The 6.7-inch screen is huge, measuring a hair bigger than the 6.5-inch on last year’s iPhone 11 Pro. It’s thinner than last year’s model, but also a bit heavier. But big is good for people like me who love large screens, even if it means using it with two hands a lot. It means more space for movies, pictures, text on a screen when you’re reading an article and more.

iPhone 12 Pro Max
Todd Haselton | CNBC

And while I appreciate the big screen, sometimes that added heft was annoying, like when I was in bed holding the phone over my head. It just starts to feel heavier than other phones. It might bother some people. And you need two hands to use it. But, if you drop it, it’s more resistant to drops (as the other iPhone 12 models are) thanks to a new “ceramic shield” front that prevents cracks if it smacks the ground.

The cameras are awesome. As I said in my iPhone 12 review, this can be really subjective among users. Some people like pictures from Samsung phones or Google‘s Pixels better. I like that Apple doesn’t overdo colors and that pictures look accurate to real life. Here’s a picture of my dog Mabel I shot with the portrait camera. Pictures of people looked just as good, but I prefer using her as my subject in reviews:

My dog Mabel
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has added zoom, so you can get 2.5x closer to your subject versus 2x closer with an iPhone 12 Pro. The regular wide-angle lens lets in more light, too, so the phone doesn’t even need to turn on night mode in some low-light situations to take a good picture, which means you don’t have to wait as long for a picture to snap. It benefits everyone, but I think these sorts of things really matter more to pro users who will care more about the difference for pictures and video. Here’s an example of a low-light portrait picture at night. I like that it doesn’t have a lot of noise and that some parts are still sharp, like the mulch on the ground in front.

A night portrait shot of a lantern.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Another portrait I took at night also looked noticeably clearer and sharper thanks to the better sensor in the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Speaking of pro things, there’s also a new kind of stabilization system called “sensor-shift optical image stabilization” in the iPhone 12 Pro Max that’s typically found in professional DSLR cameras. It replaces the “dual optical image stabilization” in the other models. Without getting too technical, it helps you take even more stable video, whether it’s while filming in a bumpy car or holding the phone with a shaky arm, since it balances out the camera sensor instead of the camera lens.

Videos look great because of the new stabilization but also largely because of the same Dolby Vision HDR feature used in the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. (And like the Pro it works at a smoother 60 frames per second.) It helps create much more accurate colors and brightness in the scene you’re filming, and you’ll definitely notice it when you play it back on the iPhone or any other screen that supports Dolby Vision HDR. Apple’s still unmatched in mobile video.

The cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Like the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro Max includes a new lidar sensor. It’s helpful for accurate portrait photos in lowlight areas, but it’s also fun to use with augmented reality. Other iPhones without lidar, for example, require you to wave your phone around before you can drop a digital object, like a piece of furniture in Wayfair, into the real world. The lidar sensor lets you do this almost instantly. I had the most fun with an all called Polycam, which allowed me to scan my kitchen in under a minute and create a 3D model I could interact with on the phone. It could be super useful if you’re planning a redesign of a room in your house and need to get 3D measurements.

A scan of my kitchen using lidar on the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Battery life was great, too, which was a bit surprising given it has such a large display. I was able to make it through a full day before having to charge and regularly got more than 6 hours of screen-on time. Lighter users will probably be able to get through two days.

iPhone 12 Mini

Apple iPhone 12 Mini
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I think the iPhone 12 Mini could be a sleeper hit, even though I prefer larger phones. It has a 5.4-inch screen versus the 6.1-inch display on the iPhone 12.

It’s the model that people who own the regular iPhone 6, iPhone 7 or iPhone 8, and prefer the smaller size, may want to buy instead of upgrading to the larger iPhone 12. And, unlike the more affordable iPhone SE, the iPhone 12 Mini includes a larger display in a small form factor, 5G, new MagSafe charging, Face ID and better cameras.

iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

It’s thin and light enough that it’s barely noticeable in your pocket, a sharp contrast from the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

But the iPhone 12 Mini includes a lot of the features that I like so much about the iPhone 12, like the high-quality OLED screen, the great ultra-wide and wide cameras (but no telephoto lens for extra zoom like on the Pro models), support for 5G networks and the same fast processor. And the cameras are great, snapping pictures that were, as expected, just as nice as the iPhone 12. Here’s a picture of some hydrangeas I took in the garden:

Photo sample from iPhone 12 Mini
Todd Haselton | CNBC

And I like this picture of an old door on my garage, there’s lots of detail in the shadows and on the old chipping paint:

A picture captured with the iPhone 12 Mini.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

It’s really just a smaller version of the iPhone 12, though you have some trade-offs.

iPhone 12 Pro Mini
Todd Haselton | CNBC

For one, the battery was good enough to get me through most of the day but not always the entire day. Light users should make it a full day, but I think anyone who uses their phone frequently may want a model with longer battery life. It also doesn’t pull as much power with MagSafe as the iPhone 12 does, though I don’t think most people will even notice this and you’ll still get a 50% charge in 30 minutes if you use a 20W wall plug ($20, not included) instead of MagSafe.

iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Also, I have fat thumbs, which is why I normally gravitate toward the bigger screens where I have more keyboard space for typing. Typing was a little cramped for me on the iPhone 12 Mini, but I got used to it after a few days, and people with smaller hands will like that it’s easier to reach across the whole screen without having to balance the phone with another phone as you might with the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Again, you can’t go wrong with your iPhone choice this year. It all comes down to size preference and whether you want some of the pro camera features offered in the pro camera models or not. My choice this year, as last year, is with the all-out Max model.

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