iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max vs. iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max: The verdict in 2021
Want one of Apple's previous Pro iPhones? The iPhone 11 and 12 are still great options, but there are some important differences to consider.
Karisa LangloSenior Editor
Karisa Langlo has been writing and editing professionally for over 12 years, joining CNET with two writing degrees and bylines in Milwaukee Magazine, Louisville Magazine and The Masters Review. She started on CNET's mobile team before expanding to all tech and now works across categories to optimize the performance of all CNET advice and storytelling, from Wellness to Money, News and Culture. Karisa also manages strategy for CNET's Tips franchise.
Let's say you already know you want an iPhone, specifically the Pro version, and let's say you're not interested in waiting around for the iPhone 13. (Apple's next flagship lineup should be here very soon, and it's starting to look very cool but once we find out the price, Apple's previous lineups will likely go on sale.) For those who have their eye on a Pro or Pro Max, the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 are still two great options.
Or maybe you already have an iPhone 11 Pro or 11 Pro Max and are trying to decide whether to trade it in for something from Apple's iPhone 12 lineup. The iPhone 12 Pro starts at $999, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max starts at a cool $1,099. Apple discontinued the 11 Pro and Pro Max when the iPhone 12 line was announced, but you can still find the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max at a discount at various retailers, sometimes as low as $625.
Trading in to Apple will bring the price of an iPhone 12 down considerably -- as much as $500 in savings for an 11 Pro trade-in, or $540 for a Pro Max -- but then again, keeping your old phone for another year is free. Apple made several improvements to its iPhone 12 lineup, (most notably adding 5G -- oh, and it also comes in purple) but are the phone's newer tricks worth the cash? The answer depends on what's important to you. Let's compare Apple's 2019 and 2020 Pro flagships on design, camera, performance and more.
Read more: Deciding between iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 instead? Here's what we know so far.
In 2019, we gave the iPhone 11 the coveted Editors' Choice Award and called the Pro version "simply the best iPhone ever." That designation was challenged with the release of the iPhone 12, but the fact remains that Apple's previous year's flagship is still an excellent phone, with a high-resolution OLED display, three-camera array (with Deep Fusion technology) and a sleek matte-glass finish.
Major camera improvements, an A14 Bionic chip, ceramic shield screen and a fancy redesign make the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max the ideal phone if money is no object. It also has 5G connectivity, which is the one thing everyone's talking about. The jury's still out on how useful 5G will be in the iPhone 12, but it does future-proof the phone -- and FOMO-proof it, too.
Compared with 2019's flagship, the iPhone 12 lineup features slimmer bezels that accommodate a larger screen without greatly increasing the phone's overall size and weight. The 11 Pro's 5.8-inch screen becomes 6.1 inches in the iPhone 12 Pro. And the iPhone 11 Pro Max's 6.5-inch screen is now 6.7 inches in the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
If these drop test results have convinced you to forgo a phone case, phone colors are probably going to play at least a small role in your decision. Apple introduced some new colors with the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max (including a super-shiny, C-3PO-style gold hue), giving the phones a premium look.
iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max colors:
iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max colors:
5G, processor, battery and performance
The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max come with Apple's A14 Bionic chip, which is a successor to the iPhone 11's A13 processor. All four phones, the iPhone 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, feature a 60Hz display.
No discussion of the iPhone 12 is complete without a mention of 5G. If your area has 5G coverage and your carrier offers it, the iPhone 12 is capable of delivering much higher speeds than the iPhone 11, which lacks 5G capability. However, your mileage with the next generation cellular connectivity may vary, especially as coverage continues to roll out. The results of our 5G speed tests with the iPhone 12 were not exactly earth shattering. Right now, 5G connectivity is probably not a compelling reason to trade in an iPhone 11 Pro for a 12 Pro, but if you're choosing between the two phones, the latter will be more future-proofed.
Watch this: Our in-depth review of the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro
Apple doesn't release battery specs, but it says the iPhone 11 Pro's battery will last up to 18 hours, compared with 17 hours for the iPhone 12 Pro. Apple says the iPhone 11 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Pro Max batteries will both last for up to 20 hours. One hour of potential difference is not significant enough to sway your decision, but it's worth noting that 5G usage does tend to drain phone batteries. To combat this, Apple introduced with the iPhone 12 lineup a feature called Smart Data Mode, which toggles between 5G and 4G, or even between different bands of 5G, balancing performance with battery life.
In the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, Apple introduced both hardware and software upgrades to its camera setup. CNET's Patrick Holland calls it "the best overall camera system you can find." One new feature, visible in the camera array on the back of the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, is a sensor technology called lidar. Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging, uses lasers to assess depth, improving portrait mode effects and low-light focus.
Software also makes the iPhone 12 Pro's low-light Night Mode photography even better -- CNET's James Martin called the iPhone 12 Pro's Night Mode images "nothing short of amazing." Apple added Night Mode to the iPhone 12 Pro's selfie and ultrawide cameras, whereas Night Mode on the iPhone 11 Pro only functions on the standard wide lens. Night Mode portraits on the iPhone 12 Pro are now also a thing. As far as hardware goes, iPhone 12 Pro's wide lens has been upgraded from an f/1.8 to a wider f/1.6 aperture, improving its low-light capabilities by 27%, according to Apple.
Storage capacity: iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max, iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max
iPhone 12 Pro
iPhone 12 Pro Max
iPhone 11 Pro
iPhone 11 Pro Max
If the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max continue to go on sale at third-party vendors, your decision will likely come down to whether saving that money is worth the now-outshined cameras and lack of 5G connectivity. If money is a concern, the iPhone SE is another great option, currently priced at $399 unlocked (there could be an iPhone SE 3 coming, too). And there's always the regular iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini, or the previous year's iPhone 11, any of which you can get starting at $800 or less.