iPhone 12 Pro Max vs. iPhone XS Max: What big changes did Apple make in 2020?

We compare the major differences between the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the iPhone XS Max, besides 5G.

Sareena Dayaram
Sareena Dayaram
Sareena Dayaram Senior Editor
Sareena is a senior editor for CNET covering the mobile beat including device reviews. She is a seasoned multimedia journalist with more than a decade's worth of experience producing stories for television and digital publications across Asia's financial capitals including Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mumbai. Prior to CNET, Sareena worked at CNN as a news writer and Reuters as a producer.
Expertise Huawei, Oppo, smartphones, smartwatches Credentials
  • More than a decade of journalism experience
Sareena Dayaram
5 min read
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Back in October, Apple introduced the iPhone 12 Pro Max , along with its three siblings in the first virtual-only iPhone event. There are plenty of superlatives that could describe the iPhone 12 Pro Max: the iPhone with the largest ever screen (6.7 inches), the iPhone with the most durable screen (alongside its siblings) and possibly even the iPhone with the longest battery life. 

Two years ago, the iPhone XS Max  held many of those exact titles. So if you've been holding onto an iPhone XS Max, you're probably wondering what additions Apple has packed into the iPhone 12 Pro Max (beyond 5G support) and whether it's worth the cash to go for an upgrade. Apple made the expected incremental upgrades to things like its processor and software (scroll down to our specs chart for specifics), but there are some key changes you'll want to consider before making the decision to upgrade or wait for Apple's next-gen iPhone in 2021.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has an extra camera and a longer telephoto lens

As Apple's fanciest phone available, getting the iPhone 12 Pro Max means you'll get the very best overall photo and video quality of any iPhone. But it'll also allow for more versatile photography compared to the iPhone XS Max. While each iPhone has wide and telephoto lenses, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has an extra lens taking the form of an ultra-wide shooter. That ultra-wide lens is crucial for taking photos of sweeping landscapes or even if you want to take a zoomed-out photo of, say, your living room. 


The iPhone XS Max's dual rear camera module has a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens.

Angela Lang/CNET

In addition, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a longer telephoto lens than the iPhone XS Max. At a 65-millimeter equivalent, the new telephoto lens on the 12 Pro Max has a 2.5x optical zoom. Compare that to the iPhone XS Max's 2x zoom (52-millimeter equivalent) telephoto lens and that extra 0.5x can go a long way. The iPhone 12 Pro Max (along with the iPhone 12 Pro) has a lidar sensor too, which helps with auto-focus in low-light for photos, videos and slow motion. I'll go into more depth on the tech later. If you're looking for specific details about the camera, feel free to scroll down to our specs chart at the bottom of this article.

The iPhone 12 Max Pro has a 'Ceramic Shield' display

While both devices rely on similar-sized OLED panels, Apple added a ceramic-hardened glass display, called Ceramic Shield, to its iPhone 12 line. Apple says its ceramic shielding, which covers the front of the device, offers four times better drop protection. Although it's tough to verify that claim, we can conclude, based on our drop tests, that it's indeed a durable shielding. Admittedly, we haven't put the iPhone 12 Pro Max itself through the paces yet, but CNET's Vanessa Hand Orellana did conduct tests on the iPhone 12, which uses the same screen. In her tests, the iPhone 12's screen survived without a crack after it was dropped six times on a sidewalk, including three back-to-back drops from a height of 9 feet.  

For its part, the iPhone XS Max seems to be a durable phone too. According to CNET's drop test results, the iPhone XS , which uses the same screen as its pricier sibling, survived four drops on a cement sidewalk from a height of 3 feet and 5 feet. 

The iPhone XS Max behemoth shown from every angle

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The iPhone 12 Pro Max has big battery energy 

The iPhone 12 Pro Max's sleeper feature is its large battery, according to CNET's Patrick Holland, who reviewed the device. Although Apple doesn't reveal battery size, the company's website says the 12 Pro Max should last 20 hours playing a looped video on airplane mode. In Patrick's test, it got exceedingly close to that duration, lasting 19 hours, 52 minutes. Meanwhile, the iPhone XS Max lasted 17 hours, 23 minutes, which is an impressive feat in its own right. Whether that extra hour and a half matters will likely come down to personal preference or your phone-use habits. 

The iPhone 12 Pro Max may opens up a world of magnetic accessories

Apple confirmed the fears of some iPhone fans when it announced that the iPhone 12 wouldn't come with either a wall adapter or wired earphones. While the company is betting many of its customers already have those accessories, Apple's reasoning to leave behind the wall adapter may also have something to do with its introduction of MagSafe. It's a proprietary wireless charging system that relies on magnets and it lets you snap on magnetic accessories like chargers and wallets onto your device's rear. Apple's $38 MagSafe charge is one such accessory you can buy separately, but there are many more to choose from and the selection is rapidly growing. 

As for the iPhone XS Max, it comes with a Lightning cable and plug and it also works with the existing Qi wireless charging standard


Examples of some magnetic accessories you can snap onto the back of your iPhone 12 Pro Max.


The iPhone 12 Pro Max has lidar

Peer closely at the iPhone 12 Pro Max (and the iPhone 12 Pro) and you'll see a little black dot near the camera lenses: That's the lidar sensor. It uses infrared lasers to measure an object's distance, based on how long it takes for the light to get back to the sensor. Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging, isn't anything new, however. The depth-sensing tech has already made its way to self-driving cars , drones  and robotics, but it's the first time the tech has appeared on an iPhone.

What the inclusion of lidar means for the iPhone 12 Pro Max is that it helps improve your device's camera features like taking blurry-background shots in night mode and low-light focus. But you can also use it to accurately measure things and even create 3D maps of a room. To learn more about how lidar works and what direction it's headed in, check this article out.

Read more: iPhone 12's lidar tech does more than improve photos. Check out this cool party trick

The bottom line

Now that we've gone through many of the major differences between the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone XS Max, it's time to share our buying advice on whether to go for the upgrade. The short answer is: If you've already invested in the iPhone XS Max, it might be worth it to wait until next year. But if you're having battery or performance problems, then you may want to consider that upgrade. The logic is this: While MagSafe, a ceramic-hardened display and an improved camera system are indeed noteworthy changes, I'd argue they're nice-to-have additions rather than need-to-have ones. The iPhone XS Max is already a fantastic all-rounder capable of lasting you through the day and capturing wonderful photos. You'd really only need the upgrade if you're having battery or performance issues.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max looks premium in gold

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iPhone 12 Pro Max vs iPhone XS Max

iPhone 12 Pro Max (2020)iPhone XS Max (2018)
Display size, resolution 6.7-inch OLED; 2,778x1,284 pixels6.5-inch OLED; 2,688x1,242 pixels
Pixel density 458 ppi458 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.33 x 3.07 x 0.29 in6.2 x 3.0 x 3.0 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 160.8 x 78.1 x 7.4 mm157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 8.03 oz; 228g7.3oz; 208g
Mobile software iOS 14iOS 12
Camera 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 12-megapixel (telephoto)12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto)
Front-facing camera 12-megapixel7-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K
Processor Apple A14 BionicApple A12 Bionic
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB64GB, 256GB, 512GB
RAM UndisclosedUndisclosed
Expandable storage NoneNone
Battery UndisclosedNot disclosed
Fingerprint sensor No (FaceID)No (Face ID)
Connector LightningLightning
Headphone jack NoNo
Special features Lidar scanner; 5G enabled; MagSafe; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM) Water-resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging; Face ID; Memoji
Price off-contract (USD) $1,099 (128GB), $1,199 (256GB), $1,399 (512GB)$1,099 (64GB), $1,249 (256GB), $1,449 (512GB)
Price (GBP) £1,099 (128GB), £1,199 (256GB), £1,399 (512GB)£1,099 (64GB), £1,249 (256GB), £1,449 (512GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1,849 (128GB), AU$2,019 (256GB), AU$2,369 (512GB)AU$1,799 (64GB), AU$2,049 (256GB), AU$2,369 (512GB)