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Daily Crunch: Reviewing the biggest and smallest new iPhones

We review the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the iPhone 12 mini, Zoom settles with the FTC and Pfizer announces promising results for its COVID-19 vaccine trial. This is your Daily Crunch for November 9, 2020.

The big story: Reviewing the biggest and smallest new iPhones

TechCrunch Editor in Chief Matthew Panzarino tackled both extremes of the new iPhone 12 lineup today, publishing reviews of the Pro Max and the mini.

It sounds like he’s impressed with both of them. The iPhone 12 Pro Max, he writes, has “a really, really great camera” — the question is whether you’re willing to make the ergonomic trade-off, since you’ll probably need to use two hands with the larger phone. At the same time, he suggests that the iPhone 12 mini might be “the most attractive phone in the lineup.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Matthew also checked out the MagSafe Duo charger, a dual magnetic charger that he found underwhelming.

The tech giants

Zoom settles with FTC after making ‘deceptive’ security claims — The FTC previously accused Zoom of engaging in “a series of deceptive and unfair practices,” in part by claiming its encryption was stronger than it actually was.

Adobe acquires marketing workflow startup Workfront for $1.5B — This deal gives Adobe more online marketing tooling to fit into its Experience Cloud.

Beyond Meat shares rise on news that it collaborated with McDonald’s on the McPlant options — While McDonald’s initial announcement made it sound like the McPlant was developed entirely in-house, the new vegetarian option is actually a collaboration with Beyond Meat.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Autonomous delivery startup Nuro hits $5 billion valuation on fresh funding of $500 million — Nuro was founded in June 2016 by former Google engineers Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu.

MSCHF’s Push Party raises an unconventional seed round at a $200 million valuation — MSCHF is poking a little fun at the venture industry and perhaps publications like TechCrunch, too.

Bumble’s new feature prevents bad actors from using ‘unmatch’ to hide from their victims — This will make it harder for harassers to avoid having their conversation reported to Bumble’s safety team.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Five UX design research mistakes you can stop making today — Jason Buhle writes that while working with startups and tech companies, he’s seen that even people who understand the importance of user research don’t necessarily know how to conduct it in optimal ways.

What happens to high-flying startups if the pandemic trade flips? — An effective vaccine trial is shaking up public companies, unicorns and startups.

What we’ve learned about working from home seven months into the pandemic — We interview Karen Mangia, vice president of customer and market insights at Salesforce and author of “Working from Home, Making the New Normal Work for You.”

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine proves 90% effective in first results from Phase 3 clinical trial — This reflects only early results from the trial, rather than the final verified result, but it’s still extremely promising.

NASA partners with SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Blue Origin and others for test flights and research — While no money will change hands, NASA will dedicate millions in personnel and other support to these test launches and developing technologies.

Original Content podcast: ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ is the historical chess drama we need right now — Somehow, the show makes competitive chess seem thrilling.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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Equity Monday: Vaccine news scrambles the stock market, shakes up startups

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest big news, chats about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here — and don’t forget to check out last Friday’s episode that we wound up titling “Fortnite is actually a SaaS company.”

It makes sense in context, I promise.

Anyway, here’s what’s on today’s show:

  • Joe Biden was elected president and the stock market is not mad about divided government.
  • Positive vaccine news sent many stocks sharply higher this morning, but not all. Some pandemic-favored tech companies instantly dropped double-digit percentage points of value.
  • Esign raised $151 million, showing strength in the Chinese startup market, and the e-signature space.
  • And this neat Series B for Cellwize caught our attention this morning.
  • Finally, a warning. The stuff that is changing lately may begin to change a bit less. We’ve lived in the pandemic economy long enough now that it’s hard to recall what life was like before. But, we’d best start remembering, as there’s a lot that is going to change in the next few quarters.

This has been a wild day to start the week, but with good news.

I suppose a vaccine was always going to eventually make it to this step, but, that said, the United States is seeing record COVID-19 cases today. So mask up and let’s get as many of us across the line as we can.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

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iPhone 12 mini Review: Tiny package, big bang

Reviewing the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 12 Pro Max at the same time has been an exercise in extremes. I noted in my earlier reviews of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro that it was difficult to evaluate the middle of the lineup without having the extreme ends of the scale available to contrast them. 

Now that I have had a chance to examine those extremes, I have come away incredibly impressed with the job that Apple has done on the whole lineup this year. These phones are extremely well sized, highly crisp from a design perspective and generously appointed with features. Aside from a handful of small items, there are no glaring examples here of artificial cliffs on the feature side or price side that attempt to push people upwards in the lineup. Something that has been the case in some years. 

The most impressive of all of the iPhones 12 this year should be, by all rights, the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Its big screen and beautiful casing make it very attractive and it has the best camera I’ve ever seen in a phone. 

But in my opinion, the iPhone 12 mini is the most attractive phone in the lineup. The dark horse that makes a strong case for itself outside of the “I just want a small phone” crowd. 

The size

The iPhone mini is 20% smaller and 18% lighter than the iPhone 12 and about half the size of the iPhone 11. It really hits a nicely sweet note for fit, and the lack of a home button means that the screen can accommodate quite a bit more content on display at once. 

Though my larger hands do feel a bit more comfortable on the iPhone 12, I am happy to report that the typing experience on the iPhone 12 mini is far superior to the 4.0” first generation SE. It even gets a leg up on the 4.7” iPhone SE introduced earlier this year because the screen is the same width but taller — letting it pull off the TARDIS trick of being smaller with a bigger screen. This allows the emoji keyboard toggle and the voice dictation button to drop out of the bottom row of keys, relaxing spacing on the return, space and number pad buttons. This additional size, especially for the spacebar, improves the typing experience measurably. The key spacing is a bit less generous than the iPhone 12, but this is a workable situation for typing.

If you look at this and an iPhone 11, because of the way that the screen is rendered, you’re going to see pretty much the same amount of content. 

The iPhone 12 mini on top of an iPhone 12 Pro Max

On top of an iPhone 12 Pro Max

Speaking of rendering, the iPhone 12 mini is scaled, which means that it is displaying at roughly .96 of its “native” screen resolution of 2340×1080. In my testing, this scaling was not apparent in any way. Given that the mini has a resolution of 476ppi in a smaller screen than the iPhone 12, which clocks in at 460ppi, that’s not too surprising — iPhones have been doing integral scaling for years with their magnification features, so Apple has plenty of practice at this. I didn’t notice any artifacting or scrolling, and most apps looked just fine proportionally, though some developers that do not take advantage of Apple’s native frameworks that support various screen sizes may have to do a bit of tweaking here and there. 

The iPhone mini has a nice lightweight compactness to it. In order to get a read on its vibe I compared it to the iPhone 4S, which felt far denser, the iPhone 5, which felt a bit more airy, and the iPhone 5C, which still feels fun but cheap. It shares pedigree with all of these devices but feels far more assured and integral. The iPhone 12 design language doesn’t feel like multiple materials sandwiched together in the way that these earlier devices do. It feels grown, rather than made. 

That integral quality does wonders when it’s such a small device because every millimeter counts. Apple didn’t cheap out on the casing or design and gave it an exterior to match its very performant interior. 

The speaker and microphone grills, I’m sad to say, are asymmetric on the iPhone 12 mini. Ding.

And don’t think you miss out on anything performance related when you go to the mini. While it appears that either heat management, scaling or power management in general has made Apple tweak the processor ever so slightly, the benchmarks are close enough to make it a wash. There is zero chance you ever see any real-world difference between the iPhone 12 mini and any other iPhone 12.

For what it’s worth, the iPhone 12 mini has 4GB of RAM, same as the iPhone 12. The iPhone Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max have 6GB. The biggest real-world effect of RAM that I have found on iPhone is less dumping of Safari tabs in the background, so if you’re a pro browser take that into account.

The iPhone 12 mini is basically identical in the photography department to the iPhone 12. You lose nothing, it’s a great camera. Nothing much to see there, though so I’m not spending any time on it. You will have a world-class phone camera, just no telephoto.

If you’re a camera-oriented iPhone user, your usage of the telephoto lens is probably the most crisp deciding factor between the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12. The lidar benefits are there, and they absolutely make a big difference. But not having a telephoto at all could be an easy make-or-break for some people. 

Cribbing from my iPhone 12 Pro review here, one easy way to judge is to make a smart album in Photos on a Mac (or sort your photos using another tool that can read metadata) specifying images shot with a telephoto lens. If that’s a sizeable portion of your pics over the last year, then you’ve got a decision to make about whether you’re comfortable losing that option. 

When I did this, just about 19% of my iPhone 11 Pro shots were taken with the telephoto lens. Around 30% of those were portrait shots. So for me, one in every five images was shot with that tighter framing. It’s just something I find attractive. I like a little bit more precise of a crop and the nice amount of compression (for closer subjects) that comes with the longer focal length.

You don’t get 4K/60fps video, but you still can shoot 4K/30fps Dolby Vision video in this super tiny device, which is wild. It’s more than I think any normal iPhone 12 mini user will ever need.

Apple says that the iPhone 12 mini’s battery life is better than the 4.7” iPhone SE, and that bore out in my testing. I got through a day easily, with maybe a few percentage points difference between the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 12. I didn’t have enough time to run a comparison against the battery king, the iPhone 11, but I doubt it would come anywhere near unseating it just from a physics perspective. This thing is small, so the battery pack is small and the processor is not being majorly throttled in any way. The iPhone 12 mini charges at 12W on a MagSafe charger on a 20W brick, rather than the full 15W because the smaller battery allows it to still hit the same percentage charging speed as the larger iPhones 12 while mitigating heat buildup — always a problem in a smaller chassis.

I did have a chance to try the iPhone 12 mini slip case and I thought it was well made and clever, though absolutely positively not for me. I use my iPhone too much to be sliding it into a sleeve and back out again; it would be an exercise in futility. But if you are in the market for this kind of case, I hold that the Apple version shows off the company’s earned expertise in leather. It’s well trimmed, it has nice edge finishing and a clever clasp. 

It integrates Apple’s MagSafe magnet array to display a live clock on the OLED screen with a space for the ambient light sensor. The clock display is pretty clever. It has a lightly colored background that matches the leather color of the case using the same NFC trick as the silicon cases that display a color-matched ring when you put them on. The clock fades in two stages over a few seconds but will turn on when the ambient light sensor knows it’s not in your pocket and the motion coprocessor in the A14 senses movement. 

So a quick lift will flip the time on and let you check it. It also still allows tap-to-wake in the clock window, showing you the color-matched time. 

There’s also a hidden card slot for maybe one credit card or ID card inside the mouth of the case. Like I said, it’s not for me, but I can appreciate that a lot more is going on in this little case than meets the eye, and it shows off some of the sophistication that could be coming to other MagSafe accessories in the future. 

The conclusion

In my iPhone 12/12 Pro review I noted my rubric for selecting a personal device:

  • The most compact and unobtrusive shape.
  • The best camera that I can afford.

And this is the conclusion I came to at the time:

The iPhone 12 Pro is bested (theoretically) in the camera department by the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which has the biggest and best sensor Apple has yet created. (But its dimensions are similarly biggest.) The iPhone 12 has been precisely cloned in a smaller version with the iPhone 12 mini. By my simple decision-making matrix, either one of those are a better choice for me than either of the models I’ve tested. If the object becomes to find the best compromise between the two, the iPhone 12 Pro is the pick.

Now that I have had both of those devices in my hand, I can say that my opinion hasn’t changed, but my definitions of the lineup have a bit. 

Because the iPhone 12 mini has no appreciable compromises in feature set from the iPhone 12, I consider these one device with two screen sizes. Yes, this may feel like a “duh” moment, but I didn’t want to jump to this place without actually using the mini for an extended period. Most critically, I needed to get a feel for that typing experience. 

The iPhone mini is by far the best value per dollar in Apple’s 2020 lineup. With this you get all of the power and advances of the iPhone 12, everything but the telephoto camera (and 60fps/4K video) of the iPhone 12 Pro and everything but the new sensor in the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Those additions will cost you anywhere from $300-$400 more over the life of your device if you choose to step up. 

I’ve been thinking hard about what a clear break point would be between deciding on the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 mini. If you are someone who really likes or ergonomically needs a smaller screen, you’re being treated to a device with no compromises in core functionality. But if you’re not a “small boi” fan, then what is the deciding factor?

For me, it comes to this decision flow:

  • Is the iPhone your only camera and do you use it constantly for images? Then choose the iPhone 12 Pro. 
  • Are you an iPhone photographer that regularly prints images or edits them heavily? Choose the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
  • Are neither of those true, but it is true that the iPhone is your only mobile computing device? Go with the iPhone 12.
  • If that’s not true and you regularly carry an iPhone alongside a laptop or iPad, then go with the mini. 

Here, I even made you a handy flowchart if that kind of thing is your bag:

This is one of the best years ever for the iPhone lineup. The choices presented allow for a really comfortable picking routine based on camera and screen size with no majorly painful compromises in raw power or capability. These are full-featured devices that are really well made from end to end. 

I hope that this template in sizing sticks around for a while as the powerful camera tech creeps its way down the lineup over time, invalidating at least the photography side of my flowchart above. Until then, this is still one of the better “small” iPhones Apple has ever produced, and certainly one with the least overall compromise.

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Review: The iPhone 12 Pro Max is worth its handling fee

The iPhone 12 Pro Max is probably the easiest of all of the new iPhone 12 models to review. It’s huge and it has a really, really great camera. Probably one of the best cameras ever in a smartphone, if not the best. For those of you coming from an iPhone “Max” or “Plus” model already, it’s a no-brainer. Get it, it’s fantastic. It’s got everything Apple has to offer this year and it’s even a bit thinner than the iPhone 11 Pro Max. 

For everyone else — the potential upsizers — this review has only a single question to answer: Do the improvements in camera and screen size and potentially battery life make it worth dealing with the hit in handling ergonomics from its slim but thicc build?

The answer? Yes, but only in certain conditions. Let’s get into it.

Build

I’m not going to spend a ton of time on performance or go through a feature-by-feature breakdown of the iPhone 12 Pro Max. I’ve published a review of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro here and just today published a review of the iPhone 12 mini. You can check those out for baseline chat about the whole lineup. 

Instead, I’m going to focus specifically on the differences between the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the rest of the lineup. This makes sense because Apple has returned us to a place that we haven’t been since the iPhone 8. 

Though the rest of the lineup provides a pretty smooth arc of choices, the iPhone 12 Pro Max introduces a pretty solid cliff of unique features that could pull some people up from the iPhone 12 Pro. 

The larger size sets off all of the work Apple did to make the iPhone 12 Pro look like a jewel. Gold-coated steel edges and the laminated clear and frosty back with gold accent rings around the cameras and glossy logo. All of it screams posh. 

Some of you may recall that there was a period of time when there existed a market for ultra-luxury phone makers like Vertu to use fine materials to “elevate” what were usually pretty poorly implemented Symbian or Android phones at heart. Leather, gold, crystal and even diamond were used to craft Veblen goods for the über rich just so they could stay “above” the proles. Now, Apple’s materials science experimentation and execution level is so high that you really can’t get anything on the level of this kind of pure luxe manifestation in a piece of consumer electronics from anyone else, even a “hand maker.” 

To be fair, Vertu and other makers didn’t die because Apple got good at gold, they died because good software is needed to invest life into these bejeweled golems. But Apple got better at what they did faster than they could ever get good at what Apple does. 

This is a great piece of kit and as mentioned is even thinner than previous Max models with the same size screen, but it’s about the same width (.3mm wider). And in my opinion, the squared-off edges of this year’s aesthetic make this phone harder to hold, not easier at this size. This is essentially the opposite effect from the smaller models. For a phone this size I’d imagine everyone is going to use a case anyway, so that’s probably moot, but it’s worth noting. 

My feelings on the larger iPhones, which I haven’t used as a daily driver since the iPhone 8, remain unchanged: these are two-handed devices best used as tablet or even laptop replacements. If you run your life from these phones then it makes sense that you’d want a huge screen with plenty of real estate for a browser and a pip video chat and a generous keyboard all at once. 

The differences 

When we’re talking about whether or not to move up to this beast I think it’s helpful to have a list of everything here that is different, or you think might be but isn’t, from the iPhone 12 Pro. 

Screen. The 6.7” iPhone 12 Pro Max screen has a resolution of 2778×1284 at 458 ppi. That’s nearly identical but slightly less than the iPhone 12 Pro’s 460ppi. So though this is a difference, I’d count it as a wash. The screen’s size, of course, and the software support that some Apple and third-party apps to take advantage of the increased real estate are still a factor. 

Performance. The iPhone 12 Pro Max performs exactly as you’d expect it to in the CPU and GPU department, which is to say exactly the same as the iPhone 12 Pro. It also has the same 6GB of RAM on board. Battery performance was comparable to my iPhone 11 Pro Max testing, which is to say it outlasted a typical waking day, though I could probably nail it in a long travel day. 

Ultra-wide-angle camera. Exactly the same. Improved over the iPhone 11 Pro massively due to software correction and the addition of Night Mode, but the same across the iPhone 12 Pro lineup.

Telephoto camera. This is a tricky one because it uses the same sensor as the iPhone 12 Pro, but features a new lens assembly that results in a 2.5x (65mm equivalent) zoom factor. This means that though the capture quality is the same, you can achieve tighter framing at the same distance away from your subject. As a heavy telephoto user (I shot around 30% of my pictures over the last year in the iPhone 11 Pro’s telephoto) I love this additional control and the slightly higher optical compression that comes with it. 

The framing control is especially nice with portraits. 

Though it comes in handy with distant subjects as well.

There is also one relatively stealthy (I cannot find this on the website but I verified that it is true) update to the telephoto. It is the only lens other than the wide-angle across all of the iPhone 12 lineup to also get the new optical stabilization upgrades that allow it to make 5,000 micro-adjustments per second to stabilize an image in low light or shade. It still uses the standard lens-style stabilization, not the new sensor-shift OIS used in the wide-angle lens, but it goes up 5x in the amount of adjustments it can make from the iPhone 11 Pro or even the iPhone 12 Pro. 

The results of this can be seen in this shot, a handheld indoor snap. Aside from the tighter lens crop, the additional stabilization adjustments result in a crisper shot with finer detail even though the base sensor is identical. It’s a relatively small improvement in comparison to the wide-angle, but it’s worth mentioning and worth loving if you’re a heavy telephoto user.  

Wide-angle camera. The bulk of the iPhone 12 Pro Max difference is right here. This is a completely new camera that pushes the boundaries of what the iPhone has been capable of shooting to this point. It’s actually made up of three big changes:

  • A new f1.6 aperture camera. A larger aperture is plain and simple a bigger hole that lets more light in.
  • A larger sensor with 1.7 micron pixels (bigger pixels mean better light gathering and color rendition), a larger sensor means higher-quality images.
  • An all-new sensor-shift OIS system that stabilizes the sensor, not the lens. This is advantageous for a few reasons. Sensors are lighter than lenses, which lets the adjustments happen faster because it can be moved, stopped and started again with more speed and precision. 

Sensor-shift OIS systems are not new, they were actually piloted in the Minolta DiMAGE A1 back in 2003. But most phone cameras have used lens-shift technology because it is very common, vastly cheaper and easier to implement. 

All three things work together to deliver pretty stellar imaging results. It also makes the camera bump on the iPhone 12 Pro Max a bit taller. Tall enough that there is actually an additional lip on the case meant for it made by Apple to cover it. I’d guess that this additional thickness stems directly from the wide-angle lens assembly needing to be larger to accommodate the sensor and new OIS mechanism and then Apple being unwilling to let one camera stick out farther than any other. 

The iPhone 12 Pro Max has a massive ISO range, enabled by the wide angle. It can pick anywhere from 34-7,616 ISO, which allows it to snap candid shots at wide apertures and faster shutter speeds with much more surety than the iPhone 12 Pro. This isn’t a huge deal for some people, and some of the gain can be washed away depending on what you’re shooting. But for people with kids and who shoot moving subjects in less than ideal conditions, it’s big. It can be the difference between a tack-sharp shareable and a throwaway in the right situation.

These are Night Mode samples, but even there you can see the improvements in brightness and sharpness. Apple claims 87% more light-gathering ability with this lens, and in the right conditions it’s absolutely evident. Though you won’t be shooting SLR-like images in near darkness (Night Mode has its limits and tends to get pretty impressionistic when it gets very dim) you can absolutely see the pathway that Apple has to get there if it keeps making these kinds of improvements. 

Wide-angle shots from the iPhone 12 Pro Max display slightly better sharpness, lower noise and better color rendition than the iPhone 12 Pro, and much more improvement from the iPhone 11 Pro. In bright conditions you will be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two iPhone 12 models, but if you’re on the lookout the signs are there. Better stabilization when handheld in open shade, better noise levels in dimmer areas and slightly improved detail sharpness. 

The iPhone 12 Pro already delivers impressive results year on year, but the iPhone 12 Pro Max leapfrogs it within the same generation. It’s the most impressive gain Apple’s ever had in a model year, image wise. The iPhone 7 Plus and the introduction of Apple’s vision of a blended camera array was forward looking, but even then image quality was pretty much parity with the smaller models that year. 

A very significant jump this year. Can’t wait for this camera to trickle down the lineup.

Lidar. I haven’t really mentioned lidar benefits yet, but I went over them extensively in my iPhone 12 Pro review, so I’ll cite them here.

Lidar is an iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max-only feature. It enables faster auto-focus lock-in in low-light scenarios as well as making Portrait Mode possible on the Wide lens in Night Mode shots. 

First, the auto-focus is insanely fast in low light. The image above is what is happening, invisibly, to enable that. The lidar array constantly scans the scene with an active grid of infrared light, producing depth and scene information that the camera can use to focus. 

In practice, what you’ll see is that the camera snaps to focus quickly in dark situations where you would normally find it very difficult to get a lock at all. The lidar-assisted low-light Portrait Mode is very impressive, but it only works with the Wide lens. This means that if you are trying to capture a portrait and it’s too dark, you’ll get an on-screen prompt that asks you to zoom out. 

These Night  Mode portraits are demonstrably better looking than the standard portrait mode of the iPhone 11 because those have to be shot with the telephoto, meaning a smaller, darker aperture. They also do not have the benefit of the brighter sensor or lidar helping to separate the subject from the background — something that gets insanely tough to do in low light with just RGB sensors.

As a note, the lidar features will work great in situations less than five meters along with Apple’s Neural Engine, to produce these low-light portraits. Out beyond that it’s not much use because of light falloff. 

Well-lit Portrait Mode shots on the iPhone 12 Pro Max will still rely primarily on the information coming in through the lenses optically, rather than lidar. It’s simply not needed for the most part if there’s enough light.

The should I buy it workflow

I’m straight up copying a couple of sections for you now from my iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 mini reviews because the advice applies across all of these devices. Fair warning.

In my iPhone 12/12 Pro review I noted my rubric for selecting a personal device:

  • The most compact and unobtrusive shape.
  • The best camera that I can afford.

And this is the conclusion I came to at the time:

The iPhone 12 Pro is bested in the camera department by the iPhone 12 Pro Max, which has the biggest and best sensor Apple has yet created. (But its dimensions are similarly biggest.) The iPhone 12 has been precisely cloned in a smaller version with the iPhone 12 mini. By my simple decision-making matrix, either one of those are a better choice for me than either of the models I’ve tested. If the object becomes to find the best compromise between the two, the iPhone 12 Pro is the pick.

But now that I’ve had time with the Pro Max and the mini, I’ve been able to work up a little decision flow for you:

If you haven’t gathered it by now, I recommend the iPhone 12 Pro Max to two kinds of people: the ones who want the absolute best camera quality on a smartphone period and those who do the bulk of their work on a phone rather than on another kind of device. There is a distinct “fee” that you pay in ergonomics to move to a Max iPhone. Two hands are just plain needed for some operations and single-handed moves are precarious at best. 

Of course, if you’re already self-selected into the cult of Max then you’re probably just wondering if this new one is worth a jump from the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Shortly: maybe not. It’s great, but it’s not light years better unless you’re doing photography on it. Anything older though and you’re in for a treat. It’s well made, well equipped and well priced. The storage upgrades are less expensive than ever and it’s really beautiful. 

Plus, the addition of the new wide angle to the iPhone 12 Pro Max makes this the best camera system Apple has ever made and quite possibly the best sub compact camera ever produced. I know, I know, that’s a strong statement, but I think it’s supportable because the iPhone is best in class when it comes to smartphones, and no camera company on the planet is doing the kind of blending and computer vision Apple is doing. Though larger sensor compact cameras still obliterate the iPhone’s ability to shoot in low-light situations, the progress over time of Apple’s ML-driven blended system.

A worthy upgrade, if you can pay the handling costs.