Living with the iPhone 12 Pro Max

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iPhone 12 Pro Max transition

I moved to an Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max from an Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max. That’s an important  factor to bear in mind when one sees phone comparisons. Secondly, I don’t earn my living doing phone reviews, so my reactions are likely to be less dramatic than a professional phone reviewer. Instead, I am trying to reflect a view of what its like to live with the device.

Smartphones overall

You would have to look pretty hard to find a dreadful premium or mid-range smartphone nowadays. Some of the lower end Motorolas are sluggish performers, have the build quality of an early Samsung Galaxy and a mic that cuts in and out. But for the average iPhone user, a phone that is five years old is still a cracking phone, that could go another few years with a replacement battery. 

The cameras are more than adequate for snapshots or document scanning, but no amount of software will make up for the quality of the lens in a smartphone versus a semi-professional photographers camera. And for most people, that’s enough. Performance has reduced to incremental improvements in real world performance. And in this respect smartphones mirror personal computers; as the huge perceived performance gains of the early computers flattened out. 

I no longer need a Mophie Juice Pack case to make the iPhone last through a work day like I did with the iPhone 3GS. Although for long trips away from my desk, I still a power pack and a cable in my bag. This is as much about having the reassurance of knowing that I can run down my battery with lots of Maps usage if I have to, rather than a real need. Increased battery life is partly a function of screen size. The larger the screen, the larger the battery. Device screen sizes have grown over the years. Secondly, chip design and system software have focused on power consumption as part of a decade plus long focus on computing power per watt.

I still miss the keyboard and form-factor of my old Nokia E90; despite its flaky Symbian software. But I no longer miss its superior battery life, or the ability to remove the battery and replace it with fully charged spare. 

Out of the box

All of the iPhone 12 models come in smaller packaging than previous devices. The primary reason for this is Apple no longer supplies a USB charger. The excuse that Apple provided was that it was environmentally friendly. The problem with this is there are some awfully unsafe USB chargers available online as an alternative. The second thing that was missing from the box was a set of Apple wired earbuds. Again this was put down to being environmentally friendly by Apple. Though you could also come to two less flattering conclusions:

  • Apple is converting an insignificant amount of Android users, but only converting existing Apple iPhone customers. So headphones with a Lightning connector wasn’t needed and Apple could save on costs
  • It was a cynical ploy by Apple to drive AirPod wireless headphone sales even higher

I can understand why Chinese netizens considered both moves to Apple shortchanging customers. I agree with them.

China

It is also interesting to note that all the main live-streaming platforms in China simultaneously decided to cancel live-streaming of the iPhone 12 series launch.

Of course the Chinese government / Communist Party of China had nothing to do in coordinating this – honest….

Handset design

When you take the iPhone 12 Pro Max handset out of the box, you immediately notice its size and weight.  It has steep stainless steel sides like an iPhone 4 on steroids. 

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
iPhone 12 Pro Max view from the back of the phone

Usually the heft of a premium phone feels reassuring. But at first, holding the phone was a dissonant experience. There were a few reasons for this:

The change in design language from smooth round edges on handsets from the iPhone 6 onwards, to a flat edge of the iPhone 4 and 5.

It was the first time that an iPhone model has become thicker than the previous generation of iPhone.

The change in design with its thicker flat sides has little difference in putting on a protective case, but removing the case is noticeably harder.

After three days or so usage, the iPhone 12 felt perfectly normal as I got used to it.

Camera

As I said at the outset to this post, this like other modern premium smartphones, are good at taking snapshots. The main difference between my iPhone 11 Max Pro and iPhone 12 Max Pro was a slight increase in optical magnification. The rest of the mild photographic improvements were available in the iOS 14 software for both new and older iPhones.

Networking

The big selling point for Apple on the iPhone 12 Pro Max is its ability use 5G networks. The problem is that for consumers 5G doesn’t have a compelling killer application at the moment.

In that respect, it reminds me a lot of my time working with Cap Gemini as a client when video calling and Quibi like sports and entertainment clips were thought to be the killer app for 3G.

The reality is that it took wi-fi and 4G made video to make calls work, even then the product isn’t perfect. Shorter sellable video content is still looking for a market. 5G does have industrial niche market opportunities.  Secondly, 5G network rollout means that there will be probably three generations of future iPhones before the 5G wireless function becomes useful. I still live in a neighbourhood in central London where I often lose 4G coverage. 5G will require many more cell sites to provide the same level of coverage.

Cellphone reception seems to be better; I don’t know if this is down to the handset or my carrier building out their infrastructure further during the lockdown.

My house has never had great cellphone reception during my time living here. It backs on to a railway line with overhead electrification and only had windows the side facing away from the railway. Yet I am now seeing two bars of signal in parts of the house where I previously would only have had Wi-Fi or a single bar of 3G. 

Conclusion

Unsurprisingly, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is an accomplished handset. It offers good battery life, responsive performance, a great screen, a good camera and is well made. But there is insufficient reason to upgrade if you have an iPhone made in the last three years. You already have a good well made phone. It has a good camera and will run the latest version of iOS.

If your battery no longer holds the charge, the way it once did, Apple offers a service to replace the battery at a very reasonable cost.

More design related posts here.

More information and selected reviews

iPhone 12 launching without earbuds or wall chargers is compared to eating without chopsticks in China | South China Morning Post 

Shenzhen/Huawei: the other Bay Area | Financial TimesThe impression of military manoeuvres by alternative means was reinforced by Tencent, another Shenzhen resident. It was among big Chinese social and video platforms including iQiyi and Weibo, that simultaneously cancelled the livecast of Apple’s iPhone 12 launch

Kibbles & Bytes #1122: Apple Releases Four iPhone 12 Models and the HomePod mini – Don nails the assessment of 5G in the latest edition of his newsletter.

Daring Fireball: The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro – interesting thoughts on the iPhone 12s. What Gruber doesn’t touch on is the radio improvements, particularly in 4G