Apple will launch two very different iPhones in Australia this Friday; like brothers who share DNA but don't have much else in common.

The iPhone 12 Mini and the iPhone 12 Pro Max - the last Apple smartphones launched in 2020 - are likely to appeal to opposing audiences too.

One of these handsets is likely to be popular with budget buyers, teens, and an under-served, under-appreciated group of smartphone users, while the other has been keenly awaited by mobile photography fans and former Samsung Note users.

But are these smartphones better or much different than the other iPhone 12 handsets? And which model is best? We've spent days testing them with tight pockets and night scenes to find out.

 

WHY PICK THE MINI?

The iPhone Mini feels so much like the iPhone 5, you'd swear it had been polished and reissued.

This smartphone is small, slick, comes with similar metal rims, and will fit into almost any pocket you have (even the skinny jeans variety).

The many sizes of the Apple iPhone 12 line-up.
The many sizes of the Apple iPhone 12 line-up.

And that's where the Mini's major appeal lies. There is a big audience for little phones and that crowd is routinely overlooked.

Small phones are typically packed with compromises rather than headline features.

This miniature mobile phone bucks the trend by arriving with similar specs to its peers, including a 5G connection, speedy A14 Bionic chip, a tough Ceramic Shield facade, water-resistance, and the same storage options as other iPhone 12 models.

It's quick to operate even the most demanding apps, and it doesn't shirk its photographic duties either.

While there are only two cameras on its rear panel, they are the same offered in the full-size iPhone 12.

There are both wide and ultra wide camera lenses on this smartphone, and they will capture 12-megapixel photographs, use Smart HDR 3 to improve exposure, and will automatically use Night Mode in dimly lit environments.

And iPhone 12 Mini's screen is small but larger than you might expect to fit inside a phone that is just 13cm long. It stretches from edge to edge (unlike the screen in the iPhone 5), measures 5.4 inches, and offers a slightly higher resolution than its peers.

 

WHY PICK THE MAX?

Bigger is better for photography in this year's iPhone range.

The best camera package in all iPhone 12 models - and, arguably, all current smartphones - is inside Apple's biggest smartphone to date.

This photo, recorded at night with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, captured the silhouette of a man running despite the low light. Picture: Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
This photo, recorded at night with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, captured the silhouette of a man running despite the low light. Picture: Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson

Like the iPhone 12 Pro, the Max model features three cameras and a LIDAR scanner on its back panel.

However, this smartphone also uses a significantly larger image sensor for bigger pixels, delivers a 2.5x optical zoom range for greater reach, and uses a mode of optical image stabilisation typically seen in high-end cameras. The enhancements are noticeable in photos.

Testing the iPhone 12 Pro Max cameras in the darkened corners of Brisbane city, I was able to capture neon signs without adjusting its exposure, capture the silhouette of a man running down an alleyway, record an unusual long-exposure of a bus without help from a tripod, and take portraits in dim lighting that would usually be incompatible with a smartphone.

Not every shot was a winner, of course, and some showed image noise, while others suffered from motion blur. More night photographs were of share-ready quality than usual, however, and I strongly suspect the larger sensor, sensor-shift technology, and Apple's scene-recognising artificial intelligence was responsible for saving them.

This photo of stained glass windows at the Cathedral of St Stephen was captured using an iPhone 12 Pro Max at night. Picture: Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
This photo of stained glass windows at the Cathedral of St Stephen was captured using an iPhone 12 Pro Max at night. Picture: Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson

Photos captured with this smartphone are likely to improve in the coming months too, when Apple launches its ProRAW format that will allow keen snappers more leeway and detail when editing images. It's disappointing that it isn't immediately available.

And, of course, there is more to this large phone - more screen.

The Pro Max's 6.7-inch display is larger than any iPhone to date, even though its body is only slightly taller than the iPhone 11 Max it replaces.

Some people might find the handset unwieldy at first, particularly if upgrading from a iPhone 11-sized device, but it's well-weighted and shouldn't feel awkward after a short adjustment.

 

IPHONE 12 MINI AND MAX VERDICT

The wait has been longer for fans of iPhones big and small, but both audiences are likely to be glad they didn't succumb to impatience.

The iPhone 12 Mini ($1199-$1449) addresses a gap in the market that is often overlooked. Small phone fans are likely to be impressed with Apple's daintiest smartphone that will fit in the palm of their hand but offer the grunt of a larger device.

Apple fans who prioritise the camera in their smartphones really should go big this year, though, as the iPhone 12 Pro Max ($1849-$2369) exceeds expectations when it comes to some of the most challenging types of photography.

This phone's larger sensor that moves with you offers improvements you can see in photos, particularly in dim lighting, and will further cement its reputation in mobile photography.

Not everyone will appreciate the larger form or the larger price they'll have to accommodate to access the top-of-the-range mobile camera technology, however, and it'll be interesting to see how soon the sensor technology is passed down to other iPhones in the next generation.

Originally published as The one big downside to Apple's new iPhone 12 Pro Max


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