Apple iPhone 12 Pro/Max vs iPhone XS/Max


These days, smartphones are advancing at a slower pace than they used to, which makes upgrading each year not really worth it. And while statistics show that people now tend to use their phones for about 3 years before switching, carrier deals for phones usually come with a 24-month contract. This means, that if you got an iPhone XS or an XS Max two years ago, you might be looking to get a new iPhone right about now. 

And, of course, with the iPhone 12 family just announced, those are your prime candidates. While the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 are the logical successors to the iPhone XR, if you have an XS device, you might be considering an iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max. Which immediately raises the questions: “How far have iPhones gone in two years?” and “Is it worth upgrading to the iPhone 12 Pro or 12 Pro Max?”
Well, that’s what we’re here to help with! There’s plenty to go through, so let’s get right to it.

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iPhone 12 Pro/Max vs iPhone XS/Max: design changes

The iPhones from these two generations look similar but they’re also quite different. How is that possible? Let us explain. 

A major difference is obviously the new flat frame of the iPhone 12 models, which makes them slightly slimmer and, of course, differentiates them from older generations. Besides that, the camera module is perhaps the biggest difference. Now two years old, the small, bean-shaped camera bump on your iPhone XS/Max is becoming a signal that you’re using an ancient iPhone. Three cameras is where it’s at now if you want to stand out among the iPhone crowd. But more about them later.

At the front, the displays of the iPhone XS pair and its 12 Pro equivalent look almost identical, with the notch still taking most of the top end and the curved corners and aspect ratios remaining the same. But the displays for both form factors have not only different sizes but different OLED panels as well.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone XS display

  • Size: 6.1 inches vs 5.8 inches
  • Glass: Ceramic Shield vs Gorilla Glass
  • Display: Super Retina XDR vs Super Retina HD
  • Resolution: 2532 x 1170 vs 2436 x 1125 pixels
  • Max brightness: 800 nits (typical)/1200 nits HDR vs 625 nits (typical)

So, what has changed? Well, the display gained 0.3 inches, making the whole iPhone 12 Pro slightly larger than the iPhone XS but probably not enough to make you consider another size if you’re happy with your XS. The resolution was improved to match the new size and both phones have practically identical PPI (460 vs 458), so no big upgrade there.

What benefits you are getting with the iPhone 12 Pro, however, is better maximum brightness, which is why Apple calls it XDR (from eXtreme Dynamic Range). This will result in both better use in bright sunlight and a better video-watching experience. 

Another new addition is the so-called Ceramic Shield, which is how Apple calls the newly-developed glass that sits on top of the OLED panel. It has four times better drop performance, Apple says, which should make you more confident that your iPhone 12 will survive a few drops before the screen cracks.

iPhone 12 Pro Max vs iPhone XS Max display

  • Size: 6.5 inches vs 6.7 inches
  • Glass: Ceramic Shield vs Gorilla Glass
  • Display: Super Retina XDR vs Super Retina HD
  • Resolution: 2778 x 1284 vs 2688 x 1242 pixels
  • Max brightness: 800 nits (typical)/1200 nits HDR vs 625 nits (typical)
Similar story, as you might expect. Some size inflation between the two generations, paired with the appropriate number of new pixels. We already explained the benefits of XDR and Ceramic Shield. It’s worth noting that the iPhone 12 Pro Max has the biggest display on an iPhone yet. If you’re eager for more screen real estate, you’re gaining about 1 square inch or 6.2% more with the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

iPhone 12 Pro/Max vs iPhone XS/Max colors

When talking about iPhone looks we can’t forget to mention colors. The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max come in four colors: Pacific Blue, Silver, Graphite, Gold. Silver and Gold are identical to the ones on the iPhone XS models, with the differences that the matte finish on the iPhone 12 Pros makes the light reflect differently. And, of course, they feel different to the touch. Pacific Blue is a new color you can’t get on any other iPhone and Graphite is a replacement for Space Gray and it’s a bit lighter gray. As usual, the Pro models are getting the more subtle, toned-down colors.

iPhone 12 Pro/Max vs iPhone XS/Max specs

  • Chip: Apple A14 5nm vs Apple A12 7nm chipset
  • Storage: 128GB vs 64GB (base)
  • Connectivity: 5G vs 4G LTE
  • Memory: 6GB vs 4GB RAM
  • Water resistance: 6 vs 2 meters depth

This year, Apple introduced its first chip built using the 5nm process, just like the A12 was the first iPhone using a 7nm chip. The new architecture makes the A14 not only more powerful but more power-efficient as well. If you want some raw numbers, the A14 has 11.8 billion transistors versus the A12’s 6.9 billion. That’s close to two times more over just two years. We’re sure your iPhone XS is no slouch even today, but the A14 is the definition of next level

But perhaps more important than the improved performance is the addition of 5G to all iPhone 12 models. Yes, the uses for it, as well as the coverage, are far from the level needed for 5G to actually matter in your daily use, but in a year or two, the situation could be completely different.

Apple is also finally offering 128GB as base storage, even if it’s just for the Pro models, which means you can save some money by not upgrading to the 256GB variant. Apple is notorious for not talking about the amount of RAM on its phones, but the iPhone 12 Pro models are allegedly getting a bump to 6GB. 

Before we get to probably the most important part of an iPhone, its camera, let’s talk about…

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone XS battery life

Battery capacity is another thing Apple doesn’t usually share, focusing instead on how much the phone will last. So, until the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max get disassembled, we won’t know for sure how big their batteries are. Of course, we’ll also run our battery tests once we have the phones. Until then, we can lean on the official data, which says that the iPhone 12 Pro will give you 17 hours of video playback while the iPhone XS only 14. That’s a 20% increase. But if you’ve been using your iPhone XS for two years, the difference in battery life will likely be a lot more than 20%.

iPhone 12 Pro Max vs iPhone XS Max battery life

On the bigger models, the improvement is more noticeable, 20 hours of video playback for the iPhone 12 Pro Max vs 15 hours for the iPhone XS Max. The difference isn’t that surprising considering the battery life of the iPhone XS Max was one of its bigger weaknesses when it was released. Now, the combination of bigger battery and more efficient chip, bring the iPhone 12 Pro to the next level. 

iPhone 12 Pro/Max vs iPhone XS/Max camera

We already mentioned the obvious fact that the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max have a third camera but the differences go far beyond that. What’s also worth mentioning is that this year, there are slight differences between the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max cameras, a first for the Pro models.

As it becomes pretty obvious from the table above, the two biggest differences hardware-wise are the added ultra-wide-angle camera and the LiDAR scanner. The former you’re probably familiar with even if you don’t have it on your iPhone XS. The latter, well, it’s a new addition to iPhones that gives them a better way to take in your environment and where each object is by projecting infrared dots, similar to how the True Depth camera works for Face ID. On a more practical side, it helps the iPhone 12 Pro models track objects in a dark or low-light setting and keep them in focus for an even better shot.

But while on paper the main sensors on these phones might look similar, in practice, the iPhone 12 Pros have far more capable cameras. Here are some photo features they have that the iPhone XS is missing:

  • Night mode
  • Night mode portraits
  • Deep Fusion
  • Apple ProRaw*

*coming later via software update

Night mode alone is enough for a lot of people to go for the upgrade since before its arrival the iPhones’ low-light performance was atrocious. You’ll see the difference for yourself once we have camera samples from both phones. It’s also worth noting that Night mode can now also be used with the Ultra Wide and Telephoto cameras. 

Moving on to video recording, the list of improvements only gets longer:

  • HRD Recording with Dolby Vision up to 60fps
  • Audio Zoom
  • Quick Take video
  • Night mode time-lapse

Basically, the iPhone 12 Pro models are far superior video-recording machines, so if you’re an aspiring YouTuber or just like to record videos of any type, the upgrade will be worth it. 

What’s even better is that Apple is bringing a lot of these features to the front-facing camera as well.

Here’s what the iPhone 12 Pro selfie camera can do that the one on the iPhone XS models can’t:

  • Night mode
  • Deep Fusion
  • Quick Take video
  • HDR video recording with Dolby Vision up to 30 fps
  • 4K video recording up to 60fps
  • Cinematic video stabilization at 4K
  • Slow-mo video at 1080p up to 120fps

Two years bring you a bunch of nice upgrades, that’s for sure. If cameras matter to you at all, you should be quite tempted by what the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max have to offer. And you’re probably wondering what would it cost you to get one of them…

iPhone 12 Pro/Max vs iPhone XS/Max prices

Well, if you’ve missed the iPhone 12 announcement event and all the consequent coverage somehow, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. The new Pro models start at the same prices the iPhone XS and XS Max did two years ago:

  • iPhone 12 Pro starts at $999
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max starts at $1099
Keep in mind that the new phones come without a charger in the box, only a Lightning to USB Type-C cable, so make sure you have a proper charger at hand if you want to make use of the phone’s fast charging capabilities. If you need to buy one, check our Best iPhone fast chargers article.


The way we see it, there are two main reasons to upgrade from the iPhone XS/Max to the iPhone 12 Pro/Max. 

First, the greatly improved battery life. By now, you’re probably looking to charge your old iPhone at some point in the afternoon. With the iPhone 12 Pro, the battery anxiety will be gone and probably won’t come back for a longer time. 

Second, the better camera system. It’s more diverse, it’s more capable and more refined than ever. Yes, next year those statements will be true as well for the iPhone 13 Pro’s camera, but that’s how it goes. Night mode and the changes in video recording are something even casual users will notice.

However, if you don’t have any gripes with the battery life of your iPhone XS and you don’t really take photos in the dark much, let alone use AR, then you might as well hold on to it for a year longer. 

And what about 5G? After all, it’s the new feature of the iPhone 12 family. Well, it’s just really hard to get excited for it at the moment. Sure, if you find yourself transferring large files all the time and feel like you’ll benefit from the improved speeds, go ahead and upgrade. But in 2020, it’s still far from a must-have feature.

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