It’s decision time, America!

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iPhone 12 mini versus iPhone 12 Pro Max: One of 2020's toughest decisions.
One of 2020's toughest decisions.
Photos: Apple

Like many other Americans, I face a momentous decision this week. A choice between two polar opposites, each with hard-core backers who say you’re stone-cold crazy if you don’t go with their pick.

I’m talking about, of course, one of the most pressing decisions of 2020: iPhone 12 mini or iPhone 12 Pro Max. They’re the most exciting iPhones in this year’s lineup, for very different reasons.

For the first time in years, I really don’t know which way to go. I’ll be upgrading from an iPhone 11 Pro — which I’m perfectly happy with — so the iPhone 12 Pro would make the most sense if I wanted to maintain the status quo.

But this time, Apple did two things that shook up the playing field and made my decision difficult:

  1. It gave the iPhone 12 Pro Max a superior camera, plus a LiDAR Scanner for augmented reality and other things.
  2. It magically produced the iPhone 12 mini, a truly pocket-size smartphone that doesn’t skimp on features.

Worse yet, due to supply-chain havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic, Apple split up the iPhone launch dates. What would typically be my standard choice — the iPhone 12 Pro — went on sale alongside the middle-of-the-road option, the iPhone 12, on October 16. Apple delayed preorders for the two most exciting options — the mini and the 12 Pro Max — until November 6.

That’s this Friday, folks, and I still haven’t decided. The whole thing is a recipe for iPhone angst. And I can’t be the only one feeling the pain.

Granted, it might not be the biggest decision — but we are talking about the biggest iPhone ever, and the smallest one in years.

iPhone 12 Pro Max: The best camera

Why, oh why, did Apple split its Pro lineup? If the Pro and Pro Max came with identical cameras, I would have jumped on the iPhone 12 Pro on Day 1. Problem solved. I’d be enjoying that new, squared-off design — common to all of this year’s models — right now rather than dithering around trying to make a decision.

But no … Apple had to go and endow the iPhone 12 Pro Max with a more-advanced camera. Here are the main differences, according to Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro/Max spec sheet:

iPhone 12 Pro

  • 2x optical zoom in
  • 4x optical zoom range
  • Digital zoom up to 6x
  • Telephoto lens with ƒ/2.0 aperture

iPhone 12 Pro Max

  • 2.5x optical zoom in
  • 5x optical zoom range
  • Digital zoom up to 7x
  • Telephoto lens with ƒ/2.2 aperture
  • Sensor-shift optical image stabilization on Wide lens
  • 47% bigger image sensor than iPhone 12 Pro

In reality, those upgrades might not seem like much. However, it still triggers the FOMO in my lizard brain. And let’s be honest. If you’re on the iPhone Upgrade Program like me, we’re talking a couple extra dollars a month to get the Max’s big, beautiful camera sensor rather than the perfectly acceptable one in the regular iPhone 12 Pro.

Still, let’s be honest. Is the iPhone 12 Pro Max too much camera for me? Some people think the Pro Max might actually produce worse pictures in an amateur’s hands.

Both Pro models will capture Apple’s new ProRAW format, too. But is that really necessary? I never do deep editing of images anyway, so ProRAW probably won’t make much difference to me. Plus, who knows how massive those ProRAW image files will be once Apple launches the feature.

But still … don’t you always want the best camera you can afford?

Plus, my main complaint about gigantic phablet phones — that they’re just too big to haul around when traveling or even on shopping trips — doesn’t matter as much now that COVID-19 curtailed my outdoor adventures. Is the iPhone 12 Pro Max really too big to handle on my couch?

iPhone 12 mini

Then there’s the flip side of the coin. The iPhone 12 mini looks like just the kind of phone I’ve wanted ever since barely wrapping my hands around an iPhone 6 Plus. That thing felt gigantic in my admittedly tiny mitts.

With the iPhone 12 mini, less is more. It offers many advanced features, shrunk down into a more manageable size. In that way, it’s very Apple.

Like every other model in this year’s lineup, it packs an OLED screen and the screaming new A14 Bionic chip — just packed into a more-pocketable size. The Pro models reportedly add more RAM than the regular iPhone 12 and the mini, but I haven’t read any reports of the iPhone 12 feeling anything less than snappy. Like the iPhone 12, the mini also lacks the Pro lineup’s LiDAR scanner and third camera (a zoom).

The first iPhone 12 mini reviews aren’t in yet. However, since it packs the same internals as the iPhone 12, I’m sure it will deliver all the goodness of that perfectly excellent phone. And it will take the same beautiful pictures as the iPhone 12. Battery life might be the only concern, due to the mini’s smaller power plant.

Also, like the regular iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 mini also comes in arguably more appealing colors. You can play it safe with black, white or a washed-out green, but it also comes in an eye-catching red and a blue that’s bolder than the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s “Pacific blue.” The Pro line’s new gold is turning some heads, but the silver and graphite look just as staid as you’d expect.

The iPhone Upgrade Program dilemma

I enrolled in the iPhone Upgrade Program a couple years back to make sure I could get the latest, greatest Apple smartphone each year. Since I write for Cult of Mac, I typically want to try out the hot new features. It’s odd that “smallness” is one of this year’s hot new things, but it is what it is.

If I weren’t on the upgrade plan, I might just skip this year’s iPhones. The new design looks hot, but my iPhone 11 Pro works just fine, although the battery health has dropped to an underwhelming 86% for some reason.

Apple just sent out notifications today that iPhone Upgrade Program members can get preapproved for the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Like the rest of you wobblers, I’ve got until 9 p.m. Thursday to make my choice.

It’s almost decision time, America! Which way will you go?

P.S. Don’t forget to vote Tuesday if you haven’t already. It’s probably more important than which iPhone you buy.