Each year we get new iPhones and each year, we see improvements to the lineup and this year is no exception. All four new iPhone 12s have received a leap forward in design, performance and features.
The iPhone 12 pays homage to the much-loved design first seen on the iPhone 4, which featured flat sides and rounded corners. The updated design for the 2020 iPhones fondly share the iPhone 4's design aesthetic but ditches the 3.5mm headphone jack, physical home button, massive chin and forehead and of course, the 30-pin connector.
Also noticeable is the slabs of thick glass on the back and front, now replaced on the iPhone 12 with thin sheets of glass on back and front. Apple has developed a new composite material called Ceramic Shield for the front glass, which they claim is tougher than any other smartphone.
The new glass should protect the Super Retina XDR display much better than the iPhone 11 in part down to the way the front glass rises above the sides. The iPhone 12 Pro flat sides are flush and should provide more protection for both front and back glass panels.
Apple claims the new front glass will enable four times better drop performance but regardless of how good or tough it may be and thankfully, I didn’t test it on my iPhone 12 Pro review device, always use a case to protect your investment. It’s such a pity though because the iPhone 12 Pro with it’s shiny surgical-grade stainless steel band and textured matte glass back is stunning when naked.
It looks gorgeous and feels premium in the hand. The edges may be flat but it doesn’t feel uncomfortable to hold, nor is it slippy. The camera bump on the back is not insignificant but can be easily nullified with a good case. The sides do pick up smudges and paw marks easily, but a quick wipe will bring back that shine and smile to your face.
iPhone displays have always been top-notch, even when they were just LCD panels. However, the move to all OLED this year is a welcome treat for anyone considering the move to any of the new iPhone 12s.
The new iPhone 12 Pro bezels look a little thinner thanks to the flat edges and the screen size is now larger at 6.1-inch with a 1,170 x 2,532 resolution versus its predecessor’s 5.8-inch screen with 1,125 x 2,436 pixels.
Although slightly larger, the Super Retina XDR OLED display has the same specs as last year's model with support for HDR10, Dolby Vision and two million-to-one contrast ratio for inky blacks and stunning whites. Peak brightness when watching videos can get up to an impressive 1,200 nits.
Unfortunately, the iPhone 12 Pro doesn’t offer refresh rates above the standard 60Hz. To be fair, as much as I’d love to see an iPhone running at 90Hz or even 120Hz, it’s not the be-all and end-all some reviews seem to suggest it is. The sum of its other display features makes this one of the best displays on any smartphone, regardless of refresh rates.
The iPhone 12 Pro still comes with wireless charging, but this has now got a new feature called MagSafe. Magnets are embedded in a circle around the wireless charging coils on the back. These magnets are not visible, but when you use Apple’s official MagSafe wireless charger there’s no fiddling with alignment since the magnets gently snap together to form a perfect contact for optimal and efficient charging.
The new MagSafe system is now open for third-party makers to produce all sorts of accessories including car mounts, stands, tripods, cases, the list goes on. So far, I’ve tried the official Apple MagSafe charger, MagSafe case and MagSafe wallet, all of which shows good potential, but it’s only just the beginning. MagSafe is one of those simple things where you think to yourself, why hasn’t anyone thought of this before.
New to the iPhone 12 Pro is the LiDAR (light detection and ranging) scanner found directly below the ultra-wide-angle lens on the back. Using the AR Measure app, I was blown away by how accurate this was measuring distances or lengths on or to objects. Using a tape measure, I found the Measure app was accurate to within a centimetre. The LiDAR scanner is also used to enhance augmented reality (AR) games and apps as well as assist autofocus in low light and Night Portrait mode.
5G was the headline feature during Apple’s iPhone 12 event, but in reality, it isn’t ready for prime time just yet. Currently, using the Vodafone network for 5G, I noticed while in Cork city I would see the 5G icon and yet only get 4G download speeds.
A year after the initial rollout of 5G on the Vodafone network at least, the coverage is still incredibly limited and it’s likely to take another year or two before we start seeing this improve to the point where it becomes an advantage. Still, when you're investing so much in a new iPhone, you want to know that it will last two, three or even four years into the future.
The iPhone 12 Pro uses the latest Apple A14 Bionic processor which breezes through everything you throw at it from games to 4K video editing. It’s also worth noting the bump in memory from last year’s 4GB to 6GB of memory for improved multitasking and app memory optimisations.
The iPhone 12 Pro is a fantastic gaming device, especially when paired with a good Bluetooth game controller. It has all the power required but equally, it has excellent stereo speakers and screen to match the graphical prowess. The list of games on Apple Arcade is growing and there are lots of excellent choices in the App Store too.
The iPhone 12 Pro sports three, feature-rich 12MP cameras that improve on what was already an excellent camera system on the iPhone 11 Pro. The main wide-angle lens has a slightly faster f1.6 aperture, which Apple says delivers 27% improved low-light performance in photos and videos. Although it’s not always easy to notice the improvement, the more light that can enter the sensor is always a good thing, especially in low light.
The ultrawide lens is 0.5x and ideal for capturing majestic landscapes or the opportunity to fill the frame with interesting foreground subjects for more creative compositions. For architectural environments, the new inbuilt distortion correction does an impressive job of keeping lines straight. There’s a noticeable improvement compared to the iPhone 11 although distortion is something that you can be easily corrected afterwards in software, it’s nicer when you don’t have to.
The 2x telephoto camera can be digitally zoomed to 10x with decent results. However, just as it did on the 11 Pro, in low light, the 2x is actually, 2x digital and uses the 1x lens instead due to the wider aperture.
Night mode has been greatly enhanced. For starters, it now works on all of the cameras including the front selfie camera. Deep Fusion improves low detail in photos and works when the AI deems it’s necessary and now works on all of the cameras too.
Smart HDR 3 is excellent. It improves photos by looking at individual sections of a scene to determine the correct exposure. The final composite image results in what I think is the most natural-looking of any smartphone. Most photos with SmartHDR don’t look flat like so many other smartphone cameras but instead have good contrast.
Apple ProRAW is a proprietary format developed by Apple and it will allow you to directly edit in the Photos app or other professional photo editing applications. The new ProRAW feature is currently available in iOS beta 14.3 but should be available soon in an update to iOS. This delivers the benefits of Apple’s multi-frame image processing and computational photography, like Deep Fusion and Smart HDR. I will be exploring ProRAW for my upcoming iPhone 12 Pro Max review.
Video has been Apple's strength in recent iPhones, but the iPhone 12 Pro is even better and more feature-rich than before. The iPhone 12 Pro can capture video in Dolby Vision HDR in 4K at 60 fps and features improved image stabilisation. The 10-bit HDR video recording means iPhone 12 Pro captures 60x more colours, now up to 700 million. Comparing footage taken with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro using Dolby Vision HDR, I could see a night and day difference. Of course, playback is dependent on your display's capabilities, but if it doesn’t support HDR, it will still play in SDR (standard dynamic range).
Apple says the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are the first and only devices to capture, edit, watch, and share Dolby Vision HDR video.
If you have no interest in HDR video capture, you can choose to turn it off in the camera settings.
The iPhone 12 Pro had no problem lasting me an entire day of heavy use during these lockdown times. It’s time to address the elephant in the room, which is you don’t get any power adapter in the box for the first time. Apple says this is to help the environment and they should be applauded for that. This means they can reduce the overall size of their packaging and weight per box, allowing them to fit more iPhones into each packaging box saving on storage and transportation costs. All of these things are good for the environment but also good for Apple’s bottom line.
If you buy an iPhone 12 you’ll need a power adaptor with a USB-C connection if you intend on using the new USB-C to Lightning cable that comes in the box. Alternatively, you could purchase the new 20W USB-C power adaptor from Apple for €24.55. The new iPads come with USB-C power adaptors too and will work fine with the new iPhones.
Ultimately, a line has to be drawn in the sand and a stand made to reduce and reuse where we can and Apple are the first to make a stand. This has been happening for a long time with devices like smartwatches, headphones and so on. However, I do hope Apple eventually get on board with everything USB-C and retire lighting for good like they’ve done on iPad Pro and more recently iPad Air.
The iPhone 12 Pro borrows its design from a phone that was created over ten years ago and yet it looks more stylish than a lot of phones around today. It packs more power into its thin body than a muscle car and has pro-level cameras that can match and better most Android flagship alternatives. The biggest questions for most is, which iPhone 12 to choose, from the four models on offer. The answer to that question depends on your preferences and price bracket. Stay tuned for more iPhone 12 reviews including the iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Mini.
iPhone Pro prices start at €1,159.80 (128GB)