The new iPhone 12 is here. The hero phone in the iPhone 12 series comes with new features, improved design, a faster processor and a significantly tougher screen (hooray!). Oh, and this is the first 5G iPhone, as you may have heard.
For this iPhone 12 review, I have been using the latest Apple handset since shortly after it was revealed on October 13, putting it through its paces and testing the performance, battery life, camera and whether the design is as attractive in real life as the product photography suggested. (Spoiler: the design is brilliant.) I’ve also tested out the iPhone 12 Pro to fully understand the pros and cons of each model.
Buy iPhone 12
Compare it to the iPhone 11 and you’ll see a huge series of significant upgrades, but if you’re upgrading from an earlier iPhone, you’ll see even more of a difference. Here’s everything you need to know about the iPhone 12, and then some.
iPhone 12 Key Specifications
- Dimensions 5.78 x 2.81 x 0.29in
- Weight 5.78oz
- Display 6.1in, 1170 x 2532 pixels, 460ppi
- Water-resistance IP68 (depth of 6 meters for 30 minutes)
- Rear Cameras 12MP, f/1.6 wide, 12MP, f/2.4 ultra-wide
- Front Camera 12MP, f/2.2 wide
- Storage 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
iPhone 12 Design and Display
The iPhone 12 looks strikingly different from its immediate predecessors – everyone will spot you’ve got the new model. That’s down to a flat screen instead of the pillowed display of the iPhone 11. The edges are also flat instead of curved. It’s reminiscent of the iPhone 5 design in some ways, so it’s unmistakably an iPhone. Of course, unlike the iPhone 5, the front is all-screen, with a notch at the top for the True Depth camera.
The flattened edges, together with noticeably slimmer bezels around the edge of the display, mean that the new iPhone has a smaller footprint than last year’s iPhone 11, 15% less volume, Apple says, though it matches the screen size of 6.1 inches.
Actually, the screen size remains the same but everything else changes. First, this is an OLED screen, not the LCD technology used on the iPhone 11. This is the first time this high-end screen has been used on an entry-level iPhone. OLED offers brighter colors, inkier black shades and better contrast levels.
And the screen resolution is upgraded, too, from a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch to 460ppi. Put the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 side by side and you can really see the difference. The iPhone 12 has a glass back, ready for wireless charging. It’s shiny but for a matte camera panel in the top-left corner. It’s very eye-catching, though it certainly attracts fingerprints.
The rest of the back is entirely plain, apart from the centrally placed Apple logo (also there to guide you to the best place to put the iPhone on a wireless charger). More on charging later. The phone has an aluminum frame that’s color-matched to the back of the phone. Even the Lightning charging socket is color-matched inside, a detail you may never see. Only Apple.
The front of the phone uses a much tougher glass than before, which Apple calls Ceramic Shield. It says this is tougher than any other smartphone glass and, to give you a real-world idea of what this means, it has 4x better drop protection. Even so, do try not to drop it, won’t you?
By the way, many leading phones offer faster refresh rates on their phones, up to 120Hz compared to the standard 60Hz found here. None the less, this screen looks pristine. Scrolling a menu list is smooth enough and video playback looks great.
Apple iPhone 12 Color Options
You can have any color, as long as it’s black. Or white, green, blue or PRODUCT (RED). Apple’s gift for color is being able to match the unexpected with the inevitable. Of course, there’s white and black, that’s been Apple’s range since the iPhone 3G. PRODUCT (RED) is a regular fixture, and this year’s is slightly different from the iPhone 11.
But the all-new shades are a clean and attractive green that’s more pastel than last year’s pepperminty shade. And the blue is dark, luscious and elegant, catching the light as you move it.
iPhone 12 Performance
At last, 5G comes to iPhone. Other phone manufacturers have had this connectivity for more than a year. But, since 5G networks are still being deployed, Apple may have been wise to wait until now. For sure, Apple’s adoption will drive the carriers to expand their coverage.
Not all phones offer every 5G frequency, with many failing to include what’s called mmWave, which is unbelievably fast but doesn’t reach very far. Other bands are not as fast but have greater coverage. Apple’s iPhone 12 series has lots of bands, including mmWave, in all models sold in the U.S.
The benefits of 5G are higher speeds, so you can download a movie much more quickly, and streaming video is butter-smooth. Additionally, low latency means 5G is great for gaming. The third benefit is that each 5G mast can offer a strong, stable connection to many more devices at a time.
Alongside 5G, Apple has put its fastest-ever processor in this phone, the A14 Bionic. Last year’s A13 Bionic has rarely if ever been outgunned, so we may expect similar class-leading performance here. Certainly, everything you do, from opening an app to playing a graphically rich game, is lightning-fast and responsive. This phone doesn’t dawdle.
The real test will come as developers release games and apps designed to push the processor hard. If previous years are anything to go by, the chip won’t break a sweat.
How Many Cameras Does the iPhone 12 Have?
There are two rear cameras and a front-facing one on the iPhone 12. The main camera has a bigger aperture than before on an iPhone, f/1.6, which means that it can take in more light more quickly. The Ultra Wide has the equivalent of a 2x optical zoom and is ideal for when you can’t step back further to take in more of the scene or want a more epic look in closer shots. The front-facing camera, like the rear ones, has 12-megapixel resolution.
But we are in the age of computational photography here, so the lens and sensor hardware are only part of the story. Apple’s Night mode, which activates automatically in low-light situations, is available on all three cameras, as is Deep Fusion – the first time all the cameras have had it.
Deep Fusion is a subtly transformational system that improves textures and detail in photos taken in medium or low light. Other improvements include Smart HDR3, which adjusts the high dynamic range to deliver dramatic results with detail in bright skies and dark shadows at the same time.
Taking Photos With the iPhone 12
The photos taken on an iPhone are calibrated with forensic detail, with the aim of capturing the emotion of a scene. It works magnificently, almost all the time, and it can seduce you into thinking you’re a rather good photographer.
Then there’s video, long a standout for Apple. Here it takes a big step forward with the arrival of Dolby Vision HDR recording, a first. That’s available in frame rates of 30fps and it looks pretty terrific. Or you can shoot in 4K at the cinematic 24fps rate, 30fps or 60fps.
iPhone 12 Battery life
Apple has configured 5G so it is used when you need it. So, if you’re downloading a big file, it’ll look for 5G so it’s a fast process, but if you’re doing something like watching that downloaded file, and have no need for a fast data connection, it’ll save battery by settling for 4G. The battery life is around the same as the iPhone 11 which, by the way, was a massive upgrade from just about any iPhone that had come before it.
What Comes In The Box With The iPhone 12?
As you may know, Apple is not bundling earbuds or a charging plug with the iPhone 12. The reasoning is we all have lots of these plugs and cables lying around and it’s just electronic waste. There is a charging cable but note that it is USB-C to Lightning, not the USB-A to Lightning cable found in all previous iPhone boxes apart from the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max.
This cable fits into the USB-C socket on a laptop as well as dedicated charging plugs. Apple’s right to say we most of us have too many chargers knocking about, though forking out more money for a USB-C charging plug, even though it’s faster than the USB-A plug, will irk many.
iPhone 12 MagSafe
But then there’s MagSafe for iPhone. This is a new charging pad which has magnets inside, corresponding to a ring of magnets in the back of the phones. If you’ve ever put your phone on a wireless charging pad only to find it wasn’t in the exact right place and your phone hasn’t charged overnight, you’ll know that this is a highly desirable innovation. The MagSafe charger is sold separately for $39 and will be joined soon by another version, the MagSafe Duo, which charges the Apple Watch as well.
iPhone 12 Final Thoughts
The iPhone 12 represents one of the biggest jumps forward yet for the iPhone: all-new design, 5G, blazing processor, more durable glass, improved cameras and battery life that matches last year’s significant upgrade. Most years, it’s true that the real, tangible changes of capabilities and performance are most noticeable if you’re moving from a two-year-old device, but here, as last year, the progress is big enough to mean iPhone 11 users will see big differences, too.
Of course, if you want more versatility in your cameras, the pricier iPhone 12 Pro will appeal, but for most people, this is likely to be the perfect phone. In which case, your only conundrum is whether you should grab this phone now or wait for the smaller and highly intriguing iPhone 12 mini, arriving in November. For most people, the iPhone 12 is the Goldilocks phone, just the right size, but those with smaller hands may prefer to hang on a little longer for the mini.