iPhone 12 Review: Future-Proof Retro Design

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This year’s iPhone models are both similar and a little harder to differentiate than the 11th generation were. These are now four models that differ in many important ways: getting bigger screens and offering sharper cameras the more you are prepared to pay. But at the same time, there is less difference than ever between standard and Pro models.

The two iPhones you can buy today – the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro – are at first glance more similar than the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max. The latter of which will be available to pre-order alongside the iPhone 12 mini in November. Until those models are available it’s the middle models that count, so we start with a test of the iPhone 12.

The iPhone 12 has received a whole bunch of welcome upgrades compared to the iPhone 11. First up is the new A14 Bionic chip under with its 5 nanometer architecture that gives it both a significant boost in performance and increased energy efficiency. The A13 was already the best in its class in some situations even at a year old, although it slipped a bit on other points when compared to the Snapdragon 865 and 865 Plus.

The A14 puts iPhone at the top of the performance throne right now. At least for CPU performance. When it comes to game graphics the lead is not as big and the A14 pulls about evenly with the competition. But we are talking here about performance at the level of a business laptop and graphics in console class (at least the previous generation consoles). Of course, we installed Apple Arcade on the mobile and can state that everything we expose it to in terms of game graphics was delivered with good flow, even if the experience on a small touch screen is not directly optimal.

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iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini

5G: not for everyone

With the iPhone 12 series Apple is taking a step to 5G. With 5G roll outs in just a handful of places in the UK it is not something that will be relevant to many for several years. Honestly, 5G is not at all as hot an upgrade as you might think, as the vast majority of users are unlikely to benefit much from the new technology yet. If 5G is your only reason to consider upgrading your iPhone then we would recommend that you wait.

The only reason to consider 5G is for futureproofing – if you don’t expect to buy a new phone for more than two years then prepare for 5G now.

If you are curious to find out what the 5G coverage is in your area of the UK take a lok at the following:

  • EE’s Coverage Checker here
  • 3’s Coverage Checker here
  • Vodafone’s Coverage Checker here
  • O2’s Coverage Checker here

Design

But there are plenty of other reasons to look into the iPhone 12. The first thing that catches the eye is the new design. The entire series has received a major design update for the first time in several years. There are now 90-degree edges to the frame and flatter glass surfaces front and rear, without the teardrop-shaped elevation at the edges.

The redesign is a retro flirtation with classic models from the era of the iPhone 4 and 5, and refreshing after half a decade with a rounded design. It is not as comfortable to grip, but since the outer dimensions are more compact than before and the weight is manageably low. Perhaps it is less likely to slip out of our hands.

The build quality is flawless and the physical construction is the most durable both Apple and the mobile industry have produced in general (as long as we don’t count the armoured rugged mobiles, which are in a category of their own). The iPhone 12 series is IP68-rated, but can withstand more water than competing Android mobiles right now with immersion to a full six meters deep, where most can only handle one to three meters.

iPhone 12 new design

Screen

The surface in front of the screen is made from a new extra durable material called Ceramic Shield. Like Gorilla Glass the Ceramic Shield is made by Corning, but should be a bit more durable than the latest “regular” Gorilla Glass version Victus. This may be one reason for the flatter design – this type of glass can not be shaped as flexibly. But that is pure speculation. In any case, the surface does not give any visual distortions for the screen and the viewing angles are excellent.

The other big screen news is that Apple has abandoned IPS panels for the iPhone 12 and switched to AMOLED screens even in the basic model. As a result you will get really high pixel density with a little over full HD resolution (1,170 compared to 828 pixels wide in iPhone 11). Sure, Apple called it a Retina display before, but up close it was definitely possible to distinguish individual pixels. When we examined the screen we could no longer see pixels, even up close.

There was a clear difference in experience between the screens of the iPhone 11 and the iPhone 11 Pro. Previously the superior contrast of the OLED technology and improved colour handling justified the upgrade to the significantly more expensive 11 Pro. That differentiator is no longer there.

Incidentally, the screen offers other improvements, such as DCI-P3 matching for the colour gamut and a maximum brightness of 1,200 cd / m2. However, that only kicks automatically in direct sunlight or as extra dynamics when you watch HDR material. HDR support is also new for the iPhone 12.

The screen has thin but noticeable edges all around and the notch at the top, the latter being the large sensor panel we have become accustomed to nowadays. Whether Apple ever intends to shrink this and give us more screen space at the top is unknown (although there are rumours it might be narrower in the iPhone 13). On the other hand, the iOS and iPhone experience has been adapted to be less dependent on status icons at the top of the screen, so space for that is less of a priority.

60Hz not 120Hz

If there is something we are missing in this year’s iPhone screen it is an increased frame rate. It has been perhaps the most important screen trend on the Android side over the past year, both IPS and OLED panels with 90, 120 or even 144Hz image update. It started as a feature in beefy gaming mobiles, but this year has become a premium feature for everyone, and gives an extra direct feel in both interface and when scrolling. Apple is not unfamiliar with the technology, which already exists in the iPad Pro.

Apple is however sharpening the touch response in the 2020 mobiles with increased sampling frequency for the touch layer, but the last ingredient for a more tactile screen experience is still missing. It may be one thing that discourages an Android user from converting to iPhone today.

The reason why Apple will skip it completely in 2020 is said to be 5G. Accorded to well-informed analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the new technology draws more energy so, in order not to jeopardise battery life and still keep a compact shape, Apple has decided to wait before introducing a 120Hz panel.

If that’s true then theoretically Apple’s could, like many of its competitors, have given users the option to run high or low frequency, and introduced dynamic frame rate adjustment to save battery power. If an upstart like OnePlus can, then a giant like Apple should also be able to do it.

But there may be other reasons, such as that the more strictly built iOS is not as easy to adapt, or that it was not possible to get custom screen panels in the huge volumes that an iPhone generation needs fast enough.

However it probably doesn’t really matter: 60 Hz is great for movies and the iPhone 11 delivers an excellent video experience that is lifted by both powerful and clear stereo sound – thanks to solid speakers at the bottom and forward-facing speakers at the top. There is a slight predominance of bass tones from the bottom, but otherwise the stereo sound is perfectly balanced. This is more sound than we have the right to expect from such a compact small mobile. iOS does not give you the ability to customise the sound image yourself, but that is not something we feel a great need for.

Camera

The cameras in the iPhone 12 are not hugely different to the iPhone 11. It is still a dual-lens combo with a 12MP main sensor and an extra 12MP widescreen. The wide lens has been given a larger aperture (ƒ/1.6 aperture compared to ƒ/1.8) and improved low-light photography, but otherwise the main improvements are in the software and the opportunities granted by the new image processor in the A14.

Standard wide camera iPhone 12

IMAGE SHOWS: Outdoor photo with the standard camera in iPhone 12

iPhone 12 photo with wide angle

IMAGE SHOWS: Outdoor photo with wide angle camera in iPhone 12.

This means, among other things, that it is possible to film in Dolby Vision format, and that the HDR function in both main camera and wide angle has been improved. The iPhone has not been at the forefront for a long time when it comes to innovations and unique features in its cameras, but has constantly delivered top quality in signal processing and the right software and routines to easily take a good picture in most environments.

This continues to be the case, but it is still impossible to ignore that the camera in this mobile that costs £799 or more feels a bit limiting, without a telephoto zoom and the wider range of focal lengths, resolutions and functions – and sometimes just high quality – you can get in even a budget mobile in the Android range. However, over there it’s harder to know if what you are buying will be reliable and high quality. There is no concerns about that here.

iPhone 12 cameras

MagSafe and battery life

iPhone 12 actually has a smaller battery than the iPhone 11 at just under 3,000 mAh instead of just above. With heavier performance and a more high-resolution screen, it gives us cause for concern on paper, but potential energy problems are offset by the fact that the screen is an OLED type and the fact that the new 5 nanometer processor draws less power.

Apple states that it is possible to stream video for up to eleven hours, but it depends a lot on the audio, service and video format. We could easily stream 1080p YouTube video for much longer than that, while streaming movies via Apple TV + seemed to draw more power.

You can probably count on daily charging if you are an active and mobile user as the operation of other apps – and 4G and especially 5G communication – uses a lot of battery power.

MagSafe

Due to this the new MagSafe function on the back is good news. This new technology has very little to do with MagSafe on a MacBook, aside from that it’s about battery charging and magnets. Apple has simply built a magnet on the back of the new iPhone, which makes it easier to install a new wireless charger with the same name. The phones can still be charged by standard QI chargers, but with this it will be both smoother and a little extra efficient (we especially like the fact that we can hold our phone and use it while it is charging, rather than it being stuck on the charging surface).

Otherwise there is no news on the fast charging front – 20w fast charging is still standard when plugged in via the Lightning port. It tops up to 50 percent and then the pace slows down, just like the iPhone 11.

Extra purchases may be required

The slightly strange news is that no charging plug is included in the box anymore – as a result the box is now more compact and only holds a phone and a USB-C to a Lightning cable. The MagSafe charger, an accessory for £39, also comes without a power adapter.

In other words, Apple coldly calculates that you already have a wall plug. But most people who upgrade probably do not do so from an iPhone 11 that came with a USB-C connector on the charger, but from an older model where the connector on the charger was of the USB-A type. Therefore you will need to get a power adapter for your iPhone 12 separately. It costs around £49/$49.

That’s not the only thing that Apple has left out of the box – if you want a pair of headphones and you don’t already own some you will need to buy them.

The iPhone 12 is available in three versions, with 64, 128 or 256GB of storage, it costs between £799/$799 and £949/$949. It is a slight upwards adjustment in price compared to the iPhone 11 (which started at £729/$699). Luckily the iPhone 12 has enough interesting news for it to be worth the extra penny.

If you want to buy an iPhone 12 check out our round up of the best deals.

Verdict

This year you get more performance in a more compact package than we’ve seen in a long time. The retro design appeals and the sharper screen convinces. We had hoped for a little extra in function. There may be reason to wait a bit and see if the iPhone 12 mini suits you better.

This article originally appeared on Macworld Sweden. Translation by Karen Haslam.





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