New, retro-future design. All-OLED displays. Better camera systems. LiDAR. A14 Bionic. MagSafe. But… well, we’ll get to all that… I’m Rene Ritchie and this… is my iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro review.
There’s a difference between cost and value. — And yes, I’m doing this review totally backwards, relax about it —. There’s a difference between the price you pay and what you get for that price. For your money.
And this is something I’ve been struggling with, a lot, ever since Apple announced the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro.
See, when the iPhone X came out three years ago, it was clearly something new, something novel, something next, the future of the iPhone but with a future-popping $1000 price tag to go with it.
Two years ago, the iPhone XS tried to cement that $1000 as the new normal while the stripped down $800 iPhone XR felt like… a discount, more compromised model just slipped in underneath.
But then… then, the iPhone 11 came out last year, no R, no Fs, and just reset expectations again. Pushing aside and re-branding the high-ends as Pro, re-claiming the mass market and, while still compromised compared to the Pro, its lower $700 price tag made those compromises far, just far more palatable to… well… everybody. Especially when other phones were all just racing to $1000.
And now… this year, we have the iPhone 12. Again, no letter, and just negative fs, if that’s at all even possible. Because the price tag is back up at $800. $830 if you’re not getting any big three-carrier cash back. Up to $850, because you now have to shell out almost $20 for the new, and newly sold separately, AC adapter…. More on that in a hot take minute.
And doing the math, yeah, divide by zero, carry the one, just all that math… in 2020… of all years, the Devlin Emerich blockbuster bomb of years, it just didn’t make sense. If there was any year, any year, we needed a break — just a beyond Baby Yoda coming back break— a break on iPhone pricing break, it was 2020.
And, instead, we got… this?
But then, over the last week, as I started doing my analysis, and especially the last 5 days as I’ve been using… ok, fine, abusing my review units in tests, I’ve come to realize something… this may well be a more expensive iPhone 12. But it’s also a less expensive iPhone 12 Pro.
And I’m painfully aware that might just sound like one of those dumb things reviewers just say. But it’s not. It’s real. Except for a very few, very specific features, the 12 is now all but indistinguishable from the 12 Pro.
So, for $150 more, you get an almost Pro. But wait, there’s more. Because — get this — while many other premium phones have shot up to $1200 or more over the last year, never mind the flips and the folds, even the slabs, Apple has held the 12 Pro to just exactly that $1000 line. Like… This far. No further. Better actually, because storage increased so now you get 128GB for less than last year, and the 256 and 512GB models are $500 less than last year.
So, for $150 more that last year you get an almost Pro, but for $150 more than that, you get the full-on Pro.
And here’s where I start to review backwards. What are the features that make the regular iPhone 12 so almost-Pro, what are the features that still set the actual iPhone 12 Pro apart, and is the value that they provide — both of them — is that value worth the cost, to me, to you, to anyone?
We knew this, just everybody knew this was coming. We knew it since the moment we saw the updated iPad Pro a couple of years ago — the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5-style squared off sides have returned.
Yeah, after half a decade of curved glass and rounded antenna bands, Apple has taken the iPhone design language… not back to the future but… forward to the past.
The iPhone 12 borrows most heavily from the iPhone 5, because aluminum. And manages the same trick of feeling just as impossibly light for its size. Like it’s not a real phone but one of those dummy phones at carrier stores light. 15% less volume than the iPhone 11 light.
The squared off edges feel every bit as good — or bad, if you preferred the curves. For me, they dig in just a little for a more secure grip. But because the back is glossy glass and not textured aluminum, and because anodization seems a little thicker, the overall feeling is different. At least on my deep blue review unit. Yeah, this year it comes in deep blue, but also black, white, a minty green, and Product RED.
Also, of course, the squared off sides mean it’ll still stand up all on its own. Which is just super cool for videos like this.
Same with the iPhone 12 Pro. Which I got sampled in the lighter, slightly more teal looking Pacific Blue, but also comes in silver, and, like the new Apple Watch, graphite and 18-K-as-in-Kardashian gold.
The difference is that, for the 12 Pro, the very iPhone 4-like antennae band is also in a very iPhone 4-like stainless steel. Which is what Apple’s been using for he higher-end iPhones since the iPhone X.
It still feels light for the size, though not as light, but the lack of the curve also makes it feel slightly thicker. And, obviously, since this, the smaller of the iPhone 12 Pros, is now as big as the iPhone 12, same size as the previous iPhone 11 and iPhone XR, just bigger in general than the iPhone 11 Pro.
But I’ve always wanted the non-Max Pro in this size. Just the perfect middle-ground size.
Because the bands on the colored models are PVD and not just clear coated like all the iPhone 4 models were, and the glass doesn’t sit above the bands, but flush with them, it ends up feeling very different as well. Especially with the back glass having a matte finish, something Apple introduced last year for the Pro line.
Sadly, Apple didn’t return to the round volume buttons of the elder iPhone era. Which, visually, I’ve always just loved and wish they had. Tactilely, though… I’ll admit to liking the utility of the longer lines better.
So, retro, yes, a throwback, in a way, but also a design that ends up being distinct and futuristic in their own way.
And that’s really the only differences between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro here. Colors and materials. Glossy black, white, green, blue, and red with aluminum bands versus matte graphite, white, pacific blue, and gold with stainless steel bands. That’s it.
Even the front glass is the same… Well, it isn’t even glass any more. It’s impregnated with Nanoscale ceramic crystals — which is a fancy way of saying super tough but still transparent — to make what Apple calls Ceramic Shield.
Combined with the retro, flat, flush design, Apple says it provides 4 times more break resistance than the iPhone 11. Which… I’m both super curious and terrified to find out about at some accidental point in the future.
Because, so far, the glass backs also seem every bit as slippery as the last few versions. Which means, if you put them down on anything other than a level surface, which I do a lot, they’ll probably slide and tumble, and in short order. It’s never caused a break for me, but every time I see or hear it, it does cause my robot heart to skip a beat or several.
Now, If you’re concerned about scratches, nothing has changed there. It’s still ion-exchange, chemically hardened, but break resistance and scratch resistance are also still a trade off and Apple is still optimizing more for break resistance. So, if you used a screen protector before, you’re going to want to keep right on using one.
Also, the Ceramic Shield is only on the front. The back is the same hardened glass as the iPhone 11 series. Which, Apple says, is still harder than any other glass on the market. A benefit of their super buddy-buddy relationship with Corning. That doesn’t mean, if you drop an iPhone 12, you want it to land butter side down, though. Because that’s where the display is.
There’s a 5.4-inch iPhone mini and 6.7-inch iPhone Pro Max coming next month, but they’re the only models at those sizes. So if you know you want the smallest or biggest new iPhone 12, you know you want the mini or Max. The subtleties are all between the regular iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro.
First, because they’re both 6.1-inches now. Yeah, the Pro’s all grown up. And second, they both have mostly the same display now. Mostly.
After the iPhone XR and regular iPhone 11 stuck with the traditional double density LCD displays, like iPhones have had since… well.. the iPhone 4, the regular iPhone 12 is graduating to OLED, like the iPhone X, XS, 11 Pro, and, yeah, 12 Pro. Again, almost.
This year, both models, regular and Pro, have Apple’s triple density XDR OLED Displays. Though, RGB stripe LCD isn’t directly comparable to PenTile OLED, but, suffice it to say, they both have top of the line panels.
OLED isn’t perfect. In previous reviews I’ve gone over all the mitigations it requires for burn-in, off-axis color shift, and more. And I know some people believe it gives them eye-strain and headaches due to the pulse-width modulation, PWM, used to maintain performance at lower brightness levels. And if that’s you, you’ll want to stick with an LCD iPhone 11, XR, or SE. But, all that said, OLED is currently the best display technology for phones.
The lower power draw means, even slimmed down, the iPhone 12 keeps roughly the same battery life as the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 Pro, what Apple rates at 17 hours of local video playback or 11 hours of streaming.
And the lack of an LED backlight, which the LCD on the XR and 11 required, means the Lightning port is now all right and properly centered again. Hurrah.
And then there’s HDR.
I’ve explained this before, but you never want just more pixels. Wanting just more pixels is the real not-1080p-in-2018 facepalm. You want better pixels. And that involves everything from color-calibration and management to, yeah, high dynamic range — HDR.
And now both new iPhone 12s, regular and Pro alike, are fully HDR, high dynamic range, supporting the open HDR10 and licensed Dolby Vision standards, as well as HGL, hybrid Gamma Log, which is what some broadcasters prefer for compatibility reasons.
They’re both 2 million:1 contrast ratio, and both can hit 1200 nits for HDR content, so blacks look deep, inky black, whites look bright, there’s detail in shadows and highlights, reds look rich, and greens look vibrant.
I love it. When I’m watching the Mandalorian or Avengers Endgame on Disney+ or Stranger Things or Daredevil on Netflix or, you’re damn right, Ted Lasso on TV+, HDR is just how I want to watch now.
Now, you may not notice the difference unless you’re looking at SDR and HDR side-by-side. Even then, Apple’s LCD’s are really, really good so you’ll only notice it at the extremes ends of the dynamic range. Or you may just not care, either at all or simply on a phone sized screen. Which is totally valid. But for those that do care, it’s there.
Unlike high refresh rate, which is another one of several characteristics that make for a really premium display these days.
The iPhone has been 60Hz since it launched in 2007, which was terrific… in 2007. These days, many other phones are 90Hz, 120Hz, even more. It makes scrolling look smoother and reduces visual latency for however many games support it.
My guess is that it’s because high refresh rate OLED is still in its infancy. Apple’s been doing up to 120Hz adaptive refresh going on 3 years on the LCD iPad Pro. But the key word there is adaptive. It can ramp up to 120Hz for scrolling and the like, but also ramp down to 24Hz from static images. And that’s important because, by itself, 120Hz burns a lot more power. So balancing it with 24Hz helps maintain battery life.
Other phones have compensated by downscaling resolution, sometimes badly, by sucking up the extra drain, or by adding a manual toggle… but because the color management isn’t there, you can literally see the white point change. Which I’m guessing is a deal-breaker for Apple.
So, just like they ignored OLED until 2017, when they could get panels they liked, I’m guessing they’ll ignore high-refresh rate until 2021 when they can get adaptive OLED panels in sufficient quantities.
Like HDR, nerds like me want it now, now, now. Mostly because of the adaptive part — so I can watch those HDR movies in the proper 48Hz, 24 fps frame rate nature and Hollywood intended. Even if others can’t see the difference or simply don’t care. Which, frankly, is probably more than 90% of the market still today.
Either way, and all that context understood, it’s still totally fair to ding the iPhone 12 for not having it. And to see, when and if Apple adds it next year, whether the quality was worth the wait. Meanwhile, if you want it too, hit the like button as we’ll see how high it gets.
And, yeah, the notch is still there. And, personally, I don’t care. Subjectively, you might prefer a notch or a forehead or a hole punch, but objectively they all waste pixels and none are any less of a splinter in the eye. Especially since Apple would need like 4 hole punch and I can’t take that many spider eyes. I just can’t, not even in 2020.
Mechanical choochers what raise and lower hidden cameras introduce new points of potential mechanical failure, and under-display cameras still aren’t ready for primetime, so we’ll likely have notches of diminishing sizes until they are.
Which also means, it’s all still Face ID, and only face ID. No touch ID in the power button like the new iPad Air. Not this year at least. I hope Apple does add it back though. In the age of pandemic, wear masks or is common now as gloves, multiple biometrics moves from being a nice to have to a must have.
If you’re coming from an iPhone 6s to iPhone XS, you’ll also immediately notice 3D Touch is gone. It left last year with the iPhone 11 and isn’t coming back. Now we have Haptic Touch instead, which is less firm press and more long press. It’s more consistent across Apple’s devices, namely the iPad, but it’s also slower. It’s gotten better every year as well, but it still doesn’t have the speed or tactility of 3D Touch. I’m hoping Apple can implement better machine learning to deal with the speed and just keep tweaking the Taptic Engine to better simulate the feel. Until they nail it, though, I’m going to keep missing 3D Touch.
Now, there is one difference between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro panels: The regular iPhone 12 only sustains at 625 nits typical brightness when you’re not watching HDR and the iPhone 12 Pro sustains at 800 nits. Which means, probably just because Pro has to mean “premium” or just “nicer” in some ways, its display will be easier to see when you’re out in the sun.
For me, that’s certainly a difference. Just not as major a difference as the previous years’ LCD vs. OLED. And it’s just exactly the type of Pro-level upgrade I was talking about for the non-Pro iPhones.
Since Apple just OLED all the things, the biggest difference between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro is now the camera system.
And yeah, I’ll be doing a more in-depth camera review soon, so make sure you hit the subscribe button and bell so you don’t miss it.
The iPhone 12, like the iPhone 11, has a dual camera system. If you’re coming from an iPhone 7 or 8 Plus, or X or XS, it’s a different kind of dual camera system — wide angle and ultra wide instead of wide angle and telephoto. In other words, it quote-unquote zooms out instead of zooming in.
The effective 26mm wide angle, which has always been the best camera on the iPhone, is even better now. It has a faster f/1.6 aperture. So, it’s not Barry Allen or anything, but it’s still the fastest iPhone alive, and lets it take in 27% more light. It’s also got a new 7-element lens system, one more element than before, so you get less noise, and better sharpness as well, especially around the edges. And, the optical image stabilization, or OIS, ca now make 500 micro-adjustments per second, so it can stay open longer and steadier. For most people, this just means you’ll get better photos in lower light than over before. Which is good.
The effective 13mm, 120º ultra wide angle, which has been the weakest camera since Apple introduced it last year… is still pretty weak, at least comparatively. But, what Apple can’t beat with big physics, they’re throwing even more big compute at. Specifically, computational lens correction.
See, the wider the lens, the more the distortion around the edges. One minute, ultra wide, the next, boom, fish-eye. So, Apple is using the image signal processor and what I’m guessing may be some very fancy ARKit-style scene intelligence, to straighten out lines normalize faces, at least to some extent. Typically, it’s something that you’d typically pay thousands and thousands of dollars to get a special, real-wolrd architectural lens for, but here, now it’s just one more check off the computational photography boxes.
Now, I do find the effect works best if I’m at mid-level with my subject. If I’m shooting too high up or too low down, the straightening still happens, but wow is it sharp. Straight on, though, it’s dead on.
Apple’s also iterated their smart HDR feature to version 3, and expanded both Night Mode and Deep Fusion to the the ultra wide camera now as well. The selfie camera on front too while they were at it.
Smart HDR typically handles bright scenes, making sure skies aren’t blown out or details aren’t lost in shadows. Deep fusion works best in the middle, less bright, shadowed, indoors, and the like, preserving texture and detail. Night Mode just stacks and brackets the crap out of low-light to almost no light photos, so it can bring out the subject, while minimizing blur and noise, and maintaining that night time mood.
The iPhone can take multiple photos so fast, and round trip them through the image signal process and compute engines so quickly, that it can just figure out what the different elements are in any given scene, process them on a pixel-by-pixel basis, and take all the best bits from all the best frames and serve you up something that’s far better than the sum of any of those bits.
Some phones have bigger optics, others better algorithms, but no one is currently balancing the atoms and bits the way Apple is with the iPhone, and when you look at the results, not so much year-over-year, but over the stretch of a few years, the improvements are remarkable. Especially in low light and depth compared to the iPhone 7, or HDR compared to the iPhone XS.
Where the iPhone 12 Pro stands out is the extra cameras and sensors.
In addition to the same wide and ultra wide cameras, the 12 Pro also has an effective 52mm, f/2.0 telephoto camera. Similar to what the dual cameras had on the iPhones 7 through XS.
In Apple terms, where the ultra wide lets you step back from 1x to 0.5x, the telephoto lets you step forward to 2x.
Which is why I like having the telephoto so much. I mean, sometimes you can sneaker zoom in or out, though not always. But the lenses don’t just look closer or further away, they compress depth to a lesser or greater degree. That same distortion I talked about with the 22mm also makes close objects look much closer and farther objects look much farther, whether that’s a nose and a hoodie or a person and a tree. It’s almost… hyper dimensional. With the 52mm, it’s the opposite. The distortion is less. Which is why photographers love 50mm lenses, 80mm lenses even, so much for everything from portraits to product shots.
I’ll almost always default to the telephoto if I can, which is why I’ll almost always default to the iPhone Pro if I can.
Unfortunately, other than extending the computational modes like deep fusion across all the cameras, Apple didn’t really do much to improve the zoom-in aspect of telephoto this year. I mean, 10x digital zoom does look a bit better. Part of that might just be the better sensor and smarter HDR processing. But it doesn’t look like they’re using Smart HDR for Smart Zoom the way Google’s been using HDR+ for SuperRes Zoom.
Never mind periscope zoom cameras like or 48 to 108 megapixel, pixel binned sensors, like Samsung or Huawei.
And yes, I realize I just pontificated about more pixels not being as important as better pixels. But why not both? Once the world finishes ending, being able to take good zoom photos of kids or pets at the park, sights we’re out seeing, just anything further away, is a huge advantage.
Part of Apple’s whole approach to photos is just to let us whip our phones out of our pockets, tap or click, and get the best photo possible. And year after year, just increasing the range and conditions under which we can just get those best photos possible. And really good zoom is still just a glaring gap in getting just exactly that. Fingers crossed for next year.
What Apple did do with the 12 Pro is add a LiDAR scanner, like the one they added to the iPad Pro back in March. It’s like having the FaceID TrueDepth camera on the back, just not as dense but with much greater range. So it can just… like… ingest what’s in the room in front of you or, outside, what’s a similar sized distance in front of you.
Sadly, Apple didn’t add the ability to create Youmoji. You know, the opposite of Memoji. Relax. I’m kidding. Kinda. I’d pay good money to drop dinosaur or, sure, poop emoji heads on some people when taking snaps.
Anyway, right now, photographically, it’s used to improve auto focus in low light, which means instead of a few seconds of that little yellow square blinking, it locks on almost immediately, and to extend Portrait Mode into low light. Because it doesn’t have to interpret depth optically any more. It has literal fricken lasers. Well, not literal, it has light beams.
The LiDAR scanner also makes AR much faster and better. It can start positioning AR objects almost immediately, which means you don’t waste any time any more waving your phone around waiting for it to detect a flat surface, and it handles everything from tracking to occlusion much, much better. Apple already has their Measure app on the iPhone and I can’t wait for some of the 3D scanner apps from the iPad Pro to make their way over as well.
And, fair bet, Apple’s using all these year-over-year improvements to build towards something… next.
But even now, it all comes together to make a camera that’s just incredible fast, fluid, and fun to shoot with. That, like any good iPhone camera, you can just pull out, snap a photo with, and almost always get a great photo, regardless of the conditions. And in a wider range of conditions now than ever.
Side note, Apple has also pre-announced ProRAW for the Pro iPhone 12. Basically, trying to balance the flexibility of RAW with the power of computational photography. But it’s not coming out until later in the year so I’ll cover it when it does.
The improvements too the camera system also carry over to video, specifically the larger aperture for better low-light and the more precise image stabilization for smoother, steadier shots.
There’s a new night mode time lapse, so you can put together some really cool shots over really long exposures.
Recording is still capped at 4K60. There’s no 4K120 yet for slow-motion, which I was really hoping for this year. Even if it needed just all the light.
Also, no 8K anything. Basically for the same reason there’s no higher levels of optical zoom. Apple’s still using 12 megapixel sensors and 8K needs just over 33, at least.
And yeah, I’d like 8K for pretty much the same reason I’d like greater optical zoom — to punch in when and if I need to.
But, what Apple is doing is Dolby Vision. Previously, the iPhone could do extended dynamic range recording by interleaving the frames. Now it’s doing full-on HDR by processing Dolby Vision dynamic meta-data in real-time as you record. It’s even editable, with the data being re-tuned on-the-fly. And to maximize compatibility, the iPhone also performs a standard dynamic range tone map so, if you share to a device without HDR, it gets sent an SDR version instead.
That’s just a lot of tech speak to say videos shot with the iPhone 12 will look more colorful, like 60 times more colorful, and have those same deep, inky blacks and bright whites, with detail in the shadows and highlights, like the Dolby Vision movies and shows you see on Disney+ and Netflix and TV+.
Now, Samsung phones offer HDR10+ video recording, initially as a labs feature, but now up to 4K30 on the back camera, with manual SDR conversion.
The iPhone 12 will do Dolby Vision at 4K30 on the front and back cameras, and the iPhone 12 Pro, Dolby Vision at 4K30 on the front but a whopping 4K60 on the back, my guess is because the Pro has 6GB of memory to the 4GB on the regular iPhone 12.
In general, Dolby Vision offers higher potential bit-depth and peak brightness, and typically better standards for tone mapping than HDR10+. Apple is only going to 10-bits and 1200 nits right now, but their tone mapping is terrific, and I like that there’s that extra headroom to grow into.
More than that, I like that Apple is putting Dolby Vision cameras into the hands of millions of people, in a simple and straight forward way, which will hopefully make HDR in general far more fully fully mainstream.
I already record these videos in 10-bit but I upload them in standard dynamic range. Maybe this will help change that?
All these real-time computational photography and Dolby Video capabilities are thanks to the new A14 Bionic SoC, or system on a chip. It’s what does everything from Smart HDR 3 using the new image signal processor, or ISP, combined with the Apple Neural Engine, or ANE. Which, this year sees its core count double again from 8 to 16. It also has the performance and machine learning controllers, which round trip the data between the CPU, the ML accelerators or AMX on the CPU, and the GPU, and the storage controllers, that make sure you don’t drop a single photo or frame of video. Which… you really only appreciate when you hear other people yell about dropped photos and frames.
For me, real-time is still a huge deal, because it means I can see what I’m shooting. Like with an actual camera. I don’t have to guess, wait for an after effect, get it wrong, try again. Waste time. Lose the light. Lose the position. Lose the moment.
Anyway, I’ve already done a huge deep-dive into the A14 Bionic, so I’ll link to it in the description, and just quickly go over a couple points I think are key.
It’s built on a 5 nanometer process, which means it can fit 1.8 times as many transistors into the same space. It looks like Apple is using that to increase both speed and efficiency.
Basically, anyone can make a chip go faster just by dumping more power into it. The trick is to increase performance through efficiency, which is a trick Apple just keeps on pulling.
And, I have a sneaky suspicion platform technologies is spending that transistor budget on more than just the CPU and GPU — It’s gotten to the point where Apple silicon isn’t just industry leading but industry lapping.
And I know it’s popular these days to say you don’t need the latest or the top of the line processor in a phone, but yes you really do.
First, because chipsets enable feature sets. Smoothly scrolling an interface is like the lowest bar can set these days. If you want things like real time computational photography, on-the-fly high dynamic range, functional augmented reality, or any cutting-edge feature set, you need a cutting edge chipset.
And second, if you want to be able to keep scrolling an interface smoothly for years — and software updates to come — you’re going to want as much processor overhead as well. Because if a phone costs half as much but only lasts half as long, what kind of savings is that, really?
The A14 handles everything the iPhone 12 throws at it with… panache, and should easily be able to handle the 4 to 5 years of iOS updates Apple is typically throwing at devices these days. So, just like the iPhone 6s and original SE just got iOS 14 this year, I fully expect the iPhone 12 to get iOS 18 in four years. Maybe more.
Apple didn’t call this year’s lineup the iPhone 5G, though it would have been a clever way to reset the numbering scheme. No, they called it the iPhone 12, right after 11. But 5G was all over the announcement. And all over the iPhone 12. Literally every model has 5G, and the same 5G. Nothing different between the regular and the Pro.
Of course, the usual suspects who said the iPhone 11 was doomed without 5G almost immediately said the iPhone 12 was doomed with it, given the very, very low levels of 5G deployment in most of the world still.
But I think both of those statements are missing the point… unless that… is the point.
Anyway, I don’t have any 5G anywhere near where I live. If I go into town — downtown Montreal, that is — there’s a bit, but most of our spectrum auction has been delayed until next year so we’re… a way out at the very least.
Apple is supporting FR1, frequency range 1, or the low and midbands, pretty much everywhere though. Low band isn’t any faster than LTE but has much better capacity, which should aid in congestion, and just getting more signal to more people in more places.
Midband, which is the one I’m excited about, is quite a bit faster. Not blazingly fast, but faster, and is what I think will just end up being the most 5G for the most people.
In the U.S., Apple is also supporting FR2, frequency range 2, or the high bands. What’s commonly called mmWave. And it’s blisteringly, almost terrifyingly fast. But it’s also so short range and has such poor penetration that if you turn around, or go inside, or a leaf falls, I dunno, you lose the signal.
It’s U.S. only because most other places have sufficient FR1 that they don’t need FR2. The U.S. doesn’t, which is why FR2. At last for now.
And yeah, that’s why U.S. versions of the iPhone 12 have that weird oval on the side. It’s for radio frequency — RF — transparency. Older mmWave devices needed RF transparency on 4 of the 6 sides to work. Some newer ones try to get away with 2. I’m assuming Apple’s using the display and the back as well as this cutout, at the very least. Oh, mmWave.
But, regardless, the result is the most confusing carrier situation since… CDMA. Back when you had to worry if you had the HSPA or EVDO iPhone. Something no one has had to worry about for most of the run of LTE.
Apple’s doing a really good job of abstracting away the complexity. They’re supporting a ton of NR or Never Retiring — I mean, New Radio Bands. So, as long as you have a local SIM card, because 5G roaming isn’t really a thing yet, it should just work. The exception being you need a U.S. iPhone 12 to get mmWave in the U.S., and a U.S. iPhone 12 won’t get mmWave anywhere else, because it doesn’t really exist yet anywhere else, and if it ever does, probably won’t exist on the same exact bands.
Apple’s also doing something they call Smart Data, where they’ll automatically switch you between 4G LTE, long term employment, kidding, long term evolution, and 5G NR, to save as much power as possible. So, if you’re streaming music with your display off, you’ll get LTE. If you’re downloading a movie, you’ll get 5G so you can race-to-sleep, meaning turn the radio off again as fast as possible.
It’s optional, and you can turn Smart Data off, and set 5G to always on if its available, but I personally like the idea of it a lot. Especially while 5G is still waiting to mature.
If you, like me, don’t have 5G yet, Apple’s also made the LTE better. It has double the throughput now, for a theoretical maximum of 2Gbs. Which, you know, means if you’re alone in town sitting on top of the cell tower.
But I think for anyone who’s been getting sub-par LTE on previous iPhones, the iPhone 12’s new modem will make things better while we’re all waiting on 5G.
I’ve done a couple deeper dives on 5G already, which I’ll link in the description, and I’ll be doing a follow up on 5G on the iPhone 12, so seriously, hit that sub button and bell already so you don’t miss it.
About 5 years ago, Apple started ripping the beloved MagSafe power connectors off of MacBooks and replacing them with USB-C. They weren’t as convenient when it came to safety, but they were much more convenient when it came to every plug suddenly being usable for power or data.
But it turns out, Apple didn’t kill MagSafe just to watch it die. Instead, they left it all cocooned up in some lab somewhere in Cupertino, no doubt safely secreted away behind a fishtank badge, and in that time it transformed… into a new magnetic inductive charging and accessory connection system for the iPhone.
The implementation is really simple and elegant. You have a ring of magnets on the back of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, and that lets you slap anything from a charger to a wallet case right onto them, and it’ll stay stuck right there.
If you’re familiar with how the Apple Watch charger works, it’s very similar to that. The disk isn’t as big as the device, like it is on the Watch, though, so you have to aim for the Apple Logo. If you miss, you can just slide it into place until you feel the magnets lock. If you hit it though… if you hit it you’re immediately rewarded with this incredibly satisfying thwuk. Like I half considered starting an Apple ASMR channel satisfying thwuk.
Having the inductive charger magnetically stuck onto the back of the phone means you don’t have to worry about the ultra-slick glass back sliding out of place or just plain off over night, denying you a charge. You can even use it while charging, though because there’s currently only a 1m cable version you’ll need an extension cord close by. At last until someone makes a longer version.
Now, Apple has famously or infamously removed the headphones and power brick from both the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. They say to reduce eWaste and protect the environment, but probably also to keep the sticker price down and margins from going further down.
Again, most phones went up in price by $100 this year thanks to 5G, and switching the iPhone 12 to OLED certainly wasn’t cheap either, but neither of those things change that people who don’t have a USB-C power adapter now have to buy one, and that includes most former iPhone owners who, for more than a decade, have only ever gotten USB-A adapters.
The cable in the box, which last year switched from Lightning to USB-A to Lighting to USB-C on the Pro model has now done the same for every model. So, if you only have an old USB-A adapter, you’ll need your old Lightning to USB-A cable to go with it.
Apple is offering a new 20 watt power adapter at a reduced, $20 price, but for most people it’s going to be an extra financial and cognitive burden in 2020, the year when most of us could really just use the exact opposite.
And I’d be tempted to dismiss it as Apple being Apple. You know, deleting the floppy and pushing USB forward, deleting the headphone jack and mainstreaming headphones like the AirPods. And, sure, removing the AC adapter and maybe next deleting the Lightning part, all to push adoption of inductive charging technologies. To make that wireless world they’re always talking about.
But here’s the thing — the MagSafe charger doesn’t come with an AC adapter either. And unlike the iPhone, where you can still use an old USB-A to lightening cable and adapter if you have one, the USB-C cable on the MagSafe charger is built in, so you need a USB-C adapter — or USB-C port on a computer, for it to just work. And that’s very pre-post-PC.
So I really hope Apple steps up here and makes sure that at both online and retail, no one checks out or cashes up without being offered a charger, so nobody gets home only to find out they have no practical way to charge their new iPhone.
Apple’s going to have a dual charger out for any of the iPhones 12 and Apple Watch sometime in the future, and there’ll be a variety of third party options available as well from all the usual suspects. I’m very, very much hoping for a next generation Smart Battery Case that, instead of being a case, is just a thin slab that slaps right on the back as well.
Like the wallet case, which is cute and all, but only really fits three credit-card thick cards. Maybe four if a couple of them are extra thin.
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro ship with iOS 14, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system. Yeah, the one that lets you put widgets all over your Home screen. I have a review up already with special guest John Gruber, and I’ll link it in the description.
It also runs all the iPhone apps in the App Store, including LiDAR apps on the iPhone 12 Pro, and Apple offers a bunch of free apps, like Garage Band, iMovie, iWork, and more, as well as free training either at any Apple Stores that remain open, or, now, online as well, because 2020. And it’s surprisingly good training, including music, photography, video, coding, design, education, and more.
It’s part of that value proposition I’ve been wrestling with since the iPhone 12 announcement. Where, yes, the iPhone 12 Pro is the same price as the iPhone 11 Pro. A bit less, even, when you adjust for storage, especially for storage upgrades.
The regular iPhone 12, though, well that’s $100 to $150 bucks more, depending on your carrier and AC adapter situation. But, for that money, you’re getting an iPhone 12 that’s closer, just far closer than ever to being an iPhone 12 Pro.
Similar redesigns, just different colors and an aluminum band with a gloss back instead of a stainless steel band with a mate back. Very similar OLED display, just not quite as bright when not showing HDR. Identical A14 Bionic chipset, just 4GB of memory instead of 6. Identical LTE and 5G, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0, and U1 ultra-broadband. Same App Store and Apple Store support. The only big difference is the additional telephoto camera and LiDAR scanner, and double the extra base storage.
And then, for just $150 more than that, you’re getting the full on iPhone 12 Pro with… all of that.
For me, that makes the Pro worth it. Aide from connecting to the internet, the camera is just the most important feature to me. To quote someone I met in an iPhone line, I can never go back in time to get better photos so I always want the best camera I can have at any time.
If none of that matters to you though, and I think it won’t to many, many people, you can get and almost pro iPhone now starting at around $850 for 64GB. $900 if you want go up to 128GB of storage. Which, if you’re not living that stream everything life, and especially if you wanna shoot that 4K video, you probably want to do.
If you’re coming from an iPhone 6s or 7 or 8, even a X or XR, everything taken together, from the OLED display to the better cameras and radios, MagSafe, just everything, makes for a really compelling upgrade.
If it’s just too much cash for you, if you weren’t asking for OLED or 5G, Apple just did their Usual price drop on last year’s model as well, and you can now get an iPhone 11 with LCD and LTE starting at $600, which Might just be super compelling in 2020. The iPhone XR from 2018 is now starting at $500 as well, and this year’s new iPhone SE, which is kind of like iPhone 11 guts in an iPhone 8 body, is at $400.
If you have an iPhone XS or 11, especially 11 Pro, and you don’t just have money to burn, and aren’t on an annual update program — or, of course, work in the tech industry — then you’ve got to really, really not just want but need the new camera, especially on the 12 Pro, to even remotely consider it.
But that just brings me back to my always advice — wait as long as you can to buy, then buy what you need, enjoy the hell out of it, and have zero regrets, because there’ll always be something next.
And by then, when you’re ready for next, that next will be even better