Apple iPhone 12 Review

The iPhone 12 has easily the best display of any entry-level Apple phone and the move to high-resolution OLED is a brilliant one

by David Phelan
SRP: £799.00

What is the Apple iPhone 12?

It’s the latest smartphone from Apple and the direct successor to the iPhone 11, released in September 2019. It is also the name for the suite of new phones from Apple, which altogether comprises of the iPhone 12 itself, a smaller-screened iPhone 12 mini, a premium phone called the iPhone 12 Pro and a larger version of that, the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Two of the phones, iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max will arrive in November, but the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are in stores from Friday, 23 October.

The iPhone 12 adopts a different design from the iPhone 11 – an unusual move because Apple often sticks with the same design for two years and calls the second one the iPhone 11s, for instance. But this, as Apple is fond of saying, is a leap year. What’s new this time around?

The design, an OLED display, tougher display glass, a faster processor, better cameras, a new magnetic wireless charging system called MagSafe for iPhone and – at last – 5G connectivity.

Design

You absolutely can’t miss that this is a different design from the iPhone 11, so if you want everyone to know you’re bang up to date, the iPhone 12 will do that. However, you may also notice that this is unmistakably an iPhone, even if the label falls off. It’s clearly related to the iPhone 5 and 5s, for instance.

Where the iPhone 11 has a pillowed glass front and back, plus curved edges on all the sides, the iPhone 12 is flatter, with completely flat glass on top. Actually, it’s not glass, Apple says, but we’ll come back to that.

 

It’s certainly more angular-feeling than before but still comfortable

The edges are completely flat, too. In fact, the only curves to the hardware are the corners – it would be rather painful to look at if they were squared off.

In terms of pain, don’t worry, there’s none from holding the iPhone 12’s flat-edged shape in your hand. It’s certainly more angular-feeling than before but still comfortable.

Apple iPhone 12

The lack of curved edges means the iPhone 12 is smaller than the iPhone 11, in fact it’s 15 per cent less volume, Apple says. The edges are part of this but another change has more of an effect: the bezels around the display. These were wider on the iPhone 11, down to the screen technology used, LCD. Apple has switched to an OLED display this time around and has been able to significantly slim down the frame as a result.

The iPhone 11 never felt huge but this is a significant win in terms of compactness.

There’s still a notch in the display, by the way, where the True Depth camera system resides, making facial recognition fast and secure. It’s also the thing that tells someone looking over at you that you’re using an iPhone as Android smartphones have switched to much smaller cut-outs for their cameras to peep through.

Apple iPhone 12

The rear of the iPhone has a shiny finish with one matte area, where the camera panel sits, mimicking the iPhone 11, though it has two big differences. First, the only other marking on the back of the iPhone 12 is the Apple logo which is unmissable in a pure, shiny silver. Even the obligatory CE mark is missing, with this lettering now on the edge of the phone – something made possible by the flat-edge design.

Second: the colours. Of course, there are the colours you’d expect, black and white. Both effective but a bit utilitarian. Then there’s PRODUCT(RED) which is slightly different from last year’s PRODUCT(RED) hue. And then there are the two new colours, green and blue. The green is a gentle pastel that looks great on both the shiny back and the matte edge, while the blue is strong and eye-catching with just a hint of admiral blue in it.

Apple iPhone 12

Something you can’t see but is an important element of the design is MagSafe for iPhone. You may remember MagSafe as that very cool system Apple used to attach the power cable to a MacBook using magnets, so if someone tripped on your cable it would harmlessly detach and not pull your laptop off the desk, say.

A ring of magnets sits under the iPhone’s back, right around the Apple logo. Then, if you use the new MagSafe charger, it connects precisely to this ring. More on this later.

One other thing: you’ll have heard that there’s no charging plug in the box, nor wired earbuds. The earbuds is no problem, I’d say. Year after year mine stayed in the box. And when they switched to a Lightning connector on the cable, they became less useful.

 

... this is a significant win in terms of compactness.

The charging plug is more of an issue. After all, you can charge these iPhones quite fast if you have a 20W charger, which is what came in the box last year with the iPhone 11 Pro.

That’s available separately, and the price has even dropped recently, but still.

What you do get is a USB-C to Lightning cable, so you can charge the iPhone from a Mac laptop, for instance. I’m all for reducing electronic waste though I wonder if Apple should have waited one more year…

Display

The move from LCD to OLED is a very big change and it’s one that you cannot miss if you have both phones side by side. Of course, all the benefits of OLED over LCD are well-known: greater contrast levels, deeper, inkier blacks, punchier colours. All are evident here.

And then there’s the screen resolution. Almost all LCD iPhones from the iPhone 4 onwards have had the same resolution, 326 pixels per inch. The only exceptions were the Plus versions of the iPhone 6 and beyond, which offered 401ppi.

 

The iPhone 12 has easily the best display of any entry-level Apple phone

Then came the move to OLED in some iPhones with the iPhone X, which saw the pixel density leap to 458ppi. However, the iPhone 11 stayed with 326ppi.

So, it’s no wonder that the iPhone 12 with the highest pixel density yet on any iPhone, 460ppi, looks great. This new record is equaled by the iPhone 12 Pro and will be beaten in just a matter of weeks by the forthcoming iPhone 12 mini which has 476ppi on its smaller 5.4in display. If you like the idea of a phone that’s about the same size as the iPhone SE but with a screen almost as big as on the iPhone 11 Pro (5.8in), you may want to hang on a little while.

Apple iPhone 12

Apple says the display offers 2 million to 1 contrast ratio and brightness of up to 1200 nits, though this top level only comes into play when viewing photos or videos with HDR.

It is an HDR display with native support for Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG. What it’s not, though, is a fast-refresh rate screen. This is 60Hz, not the 90Hz or 120Hz some rivals are putting on their phones now.

The iPhone 12 has easily the best display of any entry-level Apple phone and the move to high-resolution OLED is a brilliant one.

Ceramic Shield

The new front glass on the iPhone is going to survive drops much better, Apple says, which will be a relief for all of us, assuming it lives up to the claim that it will be four times better at withstanding a drop than before.

I call it glass but technically it’s not, it is a new, tough material that is perfectly transparent. There are so many nano-ceramic crystals in the material that it has changed the properties so much that it’s not even the same technical definition of glass any more.

 

What it’s not, though, is a fast-refresh rate screen

It certainly feels the same as glass and works the same as glass. But it ain’t. I’ve dropped the iPhone 12 a few times, accidentally, and with no ill effects.

By the way, Apple says the back, which is glass, is the toughest on any smartphone, helped along by the new design which with its flat framing is stronger.

Cameras

The iPhone 12 has two rear cameras and one front-facing one, all with 12-megapixel resolution. The rear cameras include a new wide camera with seven lenses and boasts the fastest aperture yet on an iPhone, f/1.6, capable of capturing more light more quickly, Apple says. It’s also claimed that the camera is better at creating brighter images, and promises less noise. It also has optical image stabilisation to make the longer exposures needed for Night mode look better. This system is said to make 5,000 micro-adjustments per second automatically to ensure a sharp image.

Apple iPhone 12

The second camera is an ultra-wide, which has a focal length equivalent to a 0.5x optical zoom of the wide lens. There’s no telephoto on this phone, you need the iPhone 12 Pro for that.

My experience of the iPhone 12 camera is that it’s a bit better than the iPhone 11, which was itself a big leap forward from previous iPhones. The introduction of features like Deep Fusion, where multiple images are combined using machine learning to drastically improve how fabrics and materials look in low to average light, for instance, was great when it came last year. It’s now on all three of this phone’s cameras.

 

Apple likes to do the heavy lifting for you

The iPhone 12 introduces scene recognition, also powered by machine learning. With some phones, this means you’ll see a caption on the screen to say the phone thinks it’s spotted a dog, a plate of food or a landscape as your subject, for instance. Apple keeps this information to itself to keep the shooting process as simple as possible

So, there’s no Pro mode here, though there are some adjustments you can make to white balance, turn the flash on and off and so on. But Apple likes to do the heavy lifting for you.

Video with Dolby Vision

Apple’s video recording has always been top-notch but this year it adds Dolby Vision. It’s the only camera in the world (yes, not phone camera but camera of any kind) that directly records in Dolby Vision. It can record at up to 30 frames per second – though the iPhone 12 Pro can do this at up to twice that.

Apple has made this simple, too, to the extent that you can edit Dolby Vision videos on the phone as well, which is also a first.

MagSafe

The new MagSafe charging puck, sold separately, is a new way to charge. If you’ve ever put a phone on a charging pad last thing at night to find when you wake up that it didn’t charge, you’ll know that positioning is crucial. MagSafe takes the guesswork out of this – it clips magnetically to the iPhone 12 as you get near to it.

Apple iPhone 12

It attaches firmly, though is still easy to remove, and it works through many cases. Apple has released its own MagSafe cases which conform to the iPhone magnet ring and make putting these cases on and off much easier. If it’s an Apple case, it even knows which one you’re putting on and flashes an animation that matches the colour of the case, which is cool.

There’s also a wallet accessory for credit cards, shielded so your cards are safe, but I haven’t tried this yet.  

Performance

The new A14 Bionic chip that is the brain of the iPhone 12, and the other three models in the range, is the fastest processor Apple has ever made. It uses a 5nm process, essentially meaning there are more transistors squeezed onto the chip – 11.8 billion, to be precise.

The aim is that everything is fast, from the mundane tasks like opening an app or launching a web page through to the more processor-intense apps like the latest graphics-focused games, for instance.

 

... nothing has caused it to break out in a sweat yet.

Every single thing I have done on this phone has happened at speed. As more advanced apps and games are released, they will aim to push the A14 Bionic to its limits, but nothing has caused it to break out in a sweat yet.

Then there’s the added speed that comes with faster connectivity. The first iPhones with 5G are capable of very high speeds, even though the handsets made for sale outside the US don’t have the very fastest mmWave 5G in them. I’ve certainly recorded very impressive download speeds in London, and reasonable ones elsewhere.

But 5G uses energy and some reviewers have mentioned that battery life is suffering as a result. That’s not my experience, but it’s hard to be authoritative when all our usage is different, and in different signal strength areas.

Apple iPhone 12

Apple has built in an auto setting which spots what you’re doing and adjusts its search for 5G. If you’re writing an email, for instance, it calls off the hunt for the fastest connection and settles for 4G. For me, this system has worked very well so far.

Battery

As a result, I’ve found battery life to be on a par with last year’s. The iPhone 11, you may remember, saw a massive uptick in battery life compared to previous iPhones and this year it has really just held steady. Frankly, this was all it needed to do. The iPhone 12 lasts a full day with ease, and there's enough juice in the battery at the end of the day to give great peace of mind.

Verdict

The Good

  • Snappy design
  • Shoot and edit in Dolby Vision
  • 5G, at last
  • Blazing-fast performance

The Bad

  • Dolby Vision only to 30fps
  • Pricier than last year

Apple iPhone 12 Review

The last iPhone, the iPhone 11, was a big step forward from the year before. But the arrival of 5G, the super-fast processor, tougher screen and more resilient design seem to be a bigger step again.

And that’s before we even get to the improvement in the display here, shifting to OLED and seriously upgrading the pixel density.

The new design may be a throwback to the iPhone 5 but it has a confident, classy look to it that I think is very appealing. The new cameras and especially the capability of effortlessly shooting in Dolby Vision is pretty cool.

The iPhone 12 is more expensive than last year’s iPhone 11 was – starting at £799 now where it was £699 last year – but the major advances seem to justify the price hike.

Overall, I think this is the biggest upgrade Apple yet in an iPhone, and puts the iPhone 12 among the leading-edge smartphones.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Design

.
9

Usability

.
9

Display

10

Call and Signal Quality

.
9

Email, Browsing, Calandar, Contacts

.
.
8

Operating System

.
9

Media support

10

Camera

.
9

App support and functionality

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
9

Value for Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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