Note: This review was first published on 20 Oct 2020. It was updated on 26 Oct 2020 with information on battery capacities in the battery life section.
The rumours were right. Apple announced four new phones last week. There’s the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini, and two “Pro” phones in the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Apart from all the usual processor, camera, and feature upgrades, the big news is that, like all other flagship-class phones this year, the four phones will all support 5G
But, the 5G commonality aside, the new iPhone lineup is actually quite confusing. Let’s break it down a little. There’s now two flagship models – the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max – and two more affordable ones – the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini. The iPhone 12 and 12 Mini are identical apart from the size of their displays. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro have quite a lot in common but the latter has an extra camera and features. And finally, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has an improved camera system over the iPhone 12 Pro and is the new big daddy of the lineup. This makes the purchasing decision a little tricky.
Anyhow, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro will be available in retail later this week, while we’ll have to wait until 13 November for the iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Yes, that’s quite odd, I thought it would make more sense to release the iPhone 12 and 12 Mini together and then the two Pro iPhones. Anyway, this is the review of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, and there’s a lot to cover, so let’s get right down to it.
Last year’s iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro were distinctly different devices, but this year, the two have quite a lot in common. To begin, the dimensions are identical to the point where the two phones can share phone casings. They have a similar aesthetic too, with flat sides that we last saw on the iPhone 5 (remember that?) and also on the iPad Pro and recently announced iPad Air. This is all subjective but I quite like the way it looks. I always felt that the blockish design of the iPhone 4 was the best of all the iPhones, even if they do end up looking like slabs.
So how can you tell the two apart? Aside from the number of cameras, it is the materials and weight. The iPhone 12 has an aluminium chassis with clear back glass while the iPhone 12 Pro has a stainless steel chassis with a textured matte back glass. Because of its stainless steel body, the Pro phone is a little heavier – 189g vs 162g. It doesn’t look like much on paper but you’ll immediately notice the difference in the hands. The Pro model feels heftier.
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro come in different colours and finishes too. The iPhone 12 comes in five colours: black, white, blue, green, and (PRODUCT)RED. The iPhone 12 Pro comes in four colours: graphite, silver, gold and all-new pacific blue.
The non-Pro models have a matte finish on the flat sides whereas the Pro models have a special PVD finish. Since there’s no physical event this year, I wasn’t able to check out all the colours. I have the iPhone 12 in green and the iPhone 12 Pro in pacific blue.
The pacific blue model that I’m testing doesn’t really look blue at all. Depending on your environment and how light hits it, it almost looks black at times. That said, the flat sides are highly polished and reflective. One thing about it that irks me is that the polished sides are mega fingerprint magnets. They catch fingerprints and grime even if you just glance at it. I spent a lot of time wiping and cleaning to get these photos. If you are a hypochondriac, you'll be happy to know that the non-Pro models have matte aluminium sides that resist fingerprints and grime.
Apple says the two phones are now more rugged, with better resistance to water and drops. On the front, the two phones have a new type of glass on the front called Ceramic Shield which was developed with Corning to be the strongest smartphone glass ever. The glass gets its name from the tiny ceramic crystals that have been infused into the glass. Apple claims four times better drop performance which means these new phones are four times less likely to shatter if you should drop them.
As for water resistance, the two phones still have an IP68 water-resistance rating but Apple says they can now survive being submerged in up to six metres of water for up to 30 minutes. As good as this all sounds, I doubt anyone would want to subject their fancy four-figure phone to any form of abuse if they can help it.
Buttons and ports are unchanged and will be familiar to anyone who has been using an iPhone for the past few years. I thought we would be getting USB-C this year to suffuse at least some form of consistency across the iPhone and iPad range, but no, the two phones also continue to rely on the aged Lightning connector for charging and data transfer. The obvious upside is your Lightning cables will continue to work. The downside is that if you have an iPad Pro or if you are thinking of getting the new iPad Air, you'll have to deal with more cables. There’s also no headphone jack or memory card slot.
Now, iPhones and many other mid-range to flagship headphones have done away with headphone jacks for years, but it’s problematic now because Apple has said that it will stop including Lightning EarPods and wall chargers with all of its phones. I have some thoughts about this but I won’t get into it here. But Apple explained that this move was motivated by environmental concerns that you can read about here. Apple reasoned that there are already 700 million Lightning EarPods out in the wild as well as over 2 billion Apple power adapters. Even so, it could be troublesome if you are coming from a really old iPhone or another brand, and especially if you don’t have wireless headphones of your own. The only accessory you’ll find in the box is a single USB-C to Lightning cable.
Speaking of charging, one new feature of the new phones is MagSafe. Yup, Apple is bringing back the charging system that old Mac users like me love so much. MagSafe accessories will use carefully-placed magnets to connect magnetically to magnets placed in the back of iPhones. This ensures perfect placement, which is crucial for efficient wireless charging. The iPhone will still be compatible with Qi wireless chargers but an added benefit of using MagSafe wireless charging accessories is 15W charging – with Qi chargers, you’ll be limited to 7.5W. Unfortunately, I don’t yet have a MagSafe charger to test the charging speed.
Charging aside, Apple and third-party makers also have other accessories planned for the new phones. Apple, for example, has a snap-on wallet that attaches to the back of the phone and can be used to hold cards.