Review: 5 days with the iPhone 12 & iPhone 12 Pro; all questions answered

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Testing an iPhone every September almost feels like a pilgrimage for even a tech reviewer who has been doing this for over a decade. That is the aura and legend of the iPhone. This year, the pilgrimage has come a month later, in November. But since the new iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro launched last Friday on October 30, before filing a traditional review of sorts, this is a buying guide combined with a stream of my rambling thoughts on these new iPhones since using them Thursday evening onwards. These are the questions most people are going to care about.

How different are these new iPhones from some of the recent models?

Very. They may look similar from afar but in the hand, it feels like a completely new phone. Heck, if you’ve been a long time iPhone user, then it may not even feel completely new as it harkens back to the design language that made the iPhone the Swiss watch of smartphones between 2010 and 2013. The new iPhone 12 models combine the simplistic geometric symmetry of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 designs but marry it with the modernity of the full-screen panache of the iPhone X design something that we have seen on iPhones since 2017. These iPhones are also significantly thinner and lighter than their predecessors. The major difference between the Pro and the standard model is the presence of the extra camera and LiDAR on the back and the glossy stainless steel frame and matte finish on the more expensive model. The standard one gets, to me, a more pleasing matte aluminium finish on the side rails and a glossy finish on the back. To me these are the prettiest smartphones in the market right now — the pro model looks spectacular in an understated way in the pacific blue and the standard one looks simplistically elegant in the white unit I received.

How is the screen? What’s the difference? Is the absence of a 120Hz refresh rate an issue?

Both the pro and the plain Jane iPhone 12 are in for a change. The pro gets a bigger Super Retina XDR screen — its size has been jacked up to 6.1-inches from 5.8-inches on the previous models. Apple has reduced the borders around the screen even further which makes it quite similar to the iPhone 11 Pro in size and form. It is one of the best screens around — accurate colours, up to 1200 nits of brightness, it can also get very dim while also retaining excellent brightness and viewing angles under direct sunlight. The standard 12 model gets more or less the same screen which is a big change from the Liquid Retina LCD as now it is sharper, more vivid, power-efficient and has a better screen to body ratio. The only difference here is that this screen doesn’t have the same peak brightness as the pro model — but for most people, this will be indistinguishable. The absence of a 120Hz screen is not a big deal honestly as iOS has always been more optimised for UI fluidity and animations. You’re always gliding through the user interface. But for some who game a lot, it may become a minor issue but that will always be offset with the raw and prodigious firepower of the A14 Bionic chip which is two years ahead of any chip on an Android phone – be it for gaming or anything else.

How fast is the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro? Do I need to upgrade from an iPhone 11 Pro?

Here’s the pickle: there is no doubt the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are the fastest phones in the world. They are faster than most high-end laptops but the thing is that even holds for the iPhone 11 Pro. The iPhone 12 in terms of performance makes sense for very few people as the older iPhone is so quick. But of course, if you have been using an iPhone XS or X or older go for the new phone. It is also something that can easily last you upwards of three years without feeling old or slow. But if you’re on an iPhone 11 — then either you need the HDR video capabilities or the new camera or the augmented reality features that come from the LiDAR, you don’t need the new models. Games will take a while to be optimised for the new A14 chip and the A13 is still faster than anything you can get on Android. The iPhone 12 is the fastest around — but how much speed do you need? That’s what you need to answer – if you’re a content creator doing everything on the phone — they answer maybe yes, if not, it will probably be no.

Are these new cameras worth the hype?

Yes and no. Optically, not much has changed on the new pro and the standard 12 from the 11 pros to 11. Apple has added a new seven-element lens on the primary camera and reduced the f-stop to f/1.6 which is mega for low-light performance. It also has enhanced the optical stabiliser massively. The wide-angle camera and the telephoto camera (12 Pro only) remains the same. But here’s where the magic of computational photography comes in and the iPhone 12 suddenly becomes a significant upgrade over the 11 Pro. The A14 Bionic chip elevates the performance of these predominantly same cameras with updates software processing enhancements like smart HDR 3 on all lenses, Deep Fusion on all lenses, and night-mode on all lenses. This was the weakness of the iPhone 11 — night-mode didn’t work on all the lenses. Now, all these features are better and they work across the board. This means photos are sharper, brighter and livelier in all conditions. Now, using the LiDAR on the iPhone 12 Pro you get portrait mode + night mode which is even better than on the 12. LiDAR enables 6 times faster autofocus and can do depth perception even in the darkest scenes. Selfies also on these phones look better even though the hardware is more or less than the same since the iPhone X. The only issue with portrait mode is with objects as it needs a pretty long focusing distance, even when using the telephoto camera on the Pro model. Wide-Angle camera shots come to life thanks to the new software updates and the telephoto lens also performs better. I’d say these are pretty much the best cameras on a smartphone you can get right now in India, including the Pixel 4a — but then there is the iPhone 12 Pro Max coming in which actually gets massive optical updates and that will likely leapfrog these cameras. Also, a word in for the video — the iPhone 11 Pro was already the best smartphone video camera and now it gets a significant boost thanks to Dolby Vision 4k HDR capabilities and the new stabilisation — the best just took a generational leap and I don’t see any Android phone coming close to the iPhone in this department. If you take a lot of videos — the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro is a no brainer. But again, the Pro Max with its bigger sensor and sensor-shift stabilisation will be a massive leap over these models. Keep that in mind.

How is the battery life on the new iPhones?

Apple didn’t speak a lot about the battery life on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro. But one of the reasons it didn’t was the fact that it had added 5G which would’ve caused a minor hit in the US. In India, there are no such problems. I’m experiencing very similar battery life on iPhone 12 to the iPhone 11. iPhone 11 was excellent. 8 hours of screen on time and 16-17 hours of heavy use. Often you can only charge it once and get away with it. On the iPhone 12 Pro, it is a little better — I don’t know how because the screen size has gone up, but I’m clocking 8 hours again and 16-17 hours on heavy use. This involves making phone calls, WhatsApp, signal, iMessage, web browsing, watching videos, listening to music and taking loads of photos and video and uploading them on social media. The problem with the 12 models is that you don’t get the charging brick and to compound problems, you get a type C to lightning cable in the box. Now, most people still use type A as their laptops and charging bricks from their old phones, including iPhones have the old connector. Sure, if you’ve been in the Apple ecosystem for 2-3 years, this may not be an issue as the MacBooks have been on type C for a couple of years, but even the iPhone 11 had a brick that used a Type A to the lightning connector. This was a misstep from Apple but likely it did this to enable USB PD fast charging. You can get a new one from anywhere including a new one from AMX India called the XP 60 for just Rs 1,799 which does up to 60-watt charging via USB Type C and also support three USB Type-A plugs. Apple’s new 20-watt charger is also there, but it is best used if you’re planning to use the new MagSafe wireless charger as its peak 15-watt wireless charging only gets deployed fully using Apple’s charger. The MagSafe charger represents a simple yet ingenious idea for democratising fast charging with accessories. I like it but it is expensive at Rs 4,500 in India.

What else is there?

Apple is using a new cover glass on these phones which it calls ceramic shield. Most people haven’t spoken about this — but it is a big deal as it protects the device from screen breakage four times more than any other device. I have also noticed slightly better scratch resistance but of you’re nazi about scratches then a tempered glass will be in order. On the iPhone 12, the water and dust resistance has been upgraded to IP68 which is also pretty nice to have. The speakers on the iPhone are true stereo and spectacularly good — they are clear, loud and balanced. The microphones on these new iPhones are also the best in the business — I do a lot of my voice over work using these and also record video in loud environments. Apple this year has transitioned to Qualcomm’s modems which represents a huge upgrade in call quality in India as phone calls are just better — this was a problem with the previous iPhones which used Intel models. These iPhones are also 5G ready but in India, that’s a useless conversation.

For content creators, influencers does it make sense?

During the pandemic, many shows and newsrooms embraced mobile technology and the iPhone was often the device of choice. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro just amp up that narrative — of you’re a content creator of any kind, this is the phone you want — it has the best cameras, the best video and it is home to an ecosystem of hardware accessories like microphones, gimbals, tripods and selfie sticks coupled with editing apps like LumaFusion, Spark Camera, VSCOCam, Halide, iMovie, Filmic Pro, Snapseed and Darkroom. The iPhone is the ultimate mobile playground for a content creator. Its display is also calibrated in such a way to edit stuff on the go. And with the iPhone 12 models — these are the first devices in the world to have the ability to shoot, edit and view 4k 60 frames per second Dolby Vision HDR content. To add to this, this is the most secure phone also on the planet and is the only platform where you’ll get the best of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple itself.

Is this the best phone in the world?

Yes, the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are the best two phones in the world. They will be soon joined by the iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Mini. For most people, it will be the standard iPhone 12, and for the person who wants the best camera — it will likely be the Pro Max but I haven’t tested it yet — but extrapolating from what I’ve experienced with these phones this isn’t much of a prediction. The iPhone 12 Mini will be for the person who wants a small device — but it will likely come with trade-offs on the battery life.

Price:

Rs 79,990 for iPhone 12 64GB
Rs 1,19,990 for iPhone 12 Pro 128GB

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