iPhone 12: The ideal choice for camera enthusiasts

The iPhone 12 is $100 / £100 more costly than the iPhone 11 from 2019, but it does come with a number of new features, including an OLED display, a marginally improved camera, a redesigned design, and – the big hitters – 5G and MagSafe connection.

Release date and price

The iPhone 12 was supposed to be released on October 23, 2020, but it’s now available, and you can get it via Apple or a number of shops. Whereas the iPhone 12 mini, wasn’t released until a few months later, but it’s now widely accessible.

The iPhone 12 costs $799 / £799 / AU$1,349, which is $100 / £70 / AU$150 more than the iPhone 11. This is owing in part to the cost of installing a 5G modem, but it’s also because the iPhone 12 small is priced at $699 / £699 / AU$1,199, which is the same as the iPhone 11.

The smartphone will be available on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon in the United States. It’s worth noting that the $799 pricing in the US only applies if you buy the phone SIM-free from those networks; if you want it unlocked, you’ll have to pay an additional $30.

Customers in the United Kingdom can purchase from EE, Vodafone, O2, Three, and a number of other networks. The iPhone 12 is available in Australia via Vodafone, Optus, and Telstra.

Design

While it’s comparable in size and form to the iPhone 11 from this year and is really a few millimetres shorter and thinner, the biggest change is the edges, which are a sharp 90-degree angle rather than the convex, curved sides of the prior model.

As a consequence, the iPhone 12 feels sharper in the hand, with the edges of the phone not resting as comfortably in your hands, and after a few weeks of use, we wouldn’t call it comfortable. If you’ve used iPhones for a while, you’ll remember how it felt to use an iPhone 4 or 5, both of which have squared sides, but the larger phone does force it into your hands a little more. Apple has made an unusual design tweak, and one has to question whether it was done to enable a better 5G signal.

The iPhone 12’s front has a new Ceramic Shield to better prevent it from shattering, with Apple saying that it’s four times less likely to break in a drop, indicating that the company is putting a premium on durability this year.

In 2020, the IP68 rating was improved, allowing the iPhone 12 to be immersed for 30 minutes at a depth of six metres before becoming wet inside – more realistically, this implies that normal, day-to-day water damage is less likely.

One of the most controversial changes with the iPhone 12 is what comes with it, rather than the phone itself. Apple emphasised the environmental benefits of not cluttering the drawers of millions of people across the world with goods they already had by excluding the charging block and EarPods from the package.

Because Apple is including a Lightning to USB-C cable rather than the Lightning to USB-A cable, the ‘current’ adapter many people have won’t work, so you’ll have to use an old Lightning cable and charger if you buy the new iPhone 12 (which means slower charging) – and if this is your first iPhone, you’ll almost certainly need to pay the extra $19/£19/AU$29 for a charging block.

Display

The display on the iPhone 12 is a huge step forward for a phone this budget – last year, Apple determined that sophisticated, high-contrast OLED screens were exclusively for those willing to pay for the Pro, but this year, Apple has introduced the Super Retina XDR Display to the cheaper iPhone 12. The change is obvious, especially when viewing HDR-encoded pictures, videos, and movies.

The iPhone 12’s display features a resolution of 2532 x 1170 pixels and is crisp, clear, and visible from all angles. The bezels are smaller (though the phone’s squared shape makes them appear thicker), allowing the iPhone 12 to be somewhat shorter and narrower than the 2019 model while keeping the 6.1-inch display. While it’s been easy to criticise Apple in the past for not using the greatest display technology in its phones, the new iPhone 12’s screen has relatively few flaws.

The iPhone 12 has a little lower brightness than the iPhone 12 Pro, according to our tests; while they have the same peak screen brightness when presenting HDR material, the day-to-day view is somewhat darker on the iPhone 12. We didn’t see much of a difference side by side, but the lower brightness will provide somewhat better battery life over time, and we were able to see everything even in broad sunshine.

Camera

When you glance at the sensors, the iPhone 12’s camera system doesn’t appear to be much of an advance – there’s still the same wide camera (which most would refer to as the normal sensor) and the ultra-wide snapper that allows you to zoom out when you want to fit more landscape or people into the frame.

However, the overall capacity of these sensors has been enhanced, with the broad 12MP sensor now paired with an f/1.6 aperture for greater low light shooting, according to Apple. The findings back up the claim: low-light performance has increased somewhat, resulting in brighter, more detailed photos. While Night Mode was the standout feature of the iPhone 11 last year, it’s returning with the iPhone 12 – and you can now utilise it with both the wide and ultrawide sensors.

The iPhone 12 also comes with the new Smart HDR 3 technology, which is capable of recognising specific situations – such Apple ones with a lot of sky – and adjusting the photographs to appear their best by emphasising elements in the foreground or lightening specific sections of the scene. It produces some stunning images when combined with the primary camera’s f/1.6 aperture, especially in mixed lighting or colour circumstances.

We were blown away by the degree of detail obtained in certain duplicate photos while maintaining the image’s colour and clarity.

The front-facing camera has been upgraded, with the 12MP sensor now effectively working in the same way as the ultra-wide sensor on the back. The f/2.2 aperture might be a little faster in our opinion, since night photos can be difficult to capture, but you can utilise Night Mode on the front-facing camera as well.

Some of the selfies we took were decent, but if we didn’t utilise the front-facing Retina flash to brighten things up, some of the lower-light shots came out grainy or washed out. The portrait mode shots in low light, on the other hand, were definitely the best of the lot.

Apple has made a big fuss of the iPhone 12’s ability to shoot Dolby Vision footage on the fly and process it before presenting it in HDR (high dynamic range) quality on the display. When compared to their non-HDR counterparts, the HDR-improved images are crisper and more colourful, but the difference isn’t significant.

You can only record at 30 frames per second in 4K, but if you want to take advantage of Dolby Vision, you’ll need the iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max, which can handle it at up to 60 frames per second, giving you more buttery-smooth footage for your home-made (or professionally-made) movies.

It is also worth noting that the iPhone 12 Pro, particularly the 12 Pro Max, has Apple’s finest cameras at the moment.

Battery Life

Apple appears to be sticking to its strategy of ensuring that the basic iPhone has a long battery life, with the iPhone 12 seeing improvements in battery life that imply fewer visits to the charger.

Apple has definitely put in some effort to ensure that power management isn’t quite so, well, terrible, and throughout our time with the iPhone 12, we found that it lasted long enough on a full charge, especially when compared to iPhones from a few years ago. However, it isn’t a significant improvement in terms of battery life; it’s on pace with, if not slightly worse than, the iPhone 11.

On a low-use day, we discovered that we had well over 50% battery life left; but, when you factor in moving around, switching between 4G and 5G networks, and turning on the phone more frequently when on the road, battery life drops to roughly 16-18 hours between charges on a high-use day.

It’s strange that Apple has lowered the iPhone 12’s video playback endurance, claiming that it will last 17 hours instead of the iPhone 11’s 18 hours. In our video rundown test, we discovered that the iPhone 12 only lost 8% of its battery after playing a Full HD film on loop for 90 minutes, which is among the best battery life we’ve seen from an iPhone – but we’re not seeing big performance increases in terms of battery life in day-to-day use.

In testing, we found that the iPhone 12 battery life is harmed by the inclusion of 5G, with the speedier network lasting about 15-20% less time in our rundown test.

The new iPhone’s A14 Bionic chipset is said to be more power-efficient than ever before, while still delivering some of the greatest performance figures of any phone on the market.

It isn’t as long-lasting as the competition (as always), but most iPhone owners won’t notice a big difference in battery life – it’s comparable to iPhones from two to three years ago, albeit not as long as the iPhone XR and iPhone 11.

We put the MagSafe charger to the test (with an 18W Anker PowerPort Atom PD 1 charger) and it took 160 minutes to charge the iPhone 12 to 100%. While a MagSafe charger is ideal to have on the desk or bedside table for extended charging times, the Lightning to USB-C cable is still worth keeping on hand — both it and the MagSafe will plug into the same charging block, so you’ll be able to power up faster with a physical connection.

Verdict

If you want larger screen real estate so you can view more of the action on your display, this is the model to choose. Although the redesigned design harkens back to previous generations, the larger screen makes this feel like a completely new phone. If you like Netflix, Prime Video, or just watching movies in general, the iPhone 12’s OLED display will delight you.