When Apple finally announced the heavily-leaked iPhone 12, it represented everything many wanted from an iPhone design. Edge-to-edge display? Check. Flat-sided design reminiscent of the much-loved iPhone 4 and iPhone 5? Present. Fun new colors? Here. But six months later, does it still perform? We thought it might be time to put it to the test once again — hence this iPhone 12 review.
Those design tweaks and updates can’t alone make for a great experience. Instead, it’s the package as a whole that has to deliver. Recently, I switched back to an iPhone 12 from my iPhone 12 Pro for another look at the phone. This time, I got it in purple. Does the phone still deliver, months after its release?
Well… yeah. But you may want to wait.
iPhone 12 design
The iPhone 11’s design was nice, but it was more or less the same as the iPhone XS before it, and the iPhone X before that. In other words, it was aging. The iPhone 12 doesn’t necessarily solve all of those issues. But it does give the phone a bit of a face-lift — and the device is better for it.
Gone are the rounded edges, in favor of a new, flat-sided design. As mentioned, it’s very reminiscent of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5, but that doesn’t mean it looks dated. On the contrary, it helps make it look classic. You might assume that the edges feel harsh and sharp. But in my experience, they’re just rounded enough to avoid that issue. Actually, the flat edges help make it a little more grippable.
It’s a design trait that made its resurgence with the iPad Pro and has since moved to other products too — including the new iMac, and iPad Air. We’re expecting more products to get the treatment, helping make for a more cohesive feel across Apple’s lineup of devices.
The frame on the iPhone 12 is built from aluminum. It’s also color-matched to the back of the phone, with a matte finish. It looks good, though perhaps not as premium as the glossy stainless steel look on the iPhone 12 Pro.
Everything else that you would expect from an iPhone is here. You’ll get the ringer switch and volume rocker on the left side, with the power button on the right. On the bottom, there’s a Lightning port. Some hoped Apple would switch to USB-C for the iPhone 12. But as nice as that would be, I’m not convinced we’ll ever get a USB-C iPhone.
The back of the iPhone 12 has a hidden trick to it. This phone marks the return of the MagSafe branding. However, instead of a Mac-charging technology, this time around MagSafe charges your iPhone. MagSafe on the iPhone 12 allows you to magnetically attach accessories to your device. It’s helpful for wireless charging pucks, as well as mounts, and wallet accessories. I’ve been using the MagSafe wallet accessory since it was released, and it works great. Unfortunately, MagSafe can’t be used for data transfer — only power transfer. You’ll have to wait for the day you can magnetically attach your device to a car mount and initiate wired CarPlay. One can dream.
The phone is available in a series of colors too. At launch, the headline color was the new blue option, but for spring, Apple also released a purple option. That’s the model I’m reviewing, and it looks great.
The iPhone 12 also continues the trend of square camera bumps. On the iPhone 12, you’ll get two cameras, which is the same as on the iPhone 11. That’s also one of the main ways you can tell the iPhone 12 apart from the iPhone 12 Pro, which has a triple-camera system. We’ll get more into camera quality later.
One thing holding back the iPhone in terms of design is the notch. Now, don’t get me wrong — I love Face ID and don’t mind a notch if it means I can use Face ID. But the notch is still starting to look a little old-school. Apple is rumored to be working on a way to make it smaller. But you’ll have to wait for a future iPhone model for that update.
iPhone 12 display
The display quality, on the other hand, is pretty good. You’ll finally get an OLED display without having to upgrade to a Pro model, and on the iPhone 12 it measures in at 6.1 inches. There’s also the iPhone 12 Mini, which has a smaller 5.4-inch display. We didn’t have an iPhone 12 Mini on hand for review. That OLED display makes for deeper black levels, plus it has implications for the battery life of the phone. As far as OLED displays go, the one on the iPhone 12 is very nice. I’m still waiting for a high-refresh-rate iPhone, which might come in the iPhone 13 series, though it will probably be relegated to a Pro model. The iPhone 12’s display still looks good, with relatively vibrant colors. It also has the ability to get bright enough for most scenarios.
According to Apple, the iPhone 12’s glass is stronger too. The glass is Apple’s new Ceramic Shield tech, which Apple says is 4x more shatter-resistant. It’s important to note, however, that Apple makes no claims about it being scratch-resistant. With that in mind, don’t expect it to be indestructible. We did not drop-test the phone, so we can’t really speak to whether or not Apple’s claims about Ceramic Shield are accurate.
iPhone 12 performance and battery
The iPhone 12 gets more than just a new design. As we get every year, the new device gets a spec-bump too. Under the hood, the iPhone 12 offers an Apple A14 Bionic processor, and it represents a modest performance boost over the last-generation A13 Bionic.
The results are exactly what you would expect from Apple. The iPhone 12 is smooth and responsive all of the time. Games load relatively quickly, and multitasking is easy. You’ll almost never run into performance hiccups.
Of course, more important than the performance now is the performance down the line. The fact is that Apple’s chipsets are class-leading, and the iPhone 12 beats all Android phones in performance. The end result is that the phone not only performs well now, but also will also continue to perform well three or four years down the line. We can’t tell the future, but we would bet the iPhone 12 will continue that tradition.
Benchmarks confirm the excellent results. In benchmarks, the phone scored as good or better than any Android phone out there. In GeekBench 5, it seriously outperformed the competition, while in AnTuTu, it was about on par. Here’s a rundown of the results we achieved.
- AnTuTu: 536,662
- GeekBench 5: 1,591 single-core, 3,965 multi-core
The base model of the iPhone 12 comes with 64GB of storage, which is half as much as the base model of the iPhone 12 Pro. You can upgrade it to get either 128GB or 256GB, if you so choose.
For the first time in an iPhone, there’s another kind of performance to consider – 5G performance. We’re not going to dive deep into 5G, considering the fact that most users won’t really notice much of a difference. But rest assured that the iPhone supports all different forms of 5G, meaning that when 5G becomes more relevant in a few years, your 2020 iPhone will be ready to go. It seemed to work fine in our testing, which is more or less the same as any other flagship phone in 2021.
The battery on the iPhone 12 is solid too. The iPhone 11 was a champion in the battery department, and the iPhone 12 seems to take a slight step back, but it’s still very good. The device was still easily able to get me through a full day of use, and sometimes into the next day. I’m good at keeping my phone charged up, and if you’re not, your mileage may vary. The iPhone 12 supports Qi wireless charging, as well as fast wired charging, so even if you do run out of juice quickly, you should be able to top up relatively easily.
iPhone 12 camera
One of the biggest updates to the iPhone 12 series comes in the camera. While the big headline features are destined for the iPhone 12 Pro Max, with its fancy new sensor-shifting tech, the standard iPhone 12 gets some improvements too.
The iPhone 12 offers a dual-camera system, including one 12-megapixel main camera and one 12-megapixel ultrawide camera. The main camera is now built with 7 elements and has a larger f/1.6 aperture. The result? According to Apple, it can let in 27% more light than the iPhone 11. That will make for brighter images in general, but it particularly comes in handy in low-light environments. That’s not to mention the fact that the A14 Bionic chip is able to perform better image processing.
A quick note on the device’s camera specs: Apple lists the iPhone 12 as having “2x optical zoom range,” but the word “range” is key there. The 2x range is calculated by comparing the main camera with the ultrawide camera, which is zoomed out to 0.5x. So, the maximum zoom is really 1x, not 2x. It’s misleading, and Apple should change how it markets zoom on the iPhone.
Ultimately, the iPhone 12 is able to take detailed, colorful photos, with plenty of detail, even in low-light environments. That’s true regardless of the camera you use – whether you use either of the two rear cameras or the front-facing camera, you can achieve solid low-light photography.
Because of the fact that the phone’s camera can let in more light with a larger aperture, the phone doesn’t have to resort to Night Mode quite as often as the iPhone 11 did before it. Even when it does switch over to Night Mode though, you’ll get bright photos with more than enough detail. The iPhone 12 about matches the Pixel 5 in Night Mode quality, which is impressive given how class-leading the Pixel series was for so long.
The camera doesn’t quite have that Pixel 5 look – though that’s not a bad thing. The Pixel series still offers high-contrast photos that just seem to pop. But again, the iPhone has a look too, and to my eye, it’s a little more natural-looking. Not better, not worse.
The whole iPhone 12 series gets even better than it already was at video too. The iPhone 12 series can now capture video in Dolby Vision, which is aimed at making for much higher dynamic range video. Of course, you do have to be watching that footage on a display that supports Dolby Vision, though thankfully the iPhone does, so you can watch the video you just shot on the device’s display. Video shot on the iPhone 12 does look great, plus it benefits from Apple’s already-awesome stabilization.
You don’t have to worry too much about cross-compatibility with watching your video on SDR displays, thankfully.
I’m not going to go too far into the weeds of HDR formats, but the basic gist of things is that video shot on the iPhone 12 is shot with a backward-compatible form of Dolby Vision with metadata on top that enhances video when played on a compatible display. When you share a video, your iPhone is able to tell whether or not the receiver is able to play Dolby Vision content. That means it can make sure to send something that can be played back – even if it’s not the full Dolby Vision experience. It gets a little more complicated than that, especially when you factor in the fact that the iPhone shoots video in a specific version of Dolby Vision, but rest assured that the iPhone is generally good at determining what kind of video to play, and when.
All that to say that the iPhone 12’s camera is excellent, both in still photography, and when recording video. You don’t get a telephoto lens on this phone – for that you’ll have to upgrade to the iPhone 12 Pro. But even without it, the phone’s camera is pretty versatile.
iPhone 12 software
This isn’t an iOS 14 review, so I’m not going to fully go in-depth on iOS 14. I will, however, point to a few of my favorite new features – and some of those features are part of iOS 14.5, which wasn’t available at the time of the iPhone 12’s initial release.
Six months on, I do quite like Home Screen Widgets, though in day-to-day use I really only use the Smart Stack. I find that the Smart Stack is pretty good at deep-linking into apps. For example, every night my girlfriend and I do a crossword before bed – and the Smart Stack is able to suggest opening the Crossword app, with a deep link to the daily crossword specifically. It also surfaces news stories, photos, and more.
I do wish that widgets could be a little more interactive – like they were in previous versions of iOS. I rely on Reminders, and I used to be able to check reminders off from the widget in the Today view. Now, widgets just boot you over to the app. Hopefully, Apple will continue to refine widgets over the next year or so, and add back some of their functionality.
There are some handy new features in iOS 14.5 too. Most notable is App Tracking Transparency, which allows you to select which apps are allowed to track your activity in other apps, and which apps can’t. As someone who’s concerned about privacy, I have the feature set to not even ask if I want to allow tracking across apps – just block them by default.
Generally, however, iOS 14, and iOS 14.5, are natural progressions for iOS. And, when iOS 15 launches later this year, it’s set to bring even more great additions to the iPhone 12.
The iPhone 12 is a definite improvement over the iPhone 11. The new design gives the device a more modern look, and additions like MagSafe and 5G are helpful, helping future-proof the phone. That’s not to mention the new camera, which meaningfully improves mobile photography in most shooting situations.
While the iPhone 12 is an improvement, if you have an iPhone 11, it’s probably worth waiting a bit longer. The iPhone 11 already offered an excellent camera, plus the device is still more than powerful enough to handle everything you can throw at it in 2021. If you have an iPhone XR, the iPhone 12 will be more of an improvement, though again, if you can wait another six months or so, it may be worth doing so. Any older than that, and you’ll love the improvements on offer by the iPhone 12
Of course, perhaps the phone’s biggest competition is the iPhone 12 Pro – but the standard iPhone 12 definitely offers much better value for money. On the iPhone 12 Pro, you’ll get a telephoto camera, a little more storage, and a brighter screen. Of those, the telephoto camera is an important one – but if you don’t need or care about a telephoto camera, I recommend sticking to the standard iPhone 12.
There’s plenty of competition on the Android side too. Most obvious is the Samsung Galaxy S21, which comes at a similar price, and has a more versatile camera. The camera quality isn’t quite as good, and the iPhone will perform better for longer than the Galaxy. That’s not to mention the fact that it won’t integrate with your other Apple devices, if you have them.
Should I buy the iPhone 12?
Yes. If you’re in the market for a new iPhone and don’t want to wait for the iPhone 13 series, the iPhone 12 is an excellent option.