The iPhone production wasn’t affected by the pandemic that much, and we still saw the iPhone 12 generation premiere last October. It was interesting, sure, but also very conservative and… unoriginal if you will. But it’s been quite a while we’ve seen big technological leaps, so a new design and 5G connectivity will have to do.
The iPhone 12 is yet another glass phone with an OLED screen, a couple of cameras, and speedy hardware. In fact, the 1080p OLED screen is probably the iPhone 12 (and 12 mini) most attractive feature, a very welcome upgrade over the iPhone 11’s 720p LCD.
But when a company can’t offer noticeable improvements over the previous generation and knows that very well, then what happens? Well, a redesign, of course, and if done right – voila – we have a winner.
First, we want to thank Apple for not naming its latest phones iPhone 12 5G, iPhone 12 mini 5G, and so on. We get why makers want to stress on the 5G capability, but c’mon – it’s not the big deal companies are trying to make it, not just yet anyway.
Well, even if it isn’t a giant technological leap, and despite the ongoing pandemic, the iPhone 12 series received a very warm welcome. The new iPhone 12, in particular, was out of stock for quite some time, and there is a good reason for that – it has most of the Series 12’s new features at a reasonable price. It has the new OLED, a good pick of cameras, a flagship chipset, the new nostalgic design, and, oh well, 5G.
The iPhone 12 design is its major key selling point. It’s a nostalgic mix of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 shells, with a modern twist. We finally got what we wished for – an iPhone SE with a bezel-less screen and up-to-date hardware. Indeed, that’s what the iPhone 12 and 12 mini look like, and we’d take it. We loved the first SE; we weren’t fans of the second one, a.k.a. the recycled iPhone 8, only to fall in love with the iPhone 12. So many plot twists.
Indeed, who would have thought that Apple would bring not one, not two, but three compact phones this year and that the SE we’ve been waiting for so long would come just months after the disappointing SE (2020)? Well, that’s the reason why we swapped the iPhone 11 Pro Max for the iPhone 12 right away. The iPhone 12 is compact and lightweight, and we wouldn’t have to worry about battery life as we would have with the 12 mini.
The first impression was striking – the iPhone 12 felt indeed compact and light, comfortable and secure in the hand. The curved frames on the iPhone X, XS and iPhone 11 Pro made these flagships almost impossible to pick up from a desk, and a protective case was a must to provide enough grip.
Many people put their iPhones in cases, which is probably the smart thing to do, but not this reviewer. Nope, when he buys a phone, be it €100 or €1000, he wants to enjoy it in full. It surely isn’t the wisest decision, but it’s not that unreasonable either, is it?
Having a flat frame on the iPhone 12 is a wish come true, and it’s easy to pick the iPhone 12 from a desk or table and secure enough to hold and shoot photos hassle-free. We had forgotten about that feeling when you didn’t have to worry about dropping your new phone and reshuffle your fingers all the time to keep it steady.
Having used both the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro models, we found out that this flat frame praise applies only to the iPhone 12 and 12 mini because of their brushed aluminum frames. The Pro duo features more luxurious glossy stainless-steel frames, which may look welcoming with their flatness, but they are probably the worst things that can happen on your phone as far as grip is concerned.
the Pro models are absurdly slippery, and because their frame is flat, and you can’t shove your fingertips underneath, it is nearly impossible to pick up an iPhone 12 Pro/Max from a desk or table. So, as far as grip goes, the iPhone 12 got it right, whereas the 12 Pro is a nightmare you can’t wake up from.
The flat design is the first thing you would notice, but the new bright and colorful OLED panel is the second. If you are coming from an iPhone 11 or XR, this is a massive upgrade in picture quality, and you’d want to switch right away. Meanwhile, if you were a Pro user because you didn’t like the inferior screen and camera experience on the XR and 11 models, well, you can now have a more compact yet flagship iPhone. It’s a win-win situation.
The screen notch hasn’t been trimmed at all – it’s the same across all models, be it a mini or a Max. It is a massive eyesore, but you either accept it or you don’t buy an iPhone. There is no other option at this time. We hoped for a reduced size as part of Series 12, but we guess we’ll just reschedule our hopes for Series 13. The truth is we’ve gotten used to this black blob as it’s been around since 2017, but its reduction is long overdue now.
The iPhone 12 is a real beauty over at the back, and even months later, we still love the clean look and the small camera bump. We’ve seen a lot of phones with massive camera setups, like the absurdly thick piece on the Galaxy S21 Ultra, so we’ve grown to appreciate the thinness of the iPhone’s snappers.
This year, Apple is selling the iPhone 12 in black, blue, green, red, and white colors. Since its launch, we’ve been using the blue model, and it looks as gorgeous as on Day 1. Smudges do stick on the rear glass, but they aren’t that visible, and they are easy to clean.
We’ve also handled the white iPhone 12 for a while, and if fingerprint smudges are an eyesore for you, then this bright model is the one you should get. You can’t really see the white back’s smudgy spots unless you are looking really hard for them. They are there, of course, it’s not resistant against fingerprints. But the oleophobic coating does help a lot and makes the glass rather easy to wipe clean.
The iPhone 12 indeed offers every important feature the Pro models have – the new design and shape with the right frame to enjoy it, the Ceramic Shield glass, the impressive IP68 rating for up to 6m water endurance, a sharp OLED screen, stereo speakers, MagSafe support, Face ID, and even if you can’t see them – an Apple A14 chip with 5G and Ultra-Wide-Band connectivity.
After four months in our hands, case-free at that, we find the iPhone 12 to be one of the most comfortable phones these days. Its flat surfaces all around help a lot, the materials aren’t that slippery, and the size is just right for one-handed use, no matter the occasion.
The 6.1″ OLED screen is one of the major updates since the iPhone 11. It’s a Super Retina XDR panel with extended 1080p resolution but, sadly, still with a 60Hz refresh rate. Apple was rumored to bring HRR screens with Series 12, but those seem to be postponed for Series 13, or later.
Anyway, the screen has some excellent sharpness thanks to the 460ppi density and can be as bright as 640nits. And indeed, it is quite bright when needed and can be pretty dim when you are in a pitch-dark room.
We didn’t miss the higher brightness of the Pro model, in fact, if we didn’t know about the difference, we would have told you that the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro have identical screens as far as day-to-day usage is concerned.
The transition from a Max to a more compact screen was strange at first, but we’ve grown to like and appreciate this size in mere hours. It’s great for gaming on the go, and for watching our favorite Netflix shows. Whether it’s a lunch break, in the bed, or on the bus – we have never found the iPhone 12 screen to be lacking in any respect. It offers enough screen estate for a pleasurable viewing experience, something we can’t really say for the mini.
The screen supports HDR10, and all popular streaming platforms show FullHD HDR10 content on the iPhone 12 – be it Apple TV+, HBO, Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube. And it’s thoroughly enjoyable.
We’ve left the True Tone and Auto-Brightness options at their default (On) states, and we found this pair to work amazingly even if the Auto-Brightness may (rarely) get stuck when the light conditions change unusually fast.
The Night Mode was always left on Auto, too, though sometimes it can make the screen look oddly greenish if the brightness drops to its minimum. It’s a pretty extreme condition, we know, but the first time it happened, we thought that the screen was off on a hardware level and that we’ll need to contact Apple support. It turns out the Night Shift is doing this when working side by side with True Tone and Auto-Brightness. We should be able to tune this better from the Night Shift settings, but ain’t nobody got time for that, right?
Ah, and then there is the notch, and it’s a big one. It eats a sizable chunk of your full-screen videos. It’s a thing many iPhone users are already used to see, or shall we say ‘used to ignoring’, as it’s been around for four generations of iPhones already. But it sure isn’t welcoming to new users, and we can’t defend it, not even for the Face ID and the loud second speaker. It just needs to get smaller. And it is going to, and then Apple will make this huge thing of it, we all know how these things go.
Apple isn’t offering any color calibration options with the iPhones. The screen is pre-calibrated in the factory, and that’s it – you always enjoy colors with great accuracy according to the color space displayed on the screen – be it sRGB or DCI-P3. We can’t say that’s a bad thing – the less tinkering needed, the better. But we can understand why some people could be disappointed with this – there are users that prefer eye-popping hues, and they are left with no choice on the iPhones.
The iPhone 12 isn’t Apple’s most premium model, so we can easily accept its 60Hz screen, which is of excellent quality otherwise. It’s an omission that’s harder to stomach on the more expensive Pro models, though.
So, with that being said, we have mostly positive impressions from the iPhone 12 screen, and we didn’t feel it was of inferior quality to the Pro’s or our previous iPhone 11 Pro Max. Yes, the notch needs to be smaller or gone, but other than that – the viewing experience and picture quality is outstanding.
Face ID experience
The Face ID is here to stay, so all hopes for the return of the Touch ID (on the iPhones that is) need to be squashed right now. It’s not perfect, sure, but it works, and it doesn’t require you to mind your screen protectors, re-register one and the same finger for better accuracy, etc. It takes a quick 3D scan of your face, and off you go.
Face ID works as fast as on the iPhone 11 phones – it takes about a second for the thing to verify, unlock, and get you on the homescreen. The same applies for when using it for passwords, payments, online purchases. And the wait time is cleverly masked by a cool animation, so you won’t feel like your phone is stuck doing nothing. Not ideal, but cleverly handled, we’d give Apple that.
We’ve been using Face ID for years now, and it works as advertised, and it has never failed us, no matter how challenging weather or light conditions. It even works with sunglasses on the beach or when hiking.
Unfortunately, Face ID is mostly useless when wearing a mask; thanks a lot, pandemic! Apple knows this, but there is no easy fix for this, and that’s why Apple made the PIN keyboard pop up at the first failed attempt, so you don’t have to wait for that when wearing a mask.
Indeed, the Face ID is not an iris scanner, it’s a face scanner, and it needs to detect your face. And no, you can’t print your jaw on a mask and use it, as it doesn’t have the same depth as your face. We all hope for this pandemic to blow over and eventually return to normal, but until then – all iPhone users will have to use a PIN or lower their mask every time they want to unlock their iPhone in public. And that’s super inconvenient.
Battery life and charging
The battery life of the iPhones has never been awesome. We got about a day and a half to two days with our iPhone 11 Pro Max, so naturally, we expected about a day with the iPhone 12 using the same daily routine.
And that’s what we always get with the iPhone 12 – about 28-30 hours before we reach 10%.
But what’s our routine? Well, the phone is always fully charged in the late afternoon, and it’s used for an hour of calls via AirPods, an hour of Netflix, about 90 mins of Pokemon Go, about two hours of social/web browsing, and about 30mins of some YouTube short videos, some banking, emails, social chats, and smart home adjustments. The rest of the time, it’s on standby with some background activity from social networks and Pokemon Go.
The iPhone 12 can get up to one day and a half (36-38 hours), but no more than that. It’s wasting more than expected energy in standby, and in calls, this reviewer is obviously playing a rather demanding game (with GPS tracking), and the time spent on the web and streaming is taking its toll.
But the battery life with this iPhone 12 is absolutely in line with our initial expectations, and that’s surely enough to say we are happy we got what we expected.
This year, charging is what Apple managed to turn into the next big controversy by simply ditching the bundled charger. It’s definitely not our favorite thing – we don’t mind reducing the electronic waste, but how about giving us an option or making the phone cheaper to buy. Yeah, right.
So, we purchased both the MagSafe and the wired 20W charger by Apple and use them interchangeably. When the iPhone 12 is on the reviewer’s desk – it’s charging on the MagSafe. When he forgot to do that – it’s charging fast on the wired adapter. We are happy with the charging speed – about 60% in 30 mins, and we don’t feel the need for a faster charger. Not for this battery anyway.
We aren’t fans of the MagSafe thing, though – it is ridiculously expensive because you need to buy a second 20W adapter for it, and it does not even charge the iPhone that fast (30% in 30mins, 100% in nearly 3 hours). While we bought this one for the sake of testing when we reviewed the iPhone 12 series – we would not recommend buying Apple’s MagSafe charger to anyone. We cannot think of a single reason why you would get the overpriced charger anyway.
We’ve been fans of the iPhone stereo speakers setup for a while – it is quite loud (Very Good on our test), and it has one of the richest outputs we’ve heard from such configuration on a mobile phone. This is valid across the entire Series 12, and was correct for Series 11, too.
While most of the time we spent listening to stuff on our AirPods, the rare occasions when we needed the iPhone 12 speakers – they did an admirable job.
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