Using the iPhone 12 long term, how does it stack up?
Product Name: Apple iPhone 12
Product Description: 5G speed. A14 Bionic, the fastest chip in a smartphone. An edge-to-edge OLED display. Ceramic Shield with four times better drop performance. And Night mode on every camera. iPhone 12 has it all.
It’s hard to review an iPhone. With the slower pace of big changes to phones and even slower pace of big changes to iOS, buying a new iPhone for an existing iPhone user can feel like getting a new case for your existing phone. Especially if you move a backup across to your new phone. I’ve gone from the iPhone XS Max, skipping the iPhone 11 range, to the new iPhone 12. It feels like a bigger change than normal due to the flat sides and losing some screen size by dropping from the Max to the regular sized iPhone, but essentially if you think of an iPhone as a house it’s like I’ve moved but I still have the exact same view out of the window. What’s on the screen is unchanged.
I’m going to assume that you know and understand how iOS works and what the advantages and disadvantages of it are and talk purely about the hardware itself and any exclusive features for this review. For context I’ve used iPhone and Android devices, swapping over to Android usually when I felt the iPhone line had gotten boring. I’ve had this phone for a little while now, so this is almost a longer term review.
First off let’s talk about the new design. As with basically all aesthetic changes it’s going to be down to personal taste, but I have to say I love it. The phone is very reminiscent of what I think is the best iPhone design ever, the 5S. I love the two-tone metal and glass back of the 5S and I think going back to the flat sides makes the iPhone stand out again in a world of Android devices which honestly all look a lot like the XS and 11 do. I assume that Android manufacturers will start putting flat sides on their devices in the next 18 months, as there’s always somebody who wants to copy Apple’s design, but for now they stand out quite well.
I opted to go for the iPhone 12 in blue, which is the first time I have had an Apple device that wasn’t Space Grey since the 5S. I do love the Space Grey colour, but I also really liked the dark blue of the iPhone 12. I do think that the metallic Pacific Blue of the 12 Pro is nicer, but not worth the extra cash. I’ve seen all of the colours of the iPhone 12 line and I have to say I think they’re all excellent, though make sure to see them in person before picking as my blue one looks a lot different to the promotional images. The blue metallic sides are a particularly nice touch.
The big change this year is that the iPhone 12, ostensibly the budget device from this year’s lineup, has the exact same internals and screen as the Pro version. The big difference is the lack of a telephoto lens for the camera that comes with the Pro. Previously the iPhone 11 had the same SOC as the 11 Pro, but shipped with a lower resolution LCD screen rather than the high-res OLED on the 11 Pro. Not so this time around, and the screen on the iPhone 12 is fantastic. It’s colourful, bright and makes watching everything a real pleasure, from TikToks to HDR content from Apple TV+ like the phenomenal Ted Lasso.
The other hardware change is the new MagSafe connector, a big circular magnet built into the back of the iPhone 12. I’ve used Apple’s official MagSafe case, charger and wallet and all of them have stuck on and stayed on pretty impressively. The wallet is especially lovely (although way too expensive at an eye-watering £60) as it has enabled me to stop carrying my normal wallet. Previously I had continued to use a very small and slim Belroy wallet, but the MagSafe allows me to carry the one or two cards that I don’t have digital versions of. While the Apple wallet is excellent I will say I also tried out generic versions from Amazon and as long as you make sure the reviews are good you’d probably be okay with that one.
There’s one negative to the MagSafe charger – when it attaches to the phone it’s with a little force because the magnet is pretty strong so it can be quite loud! Several times I’ve gone to plug it in late at night and woke up my wife with the sound. Switching to a non-MagSafe case will stop it from making such a loud noise, but then you have to switch cases back and forth which is never a great idea.
The final big addition this year is a refreshed camera setup. I haven’t used the iPhone 11 so I couldn’t tell you if it was much better than those, but I used the XS Max extensively and I always found images from that camera to be a little soft. Images from the iPhone 12 are crisp and clear and have really nice, accurate colours. I’d recommend the iPhone 12’s regular lens camera to pretty much everyone, as it takes fantastic shots without any effort on the user’s part. The ultrawide is an odd one, as the edges of the image look stretched and unnatural. It’s a big shame as ultrawide can be very useful, especially when travelling and you want to get a whole vista in frame, but I’ve just found myself preferring to step back and not use it. Here are some sample photos from both lenses:
The front facing selfie camera is great. Absolutely no complaints on this one for video calls, selfies and even selfie video. In some cases I have struggled to tell the difference between photos from the front and rear camera, which is basically exactly what I want from the selfie camera. While it doesn’t use this camera, FaceID does share some space on the notch with it and is faster than ever here. It fails less than once a day on average, no matter the lighting or the angle. Very impressive. Here’s a sample from the front facing camera:
Video is great too. The iPhone is still the mobile phone video king honestly, I’ve seen vlogs and short films entirely filmed on the iPhone camera and if you didn’t know in advance you honestly couldn’t tell. Here’s a sample from YouTube: https://youtu.be/LHTqPUKFS0g
All in all there are very few negatives for the iPhone 12. It’s fast (beyond everything else on the market in a lot of tests I’ve seen on YouTube), it’s great to look at and it lasts all day while taking great photos. The big negative for me is that iPhones just aren’t exciting any more, unless you’re coming to iPhone after a break with Android.
So should you buy the iPhone 12 or one of the other iPhones Apple has at the moment? If you’d like to save a bit more money and don’t care about screen size then the iPhone 12 Mini is basically the same phone as the 12 so all of this review applies. The caveat with the Mini is the battery is much smaller, so if you are a heavy user be prepared to take a battery out with you when you leave for the day.
If you are used to a big phone and don’t want to lose that size then Apple has the iPhone 12 Pro Max for you. This also comes with a telephoto lens, which I think is more useful than the ultrawide personally. I will say that I downgraded screen size from the XS Max and didn’t miss it at all, but your mileage may vary. To very quickly talk about the iPhone 12 Pro (regular size) I am just not sure who this phone is for. Unless you are very very serious about your phone photography and want that extra lens I just wouldn’t buy the iPhone 12 Pro.
There’s one final device I wanted to bring up here – the iPhone 11. If screen quality isn’t as much of an issue for you then you can pick this phone up second hand for around half the price of an iPhone 12 in some places, and it’s still a fantastic phone that I expect to stay that way for around 3 more years. For context my wife is still very happy with her iPhone 8, which is 4 years old and still almost as responsive as my 12 due to the high quality of Apple’s software updates. For the budget conscious an iPhone is a no-brainer, as with Android you’re unlikely to get more than 3 years of updates while iOS 14 still supports the iPhone 6S – released in 2015.
- Great new design
- Strong cameras
- MagSafe is very cool
- Not terribly exciting?
- iOS still has limitations due to Apple’s policies