Although some new Apple products are undoubtedly more evolution than revolution, the iPhone 12 sports a brand-new design, a new screen, is powered by a new processor, and is capable of performing some new party tricks including, for the first time, 5G support.
But it’s also gained a more expensive price tag and lost a couple of things from its box along the way (namely a charger and pair of EarPods). Does the iPhone 12 still deliver that all-round ability and performance-per-pound value that made its predecessor, the iPhone 11, such a brilliant buy?
As you’d expect, given its premium standing, the iPhone 12 isn’t the cheapest smartphone around. It’s actually £100 ($100) more expensive than the iPhone 11 across all its different storage sizes.
The 64GB iPhone 12 is £799 ($799, AU$1349), the 128GB version comes in at £849 ($849, AU$1429), while the top-of-the-range 256GB handset will set you back £949 ($949, AUS$1599).
This still puts a bit of distance between itself and the flagship iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, which start at £999 ($999, AU$1699) and £1099 ($1099, AU$1849) respectively. However, both of these boast 128GB as their entry-level storage size, topping out at 512GB. It’s a shame the standard iPhone 12 doesn’t offer similar.
That fancy new design isn’t quite as new as Apple might like you to believe. We’ve seen flat edges before, on the iPhone 4 from 2010, but there’s no doubt that the flat sides on that aerospace-grade aluminium enclosure gives the iPhone an impressively premium look and feel, especially in the Product Red finish of our review sample (the other finishes available are: white, black, blue and green).
Screen size 6.1in
Resolution 2532 x 1170
Operating system iOS 14
Battery life 17hrs video, 65hrs audio
Dimensions (hwd) 14.7 x 7.2 x 0.7cm
It’s solidly built and slightly easier to grip than the iPhone 11’s curved chassis, although it arguably doesn’t feel as nice. This also might be down to the fact the iPhone 12 is a little trimmer, with a few millimetres shaved off all round.
The new iPhone also feels light in-hand. This is because the iPhone 12 weighs 164g, which is 30g lighter than the iPhone 11. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but you can definitely feel the difference swapping from one to the other.
Besides the design tweaks, the big headline news for the iPhone 12 relates to its screen. Gone is the 6.1in Liquid Retina HD LCD display from the iPhone 11; in its place is a 6.1in OLED Super Retina XDR display with a resolution of 2532 x 1170 pixels and a pixel density of 460ppi.
It’s still a True Tone and Wide colour display but there’s now proper HDR support built in for HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG content. This boosts the potential maximum brightness of the phone to 1200 nits (it's 625 nits with SDR content). The screen switch is a big and obvious upgrade for the iPhone 12 and one that immediately makes its presence felt.
The iPhone 12 display also sports what Apple calls a Ceramic Shield front cover, which is claimed to give it extra durability and make the display less prone to cracking and smashing than on previous iPhones.
The big changes go deep under the screen too, with the debut of Apple’s A14 Bionic chip and next-gen Neural Engine. According to Apple, it’s the fastest chip inside a smartphone for both GPU and CPU performance and can supposedly complete 11 trillion operations per second.
That’s not something we can measure, but the way the iPhone 12 works with Apple’s iOS14 operating system shows that this is one speedy customer. The phone is a breeze to navigate, whether you’re firing up Netflix for a quick binge or multitasking through a number of different apps. It’s a smooth operator and never seems to get bogged down during daily use. We find it quicker than the iPhone 11 when it comes to booting up video and music streaming services, but it’s not a huge difference.
On the camera front, you still get a 12MP dual-lens set-up on the back, but there have been a few subtle tweaks under the hood to allow for better pictures in low-light. As a daytime snapper, there isn’t much to grumble about, with the iPhone 12 producing nicely balanced pictures with even colours and a fine sense of realism. It’s worth noting, though, that unlike the Pro and Pro Max models, there’s no telephoto lens and, consequently, no optical zoom for the iPhone 12.
The iPhone 12 can, however, record video in Dolby Vision at 30 frames per second, which could come in handy for those using their phone for the occasional vlog. Battery life is close to the iPhone 11 (Apple doesn’t quote the size of the batteries), at around 17 hours for video and 65 hours for audio playback. Some Android rivals boast bigger batteries that last longer, but we still find a full day of average use doesn’t prove a problem. It is disappointing, though, to see the iPhone charger has been jettisoned from the box (you now only get a USB-C to Lightning cable).
The lack of EarPods is less frustrating. We’ve never been huge fans of Apple’s out-of-the-box earbuds, and if you don’t already have a pair of headphones to hand, we would recommend that you invest in some AirPods or a decent pair of alternatives.
The iPhone 12 also sees the introduction of MagSafe for wireless charging (up to 15W) and compatibility with a new line-up of accessories that attach to a ring of magnets on the rear of the handset.
The speakers on the iPhone 12 sound just as good as they do on the iPhone 11 – the balance is good enough to watch the occasional YouTube video or play a few seconds of your favourite Tidal track. It’s nicely balanced by smartphone speaker standards, with decent separation and detail, though as you’d expect there’s not a huge amount of bass weight on offer.
Hook up a pair of wired headphones via Apple’s 3.5mm to Lightning dongle or partner the iPhone with a pair of quality wireless headphones and you’ll get a better idea of the iPhone’s strengths.
Apple has got into the habit of producing some of the best-sounding smartphones on the market and the iPhone 12 picks up where the iPhone 11 left off. It’s a case of more of the same with the smartphone delivering enthusiasm and musicality in spades. The iPhone works well across multiple genres and keeps you entertained right to the last second of every track.
Play Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror and there’s plenty of sparkle in those highs during those opening seconds. The iPhone picks out plenty of detail and texture from Jacko’s voice and its ability to handle dynamics with aplomb means you feel the full impact as the vocal switches from sounding delicate in the verses to punchier and more direct in the chorus, reinforced with the backing of the gospel choir.
Switch to a classical track, such as Time from the Inception soundtrack, and the iPhone 12 continues to impress. The tone and timbre of the strings are expertly judged, as is the weight and impact of the drums that form a powerful undercurrent and drive the track along. A lack of background noise allows the drama and emotion of the track to come to the fore.
The switch to the new OLED screen brings immediate results for the iPhone 12. You’re greeted with a clean and clear picture that boasts impressive depth and realism. There’s a sense of polish and pristineness to the picture which the LCD display of the iPhone 11 simply can’t match.
Add that to the inherent strengths of OLED technology, such as black levels and viewing angle, and this is a picture that draws you in. Staring into the outer space of Star Trek Discovery on Netflix, we can’t help but be impressed by the inky black canvas the iPhone paints. Stars appear as tiny pinpricks of bright white light but there’s no bleeding into the rest of the picture. Each star shimmers in its own space.
Detail levels are excellent whether it’s the stunning CGI or the characters’ faces and costumes. As the Discovery reaches warp speed, the flurry of bright flashes against the galaxy backdrop make the picture pop in a way that its predecessor can’t match. The extra brightness and punch the OLED screen delivers becomes even more obvious when you place it next to the iPhone 11’s LCD display, too.
The iPhone 12 is another model we can add to a successful line of smartphones from Apple. The addition of that excellent OLED display has elevated picture performance to another level and helps justify the slight price hike over its predecessor. Sound quality is as good as it’s ever been, too. All these positives combined make for a highly tempting and typically Apple package.
- Screen 5
- Sound 5
- Features 4
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Read our Apple iPhone 11 review