iPhone 12 review: The iPhone for everyone
The Pro lineup of iPhones has come to represent the highest of high-end phones Apple launches each year…and for good reason - they’re the ones with the best camera tech, the big batteries and the best screens, the iPhones with the most everything, including the sticker price. In comparison, the ‘base iPhone’ would make a few compromises, cut a few corners (some fairly obviously so), to come in at a price that is tantalizingly low enough, for a current generation iPhone at least, to be the ‘default’ iPhone for everyone. Well, much like everything about 2020, this year is different.
In the batch of 2020 iPhones, the iPhone 12 is clearly the standout ‘most improved student’, bringing in a bunch of attractive features like the OLED display, a better camera, an all-new design and du jour 5G connectivity at a less-than-Pro-hibitive price point. Make no mistake about it, the iPhone 12 is still premium priced, but it gets a lot right, particularly the stuff that really matters. It’s so good, it makes the pricier iPhone 12 Pro hard to recommend to any but the smallest of niches, and that’s good news for iPhone buyers. Is the ‘iPhone for everyone’ the iPhone for you? Let’s break it down.
In the hand, the iPhone 12 is instantly familiar yet all at once refreshingly different. There’s that iPad Pro aesthetic, with the flat-edged design that’s reminiscent of the iconic iPhone 4 and 5 design, and the matte-finish colored aluminum looks gorgeous flush against the glossy glass back. From the front and rear though, it’s got that iPhone 11 vibe going, with the rear retaining the squircle-bumped camera array with the two-shooter setup and the front with the notched TrueDepth camera for Face ID, albeit with noticeably slimmer bezels around the screen. Some have described it as “a greatest hits from Apple’s design teams over the last decade”, and I can’t disagree.
The design stands out in the sea of curvy flagships we’ve seen this year, and combining the modern all-screen iPhone look with the iconic look of past iPhones is a much-needed freshening up of a design language that was beginning to feel a little predictable. With the rest of the iPhone lineup following the same design cues, the iPhone 12 feels every bit the premium smartphone that it is, and no less luxurious than the similarly-sized iPhone 12 Pro. As with the Pro lineup, you get the same IP68 water/dust resistance and the crystal-infused Ceramic Shield, which Apple estimates is four times less likely to shatter when dropped. In the hand, the flatter sides and slightly narrower dimensions allow for a good grip and easier one-handed use, though some might prefer a case to blunt the edge a bit.
New to iPhones this generation is the inclusion of MagSafe, a much beloved name (to MacBook owners of yore, at least) that’s been revived for iPhones. It’s essentially a ring of magnets placed on the back of the iPhones 12 that allows an ecosystem of accessories (right from wireless chargers to cases) to accurate snap on and off, all the while detecting what’s connected via an NFC chip. Paired with the company’s puck shaped MagSafe charging accessory (Rs. 4,500, optional extra), which uses the same Qi charging standard as any other wireless charger, you’ll get faster (up to 15W) charging speeds, compared to the 7.5W speeds you’d get if you place an iPhone 12 on a regular Qi-compatible charger. As with anything else in the Apple accessory ecosystem, I expect the MagSafe accessory range to improve over time with third-party cases, battery packs and maybe even some gaming accessories. Speaking of charging, a notable omission on the iPhone 12 series is the in-box charging brick, which Apple has done away with to reduce the carbon footprint from unused chargers. What’s puzzling is that while’s Apples persisted with the Lightning port for charging, it’s switched over from a Lightning-to-USB-A cable, which would otherwise be compatible with any USB-A laptop port or charger, to a cable that terminates in a USB-C connection. Sure, you can use your old iPhone cables (if you’re an upgrader) to charge your new iPhone, but the new cable only plays nice with laptops with a USB-C port or if you have a USB-C-port charger lying around (you could try asking folks with Androids in the home, but expect a smirk to follow). Or add in the extra cost of picking up a Type-C charger. Either way, as an environmental effort, it feels counter-intuitive and a little rushed.
Compared to the iPhone 11, the display gets a noticeable upgrade this time around, replacing the older lower resolution LCD display with the newer high pixel density OLED panel hitherto reserved only for the Pro lineup. The upgrade is immediately visible, with richer, brighter and more vibrant colors, and the fact that the 6.1-inch Full HD+ HDR OLED (2532x1170 pixel) display is near identical to the display on the pricier iPhone 12 Pro eliminates one of the biggest compromises the iPhone 11 had made (over the 11 Pro) for the lower price point. Specs nerds will certainly point to the higher resolution, high refresh rates on Android flagships, and while that’s objectively true, iOS remains as slick as ever on the iPhone 12’s 60Hz display, with smooth animations and butter-smooth scrolling. So yes, should the 12 series have moved up to the iPad Pro’s ProMotion 120Hz display? Much like the iPad Air I recently reviewed, the answer lies in the everyday usage, and that’s where the iPhone 12 doesn’t falter. If anything, I miss having an always-on option on the display, which means the screen has to completely light up to show you things like the time and music controls. Also, a hole-punch front camera might have looked cleaner, but the security and intuitive ease-of-use that Face ID delivers is worth it, so we’ll continue to make peace with the notch this year.
While the refreshed design and display might be the center of attention, Apple’s silicon prowess is the iPhone’s secret sauce in the mobile business, and the iPhone 12 packs the same A14 Bionic processor that powers the iPad Air and the iPhone Pro series. Apple’s control of the entire stack, right from silicon to software, shows in how well the software and hardware are optimized to work together. Not only does the chip run circles around the competition – by running faster and never really running as hot - but the sheer amount of headroom will hold you in good stead for years to come. Even with a comparably paltry 4GB of memory, it feels smoother than Android devices with three times as much memory, and as smooth as the iPhone 12 Pro with 6GB of memory. That said, the extra memory on the Pro will be handy in demanding apps and tasks of the future, though you won’t notice much of a difference in the two running iOS 14.2.1 today - all the visual overhauls, widgety goodness and the privacy controls and more.
Apple made a huge deal about the iPhone 12’s 5G capabilities at launch, and even as 5G networks aren’t even close to being deployed in India, this is a phone you’ll likely hold on to long enough to see use on the first 5G networks when they launch here. For now, connected to 4G networks and with mixed use over Wi-Fi, the relatively small sounding (2815mAh) battery delivers a solid 6+ hours of screen time on most days, and you can fast charge at up to 20W for a 50 percent battery in 30 minutes. The only real grouse I have is that the iPhone 12 still starts at 64GB of base storage, which may work fine if you’re a heavy iCloud user, but otherwise isn’t a lot of room.
On the camera end of things, the formula looks unchanged from the iPhone 11, with a dual 12MP camera setup on the rear and a 12MP selfie camera on the front, but there are a set of under-the-hood tweaks to turn out better images. The main wide camera has a faster aperture f/1.6 lens, which lets in more light and allows for better low-light performance and tighter noise control than the previous generation. You now get night mode long exposure shots on all three shooters, which benefits low-light selfies and landscape shots immensely. Even more impressive is the new Smart HDR 3 feature, which uses machine learning to deduce what you’re shooting and apply the appropriate settings, such as handling the color and detail of subjects on the ground without over-exposing the sky in daytime shots. In every shooting scenario, the iPhone 12 has made small nip-and-tuck improvements to eke out better detail and lower noise in images than the previous generation, which has me legitimately excited at the leaps promised by the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Sure, some may miss a telephoto lens, but I wouldn’t suggest upgrading to the 12 Pro for that one feature alone.
One area where the iPhone 12 continues its absolute dominance is in video, capturing smoother, better quality video than rivals, even in lower light. Video buffs can shoot 4K HDR videos with Dolby Vision at 30 frames per second, which is a big deal and should see a lot more acceptance now that Apple’s leaned its weight behind it. Bottom line, whether you’re shooting images or videos, the iPhone will deliver stuff you’ll cherish for years to come.
There’s a lot to like about the iPhone 12, so much so that typical Pro buyers may want to consider the base iPhone over the 12 Pro this time around. You’re getting the same display, design and internals, with the Pro adding in a bit more memory, an extra telephoto lens and a LIDAR scanner for better portraits and augmented reality applications. For the most part, the iPhone 12 feels a lot more Pro than its price would suggest and is definitely the easiest iPhone to recommend this year.
Apple iPhone 12
Pros: Refreshed design, improved durability, great OLED screen, improved low-light camera performance, exceptional video, incredible performance, MagSafe shows potential, decent battery life
Cons: Lacks charging brick and earbuds, 64GB base model, lacks high refresh rate display
Price: Rs. 79,900 for 64GB onwards
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar