Let’s be clear here: technically, this is exactly the same iPhone 12 as the models released six months ago. The only difference here is the colour – a lilac-accented shade of purple. If that’s enough to spark your upgrade lust, fine. But there’s no extra technical attraction to it, unless you consider the changes in iOS 14.5 this week, such as being able to now unlock the iPhone using Face ID even when wearing a mask.
It’s still a good opportunity to offer a long-term review of the iPhone 12 itself, looking at its strengths and weaknesses. I’ve been using it on and off for months. Overall, it’s a very good, reliable, nicely-designed phone with great cameras (though I do miss the presence of a zoom lens), a gorgeous screen and acceptably good battery life.
While I wish that Apple made a larger-display version of the iPhone 12 (the only option is the much more expensive 12 Pro Max), this is generally a very worthy flagship phone.
While the iPhone 12’s cameras aren’t bleeding edge (they don’t have the largest sensors and there’s no zoom), they’re still near the top of the pile in the shots they take. They’re also still just about the best for video, competing mainly with the iPhone 12 Pro (and Pro Max).
There are two 12-megapixel rear lenses, a regular wide (1x) camera and an ultra-wide (0.5x) camera. There are some slight optical lens improvements over the iPhone 11, such as a ‘faster’ f1.6 aperture that lets in 27pc more light to the camera sensor, but most of it is ‘computational’, being a combination of Apple’s photo software and the power of its new chip.
Video quality on either of the two rear lenses has proven to be one of the iPhone 12’s strongest camera features, mainly because of the superior stabilisation and overall treatment of the videography. Apple’s super-powerful A14 Bionic chip comes into play again, here, not only with 60 frames per second in 4K, but with 10-bit HDR using Dolby Vision. That’s really some feat for a phone.
The upshot is that if I need to reliably take a video quickly, the iPhone 12 (or 12 Pro) is now the device I reach for, even before any of my full-frame cameras (which are a lot fussier to set up, need considerable post-capture editing and don’t have anything like the same stabilisation). Again, I do miss the presence of a third zoom lens.
The iPhone 12’s battery life, I have found, is somewhere between decent and adequate. This is one area where I can’t say there has been any real improvement over previous models. To be fair, it matches what I got from the iPhone 11, which was itself a huge jump in battery life over predecessors and which was bigger, thicker and heavier than the iPhone 12.
It’s usually fine and should last most people a full day. But if you’re a heavy user – particularly with your camera or if you constantly switch from app to app – you’ll notice the battery getting a little thin in the late afternoon or early evening.
One of the biggest technical advances, aside from the addition of 5G, in the iPhone 12 is the 6.1-inch display, which jumps from LCD (in the iPhone 11) to Oled. While this doesn’t mean much to most punters, you can see it when you switch it on. To look at it, this is like using an iPhone Pro. It’s brighter (up to twice as punchy when looking at some photos), easier on your eyes and its treatment of colours and contrasts is really superb.
Together with 5G, the engine in the iPhone 12 is probably its main future-proof element. This thing blazes. This is probably down to the A14 Bionic chip under the hood (the same as the Pro and Pro Max models, and faster than most iPads) because it doesn’t have much Ram at all – only about 4GB.
When I actually tested its raw speed, it beat Qualcomm’s previous flagship (Snapdragon 865+) chip by a margin of over a third. That Apple has put this processor into the standard iPhone 12 as well as the 12 Pro is likely to be one of the most underrated features of this phone.
Are there any drawbacks?
The only things I’ve lamented are the lack of a zoom camera lens (detailed above) and maybe less progress on battery life than I’d have ideally liked.
There is one very minor design-related quibble I have about swiping up on the display. Because there’s now an edge around the screen, there’s now the faintest element of friction against your thumb or forefinger when you swipe up. It’s not much, but I have found it enough to give me the (very) occasional missed swipe when trying to unlock the phone; my thumb skipped off the edge landing a centimetre or two further up the screen before continuing the swipe’s natural trajectory. This is amplified a little with a case that has a small ridge around the edge (to protect it more when it drops). Because the iPhone 11, iPhone XS, iPhone XR and iPhone X had more rounded edging (like the iPhone 8, 7 and 6 models), this didn’t ever occur.
So should you upgrade?
If you’re still using an iPhone 8 or before, this is a no-brainer. If you’re using an iPhone Xs or 11, it will come down to the screen, the shape, the engine and (maybe) 5G. The camera experience is superior, but not by all that much compared to the iPhone 11.
If you’re coming from Android, you won’t get a much better introduction to the iPhone than this. It’s definitely Apple’s best iPhone in some time.
Reviewed: Apple iPhone 12 Purple
Price: from €929
Pros: powerful, great cameras, new colour
Cons: same as iPhone 12 models six months ago