Review: iPhone 12 Pro

Grab some snacks and a drink. This will be a long review.

I’ve got the new iPhone 12 Pro. Graphite to be precise. It’s replacing my iPhone XS. This is the first major redesign since the iPhone X, and I am not just talking about the physical design. All the iPhone 12 models have 5G and a lot of new camera hardware. Not to mention they are all OLED screens across the board capable of HDR playback. And there’s the A14 processor that is supposed to crush anything in the Android space. That’s a lot of change. Let’s dive in. Starting with the unboxing. Here’s what you get inside the box once you remove the phone:

You get a USB-C to Lightning cable, SIM ejector tool, paperwork, and a single Apple Sticker down from two Apple stickers that were in the box last year. There’s no AC adapter in the box. And if you don’t have one that is USB-C lying around, you’re shelling out $25 CDN for one from Apple. Apple says that they are trying to protect the environment by doing this. But I call BS on that because unlike the Apple Watch Series 6 which comes with a USB-A cable which enables you to recycle any Apple power adapter that you have lying around, you can’t do that with the iPhone 12 Pro without springing for a USB-C power adapter. To me this is a bit of a cash grab. Which isn’t cool given how much this phone costs.The net result is that this move is guaranteed to get some people upset. Specifically new users and those who think that spending four digits on a phone should get you a power adapter in the box.

Oh by the way, Apple is also not including the wired ear phones this time around. They sounded horrible so there’s no great loss there. Which likely explains why nobody seems to care about that. Though the cynic in me says that this was a move to make people more likely to buy AirPods.

Having said all of that, the box that the iPhone 12 Pro comes in is way thinner:

The black box is the iPhone 12 Pro. The white box is the iPhone XS. I guess you can ship way more iPhones in a plane since they each take up way less real estate. That is good for the environment.

Now onto the phone itself:

The design reminds me of the iPhone 4 & 5 which as far as I was concerned were the best looking iPhones ever due to the flat sides. But unlike those iPhones, the display is flush with the rest of the iPhone. And it’s comfortable to hold without a case. The sides are made of surgical grade stainless steel, and they are a major fingerprint magnet. The back is matte glass, and is not a fingerprint magnet. If fingerprints bother you, I’d advise getting a case. This is the graphite color which is apparently the new space grey. I chose it to match my space grey Apple Watch. They do have a four color choices in case graphite doesn’t do it for you.

As for the screen, it’s an OLED screen capable of HDR playback. To me, it seems a bit warmer than my iPhone XS, somewhat brighter, and the bezels are thinner than before. It’s a 6.1″ screen but it doesn’t really take up that more real estate than the XS which I appreciate. Apple has a new feature called the “ceramic shield” that makes the display 4x more shatter resistant. Should you believe that? Well, EveryingApplePro and MobileReviewsEh tested these screens in different ways and found them to be more durable than they expected. But if I were you, I’d put a tempered screen protector on it to be safe. Because even if it is more shatter resistant, it’s not going to be scratch resistant just like the iPhone 11 wasn’t all that scratch resistant. That’s because scratch resistance is inversely proportional to shatter resistance 100% of the time. Or put another way, if you want shatter resistance, you can’t have scratch resistance. And early reports from iPhone 12/ 12 Pro owners who didn’t use screen protectors along with a test from JerryRigEverything appears to confirm that. The display support’s Apple’s True Tone feature which adjusts the screen to ensure that colors are accurate regardless of the lighting conditions as well as P3 wide color for accurate color reproduction. You also get 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio as well as 800 nits max brightness and 1200 nits max brightness when watching HDR content. The screen has a resolution of 2532‑by‑1170-pixel resolution at 460 ppi. One downside to the screen is that Apple has yet again gone to Haptic Touch or long presses rather than 3D Touch which was a much better user interface for facilitating extra functionality within apps. I know that Apple has been ripping out 3D touch out of all their products to make all their products behave the same. But I really think that this is a mistake by Apple as it really throws those who have had 3D touch iPhones and Apple Watches for a loop when interacting with the phone.

Since we’re talking about the screen, let’s get to elephant in the room. The display is a 60 Hz refresh rate display. A lot of Android phones come with 90 Hz, 120 Hz, and a few even have 144 Hz refresh rate displays. And even Apple has the iPad Pro with a 120 Hz variable refresh rate display. So why doesn’t the iPhone 12 Pro have a display with a refresh rate above 60 Hz? I’m guessing that they couldn’t get the OLED screens that they wanted to have a high refresh rate display they way they wanted to. Or they wanted to persevere battery life as high refresh rate displays tend to obliterate battery life. But here’s the reality. Go try one. You’ll see that it is insanely smooth when scrolling and I seriously doubt that you’ll miss not having a high refresh rate display. That makes this a non-issue in my mind. At least for this year. Next year might be different if the iPhone 13 or whatever it is called doesn’t show up with a high refresh rate for those who really care.

The display is very easy to read in most lighting conditions including bright sunlight. The iPhone 12 Pro is capable of HDR playback. And the test videos that I played on it looked stunning. If that’s not enough, the iPhone 12 Pro is also capable of recording Dolby Vision HDR and HDR10 video in 4k60, which is mind blowing considering that this is a phone and not a cinema quality video camera. I should note that only the pro models are capable of recording in Dolby Vision HDR and HDR10 video in 4k60. The non pro models can “only” record Dolby Vision HDR and HDR10 video in 4k30. And no other phone currently does Dolby Vision HDR recording of any sort. To test this, I recorded a 40 second video of a hike that my wife and I did north of Barrie last weekend. If you can, view this on a device that does 4K HDR playback or turn on HDR on your browser and set the resolution to 4K:

Besides the stereo separation for the audio, the color reproduction is simply amazing. I do notice that the video has some sort of auto-focus issue. I’m not sure if that’s due to what the phone has to do stabilize the image or the phone is simply hunting for an object to focus on. But other than that, the video quality is very good. Now if you want better image stabilization, the upcoming iPhone 12 Pro Max has a In-body image stabilization (IBIS)  system that stabilizes the entire image sensor rather than just the optics which may lead to better quality video. That’s on top of having a bigger sensor to start with. Now I suspect that once these phones get out there, and videos recorded in these format start to appear en masse, it will force YouTube to support Dolby Vision HDR and companies that make TVs will have to do exactly the same thing.

If you’re going to have a great display, you need quality speakers to go with them. I found that they are loud and clear. Music sounds good with clear bass and treble.

Storage options start with 128GB, then go to 256GB and then 512GB. I got the 256GB model. It’s IP68 rated to a maximum of 6 metres for up to 30 minutes instead of 4 metres for 30 minutes like the iPhone 11 from last year. You still get a Lightning connector on the bottom instead of USB-C for data transfer and charging, and it has one new party trick. Apple has resurrected the MagSafe name to use it for a bunch of magnetic accessories that attach to the back of the iPhone. The MagSafe charger for example offers 15W fast wireless chargers. Though if you’re not using a MagSafe charger, you’re stuck at 7.5w for wireless charging. I personally am not interested in this feature as when I charge it’s either in my car, or on a wireless charger next to my bed at night. But it’s clear that this is the first step in killing the Lightning port in favor of a port-less iPhone in the future. That also likely explains why Apple still hasn’t gone to USB-C in this iPhone.

5G is the big feature for the iPhone 12 Pro. But what is equally as big is the fact that Apple has finally dumped the horrible Intel LTE modems that have been used by Apple for years (and Apple now owns by the way) for Qualcomm modems which are now available to Apple now that Apple and Qualcomm have stopped suing each other. This allows the iPhone 12 to be way faster than I am used to on the TELUS network. Here’s an LTE score taken in Etobicoke Ontario:

This is about 100Mbps higher versus what I was able to get on the iPhone XS on LTE. That’s quick and basically says that you will have better LTE speeds if 5G isn’t available in your area. But 5G is available in my area and this is what I got:

Now while this isn’t the 1.7 Gbps peak speeds that TELUS claims as their theoretical maximum speed, it’s not slow. I suspect that if I go to other areas of Toronto, I’d get faster speeds. I’ll be doing that and I’ll let you know what I get in a future story. To stop you from chewing through your battery life, Apple has a feature that will switch between LTE and 5G depending on your data needs to save power.

Another point. Since I am in Canada, the version of 5G that I am getting is the “Sub-6” version of 5G which gives you a bit of a speed increase and has better signal coverage and better building penetration. Americans get a US only version of the iPhone 12 which gets support for “Sub-6” and the “millimeter wave” version of 5G which has neither of those things in exchange for super fast speeds if you are in the right area and you are pointed in the right direction. If you prefer to save your mobile data, you get WiFi 6 as part of the deal, which is very fast as well if you have a WiFi 6 router like I do.

Inside you get the A14 Bionic processor which according to benchmarks is yet again the fastest processor in a mobile phone. It is 20% faster than the A13 Bionic that was in the iPhone 11. And to be frank, it’s complete overkill for an iPhone as it is faster than some of Apple’s macOS desktops and laptops. But we should take it as it’s really fast while being power efficient. Win/win. Now if you pair the A14 Bionic with 6GB of RAM which is up from the 4GB in the non pro models, and it’s also up from any other earlier iPhone model. This is going to help with running multiple apps and muti-tasking. But it also helps with all the computational photography that the iPhone 12 Pro is capable of. And I suspect that this is the reason why Apple’s upcoming (via a software update presumably) ProRaw format where you can get a highly detailed picture with all of the computational photography info included is only available on the pro models. Meaning that for those who want to take a photo and make it beyond perfect in Photoshop, the is the phone for you. Not to mention doing 4k60 video which as mentioned earlier is another pro only feature. But here’s the real reason why you should care that this phone comes with the A14 Bionic and 6GB of RAM. When iOS 18 comes out in four years time, this phone will still feel fast. Speaking of iOS, it comes out of the box with iOS 14.1 which is pretty stable and does what you expect iOS to do.

So let’s get to the cameras. You get three cameras at 12 megapixels:

  • Ultra Wide – ƒ/2.4 aperture and 120° field of view
  • Wide – ƒ/1.6 aperture
  • Telephoto cameras – ƒ/2.0 aperture 

What does that look like? Here’s the telephoto camera:

And the wide camera:

And finally ultra wide:

And check this out. My wife and I took a photo side by side in the same marginally dark forest. Her using her iPhone XR. And yours truly on the iPhone 12 Pro. First the iPhone XR:

And here’s the iPhone 12 Pro:

Overall, the iPhone 12 Pro picture looks brighter than the iPhone XR picture. It also has a bit more detail. You can likely thank the computational photography on the iPhone 12 Pro for that. And that computational photography works on all the lenses unlike last year’s iPhones.

I am going to focus on the telephoto lens for a moment. The detail that you get from this camera is great for macro shots as evidenced here:

New to the iPhone 12 Pro is a LIDAR sensor. This sensor has great promise in the future for things like AR applications (though in the here and now, you can use the measure app to accurately measure humans and other objects). But at present, it is being best used for better portrait mode photos because it can not only perform amazing levels of depth perception, but it can make the auto focus from the rear cameras insanely good. Especially at night for both of those items as evidenced by this picture which also took advantage of Apple’s Night Mode tech to give you better pictures in low light situations:

I don’t have a need for doing night selfies. In fact I rarely take selfies at all. But Night Mode selfies may be a thing for some and based on this photo, they would be pretty good:

But I think the best example of Night Mode is to see what the same shot looks like without it. So My wife and I took identical pictures on our balcony. One was on my wife’s iPhone XR and one was on the iPhone 12 Pro.

First the iPhone XR:

Then the iPhone 12 Pro:

The grassy area is the key reason that the Night Mode photo wins. You can actually see it in a good amount of detail.

By the way, Night Mode works on all the lenses for the first time. Ditto for Apple’s Deep Fusion feature which makes your photos look sharper with better colors.

Finally there’s battery life. As I am typing this, I’ve had this phone for a week. But I will give you my last three days.

Here’s Monday where I was working from my home office all day on WiFi 6:

Here’s Tuesday where I went out a couple of times for a couple of hours and I was on 5G and WiFi 6:

This is Wednesday where I mostly worked at home. But I made a trip out to UPS to ship something out:

On each one of those days, I ended the day at or just below 50%. And I was using the phone to check email, surf, and use Reddit among other things. In other words, I was not using this phone lightly. So if I can get this sort of performance out of the iPhone 12 Pro, you should be able to do that well or better.

There’s one other other item. The iPhone 12 has a U1 chip to allow you to unlock a car that is compatible with it. Which at this point is any BMW made after July of this year. It will also work with the new HomePod Mini to precisely position you in your home. And it will work with the much rumored AirTags product which is a Tile like tracker. That’s great for the future, but in the here and now, they will help you to AirDrop files better.

So, should you buy the iPhone 12 Pro? Well, I think it comes down to this:

  • If you want better photo quality than the iPhone 12, then it’s worth it.
  • If you want to leverage the upcoming ProRaw format from Apple, then it’s worth it.
  • If having the extra 2GB of RAM is worth it to you, then buy the iPhone 12 Pro.
  • If you are coming from an iPhone X, XR, or XS or earlier, then you are in the target market for the iPhone 12 Pro.

There is one other thing to consider. If photo quality matters to you, then it may even be worth waiting for the iPhone 12 Pro Max which gives you even better camera optics including In-body image stabilization (IBIS) which may give you better pictures than the iPhone 12 Pro. Not to mention that the iPhone 12 Pro Max will have a bigger battery due to the fact that it is a physically bigger phone. With a bigger price tag to match. But if photos aren’t top of mind, then the iPhone 12 would be the way to go. You’ll give up some of the photo quality of the iPhone 12 Pro and save $200 CDN in the process seeing as the iPhone 12 Pro starts at $1399 CDN with 128GB. Of course that assumes that you get the iPhone 12 with 128GB as well. Which if you fit the use case for an iPhone 12 you should as it’s only $70 over the base price of $1129 CDN with 64GB of RAM.

The iPhone 12 Pro is an impressive smartphone package thanks to its worthwhile camera upgrades. But it is going to face some tough competition from the iPhone 12. You can’t really go wrong either way. But for me, the iPhone 12 Pro is the choice for me. And I think it may be the choice for many.

3 Responses to “Review: iPhone 12 Pro”

  1. […] had my iPhone 12 Pro for a couple of weeks now. And I’m really liking the phone. But the real headline is 5G […]

  2. […] I pointed out in my iPhone 12 Pro review, Apple made the decision to ditch the charging brick in the box of their latest phone. Their […]

  3. […] a PowerPoint slide deck felt smooth and fluid. For fun, I took the video that I made for my iPhone 12 Pro review and did an export of it. That took seconds. As in 5 or less seconds. I also ran Intel apps […]

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