This is a big year for the Apple iPhone. The biggest line-up to have been launched at the same time ever. More screen sizes. A new design. New and even more powerful A14 Bionic processor. Higher resolution displays. A new MagSafe charging system. Cameras that can put pretty much all rivals in the shade. And well, for countries where it matters, 5G. The Apple iPhone 12 Pro and the Apple iPhone 12 are here first, while the iPhone 12 Mini and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the smallest and the biggest phones in the iPhone 12 line-up, arrive a bit later. It is all very serious stuff, lest you were still taking this lightly and thinking it’s a minor upgrade year. Tick tock, it is not. The Apple iPhone 12 Pro prices start at Rs 1,19,900. That’s for the 128GB storage option. If you want the 256GB variant, you’ll pay Rs 1,29,900 while the 512GB option costs Rs 1,49,900. Multiple colour options, as always, including Silver, Gold, the updated Graphite and the gorgeous new Pacific Blue. (You can see the Photogallery here)
But that does beg the question—what really is the difference between the iPhone 12 Pro and the Apple iPhone 12? I would assume that question, and very rightly so, comes from the observation that there are a lot of similarities between the two phones. For instance, they have exactly the same size and dimensions. The same Super Retina XDR screen size, that is 6.1-inches. The new scratch resistant ceramic glass layer. The same Apple A14 Bionic chip. The MagSafe compatibility. And similar battery capacity and life. The Apple iPhone 12 is priced at Rs 79,900 for the entry spec 64GB storage option, Rs 84,900 for the 128GB storage and Rs 94,900 for 256GB storage. And herein is your first glimpse at the fine differences, the first of which being the variation in storage space. Then there is the matter of the finish. And that’s before you get to the cameras—dual cameras instead of triple cameras in the iPhone 12 Pro, the Lidar depth scanner in the Pro phone and the iPhone 12 also does the Dolby Vision HDR video recording at 30fps instead of 60fps.
The Biggest Design Change In Years Is Totally Worth It
It has been a while since we have had an iPhone design language change. The last big change was the switch to the all display one, with the iPhone X. Since then, the iPhone XS series, iPhone XR series and the iPhone 11 series have followed largely the same language. To be honest, I have often been caught saying an iPad Pro-esque design with the flat sides would look amazing on an iPhone. Perhaps even an ode to the Apple iPhone 5 from all those years ago, the first iPhone that I bought. And here we are. Wishes have been granted. The entire iPhone 12 line-up gets flat sides—so flat that we finally again have iPhones that can stand up and remain standing up on a flat surface. Again, takes me back to the iPhone 5.
There’s ceramic shield at the front and back, with a stainless-steel frame. Everything is so well fused together that the Apple iPhone 12 Pro, for all intents and purposes, feels like a single piece construction. It is thinner than the iPhone 11 Pro, quite significantly—8.1mm compared with 7.4mm now. The height and the width remain the same, yet the Apple iPhone 12 Pro has a larger display than the predecessor. That is because the bezels have been further slimmed down. All those millimeters shaved off make a world of difference with ergonomics as a whole. The ceramic shield is a mix of glass and ceramic, which has been made for Apple. This isn’t the Gorilla Glass that you may have already touched and felt on other phones, it is a different composition.
It is impossible to not note that the Apple iPhone 12 Pro is quite a fingerprint and smudge magnet. Both at the front and the back. I found myself regularly wiping this through the day, and you will too, if you don’t intend to use a case with the phone. Nevertheless, it’ll be a shame to hide this beauty in a case.
Enjoy The Bigger Canvas Before You Wade Into The Refresh Rate Debate
The Apple iPhone 12 Pro has a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display. This is an OLED, much like last year’s iPhone 11 Pro. But it has more pixels (2532 x 1170 resolution compared with 2436 x 1125 resolution) and is also brighter when you need it to be brighter, such as HDR content. The rest of the checklist is ticked off as you would expect, including True Tone. Yet, the biggest upgrade has to be seen size. While the iPhone 11 Pro brought along a 5.8-inch display, the iPhone 12 Pro has a larger 6.1-inch display real estate. More screen while not increasing the footprint at all is as great an upgrade as it can be.
The Apple iPhone 12 Pro’s display is 60Hz which immediately puts it on the backfoot as far as a direct spec competition with Android phones is concerned. Apple could have used the ProMotion higher refresh rate display tech that we have had in the iPad Pro line-up for a while now. Mind you, chances of you really noticing the 60Hz limitation is very limited if you are upgrading from an iPhone. But there are use cases where the 120Hz refresh rate screens, if you have used them, just look a lot better. For an iPhone with the “Pro” moniker, I would have expected that upgrade.
MagSafe Is Just Too Cool And Will Freshen Up The Accessories Ecosystem
You will soon forget about the display refresh rate and all those first world problems when you start having fun with the new MagSafe charger. I have to say I was surprised with this, when Apple announced this tech. Admittedly, I still have hope in my heart that the Apple AirPower will be amidst us some day. Soon. Let us not get sidetracked. This magnet based clickety system is very cool and very useful. It is robust, both as a magnetic wireless charger and potentially as a mounting mechanism. This, you may point out, is pretty much a wireless charging system. But it isn’t. There are magnets in the Apple iPhone 12 Pro, and there are magnets in the MagSafe charger. These magnets align, with greater accuracy than stars do from time to time mind you, and its set for charging. This is rated a maximum of 15-watts of charging, which is quite fast by any stretch of the imagination, and faster than the 7.5-watts supported for the Qi wireless charging standard.
What the MagSafe and the magnet array does is open up a world of possibilities. It is only a matter of time before you have desktop docks, in-car mounts and photography accessories that use this mechanism. Apple’s own wallet case is just one example. It is only a matter time before third party accessories really take advantage of this and develop even more use cases.
There are certain things about the MagSafe though, at least in this iteration. There is just one variant of the MagSafe at this time. And it comes with 1-meter long wire. If you need a longer wire, you’re out of luck. Secondly, the 20-watt USB-C power adapter is a separate accessory, because the MagSafe (priced at Rs 4,500 on the Apple India Online Store) does not bundle a power adapter. If you have one of those power adapters from a recent iPad Pro lying around, you are good to go. Else the 20-watt USB-C power adapter is an additional Rs 1,900 to have the entire setup in place.
You’ll have to be a bit careful with the MagSafe charger. The cable at the charging dock end is non-removable, which means if you damage the cable, that’s game over for the MagSafe. I really would expect Apple to give us a MagSafe in the near future with a removable cable as well. And longer wire length options.
We are ever closer to the end of the road for the Lightning port, all indications considered. The iPad Air is the latest to switch to the USB-C, and it is only a matter of time before the iPhone line-up also makes the switch. Perhaps the Pro phones will do it first. The MagSafe developing an ecosystem will be critical for that.
Are We Even Debating The Performance?
We went far beyond the realms of arguing about performance with the Apple A13 Bionic chip last year. That 7-namometer silicon blew everything that the Android smartphone ecosystem had to offer, out of the water. This year, it is the A14 Bionic that is designed on a 5nm manufacturing process, making it the first commercially available 5nm chip. The A14 Bionic also doubles the cores of the Neural Engine from 8 to 16 allowing it to quicken machine learning tasks. This chip can do 11 trillion operations per second. This is also the first time an iPhone gets 6GB RAM.
There are performance boosts across the board, but how much of a difference you feel will depend on which iPhone (or Android phone) you are upgrading from. The iPhone 12 Pro, with the A14 Bionic, will be a delight to use for those who want to edit videos and photos on the device itself—particularly those Dolby Vision HDR at 60fps videos. Even then, and almost never, will you be able to use all of the A14 Bionic’s computing power. In fact, you won’t even get close. No point even trying.
Camera Are All About New Sensors And New Smartness
The Apple iPhone 12 Pro gets the triple camera setup at the back, much like the iPhone 12 Pro Max. But there are differences underneath, even between these two Pro iPhones. These are all 12-megapixel camera, where the wide has 1.4 microns pixels, f/1.6 aperture and optical image stabilization, the ultrawide has a 120-degree field of view and f/2.4 aperture and the telephoto has a f/2.0 aperture and 52mm focal length. The big changes come on the hidden side of things. All four cameras on the iPhone 12 Pro can now do Night Mode photos. The updated optical image stabilization makes 5,000 adjustments per second to eliminate any shake or blur from the photos and videos that you shoot. Lidar speeds up autofocus by 6x and also means that Night Mode portraits are now possible because it can now map the space around the subject. The updated and faster machine learning algorithms can now separate the subject and the background with even more accuracy—that is some upgrade considering the iPhones have always delivered close to perfect distinction in almost every frame.
The computational photography gets a big boost as well including Deep Fusion, and there is the new Smart HDR 3 as well that will improve the dynamic range in photos much more. Later this year, Apple will roll out the update that adds the ProRAW mode to the Apple iPhone 12 Pro cameras—this basically gives you a RAW image for editing along with certain tweaks on noise reduction and exposure that the algorithms would have already done for you.
You will also notice that the iPhone 12 Pro camera gets additional options—including something called scene detection where the iPhone tries to understand what you are trying to capture and alters the exposure and colours, for instance, accordingly. It is good to see Apple give users this option, though if it annoys you, there is always the option to turn this off. Much like smart HDR. My recommendation though would be to leave these on.
At first glance, the photos that the Apple iPhone 12 Pro clicks are very similar to last year’s iPhone 11 Pro series. At least that is true for daytime and good light photos, and it is here that the background upgrades that include faster focus and faster image processing make their presence felt. What you get are fairly natural (albeit slightly warm) photos and detailing remains pristine. There is still no boosting of colours to liven things up unnecessarily, or aggressive noise reduction or sharpening just to make the photos pop out. It is with low light photos that you will feel a big upgrade. The bigger sensors allow the iPhone 12 Pro to capture more light, which means that when you aren’t using night mode, comparatively the photos are much better exposed and lit up.
Last but not least is the ability to record videos in Dolby Vision HDR, at 4K resolution and 60 frames per second. This makes the Apple iPhone 12 Pro phones the first in the world of smartphones to be able to record in Dolby Vision. This is up 10-bit HDR recording with the ability to capture and reproduce as many as 700 million colours. And once you are done, you can even edit Dolby Vision videos on the device itself—from the Photos app.
But with Dolby Vision, you’ll have to be a bit careful at least for the time being. Not all video editing software, cloud storage services and even playback devices including TVs will be able to handle the Dolby Vision videos that the iPhone 12 Pro records and dishes out. At least till the editing software and apps get the updates. But there is nothing you can do about older Dolby Vision capable hardware if they haven’t received firmware updates to run the latest Dolby Vision profiles. Even Apple Mac users will have to wait until the release of macOS Big Sur to get the Dolby Vision compatibility. If you think apps such as Instagram and Facebook will offer Dolby Vision from the outset, forget it. That’ll happen in due course, not just right now. If you do share a Dolby Vision HDR video to an incompatible device or software, what you’ll see there is a standard dynamic range (SDR) video instead. This is what happens to early adopters—don’t feel bad about it.
The question still remains—if you are upgrading to the iPhone 12 Pro for photography, shouldn’t you instead go for the iPhone 12 Pro Max? That gets the advanced sensor-shift optical image stabilization (OIS) and larger 1.7-micron pixels on the wide camera, 65mm focal length (instead of 55mm) which means longer 2.5x optical zoom as well as larger f/2.2 aperture while the ultrawide camera remains at par. Those may just be the best photos you get from any iPhone. Actually, those may just be the best photos you may get from any smartphone right now.
The Last Word: The iPhone 12 Pro Sees Upgrades Across The Board
This year is the big upgrade year for the Apple iPhone. Be left in absolutely no doubt that this is a serious upgrade for pretty much everyone, except iPhone 11 Pro users who can still perhaps treat this as a not-so-urgent upgrade. If screen size is a consideration for you and the larger 6.7-inch real estate of the iPhone 12 Pro Max isn’t exactly what you need, the iPhone 12 Pro is as good as it gets. There are significant upgrades as far as the photography and camera aspects are concerned—including Dolby Vision and Lidar. This has 5G, but it doesn’t matter to us in India at this time. The MagSafe charging tech is definitely very cool. And the fact that you now get a larger 6.1-inch display without an iota of compromise on size compared with the iPhone 11 Pro, makes it worth your time.
But there is still that lingering question that I had addressed earlier in this review. Where does the iPhone 12 fit in all this? The thing is, this year, the iPhone 12 is closer to the iPhone 12 Pro than the iPhone 11 Pro was to the iPhone 11. In the end, it will really boil down to whether you need those extra goodies that the iPhone 12 Pro offers, including the dual cameras instead of triple cameras in the iPhone 12 Pro, the Lidar depth scanner in the Pro phone and the Dolby Vision HDR video recording at 60fps instead of 30fps. I am glad I don’t have to make this decision.