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Apple iPhone 12 Review: Almost An iPhone 12 Pro And That Really Adds A Lot Of Bang For The Buck

Representation photo.

Representation photo.

The iPhone 12 is priced at Rs 79,900 for the 64GB storage option, Rs 84,900 for the 128GB storage variant and Rs 94,900 for the 256GB storage. This can be had in the usual suspects, the black and white colours, and also the gorgeous (PRODUCT)RED, Blue and Green colours.

It’s a four strong Apple iPhone line-up for the year. At either flank are iPhones that are very well distinguished, those being the iPhone 12 Mini and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Yet, it is a very close matchup between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro, the two iPhones that sit in the middle of this line-up. The ingredients remain largely the same. 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 and indeed the the Apple iPhone 12 Pro are here first. We will have to wait just a bit longer for the iPhone 12 Mini and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the smallest and the biggest phones in the iPhone 12 line-up.

From the outset, things get quite interesting. The iPhone 12 is priced at Rs 79,900 for the 64GB storage option, Rs 84,900 for the 128GB storage variant and Rs 94,900 for the 256GB storage. This can be had in the usual suspects, the black and white colours, and also the gorgeous (PRODUCT)RED, Blue and Green colours. In comparison, 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. Interesting, I say, because in my book, the Apple iPhone 12 is closer to the iPhone 12 Pro in more ways than one. Certainly, more than the iPhone 11 was in relation to the iPhone 11 Pro. That is great for the iPhone that doesn’t carry the “Pro” badge.

So, what really are the differences? You would notice the difference in entry-spec storage options, for starters. Along with that, the price difference too. Beyond that, 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. All else is the same, including the mind-bogglingly powerful A14 Bionic chip, the larger 6.1-inch display and a similar experience overall with iOS 14.


Apple iPhone 12 Is Not Just A New Design, It Is Also More Compact And Lighter

There really is no other way of saying this. You will love the updated design of the iPhone 12. The iPad Pro-esque design with the flat sides look amazing on an iPhone, and also reminds of the simpler times when I owned an Apple iPhone 5. The bezels around the screen have been significantly thinned down. That, before you brush it aside as some minor design enhancement, has a very significant bearing. The Apple iPhone 12 is 4.2mm less tall than the Apple iPhone 11 and retains the same 6.1-inch display. It is also 4.2mm less wide and 0.9mm thinner. This also means a 30-gram weight reduction. Whichever way you look at it, the Apple iPhone 12 has received a fairly significant design upgrade that makes it easier to hold, easier to use and easier to pocket. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again—even the slightest shaving off in terms of the footprint has a huge bearing on smartphone usability.

The Apple iPhone 12 gets ceramic shield at the front and the back, which is basically a mix of glass and ceramic, with more ceramic crystals embedded to improve strength and make them less susceptible to scratches or cracks. This isn’t the Gorilla Glass that you may have already touched and felt on other phones, it is a very different composition. The frame on the iPhone 12 is aluminum instead of stainless steel that we see in the iPhone 12 Pro. The former is less shiny, which goes with the overall finish of the iPhone 12 colour options as well. But just like its Pro sibling, the Apple iPhone 12 also seems to catch a lot of fingerprints. You will, if you aren’t using a case or a cover, need to clean this regularly.

New Display Type And More Pixels To Enjoy

The Apple iPhone 12 has a 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display. This is an OLED, an upgrade from the Liquid Retina IPS display that we saw last year’s iPhone 11. Apple has also packed in more pixels—it is now the 2532 x 1170 resolution compared with 1792 x 828 resolution) and is also brighter when you need it to be brighter, such as HDR content, peaking at 1200 nits. The rest of the checklist is ticked off as you would expect, including True Tone and support for Dolby Vision. To be honest, last year’s iPhone 11 didn’t cross the 1080p resolution mark, but did you really care?

There are immediate advantages of this OLED display tech, which also brings the iPhone 12 ever close to the iPhone 12 Pro. First, the blacks are much deeper, which immediately has a positive fallout on all other colours around it. This is a better display tech for contrast, HDR content and colours in general. Apple continues to not make any unnecessary tweaks to make the colours look richer than they actually are, and that’s great if you want accuracy.

There will be the debate about the iPhone 12 and indeed the iPhone 12 Pro about whether 60Hz refresh rate is enough in this day and age. Purely on the spec sheet, some Android phones will have an advantage, with their 90Hz, 120Hz and 144Hz refresh rate displays. One could have imagined Apple using the ProMotion higher refresh rate display tech that we have had in the iPad Pro line-up for a while now. Mind you, you really won’t find any difference with this 60Hz whatsoever 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.

MagSafe Is Very Cool. Period

This isn’t just any wireless charger. The Apple MagSafe is the magnet based clickety system that is very cool and very useful. It is robust, both as a magnetic wireless charger and potentially as a mounting mechanism. 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. If you happen to misalign these as you try to get the MagSafe working, these magnets have enough reaction ready to pull the alignment as it should be. 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 limitations about the MagSafe though. 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.

Also, 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.

The iPhone 12 Is Fast. Very Fast

I wonder why we are still even talking about this, but for the sake of completeness and ticking off the format, I must. Last year, the Apple A13 Bionic chip, the 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. It is faster than before, in every way possible. The lead just got bigger. Much bigger.

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 with the A14 Bionic, just doesn’t give you any opportunity where you can point at a slight stutter or sluggishness. Everything is just on the job, all the time. Even though the iPhone 12 has 4GB RAM instead of the iPhone 12 Pro’s 6GB RAM, this is still more than enough headroom considering how iOS is optimized. Be it multitasking, photo editing or editing those Dolby Vision HDR at 30fps videos, you will have a great time of it. 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.

It May Feel The Same, But It Is Quite A Step Up In Smartness

It is all a tad complex in the world of iPhone 12 cameras. Which phone has what, exactly. Let me simplify it for you. The iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Mini has the same camera setup, while the iPhone 12 Pro gets the telephoto camera, Dolby Vision HDR videos at 60fps and a Lidar sensor while the iPhone 12 Pro Max also gets a larger sensor, larger pixels and bigger aperture. All iPhone 12 cameras however take full advantage of the computational photography boost that includes updates for Deep Fusion, and there is the new Smart HDR 3 as well that will improve the dynamic range in photos much more. And night vision on all cameras.

The iPhone 12 has two 12-megapixel cameras at the back. One is a wide and one is an ultrawide. In terms of the combination, it is very similar to the cameras on the iPhone 11 but the aperture changes to f/1.6 means the iPhone 12 camera will process more incoming light, which is good for low light photos.

For most photos, at first glance, you will see very similar sort of results on the iPhone 12, as you may have also seen on the iPhone 11. But look closer, zoom in a bit, and you’ll notice that Deep Fusion is now more active than before. In more photos, in more scenarios and generally doing more. That means there is certainly more detailing that is on offer. Whites still are a tad on the warm, side. And honestly, I prefer them that way for most photos that I click. But there is a definite difference in the contrast—and that isn’t just because I’m looking at the photos on a new OLED display! Even without night mode, the iPhone 12 can handle a lot of lighting scenarios well since there is more light for the image processing to play with.

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.

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 Last Word: Almost An iPhone 12 Pro, And That’s Great News For Those Who Buy This

The Apple iPhone 12, just like how the iPhone 12 Pro is over the iPhone 11 Pro, is a serious upgrade. Year on year, there are big improvements across the board. Be it the refreshed design, be it the display tech, be it the even faster processor now allowing smarter stuff like night mode on all cameras or simply the fact that this phone can shoot Dolby Vision HDR videos too, albeit limited to 30fps. Between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro that have a lot of similarities too, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the iPhone 12 becomes the default choice for a new iPhone this year. Purely because of the price difference. Look at it this way—the iPhone 12 brings a lot of the Pro at a much more affordable price tag. That adds value. That upgrades the experience. And that means you get more for the money you spend.

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