The iPhone 12 is the main model of the 14th generation of Apple’s smartphone announced on October 13, 2020. It is equipped with a 6.1-inch OLED HDR 60 Hz screen, a dual photo sensor with ultra-large- angle, and a 5G (sub-6 GHz) compatible Apple A14 Bionic SoC.
Not having to bear the weight of the name “Pro”, does the iPhone 12 still justify its place in the high end of Apple? We tested it for a week to see if the improvements still made it a potential success for the brand.
Since Apple decided to launch three back-to-school iPhones simultaneously, the apple brand has enjoyed tremendous success with its “entry-level” versions. The iPhone XR, then the iPhone 11, drove sales with a simple recipe: the same look as the “Pro” models, but with lower screen quality and a little fewer photo possibilities. This year, Apple has decided to upgrade it’s iPhone 12, but also its price. Is it always a winning bet?
EXTREME (ALMOST) RELOOKING Like every two to three years, Apple revisits its iPhones and the 2020 vintage is entitled to a new design. With an air of deja vu … The iPhone 12 is this year much more square than its predecessor, or a rather rectangular one should say. Its look is at the crossroads of the iPhone 5 in a larger version and the iPad Pro (or the recent iPad Air) in a smaller version. So here we are with an iPhone 12 with straight aluminum edges, slightly rounded at the corners and matching the chosen color (black, white, red, green or blue, the color 2020).
Everything is quite elegant, as is often the case with Apple, and you can feel the quality of the product and its materials, its impeccable finish when you hold it. The volume and mute buttons on the left, and ignition on the right are drowned in the color of the device, as is the photo module on the back positioned in a square in the same tones. Note that the outgrowth it represents is quite limited and this does not destabilize the device lying flat. On the bottom edge, we still find the Lightning port, the microphones, and a stereo speaker taken from the blue frame of our iPhone 12.
The glass back still allows induction charging. Unlike the Ceramic Shield coating advanced by Apple as four times more resistant – but which only concerns the protection of the screen -, it keeps its glass coating from previous years, but Apple explains having reinforced it with a new process. Not everyone will appreciate the trendy pastel colors on the back. The red turns clearly towards pink, less towards the metallic red of the latest Apple Watch or the old iPhone XR. In contrast, blue is nice but rather dark.
Compared to the iPhone 11 (150.9 mm x 75.7 mm x 8.3 mm), we end up with a more compact product (146.7 mm x 71.5 mm x 7.4 mm) and more light (164g versus 194g). This last point is not felt. And by the way, getting started will change your habits a bit if you were comfortable with the more rounded iPhones since the iPhone 6, and even more so with the latest models. This one is… flat! The iPhone 12 is a clear break from the usual and it initially looks massive in hand with its right sides. But you get used to it and there is one advantage to this design: it has less soap than its predecessor, especially being smaller.
This time the device advances the IP68 certification. IPhone 12 can withstand submersion up to 6 m for 30 minutes and dust. But information from Apple, do not use it at sea for your dive, it is not made for long-term immersion in salt water. However, it still survives tea, coffee (we tested!) And other liquids spilled on the device. And the oleophobic coating applied to the screen helps a lot in that.
More compact, the iPhone 12 will probably fit a lot more hand sizes and we like its large screen size. The volume and start buttons remain even more easily accessible.
The iPhone 12 uses the same 6.1-inch screen diagonal as the iPhone 11. But this time Apple has chosen Super Retina XDR. Exit LCD, welcome to OLED! By putting the two devices side by side, we see a difference in colors and rendering, especially in the more striking blacks.
The panel displays a definition of 2532 x 1170 pixels for a density of 460 ppi, which is exactly the same as that of the iPhone 12 Pro. We find the same advertised characteristics of maximum brightness (up to 1,200 nits in HDR) and contrast (2,000,000: 1). The efforts made by Apple on its screen are also reflected in the numbers.
Using our probe and CalMAN software, we recorded a peak brightness of 605 cd / m² and a perfect color temperature of 6480K, extremely close to the benchmark 6500K. We recorded a delta E of 3.52, a very good figure ensuring accurate colors in the DCI-P3 space. Apple claims to cover 100% of this color spectrum, which we have not been able to confirm due to a technical problem with our probe.
There are some rare differences in the screen between the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro, probably due to a difference in the quality of the Oled panel, which can also justify the difference in price of the iPhone. He is excellent on the first one anyway and honestly, you have to have both under your nose to see it (and again).
Thanks to the new straighter design, the screen borders are thinner and more even. This allowed Apple not to compromise on screen diagonal while offering a slightly smaller product. There is always the TrueDepth selfie camera which embeds the entire Face ID facial recognition system. This hasn’t shrunk in size in a year and still takes up a significant portion of the top of the screen. But it remains the most reliable secure system on a smartphone with its multi-point infrared capture of your face.
Granted, the majority of apps have managed to adapt to the notch by switching content to 16: 9 or 18: 9. But there are still a few apps where the notch “eats” the display to full screen, including mobile games. For video content or streaming services, all is well. We may or may not like the appearance of the black bands on each side, but viewing remains pleasant on this beautiful screen.
Watching content on the Oled panel is quite enjoyable. Thanks to True Tone technology, colorimetry automatically adapts to ambient light. You can choose whether or not to activate the feature from the device’s control center (menu that lowers from the top). For the evening, Night Shift limits the blue light of the iPhone to switch to yellow. And that adds up to the pretty effective anti-glare coating.
The screen is pleasing to the eye in all circumstances. The colorimetry is well balanced. It is still not at the 120Hz refresh rate as some had hoped and is even stuck at 60Hz, a figure that has become rare in the industry. Of course, navigation or scrolling is less fluid, but you have to be used to perceive a difference and the choice of autonomy and 5G for the greatest number has prevailed over 120 Hz on this generation of iPhone.
IOS 14, THE QUIET POWER OF THE IPHONE 12
The iPhone 12 comes with iOS 14 and all its new features, with its widgets, its library of apps to classify applications, and especially store those that you use little, thus freeing up reception. If you’re into group messaging, you’ll appreciate the new features for multi-party chats via Messages, iPhone’s texting service. Apple’s OS is just as easy to use as ever. iOS has also made great progress on its Siri voice assistant, which response faster and more precisely, the routine recording so that your iPhone suggests you as soon as you wake up actions to do, personalized or suggested (open your Podcast application for the road, launch Plans for traffic, an info service, your appointment reminders…). Spotlight, the search bar that appears when you pull down the screen, is fuller than ever and makes it easy to find apps, messages, emails or even search the Internet.
Several little tips are welcome, including the ability to reach the top of the screen while holding the device with one hand. The Haptic Touch feature allows you to quickly interact with different apps by keeping your finger pressed on the icon, both on the lock screen and on the home page. You will thus be able to obtain contextual menus for Facebook, Mail, Photos … often very practical shortcuts to functions. And to test applications without necessarily fully loading them, there are App Clips.
On iOS, it’s all through the settings and you’ll find access to adjust settings for notification, background refresh, or permissions for your microphone or camera. Security is still essential at Apple and you are easily asked for your permission to grant access to the various applications that request them. And at least you can immediately spot the requests that are not really useful …
THE MOST POWERFUL SMARTPHONE
The iPhone 12 has, like its counterparts in the range, an A14 Bionic chip engraved in 5 nm. This has the benefit of limiting energy consumption, boosting all iPhone operations, making even the slightest manipulation under iOS 14. The six-core SoC (two for performance, four for efficiency) has 11, 8 billion transistors. For its part, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 is engraved in 7 nm, which does not allow to deploy as much performance at equal energy. The Kirin 9000 (engraved in 5 nm) of the recently presented Huawei Mate 40 Pro is the one that could come closest to it.
In all categories, the iPhone 12 performs well. The numbers reflect impeccably the feeling that one has with the use. No task escapes the iPhone 12, from browsing and video editing to addicting shooting games and racing simulations. It never blocks or slows down. And this should be true for several years. This is also one of the key strengths of this model built for the long term, which combines the strength of the chip with that of iOS 14 and future versions of the operating system. Because with such a processor, there is no doubt that it will endure updates for a number of years.
If you’re a fan of augmented reality, Apple has long relied on this type of experience – whether for play, education, or just interior design – and the on-chip Neural Engine is doing its bit. You don’t necessarily need the iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR sensor for this. Realism is in order as with the [ART] Museum app which allows you to contemplate the world’s most famous paintings anywhere while having the presentation under your nose. Or JigSpace, an educational app that uses augmented reality to explain elements of the world around us.
The iPhone 12 is arguably the most powerful on the market today with … the iPhone 12 Pro and the upcoming iPhone 12 mini and 12 Pro Max. CQFD.
The Apple smartphone comes in three storage configurations (64 GB, 128 GB or 256 GB). The RAM on board by Apple has not been officially communicated, but it is 4 GB observed on the iPhone 12 while the iPhone 12 Pro has 6 GB. This is one of the rare differences between the two devices. at the design level with the storage capacity which is doubled on the iPhone 12 Pro.
THE CAMERA THAT DOES THE JOB
This is the point of difference with the iPhone 12 Pro. Like the iPhone 11, the iPhone 12 has a photo module on the back with two sensors and not three like its sidekick which has a telephoto lens as well as the famous LiDAR scanner.
Here is what we find:
a wide angle of 12 Mpx with an aperture of f / 1.6 – 7 element lens;
a 12 Mpx ultra wide-angle (x 0.5) with an aperture of f / 2.4 and a field of view of 120 ° – 5 element lens.
These are exactly the same sensors that are offered on the iPhone 12 Pro. It also has faster laser autofocus. The image signal processor offered by the A14 Bionic chip has been improved and Apple has incorporated a dose of computational photography. The artificial intelligence is part of it and will learn from the way you take photos to adjust. It will rely on Smart HDR 3 (extended dynamic range) and especially Deep Fusion (compilation of several shots taken simultaneously to assemble the best portions and merge them). Apple’s software part is more efficient than ever, especially on “everyday” scenes that the iPhone 12 can perfectly optimize (movement of people, animals, landscapes, etc.).
This makes iPhone 12 perfectly fine-tuned for shots, colors, and brightness, whether you’re under a bright or gray sky. The camera keeps the color differences and doesn’t betray the overall mood of the scene. The addition of night mode on all sensors, portrait mode such as video or timelapse, is quite attractive. Even if sometimes he also cheats with reality, illuminating the picture, but without believing himself in broad daylight as with other manufacturers. Note, however, the appearance of some halos on the lights.
On closer inspection, we can see that some neon games are not always well managed and the photo will tend to drool a bit. In the night shot, the edges tend to be a bit more blurry, but the whole looks good.
The portrait mode is also thinner. The hair is less often blended into the whole and each element is better cropped. The improvement of the main sensor, with a better aperture, is the main reason for the improved background to more natural bokeh.
Up front is a 12MP sensor with an f / 2.2 aperture. It works cleanly, but most of all it will be useful and handy for FaceTime video calls to make it look presentable. If you’re a selfie fan, you’ll love the arrival of night mode.
Admittedly, the Pixel 5 that we tested is still as impressive on the photo and has improved on the video, all at a lower price (629 euros). But it doesn’t have the same power as the iPhone 12.
On video, in addition to the usual 4K / 60 frames per second capture, the iPhone 12 is enhanced with Dolby Vision HDR recording at 30 frames per second. A great luxury. And you can even edit video from iPhone or even capture a photo by cropping the video, live or not. But beware of the weight it will take on your storage space!
Stabilization has also been significantly improved and jerks are less felt thanks to the new system, even when filming in heels and running.
SOUND WITHOUT FIORITURE
There are two stereo speakers, positioned at the top of the screen in the notch and at the bottom on the edge, to the right of the Lightning connector to avoid being clogged with your fingers when holding the iPhone in landscape mode. The jack has not been around for a long time. You will have to use a Lightning-Jack adapter (which is no longer supplied either) or take advantage of the Earpods headphones, specific to France, because Apple has decided to withdraw them everywhere else in the world. But in France, this remains compulsory.
The sound quality of the iPhone remains very good. On call, you will be heard clearly, even in very noisy environments, and you will benefit just as much from the voice of your interlocutor. To watch videos or enjoy the sound of your game (we recommend the very punchy and diverse soundtrack of Sayonara Wild Hearts if you have Apple Arcade), the two speakers offer balanced stereo sound, with strong midrange as often with Apple and less present bass.
Do not try to push the sound to the limit to wake up the neighbors, iPhones are generally not designed for this. Proof of this is the saturation imposed as soon as the levels soar to make sure you don’t get tempted … And honestly, you don’t need to, because you’ll hear well enough before that.
AUTONOMY, THE GOOD SURPRISE
This is generally the somewhat crystallizing point of iPhones, but since last year, it is clear that great progress has been made by Apple on this point. The iPhone 12 is a good student in this and holds a good day and a half in normal use (a little surfing, video, games and reading mail). By watching more than two hours of content on Netflix, he had only let slip 12% of battery life. Mobile gaming hardly penalizes it any more, even for 3D games that use quite a bit of battery like Call of Duty Mobile. There is no longer any fear of ending up dead at the end of the day with an iPhone.
While 5G is not yet in use in France, Apple has nevertheless thought of a mode to limit its effects: Smart Data mode will automatically switch your smartphone between the frequency bands according to your activity. Obviously, when the iPhone 12 is asleep or you’re on photo editing apps, for example, 5G will be of no use. It will then switch back to 4G. Same thing if you fall to less than 20% autonomy. Apple promises that this will be transparent to the user, except in power saving mode where indicated.
Note that the AC adapter has disappeared from the box. Only the USB-C / Lightning cable remains to charge the device. You will therefore have to use another socket with a USB-C charging port, on a Mac or a PC equipped with such a port. You can use a compatible charger to recharge it at 20 W. We are far from the 100 W displayed and less than 40 minutes by some, that’s for sure. But your battery life will thank you too. However, it takes around 1 hour 45 minutes to fully charge it, even if the iPhone 12 already supports fast charging (20 W) and can recover 50% of battery life in just over 30 minutes. A time that is enough for some competitors to find all of its battery.
Otherwise, Apple has unsheathed its optional MagSafe charger (45 euros), adapted to the new magnets that have been slipped on the back of the iPhone 12 under the hood. They allow you to correctly attach the wireless charging base compatible with Qi induction technology to obtain a charge without perdition. The advantage: Because the charger is “stuck” to the back of the iPhone 12, you can still use it while it is charging. But the MagSafe only offers 15W of power which is nothing fancy, but still better than the initial 7.5W. It took us a little over two and a half hours to charge the iPhone 12 to 100% by induction.
READY FOR 5G … BUT NOT US
IPhone 12 is 5G ready. A good point for the future, even if we obviously could not attest to it ourselves, France not being yet equipped for. But in 4G, it still displays excellent performance to reach 200 Mb / s in download or 50 Mb / s in upload, all with a ping of 25-28 ms.
Note that Wi-Fi connectivity is now 5 GHz by default instead of the 2.4 GHz of previous models. And it will be the same for connection sharing between devices with the future 5G. It is nevertheless possible to reactivate the 2.4 GHz frequency band in Settings / Tethering. The throughput will be less, but the coverage will be better. We explain how to do it here.
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
The iPhone 12 is already available at 909 euros for 64 GB of storage, 959 euros for 128 GB and 1079 euros for 256 GB. It is on sale on the Apple site, but also from operators and e-commerce sites.
The iPhone 12 arrives with a new design that will delight those nostalgic for the iPhone 5. It continues the momentum of the iPhone XR and the iPhone 11, excellent smartphones for their performance and their photos for Apple fans who don’t want to blow up the bill with the Pro line. With the power of the A14 chip, nothing can resist it, and this for several years. But if the photo were to differentiate it from the iPhone 12 Pro, this is ultimately not the expected justification for the 200-250 euros difference on the invoice. The iPhone 12 certainly starts at more than 900 euros, where others will have an almost similar proposition 20 to 30% cheaper. But it’s security and ease of use, a proprietary OS that works flawlessly with hardware, that also pay off.