Crowning a smartphone a “superstar” isn’t an easy deal. You can’t simply put the tag on a phone just because it wears the Apple logo. The market is flooded with innovative Android phones that are just as good, if not better, than all the new iPhone 12 variants (at least on paper). I am privileged enough to use and review a few of them, and they have all made choosing the iPhone, as the best one of its kind, a tough exercise. Also Read - iPhone 13 first look: Colossal cameras, glossy finish
But there’s the point, i.e. the iPhone 12 is the best one I have used this year, considering all things. It edges out the Oppo Find X2 Pro, Xiaomi Mi 10, Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, and Motorola Razr 5G by a narrow margin (quite narrow). And it edges out with a distinct style. The updated camera system and the new OLED display are the standout upgrades for the iPhone 12. Starting at Rs 79,900, it is eye-watering expensive but it somehow justifies the asking price. Also Read - Quick explained: EU’s standard charging port proposal for phones is bad news for iPhones
I have spent over two weeks with the 256GB iPhone 12 and here are my thoughts. Also Read - iPhone 13 series now up for sale in India: Check prices, offers and more
When was the last time Apple redesigned the iPhone completely? Back in 2017 with the iPhone X! Ever since then, every successive iPhone has got minor cosmetic tweaks to make it seem newer. The iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro with the new camera designs looked fresh but stale at the same time. With the iPhone 12, that stale factor is now gone.
Believe me, the iPhone 12 looks pretty much the same as the 2017 iPhone X. It is the little things that Apple has refined to make it look fresh. The camera design at the back has remained unchanged from the iPhone 11, complete with the oversized camera lens and the square housing with the matte glass finish. I got the new blue color and I have to say that it looks classy but does not stand out as much as the green and PRODUCT RED colors. The glass loves to highlight smudges and fingerprints, especially in these dark colors.
What’s more noticeable though are the flat sides. The iPhone 12 has the same flat edges we last saw on the 2016 iPhone SE. It looks good, bold in my opinion, especially when phones are becoming all curvy and flowy. It draws attention from onlookers and I found myself hypnotized at times by those flat aluminum sides.
The flat frame looks striking but it makes the iPhone 12 slippery. I have dropped the phone umpteen times while picking it up from the desk, thanks to the matte finish making it slippery. With no curves, it is difficult to grasp it if stays flat on the table. I put on the official transparent case from Apple and that helped restore normalcy. Well, not complete normalcy. The volume and power buttons sit flush with the flat frame and with the Apple cases, it took a lot of fingernail efforts to press the keys. Hence, when you buy a case for your iPhone 12, ensure it allows for easy button operation.
The flat theme continues to the front with the display ditching any sort of curve to the edges. It is strikingly flat and makes using the phone a bit easier. The bezels are slimmer than the iPhone 11 due to the OLED display but it is still noticeable. Additionally, the notch stays the same – something I wished to be see trimmed on the 2020 iPhone model.
Apple made a big deal about the ceramic glass at the iPhone 12’s launch. I do not have the guts to test whether the iPhone 12 can survive an intentional drop. You can check out JerryRigEverything’s torture test to see how much the iPhone 12 can take. What I can confirm is that it scratches as easily as any other phone with Gorilla Glass protection. In this instance, I picked up the phone without the case and it slipped, fell hard on the tiled floor from waist height, and dragged its way across the dusty floor face down. There’s a minor scuff that’s noticeable from certain angles.
As bold as the iPhone 12 looks with those flat frames, the sharp edges are sharp enough to make the phone dig into the palms uncomfortably. I have soft palms and I had trouble after 15 minutes of consistent use. In contrast, I felt at home with the iPhone 11’s round design. One more thing to notice is the lack of weight for big 6.1-inch phone. The 164 grams weight is surprisingly light and it took me a while to get adjusted to a lightweight big phone.
The OLED display is the biggest upgrade to the regular iPhone model since the edge-to-edge display on the iPhone XR. It measures 6.1-inches and has a resolution of 1170 x 2532 pixels, almost Full HD+. There’s support for Dolby Vision and a wide color gamut, and Apple’s True Tone makes another return here. The notch unfortunately returns as well and I find it as offensive as I did back in 2017.
I will give Apple credit for the superbly tuned display. All those Android phones screaming of AMOLED panels with “punchy colors” and “deep blacks” should bow to the iPhone12’s OLED display. It has higher contrasts over the LCD display of the iPhone 11 but the colors are tuned to look natural. By natural, I mean just right enough to look good but not a sharp departure from the reality. Over the iPhone 11, the increase in sharpness and brightness is noticeable.
With Dolby Vision support, the iPhone 12 becomes one of the best ways to consume premium content. I watched some Dolby Vision certified content on Amazon Prime Video on the iPhone 12 and it looked so much better than when i saw it on the OnePlus 8T, Xiaomi Mi 10T, and an iPhone 11. The iPhone 12’s own Dolby Vision camera feed looks so good on this display than on any other phone.
I still have a gripe with the notch. I know, I know you will say that you can get used to it and that’s fine. But when other companies have gone the distance to shrink the notch to a pill cutout, Apple could have done something to shrink it. While watching videos or playing games, the notch still creeps in at times.
Beating inside the iPhone 12 is Apple’s headline-making A14 Bionic chipset. Head over to Apple’s website and you will see big numbers and massive promises for performance gains. It sounds cocky at times but the A14 is actually that capable and Apple deserves to boast of it. I am not a benchmark guy. I instead pushed the phone with all the resource-intensive games and Apple’s own iMovie video editing app a lot. Similar to all new iPhones of the past, the iPhone 12 ran all the games with absolute ease. Titles such as Asphalt 9: Legends, Call of Duty: Mobile, Little Orpheous, Samurai Jack, Skate City, Sayonara, and the Pathless ran at their best without breaking sweat. That said, the iPhone 12 made my palms sweaty and uncomfortable after 20 minutes of gameplay as the phone heats up quite a lot.
Moving ahead to the regular phone stuff, the iPhone 12 is a delight to use, especially with iOS 14. This year, Apple has let us customize the homescreen with widgets and stow away apps in a smart app drawer. These two features change the way I use iOS (especially the widgets) and makes it easy as well as interesting to live with the phone. Some of the classic iOS perks can’t be left unmentioned, such as polished third-party apps, smoother animations, easy UI gestures, peace-of-mind security, and unrivaled integration with other Apple products.
For someone coming from Android, there’s a bit of a learning curve on iOS. Once you get the hang of it, you will like it a lot. Not everything is great on iOS, though. Siri as a personal voice assistant is meh while the default iOS keyboard doesn’t feel as natural as Google Gboard. These things may not bother you but it is something to keep an eye on, especially if you are migrating from an Android phone.
Back to the iPhone 12 stuff. There’s a stereo speaker setup on the iPhone 12 and it is great, not excellent. The audio quality is is dynamic, i.e. you can distinguish between the lows, mids, and highs on high-res audio. I still feel it needs more loudness, at least on par with what my year-old Asus ROG Phone 2 can do with its stereo speakers.
The cameras are another big change for the iPhone 12. Apple is still sticking to a pair of 12-megapixel camera sensors for its wide and ultra-wide lenses. However, the main camera now has a bigger f/1.6 aperture lens while the ultra-wide camera just relies on the improved computational magic. The more exciting stuff is reserved for the iPhone 12 Pro Max with the upgraded sensors.
Like all other reviewers, I will join the chorus, praising the output from both of these cameras. iPhones have always followed their own style of mobile photography and that stays the same with the iPhone 12. In daylight, the main camera tries to get those “natural” looking photos, i.e. great colors, ample contrasts, just the right amount of saturation, just the right amount of noise correction, just the right amount of sharpness, and just the right amount of everything else. I had a lot of fun shooting photos in daylight, as the iPhone 12 often delivered what I wanted the way I wanted. The ultra-wide camera retains the same color profile but takes in a lot of extra angle into the view. I did not see any disturbing distortion towards the edges.
As night falls, the iPhone 12 comes into its own. Apple’s new computational photography stuff paired with the improved night mode on both the cameras works wonders. Even with the 12-megapixel sensors, the iPhone 12 was able to capture more detailed photos with correct color tones, saturation, sharpness, brightness, and exposure. You can go through the sample night photos and I bet you will be impressed. I have not seen any other camera perform as good as the iPhone 12’s at night. It made me use the cameras more than usual, something no other phone has done for me.
The eyebrow-raising episode extended even when I switched to videos. The video quality is so good on the iPhone 12 that it might take a while for the other phone manufacturers to catch up. Videos in any resolution and frame rate hold the same accurate colors, great contrast, right saturation levels, and good exposure control. By default, the iPhone 12 records in Dolby Vision and I can say that it spoilt my eyes. Ah God, videos in Dolby Vision mode have such true-to-life colors, even in challenging night conditions. It is sad that you need a compatible display or TV to view the Dolby Vision content in the way it is meant to be seen, which itself is a rarity. Nonetheless, the camera is future proof.
The 12-megapixel front-facing camera is equally good and carries on the same great performance credentials from the rear cameras. Selfies from this one came out to be impressive. I loved the slightly touched-up colors and the amazon sharpness on my face. The TrueDepth system aided with the portrait mode selfies and I got some stunning dramatic photos out of it.
Sounds too good, right? There are issues and these are considerable ones. The classic yellowish-iPhone-camera-tinge is here and in indoor photos, it shows up a lot, especially on white subjects. Apple’s computational photography stuff is good but the comparatively older 12-megapixel sensors lack the sharpness you get from modern-day 48-megapixel sensors. Some indoor and low-light photos, where the night mode did not kick in, lacked sharpness, especially when you view them on a larger display. Oh yes, no presence of a toggle button for the Night mode, which means you have to wait for the dark in order to use the brilliant Night mode. FaceID is fast when you are unmasked but there’s no way to make it work while wearing a mask.
Last year’s iPhone 11 was crowned by many as the battery champion in the premium smartphone segment. That iPhone lasted me two days easily in a busy week. What about the iPhone 12 then? One day with moderate to heavy use, an entire day on a busy day with 33 percent juice to spare.
I expected these figures, given the high-resolution OLED display and the slightly trimmed 2815mAh battery. My friends from the tech community reviewing the iPhone 12 claimed up to 7.5 hours of screen-on-time whereas I could gather at most up to 5.8 hours. I did not engage the battery saver, did not disable background apps, and used an Apple Watch SE with the phone all day. Hence, your mileage could vary. That said, it will easily last a day, even if you game at least an hour on your phone.
Apple is no more shipping the power brick in the box and you have to get the 20W adapter (costing Rs 1,999), given that Apple ships the phone with a USB-C to Lightning cable. Since I had a 20W adapter already, I could get a full charge in just over an hour from around 30 percent.
Apple sent a MagSafe charger as well and it is alright at its best. It charges at 15W and for a small 2815mAh battery, the speed is enough. While it charging pad looks cute with its small dimensions, it heats up quite a lot, eventually slowing down the charging speed. It took an hour and 40 minutes to get a full charge. During that time, it heats up the phone highly and unless you are using a case, you have to let it cool down before you hold it.
Is the MagSafe bad then? Not exactly. The magnetic attachment to the phone means the latter won’t slide away from the charging plate if someone calls. It also allows you to use the phone while charging wirelessly, which is great if you can’t spare time for the phone to charge. I see the MagSafe charger as the future for charging iPhones but it needs some work to get it just right.
Conclusion: Should you get the iPhone 12?
The perfect smartphone does not exist and Apple knows that. The iPhone 12 is, hence, not designed to be perfect. It is, however, designed to be more than good enough for most people across the globe. With its bold design, unrivaled cameras, out-of-the-world performance, it feels as if the iPhone 12 does not care about any of those feature-rich Android flagships. All it wants is to be a good iPhone that delivers a mighty experience. That’s a superstar quality, at least in my opinion.
Here’s a glance at the iPhone 12. It looks strikingly bold with those flat surfaces and edges, is extremely fast and capable, easy to use, a superb set of cameras that could give entry-level DSLR cameras some worries, and good battery life. I have used Android phones that are better than the iPhone 12 in one area or the other. The iPhone 12 edges past them as a complete package, but by a narrow margin. The Oppo Find X2 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra come pretty close to the iPhone 12.
Enough with the talk, time for the main question: Who should buy it? If you have an iPhone 11 or even an iPhone XR, I think you will be better off with what you have. The iPhone 12 is surely better but the iPhone 11 and XR do the core iPhone functions just as well as the 12. If you have anything older than these, you will love the iPhone 12 and all the stuff it offers.
For those coming from Android, the iPhone 12 will be a delight. It might take a while to get used to iOS but once you do, you will like the sorted-out world of Apple’s ecosystem. You will also love the cameras, battery life, and the bold new design.