review

[Long term Review] iPhone 12: No longer the “lesser” iPhone

No suffix needed for greatness

by: - Last updated on: January 21st, 2021

If variety is the spice of life, Apple has had our tech-tongues reaching for water more times than ever before. The brand has never had such a versatile profile thanks to all the different phones that it has been launching – the iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone SE, iPhone 12 mini to name a few. But even with all the crowd that surrounds any new iPhone stepping into the market, the iPhone 12 has managed to make a significant space for itself.

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Cursed by a suffix

Ever since the inception of the concept of a base iPhone and a Plus/ Pro variant, the world has looked down upon the bare-numbered iPhones. They have been generally looked at as the budget option that many only bought because they could not afford to buy the high-end variant in the lineup. A resort only reached out for when you did not have much of a choice. This has been the case since the very first time just a numbered iPhone was paired with a Plus version, the iPhone 6.

Apart from the iPhone X, which was an anniversary edition device, this has been the thumb rule with most iPhones since then. And even with the iPhone X, the base iPhone was the iPhone 8 which was overshadowed just as much as the other suffix-less iPhones that have been launched with a suffixed variant. It is almost as if the absence of a suffix makes them less of an iPhone (the iPhone SE was an aberration, with no real “original” of which it is a variant, like the others).

This year also saw a new series of iPhones. The series 12 brought along four new iPhones and just when we thought, more iPhones would mean even less attention for the suffix-less iPhone, the tables turned.

The classic love child looks

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The new iPhones come with a whiff of nostalgia especially in terms of how they look. The folks at Apple might claim that the design is all new and futuristic but a simple glance at any of the iPhone 12s actually tells you that they are an offspring of past marrying present.

The front and the back of the iPhone 12 is very similar to that of the iPhone 11. You get the same tall, notched display on the front, you get the same glass-coated back with the camera unit that looks exactly the same. But that does not mean the 12 is not different. Even with all these similarities the iPhone 12 looks and feels radically different as compared to its predecessor. And the credit for that can be given to the compact size of the device and the flattened outsides (past influence).

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Looking at the iPhone 12, we cannot help but identify it as the love child of the iPhone 11 and the long lost iPhone 4/4s. A simple glimpse of the phone explains why. We think the iPhone 12 derives its basic front and back appearance from the iPhone 11 while the element of compact and the flattened sides comes from iPhone 4/4s.

Holding the iPhone 12 feels very refreshing yet familiar. After years of curvy sides sitting at the palm of our hands, the flat edges with compact form factor come as the breath of fresh air that brings with it a familiar fragrance. It does take a little time to get used to the flat edges as the curvy ones sit better in the palm. The protruding camera unit also made us a little uncomfortable every time we used the phone without a case but let’s face it, not many dare to use a brand new iPhone without a case which makes the problem slightly insignificant.

We do think Apple could have done more than just combining an old and a much older design blueprint together and presenting that to us as a new iPhone but having said that, the iPhone 12 actually might be the most ‘new’ iPhone of the series 12 lot. Simply because it comes with a smaller frame but houses an uncompromised display size. You can read our detailed iPhone 12 first cut here.

“Blast past fast”…totally!

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When Apple said, “Blast past fast”, the iPhone 12 simply did so. The phone is powered by Apple’s latest and greatest A14 Bionic chipset, the SoC that powers all the other devices in the series 12. It is built on a 5-nanometer processor which is an upgrade as compared to the 7-nanometer processor that the A13 Bionic was built on. It is also 50 percent faster than its predecessor that powered the series 11, which many of us are still more than happy with in terms of performance.

It comes as no surprise that even after using the iPhone 12 for almost two months now, we have not seen the iPhone 12 glitch or freeze even once. The smartphone moves flawlessly through our daily tasks. Those who have been using the iPhone 11 or the iPhone 11 Pro might not feel an exceptional difference in the performance simply because the A13 Bionic was more than fast to handle all the day to day business and high-end gaming needs that one might have. But closer examination does highlight that the iPhone 12 gets the job done even more swiftly as compared to the iPhone 11.

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This remains unchanged when we ventured into the territory of the high-end game. To say that the phone handles whatever you throw at it with ease would be an understatement. It is more like the iPhone 12 juggles the high-end games, the social media scrolling, the app-jumps even with apps running in the background with its left hand while it uses the right one to scratch an itch.

Even a heavy and graphics hungry game like Asphalt 9: Legends ran smoothly on the iPhone 12 and launched quickly. Casual gaming on the iPhone is just as much a treat.

But the gaming and general experience on the iPhone 12 is definitely and clearly a notch above the iPhone 11 and this difference has got a little to do with the processor they run on and more to do with the display that they possess.

The display gets its due

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Many used to look down on the iPhone 11 and XR because of the (allegedly) inferior quality display that it sported. It was not bad but was definitely not up there with Pro variants in the series (“not even full HD” is a line that we have heard used). That has changed with the iPhone 12. The iPhone 12 brings a 6.1 inch Super Retina XDR all-screen OLED display with a screen resolution of 2532 x 1170 pixels. As opposed to the Liquid Retina IPS LCD display that the iPhone 11 came with. This takes the iPhone 12 right up there with the Pro variant in the display department. It comes with HDR and Dolby Vision support. The refresh rate remains at 60Hz and by doing so, actually pokes fun at those with much higher display rates – scrolling might seem slower if you measure it with a stopwatch, but the viewing experience is just top of the line.

The display is very sharp and vibrant. It produces deep blacks, intense whites and we really appreciate how Apple has not given in the ‘Saturated is better’ trend and has stuck to its producing colors as accurately as possible. Consuming content on the iPhone 12 is a delight. You can binge watch Netflix, play games or simply scroll through your social media and the smartphone will not disappoint you.

All aboard the 5G band(width)wagon

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With the launch of the new iPhones, Apple has finally given in to the 5G hype. All the iPhone 12 series phones come with support for 5G which means the iPhone 12 does too. The new network wave is yet to engulf us which means we do not know how it really works on any of the smartphones yet but as far as futureproofing goes, Apple has got your back.

Same-same, but different cameras

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The iPhone 12 comes shares the exact same megapixel count as the iPhone 11. Both iPhones come with a pair of 12-megapixel sensors on the back (with OIS) and a 12-megapixel sensor on the front. But believe it or not, that does not make the cameras on the two phones exactly the same. The changes may be small but they are definitely significant. Apple has slightly increased the aperture of the main wide-angle camera on the back — it has gone from f/1.8 to f/1.6. This means the camera will be able to take in slightly more light which results in better low light performance. Apple has also introduced some software-based improvements which work with the A14 Bionic chipset. The iPhone 12 also gets night mode support on all three cameras which means you can take low light pictures with ultrawide and selfie cameras as well. It also comes with Smart HDR 3 support which improves the dynamic range.

All of this when translated into photographs offered some really remarkable results. In the last two months, the one thing that has impressed us the most about the iPhone 12’s camera is the consistency. While taking pictures we knew the kind of results we were going to get most times. It never abruptly spruced up a certain color or dulled another.

At first, we did not see a major difference in the camera performance of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 11 simply because the iPhone 11’s camera was and still is pretty impressive. But once you bring them side by side, the difference becomes more visible.

[Click here for full resolution pictures and additional samples]

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We have always been impressed with how well an iPhone’s camera presents colors and when Apple launched the iPhone 11, we thought the camera peaked in terms of color reproduction and colors cannot get any real-er when it comes to a smartphone. The iPhone 12 proves us wrong here. It actually got better with the 12. The camera reproduced colors pretty much exactly the way we saw them, making pictures extremely realistic. It might not suit the eye-palate of someone who likes tweaked/ enhanced colors because the shots can look a little boring sometimes but for us, that is an ace in its camera-card-deck.

But colors are not the only area where the iPhone 12’s cameras excel. They do really well in the detail department as well. The pictures captured by the iPhone 12 were sharper and captured a lot of detail.

We did miss the telephoto on the iPhone 11 and we miss it here too. Especially if you have been eyeing all the superzoom phone cameras that can take even zoom into the moon. But having a wide and ultrawide pair has its own perks. Taking landscape images becomes more fun and it remains the same as the iPhone 12. Let’s face it, you can always zoom in, albeit the quality can suffer but capturing wider shots can be a tad more complicated without ultrawide support.

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Portrait mode has also improved on the iPhone 12. In sufficient light, it manages to separate the edges of the subject from the background. It can mix the two if the light is a little low but works in most cases.

Low light photography has been one of the selling points of the iPhone 12’s cameras and as much as we wanted to like the brightening up of all our dark shots, we actually liked this improvement the least. Now that Night Mode is present on all three cameras, you can take good light pictures with the wide, ultrawide, and even the front-facing sensor. The cameras retained more detail and color as compared to the iPhone 11 in low light but it often brightened up our pictures a little too much than we would have liked. We also did not enjoy how the Night Mode just springs into action with the slightest hint of darkness. Your twilight pictures often look like they are taken in sufficient light while night pictures often get into the twilight zone.

Video on the iPhone remains as enjoyable as ever and the 12 takes this experience even further. The smartphone captures brilliant videos with richer color and retains an exceptional amount of detail. This remains the same even in low light conditions. With support for Dolby Vision and HDR video recording in 4K, the iPhone 12 becomes a simple solution to all amateur videography problems.

Impressive battery… for an iPhone

Battery performance was the Achilles Heel of all iPhones until the iPhone XR came into the picture and gave us all-day battery life. The iPhone 11 followed in the same footsteps and gave us all-day battery life. We did not expect the same battery performance from the iPhone 12, courtesy of its smaller size, but to our surprise, the iPhone 12 is on par with the iPhone 11 when it comes to staying alive.

We would not say the battery life is on par with the best as there are smartphones that are able to stay up and running for much longer periods on a single charge but the iPhone 12 can see you through a day with ease and you will find some juice left in the device the next morning. That’s impressive by iPhone battery standards. If you are a heavy user and are constantly on your phone playing games, checking out social media, and juggling other daily activities, you might feel the need to plug in the phone at the end of the day.

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The iPhone 12 comes with support for fast charging and can give you 50 percent battery life in about 30 minutes with a 20W power adapter. And it not only comes with support for wireless charging like its predecessor but brings in support for MagSafe which means you will be able to charge your iPhone 12 wirelessly at 15W charging speed (something you do not get in the mini). We have not been a fan of wireless charging because the process is generally slow and you cannot use your phone while it is charging and let’s face it, for something that is supposed to be wireless you end up plugging your phone into a wall still.

While that’s between us and wireless charging, bringing MagSafe actually solves two of these problems. While you will be restricted by the length of the wire of a MagSafe charger, the fact that you will be able to use your phone while charging, thanks to the magnetic connector and the fact that it will speedily charge the phone works in its favor. That said, a MagSafe charger does come with a heavier than usual price tag but if you have the means for it, then you can certainly go for it.

Talking of the price tag also reminded us that Apple has stopped bundling earbuds and adaptors with the new iPhones which we think is a really sticky move (read more here). This also means if you need an adapter you will have to shell out money anyway. Yes, we know this is an expensive phone, but did owning it have to get even more so!

Easy, breezy iOS and more fun too

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The iPhone 12 runs on iOS 14 and at the time of writing, we have received the iOS 14.3 update. We have never had much to complain about when it comes to iOS. The software is as clean, breezy, and easy as they come and that applies to iOS 14 as well.

That said, Apple has made the iOS 14 more fun and interactive as compared to the previous versions. The OS brings an App Library which is a screen beyond your home screens where Apple has organized all of the apps on the phone in categories. This means apps like Netflix, Apple Music, YouTube will be bundled in a category called, “entertainment”, apps like Uber, Google Maps, Apple Maps would be categorized under, “Travel” and so on. The App Library also has “Recently added” and “Suggestions” categories that highlight recently added and apps that are often used here.

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Apart from the App Library, the iOS 14 also brings Widgets to the Home Screen with customizable sizes. iOS 14 also makes it easy to multitask. The UI also gets the feature called Picture in Picture which allows you to watch a video or FaceTime while accessing other apps. It also brings more Memojis, the ability to search emojis, translates in real-time along with many other features.

Setting up FaceID and using it is still the easiest and the safest way to unlock (and conduct transactions) we have seen on smartphones so far. It just works without any hesitation, although the arrival of masks in our lives can make it a slight pain sometimes. Going with the whole ‘multitasking theme’ Apple has also minimized Siri, which means you just get a small Siri-circle at the base of your display instead of the whole screen going blank. The same goes for the incoming calls which are presented as banners if you are using your phone and do not block the complete screen. Overall, you get the best of both worlds with iOS 14. It is more fun now but remains just as easy to use.

No suffix, but still no compromise!

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The iPhone 12 is the most complete suffix-less iPhone that has come out of Apple since the Pro/Plus concept came into existence. The smartphone is powerful, futureproof, has exceptional cameras, has a Pro-level display, is compact without compromising on the screen size, and comes with a decent battery and improved UI. Its price is on the slightly higher side with Rs. 79,900 for the 64 GB variant but it does not seem overpriced in terms of an iPhone and actually is the most value for money contender in our eyes in the series 12 (yes, we rate it above the mini – more on that in another article).

Yes, there are Android players out there – most notably Samsung’s Galaxy S series, but truth be told, they are not really in this zone when it comes to software (and timely OS updates), and with even Google having taken the Pixel out of the premium flagship zone, the number of Android alternatives to the iPhone has never been as limited as today.

So should you be investing in the iPhone 12? Well, if you have Rs. 79,990 and want a new iPhone experience, the answer is a no-brainer – yes, you should. The iPhone 12 is easily the best phone you can get for its price. That price might seem high, we agree. But unlike its suffix-less predecessors, the iPhone 12 comes with no compromises.

Buy iPhone 12

Pros
  • Pro-level display
  • Great cameras
  • Extremely powerful
  • Enabling and engaging UI
Cons
  • No power adapter or earbuds in the box
  • Too pro-active Night mode
  • Battery life could have been better
Review Overview
Build & design
Performance
Camera
Software
Price
SUMMARY

In the recent past, iPhones with numbers but without a suffix (pro/plus) have been considered to be the lesser of the series, and come with compromises. The iPhone 12 breaks this trend by sporting an excellent display, very good cameras, and delivering a no-compromise performance. Yes, it is not super affordable, but it is perhaps the best value-for-money new iPhone out there and better than anything Android has to offer at that price point.

4.3

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