A Great iPhone That’s Hard to Recommend
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Apple’s Pro iPhones are designed with the most demanding customers in mind, traditionally offering an upgraded display and camera experience, but that’s not entirely true this year – when it comes to the standard iPhone 12 Pro anyway. While there are some notable differences between the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12, the bigger changes are exclusive to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. This makes the decision to upgrade to Apple’s Pro iPhone less clear-cut than in previous years, despite the same £200/$200 price difference.
Are the upgrades on offer from the iPhone 12 enough to tempt you away from the standard model, or has the iPhone 12 Pro been hoist by its own petard? I’ve been using the iPhone 12 Pro for a few weeks to find out.
Design and build
The first thing you’ll notice about the iPhone 12 Pro is the design. Gone are the curved edges of the iPhone 11 Pro, instead replaced by angular edges reminiscent of the iPad Pro and, more notably in the mind of many, the iPhone 5. This translates to a very different feel in the hand, and it does take a little bit of getting used to. It doesn’t exactly fit into the curvature of the hand as well as a curved edge, but the slight chamfer on the edges of the body means it doesn’t feel particularly sharp either.
Though it’s near-identical to the iPhone 12, there are a handful of differences to help spot the Pro among the bunch. The biggest giveaway is the material used; while the standard model sports an aluminium frame, the Pro model features medical-grade stainless steel, and while it is a bit more fingerprint-y, it certainly feels more premium in the hand. There’s also a frosted effect on the rear of the Pro models, compared to the shiny, fingerprint-prone rear of the standard models.
The iPhone 12 Pro sports a larger display than the 11 Pro, at 6.1in compared to 5.8in, but despite the increase in size, the footprint of the iPhone 12 Pro is essentially the same. In fact, it’s actually a little thinner than the previous-gen device at 7.4mm, and it’s only 1g heavier at 189g. That’s an impressive feat for Apple, made possible by reducing the space between the bezels and the side of the phone and slightly slimmer bezels too.
That 6.1in display is protected by what Apple calls a Ceramic Shield. Apple worked with Corning, the company behind Gorilla Glass, to create a glass infused with nano-ceramic crystals to make it tougher and more resistant to shattering while still remaining optically clear. When combined with the stainless steel band that surrounds the body of the phone, Apple claims it’s 4x more resistant to cracking than the iPhone 11.
Phones are generally fragile, so it’s great to see Apple focus on durability on the iPhone 12 Pro, but it’s not all good news. The Ceramic Shield may protect against cracks, but the iPhone 12 Pro is still just as scratch-prone as any other phone on the market, and there are already hairline scratches on my review samples after just a few weeks of use. Also, the Ceramic Shield is only featured on the front of the device too, meaning that while the glass display might survive a drop, the rear probably won’t.
Also new to the iPhone 12 range is MagSafe, the beloved technology first introduced on the MacBook range. It works in a similar way too; using a ring of built-in magnets surrounding the wireless charging coil on the rear, you can snap a wireless charger into place and remove it with a tug. It gets rid of some of the biggest issues with wireless charging on the iPhone, like finding the ‘sweet spot’, and it’s double the speed of standard Qi charging at 15W, so there’s not a lot to dislike.
But while many are focused on the wireless charging capabilities of MagSafe, it opens up a whole world of possibilities for third-party accessory makers. It’ll be easy to create car mounts that don’t require a magnetic case to snap into place, and it’s not hard to imagine a MagSafe-enabled portable charger that snaps onto the rear of the phone and provides 15W wireless charging on-the-go.
The options are limited at launch, but it’s an area we’ll likely see explode with interest in the coming months. We cover the best MagSafe accessories for iPhone separately for those interested.
One of the most notable changes from the iPhone 11 Pro to 12 Pro, aside from the industrial redesign, is the display. The iPhone 11 Pro measured in at 5.8in, which isn’t really a complaint, but when you consider the fact the standard iPhone 11 offered a 6.1in display and was cheaper, it’s a harder sell – especially to those that aren’t as savvy with specs and just want the best iPhone possible.
It seems Apple was keen to get away from the discussion of an expensive smartphone with a small display, with the iPhone 12 Pro sporting the same 6.1in Super Retina XDR display as its standard sibling. No, literally, the same display, with the same resolution and pixel density.
That’s great news for Pro users that want something big but not quite as unwieldy as the 6.7in iPhone 12 Pro Max, however, it also means there’s one less feature to differentiate between the standard and Pro models, and that’s especially true of the near-identical iPhone 12 Pro. But hey, Apple introducing Pro-level display tech to its standard iPhone range can never be a bad thing, right?
The 6.1in Super Retina XDR display of the iPhone 12 Pro is a minor improvement from the display of its predecessor, with a slightly boosted 2532 x 1170 resolution, and the increase means there’s an improved 460ppi pixel density too. That, combined with a P3 wide colour gamut, Apple’s True Tone display tech and support for Dolby Vision HDR content translates to a truly premium viewing experience.
Not only is text crisp and clear, but movies on Netflix are vibrant, detailed and frankly look phenomenal on the iPhone 12 Pro. It’s a joy scrolling through media-heavy apps like Instagram and Twitter, being able to appreciate the little details of every photo of food and animals I scroll past, and it’s a similar story when gaming too. The vivid nature of the display makes the bright, colourful games available on the App Store – and especially Apple Arcade – look better than ever.
It’s not as noticeable a jump as the iPhone 11 to the iPhone 12, going from a low-res LCD to a high-res OLED panel, but there are nuances to the display that even those upgrading from the iPhone 11 Pro will appreciate.
One feature not present, however, is Apple’s ProMotion technology. Featured on Apple’s iPad Pro range since 2018, ProMotion is essentially Apple’s spin on high refresh rate display technology, with the Pro tablet range able to boost the display from the standard 60Hz to 120Hz when necessary to provide a smoother scrolling experience.
It’s a feature not exclusive to high-end tablets either, with even budget Android smartphones like the £179 Realme 7 offering a boosted 90Hz refresh rate, making it even more of a screaming omission from a smartphone that starts at £999/$999.
There is an argument to how Pro a Pro-level smartphone can be in 2020 without a high refresh rate display, and I largely agree, although with a slight downgrade in the battery department thanks to the inclusion of 5G and other new tech, chances are the iPhone 12 Pro simply couldn’t power the high refresh rate experience. I’d rather decent battery life than a high refresh rate display, but hey, why not want both? I’m paying enough for the phone, after all.
Performance and benchmarks
At the heart of the iPhone 12 Pro you’ll find Apple’s latest and greatest SoC, the A14 Bionic, the first mobile chipset to market on the 5nm process. Apple has demonstrated its prowess in chipset design time and time again, with the A13 Bionic besting much of the competition, and it’s much the same this time around too. Paired with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage at a minimum, the iPhone 12 Pro is ready to handle just about anything you can throw at it.
In everyday use, the iPhone 12 Pro is blisteringly fast, with rapid loading speeds and flawless performance in even GPU-intense games like Call of Duty Mobile with the graphical settings cranked to the max. There’s not a hint of stutter or lag when scrolling through apps on the iPhone, accessing the camera is near-instant and you can instantly switch between each camera and shooting mode too. It can also handle exporting 4K movies via iMovie without breaking a sweat, and image editing in Pro apps like Pixelmator is a joy too.
Essentially, if you’re looking for the best mobile performance possible, the iPhone 12 Pro is a solid contender.
It’s not just in the CPU and GPU departments that the A14 Bionic sees improvements in performance either; Apple’s Neural Engine has seen a whopping 80% jump in performance compared to the A13 Bionic, and that translates to a significantly improved camera experience – but more on that later.
The performance gains on offer from the A14 Bionic are clear to see in our benchmarks too, with the iPhone 12 Pro achieving the best Geekbench 5 score of any smartphone we’ve tested to date. There’s also solid performance in the graphics department, although it is somewhat limited by the 60Hz display – I imagine there’s enough power under the hood to go beyond the 60fps limit, but without the high refresh rate technology, it’s hard to say for sure.
It’s not just the inclusion of Apple’s new A14 Bionic that’s exciting; the iPhone 12 range is the first in Apple’s portfolio to offer 5G connectivity, and in true Apple fashion, it has gone above and beyond the offering of the competition.
The company worked with carriers around the world when designing its custom 5G components to ensure that the iPhone 12 range is compatible with as many 5G bands around the world as possible, and that simply means that you’ll be able to use 5G in many countries around the world, not just in the country where you live. There’s even support for the truly next-gen mmWave 5G tech on Verizon in the US, but you’ll need a special carrier-locked version of the phone to gain access.
5G brings promises of incredibly fast download speeds with lower latency and less network congestion too. It could usher in a new age of cloud gaming, allowing users to play high-end console games rendered remotely in real-time when on the daily commute, or allow you to download huge apps in the blink of an eye.
Those are great features, and from our limited experience using 5G it is an improvement on 4G, but the connectivity isn’t ready for primetime – in the UK at least. At the time of writing, 5G is largely limited to big cities in the UK, meaning you’ll drop back to 4G when out in the countryside – arguably where you’d need high-speed cellular connectivity with a general lack of fibreoptic connectivity for fast home broadband.
It’s also far from the quoted top-end speeds of 4 gigabits per second touted during Apple’s reveal event, with a RootMetrics report into 5G connectivity in London claiming that Vodafone offered the best median download speeds at 178.1Mbps. That’s still a big improvement over 4G, but it’s not quite as next-gen as I was hoping.
It is still early days for 5G though, and the coverage and performance are likely to increase exponentially over the next couple of years, especially now that more smartphones are gaining 5G connectivity. The iPhone 12 Pro’s 5G connectivity is more of a futureproofing feature than something that people will access straight away, but that’s not a bad thing. The tech is there, we just need to wait for the networks to catch up!
While the iPhone 12 Pro is similar to the iPhone 12 in a number of areas, one key area of difference is in the camera department. While the standard model sports a wide an ultra-wide on the rear, the iPhone 12 Pro sports an additional 2x telephoto lens too. The kicker is that the ultra-wide and telephoto lenses remain the same as last year, with only the main 12Mp wide snapper seeing improvements.
So, let’s start with that main lens. It’s a 12Mp camera, like last year’s option, but includes a new 7-element lens and an improved f/1.6 aperture too. Simply put, the iPhone 12 Pro main camera is an impressive, versatile snapper suited to a variety of situations. Images are generally incredibly detailed, even when zooming in, with great colour accuracy and vibrancy. It’s further enhanced by the various shooting modes on offer, but more on that a little later.
That quality is thanks in part to the new lens, which enhances overall clarity in images, but it’s the improved aperture that’s most welcome – especially in low-light conditions. Apple claims that the iPhone 12 Pro can capture 27% more light than the iPhone 11 Pro, and that pretty much aligns with my experience using the snapper.
The main camera is capable of capturing more light than before, with a noticeable improvement not only in overall lighting but detail too. That makes taking shots in challenging light conditions like a dimly-lit restaurant an easier affair without having to revert to the capable – but rarely used – built-in flash. It’s certainly better suited to dark environments than the f/2.4 ultra-wide and f/2.0 telephoto, anyway.
Alongside the 12Mp wide is the 12Mp ultra-wide, offering a 120-degree snapshot of your surroundings perfect for scenic vistas or group shots. The hardware is the same as that available in the iPhone 11 Pro, but Apple has introduced new lens correction technology, which helps minimise the distortion present in photos taken using the ultra-wide with the aim of taking more true-to-life ultra-wide shots.
There is a noticeable improvement when taking ultra-wide shots of buildings, which no longer bow quite so dramatically, but there is distortion still present. If you prefer the fisheye-esque look of ultra-wide shots, the good news is that it can be disabled in the Settings menu.
Regardless of distortion-correcting tech, the images captured on the ultra-wide are of great quality in well-lit conditions, matching the main snapper in terms of colour temperature, although it is a little muddier when zooming in and the f/2.4 aperture limits how capable it is in darker conditions.
It’s a similar story with the 12Mp 2x telephoto lens too, offering decent snaps in well-lit environments with great detail and dynamic range, but it’s not quite up to the task of low-light photography.
There is a caveat to that though; Night Mode has been improved on the iPhone 12 Pro, with the technology not only available on the main rear snapper, but the ultra-wide, telephoto and front-facing camera too. The images captured on the main camera are nothing short of magical, using the improved aperture to suck in more light than the human eye can see to produce a detailed night shot, but sometimes you want to capture a little more of a scene, right?
The good news is that you can, but the bad news is that the results aren’t quite as good as the main camera, capturing a lot less light and detail, with a muddy look across the ultra-wide and telephoto lenses. It is improved by Apple’s Deep Fusion technology, making use of the increased capacity of the Neural Engine in the A14 Bionic to enhance the detail and light of photos taken on all cameras on the iPhone 12, but it’s not quite enough.
One area where the iPhone 12 Pro separates itself from the standard iPhone 12 is the LiDAR scanner, and while it might not sound like much, it brings significant improvements to camera focus on the rear alongside improvements to AR performance.
It’s not only faster, managing to snap a perfectly focused shot of my cat Alan mid-stroll, but it’s more accurate too, regardless of available light conditions. I think everyone can relate to the scenario where you’ve taken a great picture but noticed it’s a little soft – that does still happen on the iPhone 12 Pro, admittedly, but it happens much less frequently than on any iPhone before it.
It also helps improve the accuracy of the Portrait mode, with a noticeable improvement in edge detection and a distinct lack of blur where it shouldn’t be, even on previously challenging elements like hair.
There are also improvements in the video department, namely the ability to record in Dolby Vision HDR at up to [email protected], up from the 30fps limit on the standard iPhone 12. The ability to record in 10-bit HDR is admittedly a little niche, and with compatibility issues with apps like Instagram and Discord at the time of writing, it’s not something many people will be using often – despite it being enabled by default.
It is a great option for budding creatives looking to use an iPhone 12 Pro to shoot video content though, as it’s a feature not offered by many high-end cameras, let alone smartphones, and there is a noticeable difference to the capture quality with Dolby Vision enabled. Well-lit areas are brighter, thanks to the increased 1200nits max brightness when watching HDR content on the iPhone 12 Pro, but without sacrifice to detail in darker areas of the shot.
There’s also a new Night Timelapse mode for low-light timelapses, but you’ll need a tripod to take advantage of that.
It’s not often that a company will reveal that a new smartphone has worse battery life than its predecessor, and the fact that Apple simply didn’t mention battery life during the iPhone 12’s reveal spoke volumes about the battery performance of the new models. However, it’s not as bad as I was expecting, with Apple claiming only one hour less of video time – 17 compared to 18 hours – compared to the iPhone 11 Pro, and that pretty much aligns with my use.
iPhones have never led the pack when it comes to battery life, with the possible exception of the iPhone 11 Pro Max, but it has made significant improvements in the past few years. When it comes to the iPhone 12 Pro, I can comfortably make it through a day filled with texts, social media and even the occasional FaceTime call without the need to connect to a charger, but there isn’t enough juice to push it to two days like you can with some Android alternatives.
But while it is possible to last a day, there is a possibility that you’ll simply use it too much and it’ll run out of charge, and that uncertainty means you never feel you’re totally free to enjoy all the features of the phone – everything has to be rationed, in a way, to make sure you last the day. It’s not a restriction I felt with the iPhone 11 Pro Max, and I’ll be curious to see how it compares with the 12 Pro Max once available, but with a smaller chassis comes a smaller battery, and that’s a compromise we’ll have to live with.
In terms of specifics, the iPhone 12 managed a total of 7 hours and 22 minutes screen-on time during our battery benchmark. That’s actually a big improvement on the iPhone 12’s 6:36 despite near-identical specs, and it puts it in line with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra at 7:25, but it’s a far cry from battery beasts like the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro that lasted an incredible 14:24 during our tests.
The good news is that the iPhone 12 Pro sports support for an increased 20W fast charge, which the company claims will provide around 50% charge in 30 minutes, but Apple’s decision to forego a charging brick in the box of the iPhone 12 Pro means this is hard to verify. Simply put, the fact there’s no supplied charging brick means charging time can vary wildly depending on the charger you have handy.
For the best charging speeds possible, I’d recommend picking up Apple’s 20W USB-C charging brick, but there are plenty of cheaper USB-C charging bricks available online.
The iPhone 12 Pro starts at £999/$999 with 128GB of storage, compared to £799/$799 for 64GB iPhone 12. That’s a £200/$200 increase for a smartphone that, on the whole, offers minimal differences; it features the same display, same processor, and even though you get an additional camera and LiDAR scanner on the Pro model, both phones sport the same improved 12Mp main snapper – the only camera to have had an upgrade on the iPhone 12 Pro.
You’ve got the premium material to consider, as the stainless steel does feel and look more premium than aluminium, and [email protected] Dolby Vision HDR video capture is impressive, but it really is only for the Pros.
It’s harder to recommend the upgrade this year with relatively minor differences compared to the standard model, with the iPhone 12 presenting a much more tempting option than the iPhone 12 Pro in terms of value. Still, if the premium look is too tempting to pass, you can buy the iPhone 12 Pro from Apple alongside carriers like EE, O2 and Vodafone in the UK.
To see how the iPhone 12 Pro stacks up against the rest of the range, take a look at our guide to the best iPhone.
The iPhone 12 Pro is a tough phone to judge. It’s a phenomenal smartphone: the 6.1in Super Retina XDR display is crisp, bright and vivid despite the 60Hz cap, the new industrial design reminiscent of the iPhone 5 is a welcome change in a market full of curved smartphones, and it feels great in the hand too – once you get used to the angular design, that is.
The iPhone 12 Pro’s camera setup is versatile too; The main 12Mp wide sports an impressive f/1.6 aperture for great low-light photography, and although the 120-degree ultra-wide and 2x telephoto lenses aren’t any different to the iPhone 11 Pro, it’s still a solid trio of cameras enhanced by the likes of Night Mode, Portrait Mode and Deep Fusion technology. There’s even [email protected] Dolby Vision HDR video recording capabilities, something that can’t be said of high-end cameras, and a LiDAR scanner means autofocus is faster than ever.
The issue is that, unlike with previous generations of iPhone, the differences between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are minimal. Both sport the same design with the same size Super Retina XDR display, both sport the same A14 Bionic chipset, 5G technology and even though the standard model doesn’t sport the 2x telephoto lens or LiDAR scanner, it does feature the same upgraded main camera and previous-gen 120-degree ultrawide. There’s even Dolby Vision HDR video available, albeit capped at 30fps.
So yes, the iPhone 12 Pro is a premium smartphone in most respects, but unless you’re really going to get the most out of the 2x telephoto lens, LiDAR scanner and 60fps Dolby Vision HDR video capabilities, you could save yourself £200/$200 by going for the standard iPhone 12. To find out more about the iPhone 12, take a look at our full iPhone 12 review.
iPhone 12 Pro: Specs
- 6.1in Super Retina XDR OLED display, 2532×1170-pixel resolution at 460 ppi, A14 Bionic processor, 128GB/256GB/512GB storage, Triple Pro 12MP cameras, Ultra Wide: ƒ/2.4 aperture Wide: ƒ/1.6 aperture Telephoto: ƒ/2.0 aperture, 12MP TrueDepth camera, f/2.2, 4K video recording at 24 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps, HDR Dolby Vision up to 60fps, Face ID, Wi-Fi 6, 5G LTE, MagSafe wireless charging, Bluetooth 5, IP68, Dual SIM (nano and eSim), 146.7mm x 71.5mm x 7.4mm, 187g