Two-minute review

The iPhone 12 is a more expensive phone than 2019’s iPhone 11, with Apple adding $100 / £100 to the price; it does, however, bring a number of new features in the shape of an OLED display, a slightly upgraded camera, a new design and – the big hitters – 5G and MagSafe connectivity.

 

It’s also important to note this is just one member of the iPhone 12 family with the company revealing the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max all at the same time.

Starting with the iPhone 12 headliners, 5G brings faster speeds and more robust connectivity to the new iPhone, but as 5G networks aren’t yet fully deployed around the world, coverage is still a bit patchy. When it works, it’s incredibly fast – we easily managed 200Mbps on the go – but there are still too many places, even in big cities, where it’s hard to get full coverage.

That said, given that many are holding onto their phones for three or four years nowadays, this is a feature that will only become more useful over time – the iPhone 12 can connect to a huge range of 5G frequencies too, meaning that if there’s a 5G signal where you are you should be able to connect to it, whether on sub-6 or mmWave networks.

The new (to iPhones) MagSafe connector on the rear of the iPhone 12 is a really interesting proposition – this magnetic connection tech not only enables you to attach things to your phone, such as a charger or a case, but can also tell what’s been connected through a special chip.

MagSafe enables faster and more accurate charging, which is neat in itself – but the magnetic connection opens the door to a new range of accessories (like a wallet clip-on or camera mount) but, just as 5G will become more useful over time, we’re pretty certain that the MagSafe accessory range is going to expand massively as third-party manufacturers get their hands on the technology.

 

That means we could see some cool clip-on accessories like games controllers, photo printers and huge extra batteries coming soon. If these MagSafe mounts turning your iPhone 12 into a proper camera are anything to go by, the sky’s the limit. 

 

The performance of the iPhone 12 has been upgraded once again: the A14 Bionic chipset is the most powerful in any smartphone, and the benchmarks bear that out as it annihilates the competition – and weirdly, doesn’t get outperformed by the theoretically more powerful iPhone 12 Pro. 

The decision to start with 64GB inside is stingy though, and you might start butting up against that barrier in the not-too-distant future if you like taking photos and videos at full resolution.

The iPhone 12 design has been tweaked, with squared-off edges that are highly reminiscent of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 from yesteryear, and a new Ceramic Shield front that’s allegedly four times harder to shatter than the iPhone 11 (not that we were willing to drop-test our review sample).

The display has been upgraded too: it’s now an OLED screen, the same tech that’s used on the iPhone 12 Pro, and offers rich colors and deep blacks, as well as bringing true HDR to the mix for compatible content. It sounds like a small thing, but perhaps the slick 120Hz display tech would have been a boon here too; however, you are still getting a sharp and colorful viewing experience on the iPhone 12.

Cameras-wise, you’re again getting the 12MP duo of the wide and ultra-wide cameras here. The former is even better in low-light this year, and both can now be used with Night Mode. This feature can improve your snaps in a way that’s genuinely staggering; however, it’s also available on the iPhone 11, and we would have liked to have seen it upgraded in 2020.

 

The video capabilities, including the ability to record in Dolby Vision in 4K, sound impressive, but for most this will be a rarely-used feature. That said, the output is strong to look at and something you’d be keen to share.

 

Battery life is only average on the new iPhone 12; with heavier use your phone should see you through most of a day – around 17-18 hours at a push. Lighter usage will see you easily sail through to the night, but it’s not quite as good as last year’s model.

The iPhone 12 design has been tweaked, with squared-off edges that are highly reminiscent of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 from yesteryear, and a new Ceramic Shield front that’s allegedly four times harder to shatter than the iPhone 11 (not that we were willing to drop-test our review sample).

The display has been upgraded too: it’s now an OLED screen, the same tech that’s used on the iPhone 12 Pro, and offers rich colors and deep blacks, as well as bringing true HDR to the mix for compatible content. It sounds like a small thing, but perhaps the slick 120Hz display tech would have been a boon here too; however, you are still getting a sharp and colorful viewing experience on the iPhone 12.

Cameras-wise, you’re again getting the 12MP duo of the wide and ultra-wide cameras here. The former is even better in low-light this year, and both can now be used with Night Mode. This feature can improve your snaps in a way that’s genuinely staggering; however, it’s also available on the iPhone 11, and we would have liked to have seen it upgraded in 2020.

 

The video capabilities, including the ability to record in Dolby Vision in 4K, sound impressive, but for most this will be a rarely-used feature. That said, the output is strong to look at and something you’d be keen to share.

 

Battery life is only average on the new iPhone 12; with heavier use your phone should see you through most of a day – around 17-18 hours at a push. Lighter usage will see you easily sail through to the night, but it’s not quite as good as last year’s model.

5G vs MagSafe – which is the best new feature?

  • Future-proof with 5G connectivity
  • Although 5G isn’t useful for everyone right now
  • New MagSafe tech brings a variety of new accessories and uses
 

While we’re going to go into the more nuanced upgrades in the new iPhone 12 later in this review, there are two key changes for this year’s model that will likely attract your attention.

 

The bad news is that neither are likely to feel hugely impressive if you buy the new iPhone close to launch.

 

The headline feature for the iPhone 12 is that it now supports 5G, and with more compatibility to connect to the speedy 5G networks than many other phones, including the lightning-fast, but limited-range, mmW (millimeter wave) standard in the US… when they’re deployed.

The idea of being able to browse almost instantaneously, download faster and stream in higher quality sounds appealing – but the issue right now is that you can’t access 5G easily outside of large cities – and even then, it’s not complete coverage.

Also, 4G speeds on our current phones are still fast enough for most of us, thanks very much. The experience of streaming Netflix and Spotify is perfectly acceptable, and making things that much faster feels more like a curious luxury than a must-have feature right now. Need for speed? More of a ‘yeah, it’d be alright’ notion for motion.

It’s not easy to add 5G connectivity to a smartphone design – the components are more expensive, and space in the chassis is at a premium.

IPHONE 12 SPECS

Weight: 164g
Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm
Display size: 6.1-inch
Resolution: 1170 x 2532
Refresh rate: 60Hz
Pixel density: 460ppi
Chipset: A14 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB / 128GB / 256GB
Rear cameras: 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 12MP
Battery: N/A

But while the addition of 5G into the iPhone range might not feel entirely necessary right now, it’s not superfluous by any stretch of the imagination. Firstly, the 5G speeds you can reach when you do make a connection are mind-blowing… we clocked 200Mbps with ease on a train at one point (on the EE network in London, UK), and we downloaded a 110MB audiobook in half a minute, where a 4G connection was struggling at a much lower rate. It’s not blindingly fast (around 30Mbps) but it’s an improvement over 4G.

We also found that coverage of signal is improving – relying on 5G, we were able to send and receive messages on a portion of our regular train journey that previously was a blackspot for all data. Whether that’s thanks to networks increasing their 5G coverage, or the iPhone’s increased band sensitivity, we’re not sure – but the results were good.

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