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Should you buy… The iPhone 12?

Martyn Landi, PA Technology Correspondent
·6-min read

Apple’s “new era” of iPhones have been given a new look and 5G compatibility for the first time, and the first of the new devices show plenty of promise.

The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro are the middle two devices of this year’s line-up, and both come with 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR displays.

Flanked by the compact iPhone 12 mini and the 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max, which will be released next month, these two devices are the 12 in its most accessible form.

So, how do the first of the new iPhones look in testing?

– iPhone 12

Like the entire iPhone 12 line-up, the 12 has been given a major redesign from last year’s line-up, with flat edges and an aluminium band no running around the outside of the device.

This is combined with a glass back and stronger, tougher glass on the front which Apple calls Ceramic Shield and offers four times better drop performance, the company says.

The display itself is Apple’s Super Retina XDR OLED, which is bright and sharp – excellent for looking through your photos as well as watching video.

The new dual-camera system on the back of the iPhone 12 is boosted a range of updates – including image processing from the new A14 Bionic chip and a faster aperture to capture more light – meaning photos are brighter and show better contrast.

The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro
Both the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro have 6.1-inch displays (Martyn Landi/PA)

The impressive Night Mode is also back and has now been added to all cameras on the iPhone 12 – including the front-facing camera for the first time – so users now have more options when it comes to taking low-light photography, an update that makes an already great feature even better to play with.

It is also worth mentioning the improvements in video recording on the iPhone 12, with much improved low-light performance and even the ability to record Night mode time-lapses.

The iPhone 12’s support for Dolby Vision HDR video recording – a first for a smartphone – has also had a noticeable impact on colour and brightness in video, while being able to record in up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second means smoother, sharper videos than ever before.

The other major addition to the iPhone this year is the device’s support for 5G for the first time.

On the whole, the update is a success, with downloads and streaming noticeably faster when connected to a 5G network.

However, given that 5G coverage is still in the relatively early stages of being rolled out, getting a 5G connection is far from a guarantee.

If you are fortunate enough to be in a 5G ready area, there is a drawback to all that speed, which is its impact on the iPhone 12′ battery life.

Apple has introduced a Smart Data Mode which will turn off 5G when the device recognises you don’t really need it, but on testing days with heavy 5G use, the iPhone 12 was left with less than 20% battery by the end of the day.

When the time does come to charge up the iPhone 12, one new way to do that is via the firm’s new MagSafe charger.

It doesn’t come in the box, so will require an additional purchase, but the new magnetic system allows users to wirelessly charge their device in a more secure manner than just placing it on a wireless charging pad.

In addition, the new MagSafe ring is also built into iPhone cases, so users can attach the charger without removing their phone from its case.

It’s a smart new system for charging the iPhone as well as attaching cases and other items to it securing, inspired by the firm’s older MagSafe chargers for its MacBook laptops, which used magnets to lock the charging cable into the device.

The principle is the same here, with a ring of magnets built into the back of the iPhone 12 which snap it together for the new charging pad.

Apple has also previewed a number of new accessories, such as a MagSafe Wallet, which are on the way in the future.

– iPhone 12 Pro

Although it appears very similar to the iPhone 12, the 12 Pro has some key upgrades to make it stand out as a “Pro” iPhone.

In design terms, the aluminium band has been upgraded for stainless steel here, which looks smart but it something of a fingerprint magnet.

The other key difference is the third camera lens and the new Lidar sensor, which not only is included for its ability to help with augmented reality experiences, but can help improve autofocus in low-light and also enables Night mode portrait photos, complete with bokeh background blurring.

The cameras on the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro
The iPhone 12 Pro (right) has an additional telephoto lens and Lidar scanner (Martyn Landi/PA)

It is in the camera where the iPhone 12 Pro most lives up to its name, with a telephoto lens joining the wide and ultra wide you can find on the iPhone 12.

Both Portrait and Night mode feel agile here, with a number of different settings and lenses supporting the features, helping users to get exactly the shot they’re after.

Like on the iPhone 12, video capture has been improved too with the introduction of Dolby Vision HDR and better video stabilisation, giving creatives a noticeable step forward in the capturing tool in their pocket.

Because of this extra capturing capacity, the 12 Pro has larger storage options than the 12, starting at 128GB and going up to 512GB, while the 12 starts at 64GB and tops out at 256GB, which is the middle option on the 12 Pro.

Crucially, these bumps in camera ability and storage do not come at a cost in terms of size or weight, the 12 Pro is the same size as the 12, and weighs only a fraction more.

– Verdict

The iPhone getting 5G is a big step forward for the device and the adoption of 5G. Where available, it makes downloading and streaming content significantly easier than it ever has been.

The iPhone redesign has also been a great success, these are the best-looking iPhone handsets in years thanks to the new flat edges and the distribution of glass and metal.

The biggest issue is the price jump between the two. For the extra storage and the third rear-camera on the 12 Pro, the price jumps to £999 from the £799 the 12 costs.

Unless you’re a photography devotee that might be too much of a jump, however, there isn’t a wrong choice here really, the iPhone 12 in both of these formats is a solid step forward from Apple.