iPhone 12 Pro Review: Everything Old is New Again

Rating: 9/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $999
iPhone 12 Pro in Pacific Blue
Justin Duino

Not to say something that has been repeated time and time again, but you know that it just works when you buy an iPhone. The iPhone 12 Pro, Apple’s 2020 flagship smartphone alongside the Pro Max, keeps everything that makes the iPhone loved by so many while bringing back a popular design that makes it the total package.

Here's What We Like

  • Hardware is premium
  • Cameras are top-notch
  • MagSafe is actually nice

And What We Don't

  • 5G is overhyped
  • Lack of high-refresh-rate display
  • No included power adaptor

Here’s everything you need to know if you’re thinking about picking up an iPhone 12 Pro for yourself.

Hardware: Square Edges and Flat Screen

Most premium phones on the market in 2020 are rectangular, feature two glass pieces that sandwich a metal frame, and have curved edges. Even Apple has used this basic formula for its last half dozen iPhones.

Thankfully, the iPhone 12 Pro (and the rest of the 12 series) brings back the tried and true design first introduced with the iPhone 4 in 2010. Instead of rounded sides, the 12 Pro is (almost) completely flat with edges that come up to meet the front and back pieces of glass at 90-degree angles.

Although retro, Apple has made the design feel extremely premium and modern. As the headline says, everything old is new again.

But before moving forward, let’s get the iPhone 12 Pro’s spec list out of the way:

  • Display: 6.1-inch OLED, 2,532 x 1,170 resolution, 60 Hz refresh rate
  • Processor: Apple A14 Bionic
  • RAM: 6 GB
  • Storage: 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB
  • Rear cameras: 12 MP Wide (main), f/1.6 aperture; 12 MP Ultra-wide, 120-degrees, f/2.4 aperture; 12 MP Telephoto, f/2.0 aperture, 4x optical zoom range, LiDAR sensor
  • Front cameras:12 MP, f/2.2 aperture; TrueDepth camera for Face ID
  • Ports: Lightning
  • Headphone Jack: No
  • Battery: 10.78 Wh (~2,814 mAh)
  • Fingerprint Sensor: No, Face ID
  • Connectivity: Wi‑Fi 6 (802.11ax) with 2×2 MIMO; Bluetooth 5.0; NFC; Ultra-Wideband chip for spatial awareness
  • 5G Compatibility: 5G (sub‑6 GHz and mmWave); Gigabit LTE with 4×4 MIMO and LAA
  • iOS version: iOS 14.2
  • Colors: Silver, Graphite, Gold, Pacific Blue
  • Price: $999

Beyond hand-feel, the squared-off and flat build provides more screen real estate. Even though the iPhone 12 Pro is slightly larger than the iPhone 11 Pro, you’re getting a 6.1-inch display (versus 5.8-inch) thanks to reduced bezel sizes that were required by the previous round design.

iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 11 Pro
Left: iPhone 11 Pro; Right: iPhone 12 Pro Justin Duino

It’s hard to describe how the iPhone 12 Pro feels in hand. I have started to refer to it as dense. Although it doesn’t weigh much more than other flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S20 (164 g vs. 163 g), the 12 Pro has a solid and balanced weight that’s just about perfect.

The back of the 12 Pro consists of a very family matte finish that’s both grippy and fingerprint resistant. The front, though, is made out of something named Ceramic Shield. Partnering with Corning, Apple made a transparent and color-free glass-ceramic that’s supposedly four-times greater resistant to damage from drops.

And speaking of the screen, despite early rumors that Apple might adopt a 120 Hz display, the iPhone 12 Pro maxes out at 60 Hz. I personally don’t have an issue with this and think the OLED screen looks gorgeous. But when similarly priced (and cheaper) Android smartphones are shipping with high-refresh-rate displays, I understand the complaint.

The worst part about the iPhone 12 Pro’s design is the stainless steel edge. It’s not terribly slippery, but it is a fingerprint magnet. Strike that. I wish it were only a fingerprint magnet. The only time you will see the mirror finish is when you take the phone out of the box.

The iPhone 12 Pro's fingerprint magnet stainless steel side
Justin Duino

The glossy edge honestly drags the excellent hardware down. If the handset had the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Mini’s matte edge, I wouldn’t feel inclined to stick the 12 Pro in a case.

Software: It’s iOS, But Now with (Some) Customization

iOS: You either love it or you don’t. Apple prides itself on making a simplistic yet powerful mobile operating system that anyone can pick up and use. Unlike some Android manufacturers, you aren’t encouraged to change the iPhone’s interface vastly. If you’ve seen one iPhone, you’ve seen them all.

iPhone 12 Pro in hand
Justin Duino

That changed a bit with the release of iOS 14. Literally 12 years after Android, Apple introduced widgets and an app drawer (in the form of the App Library).

These new features don’t remotely bring iOS close to the amount of customization offered by Google’s mobile OS. Still, you do get more control over glanceable information and a place to hide unused (or rarely used) apps that don’t involve endless home screen folders.

iOS App Library on the iPhone 12 Pro
Justin Duino

But stepping back, these new features aren’t limited to the iPhone 12 Pro. If you have even a five-year-old iPhone, you have these features. And thus the beauty of owning an iPhone. Each year, there’s a faster and more powerful processor in the latest handset, but the overall experience isn’t going to change.

The iPhone 12 Pro is no different. Equipped with the A14 Bionic processor, I never experienced lag or had apps forced closed in the background due to a lack of memory. A perk of Apple owning the entire stack (CPU, iPhone, and iOS) is that there are very few bugs or hiccups during the day-to-day.

Cameras: Apple Is Fighting for Gold or Silver

Apple has always focused on the iPhone’s cameras, but that hasn’t stopped Google and Samsung from owning the top spot in the image quality category. The tides started to turn in 2019 when Apple focused more on computational photography.

Let’s say that Apple has spent the last year refining its tech and is quickly encroaching on Google and Samsung’s territory.

The iPhone 12 Pro's cameras
Justin Duino

As with the iPhone 11 Pro, the 12 Pro includes three cameras: a wide, an ultra-wide, and a telephoto. New this year is the addition of a LiDAR sensor.

Although the sensor can be used to measure depth and improve AR experiences, it’s primarily used to help the iPhone 12 Pro’s three cameras. For example, having depth information allows for cleaner Portrait Mode shots and even allows for portraits at night or low-light situations.

Below are a couple of photo samples taken with the three lenses. Click on any of the images to view the full-size file.

iPhone 12 Pro ultra-wide camera iPhone 12 Pro main cameraiPhone 12 Pro telephoto camera iPhone 12 Pro main camera with Portrait ModeTop left: ultra-wide; Top right: main camera; Bottom left: telephoto; Bottom right: main camera with Portrait Mode 

As you can see, there isn’t any color shift between the sensors, and all three shoot true-to-life color tones. Unfortunately, it does look like the ultrawide and telephoto cameras take softer images. They’re an improvement over the iPhone 11 Pro’s, but they’re still not as sharp as the wide lens.

Speaking of, Portrait Mode on the primary sensor (with the help of the LiDar sensor) creates beautiful shots. Using my pupper as a model, you can see a smooth transition from her face to the blurred out background. There aren’t any harsh lines between the subject and the fake bokeh.

The same can be said for the iPhone 12 Pro’s front-facing camera. Obviously, it’s not as sharp as the device’s primary shooter, but there’s still plenty of detail when you want to snap a quick selfie. Portrait Mode isn’t as smooth, but that’s expected as there’s no LiDar on the front of the phone.

iPhone 12 Pro selfie camera iPhone 12 Pro selfie camera with portrait modeLeft: Selfie camera; Right: Selfie camera with Portrait Mode

As is tradition, the iPhone is still the champ for capturing video on your smartphone. This year, Apple took it up a notch by including Dolby Vision HDR recording without any special hardware. On the iPhone 12 Pro, you can use the new technology and record colorful and bright 4K video at 60 frames per second.

I haven’t included a video sample because you can only experience the HDR video on a compatible Dolby Vision display (such as new iPhones and iPads that support HDR). If you have one such device (or even a newer Mac running Big Sur), I recommend checking out these video samples provided by David Imel of Android Authority. Download both files to your compatible device and see the difference that Dolby Vision HDR brings.

Moving on to Night Mode, I will say that the iPhone 12 Pro does an okay job. Every phone is different in how it processes low-light situations, and Apple’s isn’t my favorite.

You can see the difference between the Pixel 5 and iPhone 12 Pro’s Night Modes below. The Pixel’s (the top two images) try to keep the scene’s overall look without over-processing. The iPhone’s (bottom two photos) allows you to see more, but things are unnaturally bright.

Before proceeding, I should also mention the handset’s bigger brother: the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Although almost every spec is identical between devices (other than the larger screen and bigger battery), Apple includes a slightly better camera sensor in the Pro Max.

First, as is common in most modern smartphone cameras, the wide and telephoto lenses on the iPhone 12 Pro are optically stabilized. But on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, the actual sensors behind those lenses are stabilized.

You probably won’t notice too much of a difference between the two. Still, sensor-shift optical image stabilization will help when taking pictures in situations that include extreme motion (such as running, sitting in a moving vehicle, etc.).

Second, the Pro Max includes a physically larger main sensor. Although both Pro models sport an f/1.6 aperture, the bigger sensor is capable of capturing more light. The difference is negligible in most situations, but at night and in dark scenes, the larger sensor tends to take sharper photos.

I recommend watching The Verge’s review to learn more about the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s improved camera quality.

Accessories: MagSafe Is Back and Better Than Ever

Apple (seemingly) retired the MagSafe branding roughly five years ago when it brought USB-C charging to its MacBooks. Now, the company is using the name for its line of magnetic iPhone accessories.

Apple MagSafe leather wallet on iPhone 12 Pro
Justin Duino

The premise is simple. With the help of a ring of magnets built into the iPhone 12 Pro, you can magnetically secure cases, wallets, wireless chargers, and other accessories to your phone. The company opened the spec up to everyone, so expect the market to be flooded with MagSafe-compatible accessories.

Apple and some third-party products include an NFC chip that helps the handset identify what item you’ve attached. For example, when I throw my 12 Pro into Apple’s blue case, a blue dialog appears on the screen. It’s more of a party trick, but I’m not complaining.

There is a pretty big downside with MagSafe, though. First, you can only get 15 W wireless charging using Apple’s MagSafe charger. If you use any other Qi wireless charger, you’ll drop down to 7.5 W.

Oh, and don’t forget that the iPhone and the MagSafe charger don’t come with a power adaptor, so you’ll have to pay Apple another $19 or buy something like Aukey’s GaN charger.

Apple's MagSafe charger, leather wallet, and case for the iPhone 12 Pro MagSafe charging indicator on the iPhone 12 Pro

Apple’s ecosystem of accessories can get pricey, but I can vouch for their quality. Things will start to show wear over the span of a couple of months, but they shouldn’t break or become defective. But if they’re not for you, there are hundreds if not thousands of third-party companies willing to offer you a case or wireless charger for your iPhone 12 Pro.

Connectivity: 5G Is All Hype (For Now)

I’ll keep this brief. If you live in the U.S., 5G isn’t nearly as exciting as your carrier wants to make you believe. I live just outside of downtown Charlotte, a pretty tech-focus city, and I never once saw my iPhone switch over from LTE to 5G.

LTE symbol on an iPhone 12 Pro
Justin Duino

And even if I did see 5G, there’s a good chance that the iPhone wouldn’t have used the advanced network. To save battery life, Apple designed the handset to continue using LTE unless whatever you were doing required faster speeds or a better connection.

So unless you routinely walk around outside downloading an entire series from Netflix or a 5GB game from the App Store, 5G will probably never get used.

5G antenna bands on iPhone 12 Pro
5G Ultra Wideband antenna bands Justin Duino

Once things are normal again and we start attending events such as football games with a large number of attendees, 5G will become more important. 5G is capable of handling 10 times the traffic compared to LTE and 4G. Basically, the next time you’re crammed into an arena with thousands of others, you’ll still be able to upload photos and videos while surfing the web.

Conclusion: iOS Fans Will Love the iPhone 12 Pro

iPhone 12 Pro laying on shelf
Justin Duino

It comes down to this: If you don’t like Android, you can’t go wrong with the iPhone 12 Pro (or any of Apple’s iPhone 12 series handsets, honestly). It’s a rock-solid device that will last you more than two years and won’t stop receiving firmware updates for as long as you own it.

Customization isn’t a huge thing on the iPhone, but it doesn’t have to be. You pick up an iPhone and you immediately know that it’s just going to work. You also know that it’s going to work the same 12 months down the line as it did when you first took it out of the box.

The redesigned hardware and improved camera quality move the iPhone 12 Pro up a step, even compared to last year’s iPhone 11. Sure, you don’t get a high-refresh display, but after routinely getting more than eight hours of screen-on time a day, I didn’t care.

Whether you need a new phone or want the latest and greatest, you can’t go wrong. $999 is a lot of money, but the iPhone 12 Pro is probably the best value compared to 2020’s other flagships at similar price ranges.

Rating: 9/10
Price: $999

Here’s What We Like

  • Hardware is premium
  • Cameras are top-notch
  • MagSafe is actually nice

And What We Don't

  • 5G is overhyped
  • Lack of high-refresh-rate display
  • No included power adaptor

Justin Duino Justin Duino
Justin Duino is the Managing Editor at How-To Geek. He has spent the last decade writing about Android, smartphones, and other mobile technology. In addition to his written work, he has also been a regular guest commentator on CBS News and BBC World News and Radio to discuss current events in the technology industry. Read Full Bio »

The above article may contain affiliate links, which help support Review Geek.


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