The iPhone 12 is like an album of Apple’s greatest iPhone hits. It combines the well-regarded design aesthetic of the iPhone 5, the promised generational leap in wireless technology of the iPhone 3G, and the dense camera system and large OLED screen of more modern flagships.
The iPhone 12 wraps up so many attractive features, in fact, that it makes it hard to recommend the iPhone 12 Pro to any but a very small number of people. There’s just not much to differentiate them, and that’s a good thing. The cheaper iPhone 12 is more than good enough for just about anyone.
That’s where things stand today, anyway. But it will all change again in a few weeks. The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro are the middle children between the two models that will later generate the most buzz, I think—the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 12 Pro Max.
I say that because, in my experience, most people fall into one of two camps: they either want the largest phone screen they can get their (two) hands on (the 12 Pro Max), or they want their phones to be as small and one-hand-friendly as possible (the 12 mini).
Unfortunately, we don’t yet have those phones in hand to review. But apart from screen size differences and some camera improvements on the 12 Pro Max, they won’t differ much from the two 6.1-inch phones we’re reviewing today.
Table of Contents
|Specs at a glance: Apple iPhone 12 and 12 Pro|
|Screen||2532×1170 6.1-inch (420PPI) OLED touchscreen|
|CPU||Apple A14 Bionic|
|RAM||4GB for iPhone 12; 6GB for iPhone 12 Pro|
|GPU||Apple-made A14 Bionic GPU|
|Storage||64, 128, or 256GB for iPhone 12; 128, 256, or 512GB for iPhone 12 Pro|
|Networking||Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5, 5G|
|Camera||Two 12MP rear cameras (wide-angle, ultra-wide-angle) for iPhone 12; three 12MP rear cameras (wide-angle, ultra-wide-angle, telephoto) for iPhone 12 Pro; 7MP front camera for both; Dolby Vision HDR 4K video capture|
|Weight||5.78oz (165g) for iPhone 12; 6.66oz (189g) for iPhone 12 Pro|
|Starting price||$699 for iPhone 12; $999 for iPhone 12 Pro|
|Other perks||MagSafe, Face ID|
All the new iPhones sport Apple’s A14 system-on-a-chip, which includes a CPU, a GPU, the Neural Engine, and more.
Manufactured on a 5nm process—likely the same that will be used for upcoming Apple Silicon Macs—the A14 is an iterative step forward in terms of CPU and GPU speeds, but it’s a big leap (Apple says) for the Neural Engine, which handles most machine learning processing. (Some is done on the CPU or GPU, depending on the task.)
Apple has doubled the cores in the Neural Engine from eight to 16, and the company claims a 70 percent increase in performance as such.
The iPhone 12 claims up to 17 hours of battery life for local video playback and just 11 hours for streaming video for both devices. That’s roughly comparable to other recent high-end iPhones, but it’s just a bit below what the iPhone 11 promised.
As far as ports go, there’s still just one, and it’s still Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector—even as almost everyone else in the industry has adopted USB-C, including Apple’s own Mac and iPad teams.
Combined with the introduction of MagSafe, Apple’s doggedness in sticking with Lightning for yet another year makes me think that the company’s next play is to forgo the charging cable entirely. If they were going to switch to USB-C, it feels like this would have been the design to do so. The fact it wasn’t suggests that Apple may try and skip USB-C and go straight to fully wireless. If that happens, there will obviously be some big pros and big cons.
We’ll cross that bridge when and if we come to it. For now, the bright side is that if you’re coming from a previous iPhone model, you don’t have to replace your existing wired accessories and charging cables.
Moving on to the displays, both the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro have 6.1-inch, 2,532 x 1,170-pixel OLED screens. Both support HDR (though like other recent iPhones, the panels are 8-bit, not the 10-bit typically associated with HDR panels) and have a maximum HDR brightness of 1,200 cd/m2. They’re not exactly the same, though, because the maximum typical brightness (when not viewing HDR content) for the iPhone 12 is 625 cd/m2. It’s 800 for the iPhone 12 Pro.
The 12’s display is an enormous step up over the lower-resolution, LCD screen of the iPhone 11. But even though I’m an obsessive videophile and a display tech geek, I couldn’t see a significant difference anecdotally between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro screens in normal usage.
I all but sneered with derision at last year’s iPhone 11 screen in my review when comparing it to the 11 Pro, even as I acknowledged most people won’t care so much. If I don’t see a significant difference this time around, I imagine few will.
Much noise will be made about the fact that the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro do not have 120Hz screens, while many Android competitors do, in some form or another (albeit often with some big compromises). A 120Hz display—which refreshes twice as fast as the 60Hz displays that have been standard for years—feels a bit nicer when scrolling through websites and the like, but it’s a subtle difference. If you’re used to 60Hz, you won’t miss it. In the unlikely event you’re already used to 120Hz, you’ll probably adjust, but it’s a compromise.
Often, Android phones running in 120Hz mode take a significant hit to battery life; the screen is usually the #1 battery drainer, and it’s working twice as hard in this mode, after all. My guess is that Apple skipped 120Hz because it’s already hitting battery life pretty hard with 5G, and it deemed 5G a higher priority. The combination of 5G and a 120Hz display might have been too much to bear at once for the iPhone’s battery life, in Apple’s estimation.
So while 120Hz would have been nice, no one really needs it. Still, it would have been cool.
That aside, Apple’s displays are top-notch. DisplayMate’s deep dives give them the best possible marks, and while they are beaten in some specific measures by Samsung’s best, they have a commitment to color accuracy and tuning that Samsung’s don’t. It’s a matter of preference, but it suffices to say that the iPhone 12’s display is as good as it gets.
If you’re looking for a differentiator between these two devices, look no further than the storage options. The iPhone 12 comes in 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB configurations. For the 12 Pro, it’s 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB.
64GB is not going to be enough for a lot of people, while 128GB or 256GB will be optimal for most people. But for a few select users, even 256GB won’t be enough—those folks will have to consider splurging for the Pro. Apart from a few additional camera features, this is the best reason I can think of to spend extra for the Pro.
Speaking of cameras: the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro share many of the same specs. The difference, primarily, is the Pro’s inclusion of a third, telephoto lens—and its ability to capture HDR video at 60 frames per second (the iPhone 12 is limited to 30fps when HDR is enabled).
On both phones, you’ve got a 12MP wide-angle lens (ƒ/1.6 aperture, 7-element) and a 12MP ultra-wide angle (ƒ/2.4, 5-element). The latter is for use cases like photographing groups of friends in tight spaces, since it enables 2x optical zoom out. The iPhone 12 Pro adds that 12MP telephoto lens (ƒ/2.0 aperture, 6-element) to enable 2x optical zoom in.
The 12 Pro also adds a lidar scanner, which can be used both for more realistic augmented reality experiences and to improve some features like the speed of autofocus in dark environs.
As for video capture, both phones support HDR video in Dolby Vision—Apple claims these are the first smartphones to do so—but as noted above, the iPhone 12 Pro can do this at 60fps while the iPhone 12 is limited to 30fps.
Otherwise, the video capture features are quite similar. Both can shoot 4K video at 24fps, 30fps, or 60fps, and 1080p at 30 or 60fps. They can also capture slow motion video at 1080p and either 120fps or 240fps.
Finally, both phones include a front-facing camera at 12MP (ƒ/2.2 aperture), as well as the TrueDepth sensor array found in flagship phones since the iPhone X, which facilitates the phones’ face recognition features.
We’ll move beyond the specs and get more into the cameras and their differentiating features in the cameras section of the review.