iPhone 12 Pro Review
The iPhone 12 Pro is here, and after living with it for a fairly decent amount of time, I think it’s time to answer that one burning question — is it worth it? Apple has made choosing between iPhone models even tougher this year by introducing four new models, all sharing similar specifications and features, but at vastly different prices. In India, especially, the price difference between the iPhone 12 series and the iPhone 12 Pro series is massive – and that’s a whole separate discussion.
As a long-time iPhone 11 Pro user, I was curious to see how much Apple has improved in the new iPhone 12 Pro, because I’ll be honest, I wasn’t exactly blown away during its announcement. The new SoC, tweaked cameras, and fresh design were all expected upgrades, and it will take more than that to make someone shell out Rs. 1,19,900 for it, in my opinion. Let’s break it down and see if it makes sense choosing the iPhone 12 Pro over the lower priced iPhone 12.
iPhone 12 Pro pricing and variants
The iPhone 12 Pro costs quite a bit more in India than in other regions including the US. The iPhone 12 Pro starts with a 128GB variant which is priced at Rs. 1,19,900. The 256GB storage variant will cost you Rs. 1,29,900, and the top-end 512GB variant will cost you Rs. 1,49,990 (which is the one I have). That’s a pretty steep price for any smartphone, and keep in mind, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is even more expensive. This is before you even add things like AppleCare+ and accessories. The iPhone 12 Pro is available in four colours, of which the Pacific Blue shade is new, and is my favourite so far.
iPhone 12 Pro design and display
Apart from the new colour, the iPhone 12 Pro has a flattened stainless steel frame, versus the rounded sides of every model since the iPhone X. It’s a big change but not something we haven’t seen before. Apple first used a flat frame for the iPhone 4 and stuck with it all the way to the iPhone 5s, before switching to rounded sides. Love it or hate it, you’ll have to get used to this design for at least the next few iPhone generations.
After two weeks of usage, I’ve grown accustomed to the iPhone 12 Pro. It’s comfortable to hold and a tad easier to grip than the iPhone 11 Pro, in my opinion. However, it’s nearly impossible to keep the glossy frame smudge-free. While stainless steel should be a lot more durable than the aluminium frame used for the regular iPhone 12, the same cannot be said about the paint job. After an accidental fall from just a couple of feet onto a metal railing, my iPhone 12 Pro has a permanent battle scar on its chin. The finish is clearly not as resilient as the metal frame itself.
Most of the ports and buttons are placed the same as on the iPhone 11 Pro. The buttons have good feedback and are flat. The SIM card tray has been moved to the left side of the phone. The iPhone 12 Pro only supports a single physical Nano-SIM, but an eSIM option is present. The models sold in India lack the little cutout on the right side of the frame for the millimetre wave (mmWave) 5G antennas that you can see on the versions sold in the US. More on 5G in a bit.
The display on the iPhone 12 Pro is larger than the one on the iPhone 11 Pro. It measures 6.1 inches (vs 5.8 inches) and features a new cover glass material that Apple calls Ceramic Shield. This is said to offer up to four times better shatter resistance than the iPhone 11 Pro’s display, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more resilient to scratches. I didn’t notice any hairline scratches on the 12 Pro’s display in the two weeks that I used it.
Other than its size and the new glass, the characteristics of the display haven’t changed much. Like the iPhone 11 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro uses a Super Retina XDR OLED panel with a peak brightness of 1,200nits (800nits typical) and has a 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio. It also supports multiple HDR formats: HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG.
The iPhone 12 Pro is a bit taller than the iPhone 11 Pro, but is slimmer (7.4mm) and weighs about the same. The increase in size took a bit of getting used to, coming from the 11 Pro, but if you’re switching from the iPhone 11 or any older ‘Plus’ model, the transition should be easier.
Coming to the bundled accessories, there isn’t much in the box. The iPhone 12 Pro ships in a slimmer box than before, and that’s because there’s just a USB Type-C to Lightning cable and some documentation in it. Apple stopped shipping the Lightning to 3.5mm headphone adapter with the iPhone XS, and now it’s removed the headset and power adapter too. While other companies have had a field day mocking Apple for this decision, some of them might just be heading in this direction too if rumours are to be believed.
iPhone 12 Pro specs and performance
Apple has been ahead of the curve for a long time now when it comes to the SoCs used in iPhones, and this time is no different. The iPhone 12 Pro uses the A14 Bionic SoC, which is also the first 5nm SoC in a smartphone. For 5G, Apple is using Qualcomm’s X55 modem similar to the one used with Qualcomm’s own Snapdragon 865 SoC. There’s no mmWave support with the Indian models, but the iPhone 12 Pro supports all popular sub-6GHz 5G bands.
In terms of power, the A14 Bionic promises up to 50 percent better CPU and GPU performance compared to the previous generation, which is still very powerful. The biggest change is in Apple’s Neural Engine logic in the SoC, which is now 16 cores strong (up from eight cores previously) and promises up to 80 percent faster performance in machine learning tasks.
The iPhone 12 Pro has 6GB of RAM, going by Geekbench 5’s diagnostics and other sources, which is 2GB more than the iPhone 12 and even the iPhone 11 Pro. Other features include Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5, Ultra Wideband (UWB), support for multiple satellite navigation systems, and NFC. The iPhone 12 Pro offers Face ID for biometric authentication using Apple’s TrueDepth 3D camera system. It’s also is rated to function at depths of up to 6m for up to 30 minutes, compared to up to 4m for the iPhone 11 Pro even though it has the same IP68 rating. Finally, the Pro models this year also get a LiDAR scanner, which was first introduced with the iPad Pro (2020) earlier this year.
Before we get to its performance, let’s take a quick pit stop and talk about the software. The iPhone 12 Pro runs iOS 14.1, which is also available free for many recent and even older iPhone models. Coming from the iPhone 11 Pro, the experience with the iPhone 12 Pro is more or less identical, other than some new static and live wallpapers. iOS 14 introduced new customisation options and there are some cool hidden features worth checking out too.
Thanks to the LiDAR scanner, augmented reality apps work a bit better than they do on the iPhone 11 Pro. The more precise spatial information captured by the LiDAR scanner lets apps such as Apple’s own Measure app easily estimate the height of a person if you simply point the camera at them. Performing actual measurements is also more precise, although not always exact when compared to an actual measuring tape. Apple has also added a ‘People Detection’ feature in its Magnifier app, which uses the LiDAR scanner to help visually impaired people detect others around them via audible alerts. This feature is now available in iOS 14.2.
As I mentioned earlier, I used the iPhone 12 Pro as my primary phone for about two weeks, and the experience was very good. I didn’t notice a world of a difference with day-to-day usage coming from an iPhone 11 Pro. Call quality was good on 4G networks, and if your ISP supports Wi-Fi calling, the 12 Pro will automatically switch to it. The flattened edges of the 12 Pro felt a bit sharp against my ears at first when on a call, but I got used to this.
The slightly larger display on the iPhone 12 Pro (compared to the 11 Pro) makes it a great multimedia playback device. Streamed videos looked great, especially HDR ones. Colours were lively, blacks were deep, and the display got really bright when needed. The stereo speakers sounded really good too. The sound is loud and detailed without any audible distortion even at the highest volume level.
I also found myself gaming a lot on the iPhone 12 Pro. Games from Apple Arcade ran smoothly and looked fantastic. However, the 12 Pro gets quite hot very quickly if you’re playing anything graphically intensive. You might not notice this with a cover on, but without it, the metal frame can get very hot. Samurai Jack was the only game in my experience that brought the iPhone 12 Pro to its knees. Just a few minutes in, the framerate would tank badly during battles, making this game almost unplayable. This could be down to just an issue of optimisation for the new SoC, since Oceanhorn 2, a visually superior game, ran just fine.
iPhone 12 Pro battery life and MagSafe
Apple doesn’t advertise the battery capacities of its iPhones, but going by some of the recent teardown findings, the iPhone 12 Pro seems to have a 2,815mAh capacity, which is lower than that of the iPhone 11 Pro. This would be laughable on an Android smartphone in 2020, but on an iPhone, it’s adequate for everyday use. On average, I was able to cross a full day and get a few more hours of use the next day before the battery level dropped below 10 percent. With heavier use, I was still getting close to a full day.
For most people, I think this should be satisfactory. These results were on a 4G network, as 5G is still a distant dream in India, and battery life is expected to be lower when connected to 5G networks. Our HD video battery loop test ran just shy of 15 hours, which is good but not the best.
Charging the iPhone 12 Pro can be a pain if you don’t already own a Type-C power adapter. You can charge it from a computer, but it will be very slow and you’ll need one with a Type-C port. Apple will happily sell you its new 20W Type-C adapter for Rs. 1,900, which is said to charge the 12 Pro’s battery up to 50 percent in half an hour. I had the 18W adapter from the iPhone 11 Pro, and with it, I managed a surprising 58 percent charge in half an hour. The charging speed begins slowing down after this, and after 30 more minutes, the battery had charged to 87 percent. In total, it took about 1 hour, 40 minutes to fully charge the iPhone 12 Pro’s battery.
If you want to be hip, you can opt for one of Apple’s new MagSafe chargers. The iPhone 12 Pro and the rest in the series support MagSafe chargers and accessories, which are designed to magnetically latch onto the back of the iPhone (thanks to magnets in the charger and in the phone itself) for optimal contact. I’ve been using Apple’s basic MagSafe charger which costs Rs. 4,500 and is able to deliver up to 15W of wireless charging as long as you also buy Apple’s own adapter. The magnets are quite strong, and the charger stays secure on the back of the iPhone unless you yank it off with force.
A few things to note about Apple’s MagSafe charger. Yes, you can use it with any device that supports Qi wireless charging, but it will work slower. It will not charge an Apple Watch, but for this, Apple will happily sell you the MagSafe Duo charging station for Rs. 13,990. MagSafe should work if you use a third-party case on your iPhone 12 Pro, provided it sticks to Apple’s guidelines regarding thickness. You could also buy Apple’s own MagSafe cases, which I happen to have one of, to guarantee compatibility.
While MagSafe is a cool way to charge your new iPhone 12 Pro, I would still stick to wired charging, and here’s why. Apple’s MagSafe charger doesn’t have a very long cable so you’ll need to be closely tethered to your wall socket anyway. Second, the charger gets very hot so it’s not exactly comfortable to hold and use the phone while it’s charging. Third, Apple very clearly states that the power delivered to your iPhone via MagSafe will vary depending on temperature and system activity. This means if the charger is too hot or if you’re gaming, an iPhone isn’t going to charge quickly, which is something I noticed.
I didn’t have Apple’s 20W adapter, but when connected to a Motorola 27W Type-C adapter, the iPhone 12 Pro began trickle charging after about 60 percent. In fact, the charging got so painfully slow that even after nearly three hours, the iPhone 12 Pro’s battery barely made it to 70 percent. I noticed this behaviour when using Apple’s 18W and 30W Type-C power bricks too.
I had slightly better results when charging through a MagSafe case, rather than having the pad directly in contact with the iPhone, but it still slowed down due to the heat produced by the charger. If you have a silicone MagSafe case, the MagSafe charger will leave a faint mark on it but it did fade away after a while, at least during the review period.
Overall, I’d wait to see how third-party chargers perform, or whether Apple addresses this heating issue somehow.
iPhone 12 Pro cameras
On the surface, it would seem that Apple hasn’t changed the camera setup a whole lot compared to the iPhone 11 Pro. However, the iPhone 12 Pro does boast of some new features, and one in particular could just be a solid enough reason to get the 12 Pro. I am of course talking about the iPhone 12 Pro’s ability to record Dolby Vision HDR video, which in my opinion, is a game-changer.
There’s a toggle in the camera app’s settings that lets you enable or disable this feature. When enabled, the iPhone 12 Pro lets you record up to 4K 60fps video in Dolby Vision HDR. This HDR format is becoming increasingly common even for budget TVs, and many streaming services now use it. Most of the Apple original shows on Apple TV+ support Dolby Vision already. iPhones have long supported HDR playback, and the recent iOS 14.1 update even enabled 10-bit HDR playback support on the iPhone 8 and some older models.
Videos shot in Dolby Vision look amazing on the iPhone 12 Pro’s display. It’s not just about having a brighter picture, but due to the wider 10-bit colour gamut, colours look richer and you get a better sense of the intensity of light in bright scenes while still having perfect blacks in the shadows and darker areas — much like how your eyes would see the world. Most HDR movies and TV shows we consume have to go through a rigorous mastering process on equipment that would typically cost lakhs of Rupees. The fact that you can now shoot similar-looking content with your smartphone is incredible. The best part is that the iPhone 12 Pro can shoot Dolby Vision videos with all its cameras.
There’s a small catch though, when it comes to sharing such videos. The iPhone 12 Pro is said to use a newer version of Dolby Vision called Profile 8.4 which is based on the HLG or Hybrid Log Gamma HDR standard. The problem is, most social platforms and services don’t support this new format yet, which makes uploading or sharing your Dolby Vision video the way it’s intended to be viewed, quite tricky. YouTube will render an HDR version of the video you capture, provided you upload it through a browser like Safari and not the YouTube app.
Sending an HDR video shot with an iPhone 12 Pro via AirDrop or iMessage is currently the best way of ensuring that it will look as intended. Sharing via WhatsApp or Telegram degrades the quality heavily, at the moment. Apple’s iMovie and Clips apps will let you edit and export your videos without HDR if needed, but that’s a bunch of extra hoops you have to jump through. It’s a temporary setback, but I do think most of the popular social platforms and services will add support for Apple’s HDR implementation sooner, rather than later.
Video shot during the day with all three rear cameras is excellent. Colours look natural, there’s plenty of detail, and stabilisation works very well even if you switch sensors mid-recording. Video recorded in low light continues to impress, although in very dark scenes, footage can look a bit noisy if you move about. The ultra-wide-angle camera produces noticeably weaker details in low light for video.
The iPhone 12 Pro uses 12-megapixel sensors for all its cameras, just like on the iPhone 11 Pro, but with some changes. The main rear camera now has a wider f/1.6 (vs f/1.8 on the 11 Pro) aperture. All cameras now support Night Mode and Deep Fusion, which is great to see. The telephoto camera can still only zoom up to 2x optically, but it is stabilised. The iPhone 12 Pro can also take Night mode Portrait shots, which again is a welcome addition.
In daylight, the iPhone 12 Pro captures excellent-looking shots with plenty of details and rich colours. Autofocus is very quick and dependable on the main rear camera. The ultra-wide camera is equally adept given ample light. The quality of photos taken with the telephoto camera is decent as long as you stick to 2x magnification, as images lose sharpness quickly once you move beyond that. Phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S20+ can easily crush the iPhone 12 Pro when it comes to zoom capabilities.
In low light, the iPhone 12 Pro automatically engages Night mode, and depending how steady your hands are, the shutter can stay open for anywhere from one to three seconds. If you use a tripod, you can get an even longer exposure time. With the primary camera, I noticed very little difference between the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 11 Pro. The iPhone 12 Pro produced a mildly brighter image, but details were nearly identical. It does fare much better than the Samsung Galaxy S20+’s Night mode when it comes to preserving the textures of objects.
The iPhone 12 Pro really shines when it comes to low-light ultra-wide shots, which are miles ahead of what the iPhone 11 Pro can produce. Details are still a bit lacking when compared to samples from the Galaxy S20+’s ultra-wide camera, but this could very well change in the next generation. The telephoto camera on the iPhone 12 Pro isn’t used much in low-light as the phone simply digitally zooms in using the main camera.
Low light is also where the iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR scanner kicks in to assist with autofocus. The difference is noticeable when shooting close-up subjects, as the phone is able to detect objects much better in extremely dim lighting. When compared to the iPhone 11 Pro, the results are quite impressive.
Portrait shots are another area in which the iPhone 12 Pro excels. You can shoot using the telephoto or main camera, depending on the perspective you’re going for. Low-light portraits look great too thanks to Night mode.
Images shot using the selfie camera in daylight aren’t too different from what you get from the iPhone 11 Pro. Skin tones look good, albeit mildly smoothened, and the camera picks up a decent amount of detail. Portrait mode works well. However, the iPhone 12 Pro leaves the 11 Pro behind when shooting selfies in low light. Thanks to Night mode, you can get very usable shots even in extremely dark situations.
There’s one more feature that will be coming to the iPhone 12 Pro series later, called Apple ProRAW. Just like Deep Fusion, this is said to be natively enabled in the camera app. Unlike most Android phones, which make you use a different mode to shoot in RAW, Apple ProRAW on the iPhone 12 Pro will capture a regular photo along with a lot of extra information similar to a RAW file. This, in theory, should give you much more flexibility when editing photos without having to deal with different file formats. Apple says you’ll be able to edit photos leveraging this information directly in the Photos app and other supported editing apps.
Verdict: Should you upgrade to the iPhone 12 Pro?
We’ve covered a lot in this review, and if you’ve made it this far, then it’s clear that even though the iPhone 12 Pro doesn’t seem like a big upgrade on paper compared to the iPhone 11 Pro, there are many little changes that make for a better overall experience. Does this mean you should go ahead and upgrade? Well, not really.
Most of the meaningful upgrades such as the new Ceramic Shield material, larger display, better IP rating, new SoC, MagSafe charging, and Dolby Vision recording — are available on the iPhone 12 too, which costs way less. The iPhone 12 does have some differences such as a lower typical brightness and it can only shoot up to 4K 30fps with Dolby Vision. We’re in the middle of reviewing that too, but I think it’s safe to say that the standard iPhone 12 offers far better value for money than the iPhone 12 Pro, looking at their respective launch prices in India.
The only real ‘Pro’ features exclusive to Apple’s more premium series include the telephoto camera, LiDAR scanner, ProRAW, higher maximum storage, a more sturdy frame and a few extras such as Night mode for Portrait shots. Some of these features can be useful in the right scenarios, but paying nearly Rs. 40,000 more for them doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.
If money is burning a hole in your pocket and you’re adamant on getting the best possible iPhone, I’d suggest also looking at the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Apple has used a larger primary camera sensor in this model, compared to the iPhone 12 Pro, and it also features sensor-shift stabilisation for the very first time in an iPhone, similar to what you get in premium mirrorless cameras. We just got our hands on this, and a full review is coming up soon.
Are iPhone 12 mini, HomePod mini the Perfect Apple Devices for India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.