iPhone 12 Review: Evolutionary

I’ve spent a little over a week with my iPhone 12 and can sum up the experience with just one word (or phrase): evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. Coming from an iPhone X, I was already accustomed to the OLED screen, Face ID, great camera technology, and super snappy experience in iOS. In general, I don’t think it’s a massive upgrade but I still think its worth it. It feels strange to spend less money on a newer model iPhone, given the starting prices have continued to rise within the past few years. I opted for a blue, non-Pro 128 GB configuration. The 12 “Pro” brings cameras and fancier chassis to the line up, but has the same display, processor, and 5G capabilities as the regular old 12 and 12 mini. Speaking of the mini, I was quite happy to see Apple embrace smaller phones. Personally, I like the 6.1″ form factor, a small size bump over the X’s 5.8″ display, but I totally get the appeal for a mini version of an otherwise large phone.

Design

The design of the iPhone 12 is more of a throwback to the iPhone 4/5 days than anything else, with the boxy edges making a return. I welcome this change, since I didn’t think the 6/7/8 were good looking phones (the X did look nice though). I’ve always purchased darker colors of iPhones, typically space grey and black but decided to go for the dark blue this time. The color doesn’t look that great in photos but in person it does look quite nice. This hardly matters though, since most people including myself will put a case on the phone that hides the color. The camera system still looks a bit silly, but overall I think the 12 is a good looking phone. Would be nice if they made the non Pro 12 available in Pacific Blue though.

Performance

I don’t do mobile development work anymore, so I can’t make any developer centric comments on performance, but in general usage it does feel faster than the iPhone X in almost every regard. Unlocking the phone using Face ID, launching apps, and multitasking are a breeze. Battery life is improved too, thanks to a more efficient SoC built on TSMC’s 5 nm manufacturing process. But Apple didn’t show off the A14 Bionic’s heroic performance like they usually do during the keynote, and rather focused on the 5G capabilities. 5G, despite what Verizon says, still is not ready for prime time in my opinion. Coverage is ok, but in most places you won’t really see performance that surpasses high performing LTE. I’m currently on T-Mobile’s 5G network in North Texas, and based on some preliminary speed tests it doesn’t seem to offer any improvement over LTE. This is likely because I don’t have access to “mid-band” 5G, which is supposed to offer good coverage and higher speeds than LTE. Verizon is currently leading the way in millimeter wave or “ultra-wide band” 5G, which offers near gigabit speed but at the cost of range; you’ll see many other reviewers were able to test this out with direct line of sight to a mm wave capable cell tower. 5G definitely is the future, but the future isn’t here just yet. The launch of the iPhone 12 will definitely serve as a catalyst for carriers to continue to grow their 5G networks, since there will be greater demand for the faster speeds and capacity. All of this performance does come with a drawback being increased power consumption. Since I’m working from home, I can’t really tell how big this impact is since I’m always connected to Wi-Fi. The Smart Data Mode found on the new iPhones claims to mitigate this by only using 5G when necessary, and falling back to LTE to save power. I’ll need to spend more time with the phone outside to test this, but the battery life seems fine otherwise.

Final thoughts

I think the iPhone 12 is a great phone, pretty much like every iPhone I have owned. I’d have to admit I am biased towards Apple hardware because I’ve just had a great experience with every Apple product I’ve owned. While not a revolutionary product, I still think the iPhone 12 is important for the future of the iPhone. It has finally brought an OLED screen to the “base” phone, and closer feature parity to the Pro variants. This means you’ll be able to get a great phone without going for the top of the line model. There is nothing that blows me away about this product, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s a well engineered device, with great software and (mostly) future proof hardware. What else is there to ask for in a phone?

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