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Apple Smartphones

iPhone 12 Pro Review

The iPhone 4/5/SE form factor makes triumphant return.

A few weeks in to using my iPhone 12 Pro, and the one word that’s sticking out to me that I could use to describe Apple’s iPhone’s is consistency. Each yearly upgrade brings a few small changes. Gone are the days when a new release would contain revolutionary features that made it a must have upgrade. The iPhone 12 Pro packs a few notable upgrades in it’s chassis, but if you are using an iPhone Xs or an 11 Pro, there’s not a lot here that’s in the ‘must have’ territory of an upgrade. But what is here is good, so let’s break it down.

5G (finally) arrives

Apple took it’s sweet time with bringing 5G to the iPhone, and I don’t fault them one bit for being one of the last manufacturers to add 5G to their devices. First off, 5G is a battery drain. And while the 5G modems have gotten better with their power consumption, they still draw more power than the 4G modems. Apple tempers this with the ability to use ‘Smart Data’ mode, where the phone intelligently determines if you are performing a task that would benefit from 5G. If you are, then it turns on 5G. If you aren’t, it turns 5G off. Additionally, you can drop back to 4G all the time or force the phone to use 5G all the time. How much 5G affects your battery performance will entirely come down to your usage, and whether or not you are in a 5G capable cell. But the speed increase with 5G can be significant, so it’s a welcome addition.

iPhone 12 vs the 12 Pro

After viewing this years iPhone offerings, I initial thought I was going to go with the iPhone 12 over the 12 Pro. But after having the Pro for a few days, I returned it and opted for the Pro. However, I think that most people will be better served by the iPhone 12.

First off, the two phones form factors are identical. They both can use the same cases. The key differences between the two models comes down to these points:

  • The iPhone 12 weighs less than the 12 Pro. This is primarily due to the 12 using an Aluminum frame, while the 12 Pro uses a Stainless Steel frame. The 12 Pro is a smidge lighter than the 11 Pro, but overall, I preferred the weight of the 12 over the 12 Pro.
  • The screens on each are the same dimensions and resolution. The 12 Pro however, can handle Dolby Vision HDR playback, and boost to a slightly bright setting.
  • The iPhone 12 Pro gains the Telephoto lens. Most people will be served well with the 12’s wide and ultra wide lenses and won’t miss the Telephoto. Being a big camera nerd, the Telephoto lens was one of the key reasons I opted for the Pro.
  • The 12 Pro also has a LiDAR scanner. I could care less about Augmented Reality applications, but the LiDAR scanner plays a big part in helping the 12 Pro cameras focus faster in low light.
  • The 12 Pro is reported to have 6GB of RAM vs 4GB for the 12. The extra RAM will mean more apps can stay open at a time, and you’ll see snappier results when switching from app to app.
  • And finally, the 12 Pro will have the ability (in a later software update) to shoot photos in Apple ProRAW. There’s really no technical reason why the 12 couldn’t do this as well, but Apple feels the need to lock certain features, even if they are software based, to justify the higher cost phone.
  • Color options. The Pro gets you graphite, silver, gold and Pacific Blue (which seems to be the most color judging from the stock outages). The iPhone 12 gets you White, Black, Blue, Green and (Product) Red. The blue is a brighter shade than the Pacific Blue, and is my favorite color out of all this years models. I really wish Apple had used this blue on the Pro. Keeping with last years differenatiation, the iPhone 12 back is glossy with the camera hump using a matte glass, and the 12 Pro back is frosted matte glass and the camera hump is glossy. The 12 Pro Stainless Steel frame is a fingerprint magnet.

So again, being the camera nerd that I am, I opted for the 12 Pro over the 12.

But I suspect that most people don’t care or wouldn’t use the telephoto lens all that often, and would be better server with the iPhone 12.

Cameras

So, if you’re considering the 12 pro over the regular 12, most likely it’s because of the telephoto camera, the (promised) ability to shoot RAW, and the addition of Dolby Vision HDR, a video format that captures more dynamic range (10 bit vs. 8 bit for regular video footage).

Dolby Vision footage does look nice, but be warned that you need a device capable of interpreting and outputting Dolby Vision to see it in action. The iPhone 12 Pro/12 Pro Max can playback video recording with Dolby Vision, and you can stream 4k Dolby Vision to AppleTV. But if you share your Dolby Vision footage to another iPhone user who doesn’t have a 12 Pro/12 Pro Max, they won’t see the increased dynamic range. And uploads to YouTube won’t retain that information either. So while it’s a nice feature, apart from making the footage you shoot look nicer on your phone, you won’t be able to share that improved footage beyond the iPhone 12 Pro phones. I’m sure as time goes on more and more devices will be able to handle Dolby Vision, and maybe even sites like YouTube will accommodate it. But for now, it’s a cool feature that has no real practical application.

MagSafe is reborn

Everyone laments the passing of MagSafe charging cables for the Mac laptops. MagSafe made the power adapter cable magnetically attach to your computer, which made plugging and unplugging a bit easier.

Apple has resurrected the MagSafe brand for the new charging system for the new iPhones. If you’ve used “wireless” chargers, you know their biggest problem is that if you don’t place the phone precisely in the right area, it will not charge. If you have your phone charging next to your bed and accidentally nudge it slightly, you could wake up with a phone that isn’t charged.

MagSafe solves this by using magnets to precisely place the charger in the correct spot on the back of the device. Apple is extending this magnetic attachment to cases and to accessories like the wallet attachment. I’m sure you’ll also see lots of the 3rd party accessories pop up in the future that take advantage of MagSafe. And who knows – maybe MagSafe will return to Macs in the future, or expand to iPads. It certainly fits in with Apple’s push to remove ports when possible.

The downside is there’s a very real possibility a future iPhone might do away with the Lightning Port in favor of all wireless connectivity and charging. I still think there’s plenty of applications beyond charging that require a physical cable, so I’m hopeful this doesn’t happen anytime soon.

Pros

  • 5G is here if you have access to it in your area
  • New “ceramic shield” glass looks to be much strong than prior glass
  • LiDAR helps low light focusing and allows for portrait mode in similar low light conditions.
  • Dolby Vision makes 10 bit video HDR recording possible, albeit with limited playback options.
  • MagSafe is wonderful, so long as it’s not a harbinger for a port less iPhone in the future.

Cons

  • No 90 or 120hz refresh rate displays
  • Battery life is slightly less than the 11 Pro, mostly due to 5G.
  • No more EarPods in the box
  • No more charging brick included in the box (now a $19 accessory)
  • Color options on the Pro are more staid than the iPhone 12 (subjective, I know).
  • Only the 12 Pro Max gets the full sensor shift OIS. 12 Pro Max also gets a ‘longer’ Telephoto lens (65mm vs. 52mm on the Pro).

Summary

The iPhone 12 is the better bargain. The more pocketable weight along with the ‘grippier’ feel of the phone makes it the better feeling phone for most people. However, if you use your iPhone as a content creation tool, and feel you need the telephoto lens and video/software improvements (like Dolby Vision and ProRAW), along with the increase in RAM, the 12 Pro is a great tool that won’t disappoint. Users on the X or Xs will see the most benefit in upgrading. If you already have an 11 Pro, there’s not a lot here for you to upgrade to. You are better off waiting for 2021, which will include all the features in the 12 Pro, and possibly 120hz refresh rates.