Funny thing is that out of all the smartphone brands, Apple has decided to bombard us with four new smartphones this year! Each and every one of these shiny handsets are designed to physically separate itself from the other. The 12 lacks the LiDAR and Telephoto lens of the 12 Pro. The Mini is visibly and physically much, much smaller than the rest and the 12 Pro Max is made for Goliath with a penchant for photography.
Although we at Stuff have circled our monocle over all these smartphones. The iPhone 12 Pro is my daily driver. It’s been a rather fruitful if not a massive upgrade over the iPhone 11, which I used for about a year since it launched. So understanding the iPhone 12 Pro’s new A14 Bionic is easier than ever before.
That said, our Editor Nishant is going to be reviewing the 12 Pro Max to test out its gargantuan camera module and what those bring to the Pro family, meanwhile I will focus on the performance of these Pro devices. And since the innards are identical, with A14 Bionic and 6GB of RAM, there’s little here to separate the two other than the camera sensors, bigger display and battery.
Starting with design. We knew what they would look like even before the launch thanks to multiple leaks but it’s only when you see it in person you realise that this slab design is a thing of beauty. Robbed directly from the iPhone 5, the flat sandwich design is easily a fan favourite. Honestly, though, sharp corners and flat edges are not the right mixes for something that’s going to spend its entire lifetime in your palms. Albeit, after spending a lakh and twenty on this device, you’d be slapping a case on it even before you leave the store.
Which brings us to the MagSafe. A fancy new magnet which orchestrates Apple’s new MagSafe wireless charging and helps you stick MagSafe accessories at the back. The new iPhone Twelves have a circular magnetic ring around the wireless charging coil at the back. This lets you slap on compatible chargers, cases and accessories with ease. It works and it’s great… if you can cough up the extra dough for the compatible MagSafe accessories.
The display too looks fresh thanks to the slab design. It no longer curves over the edges like the 11 or the notch-based brethren before it. Although I can’t tell how many nano-meters of black borders Apple has chomped but it surely looks lesser even if it's just placebo. Or is it because now the screen is directly flush with the metal frame rather than a thin strip of black border marrying the two parts. Either way, it looks great and feels nicer (with a case).
The notch isn’t going anywhere. I remember Nishant telling me years ago that the notch also signifies the iPhone silhouette on boxes for third party accessories. Now three generations in and the man had a point. The notch will stay, just like the circular fingerprint sensor on the previous iPhones did even with advancements in smartphone tech for placing the sensor at the back.
That said, the tech inside the notch has been improved or been given a boost thanks to the A14 Bionic. The iPhone 12 Pro unlocks significantly faster than the 11. In fact, the firing range of the sensor has widened too. I can’t pinpoint the exact tech as to how Apple’s been doing it but it's noticeably wider when craning over to check notifications on an iPhone sitting on a desk.
These advancements thanks to A14 Bionic end there in my everyday use case. Over the iPhone 11, the 12 Pro offers no noticeable improvement in speed and that’s not a bad thing. The A13 Bionic on the iPhone 11 is rapid. Stupidly rapid even after a year. It’s only when I put on my geek hat and run synthetic test benches, the A14 Bionic comes out as a clear winner. Still, both phones are fast, way faster than Androids and definitely going to remain so for a couple of years to come.
Does it offer any battery improvements? Well, Apple did tell us that the iPhones learn your usage pattern over time and then figure out the best battery solution for your mindless Instagram scrolling. I got around five to six hours of screen time. The battery was enough to last me an entire day of sporadic use in between work and social media. That said, the lower resolution display drains the iPhone 11 slower and offers slightly better battery life. Just a wee-bit for me to call it out in this review.
The 12 and the 12 Pro are nearly identical so it's easier for me to compare the 12 Pro to the cheaper 11 that came before it. This time Apple has done away with the lower resolution screen altogether. Both, the iPhone 12 and the 12 Pro have the latest 6.1in Super Retina XDR display. Same contrast ratio and pixel count too. The 12 Pro here peaks out at 800nits of brightness, whereas the 12 does only 625nits on typical use. Needless to say, both are plenty of bright, colourful and accurate. Even the Max is somewhat similar in terms of colour, brightness and features.
Watching Netflix or Champions League football on these devices is a treat. Deep blacks and crispy sharpness is what I was missing on the 11.
Gaming too is fantastic, although it could’ve been better if Apple gave us a higher refresh rate display. The ProMotion display on the iPad Pros is seriously lust-worthy, and it truly separates the Pro models from the non-Pro models. With these newer iPhones, the argument is lost. All of them are so similar that coughing up that extra ₹35K for the 12 Pro 128GB model over the iPhone 12 128GB model feels like a half-baked expenditure. One that even the pro-est of pros might want to reconsider.
Gaming load times are a breeze though. Genshin Impact loads fast and runs cooler a bit longer than the previous gen. Even Samurai Jack looks good and fantastic from an Apple Arcade subscription. This too is worth a mention. The Apple One subscription for ₹195 per month gives you Apple Music, Apple TV, Apple Arcade and 50GB of iCloud storage. This is a fantastic deal for iPhone users. Even if you use only Apple Music, the 50GB of storage is enough to convince anyone. Apple TV and Arcade are an added bonus.
Although we did see some frame drops during scenes where multiple enemies would show up in Samurai Jack game, the sheer graphical quality of this game and the fantastic library of games on the Apple Arcade is astounding. That said, the Samurai Jack game seems to be meant for iPad Pro to run a wee-bit smoother. 90Hz or 120Hz should’ve been here.
Where the Pro iPhones really set themselves apart is in the camera department. The 12 Pro Max which Nishant reviewed here, has a better camera sensor and physically larger lenses at the back. Does that amount to anything? Well, you’ll have to read his review to find out but the Tl;DR is that till Apple doesn’t launch the ProRAW format to its Pro iPhones of 2020, you won’t see a massive difference between the camera quality between the four.
What is ProRAW? Well, that’s Apple’s way of combining their computational smarts into a RAW file of the photos. Basically, it takes Raw shots now, but what sets them apart from other third-party apps that take RAW images is that firstly, you don’t have to leave the native camera app. It will come built-in and you can switch between jpeg and RAW modes in the viewfinder itself. Secondly, it will keep all of Apple’s computational brains intact and the files will be larger, heavier and in DNG format. So you can take them to Adobe Lightroom and pixie-dust your own saturation, sharpness and all that pro stuff.
Another area where the iPhone 12 Pro separates itself from the 12 and 12 Mini is the LiDAR scanner. The LiDAR scanner on the camera module dramatically speeds up the time it takes to focus on a subject and does nearly an impeccable job of capturing portrait shots. Thanks to this sensor you can take low-light Portrait shots now. It scans the subject in 3D and then Apple’s cameras and Deep Fusion step in to sprinkle life into your portrait shots. There’s a visible difference in sharpness and cut-out quality between the 12 Pro and the other iPhones. The shots are surprisingly perfect. Not that the iPhone 11 didn’t already have a great camera but the 12 Pro is even better, faster and a whole lot smarter.
The LiDAR uses for consumers sadly ends there. There are a few more uses like AR gaming and AR object placing. You can place your Ikea furniture in 3D with immaculate precision. For the pros though, this is where the big money sits. Scanning objects and faces in 3D for applications and pro-grade work gets faster and easier. LiDAR scanners are used in self-driving cars and robot vacuum cleaners. That’s just two immediate applications of LiDAR scanners that are currently present and available to consumers. In actual pro-hands, the iPhone 12 Pro can be an indispensable tool.
Wait, you’re not a pro? Fine, let’s move to the ultra-wide and other camera shenanigans. You can capture HDR videos now and even take low-light photos in ultra-wide. Something we explore in detail in the 12 Pro Max review here.
The iOS14 software experience is typical of Apple. Adding new bits like spatial surround to AirPods Pro and widgets onto the home screen now. You can even banish all those multiple screens and folders you’ve been collecting over the years. Apple will neatly unify them into sections and dump them in a scrollable place. So now you can have just one screen, even without any apps, or just widgets. Finally!
After booting the charger from the box on grounds of ‘clean environment’, what we think doesn’t matter anymore, what you think definitely does because however you look at it, there’s been a goof-up from Apple’s end. Firstly, the bundled cable is USB Type-C to lightning port so you’ll need to buy a USB Type-C charger separately. Apple says Apple users already have a lot of chargers and we agree, but previous iPhone users have USB Type-A chargers. So if you’re looking at your slow, dusty old charger with contempt, we understand. Secondly, if you already own a MacBook or iPad, chances are you already have a fast charger, whether its Type-C or not, is your problem now. Anyways, there are loads of third party Apple USB Type-C chargers and this is a good time to pick up one of those fancy ones that change voltage depending on your device. One charger for MacBooks, iPads and iPhones? We see that nearing faster than before.
And finally, is the iPhone 12 Pro worth the extra dosh? If you’re a pro looking to utilise the best camera with its LiDAR smarts then yes. If you’re a casual user who just wants the best iPhone. I think the iPhone 12 is your calling.
iPhone 12 Pro has one of the best cameras around. In fact, it’s undisputed in the camera department but the gains are not going to blow you away compared to iPhone 12. The iPhone 12 really is the people’s champion whereas the 12 Pro will set you back a couple of extra grand for an upgrade you won’t need or use. Unless you’re a Pro who wants to build an application off that LiDAR sensor. Then, by all means, pick the Pro devices.