If you don’t feel a little tingle in your gut every October, you’re probably not a tech nut. And if you do suffer from anxiety attacks come October, the date that’s probably circled on your calendar in red is the annual iPhone event. 2020 was a real shakedown year for the iPhone family and we got more iterations than ever before, regardless of what Steve Jobs would’ve thought of it.
So starting with the 12 Mini, the range extends to probably the most preferred size, the iPhone12 and then takes a leap to pro-level photography with the triple-cam iPhone 12 Pro and if you aspire to be on “ShotOniPhone” billboards, then it’s the mega iPhone 12 Pro Max for you. While both the smallest and the largest models come a little bit later, I’ve had the 12 and the 12 Pro for a couple of days now and here’s what I think of them…
The subtle evolution of the design is actually a homage to the iPhone 5’s flat surfaces but on steroids. The build quality on every new iPhone has been the benchmark but these new phones, especially the 12 Pro, take it to another level of refinement. Using Ceramic Shield, a first of its kind for any smartphone display and a dual-ion exchange process on the back glass, it’s as durable as it is sexy. Not just to brag in the pub, but to actually hold it in your hand, the seamless design with the display glass sitting flush and the polished stainless steel frame gleaming like glass, it’s a thing of beauty alright. Even the 12 with its matte aluminium frame benefits from the same high quality of build and it’s going to be a shame to cover these up in cases. But, with their frightening price tags, it’s a necessary evil. Of course, the notch is still there but until Apple finds a solution to that, we either seem to have grown used to it or stopped complaining.
Also, unlike the 11 and the 11 Pro, the 12 and 12 Pro share more similarities, bringing them closer than ever in terms of aesthetics and performance. The same case will work on both the 12 and the 12 Pro in fact, so they are identical in shape and size and when it comes to the innards, barring the camera system, a slight drop in RAM and peak brightness, everything else remains identical too. This is both great and less than ideal. Great because there are hardly any “compromises” on the 12 and not the most ideal because it really makes you think twice before ponying up for the 12 Pro, which is considerably more expensive. But, if you can afford it, are the differences worth it on the 12 Pro? There is no short answer to that but the long answer is maybe if you spend more time using the camera of the iPhone than the phone itself. What you get over the already excellent iPhone 12 is an additional telephoto lens that offers 2x optical zoom and a LiDAR scanner, which may look similar to the one on the iPad Pro but on the iPhone 12 Pro, it has been massaged to do more. Faster autofocus in low-light condition and Portrait shots in Night mode, to be precise. These skills aren’t to be taken lightly, but they will also be exploited mostly by those who take more than 5 seconds to frame a shot. If you’re not one of them (and you know it), the iPhone 12 will work perfectly fine.
Another big upgrade to all the iPhones this year is the inclusion of Dolby Vision HDR video and in due course of time, it can become truly game-changing. For now though, due to format incompatibilities amongst different devices and TVs, it’s best shot and shared with other iOS devices, where it looks stunning and even better than the HDR video on the 11 Pro, as expected. Again, the minor sacrifice you’d make with the iPhone 12 is “only” get HDR at 4K/30fps as opposed to the 60fps on the iPhone 12 Pro. For those who are counting, these are all relatively minor sacrifices if you aren’t looking for shoutouts by professional photographers. Videos, like always, were excellent with superb highlight and shadow detail in bright to dim light. Even during dim light, the noise is kept in check well and what’s most impressive is the stabilisation that keeps getting better with every generation and is now approaching gimbal levels.
Still, photography has always been easy with any iPhone. As a point and shoot device, it delivers the most consistent results time and again and on the 12 an 12 Pro, that attribute only gets enhanced. Smart HDR and Deep Fusion in their latest versions really flex Apple’s A14 Bionic processor and Neural Engine to preserve shadow details even with the sun directly behind you or in low-light situations. The detail is splendid and it’s easy to crop an image to zoom in even further, something that can be readily used to substitute for a telephoto lens on the iPhone 12. There is a smooth texture to the pictures without being soft and colours are always as natural as I’ve ever seen on any smartphone - both from the lens and the OLED display too. Differences between the 11 and 11 Pro are subtle but look hard and you will notice better HDR detail in bright scenes and low light is a huge step up with a more even exposure that also gets in more light, thanks to a wider f/1.6 aperture compared to f/1.8 from last year. I did notice flares occasionally when the lens catches the sunlight directly and while some might like the artistic look it lends to the images, some may also find it distracting but there is no way to get rid of it. The 12 Pro specifically has some enhancements which I shall be updating this review with once I get more acquainted with the improvements but rest assured, both these phones climb straight to the top of our charts for the most versatile camera set-ups out there in the smartphone world.
In the first couple of days of using both the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro, I did realise that the Pro feels much heavier in the hand but both feel equally dense and comfortable in the hand to use and hold. The flat design looks fantastic and the build quality is literally second to none, but then again, so is the price tag. For a mainstream phone to be hitting Rs. 1,20,000 for a 128GB version, the 12 Pro is clearly aimed at the new radicals. The 12 is a more palatable ₹85,000 for the same storage size and hence it leads me to believe that the two more siblings that are yet to arrive, the 12 Mini and the 12 Pro Max might actually be the ones that could be the watershed moment. With significant changes to the camera system in the 12 Pro Max for a marginal increase in asking price over the 12 Pro makes it tempting for the real “pros”. The 12 Mini on the other hand is identical to the excellent 12 but in a friendly form factor and friendlier price tag. But for complete tests of the new phones, stay tuned to Stuff here and on our social media for camera samples regularly. For now, its time to get back behind the lens to try and get my very own “ShotoniPhone” picture.